Sunday, February 5, 2012

2 Nephi 1-5

(I'm not going to focus on 2 Nephi 3, but there is good information about this prophecy regarding Joseph Smith in the April 1989 Ensign, "I Have a Question" feature, available at this link.)


In chapter 2 of 2 Nephi we learn something remarkable about Nephi's younger brother Jacob:  He had seen Jesus Christ personally in a vision--when he was very young!

"Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God...Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men.  And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh" (2 Ne. 2:2-4).

It's interesting that even though Jacob had seen the Lord himself, his father Lehi still wanted to teach him about Jesus Christ.

"Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.  Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered" (2 Ne. 2:6-7).

And here we find the reason why Lehi taught someone who already knew--to make sure that that someone understood how important it was to teach others:

"Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

"Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved" (2 Ne. 2:8-9).

Jacob took the lesson to heart, and later wrote,

"For this intent have we written these things, that [our beloved brethren and our children] may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us" (Jacob 4:4).


As we pass through this mortal life, we receive wounds, we become ill, our bodies age, we get gray hair and stiff joints.  We slowly deteriorate from the day of our birth until the day we die.  But dying is not the end but the beginning, because Christ provided the way for us to be resurrected to perfection.

Alma taught,

“The death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death.  The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; …

“Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame” (Alma 11:42–44).

So after the resurrection, all our diseases will be gone, all our wrinkles will be smooth, amputated limbs will be restored, minds will be young, and scars will just disappear.  Whether celestial, terrestrial, or telestial, all the inhabitants of heaven will have perfect bodies.

All, that is, except for one.  There is one resurrected person whose scars remain. 

As Jesus Christ hung on the cross he was taunted, "He saved others; himself he cannot save" (Matt. 27:42).  What the mockers did not understand was that Christ did not come to save himself; he came to save us.  In order to save us, he had to die.  In order to remove our scars, he had to be scarred.  And he chose not to remove those scars when he was resurrected.  Why?  So that we would know that he always remembers us.

"I [will] not forget thee, O house of Israel.  Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands" (1 Ne. 21:15-16).

As Jesus also retains a scar in his side near his heart, we know that our hearts can be mended.  We all receive damage to our hearts here in this mortal existence, but another beauty of the atonement is that while our bodies are deteriorating, our spirits can become more perfect even before the resurrection.  The sins we commit, the wounds inflicted on us by others, the mistakes we make, even the knife wounds in our hearts as great loss comes to us, can all be healed as we travel through life by the power of the Atonement.  If we continually come to Christ, our spirits will become purer, younger, freer while our bodies become more scarred, aged and immobile.  The key is to choose daily to come to Christ.


Lehi explained in beautiful simplicity the importance of agency to our Heavenly Father's great plan for us.  (See 2 Ne. 2:11-30.)  Jacob had experienced a lot of opposition in his life, but his father explained that opposition is necessary; otherwise there would be nothing to choose.  Indeed this entire earthly existence was begun because of a choice.  It had to be so.

Why would God command Adam and Eve not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil when clearly He wanted them to, so that His children could be brought to the earth and experience their mortal probation?  Why didn't He just tell them to take it?  They would have done it!  They were really obedient people!  But to command Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and fall from His presence would go against His very nature:

"Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying, Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.  But he saith, come unto me all ye ends of the earth..." (2 Ne. 26:25).

"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love" (John 15:10).

"And if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life" (D&C 14:7).

So, you see, God could not issue a commandment that would push Adam and Eve away from Him.  Keeping his commandments always brings his children closer to Him, eventually leading to eternal life, not to a temporary and fragile existence in a fallen state far from His presence.  So a commandment had to be issued to Adam and Eve to avoid the tree of knowledge.  They had to choose for themselves to take the step away from God and into mortal life.

