Thursday, October 22, 2020

A thorough look at 3 Nephi 20:26-28

I have learned that when similar statements are repeated, the small differences might be meaningful. Therefore I have been looking at 3 Nephi 20:26-28 on and off for days. I'm still not sure I have fully understood the passage. But there is a certain repeated structure in these verses that I will try to dissect with color-coding. I also break it up into 4 sentences, a bit different from the verse breaks.

And then shall the work of the Father commence at that day, even when this gospel shall be preached among the remnant of this people.

Verily I say unto you, at that day shall the work of the Father commence among all the dispersed of my people, yea, even the tribes which have been lost, which the Father hath led away out of Jerusalem.


Yea, the work shall commence among all the dispersed of my people, with the Father to prepare the way whereby they may come unto me, that they may call on the Father in my name.


Yea, and then shall the work commence, with the Father among all nations in preparing the way whereby his people may be gathered home to the land of their inheritance.

Each segment starts with "the work" of/with the Father commencing. The work has been explained already in this chapter and it consists of God fulfilling his covenant with the House of Israel (see verse 7). The work will occur "among" someone, but it varies in the different segments. Finally, there is a description of an occurrence involving these people.

One thing I noted is how the verses start out with "this people", then there is "my people" and finally "his people", referring to the Father. In other words, "the work" expands in scope and those involved. 

As you can see, there are four "work shall commence" statements but only three variations in references to people and three descriptions of occurrences. This is because the second sentence is only a clarification of who "the dispersed of my people" really are. They are "the tribes which have been lost, which the Father hath led away out of Jerusalem. The "work shall commence" statement is just repeated before the description of what will happen to them. So the Father's work of fulfilling the covenants with the House of Israel, as described in these verses, can be summarized as follows.



A remnant of the Nephites/Lamanites

The gospel shall be preached among them

The dispersed of Christ’s people, the lost tribes

Come unto Christ and call on the Father in His name

The Father’s people among all nations

Gather to the land of their inheritance

Like I said, I don't know if I understand everything about this, but I find it interesting that after "this people" hear this gospel preached, Christ starts talking about "my people". And after Christ's people pray to the Father, he starts talking about the Father's people. 

These verses also teach us that the work of fulfilling the Father's covenant with the House of Israel is all about gathering, both spiritually and physically. The spiritual gathering happens when "the dispersed" come unto Christ. The physical gathering happens when they gather to the land of their inheritance. This does not happen by force but by preparing the way. As the link explains, preparing the way enables the transition from a wilderness to a fruitful place, from spiritual wasteland to Zion.

What is the opposite of being "led ... down to destruction"?

In a recent post I asked this question and pointed out that in Alma 12:9-11, each element is presented in contrast to an opposing element, except for the eternal consequence of rejecting the word.  I hinted that this is one of the mysteries of God.

In this post, I'll be outlining other passages which present the same contrast between the fate of the righteous and the fate of the wicked. By doing so, my hope is to spell out the blessings of receiving the word with a heart that is not hardened.

What is the opposite of being "led ... down to destruction"?

Intuitively, the opposite of being led down to destruction is to be led up to salvation. The idea that we are led one way or the other fits nicely with this interpretation of Lehi's tree of life dream. 

Many other passages offer a glimpse at what this eternal reward is:

"The resurrection of everlasting life"

4 And even unto the great and last day, when all people, and all kindreds, and all nations and tongues shall stand before God, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
5 If they be good, to the resurrection of everlasting life; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of damnation; being on a parallel, the one on the one hand and the other on the other hand, according to the mercy, and the justice, and the holiness which is in Christ, who was before the world began. (3 Nephi 26)

"The greater things shall be made manifest unto them"

8 And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken.
9 And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.
10 And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation. (3 Nephi 26)

A reader offered these four passages as examples of what the Book of Mormon teaches us about the contrast between the fate of the wicked and righteous:

"Dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness"

38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.
39 And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.
40 O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.
41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it. (Mosiah 2)

"Have that which is good restored unto you"

30 And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.
31 He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you. (Helaman 14)

