Thursday, January 28, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #6 "Noah...Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House"

(Moses 8:19-30; Genesis 6-9; 11:1-9)

INCREASED UNDERSTANDING THROUGH JOSEPH SMITH'S "TRANSLATION"

In June of 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith followed the command of the Lord to re-translate the King James Bible (see D&C 35:20).  He did this by studying the Bible prayerfully, and making notes and additions through inspiration as he read, in order to restore what had been corrupted or removed through the ages as the Bible made its winding way through civilization.  Most of the work was done by July of 1833, but he kept revising and editing it until his death (Garr, et.al, Encyclopedia of Latter-day History, p. 589).  The entire Book of Moses was revelation received by Joseph Smith as he read the Book of Genesis, the first chapter being completely new material, and the rest being revisions on the Genesis narration.  After the Book of Moses, the story resumes with Genesis 6:14, but there are still some very enlightening changes which have been put in the footnotes of the LDS Bible, or in the Appendix.

Here are some interesting insights about Noah and the ark, most of which come as a result of JST changes and additions:

NOAH
  • He was the great-grandson of Enoch (Gen. 5:18-32), whom Enoch saw in vision (Moses 7:41-43); the grandson of Methuselah; and the son of Lamech. 
  • He was the prophet of the next major dispensation after his great-grandfather's.
  • He had a very short priesthood line of authority:  "Methuselah was one hundred years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam...Noah was ten years old when he was ordained under the hand of Methuselah" (D&C 107:50-52).
  • Noah was born as the child of promise who would save civilization.  Methuselah, his grandfather, was left behind when the City of Enoch went up to Heaven, for the purpose of bringing Noah into the world.  "And it came to pass that Methuselah, the son of Enoch, was not taken, that the covenants of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to Enoch; for he truly covenanted with Enoch that Noah should be of the fruit of his loins" (Moses 8:2). 
  • At his birth and naming, his father, Lamech, prophesied that he would "comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed" (Gen. 5:29).  
  • He was righteous (Moses 8:13).
  • In an incident about which we have no details, he was saved from murderous giants by the hand of the Lord (Moses 8:18).
  • Noah's sons were also righteous men:  "And thus Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord; for Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation; and he walked with God, as did also his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth" (Moses 8:27).  They weren't saved from the flood just by being related to Noah.
  • For 120 years (!) Noah warned the people about the flood (Moses 8:17).
  • Noah was commanded to build an ark, which he obediently did, without hesitation or argument, despite what Bill Cosby says in his famous comedy routine :)  "Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he" (Gen. 6:22).
  • At the end of the warning period, Noah was 600 years old, his grandfather Methuselah finally died (sparing him the whole ark ordeal), and Noah's family entered the ark with the animals.
THE ARK
  • The Hebrew root for "ark" is the same as that used for baby Moses' floating basket.
  • Cubits varied by region, but the Egyptian cubit of 18 inches was most likely Noah's measure, making the ark 450 feet by 76 feet by 45 feet, equal to an icebreaker, double a man o' war, half an oceanliner.  (See picture from Institute Old Testament Student Manual below.)
  • It had 3 decks, enclosed of course, with 15-foot ceilings, if they were equal.  There was over 100,000 square feet of floorspace all told: over 30 times the square footage of a 1970s ranch-style American home.



THE ANIMALS

The ark hosted two of a kind of unclean animals (to repopulate the earth) (Gen. 6:19-20), and seven of a kind of clean animals (two to repopulate the earth; five as food storage for the year-long journey on the water) (Gen. 7:2-3).

THE JOURNEY

  • The number 40 in the Bible is almost always symbolic.  Saying that some ordeal lasted 40 days or 40 years was a way of stating that it was a long period of trial, of testing, of preparation, which would be followed by a reward or a restoration. The specific phrase "40 days and 40 nights" occurs three other times in the Bible:  Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exo. 24:18), Elijah traveling to Horeb (1 Kings 19:8), and Jesus fasting in the wilderness (Matt. 4:2).  In fact, the journey of the ark lasted a lot longer than 40 days and 40 nights.

  • The flood began on the 17th day of the 2nd month of the 600th year of Noah's life (Gen. 7:11). That day, the family boarded the ark (Gen. 7:13).
  • The waters covered the earth for 150 days, and the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat on the 17th day of the 17th month (Gen. 8:3-4).

  • The waters decreased continually until the mountains became visible on the 1st day of the 10th month (Gen. 8:5).

  • After having sent out the raven and the dove, the waters were finally dried off the earth on the 1st day of the 1st month of the 601st year of Noah's life (Gen. 8:13).

  • The earth itself was dry on the 27th day of the 2nd month, and the family disembarked (Gen. 8:14-16).
150 days afloat + 73 days anchored with no land in sight + 90 days until the water receded + 57 days until the land dried out = 370 days total, but this was calculated figuring months of only 30 days, so add about 5 days for the longer months = 375 days!!!

THE RAINBOW COVENANT

(This beautiful photo showing the Rainbow Covenant 
over the place of covenants was taken by my friend,
Laurie Hendricks Fifield)

Are not all revelations given in answer to questions or requests, as Joseph Smith said?  The Joseph Smith Translation reveals that the rainbow was the sign of a covenant answering the heartfelt prayer of Noah's great-grandfather, Enoch, when he saw the devastating flood in a vision.

"And when Enoch heard the earth mourn, he wept, and cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, wilt thou not have compassion upon the earth? Wilt thou not bless the children of Noah? And it came to pass that Enoch continued his cry unto the Lord, saying: I ask thee, O Lord, in the name of thine Only Begotten, even Jesus Christ, that thou wilt have mercy upon Noah and his seed, that the earth might never more be covered by the floods" (Moses 7:49-50).

