Sunday, November 28, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #45 "If I Perish, I Perish"

Daniel 1; 3; 6; Esther 3-5; 7-8

This lesson discusses four of the most powerful stories in the Old Testament of triumph over great adversity and oppression in a foriegn court.  In each story, the hero is a Hebrew slave, a person in a position nearly powerless by earthly standards.  An evil figure seeks to obliterate the hero because of his religious beliefs.  In the end, the righteous hero gains equivalent or greater political power than his nemesis.  Mighty retribution is meted out upon the evildoers.


“The responsibility of showing to the world that the gospel of Jesus Christ will solve its problems rests upon the men who make the claim" (President David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, p. 5).

"I found a classic example in the Old Testament of one who lived “in the world” and influenced it through his righteous living. The birth of this young man came at a time in history when it was improbable that anyone from Israel could make much of a contribution in the world.

"After the death of King Solomon in 975 b.c., the Ten Tribes revolted and separated themselves from the Tribe of Judah. A divided Israel was not able to hold its own against the other powers of that region. Egypt and Assyria would take turns overrunning the land of Israel. In the year 607 b.c., Assyria proper and the northern provinces fell into the hands of the Medes, while Syria lay open to be seized by the Babylonians.

"While this struggle was going on, it seemed an appropriate time for Egypt to attack Palestine. The king of the Babylonians sent his son, Nebuchadnezzar, to drive the Egyptians back. While the battle raged against the Egyptians, the king passed away and Nebuchadnezzar became the ruler of Babylon. He was successful against the Egyptians and became ruler over all of Syria to the Egyptian border. He ruled by terror, crushing his enemies by fire and sword, and weakening them with deportations to other parts of his empire.

"It was in the midst of this battle-torn era that Daniel was born. As a youth, he and certain other Hebrews were taken into the court of Nebuchadnezzar for service. They were chosen because of their wisdom and knowledge and ability to learn. Thus, Daniel was brought into a strange land with strange customs, a strange environment, and a very different religious heritage.

"Daniel’s first test in being 'in the world' came when the servant of Nebuchadnezzar ordered him to drink of his wine and eat of the 'king’s meat.' Daniel 'purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.'

"The servant argued that the king had made him responsible for training these young men, and had commanded they should eat and drink the same as the others. If they did not, the king would see that they were growing weak and thin, and would surely have the servant killed. Then Daniel begged that he and his friends be allowed to follow the health habits that had been given to them. His request was that they be proved for ten days—for ten days they would feed upon grains and drink water, to see if they were not healthier than all the rest.

"Daniel’s strategy was most interesting. He did not challenge the beliefs of the Babylonians. Instead, he volunteered to conduct a test as to which way was best. The servant agreed to the test. For the next ten days, Daniel and those who were with him ate and drank only of the things that they knew they should. At the end of the tenth day, Daniel and his friends were found to be healthier and stronger than all the rest. Daniel soon found that he did not have to adopt a different standard of values when he was 'in the world...'

"Not only did Daniel’s service benefit the king, but because of the faith that Daniel had in the Lord, it affected an entire land. The king sent forth a proclamation that all the people of the kingdom should worship the true and living God, the God that Daniel worshiped. How mighty was the power of the service of one righteous man, affecting so many, as he served 'in the world' in which he lived! How effective will be the results of our service if we will continue to serve in our own personal way 'in the world' in which we live!  (L. Tom Perry, "In the World," Ensign, May 1998)

Daniel was tested again in his later life.  By now, he was a high-ranking government official.  For political rather than religious reasons, others desired to have him deposed.  They knew that they could not "dig up any dirt" about him, because there was none.  So instead, knowing that he was true to his faith, they determined to use that faith for his political demise.  They convinced King Darius to enact a law forbidding prayer to Jehovah.  Daniel's behavior did not change in the slightest because of the threat.  He prayed three times a day, "as he did aforetime" (6:10).  This was almost a more faith-promoting experience for King Darius than it was for Daniel.  Darius clearly had a budding faith in Jehovah, as he said hopefully to Daniel while throwing him in the lion's den, "Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee" (6:16).  In the morning when he returned to the den, he called, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" (6:20).  The answer was yes.

King Darius was then a believer.  He issued a proclamation, publicly stating his faith, "I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.  He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions" (6:26-27).