"Peace and life eternal"

7 For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken. (1 Nephi 14)

"Dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness"

11 And the bodies of many thousands are laid low in the earth, while the bodies of many thousands are moldering in heaps upon the face of the earth; yea, and many thousands are mourning for the loss of their kindred, because they have reason to fear, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are consigned to a state of endless wo.
12 While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred, yet they rejoice and exult in the hope, and even know, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are raised to dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness.
13 And thus we see how great the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression, and the power of the devil, which comes by the cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men.
14 And thus we see the great call of diligence of men to labor in the vineyards of the Lord; and thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing—sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life. (Alma 28)


To recap, here are the descriptions of the reward

  • "The resurrection of everlasting life"
  • "The greater things shall be made manifest unto them"
  • "Dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness"
  • "Have that which is good restored unto you"
  • "Peace and life eternal"
  • "Dwell at the right hand of God, in a state of never-ending happiness"

I find it very interesting how often the eternal reward (in green in the passages above) is directly contrasted with its alternative (in red above).

Lehi's dream

Getting back to elements from Lehi's dream, we see contrasting elements in the paths leading to each of two destinations:  We can enter in at the strait, narrow gate being led by the iron rod which runs along the river of living water (implying a gain in altitude as we travel), until we reach the tree of life (presumably on Mount Zion). Alternatively, we can choose the broad road which takes us down to the gulf of filthy water and then to the great and spacious building, which stands upon no foundation at all. It's powerful imagery.

Being led to Zion along the covenant path leads us to this promise:

...I am Messiah, the King of Zion, the Rock of Heaven, which is broad as eternity; whoso cometh in at the gate and climbeth up by me shall never fall; wherefore, blessed are they of whom I have spoken, for they shall come forth with songs of everlasting joy. (Moses 7:53)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Further thoughts on knowledge and covenants -- Part 2

Lord Wilmore already shared some verses from Alma 9 and 45. I just wanted to quote a bit more from Alma 45 to show a connection between the two. First Alma 9, where Alma is preaching to apostate Nephites in Ammonihah:
18 But behold, I say unto you that if ye persist in your wickedness that your days shall not be prolonged in the land, for the Lamanites shall be sent upon you; and if ye repent not they shall come in a time when you know not, and ye shall be visited with utter destruction; and it shall be according to the fierce anger of the Lord.
19 For he will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people. I say unto you, Nay; he would rather suffer that the Lamanites might destroy all his people who are called the people of Nephi, if it were possible that they could fall into sins and transgressions, after having had so much light and so much knowledge given unto them of the Lord their God

Then Alma 45, where Alma is giving instructions to his son, Helaman.

But behold, I have somewhat to prophesy unto thee; but what I prophesy unto thee ye shall not make known; yea, what I prophesy unto thee shall not be made known, even until the prophecy is fulfilled; therefore write the words which I shall say.
10 And these are the words: Behold, I perceive that this very people, the Nephites, according to the spirit of revelation which is in me, in four hundred years from the time that Jesus Christ shall manifest himself unto them, shall dwindle in unbelief.
11 Yea, and then shall they see wars and pestilences, yea, famines and bloodshed, even until the people of Nephi shall become extinct
12 Yea, and this because they shall dwindle in unbelief and fall into the works of darkness, and lasciviousness, and all manner of iniquities; yea, I say unto you, that because they shall sin against so great light and knowledge, yea, I say unto you, that from that day, even the fourth generation shall not all pass away before this great iniquity shall come.

There is a certain irony here. The Nephite destruction happens in a time that they know not. The reason that they "know not" is because they have sinned against the knowledge that they once had as a "highly favored" covenant people. Thus, they receive "the lesser portion" (Alma 12:10) and further knowledge is withheld from them. Alma knows, and since Helaman has proved himself faithful, he is also ready to receive "the greater portion" from Alma on this matter. By commanding Helaman to not make it known, he also fulfills his own words in Ammonihah, making sure that those who have sinned against light and knowledge are withheld from it, even the knowledge of their own fate.

