Saturday, January 11, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 2: Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born

"Grand Universe" by Gary Tonge (click on picture to enlarge)
Take a minute to really look at and enjoy this picture.
What do you see? 
If you are like me then you will probably recognize the earth and the moon and the sun and the stars but not much else.



What does it inspire within you? How does it make you feel? Again if you are anything like me, you will probably feel a little awe-struck; maybe a little insignificant or overwhelmed by our nothingness; maybe somewhat mystified, amazed and inspired; and even a desire to learn more about this grand universe. 
Remember this is just a picture. 
Now imagine if you got to see all of this in person.
Abraham did. 
And much much more...in person...with God as his tour guide!
 
What we will study today is amazing. What we learn will not be new to those of the LDS faith but it is profound and when understood within the framework of the lesson that the Lord God taught Abraham, it is truly inspiring.

The Lesson (part A)
So let's get to the lesson itself, Abraham 3:22-23.  
What are some of the things we learn, directly or indirectly, from this well-known passage of scripture? I have added a few insights from the text and some questions of my own that came to mind as I studied this week (I have not included answers to these questions) - they are questions that I hope will motivate a search of the scriptures and give you pause to ponder.
  • Before the world was created there were intelligences, they were organized and among them were many noble and great ones. 
    (Who were they and how did they get to be noble and great? (cf D&C 138:38-57) What did others do or not do that they did not become so noble or so great? What does it mean when they say they were "organized"?)
  • In this pre-earthly state, God saw these intelligences and saw that they were "good". 
    (What did He mean when he said they were "good"? Is this the same kind of "good" as when speaking of His creations where he declares them to be "good"?)
  • God stood in the midst of them and said that he would make them his "rulers". 
    (What is the significance of God standing in the midst of them?)
  • Abraham is told that he is one of those noble and great ones and that he was chosen before he was born. 
    (What does that mean to be chosen? We hear about being "called" and being "chosen" as two different stages. Was Abraham really chosen already at this point prior to earth life - if so what had he done to warrant such trust? Could he lose that trust once it was gained? Was Moses saved from the Nile and Abraham saved from the wicked priest of Elkanah because they were chosen? If Abraham was chosen before he was born into this earthly life, is it possible for us to be "chosen" before we die and move into our next level of existence?)
Personal Application
All of this insight and these questions can lead us to a deeper understanding about our own lives before we came to earth and the purpose of our lives here on earth. For example, knowing that 
  1. there seemed to be an organized system that allowed each of us to develop based on ability and merit 
  2. our development in pre-earth life qualified us for certain roles and blessings on earth...
...can help us more fully understand our individual purpose here today and what we might need to do to qualify for blessings after our earthly existence. 

President Harold B. Lee, in his last general conference address in October 1973, made this observation regarding the blessing we are born into in this life:
"All these rewards were seemingly promised, or foreordained, before
the world was. Surely these matters must have been determined by the
kind of lives we had lived in that premortal spirit world. Some may
question these assumptions, but at the same time they will accept
without any question the belief that each one of us will be judged when
we leave this earth according to his or her deeds during our lives here
in mortality. Isn't it just as reasonable to believe that what we have
received here in this earth life was given to each of us according to
merits of our conduct before we came here?"
 
Also, knowing God's definition of "good" and "noble" and "great" can help us know what to strive for. It seems one of the tests of this life is finding our true character - that being who we once were when we lived in the presence of God and before we took on this natural, mortal man.
One of the ways we can do that is with the aid of a patriarchal blessing.
Patriarchal blessings are a wonderful way to rediscover who we really were (and truly are) and identify the work the Lord has for us. They are a vital tool in helping us rise above the mortal mud-pit of mediocrity that we wallow in so often. I would encourage you to seek one as soon as possible and if you already have one I would encourage you to revisit it at least weekly, if not daily.

Ezra Taft Benson taught,
“God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the second coming of the Lord. Some individuals will fall away; but the kingdom of God will remain intact to welcome the return of its head—even Jesus Christ. While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time. It is that God has saved for the final inning some of His strongest children, who will help bear off the kingdom triumphantly. …
“… Make no mistake about it—you are a marked generation. There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time than there is of us” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 104–5).
What does this quote (coupled with what we have learned in Abraham 3) suggest about our performance in the pre-existence? How does that make you feel about yourself? 

For those with patriarchal blessings may I suggest the following:
Study your patriarchal blessing and identify the characteristics you developed pre-earth and are now blessed with in this life. 
As you read your blessing identify instructions you have been given for this mortal life.
Using your patriarchal blessing identify what blessings you have been promised.

It is my sincere belief that we are greater than we realize, stronger than we suppose and capable of more than we currently imagine. This is the very same lesson Abraham learned here in chapter 3.

