Saturday, April 19, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 15: Look to God and Live

This week's lesson is a reminder that if we simply focus on Christ and his ability to save and redeem, we will live. If we, however, turn away from Christ and his salvation we will perish. Often we turn away from Christ by murmuring and complaining and wishing we did not have to follow His way. Sometimes this murmuring can take on the form of criticizing our church leaders (the Lord's anointed servants). Christ's way is uncomplicated but requires courage and faith...and sometimes just a bit more discipline (discipline comes from the same root word as discipleship).

Numbers 11
v.1  "and when the people complained it displeased the Lord" see also Doctrine and Covenants 59:21 Why does this displease the Lord so much? Why is it only ingratitude and disobedience that make him angry? What can we learn from this as parents?
"uttermost parts of the camp" Why was it only these people? Surely it should be those that complained not those that were situated geographically. Is this a lesson in standing in holy places? A later, similar incident in Numbers 16 maybe suggests a lesson in this (see Numbers 16:26-35) I love the instruction of verse 26 of Numbers Chapter 16:
"Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins."
v.4-10 The people are upset that they don't have the variety of food they used to. They complain. They have manna and make all manner of manna food! Manna cakes, manna bread, manna muffins, manna cupcakes - kind of like Forrest Gump's friend Bubba talking about his shrimp,
"Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it."
The children of Israel did not have the child-like delight in manna that Bubba had with shrimp. Instead they complained. Is it coincidence they lusted after meat rather than the spiritual manna? Are they symbolically rejecting all that is heavenly for mortal pleasures? Do we tire of spiritual food and lust after/follow more physical appetites?
v.11-15 Moses here seems to be venting something like this "Surely you didn't call me to be a babysitter. This is killing me. How am I supposed to provide meat for them?"
v.16-23 The Lord tells Moses two things:
  1. From the elders create a quorum of seventy
  2. I will feed the people meat "until it come out at your nostrils" and they are sick of it!
Moses then questions how the Lord will feed 2 million people so much meat. I love the Lord's reply in verse 23:
"Is the Lord's hand waxed short?"
Or in other words: "Are you kidding me? Didn't I just feed 2 million people manna? Are you suggesting that I am incapable of doing this now?"
v.24-30 two of the seventy prophesy and it is reported back to Moses as if they are trying to usurp Moses' authority. Moses reply is that he wishes all the people were prophets. I find this interesting. Firstly, it makes you wonder if there was a little rebelliousness creeping into the camp regarding Moses' authority. This reaction to the two men prophesying suggests there were some that were worried the two men were trying to become the leaders and take over Moses' position. Moses' reply suggests however a leader who was confident and lacking in any insecurity.
Also interesting in Moses' reply is his idea that all men could be prophets. Moses clarifies for us here the difference between being the prophet and being a prophet.
v.31-35 quail cover the land in all directions for a day's journey, two cubits deep (about 3 ft deep).
v.33 refer back to verse 1. What are the only 2 things that make God angry? Which of those do you think made him angry here, this time?
v.34 they lusted - followed their body rather than remembering and following their Lord.

Numbers 12
This is another fascinating story.
v.1-13 Miriam (Moses' sister) does not like Moses' decision to marry an Ethiopian woman and suggests that he has lost his authority and that she and her brother Aaron have as much right to be the leaders as Moses. The Lord summons her, Aaron and Moses to the tabernacle and proceeds to explain that prophets can be called by dreams and visions but that is not Moses. Moses is greater than that and converses with the Lord face to face. His question is powerful "Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" What a great and powerful way to back Moses up on this. He doesn't say anything more. Just leaves and leaves Miriam with leprosy. What powerful symbolism is the Lord using here? This punishment had a dual effect. Anyone thinking of following Miriam now has a choice. Follow this person and you too will be cast out of the camp as a leper and possibly even punished the same way. So in a very real way it acts as a deterrent to all who see her, not to follow this woman and rebel against Moses. In a spiritual way it also very clearly shows the end result of rebelling against the Lord and his servants by trying to do things your way - spiritual decay and damnation will follow.
 "There is the man who, to satisfy his own egotism, took a stand against the authorities of the Church. He followed the usual pattern, not apostasy at first, only superiority of knowledge and mild criticism. He loved the brethren, he said, but they failed to see and interpret as he would like. He would still love the Church, he maintained, but his criticism grew and developed into ever-widening circles. He was right, he assured himself; he could not yield in good conscience; he had his pride. His children did not accept his philosophy wholly, but their confidence was shaken. In their frustration, they married out of the Church, and he lost them. He later realized his folly and returned to humbleness, but so very late. He had lost his children…. 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.' (Ezekiel 18:2.)" ( Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p184)

Aaron asks for mercy and Moses pleads with the Lord for Miriam to be healed.
v.14-16 The Lord decides Miriam's offense was severe enough that she must endure the punishment for 7 days. The people made no progress at this time. I wonder if the Lord was making them sit and ponder what had happened here?

