Monday, August 30, 2010

Great Isaiah Study Ideas

Make Your Own Book
There is not nearly enough space in the margins of the LDS scriptures for all the notes, cross-references and markings that a serious student of Isaiah will need.  If you're just becoming familiar with Isaiah, you may not think so (I didn't), but in a lifetime, as you pick up something new here and there, it will really add up. 

So, in preparation for our lessons on Isaiah, here is great idea from CES instructor, Gary Poll:  Photocopy Isaiah out of your regular-size Bible with a white paper frame taped on the glass around it, so that you have 8-1/2 by 11" size pages, with the Isaiah text in the center, slightly larger, and large white margins around it.  Punch holes and keep the pages in a 3-ring binder, or take it to a copy shop and have them spiral bind it with a vinyl cover.  (Add in a couple of blank pages at the front, and more at the back.)  Now you have plenty of space for the notes and markings you will add in your lifetime, all in one place, for your ongoing Isaiah study!  Plus, if you later get a new set of scriptures, you won't lose all your work!  (Please look at the comments below this entry to see instructions from a reader, CarlH, on how to download and print your own copy of the book without having to wrangle with photocopying.)

  • Benefits of spiral-binding:  It's narrower, lighter, easier to carry with you to Church.
  • Benefits of a 3-ring binder:  You can add photocopies of relevant articles, talks, charts or maps to it at any point in the text.

If you're in doubt as to which to do, I recommend the 3-ring binder method, because you can always take the pages out and have them spiral-bound later if you change your mind.

Why not just buy the large-print Bible?  Because although the print is larger, the margins are actually narrower.  This copy idea gives you lots more space, plus if you copy it single-sided, you will have a blank page beside each copied page for even more notes.

I wish I had done this back when I first heard the idea, but it will be a fun project to start on now.

Use the Amazing Online Scripture Study Program
Okay, I did not know about this, until I posted this blog entry and "Teresa From Colorado" made a comment informing me.  (You can read her comment below.)  I can't believe how cool it is!  I was still using the old scriptures I had loaded onto my computer a decade ago, which is fine for just reading or looking things up, but you can do all kinds of things with your scripture study if you use the Church's online program. 

You just go to new.lds.org and create your own account.  You need your church membership record number, which is on your "Individual Ordinance Summary," or you can get it from your ward clerk.  You follow the steps to create your account.  They send you an e-mail, you verify and complete your registration, and then you're good to go.  You sign in to the website, click on "menu," and you'll see all the amazing options. 

You can click on "scriptures," go to the exact chapter and verse you want, highlight in four different colors, underline, add tags, or type in notes and cross-references.  Teresa said that you are allowed 4,000 characters of notes per verse!  You can also create your own on-line "study notebook," and you can organize by topic.  Read Teresa's comment below to see what she does.  (And, Teresa, if you read this and want to add more detail about what you do, please feel free!)  I haven't figured out how to do it yet, but I'm sure you can print out your notes, as well as printing out the scriptures.

This is a great option for those who always have access to a computer and the internet, and I'm assuming it would be especially handy if you had a "smart phone" that would allow you to "carry" your internet scriptures and notes with you.

(Okay, now I feel like I was living in the Dark Ages...Thanks for bringing me into the 21st Century, Teresa.)

Read Chapter Headings
The chapter headings of Isaiah give a great overview and a great commentary from one of the best LDS scriptorians who ever lived.

In answer to the question of who wrote the chapter headings of the LDS scriptures, Robert J. Matthews, who was a member of the scripture committee, said, "I would be glad to tell you who did that, but first let me say one other thing. The Scriptures Publications Committee used many people for many things. It was somewhat agreed that it was a group project and that although individuals worked on certain things, it would not be noised abroad that this person did this thing and that person did another thing. So that is why you cannot find in any published works who did what. I think it would be no breach of etiquette or of confidentiality if I were to say with pleasure that Elder Bruce R. McConkie produced those headings. Now I don’t know anybody else who could do it so well. All of the headings are definitive and interpretive; they are a valuable part of the new edition of the scriptures. Occasionally people say to me, 'We have a marvelous topical guide...there are a lot of other good things in this new edition of the scriptures, but there is no commentary.' It struck me one day that the commentary is in the chapter headings. In fact, try this exercise sometime. Start with Genesis and just read the headings–Genesis 1, then Genesis 2, Genesis 3, and do this for about fifteen chapters. You’ll see that those headings are not only good for the chapter in which they are placed, but they are consecutive and relate well to one another." (Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet, The Joseph Smith Translation, p.300-301)

I was considering typing up the chapter headings of Isaiah, when I got the comment from Teresa, that I mentioned above, and I can see that on that scripture website, if you pull up Isaiah, you will first get just the chapter headings.  Excellent!  Reading straight through all the chapter headings will give you a great overview of the repeating themes creating the tapestry that is Isaiah.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #34 "I Will Betroth Thee unto Me in Righteousness"

Hosea 1-3; 11; 13-14

A TALE OF TWO TESTIMONIES

A basic fast and testimony meeting phrase we often hear is, "I love my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ."  Compare that factual statement to the testimony of Nauvoo pioneer Sarah Leavitt: 

"To write my love of God above, it would drain the ocean, though the sea was ink, and the earth paper and every stick a pen and every man a scribe."

Although the simple sentence in fast and testimony meeting may be as sincere as Sarah's poetic statement, the symbolism in Sarah's testimony carries her deep and poignant feelings for the Lord straight into our hearts.  It has been so moving to so many people that it is engraved on a statue of her likeness in Santa Clara, Utah.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SYMBOLISM

In most countries, a host of emotions, feelings, memories, and convictions run very deeply connected with the national flag and its colors.  In the United States, any serious contender for a national public office will always use the colors red, white, and blue on his or her campaign signs and flyers.  When we see those colors, we automatically link the candidate with the values the American people cherish: honor, patriotism, integrity, even intelligence.  Often wavy lines, stripes, or stars will be included in the design, to give us the impression of an American flag.  Imagine seeing a campaign sign in pink and yellow.  We would think, "Is this person for real?"  We would not take him or her seriously because of the lack of meaningful symbolism.

Similarly, symbols in scriptures carry messages of their own, which are deeper than mere words.  In ancient times, they put across a point very efficiently and effectively, with a wealth of emotion and meaning.  If we know how to view them in the way the ancients did, they can help us to love the Lord and understand His ways more clearly than straightforward text would do.

HISTORICAL SETTING

During the time of the prophet Hosea, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah were the kings of Judah in the south, and Jeroboam was ruling the Northern Kingdom (Hosea 1:1). (The footnotes in Hosea which link the prophecies and testimony of Hosea with these kings and their actions are found in 1:7a; 8:5a; and 11:12a.) The prophets of the southern kingdom (Judah) were Isaiah and Micah. The prophets of the northern kingdom (Israel) were Jonah, Hosea, and Amos (Institute Manual).