"As a young man, I returned home from an eighth-grade basketball tournament dejected, disappointed, and confused. I blurted out to my mother, 'I don’t know why we lost—I had faith we’d win!'

"I now realize that I did not then know what faith is...

"Centuries ago, Daniel and his young associates were suddenly thrust from security into the world—a world foreign and intimidating. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to bow down and worship a golden image set up by the king, a furious Nebuchadnezzar told them that if they would not worship as commanded, they would immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 'And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?'

"The three young men quickly and confidently responded, 'If it be so [if you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand.' That sounds like my eighth-grade kind of faith. But then they demonstrated that they fully understood what faith is. They continued, 'But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.'  That is a statement of true faith.

"They knew that they could trust God—even if things didn’t turn out the way they hoped. They knew that faith is more than mental assent, more than an acknowledgment that God lives. Faith is total trust in Him...

"We must have the same faith as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.

"Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not … . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.

"Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.  (Dennis E. Simmons, "But If Not...", Ensign, May 2004)


Esther is one of the Five Scrolls, books that were originally grouped together in the Hebrew Bible, called "The Writings," and read (and many Jewish communities still read them) at key annual festivals. 

The Five Scrolls and their Festivals
  1. The Song of Songs (Song of Solomon in the KJV), read at Passover, commemorating the passing over of the angel of death when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt
  2. The Book of Ruth, read at the Feast of Weeks, also called Shavout, or Pentecost in the New Testament, a celebration of the harvest
  3. Lamentations, read on the 9th of Av (a month in the Jewish calendar), commemorating the sadness and oppression that has happened to the Jews, beginning with the destruction of the temple
  4. Ecclesiastes, read at Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (refering to tents), a 7-day festival in which the 40 years camping in the wilderness is commemorated and somewhat reenacted
  5. The Book of Esther, read at Purim, a name derived from the word pur which refered to the casting of lots done by Haman in the story of Esther to determine the day of the destruction of the Jews
(Sources:  Bible Dictionary entry for "Feasts," Harper-Collins Study Bible, and Wikipedia.)

A Chiastic Pattern for the Book of Esther
Chiasmus (pronounced "ky-AS-mus") is a Hebrew literary tool in which all the lines of a poem lead to the main point, after which they all repeat in reverse order with slight variation.  The central point of the broad chiasmus of the book of Esther would be that the Jews, represented here by Mordecai, get the honor they deserve for their righteousness and good works.  This is the point of all four stories discussed in this lesson: the faithful Hebrew figure puts his/her neck on the block, with faith in Jehovah, and not only is the executioner's hand stayed, but glory is awarded to them by the worldly powers.

A   King Xerxes’ banquet and the rise of Queen Esther 1:1-2:23
 B   Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews 3:1-15
 C   Mordecai’s plea to Esther and Esther’s request 4:1-17
  D   Esther’s first banquet 5:1-8
    E   Haman’s family plot to hang Mordecai 5:9-14
      F   Mordecai honored 6:1-12a
    E’   Haman’s family predicts his downfall 6:12b-14
   D’   Esther’s second banquet and Haman’s death 7:1-10
  C’   Esther’s plea to King Xerxes to save the Jews 8:1-15
B’   The Jews destroy their enemies 9:1-17
A’   Feast of Purim and Mordecai’s rise to power -10:3

(Source:  Tyndale University College and Seminary website.  Sorry; I can't seem to form a direct link.)

  • 1:21-22  All official resources and protocol of state are needed to deal with the danger posed to men by one willful woman!  This is the first in a series of letters and decrees sent by means of the famed Persian courier service.
  • 1:3; 2:16  It took four years to find a new queen.
  • 2:19 "Sitting in the king's gate:"  Mordecai is an official of undetermined rank.
  • 3:9  10,000 talents of silver is a huge bribe.  Inflated figures like this one, the height of Haman's gallows, which was the equivalent of 75 feet (5:14), and numbers slain by the Jews (9:5-16) give the story an air of the fantastic.  (All numbers used in the Old Testament must be taken with a grain of salt--often they are figurative and not literal.)
  • 7:7-8 The king's exit allows Haman one last plea for his life, ironically from the one whom he unknowingly sought to destroy.  His attempt seals his fate, as the king mistakes his posture of supplication before the reclining Esther as an assault upon the queen.
  • 8:11-12  The wording recalls what Haman wrote (3:13) in an exact and vengeful manner...The effect is to reverse in every detail what Haman planned for the Jews.
  • 9:10, 15-16 That the Jews did not touch the plunder although they were allowed to do so (8:11) suggests they were fighting for survival and not increased wealth.