It is also interesting to note that when this prophecy is fulfilled, Moroni uses the term, "no one knoweth" in Mormon 8:8 as if to say that Alma's words have been fulfilled and there are no righteous, covenant keeping people left. He then goes on to say
14 And I am the same who hideth up this record unto the Lord; the plates thereof are of no worth, because of the commandment of the Lord. For he truly saith that no one shall have them to get gain; but the record thereof is of great worth; and whoso shall bring it to light, him will the Lord bless.
15 For none can have power to bring it to light save it be given him of God; for God wills that it shall be done with an eye single to his glory, or the welfare of the ancient and long dispersed covenant people of the Lord.
16 And blessed be he that shall bring this thing to light; for it shall be brought out of darkness unto light, according to the word of God; yea, it shall be brought out of the earth, and it shall shine forth out of darkness, and come unto the knowledge of the people; and it shall be done by the power of God.

The light and knowledge that the Nephites sinned against and lost, would return and we have lived to see this fulfilled. The record where prophets wrote, even things that were not "made known", should "shine forth out of darkness" and it has. Now it's our turn. We have this light and knowledge in front of us. Will we sin against it so we get the lesser portion or abide by its words and receive the greater portion?

Another side note about "No one knoweth"

This post is designed to point out a curious connection between Alma's sermon to the apostate Nephites in Ammonihah and usage of the phrase "no one knows" in the Book of Mormon.  As I outlined in this post, "no one knows/knoweth" occurs only 5 times in the entire Book of Mormon, in four passages:

  1. Alma 40 (twice), in the context of no one but God knowing the timing of the end of the misery of those who died in their sins.
  2. Helaman 2, in the context of the origin of secret combinations aimed at destroying the Nephites through secret works of murder and robbery.
  3. 3 Nephi 5, in the context of no one in Jerusalem knowing that the Lord led Lehi out of the land.
  4. Mormon 8, where Moroni goes out of his way to point out that "no one knoweth the end of the war."  

Curiously, several of these context appear at the start of Alma's sermon in Ammonihah, found in Alma 9, right before he warns the people they will be "visited with utter destruction" "in a time when [they] know not." I've color-coded the relevant parts above and below.

9 Do ye not remember that our father, Lehi, was brought out of Jerusalem by the hand of God? Do ye not remember that they were all led by him through the wilderness?
10 And have ye forgotten so soon how many times he delivered our fathers out of the hands of their enemies, and preserved them from being destroyed, even by the hands of their own brethren?
11 Yea, and if it had not been for his matchless power, and his mercy, and his long-suffering towards us, we should unavoidably have been cut off from the face of the earth long before this period of time, and perhaps been consigned to a state of endless misery and woe. (Alma 9)

Of course this could be a complete coincidence, but I've learned to trust that this book is capable of teaching really important lessons to those who open their heart to learn from it, so I'm making this note and paying attention to this detail as I continue to study. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Further thoughts on knowledge and covenants -- Part 1

As Lord Wilmore mentioned in this post, we had some interaction on the topic of knowledge that we both benefited from. I will use a couple of posts to add to the interesting ideas already presented, about "great knowledge" or lack thereof, as covenant blessings and curses, respectively. 

I just copy the figure that he included in the previous post, which is a pointed illustration of one of my favorite scriptures in Alma 12:9-11.

While I agree that the shared scripture is silent about the destiny of those who get the "greater portion", I still want to try to fill in that question mark. Because I believe that Alma hints about it later in that sermon when he uses the phrase "enter into his rest". Consider verses 34-35

34 Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.
35 And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest.

In the next verse, Alma expands on what it means to not enter into his rest. 

And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first.

He talks about destruction three times previously in this chapter, one of them in the quoted verses that the figure illustrates. This is the destiny of those who harden their heart and the equivalent of not entering into his rest. There is a similar pattern here to verses 9-11 that are illustrated by the figure. Alma expands on what it means to not enter into his rest. But he never expands on what it means to "enter into his rest", even though the term is used nine times in this sermon.

