Saturday, February 22, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 8: Living Righteously in a Wicked World

Abraham's Chronology and Travels:
Abraham moved around a lot and led a pretty nomadic lifestyle. To bring us up to date with today's lesson I have compiled a brief chronology of Abraham's travels. I do believe there is much to be learned from a deeper study of the geography of these stories but we will not have time to go into too much detail this week. Nevertheless, this short chronology should help us to get a better idea of where Abraham has been and what he has been doing, up until the point when we reconnect with him in this week's lesson.

1. Born in Ur in land of Chaldeans
  • There is a famine and idolatry throughout the land
  • Abraham's brother Haran dies
  • Abraham marries Sarai
2. Moves to land they called Haran after his brother, who died in Ur (to escape idolatry and seek blessings) Abr. 1:1-2; 2:3
  • Abraham's wife Sarai, his nephew Lot (Haran's son) and his wife, and Abraham's father follow him.
  • Abraham's father returns to his idol worship and eventually dies in Haran, 205 yrs old.
3. 62/75 yrs old - moves to the land of Canaan (promised to be "an everlasting possession" to his seed). There appears to be some discrepancy between Genesis and the Book of Abraham account as to Abraham's age when he left Haran.
  • Takes his wife Sarai, Lot and his family, and the converts from Haran
  • Lived in tents, built an altar in Jershon to pray for his family in the famine.
4. Moved to Shechem (Sechem) in the plains of Moreh. Built an altar unto the Lord. "Unto thy seed will I give this land".
Shechem becomes a very significant place to the children of Israel. It is here that Jacob also returns to settle and digs a well. Here Joseph goes to find his brothers and just beyond here he is sold into slavery. Is it any wonder that his request before he dies in Egypt many years later is to be buried at Shechem. It is here too that Joshua gathers the returning tribes and recommits them to the covenants of the Lord in their promised land. The same promises and promised land as Abraham received in Shechem generations before. And here that Joshua buries the bones of the prophet Joseph.
5. Moved to mountain between Bethel (House of God) and Hai (Heap of Ruins). Built another altar unto the Lord.
  • Continues south. Famine continues.
6. Moves to Egypt (to avoid the famine)
  • Teaches Egyptians using astronomy and gospel teachings 
  • Pharoah tries to take Sarai to wife understanding her to only be Abraham's sister
  • Pharoah gives Sarai back and gives Abraham more wealth and asks him to leave Egypt.
7. Moves back to land of Canaan, between Bethel and Hai
  • Made offerings at the altar and called upon the Lord again.
  • Returned with more wealth and more people including an Egyptian handmaiden called Hagar
  • Lot and his family still with Abraham
At this point Abraham is no older than 86 yrs old.

Dealing with Strife  
Genesis 13
Firstly, let's understand the relationship between Lot and Abraham. Abraham is Lot's uncle (Lot's father was Abraham's brother Haran, who died in Ur). Lot has followed with Abraham from Ur to Haran onto Canaan and down into Egypt and back again into Canaan. By the time Lot is introduced to the story, he is already married. They have probably journeyed and lived together at least 20 years. They are close and Lot has greatly benefited from being in Abraham's presence.
v.2 and v.5 Abraham is rich in cattle, silver and gold. Lot has flocks and herds and tents. Both have done well for themselves although you feel that Lot's wealth is likely somewhat as a result of his association with Abraham.
v.6-7 What was the initial problem? What then highlighted the problem? What could potentially make this problem very serious?
The initial problem was that they had been blessed with so much that the area they were living could no longer support all of their herds and all of their people. This was highlighted when the herdmen of Abraham and the herdmen of Lot had a "strife" between them. This might not seem like a big deal initially but the seriousness is found in the final sentence of verse 7: "and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land". If they do not find a solution to this internal strife, it will invite strife from other groups who occupied the land and who would desire their cattle and herds and land. It was very important that this issue is solved quickly before they paint a big target on their backs.
v.8-12 Who seems to be the proactive party in trying to resolve this? What does this suggest about Abraham? What is Abraham's solution? As patriarch of the family (according to custom and tradition), and with the promises of the Lord established with him, Abraham has every right to pick where he chooses to settle, first. Instead he offers the first pick to Lot. What can we learn from Abraham's approach?  
"It is Abraham who took the initiative and said unto Lot, 'Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee,...if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.' (Genesis 13:7-9.) The complete, genuine willingness of Abraham to adjust to whatever Lot's decision was is the mark of a generosity of spirit of that remarkable patriarch." Neal A. Maxwell (That My Family Should Partake, pp92-93)
Lot chose what he viewed to be the most watered and most fertile land. He used his eyes as far as they could physically see. What did Lot miss? see v.12-13 
Meanwhile Abraham, who appears to have got the short end of the stick if you are looking at things with physical eyes, has his spiritual eyes opened. see v.14-18 
Notice both lifted up their eyes to see but one had the guidance of the Lord and the other didn't. Why do you think Lot, who was a righteous man, did not have spiritual sight in this instance? What sins of omission deprive us of spiritual sight today?

Redemption of the righteous
Genesis 14:1-16
So Lot has pitched his tent towards Sodom (compare this to those that pitched their tents during King Benjamin's temple discourse in Mosiah 2:6), which seems to suggest that he had dealings in some part with the people of the city, maybe for trade. Certainly he looked toward the city with some positivity, maybe as some benefit to him. But this inability to fully separate from the wickedness of the world ends up impacting Lot and his family in devastating fashion.
The region had 5 cities: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Bela (later called Zoar), and Zeboiim. Each city had its own king. They paid tribute to 4 other kings. But after 13 years they stopped paying this tribute and the 4 kings came to do battle with the 5 kings (including the King of Sodom). The 4 kings routed the 5 kings and as was the custom the victorious kings took their reward:Sodom was pillaged and looted and some of the locals were carried away captive. (see v.11-12)
Notice the difference between Genesis 13:12 and Genesis 14:12. For whatever logical or logistical reason, Lot is no longer on the edges of wickedness, he is living in it. How do you think this impacts him, his family, and especially his children?
v.14 Abraham could have done nothing and said it was Lot's own fault. Considering he is going to have to go up against 4 powerful kings and could be about to make some powerful enemies, you wouldn't blame him for not helping Lot. But he does help. Abraham's swift action is likely what saved his nephew.
Now consider this little bit of information "he armed his trained servants, born in his own house". The bible is full of little comments like that, they seem insignificant at first. But I am of the school of thought that believes scripture is the word of God (as far as it has been correctly translated) and each detail is in there for a reason. So when I read that Abraham armed his trained servants and that they were born in his own house it makes me ask why the Lord wanted me to know that detail. I'm not sure the answer in this instance but wonder if it might be that we should learn the great power and strength that can come from being untouched by the world. Lot, who chose to be part of that world is carried away captive as a result of his association with Sodom. But Abraham's trained servants who are unpolluted, untouched by anything other than what Abraham has taught them are strong enough not only to resist but defeat the pillaging kings and rescue Lot. They were brought up in righteousness, in Abraham's house from birth. Lot obviously found it difficult to live in the world and not be touched by it. Yet Abraham managed it. As our world becomes increasingly more wicked how do we live in the world without being touched by it as Lot was? Can we? Can we live as Abraham lived?
v.16 what is the result of Abraham's intervention? Lot and his family and all his goods are restored. This is full restoration of blessings
If we liken Abraham to Christ and Lot to us, what basic truth does this story teach us? 