(This section is on the fringe of the purpose of the lesson, so I wouldn't include it as a part of a lesson being taught in Sunday School, but it is an interesting aside to personal scripture study.  Should questions come up from class members on this topic, this information may be helpful.)

In the present Hebrew Bible, the books of Daniel and Esther are placed together.  The contrast between the stories, though, are great enough that they have bothered scholars, particularly Jewish scholars, for thousands of years.  Daniel and Esther were both offered the king's food (Daniel 1:5; Esther 2:9).  Esther 2:9 in the King James Version only covertly mentions food, "such things as belonged to her," but it is clearly food in the New Revised Standard Version, "her portion of food".  The word portion is from an Old Persian word meaning "government-supplied food ration" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1304).  While Daniel and his friends refused the food and stuck to their strict Hebrew diet, Esther ate what was was given her.  Daniel and his three friends prayed in open defiance of the worship of idolatry.  Prayer is never mentioned in the book of Esther.  Daniel and his friends profess faith in God and publicly give Him credit and glory for the miracles that save them in the book of Daniel.  God is never mentioned in the story of Esther.  Curious.

In The Septuagint (the earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek), the translators (pious Jewish scholars) tried to correct this problem by making six additions to the book of Esther, four of which make God's presence very clear throughout the story.  (These are included in the Appocrypha which is readily available from many publishers. The Septuagint version of Esther is printed in the Approcrypha section of the Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1481-1496.)
  1. The book opens with the story of a dream which Mordecai has in which God reveals, in symbolism, all that is going to happen.
  2. The king's edict is written out expressly.
  3. A prayer in which Mordecai calls mightily upon the Lord for aid is inserted, and the addition concludes, "And all Israel cried out mightily, for their death was before their eyes."
  4. A sweet and tender version of Esther's appearance before the king, and the softening of his heart toward her is added.
  5. The second edict of the king is inserted.
  6. There is a little post at the end of the book in which Mordecai relates the interpretation of his dream, and notes that everything God promised has been fulfilled.
Hmm.  It makes one think.  Did these translators just make up these additions to fit their own agenda?  It's possible. 

It's also possible they didn't make them up.

Josephus, the most important early Jewish historian whose works are still available today and are widely considered a very trustworthy source, believed that the translators of the Septuagint were inspired of God.  Could they have been acting under inspiration as Joseph Smith did when he studied and re-translated the Bible, inserting details that were important but had been left out?  It's possible that they received aid from God in the form of revelation about what the actual circumstances had been and restored the true story. 

There is no way to know. 

Why ask questions for which we have no known answer?  Because it expands our thinking, and exposes the possibilities to us.  If we can't find the answer, we place the question on our "shelf" of questions to be answered later.  At another time, we may take them down again, see if more information or revelation is now providing the answer.  If it is, great.  If it is not, back on the shelf it goes.  It may stay there until the next life, when all questions will be answered.  As long as we don't demand an answer immediately, our faith remains intact.

We can ask another question for which there is no known answer:  Who wrote the book of Esther, and why would he leave these important details out of the story, if they were true?  Josephus claims Mordecai wrote it, and he is generally a pretty good source.  Another possibility is Nehemiah.  For a good but simple discussion on the authorship possibilities, see

If Mordecai were the author, here are my personal thoughts--my personal thoughts--about why he may have written without expressly referring to God, prayer, and Jewish practices:  Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel's king) ruled from 605-562 BC.   Ahasuerus (Esther's king) is usually identified as Xerxes I, who ruled in 486-465 BC (Harper-Collins Study Bible).  So the story of Daniel took place well over 100 hundred years before the story of Esther, and immediately after the exile.  Daniel and his friends were fresh out of Hebrew communities steeped with their religious culture.  Mordecai and Esther and their people, 100+ years later, may have suffered a gradual loss of Jewish influence in their new environment.  They seemed to not be as openly practicing their religion as Daniel did, since Esther was living in the king's court completely undetected as a Jew.  The king himself seemed to be unaware of the entire culture of Jews until Haman pointed them out. 

Could years of keeping their religion quietly have caused the author to also keep it as an unstated undercurrent in his writing? Was the account written at such a time or situation or context in which it was inappropriate or dangerous to expressly include deeply religious experiences?  Or was the author someone we don't have any record of at all, and was he not a religious person, but simply a recorder or historian?