Three generations later, after the flood had come and gone, and his family had safely disembarked, Noah built an altar, offered thanks with an animal sacrifice (there were animals born during the long journey on the ark, of course, and so there were "firstlings" to offer) and made the self-same request, undoubtedly passed down through the generations from his great-grandfather: 

"And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar; and gave thanks unto the Lord, and rejoiced in his heart.  And the Lord spake unto Noah, and he blessed him.  And Noah smelled a sweet savor, and he said in his heart; I will call on the name of the Lord, that he will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; and that he will not again smite any more every thing living, as he hath done while the earth remaineth" (JST Gen. 9:4-6).

God blessed Noah and his sons and gave them counsel (Gen. 9:1-8), and made the promise symbolized by the rainbow (Gen. 9:9-16).  The JST clarifies (again) that the covenant was originally made with great-grandfather Enoch (see the footnote to verse 9).  In the JST in the Appendix, comes this beautiful passage linking Noah back to the city which left his grandfather Methuselah behind (changes/additions made by Joseph Smith are noted in italics):

"And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself.  And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness and the earth shall tremble with joy;  And the general assembly of the church of the first-born shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come.  And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch.  And the bow shall be in the cloud, and I will establish my covenant unto thee, which I have made between me and thee, for every living creature of all flesh that shall be upon the earth.  And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and thee; for all flesh that shall be upon the earth" (JST Gen. 9:21-25, p. 798 of the LDS Bible).

LOOK FOR RAINBOWS

The Primary song "When I Am Baptized" begins, "I like to look for rainbows."  Believers in the Bible recognize rainbows as symbols of the Lord's promise to never again flood the entire earth.  The Latter-day Saints, however, should have a deeper love for and understanding of rainbows.  The Joseph Smith Translation adds the beautiful truth that the rainbow also symbolizes the covenant that the day will come when the inhabitants of the earth will embrace the truth, and the City of Enoch will return and rejoin them.  As we "look upward" at rainbows, we can envision the heavenly city "looking downward" upon us, and anticipate the time when "the heavens will shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy" as the Zion people on earth are joined by the city of Zion from heaven.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #5 "If Thou Doest Well, Thou Shalt Be Accepted" (Moses 5-7)

(Moses 5-7)

THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL

Tom Holdman stutters.  As a young man, this was such a trial for him, that he threw himself into art, which doesn't require much speaking.  When he served his mission, however, he found that whenever it really mattered, when he was teaching a gospel discussion, for example, if he prayed for help, he would be able to speak intelligibly.  He was given a gift of tongues.  And he even found that God could use his disability to touch the hearts of others.

As an adult, Tom became a stained glass artist.  First he made windows for the children's library in Orem, Utah.  Then the interior designer for the Palmyra New York Temple asked Tom for a sketch of what he might do on a window of the First Vision.  He was so overwhelmed, he went to the Mount Timpanogos Temple to ask the Lord for help, and while there, he said, "my mind was flooded with a vision of all 108 windows."  He took his sketches to the Church Office Building and they were all approved. 

The panels that went in the front doors of the Palmyra Temple were not the Tree of Life, but the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
"[Brother Holdman] explained how the Palmyra temple windows represent a person’s journey through life. Entering the front doors, which depict the tree of knowledge of good and evil, one can look down a hallway through windows overlooking the world, or turn toward the First Vision window. “You see,” said Tom, “you must make a choice in life to follow the world, or to obtain a testimony of our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Restoration of the gospel.” (Jane H. Forsgren, "Windows on Eternity," New Era, December 2001)





If you turn toward the First Vision window, and go through the temple endowment, you reach the Celestial Room with its Tree of Life window.  (The picture below is actually the Tree of Life window in the Winter Quarters Temple--the caption below it is incorrect.)


In other words, once you have knowledge of good and evil, you can choose to do nothing with it and follow the way of the world, or you can turn yourself and choose to seek God.  And this is where we pick up from last week's lesson with these two contradictory statements:

"Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe" (Moses 6:48). 

"Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25).

Misery and woe are guaranteed in this life; joy is conditional.  They might have joy.  Of course, it isn't totally obvious to the children of men that choosing to seek God will bring joy, because it isn't immediate.  Everyone gets some of the misery, even those who are righteous, because the earth is in a fallen state and we are subject to sickness, and death, and accidents, and living with other people who choose wrongly.

"If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended.  No man would have to live by faith.  If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil--all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good.  There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls."  (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 97)

Two men early in the scheme of things were perhaps the most extreme examples of agency with the knowledge of good and evil.  Cain is well-known as the father of wickedness among humans, who turned himself away from God, and Enoch is known as the one who grew so close to God that he was literally pulled up into heaven to live with Him.

CAIN

The best commentaries available to us on the Old Testament are the modern-day revelations.  The Book of Moses teaches us a great deal more about Cain than does the Book of Genesis.  It tells us much more about his motives and about his methods.  When Eve gave birth to Cain, she said, "I have gotten a man from the Lord; wherefore he may not reject his words" (Moses 5:16).  Clearly she expected Cain to be a righteous son.  But within the same verse we find that, "Cain hearkened not, saving: Who is the Lord that I should know him?"

The trouble began with Cain when he offered a sacrifice of plants to the Lord rather than animals.  In the Book of Genesis, there is no explanation as to what is wrong with this.  But in the Book of Moses, we find that "Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord" (Moses 5:18).  So we know that Cain was not motivated by faith in Christ, but by the temptation of Satan.  The Lord knows the intent of the heart, but in this case, the outward action also displayed opposition to the Savior.  The Lord had given unto Adam and Eve "commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.  And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore" (Moses 5:5-8).  "And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters" (Moses 5:12).  So Cain knew very well that only a sacrifice of the firstlings of the flocks was an expression of faith in the coming Savior.  His sacrifice of "the fruit of the earth" was his own invention and expressed clearly his disobedience and disregard for the Christ.