The Lesson of the Two Kings
Genesis 14:17-24
After this rescue Abraham is approached by two kings. What happens next tells you everything you need to know about Abraham and the source of his confidence and strength.
Compare Genesis 14:17, 21-24 with Genesis 14:18-20.
After a victorious battle Abraham should be well within his rights to take the victor's spoils. Yet rather than taking spoils he gives of his own wealth to the King of Salem, Melchizedek. What is going on here? Consider these questions:
Why is Abraham not taking any of the victors spoils?
If he is not taking any, why does he insist that those local tribe leaders who helped him have their spoils?
In giving tithes what do you think Abraham is acknowledging?
It seems to me that Abraham was not interested in wealth, he had lots of it but he obviously was not interested in gathering it. He did not have a love for it.
v. 22-23  Accepting the spoils of war (which were likely originally stolen from Sodom and the other cities looted) would put Abraham in debt to the King of Sodom, who represents the wicked world. Abraham makes it clear that he does not want any association with the King of Sodom or therefore symbolically, the wickedness of the world or the leader of this wicked world, Satan.
However, Abraham does not force his beliefs on others and thus insists that the other tribal leaders get their spoils.
In giving his tithes to Melchizedek, Abraham is, in essence, offering thanks to the Lord. He is showing recognition that this victory was not his but the Lord's. Melchizedek (literally translated "king of righteousness") was the king of Salem (later called Jerusalem) and he was the officiating great high priest of the day and therefore both the representative and symbol of Christ. Thus the tithes figuratively become the spoils of victory and Abraham gives the spoils to the truly victorious King of Kings via Melchizedek.

The Parable of Sodom and Lot
Genesis 19:1-29
Many people suggest that much of the bible stories in the Old Testament are more parabolic than biographical. Job is a prime example of an Old Testament character that many say did not really live but whose story serves merely as a parable. I am more of the opinion that most of these characters did live AND that their lives served as parables to us. One such story is the story of the city of Sodom and Lot, it's most famous citizen. As you study it you will find a story rich in drama but also in context and meaning to us today. For that reason I have titled this section of scripture study, the Parable of Sodom and Lot.

v.1-2 When Lot first made his move away from Abraham he "pitched his tent toward Sodom". When we last saw him we are told that he "dwelt in Sodom" and now we are told he sat "in the gate of Sodom".  In ancient times to suggest someone "sat in the gate of the city" was akin to indicating that they held a civic position of authority. Lot has become firmly entrenched in Sodom and yet Peter tells us that Lot was a righteous man (cf 2 Peter 2:7-8). Peter's commentary suggests that Lot had to listen to unlawful deeds every day and they "vexed his righteous soul". This would lend credence to the idea that Lot sat in the gate of the city as a judge of Sodom. The obvious contrast in Lot is that he himself is righteous and yet he seems drawn to the wicked city. What do you think attracted Lot to Sodom?

Of course for all Lot's tolerance of this wicked city, things were about to change very quickly. Three angelic visitors are sent to rescue Lot from Sodom that night. Based on the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 18 and 19 we learn that these three angels were holy men (see footnote a. Genesis 18:22; 19:1,12).
Another sign of Lot's righteousness is that he recognizes these holy messengers, he warns them of the city's wickedness and hurries them into the protection of his home where he cleans and feeds them and protects them from a lusting and angry mob. When it is obvious to the Lord's messengers that Lot is truly converted, they step forward and take over, striking the mob with blindness (as they always could have) and start the process of evacuating Lot and his family from the city that is about to be destroyed because of its wickedness. What sins was Sodom guilty of? (cf Ezekiel 16:49-50) How do these sins compare to the sins of the world today?
v.12 is a great opportunity for Lot to save anyone and everyone he can. I have often thought of this as one of the great missionary scriptures. "For it becometh every man that hath been warned to warn his neighbour". Lot is being asked for referrals! Bring them out of this place! Gather them to Zion!
v.14 like the good member missionary Lot is, he goes to his children and their husbands. But they dont take him seriously. A likely modern version of their response is "Dad, its the middle of the night. Are you mad? Quit getting so excitable - take your pills and just go back to bed. Nothing's going to happen to the city. Haha! Goodnight Dad!" (cf 1Nephi 2:11-13) This was a common reaction in the old world and in the latter days)
Why do you think they did not listen to Lot or take him seriously in spiritual matters?
v.15 it is now the next morning and no one has evacuated. The messengers tell Lot to hurry up and take his wife and two daughters still at home, and leave the city immediately. Why? "lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city".
v.16 why did Lot "linger"? We know he is righteous. We know he believes the warnings. Why does he linger?  How much effort have we made in warning our families and friends, our loved ones? When the time comes will we feel responsible for not having warned them enough? The holy messengers have to drag Lot and his wife and two daughters away; "the Lord being merciful unto him". They are therefore separated from the wicked, being left outside the city. Notice in contrast Abraham had always kept himself separate from the wicked.
v.17 having separated Lot and his family the holy messengers give them four final instructions before leaving them.
  1. Escape for thy life
  2. Look not behind thee
  3. Neither stay thou in all the plain
  4. Escape to the mountain
Now I got so excited when I read this, I actually stopped my daughter from watching TV so that I could explain it to her. I love the scriptures they are so full, if you just search them! So consider this:

Sodom represents the world and Lot represents us.
We live in a world that is wicked. And we are told that at some point there will be a separation - the wheat from the tares; the righteous from the wicked. Before that happens though we are told that we must warn others (see v.12).
Some family or friends will accept the warnings, others wont. Some may even think you are a little crazy. (see v.14).
Whether or not they join you, you must separate yourself from the wickedness of the world, even if that means you lose loved ones in your life. (see v.15). Some of us may linger a bit in leaving behind those people and those things we love. Some may find it harder than others to do this. But the Lord wants us to know the time is at hand. Moreover the Lord, in his mercy will grab the righteous by the hand and drag us away if he has to. (see v. 16)
At some point we all need to make this decision to separate from the world (it may happen at our baptism, it may happen later in life) but when we do act on this decision and have separated ourselves from the wickedness of the world the Lord gives us 4 further instructions:
  1. Eternal life is at stake! ("Escape for thy life")
  2. Do not long for or go back to the ways of the world ("Look not behind thee")
  3. Do not even associate with it or get close to it ("Neither stay thou in all the plain")
  4. Go to the temple and partake of the saving ordinances and covenants ("escape to the mountain lest thou be consumed")
So the message this week to all that are "righteous" (have accepted the Lord and his gospel in their lives) is to remember that your are fighting for your eternal life. If you go back to your former ways or the ways of the world, if you even walk on the edge, sit on the fence, or peer over the city walls you will be consumed and destroyed with the wicked. The only way to guarantee survival is to escape from it all and become worthy of and partake in the saving ordinances and covenants of the temple. Therein lies eternal life.

Now read on:
v.18-20 What? Lot didn't want to go to the mountain? He didn't go? He delayed it again?
v.21-22 The Lord in his patience and mercy gives Lot time and allows him to stop instead in a smaller city that he promises not to destroy immediately. Lot understood he needed to escape. Lot got out of the wicked world but he is still not prepared to go to the temple. Instead he asks for more time. The Lord is merciful and gives Lot more time.
v.26 However Lot's lingering seems to have taken deeper root in his wife and she is unable to grasp even the concept of eternal life and "looked back", presumably returning to the wicked world. This return is a step too far. The Lord can, for a short season, tolerate us taking a bit longer to grasp principles and get to the temple but returning to our wicked ways or our former life will not be tolerated. Consider this statement from the Lord,
"No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" Luke 9:57-62
And thus, Lot's wife perishes in the destruction. The Lord was quite specific in wanting us to remember this particular tragic choice. When speaking of the last days to the Pharisees he says, "Remember Lot's wife." (Luke 17:32). And in the latter-days he repeated the instruction (cf Doctrine and Covenants 133:14-15). Speaking of Lot's wife, Elder Neal A. Maxwell said,
"Let us once and for all establish our residence in Zion and give up the summer cottage in Babylon" ("A Wonderful Flood of Light", BYU Devotional 26 March 1989)
On a lighter note, when I hear this story I am always reminded of the story from Thomas S Monson who related an experience of one youth sunday school teacher,
"The Sunday School teacher was describing how Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Little Johnny was much interested. 'My mother looked back once while she was driving,' he explained, 'and she turned into a telephone pole!' " (Favorite Quotations from the Collection of Thomas S. Monson [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 23
v.27-28 Meanwhile where is Abraham?  In the place where he stood before the Lord and where he can also see all the cities of the plain. It can be only one place. Abraham is in the mountain. Of course we would not expect anything less of Abraham. But it has more significance.
v.29 This final summary of the story of Sodom and Lot has an interesting turn of phrase,
 "It came to pass that when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow." 
Why did God set his hand to rescuing Lot? He remembered Abraham. On the face of it that seems to be a bit illogical. Lot was saved because Abraham was righteous and asked for Lot to be saved? Surely we cant rely on someone else to get us to heaven and partake of eternal life? Well in a way we can (cf Alma 10:22-23 the prayers of the righteous) but in a way, ultimately, no we cant...unless it is the Saviour.

