Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #18 "Be Strong and of a Good Courage"

(Joshua 1-6; 23-24)

A HAPPY ENDING FOR JOSHUA & THE ISRAELITES

Joshua was one of the two faithful, courageous spies who gave a good report of the land of Canaan (Num. 14:6-10).  He was full of the spirit of wisdom, and led the Israelites after Moses was gone (Deut. 34:9).  The Lord told him three times to "be strong and of a good courage" and the people also repeated that counsel to him, which he definitely followed (Josh. 1:6,7,9,18).

Joshua followed the ark of the covenant to cross the Jordan River on dry ground, showing the children of Israel that he was clearly the worthy successor to Moses (Josh. 3:7-13).  He erected a monument to keep the miracle of the crossing in the memory of the people (Josh. 4:5-7).  The Lord sent an angelic military captain to show Joshua that great heavenly aid was on his side (Josh. 5:13-15). 

Joshua took the city of Jericho in a miraculous manner, as commanded by the Lord:  The army marched in a circle around the city, followed by seven priests blowing seven trumpets, followed by the ark of the covenant, followed by a rear guard.  They did this for seven days, and on the seventh day, they did it seven times (the meaning of the number seven in Hebrew is "perfection, completion"), and the host of Israel shouted and the walls of the city fell flat, so that the Israelites could easily conquer (Josh. 6-7). 

After the many battles were won to conquer the land of Canaan, after peace was established among the Israelite nation, and when his own life was nearly over, Joshua counseled the Israelites once again to "be very courageous" in keeping the commandments (Josh. 23:6).  He testified to them that God had kept all his promises (Josh. 23:14).  He counseled them to "choose ye this day" to serve the Lord (Josh. 24:15).

Joshua's taking of the city of Jericho is listed in Hebrews 11 as one of seventeen all-time great acts of faith (verse 30).  Among those great examples of faith, there are only two women listed.  Not surprisingly, the great matriarch Sara is one of them, but the other is a shocker: the Canaanite prostitute Rahab!  "By faith, the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she received the spies with peace" (Heb. 11:31).

A HAPPY ENDING FOR RAHAB

Rahab was truly a remarkable example of faith, if an unusual one.  Rahab was living in the city of Jericho among idolators.  With no gospel training, no missionaries, no "members" living nearby, and in the most wicked environment in the world, she gained a testimony of Jehovah.  She bore it to the Israelite spies who lodged at her abode: "For the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" (Josh. 2:11).  She hid the spies, and lied in their behalf, risking her life for that testimony (Josh. 2:2-7).  She had greater faith than do many active Latter-day Saints today, because as she trusted the Israelites and believed that they would physically save her, she also must have trusted Jehovah and believed that He would spiritually save her, despite her history of prostitution.  She raised her son, Boaz, to be a great, kind, wise, and faithful man, the man who married Ruth!  Jesus Christ Himself was a direct descendant of Rahab and she is expressly mentioned in His genealogy (Matt. 1:5).

Both Joshua and Rahab were carried by their faith through extremely challenging, even life-threatening difficulties, to a happy ending (Josh. 6:25; 23:1).  We can reflect about times that our faith has carried us through hard times.  Sometimes we enjoy a happy ending in earth life; sometimes we have to wait until later for our happy ending.

EARTHLY RESULTS OF FAITH

Hebrews 11:33-38 lists the results of faith in the lives of many of the saints through the ages.  By faith, they:
  • Subdued kingdoms (Joshua)
  • Wrought righteousness (Joshua)
  • Obtained promises (Joshua)
  • Stopped the mouths of lions (Daniel)
  • Quenched the violence of fire (all these first five apply to Melchizedek, see JST Gen. 14)
  • Escaped the edge of the sword (Rahab & Joshua)
  • Waxed valiant in fight (Joshua)
  • Turned to flight the armies of aliens (Joshua)
  • When dead, were raised to life again (Lazarus)
Happy endings, all!  Hooray!  Faith always pays off!

BUT, read the rest of the passage...

By faith, others were:
  • Tortured, not accepting deliverance (Paul, see Acts 21:13,30-34)
  • Tried with cruel mockings and scourgings (Peter & John, see Acts 4)
  • In bonds and imprisonment (Peter & Paul, see Acts 12)
  • Stoned (Stephen, see Acts 7; Jeremiah, see Bible Dictionary)
  • Sawn asunder (Isaiah, see Bible Dictionary)
  • Tempted (Christ Himself, see JST Matt. 4:1)
  • Slain with the sword (James, see Acts 12:2)
  • Wandered about in skins (John the Baptist, see Matt. 3)
  • Destitute, afflicted, tormented (all the remaining apostles of Jesus Christ)
  • Wandered in deserts & mountains, in dens & caves (Elijah, see 1 Kings 19)
Sometimes faith does not lead to a happy earthly ending, but to more trials of faith!  Why this disparity?  Is God unfair?  Does He not care?

TWO EXODUSES

In the JST Appendix, we find a large passage added to Genesis 50 in which Joseph of Egypt prophecies that two of his descendants will each do a great work to save the people:  Moses, and Joseph Smith (JST Gen. 50:24-29 for Moses; 50:30-33 for Joseph Smith).  Both these great leaders endured great trials as they tried to prepare their people for a holier existence.  The followers of both great prophets had to leave their homes in search of a promised land.  If we compare the Exodus in the Old Testament with the Exodus of the Latter-day Saints, we learn some interesting things:

Moses gave the Israelites the Law, and tried to lead them to the Promised Land of Canaan, but was taken into heaven before they achieved it.  The Lord showed the children of Israel that Joshua was Moses' successor by parting the Jordan River for them to cross, as He had parted the Red Sea for Moses (Josh. 3:7,13).  Joshua succeeded in the enormous task of claiming the Promised Land and establishing peaceful residency there (Josh. 23).
Joseph Smith tried in vain to establish Zion in Missouri.  He died, not seeing Zion, but Brigham Young successfully led the saints to the Salt Lake Valley, which they claimed as a Promised Land, and where they enjoyed relative peace.  Brigham Young, like Joshua, was shown to be the clear successor to Joseph Smith when Joseph Smith's likeness came upon him in the eyes of the people as he spoke to them.

The children of Israel left Egypt with great riches, the payment for their slavery (Exo. 12:36).
The Latter-day Saints were destitute when they were forced to leave Nauvoo.  They left all that they had worked for behind--their homes, their gardens, their beautiful possessions--and were severely limited in what necessities of life they were able to pack into a covered wagon or handcart.

The Israelites were fed manna from heaven every day for forty years until they arrived in Canaan (Josh. 5:12).
The pioneers' food was rationed and limited.  They all hungered; some starved.

The Israelites' clothing didn't wear out, and their feet didn't swell during their journey (Deut. 8:4).  They never experienced extreme cold.
The pioneers walked across the plains with worn-out shoes, some with feet wrapped in rags, leaving bloody footprints in the snow.  Some lost limbs because of the cold.  Some froze to death.