Remember that in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve knew no opposition.  It wasn't until after their encounter with the devil that the Father put enmity between mortal man and Satan.  (See Gen. 3:15.)  So they did not know that someone could be evil and that someone could lie to them until after they took the fruit.  Fortunately, they were not the only ones lacking knowledge:  The devil did not know that he was actually pushing Adam and Eve in the direction that the Lord wanted them to go but could not command them to go, when he tempted them with the fruit. 

And so, once opposition and knowledge entered into the scene with agency, the plan of the Lord could progress.


"In years past we generally used the term free agency. That is not incorrect. More recently we have taken note that free agency does not appear in the scriptures. They talk of our being 'free to choose' and 'free to act' for ourselves and of our obligation to do many things of our own 'free will'. But the word agency appears either by itself or with the modifier moral: 'That every man may act in doctrine and principle … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment' (D&C 101:78). When we use the term moral agency, we are appropriately emphasizing the accountability that is an essential part of the divine gift of agency. We are moral beings and agents unto ourselves, free to choose but also responsible for our choices..." (D. Todd Christofferson, "Moral Agency," Ensign, June 2009).

Satan thought that knowledge would be Adam and Eve's undoing.  But knowledge is of God.

"The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it pours knowledge into our souls and shows things in their true light. With that enhanced perspective, we can discern more clearly the choices before us and their consequences. We can, therefore, make more intelligent use of our agency..."  (ibid.).

We have to remember always, though, that when you choose one end of the stick (choice) you also choose the other (consequence).

"Freedom of choice is the freedom to obey or disobey existing laws—not the freedom to alter their consequences. Law, as mentioned earlier, exists as a foundational element of moral agency with fixed outcomes that do not vary according to our opinions or preferences" (ibid.).

Because we have opposition (things to choose between), law to link choices with consequences, and the power to choose, we can exercise agency and participate in God's great plan for our progression.

"It was necessary in God’s plan for our future happiness and glory that we become morally free and responsible. For that to happen, we needed an experience apart from Him where our choices would determine our destiny. The Fall of Adam provided the spiritual death needed to separate us from God and place us in this mortal condition, as well as the physical death needed to provide an end to the mortal experience...

"[But] if our separation from God and our physical death were permanent, moral agency would mean nothing. Yes, we would be free to make choices, but what would be the point? The end result would always be the same no matter what our actions: death with no hope of resurrection and no hope of heaven." (ibid.)

And so it was necessary that we have a Savior.


When I'm running my bank card at a checkout counter in a store, I wait for the card to process, and then I see a message flash on the screen:  "Approved."  I like being approved.  This experience often makes me think of the "pearly gates."  I imagine myself at the door of heaven, swiping a spiritual "bank card" and seeing that happy message:  "Approved."  But last night at the temple, I realized I had it wrong.  I am going to get to the entrance of heaven, the veil, and I am going to discover that I have "insufficient funds" in my spiritual bank account.  This is going to happen to you, too.  We are going to be asked to show identification--our glory and power--and we will have to answer that we do not have any.


And here is the beauty of the Atonement: When we come unto Christ and admit that we do not have what is needed to enter that glorified existence, all we will have to do is ask, and it will be given to us through the power symbolized by those scars on Christ's hands and wrists--the Atonement!  If we repent continually, if we keep our covenants faithfully, and if we come to Christ and ask, the deficit will disappear, the glory will be bestowed upon us, and the veil into the Celestial Kingdom will part.

"...And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.  Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God" (Isaiah 62:2).

Returning to our opening scripture, we can see that even the great prophet Jacob, despite his righteousness, despite personally seeing Jesus Christ in vision, despite later enduring to the end, fell short and could only be saved the same way we will:  through the Atonement.

"Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God...Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer."

As Christ, then, retained his scars so we could see proof that He remembers us always, we would be wise to remember those scars as well and daily and hourly make choices of obedience and repentance that will bring us greater spiritual progression, until that final day when Christ reaches out His hand and we feel those scars for ourselves.

As Lehi counseled,

"And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit" (2 Ne. 2:28).

If we do so, at the end of our lives we can say, as did Lehi,

"I have chosen the good part" (2 Ne. 2:30).