And so the parable extends with Abraham is a type/symbol of both 1. our premortal Father in Heaven and 2. the Saviour, Jesus Christ, who was the only one to keep himself unspotted from this world.
As our Father in Heaven, he leads Lot (us) and guides Lot (us). While Lot is with him he protects Lot (us) and blesses Lot (us). When it comes time to separate from him and come to this mortal fallen world (see Genesis 13:10  "even as the garden of the Lord" -the plains where Lot first pitches his tent are compared to the Garden of Eden which Adam and Eve leave to enter the dark and dreary world) We are instructed to live in the world but not be of it. We must work to be an influence on the world rather than allow the world to influence us.
At some point holy messengers of God will give us a chance to set ourselves apart from the world, to be baptized and converted. It is not an easy process. We may lose loved ones on the way. We may take longer than is ideal but the ultimate goal is to gather to the temple and partake of the saving ordinances and covenants of the temple. And God in his mercy has provided a Saviour to plead on our behalf, to atone for our shortcomings as long as we never return to the wicked ways of the world. As if this was not enough consider the meaning of their names. Abraham is Father of a Multitude. Lot is a Covering. It would seem Lot's life was meant not only as a symbol of us but also as a reminder of the great covering sacrifice and Atonement that is necessary to our salvation.

We are instructed to gather to the temple. The temples are our refuge from destruction and our sanctuary of peace. But the Lord is aware that we are imperfect and is aware how slow we are to listen and how often we linger in error's gloomy way. He is merciful. He has provided a Saviour who pleads for us and whose sacrifice covers our sins of commission and our sins of omission. But we must never look back. Remember Lot and Remember Lot's wife.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 7: The Abrahamic Covenant

If you have a look at the map here you will notice a portion highlighted in green. It is here that we find the greatest concentration of conflict in the world currently. One of the core reasons for this is that many countries and people in the region believe that Israel stole its land from the Palestinians. These countries are agitating and urging others to fight for the Palestinians to take back the land they consider to be rightfully theirs. When we sit here in our comfortable homes and consider the Old Testament, it can sometimes be hard to fathom how these old stories impact our lives today. The truth is much of today's wars and political conflicts find their root in one particular aspect of an ancient covenant where God is said to have promised one particular man one particular parcel of land - we have come to know that land today as Israel and the person that God covenanted with was Abraham.

Today we will study Abraham and his covenant with the Lord. It is a covenant that has been largely forgotten by the world but was prophesied to be remembered in the latter-days. Malachi 4:5-6 and Doctrine and Covenants 2 both are widely and correctly interpreted as reflecting the great temple work we would do for our individual fathers or ancestors. But there is more. S. Michael Wilcox said,
"There are multiple meanings to Malachi’s prophecy, one of which centers on temple work for our individual fathers, or ancestors, who await in the spirit world."
"However, this text also refers to the promises made to the great patriarchs. In section 27 the Lord speaks of partaking of the sacrament with a number of ancient prophets—with Elijah “and also with Joseph and Jacob, and Isaac and Abraham, your fathers, by whom the promises remain” (D&C 27:10). In the latter days, the hearts of the seed of Abraham will turn to their patriarchal fathers and remember the promises made to them. They will desire the blessings of those promises as well as desire to fulfill the responsibilities associated with those promises." The Abrahamic Covenant, Ensign Jan 1998
Prior to Abraham:
In our first 6 weeks of Old Testament Study we have gone on a whirlwind tour of the first 1600-1700 years of the earth's existence from Adam down to Noah  and the Tower of Babel (not including the periods of time taken during the 7 creation periods). Today we are fast forwarding again but only by a couple of hundred years or so from the events of the Tower of Babel. In contrast to the last six weeks speeding through time, we will now spend the next 4 weeks studying just one man - Abraham. Having studied Adam and Noah, and grown to appreciate the incredible contribution they made to man's existence, why do you think there is so much emphasis placed on the life of Abraham?

Genesis 11:10-30
On our way down through the 10 generations between Noah and Abraham we pass Noah's son Shem. From Shem comes the origination of the term "Semitic" (Shemites) which is now recognized as one of the titles of the Jewish people. There is also some evidence that Shem may have been the mighty high priest, Melchizedek, to whom Abraham paid tithes.

Shem's great-grandson was called Eber (or "Heber"). According to Jewish tradition Eber refused to help build the Tower of Babel and was thus allowed by God to preserve their original pure language. This language, according to Jewish tradition was named after Eber (or Heber) and is what we call "Hebrew" today.

Eber's son, Peleg is forever identified with the time when the earth was divided. It is unclear what kind of division. Many believe the earth and the original single land mass was physically "divided" into the continents we know today by the flood that occurred some decades (maybe a century) before Peleg was born while some believe that it happened after Peleg was born or maybe was an ongoing process in those decades in between and during the flood and Peleg's birth (Genesis 10:32). Others believe the earth was "divided" socially into tribes and nations and languages  when the people were dispersed immediately after the Tower of Babel when Peleg was a young man (Genesis 10:5; 11:9). Others still believe that the earth was "divided" when the nations began fighting shortly after the Tower of Babel's events. Either way and in all ways, it seems Peleg was born into a period of great division and it is appropriate that his name in Hebrew has the definition of "division".

Peleg's grandson Serug is credited with being one of the first in Shem's line to turn to idol worship. By now he had settled in the city of Ur, by the Euphrates river in lower Mesopotamia (believed by some to be modern-day Southern Iraq, and by others to be in Northern Syria/Southern Turkey).

By the time we reach Serug's grandson, Terah, the family line is very strongly entrenched in idol worship and have distorted the teachings of the early patriarchs and prophets and are considered wicked. There are some ancient texts that suggest Terah was a high-ranking priest in this idol-worshipping sect and that he may even have had a business selling idols. Terah is reported to have had 3 sons. One of these sons he named Abram, later known as Abraham (Genesis 17:5; 1 Chronicles 1:27).

Please recognize that even though we have traveled through a number of generations, when Abraham is born, Noah is still alive, Shem is still alive and all of the previously mentioned generations of Abraham were still alive. From the ancient texts we do have, they seem to have spread out across the lands and may not have been in close contact with each other, nevertheless they were all still living at the time of Abraham's birth. It is during this time however that the lifespan of the patriarchs seems to diminish greatly. Noah lived until he was 950 yrs old and Shem lived over 600 yrs but by the time Abraham was born (although Noah and Shem were both still alive) the more average lifespan appeared to be more around 170-200yrs.

Abraham's story should serve as a great example and encouragement to all those in broken homes who suffer from abuse or depression or a lack of fulfillment and who seek happiness. The very first thing we learn of Abraham is that he had figured out his home was not a happy place and that he needed to get out of that harmful situation. Somehow he figured out there was more to life than the abuse and wickedness and corruptness he was raised in.

Abraham 1:2-4 spiritual departure from wicked traditions
What sets Abraham apart from his father here?
Look for the verbs that describe Abraham's actions: 'finding', 'sought', 'desiring', 'desiring', and 'sought'.
Do you get the impression that Abraham was idly wishing for these things? How bad do you think Abraham wanted this?
What were the results of Abraham actively finding, seeking and desiring these things?
"I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers"
What else did Abraham seek for in verse 4?
"I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed"
Abraham directly sought out this promise and blessing and covenant, the same covenant that had been promised to Adam and to Noah. He knew of it and sought to obtain it for himself.