THE MESSAGE OF HOSEA

The book of Hosea is a story, a metaphor.  It's highly unlikely that Hosea actually married a harlot.  As a respected prophet and teacher of the Law, Hosea would have been known to be a just and righteous man, and his family would have to have been circumspect.  (Sidney Sperry, Institute Manual, p. 104; however, some scholars disagree and claim the marriage was literal.)  The idea of a prophet marrying a prostitute in the metaphor was so preposterous as to hit the Israelites right between the eyes with a 2x4; it was shocking symbolism that brought with it a powerful message.

The first three chapters of Hosea each state the problem of Israel's unfaithfulness shown in the symbol of the harlot-wife, and the solution of the Lord's mercy. Chapters 4-12 elaborate extensively upon the wickedness of the children of Israel, despite all the Lord does for them. Chapter 13 describes the harshness to which the Lord will resort for the saving of His people. In Chapter 14 finally comes the relief of the repentance of Israel in the latter days.


THE "FAMILY" OF HOSEA

Names always carry meaning in the Bible, and most especially in this story in which all of the people except Hosea (in my opinion) were not real, but names only. 

The name Hosea means "Jehovah saves" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1331). Hosea's name carries the hope and meaning of the entire story of the book, as well as the plan of salvation.  Hosea is a type of Jesus Christ.

The name of the figurative wife of Hosea is Gomer, which means "to complete, to end, vanishing."  She is a woman who brings the possibility of ending the entire civilization.  She is the wayward Israel.

Her adulterous relationships with idols bring about the births of three illegitimate children.  These children represent the consequences of the sin of idolatry, especially for those who knew better and turned their backs on the Lord.  The first was named Jezreel (1:4-5), referring to the lush valley that was the scene of many bloody battles, including the prophecied battle of Armageddan.  The meaning of the name Jezreel is "God shall sow," referring to the scattering of Israel, the loss of their land inheritance. 

The second child was named Lo-ruhamah, which means "no mercy" (1:6).  The Lord's Atonement cannot apply for those who do not call upon Him: in this case, the kingdom of Israel.  Yet immediately He states that He will save the house of Judah, without battle or horsemen (1:7).  This refers to the stand-off between King Hezekiah and King Sennecherib of Assyria in 2 Kings 19.  Why was the kingdom of Judah saved?  Because they repented and returned to the Lord, cleansing His temple and restoring His covenants.  The options of being saved are presented to us (neither of which is perfect righteousness on our part): either 1) sin and receive no mercy (1:6), or 2) sin and repent and be saved by the Lord (1:7).

The third child was named Lo-ammi, the logical younger brother of "no mercy" (1:8-9).  It means, "These are not my children."  These three children demonstrate that the self-destructive behavior of the Israelites will scatter them out of the promised land and into the path of destruction (Jezreel), shut them out of the power of the Atonement (Lo-ruhamah), and remove them from the household of God (Lo-ammi).  But, once again, the next sentence begins with yet.  "Yet..in that place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God."  They will eventually be gathered and reunited with the Lord (1:10-11).

Thus this first brief chapter of the book of Hosea summarizes the whole story, and that story symbolizes the plan of salvation.  What is our place in the story?  Well, unfortunately, we are the House of Israel; we are the adulterous wife.

(Meanings of the names of the children are found in the footnotes of the Bible, and in the Institute Manual, p. 105.  The meaning of Gomer's name is found here and here.) (Hosea 1:3-9)

THE UNFAITHFUL WIFE

Not only did Gomer wander before Hosea married her, but she continued to wander (or "go a-whoring") after the marriage.  The husband did wonderful things for her, but she was mistaken and believed that her adulterous lovers provided all of these riches (2:5).  The lovers are the foreign nations from whom Israel frantically sought politcal aid, and the idols of those nations, from which Israel desperately sought fertility for themselves, for their crops, and for their animals.  Looking at those around them who were mighty, who were wealthy, they yielded to the temptation to try what seemed to be working for the others, with no long-range faith in the Lord.  Similarly, we today seek safety in riches, happiness in leisure, and joy in seeking after idols of our own making--whatever is superceding God in our lives.

Gomer's husband offered her abundant lovingkindness and mercies (2:19), but she did not reciprocate (5:1).  In these verses, "lovingkindness" and "mercy" are both translated from the same Hebrew word, chesed or hesed.  There is no English equivalent for this word; therefore, translators go back and forth between several English words, trying to find the best one to fit the context, when an entire paragraph is actually necessary to convey the meaning.  Chesed has to do with a covenant relationship between two parties--in this case, God and Israel.  It includes a love that is unconditional in both attitude and action.  Chesed has high overtones of loyalty and steadfastness.  There is an incomprehensible paradox in the word, in that the Lord requires the utmost loyalty and righteousness, and yet his mercy is even greater, and is always available for the repentant.  Another term might be "rescuing kindness": love with an aiding action.  The New Testament equivalent is "grace."  (Norman Snaith, A Theological Word Book of the Bible; Harper-Collins Study Bible; and Amy Hardison, Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 25)  On a daily basis the Lord extends to us His "tender mercies" and yet we fail to acknowledge His hand.

Other places in which we find the word chesed are 6:4 (goodness), 6:6 (mercy), 10:12 (mercy), and 12:6 (mercy).  The unfaithful wife lacks chesed.  Her "goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away" (6:4).  In the harsh, dry land of Israel, with rare rain and fleeting dew only available in the spring, this symbol was strong.  She seems to make a change, but her sincerity quickly evaporates.

Another key quality the wife lacks is translated as "knowledge of God."  More than just knowing about God, it is worshiping Him in a way that acknowledges that He is in charge, that He can be trusted, and that we depend upon Him.  Like chesed, it also has to do with both attitude and action.  It is deep faith fed by strong testimony.  This phrase is found in 2:8, 2:20, 4:6, and 6:6.

THE PLAN OF REDEMPTION

The husband has a plan to redeem his wife from the terrible consequences of her actions.  He was a most wonderful, loving husband from the beginning.  He married this woman, despite her history of running around, and he treated her well.  She cast aside that faith and trust.  This caused her to suffer terrible consequences, and her husband also suffered, but her actions did not change his character.  He continued to love, he continued to want their union, he continued being concerned with her well-being.

A human husband might not be able to solve this relationship problem, but the husband here is Hosea, symbolic of Jehovah, and Jehovah does have the power to do that.    He will not take away His wife's agency, even though as Her husband-master He could, but He will manipulate Her situation to make her more likely to want to reunite with Him, and to want to do the things that would truly make them both happy: While things appear to be going well, and the idols appear to the wife to be doing all their good works, the Lord will send an east wind (13:15).  This term, "east wind," occurs frequently in the scriptures, and almost always in a similar situation.  It is a symbol of the Lord's instrument of judgment (Alonzo Glaskill, "Making Sense of Gospel Symbols," talk on CD). 