Elder Thomas S. Monson said, "There are those who do not hear, who will not obey, who listen to the beat of a different drummer. Most prominent among their number was that son of Adam born of Eve, even Cain—a well-known name among men. Powerful in potential, but weak of will, Cain permitted greed, envy, disobedience, and even murder to jam that personal rudder which would have guided him to safety and exaltation. The downward gaze replaced the upward look; Cain fell" (Thomas S. Monson, "Sailing Safely the Seas of Life," Ensign, July 1999).

Of course, knowingly giving an inappropriate offering and then being offended that the Lord did not accept it was not the end of Cain's evil.  He continued to hearken to the temptations of Satan until he finally created a secret society with murderous intent (Moses 5:29).

So in this first dispensation of time, the prophet Adam's son Cain killed his brother through a conspiracy, as the Book of Moses tells us (Moses 5:29).  These secret combinations increased until "Satan had great dominion among men, and raged in their hearts" (Moses 6:15). 

Into this environment of wickedness was born Enoch, who would become the prophet of the next dispensation.

ENOCH
 
Enoch received a call of God to become the prophet (v. 27) and he asked the Lord very humbly why, which is the typical response of anyone who has ever been called to be the head of the Church.  Enoch pointed out that he might not be the best choice, as he was a poor speaker and highly unpopular (v. 31).  The answer the Lord gave was the answer that always applies:  "Open thy mouth and it shall be filled," or in other words, the personal abilities of the individual called are largely irrelevant, because with God's help, he would have all the power he would need (v. 32).  Enoch believed the Lord and never again expressed self-doubt.  (We can learn something here!)  The message he was to deliver to the people:  "Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you" (Moses 6:33).

Enoch's righteousness and obedience was so great that the Lord's Spirit was upon him and he was promised that "all thy words will I justify" (Moses 6:34), even to the point of moving mountains or chancing the courses of rivers.  But although Enoch was given power over the elements, no one is given power to make people choose the Lord.  However, Enoch created the opportunity through his teaching for the children of men to turn, and in the midst of a very wicked civilization, many people did turn.

"And from that time forth Enoch began to prophesy, saying unto the people, that: As I was journeying, and stood upon the place Mahujah, and cried unto the Lord, there came a voice out of heaven, saying—Turn ye, and get ye upon the mount Simeon. And it came to pass that I turned and went up on the mount; and as I stood upon the mount, I beheld the heavens open, and I was clothed upon with glory" (Moses 7:2-3).

Because Enoch turned to the Lord, he was shown a series of three great visions, which this blog post does not have space to cover, but one of the most telling aspects of the last vision, the vision of the spiritual history of the inhabitants of the earth, was the sight of the great God of Heaven weeping.  "And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?" (Moses 7:29).  God explained that it was the choices of His children to do evil and bring upon themselves misery that made him sorrowful.  "Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands. And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch, and told Enoch all the doings of the children of men; wherefore Enoch knew, and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook" (Moses 7:40 - 41).

SORROWING FOR THE WRONG CHOICES OF OTHERS

Elder Richard G. Scott gave counsel to those who experience this type of godly sorrow:

"Many of you have heavy hearts because a son or daughter, husband or wife, has turned from righteousness to pursue evil.  My message is for you.  Your life is filled with anguish, pain, and at times, despair.  I will tell you how you can be comforted by the Lord.  First, you must recognize two foundational principles:

"1) While there are many things you can do to help a loved one in need, there are some things that must be done by the Lord.
"2) Also, no enduring improvement can occur without righteous exercise of agency.  Do not attempt to override agency.  The Lord himself would not do that.  Forced obedience yields no blessings.

"I will suggest seven ways you can help.

"1) Love without limitations.
"2) Do not condone the transgression, but extend every hope and support to the transgressor.
"3) Teach truth.
"4) Honestly forgive as often as is required.
"5) Pray trustingly.
"6) Keep perspective.

"When the things you realistically can do to help are done, leave the matter in the hands of the Lord and worry no more.  Do not feel guilty because you cannot do more.  Do not waste your energy on useless worry...In time, you will feel impressions and know how to give further help.  You will find more peace and happiness, will not neglect others that need you, and will be able to give greater help because of that eternal perspective...

"One last suggestion--Never give up on a loved one, never!"
(Ensign, May 1988)

NEVER GIVE UP HOPE

Enoch was then shown the next dispensation of the gospel in which the prophet would be Noah.  Here, the Book of Moses gives us more commentary and insight into the Bible story, as we are told, twice, that Noah's three sons were saved, not just because they were the prophet's children, but because they also had turned to the Lord (Moses 8:13,27).  Their choices saved them from the watery grave that opened to receive all the rest of humankind.  "Wherefore, Enoch saw that Noah built an ark; and that the Lord smiled upon it, and held it in his own hand" (Moses 7:43).  Then the waters overtook the world, "And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look" (Moses 7:44).  He then showed Enoch "the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh; and his soul rejoiced" (Moses 7:47).

Even for the grossly wicked in the time of Noah, there was still some hope.  God had given them the best chance by removing them from the clutches of Satan on the telestial earth to a better environment.  They would have the opportunity to turn to the Lord outside the limits of time in Spirit Prison, as they were taught by a host of the greatest prophets who ever lived on the earth (See D&C 138:28).