Abraham 1:1; 2:1-6 physical departure from wicked traditions, departure from physical death (his brother Haran) - symbolizing possible departure from spiritual death also? Interesting to see he took his father with him, or his father followed after him. Does this suggest his father repented and followed Abraham spiritually also?  The fact that his father "turned again unto his idolatry" (see v.5) suggests this was indeed the case.
Note also his father was likely humbled by the Lord with the famine and the death of his son (v.1) but then returned to his wicked ways once his comfort levels returned. How often do we remember our God in times of trials only to give him up in pursuit of other things once we are over the trials and times are good again? Eg. do we become more consistent and sincere in prayer and fasting when times are tough only to return to less consistent and less heartfelt ways afterwards?

Obviously, Abraham had not moved far away enough from the traditions of his fathers. In fact they followed him. Thus the Lord commanded Abraham to move further away. What kind of bad traditions/bad habits follow us in our life? Do we do enough to remove ourselves from those things or to leave those things behind in our lives? The overwhelming message from God and Abraham when faced with wickedness, abuse and corruption is "get out, get out, get out!"

The Abrahamic Covenant (Blessings and responsibilities):
It is important to remember that any promise of blessing from the Lord carries with it an instruction of responsibility. As the Lord blesses Abraham, he is also binding him to certain responsibilities. And so it is with us and the everlasting covenant, patriarchal blessings and so forth. Likewise, as we carry out certain responsibilities we bind the Lord to deliver certain blessings (cf Doctrine and Covenants 82:10).

As we study Abraham's covenant with the Lord, consider using this same method to review your own personal patriarchal blessing. In highlighting the relevance of certain responsibilities with specific blessings, I am sure you will find a new level of clarity in understanding and appreciation of this personal blessing to you from the Lord.

Part 1(Abraham 2, Genesis 12 - Abraham is 75 yrs old)
We do not know what Abraham's prayer was about in Abraham 2 that led to the appearance described both in Abraham 2 and Genesis 12 but once again he is seeking and looking for guidance and answers. As Oliver Cowdery noted in his footnotes at the end of the Joseph Smith History portion of the Pearl of Great Price, the Lord is,
"ever-willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble". 
And indeed in verse 6 of Abraham 2 we see the Lord answers Abraham's prayer and proceeds to instruct him and bless him.

Genesis 12:1 Leave thy country, thy people, thy family (give it all up, leave all the wicked influences behind)
I will give thee a land and a people and family (receive it all back)
Abraham 2:6; Genesis 12:1"a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession". Consider how much bloodshed has centred around this parcel of land. Why did the Lord apportion this land to Abraham and his children/descendants/heirs? What is so special about it? Why did others lose the right to the land or why could they not share it?
Abraham 2:9; Genesis 12:2 "I will make of thee a great nation"
Abraham 2:9; Genesis 12:2 "Bless thee above measure"
Abraham 2:9; Genesis 12:2 "Make thy name great among all nations" (consider this today in relation to the 3 major religions of the world Christianity, Islam and Judaism - all today revere him as a great prophet, Father Abraham. A rare commonality between warring religions today)
Abraham 2:9; Genesis 12:2 "Thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee"
Abraham 2:9 Thy seed "shall bear this ministry and Priesthood"
Abraham 2:10 those who receive the gospel "shall be called after thy name, shall be accounted thy seed, shall rise up and bless thee as their father."
Abraham 2:11; Genesis 12 :3 Lord will "bless them that bless" and "curse them that curse" Abraham.
Abraham 2:11; Genesis 12:3 "in thy seed...shall all the families of the earth be blessed with the blessings of the Gospel" (salvation and eternal life).

Instructions to seed who wish to be part of this covenant and recipient of the blessings:
Abraham 2:6 Thy seed must "hearken unto my voice"
Abraham 2:9 Thy seed must "bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations"

Now I'm no contractual expert but it seems pretty clear that this is a very one-sided contract. Compare the number of instructions to the number of blessings Abraham received. It reminds me of the great talk King Benjamin gave at the General Conference of c.124 BC (cf Mosiah 2:19-24). The Lord seeks to bless us immeasurably at every possible opportunity.

Notice also the eternal parallels:
A land of promise - A celestial kingdom (Doctrine and Covenants 88:17-20)
A great posterity - Eternal marriage and increase (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-22)
Gospel blessings and priesthood - Exaltation and eternal life (Doctrine and Covenants 132:23-24)
Now consider the questions we asked earlier regarding why Abraham had been promised the specific parcel of land and why he could not share it with just anyone. But this time consider them within the context of the land being a symbol of the celestial kingdom. Why is the celestial kingdom saved for only a chosen few who are called children of Christ? What is so special about the promised land of the celestial kingdom? How do others lose their right to it?

Part 2 (Genesis 17: 1-9 - Abraham is now 99 yrs old)
There are two ways to view this repetition of the covenant.
Either this was the first formal application of the covenant or this was a renewal of the covenant. Potentially the promise of blessings in Genesis 12 and Abraham 2 was just that - a promise of being able to partake of the covenant in the future, much like we promise new members that they can partake of sacred covenants in the temple when they are ready. In that initial invitation Abraham is instructed to leave unholy places, essentially as preparation to receive this covenant.
Alternatively, Abraham partook of the covenant initially and is now renewing this covenant. The fact that the Lord gives Abraham a new token of the covenant suggest it may well have been a renewal and a reminder of the covenant already made. And that raises the question why? Why did the Lord feel the need to renew this covenant with Abraham 24 years later? What other covenants does the Lord have us renew and why?
But whether it be freshly undertaken or renewed, it is clear the Lord made great promises to Abraham as he did to Adam and to Noah and other of the great patriarchs, before and after Abraham.

Instructions when he was 99yrs old:
Genesis 17:1 "walk before me"
Genesis 17:1 "be thou perfect"
Blessings when he was 99 yrs old:
Genesis 17:1 "and be thou perfect" (not sure if this is an instruction or a blessing that comes from walking before God. It is possible the sentence structure is showing a cause and effect statement. Cause/action= walk before me, Effect/result= and be thou perfect or in other words the Lord may be saying if you walk before me you will become perfect or complete.)
Genesis 17:2 I will "multiply thee exceedingly" (remember Abraham has lived almost 25 years with this promise but is still childless with Sarah and just one son, Ishmael, with Hagar the handmaiden)
Genesis 17:4 "thou shalt be a father of many nations"
Genesis 17:6 "I will make thee exceeding fruitful"
Genesis 17:6 "I will make nations of thee"
Genesis 17:6 "Kings shall come out of thee"

Name change: The tradition of changing a name to signify or authenticate a covenant or promise is an ancient one that still exists day. Consider the marriage covenant today where a young woman signifies or authenticates that she is indeed in covenant with her husband by taking upon her the name of her husband. The scriptures are full of this marriage symbolism between the Lord and his people. He considers us his chosen people and in entering the covenant we take upon us his name.
In this particular covenant, the Lord gives Abraham a new name. Originally named Abram he is now told his new name with immediate effect will be Abraham. Many believe that changed the meaning from "Exalted Father" to "Father of Many" and is also indicated in our Bible Dictionary to mean this which would be highly indicative of the covenant blessings Abraham was promised. But there are a couple of other thoughts on this. Jeff Benner of the Ancient Hebrew Research Centre said,
"While many suggest that Abram means "exalted father" and Abraham means "father of a multitude", both names in fact mean exactly the same thing "father lifted up" or "exalted father". The beginning of both names is אב (AB) meaning "father". The "ram" in Abram is דם meaning "lifted", a parent root. The "raham" in Abraham is רהם also means "lifted"...It does not make much sense to change a name if the new name means the same thing. This is why many attempt to make a change in meaning. But, to understand the real meaning behind a name change is important for understanding why God changed his name and the names of others such as Jacob to Israel.
In Genesis chapters one and two we have the naming of all of creation. We find that Adam named Eve, his children and all of the animals, while God named the light, darkness, sky and land. From this we find something very interesting. Adam had authority over his wife, children and the animals, while God has authority over the light, darkness, sky and land. If you have authority over something, you have the right and responsibility to name it. Abram was named by his father Terah, the one who had authority over him. But, when Abram left his father's house and headed out on his own, God, who respected the authority of Terah previously, now takes the role of his authority and changes his name indicating a change in authority, not necessarily a change in character."
Another alternative is to take the root form "Ab" meaning "father" and then "raham" that can be interpreted as mercy and compassion (see Hosea 1:6). Compassion is not quite strong enough for the literal meaning. Phrases such as tender mercy and deep compassion and unbreakable bond would be more appropriate for a true understanding of the word. Within that context, imagine what the Lord is saying to Abraham as he gives him this name and covenant.