The children of Israel were led into a fertile, cultivated, developed farmland (Josh. 24:13).
The early saints were led into a dry and barren desert, and had to be extremely hard-working and clever to make the desert bloom so they could survive.

The Israelites crossed the Red Sea and the Jordan River on dry ground (Josh. 3:17).
The pioneers forded icy rivers with bare feet, while ill and starving, some carrying others on their backs.

The children of Israel continually begged to go back to Egypt (Acts 7:39).
The Latter-day Saints continually begged to go on to Zion, flocking to the pioneer wagon trains from all over the eastern United States, Canada, and Europe, many of them so overanxious that they started the trip under-prepared.

IF IT SEEM EVIL UNTO YOU...

Joshua said to his people when he neared his death, "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve...but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15).  We never read that first half-sentence, but we can see from the comparison above that there are times when maybe it does seem "evil" or at least fruitless to serve the Lord.  Paul, however, one of those on the Hebrews 11 list who received a lot of evil for his faith, testified, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58).  How could he say that, after all he suffered?

If we finish the comparison between the Israelites with their "happy ending" and the pioneers with their continual trials, we can learn a very important lesson in the end result:

The children of Israel quickly lost their testimonies and reverted to evil (Judges 2).
The early Latter-day Saints stayed faithful for generations, a large percentage even until the present day, and the Church continues to grow exponentially upon that foundation of faithfulness amid trial.

As is said of the faithful listed in Hebrews 11, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise [in this life]: God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect" (JST Heb. 11:39-40).  The message:  Regardless of the temporal outcome, our faith can sanctify us.  If we suffer greatly for our faith, we will be rewarded greatly.  If we receive not the promise in earth life, we will receive greater promises in the next life.  The trials perfect us.  James, the brother of the Lord advised, "Count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations [Harper-Collins Study Bible translates temptations as "trials of any kind"]; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:2-4).

"And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb. 6:11 -12).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #17 "Beware Lest Thou Forget"

(Deuteronomy 6; 8; 11; 32)

THE FORTY-YEAR JOURNEY

There is tremendous significance in the little parenthetical statement that opens the Book of Deuteronomy:  "There are 11 days' journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir unto Kadesh-barnea" (Deut. 1:2).  It took the children of Israel 40 years to make an 11-day journey (Kerry Muhlestein, p. 89).  Obviously the physical arrival in the promised land was not the object of the journey.  There was a more important object that took 40 years to accomplish:  learning to be free through obedience and trust in the Lord.  By being placed in a hostile desert environment, they were forced to learn to rely on the Lord, as He was their only means of survival.  By the time they were ready to enter the Promised Land, had they finally learned that?  Yes!  What a relief!  Now there was no reason to worry about them anymore, right?  Wrong.

What are some of the things you have learned in your journey of life?

Can you name the nations of Africa?
Can you tell the date of the Louisiana Purchase?
Can you recite the Periodic Table of Elements?
Can you say which musical key has five sharps?
Can you write down the Pythagorean theorem?
Can you recite the names of all 50 United States?
Can you remember when the Battle of Trenton occured?
Can you tell the date that the Declaration of Independence was signed?
(Outside the U.S., substitute your own historical dates.)

As you can see, the greater part of learning is remembering.  Those things you have "learned" but not continued to use become forgotten.  Those things you repeat frequently, you retain.

THE CALL TO REMEMBER

At the point of entry into the promised land, the problem was no longer whether the children of Israel had learned obedience and trust in the Lord.  Now the concern was whether they would retain that understanding.  This is where Deuteronomy comes in, the last words of Moses to the children of Israel before they entered the promised land.  Leviticus was information for the priests, Numbers was for the Levites, and Deuteronomy was for the people, to help them remember what they had learned (Philip A. Allred, p. 55).  "Lest when thou has eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage" (Deut. 8:12-14).

Most people over the age of ten can remember their address with no difficulty.  Why?  Because they have employed many mnemonic (memory) devices to remember it:  They write it over and over, they hear it over and over, they see it written over and over, they say it over and over.  The most important component of all effective mnemonic methods is repetition.  Remembering one's own address is easy because the repetition is constant, daily.

Deuteronomy means "repetition of the law" (Allred, p. 56).  It is a constitutional covenant for the Israelites to live by, and as a matter of fact, United States citizens today live by it, too:  Our Constitution is based on Deuteronomy, as is our criminal law, our tort law, and our civil law (Timothy W. Durkin, p. 84-86).  It was vital for the children of Israel to remember this law, and the Lord who gave it, in order to retain the Lord's protection.  As Moses said, "It is not a vain thing for you..it is your life" (Deut. 32:47).

MNEMONIC DEVICES OF DEUTERONOMY

Moses used many memory devices, each a brick in the wall of a spiritual fortress for the Israelites, each of which incorporated the all-important factor of repetition.  (Allred lists more than I do here, including types and symbols, the Sabbath, significant years, circumcision, religious attire, and culture.)

Feasts and Festivals
First of all, why can few people remember the date of the Louisiana Purchase, but almost all Americans remember the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence?  Because it's a national holiday!  We wave the flag, we have picnics, we watch fireworks, we listen to patriotic speeches and music.  From our childhood we are taught about the Fourth of July through all of our senses, repetitiously.  The children of Israel likewise remembered the Lord through their feasts and festivals, as outlined in Deuteronomy 16. They were a major part of the lifestyle of the Israelites.  These feasts and festivals are also found carrying over into the traditions of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon.  Author Jacob Neusner says these "shape life into rhythms of sanctification" (Allred, p. 64).  We have our own feasts and festivals.  All of our national holidays are designed to help us remember something and they can work very well.  Sometimes, however, we go beyond the mark, just as the Jews did with the Law of Moses, and let the celebration become much more important than the object of the celebration.  We need to be careful that we don't become spiritually shallow in the culture in which we live; for example, we need to keep Christ as the obvious focus of our Christmas and Easter celebrations, our fallen patriots as the focus of our Memorial Day observances, and gratitude for blessings as the focus of our Thanksgiving feast.

Songs
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them...Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel...Moses therefore wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel" (Deut. 31:16, 19, 22).  Chapter 32  is called "The Song of Moses."  It was literally a song, designed to remind the Israelites of the Lord and His greatness, and warn them of their propensity to forget him every time they sang it. 

One of the phrases introduced in this song is still widely used in the English language today.  "He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye" (Deut. 32:10).  We, of course, also use songs to teach and remember important things: national songs, religious songs, educational songs.  I can name the 50 states in alphabetical order perfectly any time, any day, because my elementary school teacher taught us a song about them.  Memorizing hymns and Primary songs can help us remember gospel concepts, and bring us closer to God quickly when troubles arise.