The faithful husband will use "the Valley of Achor for a door of hope" (2:14-15).  What a beautiful promise!  The Valley of Achor is a rich valley north of the Jezreel Valley.  It is the route out of the wilderness into the heart of the land.  The word Achor means "trouble."  So the husband will use the route of trouble to bring Israel back to him, as the Lord often uses trials as a means of encouraging us to return to or to strengthen our relationship with him.

And it will work!  After the trouble which will reunite them by causing the woman to rely upon her husband, she will no longer look upon him as an owner to be resisted, but as a dear lover to be cherished.  Baali refers to a husband in the sense of a master; it is from the same root as the idol Baal.  Israel had been seeing Jehovah as a master like their idols, and worshipping him in the same way.  Ishi is the term for a husband who is close and loving, one who is filled with chesed (2:16).

HOPE FROM HOSEA

The metaphor of Hosea and the prostitute-wife should bring great hope to any sinner, no matter how vile, who would like to return to the Lord.  The marriage relationship is common to every culture, and makes a powerful symbol.  Hosea wanted the wife back who had done the worst things imaginable to their marriage relationship.  She had treated him like dirt, and brought him nothing but grief.  She was ungrateful, unfaithful, and wicked.  But he loved her in spite of all that. 

Christ, also, loves every person, no matter what abominable idol that person has replaced Him with, no matter how that person has trampled on His love and trust.  As the most perfect, loving, and forgiving marriage partner that ever was, He is willing to go to any lengths to reopen the door to that relationship, despite the fact that the sinner does not deserve it.

If He could succeed with Gomer (Israel), He can succeed with anyone.  In the end, Israel will realize, "Asshur [Assyria] will not save us; we will not ride upon horses [rely upon battle as a means of being saved]: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands [idols], Ye are our gods: for in thee [Jehovah] the fatherless findeth mercy" (14:3). 

And when Israel recognizes this, the Lord will answer, "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.  I will be as the dew unto Israel [water that appears without man's labor]: he shall grow as the lily [effortlessly, as a wildflower], and cast forth his roots as Lebanon" (14:4-6).  The cedars of Lebanon were famous as the great, tall trees whose wood was strong enough for all manner of building projects.  They were used in the building of Solomon's temple.  The roots of the cedar tree will grow three times as deep as the height of the branches, making the tree extremely stable, and very unlikely to be felled by any storm.  In addition, the root of the word Lebanon is "white," which adds the symbol of purity, of having been cleansed from sin.

THE LATTER-DAY CALL TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD

We in the last days, surrounded by the creations of our own hands, are always one step away from making them into idols, and becoming as Gomer.  To avoid falling into this sorry state, we would be wise to follow the counsel of President Eyring  from the October 2007 General Conference, "O Remember, Remember", and keep a written record of the Lord's chesed or "tender mercies" in our lives, so that, unlike Gomer, we have a knowledge of the Lord: we recognize the source of our blessings, and the extent of God's involvement in our daily lives.

In the words of Elder Bednar, "We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord's tender mercies. The simpleness, the sweetness, and the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live" (April 2005 General Conference). Even when, as in the case of Gomer, the trouble is of our own making, the Lord is ever filled with chesed, and ready to make the way for our return to the safety of the covenant relationship.

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For more detail on the specific symbols used in Hosea, refer to the Institute Manual.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bible Study Hint

It is immensely helpful in a study of the Bible to clearly see all of the Joseph Smith Translation footnotes.  Jerry Wilson, an excellent CES teacher, suggests undertaking the project of marking all of those footnotes by looking page by page through the Bible footnotes, coloring the letters that say JST, and then finding the corresponding letters in the verses and coloring them to match.  It's especially helpful to use a different color just for JST marking, so it really stands out.  Brother Wilson says it is a 5-hour project to do the entire Bible.  That means, if you work on it for 15 minutes a day, you'll be done in 3 weeks.

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) makes it easy to see the change, where simply highlighting the footnote that occurs at the beginning of the passage would not.

For more on the JST, see The Joseph Smith Translation in a previous post.

When you finish this project, the next great suggestion he has is to mark all of the alternate translations in the footnotes which begin with "HEB," "OR," "IE," or "GR."

HEB = an alternate translation from the Hebrew Old Testament
OR = an English explanation of the word or phrase
IE = an example to give increased understanding
GR = an alternate translation from the Greek New Testament

In my scriptures, I have marked the JST footnotes in blue, and the alternate translation footnotes in red.

This one easy (albeit time-consuming) project will give you a lot of information.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #33: Sharing the Gospel With the World

Jonah 1-4; Micah 2; 4-7

The book of Jonah is another beautiful piece of Hebrew poetry, that delivers multiple lessons through its langauge and symbolism.  If you were to ask a class, "What is the major message of the book of Jonah?" you could get many answers that could all be right.  Of course, the title of the lesson involves missionary work.  This blog entry, however, will focus on two different but related themes of the book of Jonah:  being temple-oriented, and receiving peace by forgiving our enemies.

GOING DOWN

The story of Jonah is a katabasis: a journey down.  Jonah went down, down, down: down from Joppa, down into the ship (1:3), down into the bottom of the ship (1:5).  We consider the bottom of the earth to be the ground, but you can get even deeper if you go to the bottom of the sea, which is what Jonah did (2:3-6).  But what's interesting is that Jonah chose to say he went "down to the bottoms of the mountains" (2:6), when clearly he was describing the bottom of the sea ("the waters compassed me about...the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head") (2:5).  Of course, the ocean floor has mountains, but there is a particular reason that Jonah chose to refer to it this way.  Jonah's story is about a journey down from "the presence of the Lord" (1:3, 10) (David Bokovoy).

In the stories of Moses receiving the Law, or Abraham sacrificing Isaac, everything is "up."  They go up to the mountain, which is where they can visit the Lord in a temple-like environment.  The word "mountain" in the scriptures often indicates an outdoor holy place or temple. 

The word for "temple" in Hebrew means literally "the presence of the Lord" (David Bokovoy). Which, of course, makes perfect sense. So you can substitute "temple" for "the presence of the Lord" or for "mountain" in this story and in most of the Old Testament.

Also, the Lord comes to his children "from the east" in scripture (Matt. 24:27; Zech. 14:4-5; Ezek. 43:1).  Moses' tabernacle and Soloman's temple both faced the east (Bible Dictionary "Tabernacle") for that reason.  The garden of the Lord was "eastward in Eden."  Which direction was Jonah running?  West, of course.  The temple and Jerusalem were on the east end of the Mediterranean Sea.  Tarshish, where Jonah was going, is presumed to be in present-day Spain (see Bible Dictionary), on the very far west side of the Mediterranean, as far west as you could go in Jonah's world.  Tarshish was also a worldly place, the center of commerce on the sea, materialistic--once again, the opposite of the temple.