I don't think we need to get caught up too much further in what his name actually did or didn't mean. Suffice it to say this was a highly personal and meaningful moment between the Lord and Abraham and both undertook the covenant in love, intent on honouring it. This process of receiving a new name and new tokens will be familiar to all faithful saints who undertake the new and everlasting covenant within the holy temple.
Heirs to the Covenant:
Genesis 17:7 "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations..."
The blessings promised to Abraham were also promised to his descendants. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said,
“The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs” (“How One May Become of the House of Israel,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1923, 1149)
Read also Galatians 3:7-9, 29
We who have taken upon us the name of Christ and been baptized by immersion to signify this are heirs to the covenant. So let's remind ourselves of the specific instructions for Abraham's descendants who wish to receive the blessings:
Instructions to Abraham's seed who wish to be part of this covenant and recipient of the blessings:
Abraham 2:6 Thy seed must "hearken unto my voice"
Abraham 2:9 Thy seed must "bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations"

S. Michael Wilcox spoke of this responsibility when he said,
"If a member of the church is to bless the world and thus fulfill the obligation inherent in the Abrahamic covenant, he or she must be aware of two attitudes that hinder the effective influencing of the world for righteousness; being of the world, or like it; and being above the world or aloof from others not yet part of the covenant...we must guard against them" 1989 Sperry Symposium on The Old Testament
These two attitudes are best illustrated by the children of Israel, throughout the Old Testament, who desired too often to become like the world and by the Pharisees, in the New Testament, who overcompensated for the children of Israel's desire by becoming too aloof with the world. We need to find a balance in the middle where we are in the world but not of it.
Read Abraham 2:15-16 I love these verses. It gives us another little insight into the kind of man Abraham was. He honored his covenant including his missionary work! He won souls and they followed him to the promised land. To be worthy of the great blessings of the Abrahamic covenant we too must share the gospel with others. In living this way, we too may be able to one day say "eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation".

Friday, February 7, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 6: Noah...Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House

Matthew 24:37-38 "As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" 

This week's lesson is intended to show how God in his mercy, just as in the days of Noah, gives mankind as much time as possible to repent. It is also intended to show that God gives instructions to the righteous that if followed will provide the righteous Saints sanctuary from the ever-increasing waves of wickedness in the world.
Vaughn J Featherstone in his talk "Holiness to the Lord" said,
"The season of the world before us will be like no other in the history of mankind. Satan has and will unleash every evil, every scheme, every blatant vile perversion ever known to man in any generation. Just as this dispensation is the fullness of times, so it is also the dispensation of the fullness of evil. We and our wives and husbands, our children, and our members must find safety. There is no safety in the world; wealth cannot provide it, enforcement agencies cannot assure it, membership alone in this Church will not guarantee it."

Introduction and recap:
In our last study we learned of Enoch. Enoch and his city were so righteous that they were removed from the earth and taken into heaven. However Enoch's son, Methuselah, was not taken. Why was Methuselah left behind? Moses 8:1-2.
As part of the covenant the Lord made with Enoch, He promised Enoch that his seed would run through Noah's line and thus his seed would be preserved. And so Methuselah needed to remain on earth to produce and raise that seed. Now, as it was, his son Lamech already was born so why do you think it was important for Methuselah to stay behind still? How did his presence help fulfill the covenant? I wonder if he was there to be a guiding influence in the life of his grandson or whether as the "youngest" in the family line with the office of high priest he was needed so as to be able to ordain Noah to that office? Either way it must have been a somewhat lonely task I would imagine after seeing the faithful city of Zion and all your strength and friendships removed. Imagine seeing your local ward or stake being translated and you are left to yourself on earth, just you and your family. Would you be strong enough to resist the evils of the world and guide your family? How strong would you need to be? What a great man Methuselah must have been.

Now to give you an idea of the timeline - according to Genesis 5.
When Adam died aged 930 yrs old
his son Seth was 800 yrs old
his grandson Enos was 695 yrs old
his great grandson Cainan was 605 yrs old
his great great grandson Mahalaleel was 535 yrs old
his great great great grandson Jared was 470 yrs old
his great great great great grandson Enoch was 308 yrs old (just 122yrs before Enoch and Zion were taken from the earth)
his great great great great great grandson Methuselah was 243 yrs old (Methuselah lived to be 969 yrs old and was 365 yrs old when his dad Enoch and Zion were taken from the earth)
his great great great great great great grandson Lamech was 56 yrs old (was 178 when Enoch and Zion were taken from the earth and 182 when Noah was born)
Noah was born just 4 years after the city of Enoch was taken from the earth and 126 years after Adam died and was likely part of the first or second generation not to have personally known father Adam or be ordained by him (see list of ordinations Doctrine and Covenants 107:41-57).

It must have been a quite fascinating age to live in among all of those great patriarchs at one time. There is an interesting quote by the Jewish historian Josephus concerning the longevity of the prophets back then. He states,
"Let no one, upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives, and with the few years which we now live, think that what we have said of them is false;...for those ancients were beloved of God...and because their food was then fitter for the promulgation of life...and besides, God afforded them a longer time of life on account of their virtue and the good use they made of it in astronomical and geometrical discoveries...Now I have for witnesses to what I have said all those that have written Antiquities...that the ancients lived a thousand years"
Whatever the reason for their longevity, many records do bear witness of their longevity.
Be that as it may, essentially 1099 yrs passed between creation and Noah as recorded in the bible.

What had been accomplished in that first 1000 years? Mankind had multiplied as commanded and started to divide as is the eternal order of things to create opposites thus creating choice and therefore growth. Establishment of a righteous people v establishment of a wicked people. But in taking Zion into heaven the balance on earth had shifted towards wickedness. 

What do we know about Noah before the flood?
  • Noah was ordained to the priesthood at just 10 yrs of age by Methuselah who had been ordained to the priesthood by Adam when he (Methuselah was 100 yrs old). What does this suggest about Noah?
  • Noah's name means Rest or Comfort (see Moses 8:9; Genesis 5:29) What does this suggest about how Methuselah and Lamech had found the work since Zion had left the earth?
  • Noah and his sons were called the sons of God as they hearkened unto God and were given His Holy Priesthood (Moses 8:13,19).
  • Noah was almost killed by giants but the Lord protected him and saved him by his power (Moses 8:18) Who were these giants?
  • Noah was considered a just man and perfect in his generation and walked with God and found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Moses 8:27) What does it mean to be perfect in his generation? Are there different perfections for different generations? I think this maybe the second definition of perfection. He wasn't perfect as in without sin for all man sins. But he was perfect as in complete, whole, or with integrity throughout his whole life.
  • Noah became a preacher of righteousness, preaching the gospel of faith in the Christ to come, repentance of sins, baptism by immersion and reception of the Holy Ghost (Moses 8:16, 23-24)
  • Noah holds the keys to a dispensation and stands next to Adam in authority (see LDS BD Noah). As Adam symbolizes newborn man, so Noah symbolizes reborn man. Nicodemus asked Christ how it was possible that man could be born a second time despite having it right there in the scriptures. If Nicodemus had looked closer at his scriptures what Christ taught him should have made a lot of sense. Mankind was reborn through Noah and in that sense Noah is very much a type of Christ.
  • Noah is also known as the angel Gabriel, who visited Daniel, Mary, and Zacharias.
The World:
What was going on in the world as Noah preached? 
  • Others claimed to be priesthood holders and claimed to be sons of God but did not listen to God and were thus became known as sons of men. How did they try to justify themselves? (Moses 8:21) "We got married, we multiplied, our kids are big and strong - see! we are righteous!" "BUT they hearkened not unto the words of Noah". How might we be in danger of being like these people?
  • Daughters of God also marrying unrighteous men.
  • The wickedness of men had become great. Every man lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually. (see Moses 8:14-15, 20-22)
  • The earth was corrupt and filled with violence (Moses 8:28
How is today's world similar?  How close do you think we are to the times spoken of in Matthew and Luke when it will be as in the times of Noah?

