Monday, November 12, 2012

Ether 1-5

Why Ether is in the Book of Mormon

After Mormon died in battle, his son Moroni took charge of the records.  He finished his father’s record, or he thought he had finished it, with the Book of Mormon (the smaller book inside the whole Book of Mormon).   We can read the last few verses of Mormon and see that he thought he was through.  “Behold, I speak unto you as though I spake from the dead; for I know that ye shall have my words” (Mormon 9:30).   After that verse he talked about how we should treat the record and what he prayed that it would do for us.  And he closed with an “amen.”  But now we know what Moroni didn’t know, and that was that he was not through writing on the plates. 

After this, Moroni spent years wandering by himself, hiding from the Lamanites, as the last Nephite left.  What do you think he did with his time?  Well, aside from entertaining the Three Nephites once in a while (Mormon 8:10-11), and aside from getting food and eating it, he had stacks of plates in his keeping.  He had the scriptures, the best of books.  And so he undoubtedly read quite a bit.  And I suppose that as he was reading (after he thought he was through writing), he read through the story of the people of Limhi (See Mosiah 21).  Remember them? Limhi was the grandson of Zeniff, who had led a large group of Nephites to live among the Lamanites, foolishly believing that the Lamanites would be nice to them.  Well, by the time Limhi was king, the Lamanites, of course, had them in bondage. But no one was still alive who knew how to get back to Zarahemla, the land of the Nephites.  So Limhi managed to sneak out a group of scouts to try to find the way.  They didn’t find Zarahemla, but they did find a land whose civilization had been annihilated, and they brought back their records, 24 gold plates.  And in reading this record, Moroni would have read Mosiah 28:17-19:

“Now after Mosiah had finished translating these records, behold, it gave an account of the people who were destroyed, from the time that they were destroyed back to the building of the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people and they were scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth, yea, and even from that time back until the creation of Adam.  Now this account did cause the people of Mosiah to mourn exceedingly, yea, they were filled with sorrow; nevertheless it gave them much knowledge, in the which they did rejoice.  And this account shall be written hereafter; for behold, it is expedient that all people should know the things which are written in this account.” 

And then, in reading through the rest of the record, he must have realized that this account had not yet been included in the Book of Mormon, and that it must be part of his life’s mission to include it and write more.

This brings us to one of our topics for today, which is how the scriptures can help us know what to do, how they can be like a manual for us in our own lives.

How the Lord Blesses Us When we Ask

So, inserted in this spot in the Book of Mormon, we find a “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version” of this record, the story of the Jaredites, called the book of Ether.  It is a very condensed version, because the Jaredites existed in America for probably more than 1,500 years.  (The Nephites were only there about 1,000.)  They came to America sometime after the flood, and were still there when the Nephites came, although they were unaware of each other.  Once again, this is a record that we can have in fullness after we have used up the Book of Mormon. (See Ether 4:6-7.)

This week’s reading is the Jaredite history from the time of the Tower of Babel until they arrived in America.  Very briefly, because I think many of us are familiar with this story, but maybe not all of us—Jared and his brother, whom Joseph Smith said was called Mahonri Moriancumr, lived at the time of the Tower of Babel when the languages were confounded.  Undoubtedly, many people suffered greatly because of this confusion, although we don’t know many details, but Jared and his brother received many great blessings of the Lord at this time.  And why would this be?  (Have you been paying attention in class?  This is getting to be a familiar theme.)  Because 1) they were worthy and 2) they asked.  In chapter 1 verse 34, they asked not to have their language confounded.  In verse 36, they asked not to have their friends’ language confounded.  The Lord granted their request.  In verse 38, they asked the Lord where they should go, and they made a specific request that they might be directed by him to a land “which is choice above all the earth.”  And the Lord granted that request.  And, once again, why did he send them to the promised land? “And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me” (Ether 1:43).

They picked up their tents and traveled to the seashore to a land they called Moriancumer, probably after their leader, the brother of Jared.  And they stayed there for 4 years.  Why were they stuck there for so long?  They didn’t continue to ask the Lord what to do. 