So Jonah was not only running away from his mission, he was running away from the temple and his covenants.

Of course, you can't run away from the Lord, since he controls the elements, and there was a tempest on the sea, which threatened the lives of the sailors.  Jonah confessed to be the fault and the sailors threw him overboard (1:12).  The Lord had prepared a whale to swallow Jonah.  It is no coincidence that Jonah was inside the whale for three days and three nights: the space between the Atonement and the Resurrection (1:17).  Jonah's story is an obvious type of the resurrection of Christ and the power of the Atonement (Matt. 12:39-41), and also a type of baptism.  Jonah was completely immersed in the water, and after the whale spit him out, he had the chance to start over, to become a new man, and to join the Lord's purpose, to preach repentance to Ninevah.

THE PSALM OF JONAH

Jonah's psalm is representative of anyone who has left their covenants, suffered because of their sins, and had the opportunity to return, through the Atonement, to the presence of the Lord.  (Jonah uses the Hebrew poetic form, enallage [en-ALL-uh-gee] in which he begins by referring to the Lord in third person, and ends by referring to the Lord in second person, indicating that their relationship changed during the story, and he drew closer to the Lord.)

"Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly, and said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.  For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.  Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.

"The waters compassed me about, even to the soul [to the death]: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.  I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.  When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple" (2:1-7).

Perfection is a process, though, and Jonah didn't allow God's perfect love to cast out his fear (1 John 4:18).

FORGIVING OUR ENEMIES

Why did Jonah go to such great lengths to purposely run away from the presence of the Lord, from his calling as a prophet, and from his covenants?  Why was he so unhappy about sharing the gospel in Ninevah?

Well, Ninevah was the capitol of Assyria.  The story of Jonah is unique in the Old Testament in that Jonah was called to preach the gospel to enemies of the House of Israel.  Israelites had always been counseled to stay away from the heathen nations, definitely not to marry them, and even, in the time of Joshua, to kill them all before entering the Land of Canaan so that their idolatry would not seep into the culture of the Israelites.  Prophets previous to Jonah had all been charged with calling only Israel to repentance; this was a different thing altogether.  And not only was Jonah called to idolatrous non-Israelites, but to THE great enemy, Assyria!  They were powerful, and they were ruthless and they had caused a great deal of sorrow in Israel over a long period of time.

Jonah's calling to carry the gospel to the enemy has parallels in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon.  In Acts 10, the prophet Peter had a dream about a great tablecloth that came down from heaven with non-kosher foods on it, and he was commanded to eat them.  Then messengers arrived from Cornelius, a Roman who was seeking the truth of the gospel.  The Romans, of course, were ruling over the Jews and oppressing them: enemies!  Peter realized that the Lord was telling him that Cornelius, a Roman and a non-Jew, could be baptized, and a wonderful harvest of Roman souls was reaped that Cornelius had gathered and prepared.

In the Book of Mormon, the sons of Mosiah went on a 14-year mission to the Lamanites, at great peril of their lives (Mosiah 28; Alma 17-26).  They were not the first to try a mission to the Lamanites (see Jacob 7:24), but they were the first to succeed.  A great number of Lamanites joined the Church and became among its most stalwart members.  All of the "sons of Helaman" were a product of this harvest.

Jonah, likewise, had tremendous success, once he decided to go.  120,000 Assyrians repented (if the number is literal and correct) and accepted the gospel (Jonah 4:11).  But Jonah was different than Paul and Ammon: He did not rejoice in his harvest.

THE SAVING OF NINEVAH

Jonah's message was that destruction would be coming after the symbolic 40 days, the Biblical trial period.  Ninevah was such a huge city that it took three days to walk across it (3:4).  Yet even though Jonah only walked a third of the way into the city delivering his message (he was a little half-hearted), word quickly reached the King of Ninevah (3:7-9; note the JST footnotes).  Jonah, undoubtedly, was shocked when the King of Ninevah believed him!  The king took off his royal robe, and repented in sackcloth and ashes, in the Hebrew manner (3:6)!  He required everyone in the land, even the animals!, to do likewise, to pray to the Lord, to fast, and to beg forgiveness.  Where else in the Bible do you find anyone, even the Israelites, going so far as to have the animals fast and sit in sackcloth and ashes?  Remarkable!  This man was sincere!  "Who can tell," he said to his people, "if we will repent, and turn unto God, but he will turn away from us his fierce anger, that we perish not?" (3:9 JST)

God saw their sincere repentance, and forgave them (3:10 JST).

Jonah, however, did not.  Disappointed and angry, he went and made himself a little shelter outside the city, where he could sit in the shadow [away from The Light], with the hope that he would still get to view the destruction of Ninevah (4:1-5).  Perhaps he didn't trust the Assyrians to remain sincere, and was afraid they would change back to their old ways and threaten the Israelites.  If they were all destroyed, the threat would be completely gone.

How long he sat there we don't know, but it was apparently long enough for the little shanty to fall apart so that he was unsheltered.  The Lord, always reaching out, even when we create our own misery, grew a castor bean plant (see footnote for "gourd") over Jonah's head, to shelter him, "to deliver him from his grief."  Castor bean plants can reach 40 feet in height, growing up to 10 feet in one season.  The leaves alone can be 3 feet long.   A caster bean plant would make a quick and excellent shade from the sun.  It had come as a free gift of God's love to him, which he did not have to qualify for on his own merits (4:10).  Perhaps it was even a type of the Atonement, which will comfort us and free us of the bitter abuses others have brought upon us, if we will let it.

But Jonah refused be delivered of his grief, prefering to sulk and stew about Ninevah and hope for vengeance.  So the Lord sent a worm to destroy the plant.  With his shelter removed, Jonah was subject to the "vehement east wind" and the hot sun (both symbols of God), and ironically Jonah, who had been saved from death while running from the Lord's errand, now having completed it with huge success, wished for death to return.  He could not relent and love his enemies as God did.  He could not recognize that the Assyrians could not "discern between their right hand and their left hand" (4:11), or to say it another way, were "only kept from the truth because they [knew] not where to find it" (D&C 123:12).

SHOULD I NOT SPARE NINEVAH?

Jonah seems so hardhearted, refusing the offer of the Lord for freedom from grief through forgiveness. But maybe if we look a little closer, we will see that Jonah was just exactly like us.

James Ferrell has interpreted the book of Jonah to be a rather broad chiasmus (pronounced "ky-AS-mus"), the Hebrew literary tool in which all the lines of the poem lead to the main point, after which they all repeat in reverse order with slight variation.  The central point of the chiasmus, according to Brother Ferrell, is found in Jonah 2:8:  "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy."  What does this mean?