What ultimatum did the Lord give, (remembering he has been laboring with these people since the time of Enoch)? Moses 8:17 God gives the people another 120 years to repent. How merciful is the Lord? Genesis 7:6 also indicates that the Lord only gave the 120 year ultimatum after he had already given them 484 years previously, to repent (since Enoch and Zion were taken from the earth).
There had been wickedness on the earth before. Why was this so different that the entire earth needed to be flooded and all life killed? What do you think was the last straw for God? The scriptures are too general for us to tell but certainly a theme was that God and the prophets were no longer listened to, the world had become a world of violence, and man chose evil over good continually. Even the children of the righteous were turning to evil it seems. Did you notice who made it into the ark? Genesis 7:13 Where were Noah's grandchildren or his other children?

Lessons of The Ark:
Noah is commanded to build an ark to save his immediate family and other life on earth.  President Spencer W. Kimball explained that when Noah built the ark, 
 “there was no evidence of rain and flood. … His warnings were considered irrational. … How foolish to build an ark on dry ground with the sun shining and life moving forward as usual! But time ran out. The ark was finished. The floods came. The disobedient and rebellious were drowned. The miracle of the ark followed the faith manifested in its building”
What commandments have we been given that might appear foolish to others?
President Ezra Taft Benson said,
“The revelation to produce and store food may be as essential to our temporal welfare today as boarding the ark was to the people in the days of Noah”
How many of us have a years supply food storage for the whole family?

What can we learn from the instructions Noah receives in building the ark? Genesis 6:13-16 
  • The ark was sealed within and covered without with pitch. The Hebrew word for this pitch was "kopher" which literally means covering. What do we have today that seals us and completely covers us and if used fully can prevent us from being engulfed in the waters of wickedness? The Atonement of Jesus Christ provides that sealing and covering effect in our lives.
  • The ark was given three levels/stories symbolic of Solomon's temple that had three rooms representing the three kingdoms, or the three degrees of glory.
  • The ark is one of only 3 structures in the Bible that the Lord gives precise measurements for its construction - ark, ark of the covenant, Solomon's temple. All of these were places of sanctuary and peace and holiness. It seems the Lord is asking us to be very careful and very precise. One leak, one entry point for the water could sink the whole boat. (Consider the Titanic - supposedly unsinkable and yet there was a weakness. Are our lives, our homes more like the Titanic or the Ark?)
It is clear we are meant to view Noah's ark as a type of temple and a type of the Atonement. In that light it is interesting to note that Elder Vaughn J Featherstone said
"Endowed faithful members of the Church who keep all their covenants including the sacred coverings will be safe as [if they were] protected behind temple walls. The covenants and ordinances are filled with faith as a living fire. "
he continued by saying
"Before the Savior comes the world will darken. There will come a time when even the elect will begin to lose hope if they do not come to the temples. The world will be so filled with evil that the righteous will only feel secure through their faith in Christ and within the temple walls. I believe the Saints will come to the temples not only to do vicarious work but to find a God-given haven of peace. The true and faithful Latter-day Saints will long to bring their children to our temples for safety's sake."
What are we doing to become more temple-attending people/families/individuals? How does the temple and the covenants and ordinances within, strengthen us and cover us against the world? How can we make our homes more water tight?

The Flood:
Genesis 7;
v.6 Noah is 600 yrs old
v.10 It begins on the 17th day of the second month of his 600th year
v.11 source of flooding: "fountains of the great deep broken up", "windows of heaven were opened"
v.12 rain is upon earth for 40 days and nights
v24; 8:3 waters prevailed upon the earth 150 days
Genesis 8
v.4 ark rests on mountains of Ararat on 17th day of seventh month
v.5 tops of mountains seen on the 1st day of the tenth month
v.13 waters dried up face of the ground dried on 1st day of first month of his 601st year
v.14 earth dried 27th day of second month of 601st year.

We know God to be a God of Love. Yet here a whole world is wiped out, slaughtered. How does this measure up to the God of Love that we all know and identify with?
President John Taylor gave this insight,
"I will go back to show you how the Lord operates. He destroyed a whole world at one time save a few...And why? This people were not only very wicked themselves, but having the power to propagate their species, they transmitted their unrighteous natures and desires to their children, and brought them up to indulge in their own wicked practices. And the spirits that dwelt in the eternal worlds knew this...And supposing ourselves to be of the number of unborn spirits, would it not be fair to presume that we would appeal to the Lord, crying...'Is it just that we who are now pure should take of such bodies?'"
It is contrary to the plan to allow us to come into a world where it is so wicked that there is essentially a lack of choice. It would have been unfair to the unborn spirits to send them into that environment and ask them to choose good when there was no good to choose from. Thus we see it was in fact an act of mercy and love and justice and it was vital to the plan of salvation.

Noah's family Ark experience is an entire year! Why did they wait so long to leave the ark? Why did they wait another month after they saw the surface of the earth was dry, for the earth to be completely dry?

What did Noah do after he left the ark? JST Genesis 9:4-6 made sacrifices, gave thanks, rejoiced.

Was it a global flood? Many Christians are now suggesting this was a localized flood (as there is very little scientific evidence of a global flood) but based on the spiritual symbolism of baptism by immersion I remain of the disposition that this was indeed a flood that covered the entire earth.
Elder Mark E Peterson said,
"The flood had a far greater purpose than to merely to wipe out Noah's neighbours. God baptized the earth. He would not baptize a portion of it any more than we would be satisfied with a partial immersion if we were baptizing some person"
President Fielding Smith said,
"...this earth was born in water. Before the land appeared the whole sphere was covered with water. [Then, with the flood of Noah, it was born again]."
However rather than getting hung up on the physical aspects of the flood I believe it is far more important for us to learn from and focus on the spiritual lessons of the flood.

The Rainbow Covenant:
Genesis 6:18 "with thee will I establish my covenant" What is His covenant? It is his "everlasting covenant" - the same covenant he made with all the prophets, with Adam and with Enoch and later with Abraham and that we know now as the Abrahamic covenant. It would appear that the rainbow may also have been a symbol of this covenant before Noah.
What did this covenant include? Moses 7:50-52, 62-63; JST Genesis 9:21-25
With Enoch:
  • Enoch's seed/posterity would be preserved through Noah
  • Remnant of Enoch's seed should always be found among all nations
  • The city of Zion will return to the earth when men keep all the commandments
  • Earth might never more be covered by the floods.
With Noah:
  • Remnant of Noah's seed should always be found among all nations
  • The city of Zion shall look downwards and be reunited with the righteous on the earth
  • There will never be a flood to destroy the earth again
The rainbow was established as the symbol/token of this covenant.
Covenants are two-way binding agreements. There is no doubt that Enoch and Noah's part in this covenant included keeping the commandments. The two main commandments the Lord reminded Noah of immediately after the flood was not to kill and to be fruitful and multiply. Why is God so insistent on us multiplying, to the point that he commands it? Having seed is one of the great blessings of mortality AND eternity. It is the central unit not only of mortal society but immortal society also. And those that are unable to have seed in this life, if they remain faithful to the commandments will have seed in the eternities.
One of the great blessings of this covenant was also based around Enoch and Noah's posterity/seed. When you look at the animals brought onto the ark the message there too is not just about survival but also multiplying each species They were brought in two by two, male and female obviously with the plan not for individual survival but to preserve and propagate the species. It would appear that much of the Lord's plan revolves around the need to multiply and have seed, and families, and that this rainbow was as much a token of that as it was a reminder that there would be no such flood again. How clever of Satan then to distort that token in today's world to stand for a lifestyle that is in direct conflict with that eternal commandment to multiply and have seed.

