Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Fasting in the Book of Mormon -- Part 5

This is the last part of the series where I look into fasting in the Book of Mormon and compare it with fasting in the Old Testament. Here are the links to the previous four parts of this series.
In this post we will look at
  • Fasting as an act of ceremonial public worship
This one is quite familiar to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Fasting is often a collective, congregational event, not just personal. We see the same in the Book of Mormon.
Nevertheless the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God. (Alma 6:6)
Behold, now it came to pass that the people of Nephi were exceedingly rejoiced, because the Lord had again delivered them out of the hands of their enemies; therefore they gave thanks unto the Lord their God; yea, and they did fast much and pray much, and they did worship God with exceedingly great joy. (Alma 45:1)
And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting (3 Nephi 27:1)
And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. (Moroni 6:5)
Another aspect of the ceremonial worship is fasting as part of the Jewish calendar or required by the law of Moses. While studying this subject, I came across this article exploring the same subject. The following paragraph gives interesting insight:
The only periodic fast prescribed for the Israelites in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) occurs on the Day of Atonement, “the tenth day of the seventh month” of the ancient Jewish calendar (the first month of the current Jewish calendar), when the Lord commanded the Israelites to meet together to “afflict [their] souls” (i.e., to fast) and to “offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord” (Leviticus 23:27ff.; see also 16:29, 31; Numbers 29:7–10). There are no references to this festival in the Old Testament outside of the books of Moses, although Isaiah 58:3–7 may refer to abuses of the fast associated with the Day of Atonement.
The observance of the Day of Atonement fast is never explicitly mentioned in the Book of Mormon. However, its observance may be implied in Alma 30:2, where fasting, mourning, and prayer are referred to, and in Alma 45:1, where fasting, rejoicing, and prayer are mentioned as taking place at the beginning of the year, at the time when the Day of Atonement rites were probably observed among the Nephites. This presumption that these two fasts reflect observances associated with the Pentateuch is, I think, strengthened by the observation in Alma 30:3 (following the mention of fasting and associated rites) that “the people did observe to keep the commandments of the Lord; and they were strict in observing the ordinances of God, according to the law of Moses; for they were taught to keep the law of Moses until it should be fulfilled.”
That concludes the series on fasting in the Book of Mormon and how it compares with Old Testament practice. As we have seen, there are many parallels and a few differences. Fasting in general is also mentioned or described more frequently in the Old Testament compared to the Book of Mormon. Still, there is enough in the Book of Mormon to show that this was definitely part of the Nephite culture and religious tradition, which was inherited from ancient Israelite tradition.

Psalms in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 1-4

I'm continuing to look at Psalms in the Book of Mormon. Today we'll look at Psalms-related language in 2 Nephi.  There are so many examples that we'll break 2 Nephi up into a few parts.


Broken Heart and Contrite Spirit



18 The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. (Psalm 34)


7 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 Nephi 2)

See also 3 Nephi 9:20, 3 Nephi 12:19, Mormon 2:14, Ether 4:15, and Moroni 6:2.


Goodness of the Lord



13 I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27)


5 He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. (Psalm 33)

17 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. (2 Nephi 4)

See also Jeremiah 31:14.


Upon the Wings of...




10 And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. (Psalm 18)


3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: (Psalm 104)

25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them. (2 Nephi 4)

It is worth noting that the two most common English translations of the Hebrew root "ruach" (רוּחַare "wind" (about 100 times) and "Spirit/spirit" (about 200 times) in the Hebrew Bible.

See also 2 Samuel 22:11.


Because of Mine Enemies




8 Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face. (Psalm 5)


11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. (Psalm 27)


18 Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it: deliver me because of mine enemies. (Psalm 69)

27 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? ...
29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions. (2 Nephi 4)



I Will Praise Thee Forever



9 I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints. (Psalm 52)

30 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 Nephi 4)

Many more examples of Psalms language in 2 Nephi 4 to come in the next part.