Jonah, being of the House of Israel, as we also are, had a feeling of superiority over the wicked, wicked Assyrians.  Of course!  He was more righteous, right?  He had kept the commandments, he had observed the covenants, he was a prophet or missionary of God.  Jonah and the entire Hebrew nation had been greatly wronged by Assyria.  It was a huge part of their history for many, many years. Likewise, we have each been wronged by some person, or even by some nation. We all have, or we all will; it is a part of the test of life.  Sometimes it is a major part of our life's history.

Jonah's story, and often ours, is a little bit like two parables of Jesus's: the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), and the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16).  In both of these parables, one person or group of people feels that they are more righteous, more deserving than another, because they have been in the household of the Lord longer.  They resent the Lord offering his Atonement to those who did less or who came later.  This is the "lying vanity" central to the book of Jonah.  If Jonah despises Ninevah and considers it to be unworthy of salvation, Jonah makes himself unworthy, and "forsakes his own mercy."  The greater sin is always the sin of being unforgiving (D&C 64:9).

The truth is, we all have fallen short of grace.  "What then? Are we better than they?  No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no not one" (Rom. 3:9-10).  Even one sin casts us out of the presence of God, and we are completely dependant upon the grace of God to sanctify us so that we may return.  Relative righteousness is irrelevant!  "Love and salvation are gifts offered to us, not because we deserve them, but even though we do not...[We] have no cause to feel entitled; [we] only have cause to feel grateful" (James Ferrell).

So Brother Ferrell's chiasmus of the book of Jonah is as follows:

1. The Lord issues a command to Jonah: Preach in
     Ninevah (1:1-2)
     2. Jonah sins by not wanting Ninevah to be saved (1:3-17)
          3. Jonah repents; the Lord saves Jonah (2:1-7; 9-10)
               4. "They that observe lying vanities forsake their
                    own mercy" (2:8)
          3. Ninevah repents; the Lord saves Ninevah (3:1-10)
     2. Jonah sins by not wanting Ninevah to be saved (4:1-3)
1. The Lord asks Jonah a question, "Should I not spare
     Ninevah?" (4:11)

COME TO THE MOUNTAIN OF THE HOUSE OF THE LORD

Immediately following the book of Jonah, in which the evil Assyrians repent, the book of Micah begins abruptly with a call to repentance--to the Jews, and their mixed-race relatives, the Samaritans! (Micah 1:1-2)  The book of Micah also makes the call to us, the members of the latter-day church, the House of Israel.  Here is the beautiful promise if we repent and turn back to "the presence of the Lord:"

"But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills [now we are really going up!] and people shall flow unto it.

"And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

"And he shall judge among many people [maybe our personal enemies], and rebuke strong nations afar off [maybe our national enemies]; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

"But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts [armies] hath spoken it.

"For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever" (Micah 4:1-5).

Today we go up to the mountain of the house of the Lord to participate in the temple ceremonies.  It doesn't matter if we are brand new to the church, life-timers, or returning after repentance, we are all alike there.  It doesn't matter if we are old or young, fat or thin, dark or pale.  It doesn't even matter what language we speak.  Only one thing matters: if we have "unkind feelings" we are "invited to withdraw."

The question at the end of the book of Jonah is not answered by Jonah, in order that we may answer for ourselves. Our answer determines our salvation, as well as our peace and happiness in this life. Will we join with the Lord and rejoice in the sparing of Ninevah (our relative, our ex, our neighbor, our national enemy: that person or people who has caused affliction in our lives)?  Will we free ourselves from the grief and abuse of the past and enjoy the comfort and peace the Atonement brings and sit under the castor bean plant?  Or will we be found with Jonah, on the hill, overlooking the city, suffering in the heat and the wind, refusing to be comforted by the Lord, as we watch hopefully for vengeance to fall?

ADD-ON, JUST FOR FUN

Check out the cutest telling of the story of Jonah that I have ever seen, done by a tiny little girl at the Corinth Baptist Church, at this link.  It's eight minutes long, but absolutely wonderful.


Sources: 

David Bokovoy, Know Your Religion Lecture, Logan, Utah, February 15, 2002, and BYU Education Week Lecture, August 2001.

James Ferrell, The Peacegiver, p. 91-114.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #32 "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth"

Job 1-2; 13; 19; 27; 42

SPIRITUAL HARDINESS

Imagine that you are a poor farmer who lives in northwestern Mexico where the soil consists of rock and sand, where the rain falls only once a year, and where the temperature rises to 115 degrees in the middle of the summer.  Is there anything fruitful that you could grow under such harsh conditions?  Most garden plants would never survive this kind of adversity, but one plant that will is the tepary bean.


The tepary bean plant is a small plant, with beautiful dark green foliage. It can blossom and fruit at temperatures of well over 100 degrees.


The tepary bean is a highly nutritious legume which you can find in health food stores.  For hundreds of years, the Hopi Indians have grown this bean as a staple of their diet.  Tepary beans can be boiled and made into soups, stews, burritos, or tacos.  Historically, dry tepary beans were also roasted, ground and rehydrated into a sort of "instant bean" trail food.  They are a good source of protein, iron, calcium, and other minerals.  They are even being presently researched for possible cancer-fighting abilities.

What is the secret to this little plant?  How does it survive its brutile environment, while also producing a highly nutritious food?  (Have a six-foot-tall person stand.)  This little tepary bean plant will set down roots that are six feet deep.  Imagine!  Because it has prepared itself to draw water from a constant source far underground before the summer heat comes, it is not vulnerable to the harshness and whims of the weather above.

Job was a man who was likewise durable.  He could survive any kind of tragedy, any kind of sudden shock, any kind of long-lasting frustration, and yet be fruitful in his faith.  Like the tepary bean plant, this man's roots went deep, to the source of Living Water.

THE BOOK OF JOB

 Victor Hugo said, "The book of Job is perhaps the greatest masterpiece of the human mind."  (Institute Manual, p. 23)  Maybe that's why he wrote a masterpiece on a similar theme, Les Miserables.

The great historian Thomas Carlyle said, "I call [the book of Job]...one of the grandest things ever written.  Our first, oldest statement of the never-ending problem--Man's Destiny, and God's ways with him on the earth.  There is nothing written, I think, of equal literary merit."  (ibid.)

The book of Job is written in poetic style and is laid out as a parable or as a fairy tale, since it begins, "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name Job"--the Hebrew equivalent of "Once upon a time"--and it ends, "So Job died, being old and full of days"--a literary ending similary to "and they lived happily ever after."  The beautiful style is one of the things that contributes to its greatness.  Some scholars believe, due to the way the story is written in other historical documents, that the book of Job was written as a play, and that Job was fictitious.  Job is mentioned in D&C 121:10 by the Lord as if he were a real person.  Of course, there could have been a play or a parable or a stylized teaching story written about a real person, with the debate between God and Satan being only theoretical. Whether Job was actual or fictional, parable or biographical, his story teaches an everlasting truth.  That beautiful truth is what really makes the book of Job great literature.