Poems and Stories
The Hebrews had an incredibly rich language, which doesn't bring all of its meaning with it when it is translated.  One of their most beautiful literary techniques is chiasmus, a form of poetry in which all the lines of the poem lead to the main point, after which they all repeat in reverse order with slight variation.  In chapter 8 of Deuteronomy, Moses applies this mnemonic device, re-telling the whole story of the Exodus and the Lord's role in it, in a chiastic poem (Allred, p. 57-58).  In this poem, the most important point is found in verse 11: "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statues, which I command thee this day."

The outline of this chiastic poem is as follows:
A. Obedience ensures life (8:1)
     B. Wandering in the desert (8:2-6)
          C. Richness of the promised land (8:7-10)
               D. Do not forget the Lord (8:11)
          C. Richness of the promised land (8:12-13)
     B. Wandering in the desert (8:14-16)
A. Apostasy ensures destruction (8:19-2).

We apply poetry to help us remember things:  "I before E except after C" helps us spell, "right-tighty, lefty-loosy" helps us know which way to screw on the garden hose or the jelly lid.  We would be wise to memorize poems that teach a message, as our prophet President Monson has done, so that we can repeat them at will when the occasion for teaching or remembering arises.

Stories also make great tools for remembering lessons learned.  "And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you?  Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh's bondmen in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand: And the Lord shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes: And he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware unto our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us" (Deut. 6:20-25).  Chapter 8 of Deuteronomy tells the story of the wanderings of the children of Israel, and the blessings of the Lord to them.

Repeating stories of our ancestors, our scripture heroes, our church leaders, and most of all, ourselves, at our family nights and family reunions can help our families remember miracles and seek the Lord's help in their own lives.  President Eyring has counseled us to record the hand of of the Lord in our lives in a journal (Henry B. Eyring, "O Remember, Remember," Ensign, Nov. 2007).

Prayers
Chapter 6 of Deuteronomy contains the first part of the Shema, a twice-daily ritualistic prayer.  The word shema means "hear." 

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6:4-5).  This is the great, all-encompassing commandment, according to Christ: to "love the Lord thy God."  To the Israelites, the heart was the seat of wisdom, intellect, feelings, emotions, and intentions (Blair G. Van Dyke, p. 37; Allred, p. 49).  In our terms it would equal the heart and head both.  These verses, then, are talking about a conscious effort to be loyal, an intentional obedience. The "soul" refers to life itself.  To love with all the soul meant with enough devotion to die for the other person, to love with your entire existence.  To love with all your might indicated a military meaning, a willingness to join forces to aid the other and to fight on their side (Amy Blake Hardison, p. 25). 

We might reflect the same diligence to prayer by praying twice daily as a family, praying at mealtimes, offering personal prayers throughout the day, and married couple prayers at bedtime.  We can strive to love the Lord with our whole being, as did the Israelites.

Visual Reminders
This is only the first bit of the Shema.  The entire thing is Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21: and Numbers 15:37-41, in that order (Stephen and Shirley Ricks, "Jewish Education in the Meridian of Time," Ensign, October 1987).  "And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates" (Deut. 6:8-9).  Binding them upon the hard or arm would remind them to make their actions and dealings consistent with the Law.  Putting them on the forehead between the eyes would make their vision and their thoughts consistent with the Law.  Putting them on the doorposts would remind them to carry the Law with them out into the community.  Whether Jehovah really meant for them to literally put the scriptures in little boxes on their foreheads and arms and the doorposts of their houses, or whether it was just figurative is debatable (Van Dyke, p. 49), but the symbolism is beautiful.  The phylacteries and the mezuzot evolved from this directive.

We use phylacteries of a sort:  We wear things that remind us of our covenants:  temple garments, CTR rings.  We can also use a form of mezuzots:  The Proclamation on the Family, pictures of Christ and the temples, plaques that say, "Return with Honor," "I Am a Child of God," or "Remember Who You Are."

Deuteronomy also authorized the establishment of a national monument (Deut. 27:2-3). To put up a monument is a worthwhile thing to do. It's another way of reminding people of important things. In the United States, we have the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, etc.  We also have religious monuments scattered throughout the world wherever the saints have been:  monuments to pioneers, statues of Christ, memorials of great saints, historical markers.  When we see one of these, we are curious about its meaning, and we learn about it, photograph it, remember it.

CONCLUSION

The Lord wanted the children of Israel to be peculiar, meaning "set apart from the world" (Allred, p. 68), a "purchased personal treasure" (Van Dyke, p. 39).  As long as they remembered him, and kept themselves unstained from the world, He fought their battles, watered their land, guarded their prosperity, and protected them from their enemies.  Each time they faithfully exercised these little mnemonic devices, they added a brick to the wall of their fortress from the world.  When they stopped doing this, they lost their defense.

We are told to live "in the world, but not of the world."  Like the Israelites, we also must work to remember the Lord our God and what He has done for us.  It takes constant effort to create "rhythms of sanctification," but as Moses said, "It is not a vain thing for you.. it is your life" (Deut. 32:47).  Any enhancements we make to our environment and our routine that help us to remember our spiritual heritage add to the fortress of strength that we need to survive in these wicked days, and qualify us for the protection and guidance of the Lord.

Sources: 
Kerry Muhlestein, "Believing in the Atoning Power of Christ," Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 89-99.

Philip A. Allred, "Moses' Charge to Remember," Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 55-70.

Timothy W. Durkin, "Deuteronomy as a Constitutional Covenant," Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 74-86.

Blair G. Van Dyke, "Profiles of a Covenant People," Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 35-52.

Amy Blake Hardison, "Being a Covenant People," Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 19-32.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #16 "I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of God"

(Numbers 22-24; 31:1-16)

As the Children of Israel moved into the Land of Canaan, winning battles against the current inhabitants, their power and might became known.  Among the tribes living in the area were the Moabites, and the Midianites.  (See "Teaching the Family to Trust in the Lord" in a previous post for the ancestry of the Moabites; and "Abraham's Wives" in a previous post for the ancestry of the Midianites.)  These tribes had both become idolatrous, worshiping the god Baal with extremely wicked acts.

Balak, the king of the Moabites, could see that the Israelites' God, Jehovah, was much more powerful than Baal, as he watched the Israelite army crush the cities in their way, and he became terrified.  He sought the help of a prophet of Jehovah (who was not an Israelite) named Balaam.

CHANGING THE LORD'S MIND

First Solicitation (Numbers 22:5-14).  Balak asked Balaam to curse the Israelites, sending a healthy bribe to him as a reward.  Being idolators, the Moabites did not understand that "the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven and cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness" (D&C 121:36).  Balaam asked God, and God said the Israelites were not to be cursed.  Balaam told the messengers to return to their own land, "for the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you."