Regardless of the reason for the way the account is written, it is clear to me that God and prayer were key parts of the story.  When Mordecai said to Esther, "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" there was clearly an implication in his words that he believed a greater Power was enacting a plan to save the Jews, and that Esther was part of that plan.  Esther called upon the Jews to fast for three days and nights (Esther 4:16).  What purpose would there be to fasting without prayer?  This is the only instance in the scriptures of which I'm aware in which fasting is mentioned when it is not directly connected to prayer.  It was a practice used in no other way.

Their story as well as Daniel's teaches that God loves His children and is merciful, ever seeking to aid them in adversity, responding faithfully when they exercise their faith.  Their righteous influence blesses their entire community, and spreads the gospel.  "The city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.  The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour.  And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day.  And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of [respect for?] the Jews fell upon them" (Esther 8:15-17).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #44 "Every Thing Shall Live Whither the River Cometh"

Ezekiel 43-44; 47


Take a moment and read the following verses:  Ezekiel 43:1-12; 44:6-9, 23.  What do these verses tell us about the temple?
  • The glory of the Lord fills the temple (43:2, 4-5).
  • The temple is "the place of [the Lord's] throne" on earth (43:7).
  • The Lord walks in the temple, calling it "the place of the soles of my feet" (43:7).
  • The temple is a place where the Lord may "dwell in the midst" of his people (43:7).
  • We learn about the laws of the Lord in the temple (43:11).
  • There are ordinances that the Lord wants us to perform in the temple (43:11).
  • Even the grounds that surround the temple "shall be most holy" (43:12).
  • Only those who are worthy should enter the temple (44:6-9).
  • In the temple we learn the difference between holy and profane and between clean and unclean (44:23).

Read Ezekiel 47:1; 6-12.  What did Ezekiel see coming from the east doors of the temple in Jerusalem?
  • "...waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward" (v. 1).  The east doors of the temple symbolize the visitation of God to the earth.  God is thought to come from the east, as the Garden of Eden was eastward.
Where did the water go?
  • "...toward the east country, and...down into the desert, and...into the [Dead] sea: which, being brought forth into the sea, the waters can be healed" (v. 8).
What changes will take place in the Judean wilderness and the Dead Sea because of the River flowing from the temple?
  • Trees will grow along the banks of the river (v. 7, 12).
  • The trees will yield fruits and nuts constantly (v. 12).  Is there any variety of tree in the world presently that is ever-bearing, and not subject to seasons?
  • Their leaves will never fall (v. 12).  This would be a bit unusual; most fruit/nut trees are deciduous.  Citrus trees are evergreen, but grow in a subtropical climate.  So either the climate or the trees will undergo an enormous change.
  • The leaves of the trees will also have healing properties (v. 12).
  • Everything that comes in contact with this water will receive vitality (v. 9).
  • The waters of the Dead Sea will be healed and there will be fish in the Dead Sea, so many that fishermen will be able to fill their nets (v. 8-10).  This would be a miraculous change.  "Normal marine life cannot live in the Dead Sea, which is six times saltier than the ocean down to about 130 feet and 10 times saltier than the ocean at 300 feet. The name of the Dead Sea in Hebrew, 'Yam ha Maved,' literally means, 'Killer Sea,' and instant death is exactly what happens to any fish that strays into its waters from the River Jordan or other fresh water streams that flow into the Dead Sea. Life does exist in the Dead Sea, though, in the form of two bacterium and one type of algae."  (Lynn Murray,

Latter-day temples frequently use water symbolism
in their landscape design.  This is the reflecting pond
in front of the east doors of the Logan Temple.

(This photo was taken by my daughter,
Camille R. Jensen.  Copyright 2010.
Copying for personal, home, or church use permitted.
This photo is on display at the Logan LDS Institute,
and the Brigham City Seminary.)


The best commentary on any scripture is always another scripture.  If we can match up a symbol from one scripture to a second scripture that has a clear explanation, we can be much more confident that our interpretation is correct than if we merely refer to the opinions of scholars who live thousands of years removed from the time of the writing.  That is the case with this chapter of Ezekiel.  There is a vision very similar to Ezekiel's in the book of Revelation:  "And he shewed me a pure river of water* of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him" (Rev. 22:1-3).  The number twelve refers to a perfect Godly government, of course:  the twelve apostles, the twelve tribes of Israel, the priesthood (  Although this is unrelated to Old Testament symbolism, it is interesting that the age at which young men enter into priesthood service in the present-day church is also twelve.