The Lord also makes it clear that the rainbow placed between the heavens and the earth would be a symbol for those righteous on earth looking upwards and for those in the heavens looking downwards. See JST Genesis 9:21-23; Moses 7:62-64. This is going to be a glorious  and very emotional reunion. All of this is part of the great Rainbow Covenant the Lord made with Enoch and Noah and is available to all flesh.

Interestingly, Joseph Smith referred to this token. He records that he inquired of the Lord concerning his coming and was told by the Lord,
" any year that the bow should be seen the Lord would not come;...but whenever you see the bow withdrawn, it shall be a token that there shall be famine, pestilence, and great distress among the nations, and that the coming of the Messiah is not far distant."
So keep looking out for those rainbows!

Tower of Babel:
Genesis 11:1-9

By Genesis 11 it seems this great covenant symbolized by the rainbow in the sky was not enough to satisfy the people and instead of waiting on the Lords time they took it upon themselves to make the reunion between heaven and earth happen there and then. The very fact that they attempt to build a city and a tower of bricks and slime (yuk!) to reach heaven or possibly the city of Zion shows that they had decided against following the true way to heaven. They wanted a shortcut. They were unwilling to follow the true way. Jesus Christ is the true way. They could not wait for Christ. They had no faith in Christ but rather had only their own pride and vain ambitions to become as God. (cf John 14:6)
Once again we see Satan's handiwork. If he cannot convince people they are nothing if worthless mere mortals he will instead flatter their pride and convince them they can overthrow God.

If nothing else the story of the flood and the ark teaches us that the way to become AS God is not found in shortcuts. There is no smooth easy path. It comes through testing, through time, through preparation, through faith, through biding the floods of life within our own spiritual arks whether they be our own souls, our homes or the great temples of the latter-days.
The times are fast approaching where we find ourselves living "as in the days of Noah". Our world is consumed with violence, and multiplication of the species has been replaced with gratification of the species, in many perverse ways. The world no longer hearkens unto the voice of God or His prophets. The time is close and at hand. We would be advised to ponder the story of Noah closely for his life can be a great example of how to save our own families in the coming days.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 5: If Thou Doest Well, Thou Shalt Be Accepted
Abel and Cain

Today's lesson centres around some counsel the Lord gave Cain, the brother of Abel. In Moses 5:23 we read the Lord telling Cain,
"If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted"
"If thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door"

Today we will study the lives of two contrasting people, Cain and Enoch.
Enoch does well and is accepted. Cain does not do well and is ultimately rejected.

"If Thou Doest Not Well": the life of Cain
Moses 5:16
"ceased not": What a great example from our first parents. Also when you consider their holiness and dedication to the gospel, and then consider how at least one of their sons turned out, maybe we should not be so quick to condemn parents whose children are wayward.
Also by way of comfort to such parents, Elder Richard G Scott offered this advice:
“Many of you have heavy hearts because a son or daughter, husband or wife, has turned from righteousness to pursue evil. My message is for you. Your life is filled with anguish, pain, and, at times, despair. I will tell you how you can be comforted by the Lord. First, you must recognize two foundation principles: 1) While there are many things you can do to help a loved one in need, there are some things that must be done by the Lord. 2) Also, no enduring improvement can occur without righteous exercise of agency. Do not attempt to override agency. The Lord himself would not do that. Forced obedience yields no blessings (see D&C 58:26-33). I will suggest seven ways you can help. First, love without limitations. …Second, do not condone the transgressions, but extend every hope and support to the transgressor…Third, teach truth…Fourth, honestly forgive as often as is required…Fifth, pray trustingly, ‘The…fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much’ (James 5:16)…Sixth, keep perspective…When the things you realistically can do to help are done, leave the matter in the hands of the Lord and worry no more. Do not feel guilty because you cannot do more. Do not waste your energy on useless worry…In time, you will feel impressions and know how to give further help. You will find more peace and happiness, will not neglect others that need you, and will be able to give greater help because of that eternal perspective… One last suggestion—Never give up on a loved one, never!”
Orson F Whitney previously offered his wise perspective on the same topic,
"You parents of the wilful and the wayward: Don't give them up. Don't cast them off. They are not utterly lost. The shepherd will find his sheep. They were his before they were yours--long before he entrusted them to your care; and you cannot begin to love them as he loves them. They have but strayed in ignorance from the Path of Right, and God is merciful to ignorance. Only the fulness of knowledge brings the fulness of accountability. Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable, than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend."
"who is the Lord that I should know him": is this a "I dont believe in God" statement or something else? cf v.18

Moses 5:17
"Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground": not to disparage the many noble farmers out there but there seems to be a little symbolism here with Abel representing The Good Shepherd and Cain representing the Disturber of the Earth - Satan. Can you see other areas where this symbolism and parallelism is apparent?

Moses 5:18
"And Cain loved Satan more than God": what does that even mean? This is not your usual flawed, just-find-it-tough-to-keep-the-commandments kind of person. This is not even a person who just doesn't care. He actually loved Satan, and more than God. What attracted him to Satan?
Satan commanded Cain to make an offering unto the Lord: what? why? what's going on here? what is Satan's motive here in getting Cain to make offerings to the Lord? Can we learn anything useful from this strange commandment that can help us today?

Moses 5:21
Cain's offering was not acceptable to the Lord: why not? cf Moses 5:5-7 Does this help us understand why Cain's offering was rejected. What does this tell us about the sacrifices and offerings we make today?
"Now Satan knew this and it pleased him": was this all part of Satan's plan? How did he know Cain's offering would not be acceptable?
"Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell": what does this mean? Obviously he is upset but why does he care. I thought he loved Satan more anyway? What does it mean his countenance fell? cf Alma 5:14

Moses 5:23
"if thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted": simple lesson, what do we need to do to be accepted of the Lord?
"if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door": is "not doing well" the real problem? No. The real problem is that not doing well takes you closer to the edge (door) where sin is. But even then we can be saved if we "hearken unto (his) commandments". Watch this video of David Bednar explaining the same principle.

Notice the Lord says "except thou shalt hearken unto my shall be unto according to his desire": Who's desire? cf 2 Nephi 2:26 the Atonement frees us from Satan's grasp so that we can act for ourselves and not be acted upon. What a waste of the Atonement if we then willingly return to a state where we can no longer act for ourselves again but are instead acted upon.
This reminds me of a quote, that I love and has been attributed to Cecil B DeMille and Sterling W Sill and Anonymous! Whoever said it, I love it:
"I have found that Satan frees men to bind men: God binds men to free men".  
Today our world is often complaining of the restrictiveness of God's laws. If only they could see that these restrictions in fact free them from the deadly vice-like grip of Satan. (cf v33 oh the irony of Cain's statement!)
"it shall be unto thee according to his desire", "And thou shalt rule over him": one is a mortal consequence and the other is an eternal consequence.
This marks a pretty stern rebuking for Cain. Is he currently doomed? NO. He is being warned. How did Cain react to his rebuking? see v.26

Moses 5:26-33
what do we learn about Cain's personality and character in these verses? Very similar to Satan. I wonder why he did not choose to follow Satan in the premortal sphere. In a way he was smarter than Satan because at least he waited until he had a body before he rebelled! But they both seemed beset by the same pride, arrogance and greed and illusions of grandeur. I mean he called himself the Master Mind or The Great One. cf v.31 "that I may get gain", v.33"surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands" Did you notice the same pattern Satan followed in thinking that if he killed Christ, that he would gain control over the souls of all men.

Moses 5:36
up to now it appears that the serpent/Satan has been cursed and the earth was cursed for Adams sake but Cain becomes the first person that we know of to be cursed. Why?