Second Solicitation (Numbers 22:15-21).  Balak sent again to Balaam, this time adding to the monetary reward "very great honor."  Balaam knew Jehovah, though, and said, "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more."  But even though he had received the Lord's answer, he said he would ask again, clearly hoping the answer would change.  He already knew the Lord did not give him leave to go with them.  (Is this sounding a little bit like Joseph Smith and the lost 116 pages?)  Willing to let Balaam learn from his own experience, as he does with us, God said to Balaam, "If the men come to call thee, rise up if thou wilt go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do" (words in italics are JST change).  God let Balaam go, but he "sent an angel before [him] to keep [him] in the way" as in Exo. 23:20.

This is where we meet up with the strange story of the talking donkey.  Balaam was determined to go to the Moabites and mightily hoped to change the Lord's mind when he got there.  The donkey, however, was spooked by the presence of the angel that Balaam could not see.  Although the animal was protecting Balaam's life, Balaam was hard set on going that direction and mistreated the beast.  At this point, "the Lord opened the mouth of the ass," which may be a way of saying He gave to Balaam a clear insight as to why the donkey was acting the way she was.

Obviously the angel was there to prevent Balaam from going to Moab, yet still he didn't turn back of his own accord, but said to the angel, "If it displease thee, I will get me back again."  It was already abundantly clear that it displeased the Lord.  (Here the similarity to the story of the lost 116 pages ends; Balaam did not humble himself and submit to the Lord's will as did Joseph Smith.)  The Lord, once more giving Balaam his freedom to choose, said through the angel, "Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shal speak" (Num. 22:34-35).

Third Solicitation (Num. 22:36-23:12).  Balak added oxen and sheep to his previous bribe.  Balaam's desire to change the Lord's mind was heightened, and he came up with a new idea:  Perhaps if the Moabites worship God as the Israelites do, He will defend them.  So he and Balak set up sacrifices to the Lord, but in the "high places of Baal," a thinly veiled ruse.  Of course, obedience is more important than sacrifice to the Lord (1 Sam. 15:22) and the deception did not work.

Fourth Solicitation (Num.23:13-26).  Balak reduced his request, taking Balaam to an area where just a part of the Israelites were visible, and asking him to curse just that group.  Again they offered sacrifices to the Lord, but Balaam admitted the Lord was not a man and therefore unlikely to "repent," or change his mind.  Despite his desire to do otherwise, Balaam did not curse the Israelites, as the Lord "hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him."

Fifth Solicitation (Num. 23:27-24:24).  Balak clearly was not used to a god that could not be bribed.  He took Balaam to another lookout, and asked the Lord to curse that group of Israelites.  Instead, Balaam prophecied of Christ and the blessings He will bring to the Israelites.  Balak was angry, and he and Balaam parted ways.

This was not the end of their alliance, however.  After asking amiss and in vain five times, Balaam devised another scheme to get the Lord to curse the Israelites, which is not mentioned chronologically in this story, but in several other places in scripture:  He conspired with the Moabites, and the confederation of the Midianites of which they were apparently a part, to tempt the Israelites to commit whoredoms and worship their idols, therefore hoping to cause them to lose their favored place with Jehovah.  As a consequence, the Lord sent a plague upon the Israelites which killed 24,000 of these idolators (Num. 25:1-9).

The result, however, did not improve Balak's case with Jehovah, but incurred His wrath.  God commanded the Israelites to smite the Midianites.  Although Balak had left Moab, he apparently returned to the alliance, and was killed in the conflict (Num. 31:8).

THE EXAMPLE OF BALAAM

"Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

"Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.  Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen" (D&C 121:34-40). 

Balaam's example of a "prophet," or one who has a testimony of Christ, being outwardly obedient, while inwarding "loving the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Pet. 2:15-16) is confusing to us.  Fortunately, the tradition of the Old Testament is to place extreme examples of good and evil back-to-back, making the lessons easy for us to learn.  Balak's and Balaam's nemesis, Moses, is our clear and shining example of righteous use of the priesthood.

THE EXAMPLE OF MOSES

"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death" (D&C 121:41-44).

  • Moses exercised persuasion with the people, and as a liaison for the people, with God (Exo. 34:9).
  • Moses was longsuffering through all the 40 years in the wilderness.
  • He was gentle.
  • Moses was the meekest of all men (Num. 12:3), leaving Pharoah's house, obeying and honoring Jethro, wanting all his people to be prophets like himself  (Num. 11:29).
  • Moses' love was evident in all his actions.
  • His kindness was also apparent, particularly in his defense of the slave when he himself was a prince.
  • Moses brought pure knowledge to the people in the form of the greater and lesser laws (Exo. 20).  He also gave the first five books of the Old Testament to the Israelites, and through them, to all the world.
  • He reproved and followed the reproval with love, in the instances of the golden calf, breaking the tablets, calling for a royal army to slay the wicked, attempting to atone for his people 40 days and 40 nights.
These characteristics of righteous priesthood use are what made Moses great.  They connected him with the powers of Heaven--keeping him at one in purpose with God.

BLESSINGS AND CURSINGS

John the Revelator prophesied that we, in the last days, would have the choice to spread wickedness as did Balaam, or to enjoy the blessings of the priesthood, as did Moses:

"I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication...

"Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna [the Bread of Life], and will give him a white stone [revelation as a Urim and Thummim], and in the stone a new name written [temple blessings], which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (Rev. 2:13-14, 16-17).  (See D&C 130:10-11 for the interpretations noted.)

The Joseph Smith Translation

"Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible (JST) has received increased attention in the Church in recent years, primarily because it forms an important part of the new LDS editions of the scriptures.  The new edition of the King James Version of the Bible, published in 1979, presents hundreds of JST passages in the footnotes, includes lengthier JST passages in a seventeen-page appendix, and contains an explanatory entry in the dictionary.

"Similarly, the new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, published in 1981, contains many references to the JST in the footnotes" (Robert J. Matthews, "Joseph Smith's Efforts to Publish His Bible 'Translation,'" Ensign, January 1983).

The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) was made as Joseph Smith studied the Bible and received and noted insights as to where important information was missing or was mistranslated.  Because of this work, we have the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, and some of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (for example, Section 91), in addition to all of the changes made to the Bible itself.

"One of the benefits of the Bible translation is that it provided the Prophet with the spiritual involvement necessary for the revelation of many important doctrines. That these revelations came as a result of intense study of the holy scriptures is a lesson in itself. Answers are found while searching the scriptures because inspiration comes from studying the Lord’s own words. They are an unfailing source of light and inspiration...

"Those familiar with the JST know that it contains important truths not available elsewhere. The desire of the early Brethren was to make these truths available by publication, but they were not able to accomplish it during the Prophet’s lifetime [due to lack of financial backing]. After Joseph Smith’s death, the manuscript was retained by his widow, Emma Smith, and later given to their son Joseph Smith III. He published the JST in book form and copyrighted it through the RLDS Church [now called the Community of Christ]. However, because of this, many in the LDS Church have been reluctant to use it" (ibid.).