“And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him.  And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord:   

“And the brother of Jared repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him.  And the Lord said unto him: I will forgive thee and thy brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.  And these are my thoughts upon the land which I shall give you for your inheritance; for it shall be a land choice above all other lands” (Ether 2:14-15).

So after they repented, the Lord went ahead and told them what they had neglected to ask about, and that was how they were to get across the sea.  They were to build barges like the barges their people already used to transport freight. They built the barges, but the thought of crossing the sea in them would be almost like crossing the sea in a boxcar, or the trailer of a semi.  The barges were not built to carry living things.  They would be dark and airless.  Once again, the Lord did not tell them what to do until they asked the question of how they should breathe in the barges.  Then he told them to put a hole in the top and the bottom, and to unstop one of the holes when they needed air.  And then the brother of Jared asked the second question, what about light?

The Scriptures Answer Questions

The Lord left the Brother of Jared to figure out the light problem himself.  I have a theory on why, and I have never heard anyone else express this idea, so it’s probably wrong, but it’s kind of cool, I like it and it fits the theme of the lesson, so I’m going to toss it out to you anyway.  You can see what you think.

Joseph Smith said that we only inquire of the Lord when there isn’t a previous revelation to solve our problem.  (Teachings of Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 22)  The Brother of Jared brought records with him similar to what is at the beginning of our Old Testament, and similar to the Brass Plates the Nephites brought. 

“And as I suppose that the first part of this record, which speaks concerning the creation of the world, and also of Adam, and an account from that time even to the great tower, and whatsoever things transpired among the children of men until that time, is had among the Jews—Therefore I do not write those things which transpired from the days of Adam until that time; but they are had upon the plates; and whoso findeth them, the same will have power that he may get the full account.” (Ether 1:3-4) 

Included in this record, then, would have been the story of Noah.  The brother of Jared’s situation was similar to Noah’s.  He would be sealed up in a boat for a long period of time.  Noah was told,

“And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.  A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.”  (Genesis 6:15-16)  It says here that Noah had a window in his ark.  Look at the little “a” footnote to verse 16.  It says that some rabbis believed that this word “window” described a precious stone that shone in the ark.  Maybe in the original language, that is the case.  That makes sense, because in the Book of Mormon, the Lord told the brother of Jared that a window would not work because it would be dashed to pieces by the storm.  So, I think it is possible that the Brother of Jared searched the scriptures, written in his language, and found his answer there in the story of Noah.  What do you think?  (Two readers added credence to this theory in the comments below.  I'm adding their links here for easy reference:  A quote from Hugh Nibley, and another from a Jewish blog.  Thanks, friends!)

When you’re working on the computer and you come up against a problem, how do you solve it?  If you’re like me, you get someone to tell you how to do it.  I’ll call my son who used to work for Dell and get him to show me how to do what I need to do.  I’ll even call the customer service number, if it doesn’t take too long for someone to answer it.  I hate to have to pore through the manual and figure it out myself.  Why?  Because I’m lazy.  It’s easier to have someone give the answer right to you. 

The Lord doesn’t want us to be lazy—he wants us to learn.  That’s what we’re here for anyway, isn’t it?  So he doesn’t want to hand everything right to us.  He doesn’t want us calling the great Customer Service in the Sky for every question we have.  He has given us The Manual.  We have the scriptures.  We need to use them to learn how to do things ourselves in life.

Now, don’t be confused.   He does want us to pray.  He wants us to pray all the time.  In fact, the brother of Jared, a major spiritual guy, got in trouble for not praying enough.  The Lord wants us to do what the prophets do.  President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I don’t know how to get anything done except getting on my knees and pleading for help and then getting on my feet and going to work” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 16).  But the “getting on my feet and going to work” part is important, too.