After his visions, Enoch went on to influence enough people to turn to God, that they were taken up into Heaven as the City of Zion.  (See Moses 7:69)

TURNING TO GOD

Every day, every hour, as we make choices, we choose whether to simply look out the window on the world, or whether to turn and walk with God.  "But God hath made known unto our fathers that all men must repent.  And he called upon our father Adam by his own voice, saying: I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh. And he also said unto him: If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given you" (Moses 6:50-52).

As we turn to the Lord, we choose the option offered, "Men are, that they might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25). 

"I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psalms 16:8-11).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Teaching Tip: Easy Ways to Manage Scripture Reading in Class and Encourage Personal Reading at Home


(Photo from LDS.org)




Here is a quick tip that facilitates easily assigning readers, while making Gospel Doctrine class feel safe and comfortable for adults or teens who have reading difficulties, need glasses, are terrified of speaking out in class, or even have just a sore throat.  Get a small item to represent the scripture "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalms 119:105).  I had a small clay Hebrew lamp I bought at a bookstore, but you could also use an ordinary (unlit) candle.  Hand the candle or lamp to a class member when class begins, and explain to the class that if they would like to read out loud, they should hold it until you call for a scripture to be read; if they are uncomfortable reading out loud, they just pass it to the next person.  After a scripture is read, the lamp or candle is passed to the next class member who either chooses to be the next reader or passes the candle on.  This worked great in our class and made it so people didn't have to try to avoid eye contact with me when I wanted a scripture read and they didn't want to be chosen.

To get class members to read the lesson assignment--no joke, this works with adults--bring small treats and simply pass them around the class in a basket.  They take one if they read the assignment.  Several of my students said this was the first they had ever actually read Sunday School assignments.  It just gave them a personal accounting each Sunday, and a mini reward.

Old Testament Lesson #4 "Because of My Transgression My Eyes are Opened"

(Moses 4; 5:1-5; 6:48-62)


Enoch taught, "Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe" (Moses 6:48).  But Lehi taught, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25).  Both men were prophets; both taught the truth.  The Fall of Man was the result of the greatest dilemma ever known, and resulted in the greatest paradox ever known.

THE GREAT DILEMMA
In the Garden of Eden, our Heavenly Father gave Adam and Eve two commandments, the first of which could only be kept by breaking the second.  He commanded them to multiply and replenish the earth, and then he commanded them to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which provided the fruit that would change their bodies to a mortal state, giving them the ability to procreate.  In this paradise, we find the only situation ever in which God issued a commandment that He really wanted disobeyed.

In order to find the reason God created this dilemma, we need to understand three things:
  • First, the characteristics of God--specifically what He cannot do and still be God;
  • Second, what the plan was for God's children;
  • Third, who Adam and Eve really were.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF GOD

First, a little tip:  I recommend that you choose a particular color of pencil and as you study the scriptures, you mark the characteristics of God in that color.  I use yellow because it makes me think of the sun, the Celestial Glory, and all that.  (Credit for this idea goes to Jerry Wilson, former instructor at Logan LDS Institute.)  If you haven't done this before, you may be surprised to learn many things about God that Satan still does not know.

For our purposes today, we are going to discuss specifically some of the things that God cannot do.
  1. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man" (James 1:13). "For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil" (Alma 5:4). God will never command us to do something that will bring us misery. Neither can he create an environment that has evil in it. This is what Satan does.
  2. "The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught" (D&C 3:1).  God cannot fail.
  3. "The Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (Alma 45:16). Nothing unholy can be in His presence.
  4. "For as I, the Lord God, liveth, even so my words cannot return void, for as they go forth out of my mouth they must be fulfilled" (Moses 4:30).  Any consequence God pronounces will come to pass because God cannot retract his words.
GOD'S PLAN FOR HIS CHILDREN

"And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" (Abr. 3:24-26).

If the point of the whole plan was to test man by how he chooses to obey or disobey God, the vital component of that plan was the agency of man.  There are four elements necessary for agency:
  1. Laws
  2. Opposites
  3. Power to choose
  4. Knowledge
(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 26)

This is where we hit up against the great dilemma.  When God created the earth, it was perfect.  This is because God only makes good things.  "And I, God, saw everything that I had made, and behold, all things which I had made were very good" (Moses 2:31), or, to use Abraham's words: "And the gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed" (Abr. 4:18)

So where would the opposing choices come from, if everything God makes is good and obeys?  It was necessary that the state of the world be changed so it would have good and evil, virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, health and sickness, but God could not do that and still be God.  Someone else would have to cause that to happen.

"And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter" (2 Nephi 2:15).  The fruit of the Tree of Life was eternal life, life like God and with God (1 Ne. 15:36); the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was death, first spiritual (a separation from God) and then physical.  "And I, the Lord God, commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Moses 3:16-17).

God needed Adam and Eve to partake of that tree to gain knowledge and to become mortal and have children and put the great plan into play.  So why didn't He just command them to partake of the tree?  Because God only commands us to do things that bring joy.  "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:3).  Eating the fruit of the tree would plunge Adam and Eve into a world of pain and sorrow.

He also would not command someone to do something that would separate them from Him. "He inviteth all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none..." (2 Ne. 26:33).  Partaking of the fruit of the second tree would make Adam and Eve unholy and unable to remain in God's presence, the type of spiritual death that is mortal life.  But it would also allow them to keep the first commandment, the command to begin mortality for all the spirit children of God.

Of the four elements of agency, only three existed in the garden for Adam and Eve. They had rules, they had opposition, and they had the power to choose, but they did not have knowledge before they partook of the tree.