Psalms in the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi

I've been fascinated recently by the influence of the Psalms in the Book of Mormon.  This paper by John Hilton III is a useful resource.  In this post, I'll begin listing examples of intertextual connections. I will mostly follow the outline given by Hilton in the paper, sorted by order of appearance in the Book of Mormon, with a few comments in between.

I want to make it clear that I'm not really suggesting a "why" or "how" for these connections.  Some people see nothing but plagiarism when they notice similarities between one book of scripture and another.  I see it quite differently -- all of these words belong to God and the Book of Mormon claims to be a gathering of the word of God in one (see 2 Nephi 29:14). However you choose to view these connections, don't let them get in the way of appreciating the beauty of the language.


Tender Mercies


9 The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. (Psalm 145)

20 ...But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance. (1 Nephi 1)


16 Hear me, O Lord; for thy lovingkindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies. (Psalm 69)
8 And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies. (1 Nephi 8)

See also Ether 6:12. There are about a dozen additional references to "tender mercies" in the Psalms.


My Rock and My Salvation


2 He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved. (Psalm 62)

36 And in them shall be written my gospel, saith the Lamb, and my rock and my salvation. (1 Nephi 13)

See also 1 Nephi 15:15 and 2 Nephi 4:30. In addition, see D&C 18:17 and Abraham 2:16.


In the Paths of Righteousness


3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23)

5 And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness. (1 Nephi 16)

19 For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness; I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God; yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight. (Alma 7)

Monday, March 30, 2020

Fasting in the Book of Mormon -- Part 4

Here are links to the previous three parts of this series.
Today we will consider
  • Fasting as an experience of the presence of God and endorsement of his messenger
which is also brought up in this article. In the Old Testament, Moses is the prototype for this kind of fast, when he fasts for 40 days (I'm not sure if it is meant literally or figuratively as 40 is symbolic for probation and trial). There are several points to this
  • Fasting for such an extended period of time (if taken literally), is miraculous and shows that God is ultimately the provider and sustainer of life
  • By having other prophets fasting in similar ways (Elijah being the most prominent example) and culminating in Jesus' fasting for 40 days in the desert before his ministry, is a way of pointing towards Christ
  • As the article states: "fasting associated with a specific ministry highlights God's endorsement of his messengers, as the messengers deny themselves food to deliver his words"
The best example we have in the Book of Mormon for this kind of fast is Alma the younger. When preaching in Ammonihah, he is thrown out, but he later returns when an angel appears to him and commands him to go back. We know the story. Alma meets Amulek who feeds him. This is apparently the first time Alma eats in a while. Alma 8:26 states
And now, Amulek, because thou hast fed me and taken me in, thou art blessed; for I was an hungered, for I had fasted many days. 
It does not say 40, but "many days" is not the usual 24 hour fast that we are used to and most of us find more than long enough. Similar to the trial that 40 symbolizes in Hebrew, "Almlabored much in the spirit, wrestling with God" in verse 10 of the same chapter. In verse 14, he is "weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul". 

It seems that fasting was part of Alma's preparation as he went around preaching. In Alma 10:7, this is brought up again with the term, "many days".
As I was journeying to see a very near kindred, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto me and said: Amulek, return to thine own house, for thou shalt feed a prophet of the Lord; yea, a holy man, who is a chosen man of God; for he has fasted many days because of the sins of this people, and he is an hungered, and thou shalt receive him into thy house and feed him, and he shall bless thee and thy house; and the blessing of the Lord shall rest upon thee and thy house.
Alma's fasting and tribulation is placing him in the Moses/Elijah category. Interestingly, Moses and Elijah are both also known for not tasting death (at least in LDS tradition). Apparenly, this happened with Alma too:
Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man; and the saying went abroad in the church that he was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses. But behold, the scriptures saith the Lord took Moses unto himself; and we suppose that he has also received Alma in the spirit, unto himself; therefore, for this cause we know nothing concerning his death and burial. (Alma 45:19)

Fear and Darkness -- A pattern in the Book of Mormon

As I was preparing this recent post, I came across many references to fear and darkness.  In some cases, the fear immediately precedes a marvelous conversion/revelation and coming to Christ.  In other cases, the fear stems from a desire to hide from divine judgement.