When the Church scriptorians put together the "new" LDS combined scriptures (published originally beginning in 1979), they received permission from the RLDS Church to use the Joseph Smith manuscript.  They researched extensively, and chose those passages which contained the greatest doctrinal insights to include in the new edition of the scriptures.  (The author of the Ensign article noted was one of that team.)

"Present Church leaders have expended much effort to make the translation available to the members. The new LDS edition of the Bible contains hundreds of doctrinally significant passages from the JST in the footnotes and reference section. How beneficial it would have been to the Church and to the world through the past 138 years if the Prophet Joseph Smith had been able to provide an official publication in his day! How we might wish that those early Saints had been able to respond fully to the opportunity that was theirs to provide the needed financial assistance! They would have brought blessings not only to themselves, but to millions of lives for generations. After all these years, the time is right and the official scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now offer much light and truth from the Joseph Smith Translation" (ibid.).

In this blog, some JST changes are referenced which were not included in the LDS scriptures, but which are found in a complete version of the JST.  The entire JST is available to Church members.  The original manuscript, held by the Community of Christ, entitled Holy Scriptures is still available for purchase, easily found at Deseret Book or Amazon.com.  Another helpful version is the Community of Christ's Joseph Smith's 'New Translation' of the Bible, which is a side-by-side comparison compiled by Paul Wellington, only noting those verses of Bible which saw a change, and italicizing those changes.  Another version is The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, A Side-by-Side Comparison with the King James Version, by BYU professor Thomas A. Wayment.  (He also has a New Testament version.)  Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, was published by LDS scholars Kent Jackson, Robert Matthews, and Scott Faulring.  A less expensive paperback version, The Old Testament with the Joseph Smith Translation, compiled by Julie Hite, Steven Hite, and Tom Melville is also available.  This one gives the advantage of a side-by-side harmony of the gospels as well.  The entire Joseph Smith Translation is also available online here.  (It is an RLDS website.)

It adds a great deal to the understanding of the Bible to go through the scriptures and highlight the JST footnotes to make them more easier to notice. More serious students can write into their personal scriptures important changes they find as they read a side-by-side comparison. Drawing a line through large passages which have been entirely changed by the JST (such as Romans 7:5-25 in which the original intent of the passage is completely reversed by the JST) helps the Bible reader to see the change, where simply highlighting the footnote that occurs at the beginning of the passage would not.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Finding Jehovah in the King James Bible

The God of the Old Testament is Jehovah.  Jehovah is the premortal Jesus Christ.  He defines Himself as the Great "I Am," meaning the living God, the God who always exists, the God who did not need to be created like the idols.  In the written Hebrew language, which has no vowels, it appears as something similar to JHWH.  The Jews, however, never spoke the name Jehovah, out of reverence.  Instead they used another of the names of God, generally Adonai.  The original pronunciation has, therefore, been lost.

Out of deference to the Jews' respectful tradition of not speaking the name Jehovah, the King James Translaters substituted the word "Lord" written with a large capitol L and small capitals ORD.  Anytime you see this word in the Bible, you can know that the original word in Hebrew was "Jehovah," and the God being referred to is the premortal Jesus Christ.  (Bible Dictionary)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Promised Land Journeys

Throughout the history of the Lord's people, we find the repeated saga of the journey to the Promised Land.  In the Bible we have the Exodus, in the Book of Mormon we have the Nephites and the Jaredites, and in the latter-days we have the pioneers.  Each story is unique, and yet there are some common elements.

Each of us is also on a journey to the Promised Land.  It's what our lives are all about.  Each of our stories is also unique, and each also has some elements in common with the journeys of the Israelites, the Nephites, the Jaredites, and the early Mormon saints.
  • The purpose of the journey is always to worship freely, to build a temple, to create a Zion society, to be one with God.
  • No one takes a journey to the Promised Land alone.  It is always done in families, and in groups of believers who support each other, watch over each others' children, build ships together and fix wagon wheels.
  • There is always a prophet to lead the group, who has a vision of the destination. The willingness of the people to follow that prophet has a great effect upon the efficiency of the journey.
  • Although every day of travel is a new frontier, there is always guidance available.  There is a map, a pillar of fire, the stars, the scriptures, a compass.  There is always light, even in the depths of the sea.
  • Sometimes the unbelievers are weeded out by the difficulties along the way so that a more pure society can be established, such as in Utah.  Sometimes, the unbelievers are dragged along unwillingly, and eventually become believers as well, such as in ancient America.  Sometimes both things happen, such as in the Exodus.
  • The journey strengthens, teaches and shapes the believers.
  • There are stunning vistas, beautiful seascapes, stars, flowers, deserts and mountains. There is music for encouragement and celebration. There is beauty and joy all along the way.
  • A few saints become "fit for the kingdom" more quickly than others. The shortcut of early death takes them to God's Promised Land.
  • The travelers are always surprised by terrifying perils, pitfalls, switchbacks and U-turns.  Just as disaster is eminent, miracles occur: quail blow in from the sea, water comes from the dry prairie, angels push the handcarts, the Red Sea drowns the army, Ephraim Hanks shows up with a buffalo. 
  • It's always hard to remember the last miracle when the next one is deperately needed.
  • Extreme difficulties are always a part of the journey so that the saints can learn that "no monster of the sea could break them" (Ether 6:11) when the Lord is traveling with them.  By needing rescue, they learn He is always ready, willing and able to save, and no one could make it without Him.
  • Although the journey is hard, things are always worse for those who don't take it: Jerusalem is destroyed and its survivors are taken as slaves; the land of Egypt is devastated by the plagues and the loss of its army and government; Jackson County, Missouri is completely destroyed by the Civil War.
  • Everyone has to walk, work, and stick it out to the end.  It's the only way to get there.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #15 "Look to God and Live"

(Numbers 11-14; 21:1-9)

NUMBERS

The name of the Book of Numbers is a reference to a census of the people.  This lesson tells about how the Lord took His census among the children of Israel, separating out those who were on His side from the faithless.

It is also a lesson about "chainbreakers."  (Teaching Tip: Have the front of the room decorated with gray or black paper chains.)  In Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; and Deuteronomy 5:9 the Lord says that He answers the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him.  The children of Israel were an exception to this rule.  They changed from idolatrous slavery to faithful freedom in only one generation.  They were what we call "chainbreakers."

DRAGGING CHAINS

The children of Israel were freed from bondage by the Lord through Moses and Aaron, but that first generation of free men carried their slavery with them through the wilderness.  They dragged heavy spiritual chains:  fear and criticism and ingratitude.  After 400 years of slavery, they were so used to having their lives dictated to them, and being physically taken care of by their masters that freedom was very frightening.

