Monday, August 31, 2020

The (gift of the) Holy Ghost in the Book of Mormon

I wrote two posts (here and here) listing and discussing scriptures that give conditions for and promises of eternal life. Based on these scriptures, I identified a pattern looking something like this

Covenant preparation / find the way and enter through the gate




Covenant keeping / "walk therein"

Keep the commandments

Endure to the end

I received a comment on this blog post suggesting that the Holy Ghost was missing from this list. I had initially thought that it belongs as part of baptism because the baptism is two-fold (water and fire/Holy Ghost). It is also a bit unclear if the gift of the Holy Ghost as we practice it today was practiced among the Nephites before Christ. Nephi certainly teaches about receiving the Holy Ghost it in 2 Nephi 31, but it is unclear how and the Jews living before Christ didn't seem to practice this. 

Anyway, this made me think about something I have noticed before. The Holy Ghost is always portrayed as a blessing in the Book of Mormon, not a commandment. We have a tendency to think of the gift of the Holy Ghost only as a necessary step on the way. It certainly is one of the saving ordinances, so I will not argue against that. But it is interesting to note that the Book of Mormon never says: "Have faith, repent, be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost and then you will be blessed..." or something along those lines. Here is what the Book of Mormon does say on the matter:
For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 31:17)
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. (3 Nephi 27:20)
And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 9:20)
come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 30:2)

We clearly see from these verses that receiving/being cleansed by/filled with the Holy Ghost is the blessing. It comes after we have repented and been baptized. This is a thing I noticed a long time ago but I just realized how it fits into the pattern I illustrated above. With these scriptures in mind, here is an updated version:





Step 1

Covenant preparation / find the way and enter through the gate


The gift of the Holy Ghost

Step 2

Covenant keeping / "walk therein"

Keep the commandments
Endure to the end

Eternal life

Again, there are different ways to put it for sure. It would not be wrong to put the gift of the Holy Ghost in the "conditions" category in Step 1 and this is often how we frame it, perhaps because of the 4th article of faith. But I think the above illustration is more in line with how the Book of Mormon frames it and it has helped me look at our "covenant path" in a different way.

This is how I see it: Eternal life is always the end goal. This is exaltation, living in unity with the Godhead in the celestial kingdom. To get there, we have the atonement of Christ (already taken care of) and our part, that is summarized in these two steps in the table. At the end of step 1 there is a gate. When we enter through it we are offered the Holy Ghost. He is a member of the Godhead we ultimately want to be united with after step 2, but he comes to help us in this step, which is walking on the path after we entered the first gate. I expressed the conditions as "keep the commanments" and "endure to the end" but there is a lot that could be said about step 2. We know that further covenants and continuous application of the atonement in our lives are part of this as well. The point is that we get the Holy Ghost as a blessing after we complete step 1 and enter into the first symbolic gate. His role is to help and guide us along in step 2 to get to the second symbolic gate, the gate to the kingdom of heaven.

The unity that we can have with the Holy Ghost after entering through the first gate, and with Jesus Christ when becoming one with him through the sacrament, are preparations for the glorious unity we can have with them and the Father after entering through the second gate. The Father created a plan that can be accomplished through Christ and covenants. The Son completed his part and the Holy Ghost helps us do our part (keeping covenants). It is a beautiful illustration of the individual roles of the members of the Godhead, united in one purpose: To unite with us.



Come, Follow Me, Aug 31 - Sep 6. Helaman 13-16: “Glad Tidings of Great Joy”

We study Helaman 13-16 this week as part of the Come, Follow Me program. Here is a link to the lesson. Below are links to previous blog posts related to those chapters.

Helaman 13 -- Samuel the Lamanite channels Nephi (and Isaiah), Textual connections to Jesus and possibly Zenos, Pride of the eyes, etc.

Helaman 14 -- Internal consistency in Samuel's prophecies, part 1 and part 2, office of the ministry of angels,  rock metaphor, etc.

Helaman 15 -- Lehi's blessing to the children of Laman, Zenos and the restoration of the Lamanites, Prolonging and lengthening cords, etc.

Helaman 16 -- Internal consistency, "Cunning" in the Book of Mormon, etc.

"Striving," Part 2

In part 1, we looked at the use of the word "striving" in the Book of Mormon and noted that the most common context relates to the final ripening of a wicked people rejecting the covenant and inviting destruction.

In this post, we'll take a look at how "striving" is used in other books of scripture.

Old Testament

Out of the 23 occurrences in the King James Old Testament, "strive/striving" usually occurs in the context of contention between people. The most notable exception is the first instance:

That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.

And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6)

Other exceptions:

Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. (Psalm 35)

10 ¶ Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

11 Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.

12 Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.

13 For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. (Isaiah 41)

Woe unto him that striveth with his MakerLet the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? (Isaiah 45)

New Testament

In the New Testament, we have 13 occurrences, usually related to "endeavoring," but sometimes meaning "fighting against." Here is one example of each context:

24 ¶ Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:

26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.

27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.