The Lesson (part B)
The other main passage of scripture we are asked to study in this lesson is Moses 4:1-4
In this particular passage of scripture Moses is taught a little bit more about Satan.  
What are some of the things we learn, directly or indirectly, from this passage of scripture?
  • Satan was with us originally when we learned of Heavenly Father's plan for us. 
    (What status did Satan have among us before he failed his first estate? Was Satan "chosen" for his role? If so, what qualified him?)
  • Satan volunteered to be our Saviour and Redeemer and promised everyone would be saved. (How did we feel when we first heard him volunteer? Were we enticed even a little by the prospect of guaranteed success? Do we see guaranteed salvation anywhere else in scriptures or modern day religions today? What is the problem with this philosophy when comparing it to God's purpose for us?)
  • Satan wanted the glory for himself. 
    (Was he suggesting God "retire"? He wanted God's honour, was the intention here a coup or a child seeking attention? What specifically was he after when he stated his condition of "give me thine honour"?)
  • Satan rebelled and sought to destroy the "agency of man" and was cast down by the power of Jesus Christ. 
    (Was Satan the first to rebel or did others put him up to it? If Satan was cast down, where was he cast down to before the earth was created? Was there a pre-mortal prison? Does the phrase "cast down" suggest a process, consequence as natural as those that went the other way and became noble and great?)
  • Satan became the devil and leads us captive at his will if we don't listen to God. 
    (It says he deceives and blinds men or in other words takes away light (cf D&C 93:39). What does it mean when it says he leads us away captive "at his will"? If disobedience takes away light, does obedience add light? Does this measure of light denote our goodness, our nobility, our greatness?)
So despite all the deep questions and insights that can come from serious pondering of the text, the principles learned in this lesson are simple:
  1. Before the world was, there were organized intelligences that varied in nobility and greatness. Abraham was one of the noble and great ones and because of his goodness was "chosen" before he came to earth to perform a task here on earth and to be a ruler here on earth.
  2. Before the world was, there were organized intelligences that varied in nobility and greatness. Satan was not so noble or great and eventually because of his ego or pride or greed or all three, he rebelled and was cast down to become the father of all lies, the devil.
 I don't know about you but I am fascinated by the contrast between these two stories. The church leadership, in asking us to study these two passages together, seem to want us to learn something. What do you think it is? Again I don't think this is a deep lesson. I think it is a very simple principle that even a child could understand but it is taught beautifully by contrasting Abraham's choices and elevation with Satan's choices and drastic fall. And the lesson is explained plainly by Thomas S Monson, who said simply,
“The choices we make determine our destiny.”
That right there is the lesson. It's a simple lesson but it is an eternal lesson. It is as true today as it will be after this life and as it was before this life. Abraham's choices helped him progress. Satan's choices stunted his growth.

Epilogue
Now what has all this got to do with the stars and planets and the universe at the beginning of Abraham 3?
The first part of Abraham 3 is not read nearly as much as the verses we studied just now. That is understandable as those verses 22-23 really are the point of the lesson but join me in reading the first part of the chapter and together lets discover how the Lord actually taught Abraham this principle. I think, like me, you will find a new depth of appreciation regarding this principle.

Firstly to dispel any notion that these two teaching moments are unrelated let's compare a couple of the verses: v.2-3 with v.22-23  
What similarities do you see between these two passages?
STARS/PLANETS:
  • Abraham saw the stars
  • one was near throne of god
  • many great ones near it
  • these are the governing ones
  • name of the great one is Kolob
  • I have set this one to govern all things that are of the same order upon which thou standest
INTELLIGENCES:
  • saw intelligences
  • one like unto God
  • God in the midst of them
  • many noble and great ones
  • These I will make my rulers
Who is the one "near the throne of God" or "like unto God"?

Now let us also compare v.6-9 with v.19 
What similarities do you see between these verses?
STARS/PLANETS
  • two facts exist
  • where there are two planets one greater than the other, another greater exists above them.
  • there is a planet that governs them all
INTELLIGENCES
  • two facts exist
  • where there are two intelligences one greater than the other, another greater exists above them.
  • there is an intelligence that governs them all
Who is represented by the planet that governs them all and is the intelligence that governs them all? 
 
And if you have any doubt still that the Lord wanted Abraham to draw a parallel between what he saw in the stars and what he saw when shown the intelligences, then read v.18. The word "howbeit" can be translated in our modern language as "Just as.." IN other words just as he made the greater star so too intelligences follow the same pattern.

The Lord has just taught Abraham about the order of the universe, and I dont know if you noticed but he also taught him about the space and time continuum and about the theory of relativity that Einstein rediscovered thousands of years later! That in itself is incredible. But in doing so He has also taught him about the order of intelligences. Do you see what he was teaching Abraham here? There is order and there is progression. It's as if he is telling Abraham, "Some intelligences are not as near to me yet as others. You Abraham, are close. You are not there yet. But you are close. I have a work for thee. You are called to rule over many. How many? Oh yes that's why I brought you out at at night (v.14). Look again at all those stars. Count them. As many as you can count and see and more, they will be your seed, will be under your rulership and governance. This my son, is your heritage. You can progress. Because that is what this whole universe is about. Order and Progression. If you are obedient you will progress and become like me and have all that I have."