However, this phrase is one that I have studied a bit before and it has clear temple connotations. It is a quote from Psalm 95 that was composed and used for temple worship. "His rest" is God's presence, symbolized by the Holy of Holies in ancient temples (or the celestial room in modern temples). The phrase may initially seem strange from a modern point of view, but the ancient temple symbolism was that of a journey. Consider how often phrases such as "walking" on a "path of righteousness" or "the way" are used in the scriptures. There are several blog posts on this topic too. The symbolism is not completely lost on us today either, for instance when we speak of the "covenant path". At the end of that path, there is a destination where we rest.

I'll attempt to summarize what this study has taught me. The establishment of a covenant is often initiated by a search for "great knowledge". As we saw in the referenced post, Abraham searched for it before God made a covenant with him. The Book of Mormon, the account of a branch of the House of Israel, a covenant people, begins with obtaining "great knowledge". If we don't harden our hearts, we will receive this knowledge or a "greater portion" of his word. One way this happens is when we enter into the temple and obtain more knowledge, enter into covenants and get a glimpse of what it means to enter into his rest. Then, if we stay true to those covenants and don't sin against the "great knowledge" like the Nephites of old, we will experience the actual realization of what the temple symbolizes and enter into His rest.

It is interesting to me that the "greater portion" and knowing the mysteries of God links to the temple, where those mysteries are available only to those who have not hardened their hearts and are ready to receive. 

"No one knows" -- Part 2 (Great Knowledge as opposed to a lack of knowledge)

In the last few posts, I've been building the case that the second half of Mormon 8:8 contains an assortment of terms intended to point us to covenants.  In my last post, I focused on "no one knows the end of the war" and how "no one knows" seems to be a key term in the Book of Mormon.

I asked Stisa for his thoughts on what I wrote.  Although we don't work together on every post, we tend to keep track of what each other is working on, and because our scriptural interests largely overlap, we are often able to add something useful to each other's current area of interest.

In this case, Stisa helped expand my understanding.  After reading my "No one knows" (Part 1) post, he rightly pointed out that a lack of knowledge fits nicely as a contrasting element to a better-known covenant related theme: the desire for great knowledge of the mysteries of God. This post will lean heavily on the insights he supplied, along with a few of my own ideas on the subject.

"Great knowledge of the mysteries of God" -- Abraham and Nephi

Nephi references this foundational covenant symbol in the first verse of 1 Nephi 1:

1 I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

In this verse, Nephi echoes the great patriarch Abraham, who connects great knowledge and the blessings associated with his covenant with God at the very beginning of his record:

2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers. (Abraham 1)

What is the opposite of "great knowledge"?

The connection between possessing "great knowledge" and making and keeping covenants is very clear.  It follows then, that a contrasting element would be found in the scriptures.  It's not a stretch to suggest that the opposite of "great knowledge" is "not knowing" a thing.  Thus, phrases like "no one knows" or "ye know not" should grab our attention and cause us to consider the covenant themes in the passage.

In this post about "great knowledge," Stisa makes the following point:

I also think certain Book of Mormon expressions, such as "great knowledge", "highly favored" and "chosen" are used to describe a branch of a covenant people on an "isle of the sea" (2 Nephi 10:20). This position gave the Nephites both privileges and great responsibility. Unfortunately they could not live up to this responsibility in the end and suffered the consequences of it.

I completely agree.  Belonging to the covenant people comes with blessings as well as responsibilities, the violation of which brings about curses (which are often the opposite of covenant-related blessings).

In this case, violation of the covenant leads a people away from great knowledge to a state of ignorance -- "not knowing."

Many examples of this contrasting pair

It isn't difficult to find examples of passages which play on the contrast between "great knowledge" and its opposite.

Mormon makes this point after telling of the conversion of many Lamanites after the slaying of their brethren who had taken an oath not to take up arms.  He observes that their leaders, who were apostate Nephites of the order of Nehor, did not convert:

30 And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things. (Alma 24)

Alma-2 makes the same point rather eloquently as he speaks to wicked Nephites at Ammonihah:

9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12)


Let's break this second example down into a simple flowchart:

What is the opposite of being "led ... down to destruction"?