EPISODES OF FEAR, CRITICISM, AND INGRATITUDE EXPERIENCED BY THE FIRST GENERATION OF THE FREED ISRAELITES DURING THE EXODUS

(Teaching Tip:  Hand out the scriptures quoted in each event to class members at the beginning of class.  As a teacher, read aloud the first part of each of the following events, ask the class member to read the Israelites' statement at the appropriate time, then read the last part.)

At The Red Sea.  The armies of Egypt were in hot pursuit.  The Israelites were backed up against the Red Sea.
"Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?  Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?  Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians?  For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness"  (Exo. 14:11-12). 
The Lord parted the sea for them, and brought it down upon the Egyptians, completely destroying their army.

At Marah.  After three days of no water, they found poisoned water at Marah. 
"And the people murmured against Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?" (Exo. 15:24)
The Lord instructed Moses to cast a particular tree into the water, which purified it.  Then, at their next stop, they found an oasis of 70 palm trees and 12 wells of water.

In the Wilderness of Sin.  The Israelites were starving.
"Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Exo. 16:3).
The Lord sent manna from heaven, which was some type of grain that they could grind into flour and cook in a variety of ways.  He also sent quail.  His commandment was that they honor the Sabbath by not gathering on that day, but some went out anyway on the Sabbath, and found nothing.

At Rephidim.  Once again, they were without water.
"Give us water to drink.  Where is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" (Exo. 17:2-3)
They were almost to the point of stoning Moses.  The Lord had Moses smite the rock in Horeb (the site of the temple mountain, Sinai) and a spring flowed from it.

At Mt. Sinai.  The Israelites became afraid when Moses went into the mountain for his 40 days' instruction of the Lord in their behalf.
The people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, 'Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him" (Exo. 32:1).
They did not have the faith to believe in a God they could not see, once they thought Moses was dead, so they asked for an idol as reassurance.  The Lord withheld from them the greater law which he had given to Moses, and Moses asked, "Who is on the Lord's side?"  The Levites responded in the positive, and they then put to death 3,000 men who were rebellious.  Then Moses went back up into the mountain to offer an atonement for their sin.  There is no mention that the children of Israel asked forgiveness--just mention that Moses asked it in their behalf.

At Taberah.  The people complained.  (No explanation of why or what about.)  The Lord sent fire among them and burned a number of the camp.

At Kilbroth:  The children of Israel craved meat and vegetables.
"Who shall give us flesh to eat?  We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick; But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes" (Num. 11:4-6).
Moses petitioned the Lord because his burden of carrying the people was so heavy.  The Lord told him to set apart 70 more priesthood holders to help him.  As for the Israelites' complaint, he sent quail down among them, enough, he told them, to eat for a month.  All night long and all day long, the Israelites greedily gathered the quail (even though the Lord had said He would send it for a month).  The quail became diseased and the people who ate it suffered a swift and deadly illness.

At Hazeroth.  Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he married a Cushite.  They claimed to be of equal authority to him, and therefore able to condemn him.
"Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?  Hath he not spoken also by us?"  And the Lord heard it (Num. 12:2).
The Lord sent leprosy upon Miriam and required her to be quarantined outside the camp for seven days, at which time He healed her.

At the Borders of Canaan.  After the scouts returned from testing out the land for 40 days, ten of them falsely reported that the inhabitants were too great to conquer and that the land was barren, both of these statements in direct opposition to what the Lord had consistently said regarding the Land of Canaan, and despite their finding a cluster of grapes so huge it had to be carried on a rod between two men.  Two faithful scouts gave a positive report, but the Israelites chose to believe the ten.
And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.  And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, "Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt!  Or would God we had died in the wilderness!  And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey?  Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?"  And they said one to another, "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt" (Num. 13:31-14:4).
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces, "an act of contrition and entreaty [to the Lord], in hopes of avoiding terrible consequences" (Harper-Collins Study Bible). When Caleb and Joshua, the two positive scouts, tried to convince them that they could easily conquer and that the land was wonderful, they started to stone them.  Only the appearance of the glory of the Lord at the Tabernacle stopped them.  The Lord told Moses that this generation would have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, and that none of them but Joshua and Caleb would be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  (See "The Importance of the Number 40 in the Bible.")  Their little children would survive the wilderness, despite their parents' fears, and be allowed entry into the land.  All the men 20 years and older were killed by the Lord in a plague, including the ten scouts who slandered the Promised Land.

At the Mountain of the Canaanites.  The Israelites said they were repentant and that they would now go and conquer the Canaanites.  All the soldiers must have been of the younger generation, since all men over 20 had been killed by the plague, although who knows how much time had lapsed between the two events.  Moses condemned them and counseled them not to go to war because the Lord would not back them.  They ignored his command, and were badly beaten.

At the Uprising of Korah and Company.  Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 Levite princes defied Moses' authority.
"They gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, 'Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: Where then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?  Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?  Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards" (Num. 16:3, 13-14).
Moses fell on his face.  He suggested that the Lord might show Moses' authority by swallowing them up with an earthquake.  An earthquake occurred immediately, and the three men and their kin were crushed in the crevice.  Then fire from the Lord burned the other 250 to death.

After the Earthquake.  The people accused Moses and Aaron of murder.
"Ye have killed the people of the Lord" (Num. 16:41).
The Lord told Moses He would consume them all.  Moses and Aaron fell to their faces.  Moses made Aaron run and take a censer from the tabernacle and hold it up as an atonement for the people's sins.  A plague had already begun.  Where he stood amid the congregation, the plague stopped, but 14,700 people were killed already.

At the Desert of Zin.  Once again, there was no water.  Miriam died and was buried there.  (She was well over 100 by this time.)
"Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!  And why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?  And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place?  It is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink" (Num. 20:3-5).
Moses and Aaron once more fell on their faces.  The Lord had Moses call water out of a rock again.  Moses by this time was probably very annoyed by the people's lack of trust in his authority, and understandably so.  This once he failed to give the credit to the Lord, and the Lord said that therefore Moses and Aaron would be denied entrance into the Land of Canaan.  This is a message:  No matter how great you are, nothing you do on your own authority will suffice.  You can only enter the Promised Land on the merits of Christ.

On the Journey Around Edom.  At this point, we see a change begin to take place.  Many of the original slaves were dead, if not by old age, then by the curses of the Lord.  King Arad, the Canaanite, came against Israel and fought them and took prisoners.  Rather than fearing to fight the Canaanites, or fighting them on their own, this generation covenanted with the Lord that they would utterly destroy the Canaanites as He had commanded their parents to do, if He would help.  And they did it.  After destroying the Canaanites at Hormah, they journeyed around Edom, a very difficult path.  They became discouraged and once again complained.
"Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread?" (Num. 21:5)
They complained against God and Moses, just as they had learned to do from their parents.  The Lord sent poisonous serpents to bite them and many died.  But this generation acknowledged their guilt, and came to Moses and confessed, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee."  They asked Moses to ask the Lord to take away the serpents.  The Lord told Moses to put up a serpent, as an effigy of Christ.  Rather than healing them as a group through an act of their priesthood leader, as He had done after the earthquake, this time the Lord required an individual act of faith in the atonement of Christ.  Each person had to have the faith to look upon the serpent to be healed.  Therefore, the Lord was able to select all those who exercised faith in Christ to remain alive to enter the Promised Land.

