Thursday, September 10, 2020

The tree of life and the living waters -- Part 1

In my last post, I described how learning the Hebrew origin and context helped me gain a deeper understanding of a theme I have studied and written about before. That just happened again. This might get messy but I'm trying to tie up some loose ends and make connections between previous posts that I didn't know existed.

Previously, I have written about the relationship between the tree of life and the living waters. Lord Wilmore has done the same in another context. I also wrote about the ancient Jewish idea of the Torah being the tree of life. Then I read this article, suggesting that the Book of Mormon is the fountain of living waters and it all starts coming together. I recommend reading that last link, but here is a quick summary:

The etymology for the name, Mormon, has been discussed, but not really concluded. The author of the article (who grew up in the Jewish faith) points out that the root, 'mrm', broken down to the individual letters would give us water (the meaning of the Hebrew 'mem') and head/source (the meaning of the Hebrew, 'resh'). Quite frequently, when a name is introduced in the Book of Mormon or the Bible, it is connected to its meaning. The first time we encounter the name, Mormon, is actually in Mosiah introducing the place, not the person.

Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water (Mosiah 18:5)

Is this a word-play on the meaning of the name and an allusion to the fountain of living waters? The person, Mormon, that the Book of Mormon is named after, is actually named after the place in Mosiah 18 (see 3 Nephi 5:12). This makes the Book of Mormon the book of pure/living waters.

I know, leading up to this new insight I have thrown in a bunch of links without much explanation. Let me try to connect the dots with a summary:

  • There are several connections between the tree of life and the living waters in the scriptures. They go together. Alma 32 and John 4 are describing each as "springing up unto eternal life". They are seen together in Lehi's dream, they coexist in John the Revelator's vision of the New Jerusalem. In the Garden of Eden you have the tree of life and the river splitting in four streams. etc.
  • The tree of life and the living waters symbolize the results of a process that involves both an outward adherence to the word of God and an inward growth of the word of God in us. You cling to the iron rod (the word according to 1 Nephi 11:25) to get there, but you also grow it inside you by planting the seed (the word according to Alma 32:28).
  • In ancient Israelite tradition, the Torah is the tree of life. In Hebrew, the meaning of 'Mormon' can be connected to the living waters. Both contain the word of God. We can view the Bible and the Book of Mormon as the word that gets us to the tree of life and the fountain of living waters.

Viewing the Book of Mormon as the book of the pure and living waters has certainly been food for thought, and helped me better understand two other issues that I have studied before. I will discuss the first one here and save the other for a later post.

A puzzling pattern combining judgment and fruit/water now starts to make sense. In that post I noticed how judgment often appears together with this tree(fruit)/water symbolism but I didn't understand why. This is how I see it now: The Bible and the Book of Mormon are the word of God, not exclusively as we know, but they symbolically connecting to the tree of life and the living waters. In another post, I explained how the scriptures sometimes state that Christ is the word. What we have done with the word is manifest in the state of the tree and water and will ultimately judge us.

On the one hand, we may have planted the word and nourished the tree. We may have accepted the living water that Christ offers and continually run to the fountain of all righteousness (1 Nephi 2:9). If this is the case, both the tree and the water will spring up in us into eternal life. We shall "partake of the fruit" and "enter into his rest", never to hunger or thirst again. 

On the other hand, we may stand in front of God on judgment day, not having made room in our hearts for the word or we may at some point later have "pluck[ed] it up and cast it out". We may even have polluted the water like the great and abominable church. If this is the case, we will not have brought forth good fruit and will be "hewn down and cast into the fire".

Notice how Alma describes it

Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned. (Alma 12:13)

If we are condemned on judgment day, why is that? Because the word is not found in us! Food and drink is something we put in us. Do you see the symbolic connection between judgment and food/drink better now? The word of God is found in the Bible, the Book of Mormon and other scriptures and words of living prophets. They testify of Christ. This is the tree of life and the living waters. Before judgment day, everyone will have had the chance to receive the word. What determines our judgment is whether the word is found in us or not, often symbolized by fruit and water.

I can't help but connect this to the sacrament and the powerful symbolism of eating and drinking the symbols of Christ, who is "the word of truth and righteousness" (Alma 38:9). Renewing our covenants with him is a way to ensure that the word is found in us on that last day. 


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