"There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.  And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters" (Job 1:1-2).  The numbers seven and three in Hebrew both point to perfection; Job had the perfect family.  Job was very wealthy and respected, full of integrity and faith (1:3).  But the Lord allowed Satan to buffet him (1:6-12), as He does for everyone in this mortal existence.  It is a part of the plan.  To a greater or lesser degree, Job's story is the story of all of us. 

Everything was going great for Job, and then in a single day, tragedy hit him on all sides.  His oxen and asses with all their herdsmen were killed by enemies (1:14-15).  His sheep and shepherds were destroyed by lightning or lava flow (1:16).  His camels were stolen and their drivers were slain (1:18).  All his children were killed by a tornado (1:19).  The horrific tragedies are mentioned in the very first chapter of Job.  The entire remainder of the book, the real story, deals with Job's reaction.

What was Job's response to this terrible blow?  Great sorrow, of course, but something else as well.  "Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground [all signs of extreme anguish for a Hebrew], and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.  In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (1:20-22).  While in the very expression of his sorry, Job worshipped God.  His testimony did not waver.

This was Job's first great loss--the loss of prosperity and the loss of posterity--and he survived it with his testimony intact.  Would you?

The devil did not give up.  He thought that if Job had to suffer personally in physical pain he would curse God.  "So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.  And [Job] took him a potsherd [piece of broken pottery] to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes.  Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die" (2:7-10).

Job's second great loss was the ruin of his health, including physical pain, as well as the lack of faithful support from his wife, and he survived it with his testimony intact.  Would you?

"Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place...to mourn with him and to comfort him.  And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.  So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights [symbolically the complete time needed], and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great" (2:11-13).  The name Eliphaz means "He is my God," and the name Bildad means, "old friendship."  The meaning of the name Zophar is "rising early" or "crown."  The names signify that these were excellent, religious friends, who mourned with their friend in his tribulation.

BUT, they could not endure their friend's pain without coming up with an explanation for it.  Our own fear pushes us to judgment--we must find a reason why someone has suffered, in order that we can be sure that suffering will not fall upon us. "He must have been a poor financial manager," we say when a business fails, in order to feel safe about our own business.  "They must have been too lenient, or too strict," we say when someone's kids leave the gospel path, as we look for an explanation that will make us think that we know how avoid that fate.  And Job's friends' fear demanded that they find a reason that Job deserved his suffering.

They also could not just "mourn with those that mourned, and comfort those that stood in need of comfort," but they had to try to "fix" the problem.  As Job cried out in his agony, they began to reason.  Like many people today, "the God they believed in" would not allow good people to suffer; therefore, Job must be in the wrong someway.  In order to "help" him, they began to call him to repentance.  The more he expressed his pure testimony, the more they demanded his confession.  One even claimed that God probably didn't even punish Job as much as he deserved!  (11:6)  He instructed Job to prepare his heart and stretch out his hands toward God to beg for forgiveness, referring to the priestly prayer, in which the stretching of the hands overhead symbolically exposes the heart to God.  (11:13)

This, then, was Job's third great loss--the loss of understanding from his friends, and, even worse, condemnation from them.  Job survived it with his testimony intact.  Would you?

But the last and greatest trial was yet to come, in a similitude of what Christ suffered on the cross, and what Joseph Smith endured in Liberty Jail (D&C 121):  the feeling that God was withdrawn from him, that there was no response to his fervent prayers.  "Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!  I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.  I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me.  Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me.  There the righteous might dispute with him; so should I be delivered for ever from my judge.  Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him..." (23:3-9)

How did Job answer his own query?  With faith:  "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (23:10)

Job's testimony survived the fourth great loss--feeling abandoned by God.  Would yours?

FAITH REWARDED

Finally, after this period of great trial on many different levels, the Lord answered Job out of the wirlwind and reminded him of the plan of salvation and of His great power over all creation (38-41).  Chapter 41 is probably the only place in all of scripture where the Lord compares himself to a crocodile (leviathan), in order to describe his power.

Job acknowledged the Lord's answer, and in great humility repented (42:1-4).  But of what did he have need to repent?  Possibly just of the whining, the wishing that things were different, the wanting of his own way, the feelings that would have been natural to any man (40:6-9).

Then the Lord commanded the three friends who had condemned Job to offer sacrifice and ask Job to pray for their forgiveness, which they did (42:7-9).  But it is very interesting to note who was blessed by his forgiveness:  Job himself!  "And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends" (42:10).  Forgiveness freed Job.  All of his blessings in the end were double what he had before (42:12), even the number of children, because all the children who died were still his and were waiting for him in the afterlife (42:13).

Interestingly, for a change, the daughters' names are mentioned and the sons' ignored.  The first daughter was named Jemima, which means "dove," a symbol of the peace and joy that Job received.  The second daughter was Kezia, named for the tree that produces the precious spice cinnamon.  The third was named Keren-happuch, which means literally "horn of the cosmetics" or "eyeshadow" or "makeup," but which infers, "child of beauty."  Job's life in the end was peaceful, precious, beautiful.

JOB: AN EXAMPLE FOR THE LECTURES ON FAITH

"I'm impressed that the book of Job vividly illustrates a teaching from The Lectures on Faith, that if anyone is to endure in faithfulness in his life, he must know three things:  1) that God exists, 2) that He is perfect in His character and in His attributes, and 3) that the course of life which one pursues is pleasing to the Lord" (Keith Meservy, Insitute Manual, p. 23).

Job knew that there was a God (19:25).  He knew that God was perfect and there must be some reason why he was, as Job thought, inflicting all of these troubles upon him (12:7-10).  And he knew that he himself had done his best in life to be righteous and obedient (27:5-6).

CHOOSING FAITH

Victor Frankl was the author of Man's Search for Meaning, a book that tells the true story of his existence in a concentration camp and his discovery there that, no matter what can be taken away from you, you always still have one freedom, and that is the freedom to choose your own thoughts and responses.

Parley P. Pratt said, "Faith...is a state of the mind itself." We are free to choose to cultivate faith in our minds, and once we do, no person or circumstance can take that away from us (2 Ne. 2:27).

President David O. McKay, speaking at the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple Annex in 1963 said, "[I always] thought that the purpose of the book of Job was to emphasize the fact that the testimony of the...Gospel is beyond the power of Satan's temptation or any physical influence" (Institute Manual, p. 27).  It may not be easy, but the truth of the matter is, nothing can shake our faith, unless we choose to let it!

WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?

The question the book of Job raises in everyone's minds is, Does God cause bad things to happen as a part of His plan, or does He just allow them happen as a part of life in a fallen existence?  Job seemed to think that the Lord was causing all the evil, but the narrator of the story blames the devil for it all, and only credits the Lord with allowing it to continue for a time.

When asking whether God causes bad things to happen, President Kimball said, "Answer, if you can.  I cannot, for though I know God has a major role in our lives, I do not know how much he causes to happen and how much he merely permits.  Whatever the answer to this question, there is another I feel sure about.