At Beer.  Now when they needed water, there is no mention that they complained of the thirst, or begged to go back to Egypt, or cursed Moses.  The Lord saw their need and freely gave water to them.  The Israelites sang in gratitude and rejoicing for the water they fully expected to receive.  The "nobles" among them dug the well themselves, following the instructions of Moses.  From this point on, the strength of the Lord was with them, and they conquered everywhere they went, until they achieved residence in the Promised Land.

THE CENSUS

When the Israelites left Egypt, there were 600,000 men, or heads of households.  After the lack of faith displayed by the Israelites repeatedly, the Lord said that those unfaithful people would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  So they had to wander through the wilderness, while all of them were tried and tested, and a whole generation of them died, and many more as well, before the promise of the Lord was realized.  This was a pretty hard way of separating the sheep from the goats, but it was necessary.  40 years later, as the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, the census count revealed almost no generational growth:  601,730.  The purpose of the wandering had not been to increase the size of the nation, but to improve upon the quality of its faith.  (In a very interesting article, the Old Testament Institute Manual states that many numbers in the Old Testament have been translated to be much too large, including this one.  The authors of the manual believe the number of Israelites to have been around 72,000.  However that does not change the point: that the number entering the promised land was about the same number that left Egypt.)

CHAINBREAKERS TODAY

From the 40-year efforts of Moses and the Lord to make the children of Israel a truly free people, we learn that a certain blame for sin can be placed on the environment (slavery in Egypt), or upbringing (idolatrous parents)--things over which one has no control.  Children are very prone to commit the same types of sins as their parents did (criticism of Church authority, discontent with the blessings the Lord has given, memory loss relating to miracles).  But we also learn that the chains of sin or abuse or wrong teaching can be broken by:

1) recognizing the sin as a sin and repenting of it (Num. 21:7);
2) seeking the counsel of priesthood leadership and following it (Num. 21:9);
3) looking to Christ for healing (Num. 21:9);
4) truly changing and remaining on the Lord's side, by digging for Living Water, expressing faith and gratitude to the Lord even before blessings are received, and following the direction of the prophet (Num. 21:17-18).

Although the iniquities of the rebellious can carry to the third and fourth generations (Exo. 20:5), when the rebellious decide to change, "know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations" (Deut. 7:9).

As for Moses, he was blessed to be translated straight out of the temple mount into the heavenly Promised Land (Deut. 32:50) after helping fit his people for their earthly Promised Land.  (Although the Bible says he died,  Deut. 34:6 JST and Alma 45:19 both say he was "taken unto the Lord," or translated.)  He was spared the battles that ensued when conquering the Land of Canaan.  At his death, he was honored and revered by this second generation.  "And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab 30 days [the meaning of the Hebrew number 30 is dedication]: so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.  And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses.  And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deut. 34:8-10).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #14 "Ye Shall Be a Peculiar Treasure Unto Me"

(Exodus 15-20; 32-34)

THE FAITH OF MOSES

The great treatise on faith, written by Paul to the Hebrews (chapter 11), itemizes many of the great prophets (plus three women, if you include Moses' mother) as examples of great faith.  Most of them receive one verse, or two, but Paul gave Moses center stage with six verses, citing four different ways in which Moses showed great faith.  Apparently Moses learned well the lesson he was taught by God, that he did not need to be a great leader, he just needed to have faith in the Lord's help.  (See "Here Am I...Or Who Am I?" in a previous post.)

"(1) By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. (2) By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. (3) Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. (4) By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned"  (Heb. 11:24-29).

FIRST MILESTONE:  BAPTISM

"The ancients always saw Moses' leading his people through the Red Sea as the type and similitude of a baptism, symbolizing at one and the same time death, birth, victory and purification from sins" (Hugh Nibley, "A Strange Thing in the Land," Ensign, July 1976).  Some LDS scholars theorize that baptism was the literal purpose that the Children of Israel went to the Red Sea, which was otherwise not a logical direction.  It makes sense, remembering that the reason the Lord wanted Pharoah to let His people go was so that they could serve him.  Baptism is the only way for the believer to enter into the path of worship.

THE PROBATIONARY JOURNEY

Below is the map of the route the Children of Israel took during their travels in the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan.  It is immediately apparent that they did not take a direct route.  Why not?  Because of the very reason that Moses described the journey as taking 40 years; the journey prepared them to enter the promised land.  (See The Importance of the Number 40 in the Bible in the previous post.)  As the Joseph Smith Translation tell us of all those great and faithful men and women noted by Paul, "God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect" (JST Heb. 11:40).


(For a larger view, and details of all the events occuring along the way, click here.)  So the journey was a probationary period, in which they learned and proved themselves, eventually, to be obedient to God.  Therefore, it had to be "40 years", the full time period necessary to prove and prepare the people, even if that meant increasing the distance.  But at the same time of their proving, God proved His faithfulness to them by blessing them whenever they needed help, even when they didn't deserve it.  He led them by a pillar of fire to the shores of the Red Sea, and carried them safely across, destroying their enemies.  He fed and watered them through the desert, and fought their battles when conflict arose.

Between the Red Sea and Mt. Sinai, four miracles showed that the Lord would always watch over them:
1) The waters of Marah were purified (Exo. 15:25)
2) The quail and the manna appeared to feed them (Exo. 16:13-15)
3) In a dry land, water came from a rock (Exo. 17:1-6)
4) The Israelites beat the Amalekites in battle, simply by the holding up of Moses' hands (Exo. 17:8-13)

FIRST STOP:  THE TEMPLE

Alec Moytner wrote in his book, The Story of the Old Testament, "Israel has come out of Egypt as the Lord's redeemed.  They have sheltered under the blood of the Lamb.  Their promised destination is Canaan, but as they follow the guiding pillar, it is not to the promised land that they come but to Sinai, the mountain of covenant law.  The theological truth here is that those who have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb must come to the place where they hear the law of the Lord" (p. 30).  Alec Moytner is not LDS, but he hits so close to the truth:  Those who have been freed by the remission of their sins, and redeemed by their baptism into the Kingdom of God, are then expected to come to the Temple, where they hear the covenant law of the Lord.

"What was the object of gathering...the people of God in any age of the world?...A man never has half so much fuss to unlock a door, if he has a key, [than if] he...had to cut it open with his jack-knife.  The main object [of gathering] was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 307-308).