For the most part, this passage has a very clear parallel structure.  Harden heart/not harden heart, lesser/greater portion, know nothing/know in full.  Then we get very clear language indicating the fate of those who reject the word, but its pair is conspicuously absent. I believe it has to do with the "mysteries of God" and the other part of this scripture that I didn't include in the flowchart, from verse 9 above:

9 ...nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

The mysteries of God are guarded by strict commandments. We are only given the portion we are granted, and this is according to the "heed and diligence" which we give. We've landed squarely on another temple theme.

With Stisa's help, I've found two other passages where Alma-2 clearly indicates that rejecting the covenant will lead to a lack of key information.  Both are very interesting for different reasons and relevant to this discussion.

First, we go to Alma 9, where Alma-2 begins preaching to the wicked Nephites in Ammonihah.  There is quite a bit going on in this multi-layered sermon. (See here, here, and here to see some of the many textual devices at work in this expertly-crafted call to repentance.) In addition to these themes, he is also clearly contrasting knowledge and a lack of knowledge.

18 But behold, I say unto you that if ye persist in your wickedness that your days shall not be prolonged in the land, for the Lamanites shall be sent upon you; and if ye repent not they shall come in a time when you know not, and ye shall be visited with utter destruction; and it shall be according to the fierce anger of the Lord.
19 For he will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people. I say unto you, Nay; he would rather suffer that the Lamanites might destroy all his people who are called the people of Nephi, if it were possible that they could fall into sins and transgressions, after having had so much light and so much knowledge given unto them of the Lord their God;
20 Yea, after having been such a highly favored people of the Lord; yea, after having been favored above every other nation, kindred, tongue, or people; after having had all things made known unto them, according to their desires, and their faith, and prayers, of that which has been, and which is, and which is to come;
23 And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them. (Alma 9)

Here is the second example, from Alma 45, as Alma is declaring a hidden prophecy to his son about the destruction of the Nephites. This is a very unique passage in all of scripture. Prior to declaring the words, he asks his son questions about believing his words and obeying his commandments, as if the voice of Alma and the voice of God have become one and the same. Notice the instructions he gives about the words of the prophecy:

9 But behold, I have somewhat to prophesy unto thee; but what I prophesy unto thee ye shall not make known; yea, what I prophesy unto thee shall not be made known, even until the prophecy is fulfilled; therefore write the words which I shall say. (Alma 45)

Here's what can be said about the mysteries of God. From the words of Paul (notice how he mentions mysteries, hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world, the Lord of glory, and highlights it all by pointing out something else "no one knows":

7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2)

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Hebrew words for "sweet" and "gift"

While studying the bitter and sweet contrasts and Mormon's good and bitter water in Moroni 7:11, I had a look at the possible Hebrew roots for these words. I'm interested in learning more Hebrew and posting what I learn as I study. Sorry for the Hebrew lesson if you are not that interested, but there is a point or two in here as well.

The Hebrew word for water is "mayim". It is also symbolized by the middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet corresponding to the English 'm'. In Hebrew it looks like this: מַ. We saw in my previous post that bitter is "mar" or "marah". The Hebrew word for sweet is "mathoq", another m-word. A similar word in Hebrew, "mattanah", means "gift" (they share the first two letters, mem and taw). There is a lot of talk about gift in Moroni 7:6-10 before the verse about good and bitter water. It is mentioned 4 times. I wonder if there is some sort of wordplay here.

For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.
10 Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.
11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.

An obvious argument against this, is that the term, "good water" is used, not "sweet". But when discussing the bitter/sweet contrast in previous posts, we note that "sweet" and "good" are used interchangeably. For instance, the Moses quote in this post uses "bitter" and "good", whereas the D&C quote uses and "bitter" and "sweet". James, who wrote the epistle in the New Testament, has no direct connection to Mormon that we know of, but he wrote

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? (James 3:11)

Notice the same analogy, but sweet water instead of good water. Of course, the epistle of James is not written in Hebrew so the original word translated to sweet is Greek. We also don't know how much the Hebrew had been changed at Mormon's time but at least he must have understood the kind of Hebrew that Nephi wrote in Egyptian characters on the plates since he abridged the large plates of Nephi. There is always a bit of speculation and my very limited knowledge of Hebrew doesn't help.