God therefore provided them a warning by way of the commandment. He told them what the consequence of eating the fruit would be, so that they could make an informed decision despite having no knowledge themselves.  Since His words are always fulfilled, when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit, there was no possibility that the Fall would not occur.  At the same time, He provided them an encouragement to break the commandment by reminding them, "thou mayest choose for thyself".

ADAM AND EVE WERE NOBLE AND GREAT CHILDREN OF GOD

God allowed Satan to enter the garden and tempt Eve.  He had not created Satan to be evil, but Satan had agency in the premortal existence like everyone else, and he had chosen evil.  Satan did not understand Heavenly Father's plan and thought that he (Satan) had the ability to mess it up. Heavenly Father, however, is omnipotent, and knew what Satan would do. He is also always successful and knew His plan would be implemented, albeit unknowingly, by Satan.  Satan entered the garden, approached Eve when she was alone and unable to counsel with her husband, and he appealed to her divine nature: "And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die; for as God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Moses 4:10-11).  Did Eve want to be like her Heavenly Parents?  Absolutely!  So she partook of the fruit.  Then she found Adam and gave it to him.

When Heavenly Father asked Adam whether he had partaken of the fruit, Adam gave the right answer:  "The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat" (Moses 4:18).  God had married them and commanded them to be bound together (Moses 3:24), and Adam honored that eternal covenant, even at the loss of paradise.

When God asked Eve what she had done, she simply told the truth: "The serpent beguiled me and I did eat" (Moses 4:19).  Who was cursed for this disobedience?  Only Satan.  "Because thou hast done this thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Moses 4:20).

Both Adam and Eve had chosen what the Lord wanted them to choose, and both were blessed.  Eve was blessed to be able to bear children.  "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" (Moses 4:22).  The Hebrew word translated as "sorrow" in this passage refers to "pain," not "sadness."  "Multiply" means repetition, not an increase in intensity.  So Eve was promised that she would pass through the pain of childbirth many times (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, p. 16).  This was exactly what she wanted, and what God wanted.  In addition, she was blessed to desire her husband, bringing joy to her marriage and her life.  And she was blessed to have her husband "rule over her."  This meant he had a "governing responsibility to provide for, to protect, to strengthen and shield [his] wife" (Pres. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 99).

Eve was also given the great blessing that she and her children would always be more powerful than the devil.  Speaking to Satan, God said, "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; and he shall bruise [or crush] thy head, and thou shalt [only] bruise his heel" (Moses 4:21).  Eve's children would have an enmity, a natural aversion to evil: they would always be warned against it.  Never again would the devil have power to completely fool anyone as he did Eve.  The ability to discern evil is a divinely bestowed blessing which every mortal being possesses through the Light of Christ.  And although Satan would be allowed to tempt mortal men, they would always have the ability to resist or overcome that temptation.  "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able" (1 Cor. 10:13).  Infinitely multiplying the ability to conquer Satan, the Savior's Atonement would negate all errors and failings and sins for any of the children of men who would simply repent and call upon His name.

Adam was blessed to have the earth cursed for his sake (Moses 4:23).  This would give him the opportunity to learn and grow through the necessity of working.  "Work is the miracle by which talent is brought to the surface and dreams become reality.  There is simply no substitute under the heavens for productive labor.  It is the process by which idle visions become dynamic achievements" (Pres. Hinckley, Standing for Something, p. 80).

After the Fall, Adam stated, "Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God" (Moses 5:10).  Why would he say that?  The result of partaking of the tree was death, both spiritual and temporal, just as God had said it would be!  Eve's statement explains:  "And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient" (Moses 5:11).  The key to the joy lies in the word "redemption."

THE JOY OF OUR REDEMPTION

Let's return to the opening quote from Adam's fourth-great-grandson Enoch: "Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe. Behold Satan hath come among the children of men, and tempteth them to worship him; and men have become carnal, sensual, and devilish, and are shut out from the presence of God." But now let's add the next sentence: "But God hath made known unto our fathers that all men must repent" (Moses 6:48-50).  Having entered into mortal life by partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Atonement of Jesus Christ provided the way that men could also partake of the Tree of Life, which is the love of God manifest in His Atonement.  The fruit of this tree sanctifies us for eternal life (see 1 Ne. 11).  As the prophet Alma taught, the way to partake of it is simple (although not easy):  "Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life" (Alma 5:62)

Despite the "misery and woe" which surround us on this fallen earth, through the Atonement we can repent and be redeemed. As we live in a state of redemption by continual repenting, we can become "at one" with God more and more of the time, experiencing more and more joy even in our earthly estate, until in the end we are finally redeemed to a fullness of joy. "And the Lord showed Enoch all things, even unto the end of the world; and he saw the day of the righteous, the hour of their redemption, and received a fulness of joy" (Moses 7:67). 

Which leads us right back to Lehi's statement:  "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #3 The Creation

(Moses 1:27-42; 2-3)

THE HARMONY OF THE CREATION ACCOUNTS


There are three scriptural accounts of the Creation:  Genesis 1-2, Moses 2-3 and Abraham 4-5.  The same sequence takes place in all three.  (A fourth account of the creation, in the temple ceremony, puts the days in a different order, and Elder Bruce R. McConkie said the reason for that is obvious to any student of the gospel.  Except for me.  If you know, put it in a comment at the bottom!)  Moses and Abraham verify the truth of the King James Version, as well as clarifying it with additional information.  Some examples follow:

  • Although Genesis uses the singular word "God" as the Creator of the earth, it switches to plural, letting us know it may have been a committee of gods. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness"(Genesis 1:26).  In addition to revealing the story of the pre-earth existence and the plan of salvation, the Book of Moses gives a preface that clarifies who the Creators were.  "And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth; write the words which I speak. I am the Beginning and the End, the Almighty God; by mine Only Begotten I created these things; yea, in the beginning I created the heaven, and the earth upon which thou standest" (Moses 2:1).  Abraham uses the plural all the way throughl: "And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth." (Abraham 4:1).
  • Moses and Abraham both make it clear that the earth was not created from nothing; rather it was organized from existing matter.  "They, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth" (Abraham 4:1).
  • Abraham and Moses emphasize that the creation was done by the power of God's word.
  • Where Genesis reads that each day was pronounced "good" by God, Moses reads that each day God said that all he had created so far was good, and Abraham reads, "The Gods saw that they were obeyed" (Abraham 4:10), giving us an interesting insight into what it is to be "good."
  • Abraham uses the word "times" rather than "days."
  • All three state that there was a plan first, a spiritual creation before the physical.  (See Gen. 2:5Moses 3:5Abr. 5:5.)
CREATIVITY IS A DIVINE CHARACTERISTIC

General Relief Society President Mary Ellen Smoot taught, "Creation is one of the characteristics that defines God.  He takes matter without form and molds it into stars, planets, and solar systems...Brothers and sisters, we are children of God.  Shouldn't we be about our Father's business?  Shouldn't we be creators as well?...The raw materials of creation are all around us.  President David O. McKay taught: 'Sculptors of life are we, with our uncarved souls before us...' Do we prize the gifts, talents, and choice spirits that God has given us?  Do we share the creations of our hearts, minds, and hands with others?"

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said that creating contributes to our Heavenly Father's perfect happiness, and can increase our happiness as well. "The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul...Creation means bringing into existence something that did not exist before--colorful gardens, harmonious homes, family memories, flowing laughter...Try to see how many smiles you can create, write a letter of appreciation, learn a new skill, identify a space and beautify it...The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create.  That is your opportunity in this life and your destiny in the life to come...Trust and rely on the Spirit.  As you take the normal opportunities of your daily life and create something of beauty and helpfulness, you improve not only the world around you but also the world within you."

When we realize from the scriptural accounts that creating is reorganizing what we find or what we have into something better, we can see that every day, as we work to build the Kingdom of God, to raise our families, or to better the world around us by doing our daily work, we can be on a creating committee with Deity.  God has guided all good creations, and continues to do so, co-creating the Bible, the printing press, the lightbulb, the Internet, an effective Primary lesson, each individual infant, a spiritual home environment, a beautiful fireworks display, an inspiring Girl's Camp.  He guides us in how to create a spiritual giant out of a 12-year-old girl or an effective missionary out of a 19-year-old boy.  The account of the creation of the world teaches us that God's abilities are limitless.

FOLLOWING THE PATTERN OF THE CREATION
Despite the overwhelming disadvantage of functioning during the Great Apostacy, the translation of the King James Version of the Bible (see my previous blog entry), was successful because it followed a pattern similar to that used in the creation of the world.  We can use the same pattern for creating on a day-to-day basis:
  1. Remember that Heavenly Father is able to create anything by the power of His word. (See Jacob 4:8-10.)  Stay worthy of the Gift of the Holy Ghost and He can counsel you as to what to create and how.  A feeling of great enthusiasm and drive for a project is how the Spirit often manifests itself, as it did to King James.  Relentless nagging thoughts about the importance of a particular work that you normally wouldn't want to do can also indicate a prompting of the Spirit.
  2. With this divine guidance, make a plan and carefully evaluate it.  Spiritual creation always comes first.
  3. Use a committee if appropriate and possible.  King James enlisted 47 great men, and sought the insight and aid of any learned man in the country of England.
  4. Trust in the Lord and follow through on the inspiration given to you.  Don't hesitate or be afraid.  Knowing you have never done it before, thinking it is beyond your ability, or realizing you don't know how, are all irrelevant because "[you] can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth [you]" (Philip. 4:13).
  5. Pause to evaluate along the way, and seek the opinions of others.  After every segment of God's creation, he paused and said his work was "good."  Every chapter of the King James Bible was translated by multiple people and reviewed by multiple committees to make sure it was the very best it could be.
  6. At the end of the creation, God looked it over and pronounced it "very good."  The King James translators wrote a lovely dedication to their work, which follows the title page of the Bible.  When you reach the outcome of your inspired project, stop, look it over, and rejoice in it.  Whether it is a home repair, a musical performance, a Primary lesson, or a conversation with a new friend, go over in your mind what went well, and thank Heavenly Father for allowing you to jointly create with Him.  This will make you more likely to succeed the next time. 

Sources:  Mary Ellen Smoot, Ensign, May 2000; Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, November 2008.

    The Amazing King James Translation

    THE CREATION OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE

    Did you know that in the 1300s, British farmers would pay a wagonload of hay to rent a hand-written English copy of the Bible for one hour, or to purchase just a few sheets of the manuscript? (1)  So great was their hunger for the gospel light that many were willing to do this, even knowing that if they were caught reading they might be burned at the stake with their Bible manuscripts hanging about their necks!  This first English translation of the Bible was done by John Wycliffe, with the aid of some associates. 