The purpose of the temple is to prepare the people to enter into the presence of the Lord.  A prophet's purpose is to lead the people to the temple.  Therefore, Moses brought the children of Israel first to the temple, Mt. Sinai, to prepare them to enter into the Promised Land.

"This is why Adam blessed his posterity: he wanted to bring them into the presence of God.  They looked for a city...'whose builder and maker is God' (Heb. 11:10). Moses sought to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God, through the power of the Priesthood, but he could not.  In the first ages of the world they tried to establish the same thing; and there were Eliases raised up who tried to restore these very glories, but did not obtain them; but they prophesied of a day when this glory would be revealed" (TPJS, p. 159).

A TYPE FOR ALL BELIEVERS

In Hebrews 3, Paul tells us that not only was Moses a type of Christ, but the Children of Israel were symbolic of
all who would belong to the Kingdom of God and hope to enter into His presence.
  • Manifestations of the Holy Ghost--As the pillar of fire led the Children of Israel to the Red Sea, so the Light of Christ and manifestations of the Holy Ghost lead us to baptism.
  • Baptism--As the crossing of the Red Sea committed the Children of Israel to their journey as free people, so our baptism enters us into the journey to the Celestial Kingdom, crossing the line with no going back. 
  • Temple Ordinances--The Israelites received from their prophet's entrance into the temple of Mt. Sinai further instruction on how to become a holy people.  Today we are privileged to follow our prophet to the temple, where we covenant and learn how to become holy enough to enter the presence of God.
  • Continued Attendance--As the Israelites carried a tabernacle through the wilderness, we continue to attend the temple through our life's 40 years' probation.  We do our best to become more faithful and obedient during the journey, and Christ blesses us with His grace whenever we err or fall into dire straits, and gives us all the time necessary to get us where we need to go.
  • Kingdom of Heaven--Just as the Israelites entered finally into Canaan, "a land for which [they] did not labor" (Josh. 24:13), so can we enter the Celestial Kingdom at life's end, not by our own efforts, but through the merits of Christ.

LESSONS IN TRIALS

At the end of the journey, as he was about to depart from them, Moses reviewed the Exodus and Journey into the Promised Land in his last sermon to his people, and itemized several important truths regarding probationary experiences:

Trials are tests:  "And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no" (Deut. 8:2).  There is never a shortcut through our trials, because the entire probationary process is necessary to attain the growth and edification.  When the trials are past, and times are easier, it is important for us to take the effort to remember the aid we received.

Trials make you learn to depend on the Lord:  "And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live" (Deut. 8:3).  When things are going well, we can feel a gratitude toward God, if we remember, but when we are hanging onto peace and life and sanity by a thread, we must get up every single morning and search for that manna in our prayers and in our scriptures.  We realize, in the hard times, our utter dependence upon God.

The Lord makes you strong enough to survive the journey:  "Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years" (Deut. 8:4).  We are always given what we need to complete the journey.  But never a free ride.

The Lord is teaching you:  "Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee"(Deut. 8:5).  Although it is hard to believe it at the low times, God gives us trials because He loves us, therefore, there is no reason to think "why me?"  We are children of God.  Our Father will teach and train us, even if it is unpleasant.  That's what good parents do.

Therefore always trust in the Lord through the trials, knowing the end result will be worthwhile:  "Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear.  For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land..." (Deut. 8:6-7).  Every purpose of the Lord in our lives is to fit us for the kingdom, to make us into celestial people so we can enter and enjoy the celestial kingdom.  The end of the journey will be so glorious, it will dwarf the trials.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Importance of the Number 40 in the Bible

All numbers in Hebrew have a meaning besides the numeric meaning.  Often numbers were used by the Hebrews to give additional meaning to the story, rather than to denote a literal period of time.  The number 40 almost always refers to trials, probations, and testings.  A time period described as 40 days or 40 years meant the probationary days, or the years of the trials, and did not necessarily mean that the task actually took 40 days.  The number 40 in the story tells us that it took the full amount of time necessary to successfully complete the required test.

Here is a listing of probationary periods in the Bible which use the number 40.
  • Gen. 7:12--Floods covered the earth 40 days and 40 nights, yet the same account tells us, in literal days and months, that the actual time period was about a year (Gen. 7-8 or see "The Journey" in a  previous post.)
  • Gen. 50:3--Jacob's body was embalmed for 40 days while all of Egypt mourned, yet research today shows that the Egyptians actually took about 70 days to embalm a mummy.
  • Exo. 16:35--The Children of Israel ate manna 40 years until they came to the land of Canaan.
  • Exo. 24:18--Moses was in the Mountain of the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights  receiving the Law of the Lord for the Children of Israel.
  • Exo. 34:28--After the golden calf catastrophe, Moses returned to Mount Sinai to "atone" for the people's sins (see Exo. 30-32) where he fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights, begging forgiveness for them and receiving the lesser Law of Moses.
  • Num. 13:25--The spies scouted the Land of Canaan for 40 days before the Israelites' entry into the area.
  • Num. 14:34--The Lord required 40 years  in the wilderness for the 40 days that the scouts searched because the people showed a great lack of faith in being afraid to try to take the Land of Canaan when the Lord had commanded it.
  • Num. 32:13--The Lord required the Israelites to wander in the wilderness 40 years until all the wicked people were consumed.
  • Deut. 8:2--It took the 40 years in the wildernes for the Lord to humble, to prove, to know the heart of the Israelites.
  • Judges 13:1--The Israelites were in bondage to the Philestines 40 years because they did evil in the sight of the Lord.
  • 1 Sam. 17:16--The Israelite soldiers watched Goliath present himself in battle 40 days before David met and defeated him.
  • 2 Sam. 15:7--For 40 years Absalom built up support for himself in order to overthrow King David.
  • 1 Kings 19:8--Elijah's journey to Horeb (Mt. Sinai) to converse with the Lord took 40 days.
  • Ezek. 29:1-12--Egypt was to be scattered and desolate for 40 years because Pharoah proclaimed himself to be a god.  The Lord promised to gather the Egyptians at the end of the 40 years, and keep them humble.
  • Jonah 3:4--Jonah warned Ninevah that they had 40 days to repent or they would be destroyed.
  • Matt. 4:1-2--Christ fasted 40 days and 40 nights in preparation for his ministry.  (See the footnote to verse 1 in which Joseph Smith changes the purpose of Christ's fast to being with God, rather than being tempted of the devil.)
  • Luke 4:2--Christ was tempted of the devil 40 days.
  • Acts 1:3--The resurrected Christ taught his disciples for 40 days before returning to heaven.
  • Acts 7:23--When Moses was "full 40 years old it came in to his heart" to come to his brethren in Egypt and free them, even though the Book of Exodus tells us he was 80 years old at the time (Exo. 7:7).
Reference:  Hebrew Numbers and Their Meanings and BibleStudy.org