Still, I find it interesting how Mormon and Moroni play around with the word, "gift". It certainly has a role in these bitter/sweet or good/evil contrasts sometimes symbolized by fruit or water. There is a connection between the "good gift", the "good water/fountain" and "Christ" in these verses in Moroni 7. Let's also  consider Moroni 10:30, where Moroni writes:

And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.

I think the good fountain/water represents this "good gift". Similarly, the "evil fruit" in Jacob 5 or 3 Nephi 14:17 and the fountain of filthy water in 1 Nephi 12:16 represent the "evil gift" and the "unclean thing" that we are exhorted not to touch.

Side note: When I read about the Hebrew word for gift, "mattanah", I though I remembered one of the 12 disciples having a similar name. Sure enough, in 3 Nephi 19:4, where their names are listed, there is someone called "Mathoni". I looked it up here and it confirmed what I thought. The name is based on the Hebrew word for gift. There are similar names in the Bible coming from the same root, but not with the "i" ending that in Hebrew would indicate the additional "my". So the disciple, Mathoni, had a name meaning "my gift" and he had a brother, also one of the twelve, named Mathonihah, probably meaning "gift of Yahweh". Sounds like there is an intriguing backstory here that perhaps was contained on the plates of Nephi. 

So regardless of speculations about underlying Hebrew roots for specific words in the Book of Mormon, there are obvious Hebrew traces and lots of reasons to believe in its ancient Israelite origins. Joseph Smith had no knowledge of Hebrew at the time when he translated the Book of Mormon. If he were making this up, it would be very risky to invent a name that was not found in the Bible but that still needed to sound Hebrew (or Egyptian). Even a name like Mathoni, being close to a Biblical name but not quite, was risky. Small differences (like the "i" at the end) could have completely ruined the plausibility of a Hebrew origin, but it didn't. If you try to argue that Joseph Smith just guessed and got lucky each time or had help from Hebrew experts in the translation process, you won't get very far with me. He really did translate by the gift and power of God (pun intended)!

"No one knoweth" -- Part 1

Please read this post to learn how and why I began this deep dive into Mormon 8:8.

To summarize my hypothesis, I believe Moroni points to covenant themes three times in the second half of Mormon 8:8, in a display of just how tightly and subtly the aithors of the Book of Mormon embedded additional layers of meaning into the text.

8 And behold, it is the hand of the Lord which hath done it. And behold also, the Lamanites are at war one with another; 
  1. and the whole face of this land 
  2. is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; 
  3. and no one knoweth the end of the war.

This post will outline how the phrase "no one knoweth" (and similar variants) is used intentionally to point our minds to the Nephites' covenant with God.  In part 2, we'll look at "no one knoweth" and "great knowledge" as a pair of contrasting covenant elements.

As I studied Moroni's dark contrast between "one continual round of murder and bloodshed" with examples of a similar phrase ("the Lord's course is one eternal round"), I wondered if I could find more evidence to support my growing suspicion that this contrast was intentional. I believe I succeeded.

I turned my attention to the phrase that follows: "no one knoweth the end of the war" and searched for every instance of "no one" and "know/knoweth/knew" showing up in the same sentence. I was surprised to find only five instances. I had assumed it would be much more common. I was further surprised to find that among those five examples were three distinct contexts related to aspects of the Nephites that contributed to their eventual fall.  In other words, "no one knows" seems to be a key phrase intended to remind us of the unique covenant circumstances in which the Nephites existed.

Context #1 -- The establishment of the Lehite branch of Israel

This first context is probably the weakest in terms of its direct connection to Mormon 8:8, but as we'll see by the end of this post, it sets the stage for the other contexts.