*Note:  Because there are many riverbeds that remain dry except in the rainy, flooding season in the middle east (wadis), there is a distinction for a river that has water running in it, translated here as "river of water."  It is interesting to note this same phrase appearing four times in the Book of Mormon, as in 1 Ne. 2:6.

In Ezekiel 43:7, the Lord calls the temple "the place of my throne."  What flowed from the throne of God in John's vision? 
  • "Water of life."  We can assume, then, that this is the interpretation of the water flowing from the temple in Ezekiel's vision.
What is the "water of life?" 
  • This question is answered in the Gospel of John 4:10-14.  Christ is the living water.  His gospel is spiritually life-saving and also leads to eternal life. 
  • Like the Judean wilderness and the Dead Sea, we can receive healing, increased abundance of life, and even eternal life as a result of partaking of the "water of life" that issues forth from the presence of God in the temple.
Trees grew along the river in both Ezekiel's vision and John's vision.  What does John teach us about these trees?
  • They were all the tree of life.
What is this tree of life? 
  • In Lehi's vision, "...the tree of life was a representation of the love of God" (1 Ne. 11:25).
How does the love of God heal and give life? 
  • The ultimate expression of God's love is the atoning sacrifice of His Son.  Because He suffered and died for us, we can be healed of the wounds of sin and the effects of a fallen earth, if we repent and come to Christ.  As we do so, we can partake of the waters of life which lead to eternal happiness and joy with the righteous, our loved ones, and with God.

(Copyright 2010, Camille R. Jensen
Copying permitted for personal, home, or church use.)

Read Ezekiel 47:2-5.  How deep was the river each time Ezekiel crossed it?  What truth might these verses suggest about the temple? 
  • The water of the river represents the "water of life."  As we engage in the work of the temple (each time we cross the river) the power and blessings of the temple increase in our lives.  How can we drink from the water, if we don't go to the river? 
  • Wonderful truths are taught in the temple.  When first we attend, our understanding may be only "ankle deep."  As we wade into the "river" again and again, our understanding deepens.  We will never reach the bottom of this source of water, but each time we go to the temple, we can let them "wash over" us.
  • The number 1,000 symbolizes divine completeness and the glory of the Father.  The number 1,000 is repeated four times.  Four symbolizes the world and creative works.  In the temple, God's glory and perfection intersect the world He created.

How is the river a good symbol for the temple and the truths taught there?  What does a river do/give?  (Here are some ideas, but class members may have better ones.) 
  • Polish rocks
  • Irrigate crops
  • Change the face of the land
  • Create a pathway
  • Provide means for speedy transportation
  • Cleanse
  • Provide meat (fish) and vegetation for nutrition
  • Soothe with sound
  • Deposit fertile soil in a new place
  • Quench thirst
  • Provide shade trees and fruit trees
  • The water in a river remains pure because it is constantly flowing