Numbers 13 (see also Deuteronomy 1:22-46)
v.1-16 one leader from each of the tribes is sent to spy on the land of Canaan. The tribes of Judah and Ephraim send Caleb and Joshua.
v.16 Joshua was originally called Oshea which in Hebrew means salvation in a general sense. The fact that he was given the new name, Jeh-oshua is very significant. The new name also means salvation but not in general. Adding the "Jeh" signifies adding Jehovah to the principle of salvation already in his name. Thus here again we have an example of the children of Israel very pointedly being shown that it is Jehovah that brings them salvation.
His name change is indicative of the struggle the children have in remembering who it was that they should look to for their salvation. Their natural instinct was to just celebrate being saved without remembering who it was that saved them. Joshua, in receiving his new name, became a living symbol and reminder that salvation only comes through Jehovah.
v17-20 Moses gives instructions for the spies reconnaissance mission. Are the people strong or weak, few or many; is the land good or bad, are they in tents or walled cities; was the land rich or poor and did it have strong trees and bring me fruit.
v.21-25 They do as instructed. Israel's Ministry of Tourism marks this event today with their logo, depicting Joshua and Caleb as they carry back the grapes on a pole.

v.26-33 Most of the spies return (after 40 days) saying the people are too big and too strong to be defeated but Caleb of the tribe of Judah suggests the opposite and thinks they could easily overcome them.

Numbers 14
v.1-5 people do their usual murmuring, wishing they were back in Egypt and decide to choose a leader to take them back.
v.6-10 Joshua, Caleb, Moses and Aaron all plead with the people to trust God and believe the report that the land can be easily overcome. But the people move to stone them.
v.11-39 The Lord's patience with his people wears thin after they murmur against him the tenth time and he curses the people that only the younger generation (below 20 yrs old) will inherit the promised land. Everyone else will wander in the wilderness for 40 years (each year symbolic of each day the spies were in the land of Canaan) until they die. The spies that gave false reports and made the people murmur are killed by a plague.
This seems very specific that the Lord has counted ten times since they left Egypt that the children of Israel have murmured against Him. And it seems this tenth time is the final straw.
See the pattern of murmuring below:
  1. Epyptian armies - murmuring Exodus 14:11-12 - parting of the sea
  2. Bitter waters - murmuring Exodus 15:24 - healing of waters with tree
  3. Lack of bread and meat - murmuring Exodus 16:2-3 - sends manna and quail
  4. Lack of water to drink - murmuring Exodus 17:2-3 - water from rock
  5. ?
  6. ?
  7. ?
  8. ?
  9. ?
  10. Land of Canaan - murmuring Numbers 14: 1-4 - Lord's patience runs out. 
Can you find the other circumstances of murmuring and what the symbolism may be? Let me know when you find them. The Lord said the people murmuring outside Canaan was the tenth time they had murmured against him.
v.40-45 The people try to repent but do so unworthily. They are warned that, as they turned from the Lord, He is no longer with them and so it is no longer safe to go into the promised land and do battle with the people. They try anyway but are defeated and pushed back and many killed.

Numbers 21:1-9
v.1-4 The Lord decides to fight their battles again and they are victorious but the people complain again.
v.5-6 Usual complaints of rocky road, lack of water, lack of real bread, we hate this fake bread!
So the Lord sends poisonous snakes among them. Many people are bitten and die.
v7-9 The people seek to be forgiven. The Lord instructs Moses to make a replica of the snake and raise it on a pole. When the people that are bitten look on it, they are healed and live. (see also 1 Nephi 17:41 and Alma 33:18-22) Why do you think people would refuse to look on this graven image? Why would the Lord ask them to look upon a graven image? What is he trying to teach the people? Follow me. No matter what I ask of you, follow me and you live. But if you do not recognize me or my word, you shall perish. (see John 3:14-16; John 10:27) Not only has this image endured in various scriptural passages over time but even in symbols of ancient and modern medicine and healing (see American Medical Association, World Health Organization etc). It is not surprising that, though the symbol itself endures, many have once more lost sight of its true meaning and import.