One point from the post is that Satan's main tool to use against us and blind us from God's light is the creation itself.  This is a really important principle. Satan's darkness is described as a veil and a chain in the same verse (see Moses 7:26). It simultaneously blinds us and takes us captive.

Those experiencing this fear draw closer to the creation -- in some cases they fall to the earth. In other cases they attempt to hide in the earth (or wish they could).

Below, I'll list the many examples I found of fear and darkness.


Fear of Judgement


10 O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and the glory of his majesty shall smite thee. ...19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the glory of his majesty shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. ...21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the majesty of his glory shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. (2 Nephi 12/Isaiah 2)

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. ...
14 For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence. (Alma 12)




Fear prior to a marvelous conversion/revelation



And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.
And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?
And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood. (Ether 3)


5 ...Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants;41 And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people.
42 And now, when he had said this, he fell unto the earth, as if he were dead.
6 ...Ammon...knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind... (Alma 18:5, 41-42; 19:6)

28 And it came to pass that they were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness, and an awful solemn fear came upon them. ...
34 And it came to pass that the Lamanites could not flee because of the cloud of darkness which did overshadow them; yea, and also they were immovable because of the fear which did come upon them. (Helaman 5)

20 And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness; ...22 And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.23 And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them. (3 Nephi 8)


11 And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;
12 And so great was their astonishment, that they fell to the earth, and understood not the words which he spake unto them. ...
18 And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; ...
19 And now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father. ...
29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more. (Mosiah 27)



Sunday, March 29, 2020

The joy of the saints

Enos 1:3
the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saintssunk deep into my heart.
Jacob spoke of eternal life (Jacob 6:11) as did many other Book of Mormon prophets. But as far as I could see, Jacob is the only Book of Mormon prophet speaking of the joy of the saints. 2 Nephi 9 contains his words.

2 Nephi 9:18
But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.
2 Nephi 9:43
But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever—yea, that happiness which is prepared for the saints.
Of course, all Book of Mormon prophets said a lot of things that were never recorded on the plates. A fuller account might show others talking specifically about the joy of the saints. I still find it interesting, though, that Enos mentioned this particular topic that he had heard from his father and the only source for that in the Book of Mormon in fact is his father.

The Creation-Covenant Connection in more detail, part 4

These days I'm spending a lot of time thinking about the connection between Creation and Covenant.  Margaret Barker proposes that both words derive from a primitive Hebrew root associated with "organizing" and "bringing together." The covenant was first introduced in the Garden of Eden. Transgression led to the Fall, which drove Adam and Eve out into a cursed, thorny, dusty wilderness (see Genesis 3:17-19).

The Fall brought us to a wilderness and a world of trouble.  The Everlasting Covenant shows us the way to return to the garden. This theme has been discussed many times in other posts, which you can find here.

In this series of posts, we'll walk through this concept in more detail and hopefully find new meaning in a few scriptural passages along the way.

Part 1 -- "The Light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ"
Part 2 -- A Divinely-Appointed Curse "for [our] sakes"
Part 3 -- "Rending the Veil of Unbelief" and "Dispersing the Cloud/Mists of Darkness"
Part 4 -- Creation, Covenant, and "Life"


Part 4


I started my journey to better understand the connection between creation and covenant because of these verses:

13 Come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief.
14 Come unto me, O ye house of Israel, and it shall be made manifest unto you how great things the Father hath laid up for you, from the foundation of the world; and it hath not come unto you, because of unbelief.
15 Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness, and hardness of heart, and blindness of mind, then shall the great and marvelous things which have been hid up from the foundation of the world from you—yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in my name, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel. (Ether 4)

We, as Gentiles, come unto Christ through baptism and the preparatory Gospel, at which point we become part of the House of Israel.  Then, it is our privilege to learn greater knowledge -- the "great things the Father hath laid up for [us], from the foundation of the world." Our unbelief is the veil which hides these things from us.  Once we rend that veil and learn to call upon the Father in the name of Christ, we receive these things and come to know that the Father "hath remembered the covenant which he made unto [our] fathers."