Divide the class into two teams.  Give each team member a paper and pencil.  You can either have the following categories already printed on the papers, or hand out blank papers and list the categories on the board.  When you say "go," each team member must write down one incident in church history, from the Bible to the latter-days, that would fit symbolically in each category.  It can even be a personal or family history incident.  Stop them in 2 minutes.  Call out the categories and have class members share what they wrote.  The object is for each team to have written down the largest number of different incidents.  Award one point for each different answer that is given.  (In other words, if two team members wrote "Sacred Grove" for number one, only one point is awarded to the team for that answer.  If two people on different teams give the same answer, though, each team gets a point for the answer.)  Any answer can be correct if the team member can explain the symbolism for his choice, so encourage creativity!  The high scoring team wins.  (If you award treats to the winners, it's always nice to have smaller "consolation" treats for the other team as well.)
  1. A tree or trees
  2. The sound of rushing waters
  3. A mountain
  4. Fishermen
  5. Great schools of "fish"
  6. A desert (This is the one that is hot and sandy.  The one that you eat is spelled with two S's.)
  7. A sea
  8. Fruit
  9. A river
Possible answers (just to give you ideas):
  1. A tree or trees (the First Vision, the Garden of Eden, Lehi's Dream, the Garden of Gethsemane, the parable of the olive trees)
  2. The sound of rushing waters (Pentecost, the Kirtland Temple Dedication)
  3. A mountain (The Mount of Transfiguration, Hill Cumorah, Ensign Peak, any latter-day temple, the Mount of Olives, Golgatha, Mount Sinai)
  4. Fishermen (The New Testament Apostles, missionaries)
  5. Great schools of "fish" (The early Latter-day converts in England, Canada, Tonga, Africa, and other areas where congregations were prepared to join the Church as a group--each individual country mentioned can count.)
  6. A desert (The Exodus, the travels of Lehi's family, the crossing of the U.S. by the pioneers, the settling of the Salt Lake Valley, southern Utah, and Arizona)
  7. A sea (Crossing the Red Sea, the Jaredites' travels, the Nephite emigration, the gathering of the early European pioneers, the missionaries to the South Seas--in fact the travels of any missionary over any ocean today, Christ walking on the water, Peter walking on the water, the Ship Brooklyn)
  8. Fruit (The fruit of the Spirit, the converts to the gospel, the growing of fruit trees in the settlements of the western U.S., the planting of fruits and vegetables along the pioneers' path in order to provide for followers, the fruits of the trees in the Garden of Eden, the parable of the olive trees)
  9. A river (The washing of Naaman in the Jordan River, the crossing of the North Platte and Sweetwater Rivers by the pioneers, the rescue of Moses from the Nile, the river Laman in the Book of Mormon, the miracle at Fishing River, the baptism of an ancestor in a river)

For fairly small classes, a fun visual reminder for each student to take home might be a bottle of water, with a label glued over the original label and printed with a photo of a temple and this scripture:  "Whosever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever shall drink of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."  John 4:13-14

(Feel free to copy and print the temple photos in this blog entry for use in your class.  The photographer is my teenage daughter, Camille.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #43 "The Shepherds of Israel"

Ezekiel 18, 34, 37


Whereas previously in the Old Testament, the Lord has promised that the sins of the fathers will be upon the heads of the children until "the third and fourth generations" (see Exo. 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deut. 5:9), in Ezekiel 18, this message is changed.  Now, the Lord says, each person is accountable for himself.  His father may be evil, but he can choose to be righteous.  This has many comforting implications for us of the latter-days as well.  It is nice to know that we are not doomed by genetics or environment to commit whatever sins or weaknesses our parents may have possessed.  Each generation can have a fresh start.  This is the message of the entire chapter, concluding with this encouraging cheer:  "Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?...Wherefore, turn yourselves, and live ye" (18:31-32).


Chapter 34 is a scathing rebuke to church leaders (shepherds of Israel) who have misused power, misinterpreted scripture, and misled those seeking the truth, juxtaposed (there's that word again!) against the perfect example of Christ as a true Shepherd.  Verses 17-25 are a symbolic representation of the Great Apostacy.

Double-clicking on the following pages should pull them up in a separate window where they can be easily read.  Unfortunately, the blogger would not accept a .pdf document file, so they are picture files, and don't equal a normal page size.  But by right-clicking on them, and choosing "Save Picture As," they can each be saved and inserted into a Word document, re-sizing as desired, and then the document can be printed off and given to class members as a handout.  Please be sure to copy and paste in the reference, which is printed below the pages.

Information on the shepherds of the Holy Land comes from Dr. Carl Stanley, “Beside Still Waters,” Saturday Evening Post, March/April 2002.


Chapter 37 contains the vision of the dry bones, famed in American Negro spirituals.  What imagery about the great power of the resurrection could be more vivid than a vast and gruesome graveyard full of unburied bones--perhaps the site of a horrific battle--suddenly becoming animated?  There is a rattling sound, a shaking, as the bones clatter up and reassemble themselves.  Then the flesh and skin appear and reattach themselves.  A wind, or a spirit (see footnote 9a), breathes life into the bodies.  The spirits, the breath, comes from "the four winds" or from all the areas of the earth (see symbolism for the number 4 in a previous entry under "Chapter 15 Clarifications).  Who are these dead revived?  "These bones are the whole house of Israel" who had lost hope, who seemed dead.  But the Lord can reach His people, even beyond the grave, and restore them to their rightful place.

Here is another vision with dual meaning:  Besides the obvious message of the Resurrection, another message just as vital is that the children of Israel who were spiritually dead, cut off the from the knowledge of their Savior, and scattered to all the atheistic lands of the earth, will be brought back to the spiritual life and light of the gospel.