In 3 Nephi 5, Mormon writes:

20 I am Mormon, and a pure descendant of Lehi. I have reason to bless my God and my Savior Jesus Christ, that he brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, (and no one knew it save it were himself and those whom he brought out of that land) and that he hath given me and my people so much knowledge unto the salvation of our souls.
21 Surely he hath blessed the house of Jacob, and hath been merciful unto the seed of Joseph. (3 Nephi 5)

A righteous remnant of the covenant people escaped the destruction that came to those in Jerusalem according to the mercy of God.  This is foundational Nephite doctrine, an essential part of their origin story. We find it referenced repeatedly through the Book of Mormon. "No one knew" but God and those whom he had blessed.  Notice how the idea that "no one knew" in verse 20 is immediately enhanced further with the acknowledgement that God gave the Nephites "so much knowledge unto the salvation of [their] souls." 

We can certainly contrast the fact that "no one knew" the origin of the Nephites with the description of the war that caused the "great and marvelous fall," the end of which "no one knows." As we'll see, the importance of this phrase grows when we look at the other contexts it is used in the Book of Mormon.

Context #2 -- Secret works of darkness

Another example of "no one knoweth" is found in Helaman 2:

3 But behold, Kishkumen, who had murdered Pahoran, did lay wait to destroy Helaman also; and he was upheld by his band, who had entered into a covenant that no one should know his wickedness.
4 For there was one Gadianton, who was exceedingly expert in many words, and also in his craft, to carry on the secret work of murder and of robbery; therefore he became the leader of the band of Kishkumen. (Helaman 2)

In this passage, we learn that the fundamental purpose of entering into this secret covenant was to conceal the "secret work of murder and of robbery."  Kishkumen murdered Pahoran and "did lay wait to destroy Helaman," supported by a band ready to protect him, "that no one should know his wickedness." 

Isn't it ironic, then, that this secret combination ultimately brought about the destruction of the Nephites and subjected those who remained ("there are none save it be the Lamanites and robbers that do exist upon the face of the land") end up locked in a war, the end of which "no one knoweth?"  

Context #3 -- The timing of the resurrection of the dead

Concerning the eternal fate of the fallen Nephites, we find one additional lesson by looking at uses of the phrase "no one knoweth." In Alma 40:3-4 at the start of a passage about the resurrection of the dead, Alma-2 introduces the topic by writing about the mysteries of God:

3 Behold, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet. Now, I unfold unto you a mystery; nevertheless, there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know—that is concerning the resurrection.
4 Behold, there is a time appointed that all shall come forth from the dead. Now when this time cometh no one knows; but God knoweth the time which is appointed.

Just a few verses later we read:

13 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
14 Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.

From these verses (I've highlighted in yellow the relevant text to make it easier to find in the passage above), we learn:

  1. No one knows the timing of the resurrection of the dead but God.
  2. Until their resurrection, the spirits of the wicked are "in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them."
  3. They remain in this state "until the time of their resurrection."

If we combine what we learn here with Mormon 8:8, we can see how the phrase "no one knows" is meant to point our minds to the state of the fallen Nephites. Rather than keeping God's commandments and thereby prospering in the land, as was promised to them many times (see Alma 37:13 above as one example), the Nephites rebelled and fell. Their promised land fell into "one continual round of murder and bloodshed." Furthermore, just as their spirits are "in darkness" until a time "no one knows," the Nephite lands have fallen into war. "And no one knoweth the end of the war."

"And behold, it is the hand of the Lord which hath done it."



When I undertake a study like this, I can't help but ask myself if this is all just a coincidence.  In this case, I feel confident concluding it is not.  Here's why:

  1. "No one knows" is rarely used in the Book of Mormon, with only five total occurrences. 
  2. In my experience, the more unique a phrase is, the more likely its use is intentional by the author, especially when the context aligns.
  3. The context of every occurrence aligns.  
    • In Alma 40, the context is the fate of wicked spirits who await the resurrection to bring an end to their awful state.
    • In Helaman 2, the context is the origin of secret combinations among the Nephites, with a focus on their goal of murdering the righteous Nephite leaders.
    • In 3 Nephi 5, the context is a fundamental component of the origin of the Nephites -- that their fathers were led out of the land by God without anyone else knowing.
    • In Mormon 8, right after Moroni goes out of his way to point out that God brought about the fall of the Nephites because of their rebellion, he points out that no one knows the end of the war. It's poetic and poignant, but incredibly subtle.
In the next post, I'll show how "no one knows" complements "great knowledge" to create yet another contrasting pair of covenant terms. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Bitter and sweet -- Part 2