Moses 5:37
"when thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength": I find this a fascinating consequence. Presumably Cain had some skills in farming but here those skills are taken away. It was not the earth cursed, but Cain - he lost the light, the knowledge, the ability he had, through disobedience. cf Doctrine and Covenants 93:39

Moses 5:39
"he that findeth me will slay me": is this is the very first time anyone on earth experienced death? If not, it was certainly the first time anyone on earth had experienced murder in their midst, and of a loved one. I imagine it was the same shock we experienced on 9/11 multiplied 100 times over. To suddenly see it in their midst for the very first time must have been incredibly shocking. You can understand therefore Cain's belated worry about his brothers and sisters reactions to his actions. I note also a tendency from Cain for self-pity. His first reaction we read of could possibly be interpreted as a complaint that he doesn't think he sees enough of the Lord. He wants more attention and he doesn't care where he gets it from as we see when we learn he loves Satan more than God. But he still gets angry when the Lord does not accept his offering. I wonder here whether Cain confuses his offering being rejected, with the thought that maybe the Lord rejected him. "Nobody loves me" syndrome. And now that his actions catch up with him we find he is no longer able to be near the Lord or any of his original family. Cain is a very tragic and pitiful character.

Moses 5:41
"with his wife and many of his brethren": Cain did not roam the world alone as some suggest. Rather, just like Satan, he took a host with him. Notice again the theme of division.

In the end it is clear, Cain consistently did not do well, did not follow commandments, did not take advice well, did not repent, and eventually got too close to sin - ultimately murdering his brother.

If Thou Doest Well: the life of Enoch
Before we study the life of Enoch, take a moment to reflect how blessed we are to have latter-day revelation. Genesis gives us just 6 verses on who Enoch was and most of that is genealogy. Compare that to the 100 verses we find in Moses 6-7. These additional insights are again precious in understanding how to do well in life. Is it any wonder again that Satan found a way to have them removed from the book of Genesis?  But we do get to hear about another Enoch who built a city a city of Enoch - Cain's son! (Genesis 4:17)

Moses 6:26
"Spirit of God...abode upon him": this is our first indication that Enoch did well in his life. Notice the "abode" implies more than just a temporary or brief visit. What can we do to have the Spirit abide with us more permanently?

Moses 6:31
"bowed himself": compare this humble man to the prideful and angry Cain. What is the first characteristic that marks a life done well? Humility.
"but a lad", "people hate me", "slow of speech": Enoch asks a good question, why did you choose me - I'm inexperienced, unliked and I'm not a preacher?! Why does the Lord choose such people?

Moses 6:32-34
The Lord requires Enoch to have faith. How great was Enoch' faith? cf Moses 7:13
 “Don’t worry about being successful. We are going to be successful—there is no doubt about it. The Lord has sent us to earth at the time of harvest. He does not expect us to fail. He has called no one to this work to fail. He expects us to succeed.” Ezra Taft Benson 
Now compare Moses 6:31 with Moses 7:13 "so powerful was the word of Enoch and so great was the power of the language which God had given him". Wow! That is some fulfillment of a promise and quite a spectacular testimony of faith.

Moses 6:33
"Choose ye this day": we should not procrastinate the day of our repentance. The Lord requires us to choose NOW.

Moses 6:34
"wherefore all thy words will I justify": this is an incredible sign of trust. cf again Moses 7:13 (prophecy/blessing fulfilled) Can the Lord say that to us today? Is Enoch being ordained to some office here?
"thou shalt abide in me and I in you; therefore walk with me": I find something very beautiful and personal and covenantal in this. Compare this with Ruth 1:16-17. Notice the contrast between Enoch and Cain. Enoch does what he is asked to do, is humble and finds himself in a real close, spiritually intimate relationship with the Lord. Cain on the other hand, does not do what he asks and instead of humbling himself gets angry and more disobedient and finds himself separated from God.

Moses 6:36
"A see-er have the Lord raised up": I wonder if Enoch is the first to be invited to share in one of these epic visions of the entirety of the universe? I would appear to be a significant and marked event in the history of the children of Adam.

Moses 6:37
"went forth...with a loud voice": Enoch did not try to run away from his calling. Enoch did not quietly try a few times. He essentially dove headfirst and wholeheartedly into his calling, trusting the Lord. This dedication and faith is another mark of those that "doest well".

Moses 6:40
"Mahijah": make of it what you will but this name is not found in the bible.  However his name is mentioned several times in the Dead Sea Scrolls in the same period, same role and same context as found in the Book of Moses (a book that Joseph Smith translated over 100 years before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered).

Moses 6:42:
"wherefore for this cause, to keep the commandments, I speak forth these words": what does this tell us about Enoch, his motivation and character in comparison to Cain's motivation v.31?

Moses 6:43:
"why counsel ye yourselves": do we waste time leaning on our own understanding rather than consulting God?

Moses 6:56, 58
"I have given unto you another law and commandment": As you watch Adam's progression starting at the Garden of Eden, you notice the Lord does not throw the whole plan at him straight away. Line upon line Adam learns a little bit more. First the three commandments in the garden (multiply, do not eat of the tree, remain with the woman), then outside the garden he is commanded to sacrifice, and then he is commanded to repent. I'm sure he received more instruction but it just seems so measured. Those that wish to progress learn that it is a gradual process.

Moses 5:59
In this verse is the Lord discussing how Adam's children were born or how Adam himself was born? If Adam, then that is mind-boggling and cool!

Moses 5:60
baptism - obedience, spirit - approved, blood - perfected: this is a great verse for understanding the stages of righteous man. If thou "doest well", you will keep commandments to show obedience, if you continue to do well approval/justification is shown by the constant presence of the Spirit, which in turn, if righteousness continues, leads to sanctification and perfection through the Atonement.

Moses 5:61
"the record of heaven": in the final judgement how detrimental would it be to have no character witness? When we are not righteous we deprive ourselves of our own key character witness. The more worthy we live of the Spirit, the more witness and testimony can be given of our mortal probation.

Moses 7:21
"behold mine abode forever": Enoch and his people do so well that they reach a stage where they are accepted and taken into heaven. Compare this to Cain who is forever removed from the Lord's presence. Both were brought up well and taught well, but still - one doest well and one doest not well. It is all about choice.
"The choices we make, determine our destiny." Thomas S Monson.

Moses 7:20-47
This passage of scripture is remarkable in that it shows God crying. Even Enoch, who knows him quite well, is shocked. "How is it thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all is it thou canst weep". It seems totally shocking to Enoch that this great immortal God can cry these tears. Is it because perfect beings shouldn't be able to show sorrow, or because they should know better seeing as they know the end from the beginning and know it will all work out? Whatever the reason, God's answer is heart-warming and touching,
"behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands,...I gave unto them their knowledge, I said...that they should love one another and that they should choose me, their Father; but they are without affection,...and misery shall be their doom;...they shall be in torment;"
Enoch is learning that God is not just about justice and truth and peace (v.31) but also love. The great Creator, this Supreme Being, Our God is pining for his wayward children that he loves so dearly, but that through their choice are suffering and in pain.
When Enoch is shown all of this we get a sense maybe a glimmer of the emotion behind the words "and he wept" (v.28). In v41 Enoch experiences some of what the Lord feels for his children and "he wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook." Is there a greater description of such emotions in all of scripture? What a beautiful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching description of how our father feels about us when we suffer. He hates to see us suffer, even temporarily. Compare this to Satan's reaction to the same thing v.26 ("he looked up and laughed").

You can maybe therefore understand God's pleading simplicity when he sees a beloved child like Cain heading to the door, "If thou doest well, I will accept thee, and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door". In contrast, you can also understand the overwhelming joy he must feel when we do well.

Moses 7:68-69
"ZION IS FLED": Enoch's city is taken up into heaven and away from the ever-increasing wickedness of the world. If my calculations and the generations listed in Genesis 5 are right, Noah was born a few years after this. Knowing what we know about the people in Noah's time, there is a real air of melancholy about that thought. Within another 600-700 yrs roughly the entire world has chosen to not do well. We shall study more about this next week but this must have been a real low point for Heavenly Father in the grand scheme and in his own deeply loving heart.