(For more on agency, see my Young Women's lesson, "Forks in the Road," available at this link.)

(For the wonderful talk by Brad Wilcox mentioned in the reader's comment below, "His Grace is Sufficient," follow this link.)THE PSALM OF NEPHI

In the middle of recording the story of his family and their journeying, Nephi offered an explanation about his record—that if we wanted more detail about the historical parts, they could be found in his other plates; these plates were for writing “the things of [his] soul” (2 Ne. 4:14-15).  The things of his soul were a delight in the scriptures and the things of the Lord.  This is what took up the focus of his thoughts continually, he wrote.

But then he surprised by launching into a lament about his inadequacies.

“Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am!  Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.  I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.  And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins…” (2 Ne. 4:17-19)

Wait a minute!  This is Nephi talking here, right?  The ultra Good Guy of the Book of Mormon?  In what way could he be “wretched?”  What great sins and weaknesses could he possibly be writing about?  He always honored his dad as the patriarch, he got the brass plates against all odds, he interpreted revelations for his brothers, he built a ship aided directly by God, he had the power of God course through him so strongly that it sent an electrical shock through his brothers, angels came to his defense, he saw visions. 

Remember, he said that

1)      His heart sorrowed because of his flesh (weaknesses)
2)      His soul grieved because of his iniquities (sins)

If we skip ahead to 2 Ne. 4:26-27, Nephi itemizes the problems.

1)      “…why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?”  His weakness was that he got discouraged, he got depressed, he wasted his energy on sorrow for the circumstances around him.
2)      “And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh?  Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?  Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” His sin was anger. 

Well, Nephi had good reason to be depressed!  In fact, wasn’t it a sign of his righteousness, and the love he had for his family that he found himself inconsolable about the waywardness of his brothers?  He was the birthright brother—a type of parent, really—and isn’t it a sign of a good parent to be deeply depressed about children who reject the gospel and choose paths that the parent knows will lead to misery?

Nephi also had good reason to be angry!  These brothers caused no end of trouble, they led their children astray, they disrespected their parents, they threatened to kill Nephi, they couldn’t even seem to be changed by the voice of the Lord thundering from heaven, or the personal appearance of an angel.  Wouldn’t anger against them be righteous indignation?

But the effect of this weakness and this sin on Nephi renders him less able to do God’s will.  The depression and anger make him physically ill (his flesh wastes away), sap his energy (his strength slackens), and destroy his peace. 

Yet with such huge challenges, how could Nephi have avoided these problems?  What did he do wrong along the way?  After expounding upon the greatness of God, he tells us.  Look for it here:

“…nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.  My God hath been my support…He hath filled me with his love…He hath confounded mine enemies…Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime…angels came down and ministered unto me.  And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away…and mine eyes have beheld great things… [Pay attention; here comes the reason:]

“O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?” (2 Ne. 4:19-26)

The Lord in his condescension has offered to his children the matchless, merciful gift of the Atonement.  Nephi saw his depression and anger as proof that his faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ was not fully functional in his daily life.  He gave himself (and us, because we are like this, too) a pep talk before carrying on with his record:

“Awake, my soul!  No longer droop in sin.  Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.  Do not anger again because of mine enemies.  Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.  Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.” (2 Ne. 4:28-30)

Nephi realized that, regardless of the circumstances around him, he had control over his own happiness.  If he increased his faith in the Lord, he would know that things would work out okay in the end because “the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men [had visited them] in so much mercy.”  Faith in the Atonement will conquer any sorrow of life.


Let’s leave Nephi for a moment and talk about Laman and Lemuel.  We have to feel sorry for Laman and Lemuel.  They seem to fit the saying, “If you can’t be a shining example, at least serve as a horrible warning.”  One of the purposes of their lives seemed to be to show us how not to be.  And yet, we know that our period of probation extends beyond this life and so does theirs; temple work attests to this truth.  Now that they are in the Spirit World, Laman and Lemuel could very likely have finally understood and accepted the gospel, particularly bearing in mind that the sealing power would have been in effect for their righteous parents.  And yet they still have to suffer the consequence of their ill choices by being the bad guys in myriads of Sunday School and Primary lessons.  Hopefully they are glad to have us learn from them, even though it is in a negative way.

