Thursday, September 11, 2014

Neal A. Maxwell on the "Great and Spacious Building"

"Church members will live in this wheat-and-tares situation until the Millennium. Some real tares even masquerade as wheat, including the few eager individuals who lecture the rest of us about Church doctrines in which they no longer believe. They criticize the use of Church resources to which they no longer contribute. They condescendingly seek to counsel the Brethren whom they no longer sustain. Confrontive, except of themselves of course, they leave the Church, but they cannot leave the Church alone. Like the throng on the ramparts of the `great and spacious building,' they are intensely and busily preoccupied, pointing fingers of scorn at the steadfast iron-rodders (1 Ne. 8:26-28, 33). Considering their ceaseless preoccupation, one wonders, `Is there no diversionary activity available to them, especially in such a large building--like a bowling alley?' Perhaps in their mockings and beneath the stir are repressed doubts of their doubts."

[Neal A. Maxwell, "`Becometh as a Child,'" Ensign May 1996: 68].


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"After I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness" (1 Nephi 8:8).

For those who don't remain forever on a spiritual high here are a few thoughts from Elder Orson Pratt:

"But now having spoken so much about the benefits of this light, and how good it would be to be continually guided and instructed by the spirit of revelation, there is another thing connected with it which we perhaps do not all fully understand. Supposing a person were thus guided all the time, from waking in the morning until they retired to rest at night; and then when asleep if his dreams were given by the same spirit, and this should be the uninterrupted condition of an individual, I ask, where would be his trials? This would lead us to ask, Is it not absolutely necessary that God should in some measure, withhold even from those who walk before him in purity and integrity, a portion of his Spirit, that they may prove to themselves, their families and neighbors, and to the heavens whether they are full of integrity even in times when they have not so much of the Spirit to guide and influence them? I think that this is really necessary, consequently I do not know that we have any reason to complain of the darkness which occasionally hovers over the mind. I recollect that Lehi had a very great and important dream communicated to him, and his son Nephi had the same renewed to him. While Lehi was on his way to this country he dreamed that he wandered many hours in darkness; that there was a certain rod of iron, notwithstanding this darkness that seemed to gather around him, on which the old man leaned steadfastly. So great was the darkness that he was fearful he should lose his way if he let go the rod of iron; but he clung to it, and continued to wander on until, by and by, he was brought out into a large and spacious field, and he also was brought out to a place where it was lighter, and he saw a certain tree which bore very precious fruit. And he went forth and partook of the fruit of his tree, which was the most precious and desirable of any fruit that he had ever tasted; and it seemed to enlighten him and fill him with joy and happiness. Lehi was a good old man--a man who had been raised up as a great prophet in the midst of Jerusalem. He had prophesied in the midst of all that wickedness which surrounded the Jews; and they sought to take away his life, because of his prophecy. But not withstanding this gift of prophecy, and the gifts of the Spirit which he enjoyed, the Lord showed him by this dream that there would be seasons of darkness through which he would have to pass, and that even then there was a guide. If he did not all the time have the Spirit of God upon him to any great extent, there was the word of God, represented by an iron rod, to guide him; and if he would hold fast to that in his hours of darkness and trial, when everything seemed to go against him, and not sever himself therefrom, it would finally bring him where he could partake of the fruit of the precious tree--the Tree of Life. Consequently I am not so sure, that it is intended for men of God to enjoy all the time a great measure of his Spirit."

[Orson Pratt, November 24, 1872, in Journal of Discourses, Vol.15: 234-235]. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Imaginations"

And the large and spacious building which thy father saw is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men (1 Nephi 12:18).

We know that the great and spacious building was a symbol of pride, but what are "imaginations"? Aida Besancon Spencer (Journal of Biblical Literature 100 [1981]: 247-48), provides insight into the meaning of the word shereeroth which may shed additional light on Nephi’s description of the great and spacious building in this passage. The word shereeroth is a kind of idolatrous self-reliance usually rendered “imaginations” in our King James Bibles and in other translations as “stubbornness.” It appears ten times in the writings of Nephi’s contemporary Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; 18:12; 23:17), and twice elsewhere (Deut 29:19; Psalms 81:12). In these passages it is tied closely to the events of the Exodus where Israel rebelled against God. It is used to describe those Israelites who broke their covenant with God and became idolatrous, saying, “I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart” (Deuteronomy 29:19). “Thus we find in this passage the interesting intertwining of attraction to foreign idols and a false sense of security since the person who acts in this manner will not be pardoned but will be singled out for calamity, in other words, captivity” (247).

Spencer states,

[Shereeroth] as a transitive verb has the basic significance to twist, to twist together, to wind together, to knot together, in the manner of a cord. It is a verb idea to denote a muscle, sinew, cord, lace, chain. From the referent developed the metaphorical sense, to be firm, hard, tough, properly, to be knotted together, thus the meaning `hardness,’ `firmness,’ `strength’ . . . . [It denotes] a strength or firmness which is, in essence, twisted or stubbornness. It appears as self-reliance to those relying on it, but stubbornness or twisted strength to God” (247).

Like the positive Hebrew term for faithfulness (emunah) the word shereeroth signifies firmness, but it is wholly negative, for “one is understood as `truth’ while the other is understood as `perversity.’ One emanates from God , while the other emanates from the individual (248). Those in the Bible who typify this characteristic are seen as not only as independent from but also in a state of rebellion against God and ripe for captivity and destruction.

Gold Plates from the Ancient World

Bill Hamblin has some excellent pictures of gold plates from around 500 B.C.