    John Wycliffe

    John Wycliffe saw that the leaders of the Church of England were not following the teachings of the Bible and were leading the common people astray. He felt the people deserved to be able to read the truth for themselves. The church leaders, on the other hand, said it was as dangerous to let a layperson read the scriptures, as it would be to give a toddler a knife and allow him to cut his own bread. So Wycliffe was imprisoned as a heretic for five years. He worked himself to death on his manuscript, and died December 31, 1382. The church authorities later dug up his bones, burned them, and scattered them in the river, feeling sorry at having missed their chance to execute him. (2)


    William Tyndale

    A hundred years later, William Tyndale also wanted to give the common people a Bible they could read for themselves.  Almost all of Wycliffe's Bibles had been burned, some of them with people attached, and England had returned to the same state it had been in previously.  The church leaders were the only ones who could read the Bible, and they didn't follow it.  In fact, the Bishop of Gloucester surveyed 311 church leaders in his diocese and found that 168 of the 311 did not know all Ten Commandments, 31 couldn't tell him where the commandments came from, and 40 not only couldn't repeat the Lord's Prayer, they didn't even know who had said it.  By now, Gutenberg had invented the printing press and published the Latin Vulgate Bible on it.  The invention of the printing press dramatically lowered the cost of books, making them available to a broader portion of the population.  Tyndale translated the Bible into the common vernacular, something that he hoped any plow boy could read and understand.  He had to leave England and do his work in Germany to preserve his life.  He smuggled his Bibles back into England.  People had an insatiable craving for these books, even knowing that they might be hunted down, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, or even burned at the stake for possessing them.  Tyndale himself was finally betrayed by one of his closest friends, and was executed October 6, 1536, by being strangled and then burned.  His final words were, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes!"

    His prayer was answered.  Henry VIII's new wife Anne Boelyn liked the idea of an English Bible, and gradually the notion became more popular until several different English versions of the Bible were circulating through several monacharies.


    Anne Boelyn

    THE KING JAMES TRANSLATION

    In 1603, James, the King of Scotland, also became King of England.  King James loved the Bible, and himself had translated parts of it into English.  In every letter he wrote, he quoted scripture.  The suggestion was made to him that the present Bible translations had too many mistakes to teach the truth well and it should be retranslated.

    King James

    King James loved the idea!  He was so excited about it that he immediately drew up a detailed plan about how the work could be accomplished.  He carefully selected men from all different walks of life and religions, all of whom were the most honorable, knowledgeable, and Christ-like people he could find.  They were great and good men who had spent their lives trying to bring people to Christ in various ways in their own denominations.

    47 men organized into six groups did the translation at the three great colleges, Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford.  James was not a rich king and really couldn't afford to pay them much, so the colleges donated room and board for the translators.  Each group took a section of the Bible.  Each man in each group translated each chapter, then they compared and combined their translations.  Each book was then sent to the five other committees for their review.  Any learned man in the country of England could be called upon to assist.  The bishops of the land were instructed to inform their congregants of the project and solicit help from any who felt they had some special linguistic knowledge.  The translators worked diligently and carefully to find, not just the most accurate translation, but the one that carried the deepest meaning in the most beautiful way.  For example, the 23rd Psalm could have been translated, "The Lord is my shepherd, therefore I lack nothing."  Instead they chose the beautiful phrase we have all come to love:  "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

    The King James Version was the first Bible translation to have a table of contents, a map of the Holy Land, chapters and verses, and summaries of the chapters.  It took eight years for the 47 men to complete the work, and several of them had died before 1611 when it was done.

    Quoting a scholar of the Bible, Geddes MacGregor:  "[The King James Translation] has been in life and death the guide of a billion hearts and minds.  It has taught, consoled, enlightened, civilized and disciplined millions who have read little else.  It has...astonished the learned, and formed the characters of those who have led."

    181 years after the KJV was first printed, Alexander Geddes, a Roman Catholic Priest and translator, wrote, "If accuracy, fidelity, and the strictest attention to the letter of the text, be supposed to constitute the qualities of an excellent version, this of all versions, must, in general, be accounted the most excellent.  Every sentence, every word, every syllable, every letter and point, seem to have been weighed with the nicest exactitude; and expressed...with the greatest precision." (3)

    For a nice 3-minute video by the Church on the William Tyndale, go to either Mormon Messages on YouTube, or the Church's website and search for the video "The Blessings of Scripture."  I apologize for not being able to link it directly.

    For another great article on the King James Bible go to the August 2011 Ensign.

    Sources: 
    (1) Robert J. Matthews, "A Bible! A Bible!" Ensign, January 1987;
    (2) Lenet H. Read, "How the Bible Came to Be: Part 7," Ensign, August 1982;
    (3) Dr. Laurence M. Vance, A Brief History of the King James Bible, excerpts found at http://www.av1611.org/kjv/kjvhist.html;

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    Old Testament Lesson #2 "Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born"

    A RIGHTEOUS DESIRE

    When you were young, did you ever want something so much, but no matter how you hoped and wished, that desire was not realized?

    Elder Vaughan J. Featherstone tells such a story:

    "When I was a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood, the member of the bishopric who advised the deacons quorum came into our quorum meeting the Sunday before Thanksgiving and said, 'I hope we won’t have one family of this quorum who won’t kneel down in family prayer and have a blessing on the food this Thanksgiving.' It was 1943, and our country was engaged in World War II. We discussed our need for a divine blessing for those who were in military service and for all the other difficulties we as a nation were facing. We also talked about the blessings we each enjoyed. Then we were again encouraged to have family prayer.

    "A heavy cloud settled on my heart. I didn’t know how my family could have family prayer. My father had a drinking problem, and my mother was not a member of the Church at that time. We had never had a prayer in our home, not even a blessing on the food. After quorum meeting I continued to consider the challenge, and finally concluded we would not be able to have prayer.

    "That evening at sacrament meeting the bishop stood up at the close of the meeting and said, 'Brothers and sisters, Thursday is Thanksgiving. I hope we will not have one family in the ward that will not kneel in family prayer. We ought to express our gratitude for the great goodness of our Heavenly Father to us.' And then he enumerated some of our many blessings.