In April 2002, President Gordon B Hinckley closed conference with these comments. For me they sum up the lesson the Lord was trying to teach the children of Israel. Feel free to watch it in its entirety but especially from 1:04 until 7:55 in the video.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 14: Ye Shall be a Peculiar Treasure Unto Me

In 2001 (almost 13 years ago to the day) Marjolaine and I were dating - we went to visit my sister who had 5 children. I wanted to see how Marjolaine would cope with a family of crazy, chaotic kids and I'm sure Marj wanted to see how I would cope too lol. It was a time of testing and proving for us. Similarly the time in the wilderness was a time of testing and proving for the children of Israel with the Lord.

Dating process - the Lord is showing his future bride what he can do for them and looking to see whether they will be faithful to Him. He rescued the damsel in distress just like in the movies but is now dating her. They are engaged but not married. They left the subjugation of the world of Egypt, were covered and delivered by the blood of the Lamb, came through the Dead Sea, symbolic of baptism and thus witnessed their desire and that they were WILLING to take upon them the name of Christ. This is betrothal and promise. This is the gate to eternal life but not eternal life itself. So for all of its significance, it is worth nothing if we do not follow through by actually taking on that name in the new and eternal covenant with Christ, then the baptism would have been for nothing. (cf 2 Nephi 31:12-13; Isaiah 62; Revelations 2:17)

Exodus 15:22-27 (just three days journey from the red sea and the great miracle that happened there)
lacking water
Moses goes to the Lord
The Lord gives instructions:
  • hearken to the voice of the Lord
  • do that which is right in his sight
  • give ear to his commandments
  • keep all his statutes
If they do all this they will not be treated like the Egyptians. Think about that. Most of these people although delivered by God have only seen his ability to kill and destroy the Egyptians. It is almost as if the Lord is saying - there is another side of me. I am loving and kind and gentle. I heal. Love me, not just fear me.

The Lord provides Living Water by casting a tree into the water - he heals the bitterness in our lives -
"I am the Lord that healeth."
 "Notice that the perils and trials of the wilderness occur very early in the pilgrim life. It is a notion, I have no doubt, of very young Christians who still have the shell upon their heads and are scarce hatched, that their trials are over now that they have become winged with faith; they had far better have reckoned that their trials have begun with tenfold force, now that they are numbered with the servants of the Most High. Whatever else comes not to thee, O servant of God, this will surely be fulfilled, "In the world ye shall have tribulation."(C.H. Spurgeon, "Marah" 1871)
Cross-reference this with John 16:33
"In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" 
v.27 12 wells and 70 palm trees at Elim. Are these symbols of how the Lord will bless us all: A well for each tribe and a palm tree for each of the seventy? They rested here after their murmuring and deliverance for close to a month. 

Exodus 16:1-31 (just a month after the Exodus)
lacking bread and meat
Moses goes to the Lord
The Lord gives instructions as a test - Sabbath day observance and trust in God- will they walk in his law or no?
The Lord provides quails and manna "a small round thing", called "what is it?" or "manna" in the Hebrew, that looked like a small white coriander seed and tasted like honey wafers and appeared under the dew each morning. Breakfast from heaven every day for 40 years!

It appears the Lord is teaching his bride-to-be that he will provide for them if they trust him and obey his sabbath.
Have you ever wondered why God created our bodies the way he did. Have you ever wondered why he created sneezes or earwax or why he made our bodies need regular sustenance. Well I'm not sure about the sneezes and earwax but I'm pretty sure we get the answer to daily sustenance in these verses. The Lord is using our physical bodies as a symbol of spiritual sustenance. It is a daily thing. You cannot binge and purge. You must have a daily measure of spiritual nourishment.

A pot of manna was kept for remembrance. Now these guys ate this manna for forty years. Could you imagine eating potatoes or rice every day for 40 years? Why would you ever want to keep a bag of potatoes or rice on the mantelpiece after that?
It was a symbol of God's ability to provide for us. It's kind of romantic really. Think about it - every morning under the dew the Lord left them something. Like a husband leaving a note under the pillow for his wife as he leaves for work each day.