If that isn't a succinct summary of the purpose of the ordinances of the Gospel, including the temple, I don't know what is.

I now see how clearly covenant and creation are intertwined.

What is the central purpose of the Creation?


Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, the creation created diversity of all kinds, to beautify and give variety to the earth.  But diversity was not the purpose of the creation.  Every single person who comes to earth gets to experience a unique journey through life, complete with unique gifts and blessings, as well as unique struggles and weaknesses. Yet the purpose of creation is the same as the purpose of the Everlasting Covenant.  It is designed to bring about unity with the divine. In all this diversity, are to find unity. More about that below.

As we draw closer to God, and become more like Him, and gain an eye single to His glory, we strip away the layers of material creation and identify our true selves -- sons and daughters of God. This spiritual rebirth is like the physical creation in reverse.

Consider the following points as you study the scriptures, and hopefully you will find deeper meaning in many passages:

1) Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of the Father, is the light of the world. He was with the Father from the beginning, before the foundation of the world. The entire creation is filled with His light.

2) The main obstacle we have obscuring the divine light from our view is the physical creation itself.  This allows room for our agency to be tested. (See Alma 42:3-5.)

3) "Rending the veil of unbelief" is a process whereby our faith in God allows His divine light to fill our soul, offering us joy, hope in Christ, and an assurance of eternal life.


Notice how these verses fit into this context:

This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom;
Which glory is that of the church of the Firstborn, even of God, the holiest of all, through Jesus Christ his Son—
He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;
Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;
As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;
10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.
11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;
12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space
13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (D&C 88)

The entire creation is filled with the light of Jesus Christ, "which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space."

67 And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.
68 Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. (D&C 88)

When we sanctify ourselves (through making and keeping temple covenants), our eye becomes single to the glory of God and our whole body becomes filled with light, allowing us to have His face "unveiled" to us, and then we comprehend "all things."


28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.
29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. (D&C 93)

In these verses we learn a key truth -- not only was Christ with the Father in the beginning...so were we! The purpose of creation and covenant is the same -- to restore us to His presence. The creation provides us time and space to act.  The covenant prepares the way for us to receive knowedge by obedience to that portion of the word we have been given, in order to receive more.


24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50)

A review of each use of the word "light" in the scriptures would take a long time, but I encourage you to spend some time studying how this word is used and see if you can find additional instances where the principles above aid in your understanding of what it means that Christ is "the light of the world."


For verily I say unto you that I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the light and the life of the worldlight that shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.
I came unto mine own, and mine own received me not; but unto as many as received me gave I power to do many miracles, and to become the sons of God; and even unto them that believed on my name gave I power to obtain eternal life.
And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me. (D&C 45)

That's about as clear as it can be: the everlasting covenant was sent into the world to be a light to the world and "prepare the way."

Unity with the Divine -- also known as Eternal Life


Obedience to the everlasting covenant brings about unity among mortals:

18 And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7)

Obedience to the covenant also brings us into harmony with the Father through the Atonement of Christ, and qualifies us to enter into His presence and dwell with Him.

56 They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;
57 And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.
58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God
...
60 And they shall overcome all things.
...
62 These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever. (D&C 76)

Conclusion



  1. It is amazing to me that a concept introduced by Margaret Barker (who is not of our faith, and yet who seeks to reconstruct the religion of the first temple period) fits so neatly into the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in scriptures received through Joseph Smith. This is truly remarkable.
  2. If you have ever wondered why the creation story is so essential to the temple endowment, this concept should help establish the connection.
  3. The purpose of mortality (the creation) is identical to the purpose of the everlasting covenant -- to bring us into unity with God. This is a key to understanding many symbols in the scriptures.


Mormon's references to Alma 5

Alma 6 is a short transitional chapter between sermons in Alma 5 and 7, where Mormon moves from quoting Alma's words on the plates of Ne...