"Could the Lord have prevented these tragedies?  The answer is, Yes.  The Lord is omnipotent, with all power to control our lives, save us pain, prevent all accidents, drive all planes and cars, feed us, protect us, save us from labor, effort, sickness, even from death, if he will.  But he will not...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" (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 96-97).

Job's faith was strong from the beginning of the story, but his trials perfected it, as they did for all the great believers listed in Hebrews, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 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).

ALL WORKS FOR GOOD TO THE RIGHTEOUS

Woody Allen said, "What I'd like is a blessing that's not in disguise."  But perhaps one of the most comforting messages of the book of Job is that even bad things will have a good end for those who continue in faith.  Everything that happens to the faithful turns out to be a blessing.

"If we looked at mortality as the whole of existence, then pain, sorrow, failure, and short life would be calamity.  But if we look upon life as an eternal thing stretching far into the premortal past and on into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may be put in proper perspective" (Kimball, ibid.).

"My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes" (D&C 1221:7-8). 

Every story of every faithful person has a happy ending, if we take it into the final chapter: the next life.  Our family will be perfected, our blessings will be multiplied, our faith will be gratified, our honor will be restored.  God is faithful and will fulfill all his promises. 

Eventually.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #31 "Happy is the Man That Findeth Wisdom"

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes

"The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are sometimes called the 'wisdom literature.'  The sages of the ancient Near East realized the superiority of wisdom over knowledge, for wisdom encompasses knowledge and includes understanding and moral conduct.  One was not wise, regardless of his vast learning, if his actions did not comply with his righteous beliefs."  (Institute Manual 2, p. 13)

PROVERBS

Proverbs are short sayings that teach wisdom.  The book of Proverbs is a compilation of wise sayings from several difference sources.  Some of them may have come originally from Soloman.  Many of them use the Hebrew poetic forms which teach by the use of paired couplets.  Understanding the form of the couplets aids in understanding the truths the proverbs are teaching.

PROVERBS MATCH GAME

Review with the class the following three Hebrew poetic parallelism forms. (Click here for the blog entry on Psalms if you would like a more detailed treatment on the forms.)
  • Synonymous Parallelism:  The poet says the same thing twice, but with different words, to emphasis the point, or to clarify the meaning.
  • Antithetic Parallelism:  The second line states the opposite of the first line, usually connected by the word "but."
  • Synthetic Parallelism:  The two lines are related to each other as a cause and effect.  The word "synthetic" refers to the thought being a compound.
You can play the game in three ways, depending on the size and setup of your class.

Concentration (for small classes):  Copy each couplet (partial sentence) below onto an index card.  On the reverse side of the cards, and upside-down from the sentences, number the cards with large numbers from 1-20.  Tape the cards with a strip of clear tape across the top of the card onto a posterboard so that they are arranged in order in a grid, 5 across and 4 down.  On the blackboard, whiteboard, or bulletin board in your classroom, post the types of poetry listed above.  To play, call upon a class member to choose two numbers.  Lift the cards up and see whether they are a matched set--two parts of a sentence that go together.  If they are, have the class member tape them together and post under the appropriate poetic form.  If the cards are not a match, play resumes with the next class member. 

(Note: if you are teaching teenage boys and you want to really get their attention, substitute Proverbs 30:17 for one of the synthetic parallelism examples!)

Simplified Concentration (for really small classes):  Copy the couplets onto index cards, but don't put numbers on the backs of the cards.  Sit in a circle on the floor.  Spread the cards, face down, in the center of the circle.  To play, a class member turns over two cards.  If they match, he reads them, the class determines the form, and the cards are laid out as a match.  If they don't match, he turns the cards back over, and the next class member tries. 

Read and Match (for large classes):  Print up the couplets and pass them out to various class members before class begins.  List the poetic forms on the board.  Have a class member who has the beginning of a sentence stand up and read it.  Have the other class members determine if their phrases might be the matching one; the one who has the matching phrase should stand up and read his, and the class can determine which poetic form was used.

(Answers as to the poetic forms follow the list.)

1)The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge...

...but fools despise wisdom and instruction.  (Proverbs 1:7)

2)A friend loveth at all times...

...and a brother is born for adversity.  (Proverbs 17:17)

3)Treasures of wickedness profit nothing...

...but righteousness delivereth from death.  (Proverbs 10:2)

4)The merciful man doeth good to his own soul...

...but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.  (Proverbs 11:17)

5) Train up a child in the way he should go...

...and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  (Proverbs 22:6)

6)The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice...

...and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him.  (Proverbs 23:24)

7)Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase...

...So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.  (Proverbs 3:10)

8)He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding...

...but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.  (Proverbs 14:29)

9)Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out...

...so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.  (Proverbs 26:20)

10)A merry heart doeth good like a medicine...

...but a broken spirit drieth the bones.  (Proverbs 17:22)

Answers:
Synonymous: 2, 6, 9
Antithetic:  1, 3, 4, 8, 10
Synthetic: 5, 7

ECCLESIASTES

The word "Ecclesiastes" comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew title for "Teacher" or "Preacher."  Although the book's author writes from the perspective of King Solomon (see 1:1), most scholars agree that the author was actually from a later time, and was just using that persona.  The key word in Ecclesiastes is "vanity."  Its literal translation is "breath" or "breeze" (Harper-Collins, p. 987).  The word is used to show the transcience of mortal life.

If you are having trouble understanding Ecclesiastes, you are definitely not alone! Here is a quote from the Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 987: "Attempts to find a clear structure in the book have not succeeded, and its tension-filled expression of life's contradictions gives the book a puzzlelike character....Ecclesiastes is not difficult to read, but its meaning as a whole is difficult. Scholars offer strongly conflicting accounts of its message."


The spiraling main concern of the book is that life on earth is temporary, it is a "vanity," a breeze passing by and leaving little trace that it was ever there.  Much of what we focus our time and efforts on in mortal life ("under the sun") disappears like a vapor.  It's a constant "vexation of spirit" to the author.  What is the point? he continually wonders.

He observes that life cycles and renews.  The sun goes down, just to come up again.  One person comes up with a great idea, but someone else has thought of that great idea before.  The experiences of mankind, as individuals, do not build upon each other, but each man learns again what others have learned.  Life is ever unfinished:  Even though the generations pass, "the earth abideth forever" (1:4). "All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full" (1:7).

He accomplishes great works, he learns the full gamit of knowledge from wisdom to madness, he builds an empire, he gains great wealth, he even devises irrigation (a great feat in his arid land).  In the end, he observes, there is no profit "under the sun;" everything on the earth eventually decays and returns back into the cycle of life.  Earthlife is fraught with trials and troubles, despite the best preparations.