Exodus 17:1-7 (they are still receiving heavenly cereal every day but are ready to stone Moses)
lacking water
Moses goes to the Lord
The Lord gives instructions - use the same rod with which you turned the Nile into blood.
The Lord provides water from the rock - he can change even the hardest of hearts? Christ is the Rock.

It seems like the Lord is slowly but surely healing his people of the trauma they have witnessed and experienced in Egypt. Sure they wanted to escape slavery but to them slavery isn't so bad an option if the other option is following a God who just likes to kill and has now led them out into the wilderness to die in their opinion.
 "As has been observed before, it was one thing to get Israel out of Egypt, and another thing entirely to get Egypt out of Israel! (Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 3: Genesis to 2 Samuel [Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985], 109)
They are still getting to know their Deliverer. And so at times they think it might have been better to be back in Egypt. And just as they start to doubt again, He reassures them, yes he destroyed, but by that same power he creates life and provides water. By way of the Deliverer, the Rock of Israel they can live.

Exodus 17:8-16
Ammonites are defeated only when the hands of Moses are raised. When he drops them the Ammonites are able to prosper in battle. Moses hands are kept raised with the help of Aaron and Hur and the battle is won.
Another clear demonstration that the Lord will protect them. No one else can. Only the Lord.
Exodus 18:13-26
Moses learns the wisdom of delegation. What can we learn from this episode?
Exodus 19:3-6 a peculiar people -  will you marry me?
Exodus 19:8 we will do - we will
Exodus 19:9-19
The mountain is on fire, it is rumbling, there is thunder and lightning the people have been warned to stay away from the mountain and a barrier set up but Moses has been commanded to go onto the mountain. The people were afraid but I think if I was Moses, I would have been more afraid to go onto this erupting volcanic mountain!

Bruce C Hafen posed the following question in the June 1977 Ensign in an article entitled "The Value of the Veil":
"If it is so important for us to know [God] today, why doesn't the Lord send a great chariot across the sky every day at noon, drawn by flying white horses? The chariot could stop right above the earth and then a voice from the great beyond could say, "And now a word from our Creator. Why has he chosen not to do things like that?"
Well the fact is, as we can see the Israelites witnessed a heavenly message daily from the sky in the form of manna. They had the miracles of the water at Marah and Horeb. And now here at the mountain this is the part we wanted "a word from our Creator". Read Deuteronomy 4:32-40. The children of Israel actually heard his voice. And still they forget and murmur and even go after false gods. What does this teach us?

President George Q. Cannon summarized the lesson we can learn from these struggling Israelites who were striving to trust in God:
"I do not believe that men can be convinced as they should be convinced by such manifestations. It has been a matter of remark among those who have had experience in this Church, that where men have been brought into the Church by such manifestations, it has required a constant succession of them to keep them in the Church; their faith has had to be constantly strengthened by witnessing some such manifestations; but where they have been convinced by the outpouring of the spirit of God, where their judgment has been convinced, where they have examined for themselves and become satisfied by the testimony of Jesus in answer to their prayers and to their faithful seeking unto the Lord for knowledge-where this has been the case they have been more likely to stand, more likely to endure persecution and trial than those who have been convinced through some supernatural manifestation of the character to which I have alluded."
The true church does not convert by signs and wonders, but by the testimony of the Holy Ghost. The Lord's way of teaching religious truths is not by a public miracle or sign, but by a personal testimony. (The Lord's Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 87-88)
Exodus 20 - these are the wedding vows I want you to make.
Exodus 31:18 two stones of testimony
Exodus 32 the people cheat on their fiance, the Lord. The Lord is furious and tells them that they must repent or be destroyed.
"Another golden calf in modern guise is crafted when Church members counsel contrary to that of the Church leadership. Of Almon Babbitt, the Lord said, 'There are many things with which I am not pleased; behold, he aspireth to establish his counsel instead of the counsel which I have ordained, even that of the Presidency of my Church; and he setteth up a golden calf for the worship of my people.' (D&C 124:84.)
"Following counsel that deviates from the counsel of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is like worshipping a golden calf. Just as there is no life in a graven image, there is no saving power outside the truth God imparts through his appointed channels. The Apostle John gave us a way to discern such idols: 'We [the Apostles] are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.' (1 Jn. 4:6.)
"...Anything can become a 'golden calf.' When activities or material blessings become so important that by turning to them we turn from God, we are breaking the second commandment. We are walking 'in [our] own way, and after the image of [our] own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish.' (D&C 1:16; emphasis added.) The solution is to prioritize our loyalties and turn our affections back to God." (Dennis Largey, "Refusing to Worship Today's Graven Images," Ensign, Feb. 1994, 10-13)
Exodus 32:22-24 can you believe these crazy people? I took their gold, stuck it in the fire and tadaa! magically this golden calf just appeared. Aaron is caught red-handed facilitating their idol worship and that is the best he can come up with? I was wondering how come Aaron was not with Moses but Joshua was on the mount and in the tabernacle (see Exodus 24:13-14, Exodus 32:17-18, Exodus 33:11). It seems to me that Joshua was preferred as the more righteous and reliable future leader of the people. That Joshua was allowed to stay in the tabernacle while the rest of the people were separated from the Lord, is testimony to the high regard the Lord had for Joshua. This young man was surely set apart by his righteousness as a leader.