This will be accomplished by the conjoining of the Book of Mormon and the Bible (the stick of Joseph and the stick of Judah).  Then the Lord will be able to make an "everlasting covenant" with them, setting His temples "in the midst of them" (v. 26-27).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #42 "I Will Write It In Their Hearts"

Jeremiah 16; 23; 29;31

The Book of Jeremiah, at its most basic, has two themes:  The estrangement of Israel from the Lord leading to grave consequences, and the eventual mercy of the Lord when Israel repents and returns.  Many of the chapters contain these two themes, back-to-back, including the chapters in this reading assignment.


The Lord charges Israel of Jeremiah's day with a greater misconduct than previous generations.  "Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have (1) walked after other gods, and have (2) served them, and have (3) worshipped them, and have (4) forsaken me, and have (5) not kept my law; And ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye (6) walk every one after the [stubbornness or hardness] of his evil hearts, that they may not hearken unto me:  Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night: where I will not shew you favour" (16:11-13).  It is interesting that to have a hardened heart was considered worse by the Lord than to abandon true worship and follow after idols!

But in the very next verse, we find a promise of redemption.  It is not to happen right away, but in "the days [that] come," probably the very latter days.  It will be such a great rescue, that it will eclipse the Exodus from Egypt!  Where for thousands of years, the Israelites have uttered their oaths by saying, "As the Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt," they will after this time swear, "as the Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them" (16:14-15).


The Lord explains how the gathering is to be accomplished:  First he will send out the fishers (16:16).  Fishers of ancient times used large nets in which they could reap a massive harvest in one catch.  So was the beginning of the harvest of souls in the early days of the Restoration.  As the missionaries went to England, to Canada, to Wales, to Denmark, large groups of converts joined at once.  Hundreds of investigators gathered at the Benbow Farm in England, for example, studying the Bible together, seeking the true religion, and they joined the Church as a large unit when the missionaries arrived.  A similar event happened in Canada.  So many saints joined the Church in Europe that the Perpetual Emigration Fund was set up in order to finance their gathering.  They traveled across the plains of the United States in huge wagon trains and handcart companies, part of a massive movement.

After the fishers are finished with their work, the Lord will send the hunters.  "They shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks" (16:16).  Today the missionaries in those same countries do not find large groups of religious seekers waiting for them to bring the gospel.  Instead they must hunt among the crowds, tracting door-to-door, finding here one and there one.  It's very common for a missionary to a European country to see only one or two baptisms during his entire mission.  But the hunters are just as important to the Lord's work as the fishers! 

The work of the gathering will spread over the entire earth.  "The [nations] shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit" (16:19).  They will realize that if they make their own gods, they are not gods, they have no power (16:20).  Therefore, at this time ["this once"] they will come to the knowledge of the Lord Jehovah (16:21).


"For thus saith the Lord, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good work toward you, in causing you to return to this place" (29:10).  "The number seventy is another combination of two of the perfect numbers, seven and ten...The product exhibits the significance of each in an intensified form. Hence 7 x 10 signifies perfect spiritual order carried out with all spiritual power and significance. Both spirit and order are greatly emphasized" (

This prophecy can be seen as having two fulfillments.  70 years after Jeremiah, Cyrus freed the captive Israelites.  Many decided to stay in Babylon, the northern Israelite captives having been there for nearly 200 years, and the Judaens having been there for 70 living an agreeable lifestyle, as Jeremiah prophecied (28:4-7).  Ezra 1-6 tells us of the small group who first returned, rebuilt the altar of the temple, and then began an effort to resurrect the temple itself (Alec Motyer, The Story of the Old Testament, p. 163).

However, this prophecy is also being fulfilled in our day through the Restoration of the gospel after the Great Apostacy, as well as in individual lives after their return from personal apostacy.  We each can reap the beautiful promise offered by the Lord:

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.  Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.  And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.  And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive" (29:11-14).  Remember that the word "place" often has an underlying meaning of "temple" in the Old Testament.  We can each be returned to the temple from the captivity of our sinfulness if we seek the Lord diligently.

Engraving on the Logan Temple


"I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people...I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee [to me]" (31:1, 3). 