In all his musings and observations about this transitory life, he sprinkles in the truths he discovers: 
  • Time goes by and does not return for men; therefore we must enjoy the experiences of the present, both work and  recreation (2:24; 3:11-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:10).  To be a workaholic is a "vanity" (4:8).  Besides, those who seek after earthly treasures are never satisified with them (5:10-13), and nothing we gain or create is permanent (2:11).  It is the journey itself we must enjoy, the process of the work and the play, and the relationships with others (9:9).
  • It is impossible to comprehend the works of God (8:16-17; 11:6). In contrast to the "vanity" of man's life and efforts, God is timeless, and His works endure forever (3:14-15).
  • Wisdom is the one thing worth getting (2:13; 7:11-12), and the key piece of wisdom, repeated throughout the book, is that we must fear (meaning to worship, respect and follow) God. This is the one thing that is not "vanity" (5:7; 12:13-14)
The most famous message in Ecclesiastes is the poem about the seasons of life found in 3:1-8:  "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven..."  (Regarding verse 8, bear in mind that there is only one Hebrew word that expresses distaste, and it is translated as "hate."  The original meaning of "hate" in the Old Testament, then, can vary from a feeling of indifference, to a mild dislike, to absolute abhorance.  Only in the context can the meaning be determined--sometimes.)

"The contrary pairs" in this poem "are a literary device using opposites to represent life's totality and variety" (Harper-Collins).  This is emphasized even more by the fact that there are 14 of them.  Seven is the number of completeness, perfection.  Twice seven (14) is the impossible state of perfection doubled.  Despite the transitory nature of life, the way that God has set up the cycles and seasons is absolutely, indesputably perfect.

(For more information on Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, click here for the Institute Manual.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #30 "Come to the House of the Lord"

2 Chronicles 29-30; 32; 34

KING HEZEKIAH

The story of King Hezekiah is found in three places in the Old Testament (beginning in 2 Chron. 29, 2 Kings 18, and Isaiah 36).  His name is mentioned 128 times.  Clearly his story is very important.

We have skipped ahead about 130 years and several kings from Jehoshaphat to find Hezekiah, another chain-breaking king who restored the true worship of Jehovah to Jerusalem.  King Hezekiah's father, Ahaz, had been very wicked.  He had defiled the temple and led the people in idolatry, even offering his own son as a heathen sacrifice (2 Chron. 28).  So how did he manage to produce such a righteous heir?  Hezekiah's mother's name was Abijah, and her father was Zechariah (2 Chron. 29:1).  Among the several Zechariahs mentioned, the one who fits in this time frame was the son of a priest (2 Chron. 24:20), and "had understanding in the visions of God" (2 Chron. 26:5).  Very likely, Hezekiah's mother was a faithful follower of Jehovah, and was the one who turned the tide for Israel, by raising her son to worship the true and living God.

OPENING THE DOORS OF THE TEMPLE

Hezekiah was only 25 years old when he began his reign.  Immediately, in the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the House of the Lord.  He called together the priests and Levites and advised them to sanctify themselves first, so that they could then sanctify the House of the Lord.  They repaired and cleansed the temple.  Then they offered sacrifice and restored the musical worship set forth in 1 Chron. 25 (2 Chron 29).

Hezekiah invited the northern kingdom to come and freely worship at the temple also.  He decided to keep the Passover again the following month so that the northerners could participate, according to the rule stated in Numbers 9:10-11, this being acceptable for those who had to travel too far to get there in time.  The Levites put great effort into helping all of these travelers get ready, but Hezekiah realized that not all the details had worked out.  Maybe some were ignorant of what they were to do, or just didn't have time to get it done, so he asked the Lord to forgive them of these little technical infractions.  He held a Priesthood leadership meeting.  He extended the Passover to the second week, because no one wanted it to end.  The result of the quick restoration of the temple and the speedy return to proper worship was joy (2 Chron. 30).

All of those who had been at the temple returned to their lands and overthrew the idolatrous worship there.  Hezekiah issued a command that the people bring offerings (tithing), and the people responded with so much abundance that Hezekiah commanded that storerooms be prepared in the temple in which to hold this large supply of food for storage (see footnote to 2 Chron. 31:11).  "And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God.  And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered" (2 Chron. 31:20-21).

FORTIFYING THE TEMPLE

The Jews were paying tribute to the Assyrians, and King Hezekiah decided to defy this tyranny and refuse to pay so that his people could be financially free.  This, of course, brought the wrath of the Assyrians upon them, and Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, commenced to invade Israel.  He advanced, bit by bit, through the land, conquering easily all the way.  He taunted the people, and blasphemed the Lord, trying to convince the people to abandon their belief and surrender to him.  As it became apparent that he would soon reach Jerusalem, Hezekiah made a very clever move, the result of which is still found at Jerusalem today, and that was the building of a tunnel. 

The water for Jerusalem came from a spring near the city and Hezekiah had a tunnel dug into the walled city, through 1,749 feet of solid rock, creating an underground canal for this spring.  Then he covered over the water outside the city.  The Assyrians surrounding the city would have no water source, but the Jews inside the city would.  Remember also that they had a great store of food in the temple, as a result of their faithful tithe-paying.  In this manner, the Jews were prepared to be able to sit out a long siege. 

Hezekiah's Tunnel is one of the great tourist attractions of Jerusalem, and the original inscription is still found on it.  (You can see photographs of the tunnel here.)

Hezekiah prepared for war and encouraged his people in a great speech, saying, "Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed [regarding] the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him.  With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.  And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah" (2 Chron. 32:7-8).

THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM

The Assyrians did advance until they had surrounded the city of Jerusalem.  Inside the city, Hezekiah and his great prophet/advisor Isaiah prayed to the Lord in the temple (2 Kings 19:14-19; Isaiah 37:15-20).  The Lord answered the prayer through Isaiah, promising that He would defend the city, and that not only would the King of Assyria never step inside the city walls, he would not even be able to cast an arrow against it, but he would just go back home (2 Kings 19:20-34; Isaiah 37:21-35).  That very night, the angel of the Lord (death) slaughtered a vast number of the Assyrian army, and the remainder packed up and went home (2 Kings 19:35-36; 2 Chron. 32: 21; Isaiah 37:36).  (Could it have been something like the black plague or dyssentery that killed the Assyrians, caused by the lack of a source of clean water?)  20 years later (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 690), the Assyrian king was killed by his own sons (2 Kings 19:37).

FORTIFYING OUR TEMPLES

There is beautiful symbolism in the story of Hezekiah's Tunnel:  The Jews could withstand the siege of Jerusalem quite comfortable because they had a conduit of life-giving water, something the Assyrians on the outside lacked.  We too have access to Living Water in our walled cities, our temples, which our Enemy cannot penetrate.  And although we can see the campfires of the Opposition surrounding us, yet we know that "there be more with us than with them...for with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles."


(An artist's depiction of the Brigham City Utah Temple, for which ground was broken this past week.  Click here for a news report on the ground-breaking.)