28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. (Luke 13)

24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,

25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; (2 Timothy 2)

Doctrine and Covenants

The two examples from the D&C are listed below:

33 And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.

34 And again, verily I say unto you, O inhabitants of the earth: I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh;

35 For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion. (D&C 1)

68 O Lord, remember thy servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., and all his afflictions and persecutions—how he has covenanted with Jehovah, and vowed to thee, O Mighty God of Jacob—and the commandments which thou hast given unto him, and that he hath sincerely striven to do thy will. (D&C 109)

Pearl of Great Price

We have one occurrence in the Book of Moses. It is this context I'd like to focus the next post on.  Notice the connection to Enoch in these verses.

17 And the Lord said unto Noah: My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for he shall know that all flesh shall die; yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years; and if men do not repent, I will send in the floods upon them.

18 And in those days there were giants on the earth, and they sought Noah to take away his life; but the Lord was with Noah, and the power of the Lord was upon him.

19 And the Lord ordained Noah after his own order, and commanded him that he should go forth and declare his Gospel unto the children of men, even as it was given unto Enoch. (Moses 8)

In the next post, I'd like to pick up with the story of Enoch and the City of Zion, which is found in Moses 7, and connect the concept of the Spirit/divine messengers working to bring about Zion with the concept of the Spirit "striving with man."

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Day and night in the Book of Mormon

I don't even remember anymore which Book of Mormon verse gave me the idea to study the symbolic use of day and night in ancient Israelite tradition. One thing is clear: Day and night is used both literally and symbolically in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Searching the internet, I found surprisingly little on the ancient symbolic meaning of day/night. This was one of the few helpful sources. I will still try to share some takeaways from my study.

The day/night symbol is introduced very early in the Bible: In the creation account in Genesis 1. Some would perhaps argue that they are used literally and not symbolically. I find the literal interpretation as an earthly 24 hour period quite absurd, considering the fact that the sun was created on the fourth "day". The Hebrew word for day, yom, might as well be translated into "time" to designate a time period of unspecific length, but given the large amount of symbolism in the creation account and the play on opposites (light/darkness, heaven/earth, over the firmament/under the firmament, waters/land, animals on land/animals in the sky, etc.) I interpret the day/night in the creation account as something purely symbolic. The article that I shared above states:

In contrast to pagan mythology, where sunrise represents a daily contention between opposing forces, in Jewish monotheism, the day-and-night cycle is attributed to a single God who "forms the light, and creates darkness" (Isa. 45:7), "who changes the times," and "who removes the light from before the darkness and the darkness from before the light" (beginning of the evening prayer). The special religious significance attached to this periodicity can be observed in the Temple rites of regular morning and evening sacrifices and in the benedictions over the daily cycle in the morning and evening prayers (the benediction "Creator of the luminaries" in the morning prayer, and the benediction "Who brings the nights" in the evening prayer). Every morning, when darkness disappears before the light, the initial act of creation is renewed.

It also states that Jews perform their mitzvot (religious duties) during daytime only. This fits with an idea in the Book of Mormon, that night is a time when no work can be performed.

wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein, until the night cometh, wherein no man can work. (3 Nephi 27:33)

after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. (Alma 34:33)

These verses also use the night as symbol of a time after our life when it is too late to repent. Another verse to go along with this idea

as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh (Alma 41:5)

This mortal probation is "day", a time where we can labor, repent, keep the commandments, etc. After that comes the night. Isaiah-expert, Avraham Gileadi, frequently interprets "night" in Isaiah as the Day of Judgment. See for instance his comments on Isaiah 21:11-12. The article I linked states the following:

Traces of the dualist theory are found in Jewish folklore and it may be assumed that the belief that Jewish redemption will come in an era when there is perpetual day derives from it. The concept was accepted, at least poetically and symbolically, both in the Bible (Zech. 14:7) and in the aggadah (Ḥag. 12a).

This creates a contrast between the judgment of the wicked associated with endless night and redemption associated with perpetual day. We see it in the New Testament too. In the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22:5:

And night will be no more

How fitting in this context, that the sign of the birth of the Redeemer in the Book of Mormon was turning night into day! As we know, one day, one night and one day were as one long day where the night was bright and behaved like a day. Inevitable judgment turned into redemption when the Savior came into the world.

On this note, there was another thing I noticed while studying day/night symbolism in the Book of Mormon. Very frequency, night is connected to seeing, which seems counter-intuitive. I have not found any commentary on this, but we see it in the Bible too: In Daniel chapters 2 and 7, the prophet Daniel has "night visions", "God spoke to Israel in visions of the night" (Genesis 46:2), God appears to Solomon in a dream by night in 1 Kings 3:5, etc. Also, during the Exodus there is a pillar of fire to lead the people of Israel at night.