    "Again it seemed as if my soul were filled with an enormous gloom. I tried to figure out a way our family could have prayer. I thought about it Monday, and again on Tuesday, and on Wednesday. On Wednesday evening my father did not return home from work at the normal hour, and I knew from experience that, because it was payday, he was satisfying his thirst for alcohol. When he finally came at two in the morning quite an argument ensued. I lay in bed wondering how we could ever have prayer with that kind of contention in our home.

    "On Thanksgiving morning, we did not eat breakfast so we could eat more dinner. My four brothers and I went out to play with some neighbor boys. We decided to dig a hole and make a trench to it and cover it over as a clubhouse. We dug a deep hole, and with every shovelful of dirt I threw out of the hole I thought about family prayer for Thanksgiving. I wondered if I would have enough courage to suggest to my parents that we have a prayer, but I was afraid I would not. I wondered if my older brother, who has always been an ideal in my life, would suggest it, since he had been in the same sacrament meeting and had heard the bishop’s suggestion.

    "Finally, at about two-thirty in the afternoon, Mother told us to come get cleaned up for dinner. Then we sat down at the big round oak table. Dad sat down with us silently—he and Mother were not speaking to each other. As she brought in the platter with the beautiful golden brown turkey, my young heart was about to burst. I thought, Now please, won’t someone suggest we have a family prayer? I thought the words over and over, but they wouldn’t come out. I turned and looked at my older brother, praying desperately that he would suggest prayer. The bowls of delicious food were being passed around the table; plates were being filled; and time and opportunity were passing. I knew that if someone did not act immediately, it would be too late. Then suddenly, as always, everyone just started eating.

    "My heart sank, and despair filled my soul. Although I had worked up a great appetite, and Mother was a marvelous cook, I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to pray."

    ABRAHAM'S DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY

    The Book of Abraham starts very simply:  "In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence" (Abraham 1:1). This sounds so ordinary, but there was a great deal of suffering which caused the move.  The rest of the chapter gives us the explanation. Abraham's kinsfolk and community had become horrifically wicked, and were offering human sacrifice to idols, even sacrificing their own children (see verses 5-14). As the knife was raised to sacrifice Abraham himself, he cried unto the Lord. A "vision of the Almighty" filled him, and an angel of the Lord appeared to rescue Abraham.  God spoke to him personally, counseling him to move to a strange land, and promising him great blessings once he did so (verses 16-18).

    Abraham had possessed a great desire for righteousness in his youth and young adulthood, but as with Elder Featherstone, it was not realized until he started his own family.  "And finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers" (verse 2).  It would be interesting to know who taught Abraham the gospel.  Where did he learn of God, and where did he see this example of righteousness? 

    Abraham married and followed the Lord's command to journey to a new land.  Even before he reached his destination, however, he received the blessing he had sought.

    THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT

    In the land of Haran, the Lord said to him, "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations; and I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father" (Abraham 2:9-10).  We call this the Abrahamic Covenant, and even today, everyone who hearkens to the gospel and joins the Church, becomes a partaker, an child of Abraham.

    So Abraham, one who had been raised in idolatry and great wickedness, a victim of life-threatening abuse, who had to escape his own home in order to fulfill his desire for righteousness, became the literal and symbolic father of all the righteous for all the following generations of time!  What an amazing irony!  Abraham is the finest example of the principle taught by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity."

    FOREORDINATION CAN SURPRISE US

    In a vision, as Abraham was shown the preexistence, he discovered that he, himself, was in the council of the great leaders the Lord was preparing for His kingdom on earth.  I wonder if that surprised him?  "Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones...and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born" (Abraham 3:22-23).

    It is interesting to note how the Lord fosters his leaders when he sends them to earth.  Joseph Smith was raised in a family that had been prepared for generations to receive a prophet in their midst, where his parents and grandparents had sought truth and read the Bible to their children, and studied religion carefully.  Gordon B. Hinckley was born in Salt Lake City, the hub of Church activity, into a family where the restored gospel had been lived for generations, and where his father was a great local Church leader.  But Abraham came to a different environment, to an abusive, non-believing home, to a heritage of gross wickedness.  And yet he became one of the greatest of all the prophets, the father of all believers, because he was foreordained to it, he desired it, and he followed through on his desire. 

    What can we learn from this?  Not that the home environment is not important, because it is, but that foreordained "noble and great ones" can be planted on the earth in surprising places.  They can be anyone from any background.  Perhaps the challenges that a person faces because of his family helps to prepare him for the specific work the Lord has for him to do.  We would do well to assume that each person in our quorum, in our Primary class, or in our Young Women group, regardless of their present circumstance, is foreordained to a great work, and that we have a responsibility to help them and train them accordingly.  We may also do well to lift our vision of ourselves, because our capabilities and responsibilities may be much greater than we realize.

    President Ezra Taft Benson said, "God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the second coming of the Lord.  Some individuals will fall away; but the kingdom of God will remain intact to welcome the return of its head--even Jesus Christ.  While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time.  It is that God has saved for the final inning some of His strongest children, who will help bear off the kingdom triumphantly...Make no mistake about it--you are a marked generation.  There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time than there is of us."


    Sources:  Vaughan J. Featherstone, The New Era, Nov. 1985, p. 4; Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, November 1996; Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 104-105.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Teaching Tip: The Seven Dispensations Memory Aid


    "A dispensation of the gospel is a period of time in which the Lord has at least one authorized servant on the earth who bears the holy priesthood and the keys, and who has a divine commission to dispense the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth" (Bible Dictionary, "Dispensations").  Each time, after a period of falling away, the gospel is revealed anew, so that people of that dispensation have accurate and unadulterated information upon which to build their faith.  As a memory aid for the chronology of the seven major gospel dispensations, here is a little story with awesome artwork by myself :)  Feel free to copy or print it.