Can you imagine that scene? Can you imagine being there being taught this same lesson as Abraham by the Lord. Can you imagine the Lord addressing you "My son. my son" or "My daughter, my daughter" (v.12). I imagine myself a few planets down the pecking order from Abraham but in the same way I imagine the Lord teaching me my potential and showing me my heritage there on that warm summer night with the stars shining brightly, innumerable in the heavens, as they do when there is no light from this mortal sphere to mask them.

And the lesson to us is that it matters not where we come in the order of things as long as we are part of that order and do not rebel against that order. For if we rebel we fall out of order and are no longer governable. But we also should know that no matter where we currently stand in that order, our Heavenly Father wants us to progress and become like Him. And as Thomas S Monson reminded us,
"Our choices determine our destiny."

If you wish to ponder this more cross reference this whole lesson with Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-21


Additional Study points:

v.20 why is this verse in here? It seems so out of place. Is it telling Abraham that God is the most intelligent being and was therefore able to deliver him from the priests of Elkenah? Or is it maybe helping Abraham see how special he is to God: I, the most intelligent being, the intelligence you must worship and praise and aspire to be like; I still, for all that greatness, care for you, love you and won't let anyone hurt you. I will deliver you from evil?

v.28 when you consider the things we have learned today and the great ideological battle that was fought AND when you consider with that how everyone living around us once chose the same choice we did and fought along side us, does it not make you feel more responsible for helping them "remember"?

In regards to the great lessons in astrophysics Abraham received, Spencer W. Kimball noted,

"Is it not thrilling to know that the prophets knew long ago that the earth is but one of numerous planets created and controlled by God! That knowledge came because faith and righteousness opened the door to revelation. It is from this perspective that we teach the truth that the Church is the greatest institution of learning in the world. The Church is designed to enlarge and develop the powers of our spirits, to educate us for eternity and to help us live intelligently and joyfully in mortality. The gospel and its teachings lead us to Christlike living, which in turn leads us not only toward exaltation but toward knowledge.
Of all the treasures of knowledge, the most truly vital is the knowledge of God, of his existence, his powers, his love, and his promises. Through this knowledge, we learn that our great objective in life is to build character. In fact, we learn that the building of faith and character is paramount, for character is higher than intellect, and perfect character will be continually rewarded with increased intellect." ("Seek Learning Even by Study and Also by Faith," Ensign, Sept. 1983, 4-5)

In this chapter we are referred to as intelligences, some brighter than others, but all capable of perfect brightness eventually, eternally. For further study on intelligences, their definition and make up, read Doctrine and Covenants 88 and 93. Its fascinating and is another step closer to understanding who we really are. It is literally enlightening! Is it any wonder then that the Lord used the lights in the heavens to explain intelligences to Abraham?

Below are my basic notes I took in trying to understand Abraham 3. It may help your study but I also included it here as I find when I am struggling to understand a chapter, writing a simple summary of each verse helps me focus and often reveals meaning to me. Of course, where any learning is concerned (especially scripture) this should also be coupled with prayer and pondering.
Abraham 3:

  1. Abraham has Urim and Thummin
  2. Saw stars; they were very great; one near throne of god; many great ones near it
  3. These are the governing ones; great one near me called Kolob; it governs all in its sphere
  4. Reckoning of Lords/Kolobs/earths time 1000:1
  5. Lesser light greater than earth but lesser than sun
  6. These two facts exist: given to thee to know times of reckoning, and set times
  7. Moon has longer set time as to reckoning of earth time
  8. Fact=creation and where these two creations exist, there is a greater one above it.
  9. This reckoning continues all the way to Kolob (which is near God and his reckoning)
  10. Given to thee to know all the set times of stars up to near to God
  11. Abraham talked with god face to face and was taught all of his works
  12. My son my son – then shown all the works
  13. Shinehah=sun; Kokob=star; Olea=moon; Kokeaubeam=stars in the sky
  14. Vision at night; promises his seed shall be as the stars he sees (or sands)
  15. Showing Abraham to teach Egyptians
  16. If two things exist and one is greater than the other then another greater exists above that; Kolob is greatest of what he has seen as it is nearest Him
  17. There is more above the earth and moon; if God commits to do it he will do it
  18. Just like the stars, intelligences also are never ending, eternal, there is always further to go.
  19. These two facts exist: there are two intelligences one greater than the other and there is a greater intelligence above them. God is greater than them all
  20. God delivered thee from priests of Elkanah
  21. I am come to declare my works and be in the midst of them governing them all. In the beginning I was in the midst of the intelligences you saw.
  22. Abraham had been shown the organized intelligences, in those intelligences he saw many noble and great ones.
  23. Noble and great chosen because they were “good”. Abraham is one.
  24. One among them like unto God; confirmation of commitment to follow through with creation “We will”
  25. Prove them now – test of obediance
  26. 1st estate=added upon; those that don’t  shall not have glory in the same kingdom; 2nd estate=glory added upon their heads forever and ever
  27. Who shall I send? 2 replies of “send me”. 1st chosen
  28. 2nd angry did not keep 1st estate; many followed.

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