“Not all problems are overcome and not all needed relationships are fixed in mortality.  The work of salvation goes on beyond the veil of death, and we should not be too apprehensive about incompleteness within the limits of mortality.”  (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, October 1995 General Conference)

“Now, sometimes there are those that are lost.  We have the promise of the prophets that they are not lost permanently, that if they are sealed in the temple ordinances and if the covenants are kept, in due time, after all the correction that’s necessary to be given, that they will not be lost.”  (President Boyd K. Packer, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Feb. 9, 2008)

Don’t you think Laman and Lemuel ought to be on our list of people we want to meet when we get to the other side, because it’s going to be so great to see how they have changed?  But the Laman and Lemuel we have to read about in the Book of Mormon are the undeveloped ones who hadn’t accepted the gospel yet, and who hadn’t accepted responsibility for their own happiness.  So, my apologies to Laman and Lemuel as we use them, once again, as a “horrible warning.”

Laman and Lemuel had blamed all their problems on Nephi and Lehi.  So when Lehi died (2 Ne. 4:12) and Nephi left with his people (2 Ne. 5:5), all their problems should have been solved.  There was nobody to boss them around.  They didn’t have to do family scripture study anymore, they didn’t have to listen to General Conference, they didn’t have to pay tithing to build temples they didn’t want.  There would be no more crazy ship-building, wilderness-wandering, Isaiah-reciting, or anything else they hated.  They should have been free to be happy, right?

Wrong.  Throughout all the rest of the Book of Mormon, we still see them and their descendants blaming their misery on Nephi.  Their grudge defined their lives and even their civilization.  They had decided they were “picked on” and they tenaciously stuck to that attitude, no matter how circumstances changed around them.  They gave up all control of their own happiness.


One of the great truths of this earthly existence is that, by giving us agency, the Lord gave us the ability to choose happiness. 

“Happiness has its roots in obedience to the teachings of the Lord and in faith in his capacity to fulfill His promises.  It can be enjoyed in an environment of poverty or wealth, sickness or health, scarcity or abundance, serenity or challenge.  Happiness can and should be the general background in which life is lived.”  So wrote Elder Richard G. Scott.  Well, easy for him to say, right?  He’s an apostle.  He’s got it made.

But Elder Scott has endured trials like the rest of us (or worse), which could have taken away his happiness.  When Elder Scott and his wife were young, they were hit with a double-disaster that would have buckled anyone’s knees.  A baby girl they were expecting died just before birth, and six weeks later, their two-year-old son died during heart surgery.  Two children gone in two months!  But the Atonement of Jesus Christ made it possible for them to regain happiness. 

“I cannot [understand the Lord’s] power, his majesty, his perfections,” he said.  “But I do understand something of his love, his compassion, his mercy.  There is no burden he cannot lift.  There is no heart he cannot purify and fill with joy.  There is no life he cannot cleanse and restore when one is obedient to his teachings.”  (Ensign, November 1988, p. 77)

Pieter Vlam was a member of the Church who was also an officer in the Royal Dutch Navy in 1939.  When World War II began, he was called to serve as second counselor to the mission president.  His job was to help get the missionaries safely out of Germany.  While doing this, he was arrested by Nazi officers and put in a prison camp for the duration of the war.  He could have chosen to shake his fist at heaven, or to fill his soul with hatred for the soldiers, but he chose something better.  He had been on a mission when he entered the prison camp, and he stayed on that mission.  Many prisoners came to Pieter and wanted to talk to him about the Church.  Meetings were forbidden in the prison camp, however, so every day Pieter would take two people at a time and walk all around the camp, for miles and miles in circles, while he taught them the gospel.  He taught almost a thousand men about the Restoration.  Lives were changed, and people joined the church because Pieter chose to spread joy instead of misery.  (Robert C. Freeman, Dennis A. Wright, Saints at War, p. 203-205)