Well, whether he got the idea from the scriptures or not, the brother of Jared did figure out a plan for getting light into the barges.  But, as with most great and miraculous ideas and inventions, he knew that he required the Lord’s help for the plan to work.  Over time the Lord had always shown that he would grant the righteous requests of the Jaredites.  So he asked the Lord to touch the stones with his finger to bring light to them, and he had such great faith that the Lord would grant his request, that he was watching, totally believing that the Lord really would put his finger to the stones.  Therefore, when the Lord did, the brother of Jared saw it.

The Scriptures Also Inspire Questions

The scriptures can lead to questions that inspire growth and revelation.  So sometimes, as we pray for guidance, we can find answers to our questions in the scriptures.  And actually, it can work in the reverse, as well.  Sometimes, as we read the scriptures, we can find questions that require revelation for the answers.  Just as Joseph Smith said that we never receive a revelation for which the answer already exists in the scriptures, he also said that we never receive a revelation without asking a question first.  As Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon, question after question came up which  brought to pass revelations on how to set up the church.  The last book in the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moroni, is more or less a Priesthood handbook.  So what question presented itself to Joseph Smith when he read through these first six chapters of Ether?  Chapter 5 is written directly to Joseph Smith. Let’s read the entire thing.

1 AND now I, Moroni, have written the words which were commanded me, according to my memory; and I have told you the things which I have sealed up; therefore touch them not in order that ye may translate; for that thing is forbidden you, except by and by it shall be wisdom in God.
2 And behold, ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work;
3 And unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true.
4 And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established; and the testimony of three, and this work, in the which shall be shown forth the power of God and also his word, of which the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost bear record—and all this shall stand as a testimony against the world at the last day.
5 And if it so be that they repent and come unto the Father in the name of Jesus, they shall be received into the kingdom of God.
6 And now, if I have no authority for these things, judge ye; for ye shall know that I have authority when ye shall see me, and we shall stand before God at the last day.  Amen.

The writing here showed Joseph Smith that there were to be three witnesses and raised the question of who they should be.  Joseph Smith said, “Almost immediately after we had made this discovery, it occurred to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and…Martin Harris…that they would have me inquire of the Lord to know if they might not obtain of him the privilege to be these three special witnesses; and finally they became so very solicitous, and urged me so much to inquire that at length I complied; and through the Urim and Thummim, I obtained of the Lord for them [the revelation recorded in Doctrine & Covenants 17]” (HC 1:52-53).  The entire organization of the church was not laid out for Joseph Smith, but was added bit by bit, piece by piece, as the scriptures raised questions in his mind.

Problem-solving can Bring Us to Christ

It is noteworthy that it was after the Brother of Jared came up against a huge problem, put all his effort into the solution of the problem, and exercised his faith in the Lord to help him with the problem—after all this dealing with a great problem, he received the most glorious vision of the Son of God that anyone had received to that day.  Problem-solving literally brought him to Christ.  The writer M. Scott Peck says that life is about solving problems (The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, p. 1).  And so do the scriptures, such as this one. 

When we realize that that is what we are here to do—to solve problems and to exercise our faith in the Lord for help in solving them—it isn’t so frustrating to face a new problem every day.  Solving problems brings us closer to the Lord, because of the exercise of faith that problem-solving requires and because of the personal growth that problem-solving supplies.  As we do our best to solve problems, and as we ask the Lord for help, and as He gives it, if we are watching like the brother of Jared was, we will see that hand of the Lord, maybe not with our earthly eyes, but certainly with our spiritual eyes.


MoraSue said...

He was entertaining the three nephites? What?!

treadlar said...

Your theory is not completely unsupported, here are excerts from Hugh Nibley's studies on the topic of tsohar.

Tim said...

I think the reference to entertaining the three Nephites is inferred from Mormon 8:1, 10-11. Also in reference to tsohar - see this Jewish blog - very interesting:

janel said...

Wow--another powerhouse post. Thank you, Sister Jensen, for your thoughtfulness, for your study and for the work that goes into these very inspiring posts, worthy of the Ensign itself. Thank you for this very kind gift you share with so many of us.