I don't know why that is, but my guess would be something along these lines:

  • A vision at night is a manifestation of God's power. He breaks through the darkness to reveal himself to those he has elected.
  • Often, visions are given to a prophet who stands out in the midst of difficulty or unrighteousness (like Daniel in Babylonian captivity). Though the surroundings are dark, the prophet is granted sight.
Below are examples from the Book of Mormon where night is connected to seeing.
the Lord their God, their Redeemer, going before them, leading them by day and giving light unto them by night (1 Nephi 17:30, referring to the Exodus already mentioned)
Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time (2 Nephi 4:23)
cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defence (2 Nephi 14:5, quoting Isaiah also alluding to the Exodus)
For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night (2 Nephi 33:3)
when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep (Alma 37:37)
he hid himself in the cavity of a rock by day, and by night he went forth viewing the things which should come upon the people (Ether 13:13)

The idea of seeing in the night also reminds me of the mist of darkness in Lehi's dream. Those holding on to the word of God were led through it safely and could partake of the fruit that "exceeded all the whiteness" Lehi had ever seen. 

Sometimes we are blessed to see in the night. Sometimes we need to have faith in the midst of darkness and just hold on. If we do, the Savior can turn night into day for us.

And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness.

These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness (Alma 41:6-7)





"Striving" in the Book of Mormon, part 1

"Striving" is an interesting, somewhat antiquated word. A family member brought it to my attention in the scriptures, wondering what it meant, and now, a few weeks later, I'm prepared to offer a review of how it is used in the scriptures and what I believe the word means.

This post will be the first of several posts about the word "striving" in the scriptures, particularly in the Book of Mormon.

To start, I'll share two examples from Mormon in context:

27 Behold, my son, I will write unto you again if I go not out soon against the Lamanites. Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction except they should repent.

28 Pray for them, my son, that repentance may come unto them. But behold, I fear lest the Spirit hath ceased striving with them; and in this part of the land they are also seeking to put down all power and authority which cometh from God; and they are denying the Holy Ghost.

29 And after rejecting so great a knowledge, my son, they must perish soon, unto the fulfilling of the prophecies which were spoken by the prophets, as well as the words of our Savior himself. (Moroni 8)

3 And now behold, my son, I fear lest the Lamanites shall destroy this people; for they do not repent, and Satan stirreth them up continually to anger one with another.

4 Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them.

5 For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually.

6 And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God. (Moroni 9)

Both passages are bleak.  Mormon has lost hope in the Nephites entirely and believes it is only a matter of time before they are completely destroyed.

From these two passages, we see the following additional attributes ascribed to the Nephites:

  • pride
  • seeking to put down all power and authority which cometh from God
  • denying the Holy Ghost
  • rejecting so great a knowledge
  • they do not repent
  • Satan stirreth them up continually to anger one with another
  • when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me
  • when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it
  • so exceedingly do they anger 
  • they have no fear of death
  • they have lost their love, one towards another
  • they thirst after blood and revenge continually

This is a pretty awful scene, and it is only the tip of the iceberg.  In the rest of chapter 9, an absolutely horrid scene of depravity is described.

Other examples of "Striving" in the Book of Mormon

We find four additional examples in the Book of Mormon which use this specific context -- the Spirit ceasing to strive with a group of people as they become "fully ripe for destruction:

  • 1 Nephi 7:14 (speaking of the people at Jerusalem)
  • 2 Nephi 26:11 (speaking of the Nephites)
  • Mormon 5:16 (speaking of the Lamanites)
  • Ether 2:15 (speaking of the Jaredites)
  • Ether 15:19 (speaking of the Jaredites).
That's seven references in the Book of Mormon which connect the Spirit ceasing to strive with a group of people and that group's final destruction.

Aside from that, we have a few other contexts where we find the word "strive/striving":

  • Missionary/faithfulness context:
    • Mosiah 27:35 - "zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church"
    • Helaman 15:6: - "they are striving with unwearied diligence that they may bring the remainder of their brethren to the knowledge of the truth"
    • 1 Nephi 17:15 - "I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence"
  • Military context (with covenant subtext):
    • Alma 60:25 - "strive to strengthen and fortify our armies"
  • Repentant context (five verses after 1 Nephi 7:14 in the list above)
    • 1 Nephi 7:19 - "they did soften their hearts; and they did cease striving to take away my life"

What does "striving" mean?

Since language changes over time, I typically like to check the Webster's 1828 dictionary to get a sense of what a word meant around the time the Book of Mormon was written. I found these two definition's at the top of the list:

1. To make efforts; to use exertions; to endeavor with earnestness; to labor hard; applicable to exertions of body or mind. A workman strives to perform his task before another; a student strives to excel his fellows in improvement.

2. To contend; to contest; to struggle in opposition to another; to be in contention or dispute; followed by against or with before the person or thing opposed; as, strive against temptation; strive for the truth.

Interestingly, it seems every instance of "strive/striving" in the Book of Mormon falls under the first definition. Not so with the Bible, but we'll get to that in a later post.

What does it mean when the Spirit ceases striving with a people?

It seems that in the Book of Mormon, the most common use of the word "striving" is a reference to a passage from the brass plates, which we have in our Old Testament in Genesis 6:3. I'll discuss this and the possible connection to Enoch and Noah in the next post.  Suffice it to say, it seems that when the Spirit ceases to strive with a rebellious covenant people, very bad things come.

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