Jeremiah 31 is full of beautiful images of the redemption of the Lord and the return of his people.  I see an especially hopeful message to parents of wandering children:  "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping; Ra[c]hel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not" (31:15).  Rachel was one of the matriarchs of the nation of Israel.  Ramah was the place where the Israelites were gathered before their deportation.  It was north of Jerusalem, possibly near to Rachel's grave.  How many righteous latter-day saint parents have wept as they watched their children being herded off to Babylon by forces beyond their control?  Fortunately, this is never the end of the story.  "Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.  And there is hope [for thy future], saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border" (31:16-17).

"And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the Lord" (31:28).

This promise of the Lord is shown in this oft-quoted statement, repeated most recently by Elder Eyring in October 2009 General Conference:  "Elder Orson F. Whitney, in a general conference of 1929, gave a remarkable promise, which I know is true, to the faithful parents who honor the temple sealing to their children: 'Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold...Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.'"


"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah" (31:31).  This covenant would not be a law of outward observances, like the Law of Moses (31:32), but a complete transformation of the soul.  This difference is shown in latter-day temple worship.  Beyond offering sacrifices of animals or birds to redeem them from sin, the latter-day templegoers are offering the consecration of not only everything they possess, but their whole beings, not to simply return them to a sinless state, but to elevate them to a godly state.

"After those days [any statement like this usually refers to the latter days], saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (31:33).

There will be no more need for missionary work.  "And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord" (31:34).

How sure is this prophecy?  The Lord tells us.  "If heaven above can be measured [it can't], and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath [they can't], I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done" (31:37).  In other words, Israel will never be cast away permanently.  The redemption of Christ will always be available to her.  This is true even in an individual sense.  Some may think their sins are beyond the reach of the redemption of Christ, that their hearts can never be purified, but the Lord's mercy and power are endless.


The journey that many of us in the latter days must make to reach a state of purification is symbolized in the story of the engraver of the Salt Lake Temple, John R. Moyle.

"John R. Moyle lived in Alpine, Utah, about 22 miles as the crow flies to the Salt Lake Temple, where he was the chief superintendent of masonry during its construction. To make certain he was always at work by 8 o’clock, Brother Moyle would start walking about 2 a.m. on Monday mornings. He would finish his work week at 5 p.m. on Friday and then start the walk home, arriving there shortly before midnight. Each week he would repeat that schedule for the entire time he served on the construction of the temple." (Jeffrey R. Holland, "As Doves to Our Windows," Ensign, May 2000.)

Likely, Brother Moyle would have traveled across the mountain from Alpine to present-day Draper, and on across the Salt Lake Valley to Temple Square.  The journey he took can be followed on Google Maps.  Click on "Get Directions," type "Alpine, Utah" as Point A, "Draper Temple, Utah" as Point B, click on "Add Destination," and type "Historic Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah" as the final destination.  It is a 20-minute winding journey by car from Alpine to Draper today, and another 30 minutes, mostly on the freeway, from Draper to Temple Square, although Brother Moyle's route was probably a little more direct.

Check out the mountains
Brother Moyle would have traversed weekly:

The view from the Alpine side.

Looking back from the Draper side.

"Once when he was home on the weekend, one of his cows bolted during milking and kicked Brother Moyle in the leg, shattering the bone just below the knee. With no better medical help than they had in such rural circumstances, his family and friends took a door off the hinges and strapped him onto that makeshift operating table. They then took the bucksaw they had been using to cut branches from a nearby tree and amputated his leg just a few inches below the knee. When against all medical likelihood the leg finally started to heal, Brother Moyle took a piece of wood and carved an artificial leg. First he walked in the house. Then he walked around the yard. Finally he ventured out about his property. When he felt he could stand the pain, he strapped on his leg, walked the 22 miles to the Salt Lake Temple, climbed the scaffolding, and with a chisel in his hand hammered out the declaration 'Holiness to the Lord.'" (ibid.)

Likewise, we find ourselves maimed by the world as we go about our daily lives.  We must sometimes enlist the aid of loved ones to amputate the damaged, infectious parts of ourselves, our habits of sin, and replace them with new habits, painstakingly carved one day at a time, in order to make that long walk to back to God.  But as we do so, the Lord meets our efforts with the grace of his Atonement, and we are able to climb up the scaffolding to the temple and reach a state of "holiness to the Lord."

This is the promise of the Lord in Jeremiah.  "Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the [ends] of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.  They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of [living] waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn" (31:8-9).