I didn't label the last post on this topic part 1, because I didn't know there would be a part 2 at the time. That seems to happen a lot these days. In the first post I connected the bitter/sweet contrast in the scriptures to the the trees in the Garden of Eden and its fruit. Tree symbolism in the scriptures often go together with water. See for instance this post and this post. So I came to think about the bitter and good waters that Mormon talks about in his sermon in Moroni 7. He says

For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil. (Moroni 7:11) 

We know examples of trees producing good/sweet fruit and bad/bitter fruit. Zenos' allegory in Jacob 5 is perhaps the most extensive treatise of this subject. Jesus teaches the Nephites:

17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (3 Nephi 14)

A very similar sentiment to what Moroni presents, only that Christ talks about trees and Moroni talks about water. The ultimate fruit and source of "good water" is the fruit of the tree of life and the fountain of living waters. They are both found together in Lehi/Nephi's visions in 1 Nephi 8 and 11 and John's vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22:1-2.

It is interesting that Mormon chooses this analogy with water, considering the fact that his own name can be connected to the fountain of living waters. The first time his name is mentioned in the Book of Mormon, it is the name of the place he is named after.

Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the daytime from the searches of the king. (Mosiah 18:5)

Notice how Mormon goes out of his way to inform the reader that there also were trees near that fountain of pure water. 

So there are several references to pure/good/living waters in the scriptures. Where did the bitter water come from? This contrast is found in Lehi's dream/Nephi's vision, where there is filthy water as a contrast to the pure. But Mormon and his audience might also have been aware of another story with bitter water. Evidently, the Exodus story was found on the brass plates. In Exodus 15, we read about an interesting event

22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water.
23 And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah.
24 And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?
25 And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them

For the record, "marah" means bitter in Hebrew. So the water was bitter, but became sweet when Moses tossed a tree into it (can also be translated as "wood"). This is another example of the connection between trees and water. According to this article, the Zohar suggests that it was wood from the tree of life thrown into the water.

I am not sure I understand all the aspects of this symbolism. But we have seen before how trees connect to God/our potential and the atonement. God's power manifest in the atonement is a healing power that turns bitter to sweet. The weird story of a tree thrown into the bitter water to make it sweet, makes sense when we consider

  • Trees and water often go together as symbols in the scriptures, just like food and drink are both necessary to sustain physical life
  • Christ was "hanged on a tree" (Acts 5:30) after suffering in a garden of olive trees. His atonement turned bitter into sweet. He drank the "bitter cup" so that we wouldn't have to.

In the next verse after the ones I quotes from the Exodus, God makes sure to inform:

am the Lord that healeth thee

I have noticed that tree/fruit/water symbolism in the scriptures generally can refer to either

  • God's love/power to save/the atonement or the power and influence of the devil
  • Our own deeds, either good deeds/entering into and keeping covenants, or bad/breaking covenants). In other words, to what degree we let either of two sources of influence affect our lives.

    To summarize:
    • In the first verse I quoted in Moroni 7, Mormon clearly equates the bitter water with the devil and the good water with Christ. 
    • In the Exodus story, the atonement (tree), turned the bitter water sweet. 
    • In Lehi's and Nephi's visions, the tree of life and the living waters represented the love of God.
    • In Mosiah 15, where converts gathered to enter into a covenant, there was a fountain of pure water and a thicket of trees. 
    • This one has not been mentioned yet, but in Alma 5:3, Alma reminds the people of this covenant mentioned in the point above. Then in verse 34-35:
    34 Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely;
    35 Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire

    A thorough look at 3 Nephi 20:26-28

    I have learned that when similar statements are repeated, the small differences might be meaningful. Therefore I have been looking at 3 Neph...