Bryan Burningham was 13 years old when a gun accidentally fired in his North Logan, Utah home, shooting him in the face.  He lost his mouth, his teeth, in fact his entire jaw, his nose, his cheekbones, his eye sockets.  He has endured over 65 surgeries to rebuild something that could work as a face.  Yet, in that moment when he nearly died, his mother said, “He felt this peace come over him, and he felt this love surround him, and it changed his life.  And he went from a kid who was pretty moody and negative, to this positive boy without a face.”  Because Bryan consistently chose joy and love, he became very popular at school.  He even won a basketball game for Sky View High School when in the last few seconds of a close game, his prosthetic nose was knocked off, all the players on both teams gasped and stopped playing, and he picked up the ball and sunk the winning shot.  He served a mission, graduated from Utah State University and married in the Logan Temple.  “Life is so wonderful!” is his mantra.  “I mean, there are a million things that happen every day…You take the good from it.  Just enjoy life!”  (Photo at Huntsman prosthetics site; stories on KSL TV and Fox News a partial transcript of one here,  various articles in the Herald Journal, a short video of news stories on YouTube.)

Elder Scott wrote, “Challenge, when faced within the framework of the gospel of Jesus Christ and in recognition of the beauties around us, is a path upward to help us grow and earn peace with happiness.”  (Richard G. Scott, Finding Peace, Happiness, and Joy, p. 167)

Nephi appears to have followed his own counsel and “given place no more for the enemy of his soul.”  Being warned of the Lord of a plot to kill him, he and his family and all that were followers of Christ left Laman and Lemuel.  They also left their homes, their crops, their “Promised Land,” all of their hard work behind for the Lamanites.  They moved out into the wilderness again and they built another Promised Land.  They kept the Law of Moses, they had the plates of brass as their scriptures, the Liahona as their guide, the sword of Laban after which they fashioned a military defense.  Their new Promised Land provided them with timber, iron, copper, brass, steel, gold, and silver.  They used these things to build a temple, like Solomon’s temple but not so fancy, Nephi wrote.

And they lived, as Nephi said, “after the manner of happiness.”

We also can live after the manner of happiness, regardless of our circumstances, if we can choose to be hopeful and not discouraged, to trust in the Lord and his mercy both for us and for those we care about, and to forgive offenses even if the perpetrators are not repentant.  If we lose one “Promised Land,” we can build another, always keeping the scriptures and revelation as our guides.  This is the way to peace.

“No formula can prescribe how every individual can be assured of continual peace with happiness and joy in this mortal life,” wrote Elder Scott, “[But] I am a witness that with patience, some long-suffering, and the help of the Lord, coupled with obedience to His commandments, those blessings can be enjoyed most of the time.”  (Scott, p. 4-5)


Joyce Madden said...

I want you to know that I so appreciate your blogs. They give me a different perspective to our gospel doctrine lessons. I know that it takes time and effort to write your thoughts, but they do make a difference in people's lives. Thank you so much!

Unknown said...

I just want you to know that I am here and I am reading and I appreciate your perspective and insight. Your thoughts are a regular part of my preparation for my own lesson.

May the Lord bless you in your efforts and continue to give you the desire, energy, and inspiration to continue your blog.

wackywilsons said...

I found a youtube video called Nephi's Psalm that is also a nice resource for this lesson I will play it during my lesson today. Thanks again for all your insights.

The Clarks said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I teach a youth Sunday School class and this saved my bacon! They really were able to get a lot out of the lesson bc of your perspective. And I learned a lot from it too!!! :)

Unknown said...

I really appreciate the work you put in to this lesson you helped and taught me some great principals I had not thought of while reading the lesson and scriptures but you brought them to life for me and hopefully I will be able to as well. Thank you