He has also written a good survey article on the evidence for sacred writing on metal plates in the ancient Near east and the Mediterranean world which I recommend for those interested in learning more about it.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Lehi as a Visionary Man

One of the complaints leveled against Lehi by his rebellious sons Laman and Lemuel and his wife Sariah was that he was a "visionary man" (1 Nephi 2:11; 5:2). Although this term does not appear in the King James translation of the Bible, it accurately reflects the Hebrew word hazon meaning divine vision (John A. Tvedtnes, "A Visionary Man," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne [Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999], 29—31). Although this Hebrew term appears in connection with true prophets of God it is also sometimes written with a negative connotation, describing false prophets, especially in the writings of Lehi's contemporary, Jeremiah (Jeremiah 14:14; 23:16).

In Jeremiah 23, the prophet refers to certain opponents who cried peace in contradiction to his true message of repentance and the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah wrote, "they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:16). They deceptively cried peace for Jerusalem "unto everyone that walketh after the imagination of his own heart" (Jeremiah 23:17). The Lord drew a distinction between true prophets and the false prophets of his day. "For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it? . . . But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from their evil doings" (Jeremiah 23:18, 22, emphasis added). The Hebrew word rendered "counsel" in this passage is sod meaning a "council" or "assembly." In contrast to these false prophets, Jeremiah had received his message in the heavenly council of God (Hebrew sod), while the false prophets had not (H. Wheeler Robinson, "The Council of Yahweh," Journal of Theological Studies 45/179—80 [1944]: 151—57; S. B. Parker, "Council," in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst, 2nd rev. ed. [Leiden: Brill, 1999], 204—8; John W. Welch, "The Calling of a Prophet," in The Book of Mormon: First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. [Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1988], 35—54).

In a revelation to Jeremiah which some biblical scholars date to the early reign of Zedekiah (Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah 21—36 [New York: Anchor Bible and Doubleday, 2004], 211). the Lord said, "I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour. . . . The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully" (Jeremiah 23:25—28).

While we do not know whether these revelations of Jeremiah would have been known to Laman and Lemuel at the time, the charges they leveled against Lehi seem to reflect similar views. "For behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man. . . . And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart" (1 Nephi 2:11). Later, they leveled the same false accusation against Nephi (1 Nephi 17:20). In light of the controversies reflected in Jeremiah, it seems likely that when Laman and Lemuel described their father as a "visionary man," they were not simply suggesting that he was an old fool. They were accusing him of being a false prophet who was leading their family astray.
Nephi, on the other hand, who knew that those accusations were false, countered them by noting that (1) Lehi (like Jeremiah) had stood in the divine council and received his message from the Lord (1 Nephi 1:8—14); (2) unlike the false prophets who had a message of peace, Lehi preached that the people must repent or be destroyed (1 Nephi 1:13); (3) unlike the false prophets who claimed dreams but did not reveal their content or call the people to repentance (Jeremiah 23:28), Lehi openly declared the messages he received from the Lord to the Jews (1 Nephi 1:18) and to his family (1 Nephi 8:2—38). In his account of his father's visions, Nephi seems to be responding in some measure to his brothers' accusation that Lehi was a false visionary.

In this light, Lehi's gentle response to his wife's accusation is also interesting. He affirmed, "I know that I am a [true] visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren" (1 Nephi 5:4). This was a knowledge that the false prophets in Jerusalem did not have. "For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge" (Jeremiah 4:22). Lehi's declaration that he knew of "the goodness of God" reflects what he had learned in his vision of the heavenly council, where he "had read and seen many great and marvelous things" and learned of God's "power, and goodness, and mercy" (1 Nephi 1:14). Like the false prophets at Jerusalem, Laman and Lemuel were ignorant of the Lord and his ways (1 Nephi 2:12; 15:3). The false visionaries would not hearken to the message of Jeremiah and were cast out of God's presence (Jeremiah 23:39). A similar judgment awaited Lehi's sons if they continued to reject the teachings of true visionary men like Lehi and Nephi (1 Nephi 2:21).

[From Matthew Roper, “Lehi as a Visionary Man,” Insights: An Ancient Window 27/4 (2007): 2-3].


Friday, September 5, 2014

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on Discipleship

From a talk given at BYU on November 8, 1977

"As the veil of unbelief thickens around the globe, nothing can rend `the dark veil of unbelief' (Alma 19:6) that is not sharp, piercing, bright, and true. Dull discipleship will not light the way nor draw people to the kingdom. The philosophies of the world cannot do it, for so far as having some saving and consequential core to them, such philosophies are like peeling an onion. Perhaps that is why we cry when we feel onions."


Lehi and the "Pillar of Fire"

And it came to pass, as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly (1 Nephi 1:6).

When Israel traveled in the wilderness the Lord manifested his glory as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day (Exodus 13:21-22). After the wilderness tabernacle was dedicated this same cloud of glory filled it (40: 34-35). This glory was present, accompanied, and led the people of Israel in all their wanderings (40:36-37) “For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:34-38). On the day Solomon dedicated the temple at Jerusalem the cloud of the Lord’s glory again filled the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11) and was thereafter thought to abide there.  Lehi’s contemporary Ezekiel would see in vision how the Lord’s glory which dwelt at the Jerusalem temple would depart from that house and the city because of the wickedness and abominations of the people, shortly before its destruction (Ezekiel 10:4, 18).

The pillar of fire was manifest by night during the Exodus suggesting that Lehi experienced his first vision in the night as well. Bill Hamblin in his thoughtful notes on 1 Nephi has suggested that this may have happened as he prayed in the temple and that this was a temple theophany. What I find interesting, however, is that Lehi encounters the pillar of fire, “as he went forth” (1 Nephi 1:5) and after this experience “he returned to his own house at Jerusalem” (1:7). That may indicate that Lehi's vision occurs somewhere outside Jerusalem to which he later returns. If so, the implications would be significant: The Lord’s glory, signified by the pillar of fire, had or would shortly depart leaving the unrepentant of the city and their temple to destruction.