Exodus 33 The people are commanded to strip themselves of their luxuries/ornaments/those things they used to flirt with other gods - those that dont repent are killed. There is a separation. The Lord's tabernacle is removed afar off from the camp and from the people.
Moses pleads for the people. Pleads with the Lord to stay betrothed to the people and return to them.
Exodus 34 The Lord covenants to do as formally agreed, if the people covenant not to covenant with any other gods. Essentially, I'll take you back and forgive you as long as you never cheat on me again.
The wedding vows (The Ten Commandments) are printed again, double-sided on tablets of stone but without the words of the everlasting covenant (see JST Deuteronomy 10:2 footnote b. LDS edition KJ bible). In other words for now the Lord is marrying his people only until death do them part - this is not an eternal marriage - at least not for now. They are left with the preparatory priesthood in a preparatory state.
Or in other words, they still had the basic ordinances and covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ as outlined since Adam, namely faith repentance baptism and Holy Ghost but they were not ready to commit to the higher covenants of this Gospel. The Lord disappointed that his chosen people had not kept their promises gives them a law that will help them remember their promises more easily. It is a law of daily social, legal and spiritual observances and it became known as the Law of Moses.

"To get his sometimes disobedient children to understand the Atonement and the fundamental importance of first principles, Jehovah added to the standard gospel message (taught from the days of Adam down to Moses) what is now spoken of as "carnal commandments." These were added as reminders, exercises, preparations stressing a return to first principles of the gospel. This basic code that remained with the children of Israel, this preparatory gospel built upon a law of carnal commandments, is what is now called the law of Moses. Principles of the truth that had been with the Israelites before the addition of the carnal commandments and that continued after these were added included the principles of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, the Ten Commandments, various offerings symbolic of Christ's atonement, and the law of the covenant. Elements added or amplified included other "performances and ordinances" such as dietary restrictions, purification rituals, and additional offerings. Other additions included the preparation of clothing, the planting of crops, and additional social obligations. These were all intended to reinforce self-control and create greater self-discipline (obedience) in the lives of the children of Israel so they could reclaim the higher promises, principles, and priesthood that had been enjoyed by their forebears.
Thus it is crucial to understand that the law of Moses was overlaid upon, and thereby included, many basic parts of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which had existed before it. It was never intended to be something apart or separated from, and certainly not something antagonistic to, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was more elementary than the full gospel-thus its schoolmaster's role in bringing people to the gospel-but its purpose was never to have been different from the higher law. Both were to bring people to Christ."(Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 145-147)
The children of Israel were set apart and chosen to be the bride to the Lord's groom. They were a peculiar treasure to Him. Set apart, intended and betrothed. We too are a chosen people, set apart, intended and betrothed to the Lord. If we have entered into the waters of baptism and witnessed that we are desirous and willing to take upon us His name then we must now prove ourselves worthy. When the wedding feast is called, will we be ready? Will our lamps be trimmed? Only those who have worthily attended the temple and taken on themselves the full covenants there, will be able to say so. Only they will be able to attend the wedding feast. Baptism is the gate by which we enter but after baptism comes tribulation and bitterness and trials. How we respond, what we set as our priorities, will determine ultimately whether we will be worthy to attend the wedding feast itself. The Lord is our Deliverer. Will we have learned to trust Him fully and be found worthy to be in the mountain (in the temple) or will we have lowered our sights and expectations and be found at the base camp reveling in wordly delights with the golden calves?