Saturday, June 7, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 21: God will Honour those who Honour Him

Honouring Ourselves and Others
1 Samuel 2:12 did you ever wonder what a "son of Belial" was? Essentially it is the Old Testament version of "a complete loser". It's actual translation is "sons of worthlessness". If you imagine Worthlessness as a father and he has a son - well sons are considered a lesser position in the family setup and so calling someone a son of worthlessness is basically saying you are less than worthless or in other words - you are a complete loser. For the scriptures to say this is pretty strong. What else do we learn about Eli's sons that confirm this ignominious title?
"they knew not the Lord"
"the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord"
"they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation"
they "make the Lord's people to transgress"
One of the things they also did was take their portion of the people's sacrifices before making the offering to the Lord. This was the exact opposite of the law and shows a complete lack of respect for the Law and for God. So arrogant were they that when the people tried to point out they had not dealt with the sacrifice properly and would try to withhold the sacrifices from the unrighteous priests, they would forcibly take the sacrifices. Needless to say, they were rightly considered complete losers!
What other effect did the sons' actions have on the people? v.17

Why would Hannah leave her son in this environment still? What lesson can we learn from this?

If these were your children how would you respond?
How did Eli respond? v.22-25 Certainly he seems to remind them of right and wrong and of their proper duty but he also seems a little more concerned about survival and public opinion than about the actual wrong doing. And sure enough, the Lord sends a righteous priesthood leader to point this out v.29 and actually seems to say that Eli was complicit in the stealing of the sacrifices. As a result he is told another will be raised in his stead and that his two sons will die on the same day in their prime (v.33-35).
He is personally rebuked for honouring his sons above the Lord. This is a serious charge. In what ways can we sometimes honour others more than God?

I absolutely love this quote.
President Joseph F. Smith taught: “There should [not] be any of us so unwisely indulgent, so thoughtless and so shallow in our affection for our children that we dare not check them in a wayward course, in wrong-doing and in their foolish love for the things of the world more than for the things of righteousness, for fear of offending them” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 286).
So how can we correct wayward children in a spirit of love but without the fear of offending them? Does spanking work?

"I am satisfied that such punishment in most instances does more damage than good.I recently read a biography of George H. Brimhall, who at one time served as president of Brigham Young University. Concerning him, someone said that he reared "his boys with a rod, but it [was] a fishing rod" That says it all." Gordon B. Hinckley, "Save the Children," Ensign, Nov. 1994, 52

"I have tremendous respect for fathers and mothers who are nurturing their children in light and truth, who have prayer in their homes, WHO SPARE THE ROD and govern with love, who look upon their little ones as their most valued assets to be protected, trained, and blessed." Gordon B. Hinckley, "This Is the Work of the Master," Ensign, May 1995, 69

 Children of authoritarian parents (who demand obedience first) learn very young that they may be punished no matter what they do. They begin to believe, consciously or not, that they don’t have any control over their environment. Children of permissive parents, however, learn very early that they will be rewarded no matter what they do. They begin to believe that good things will be given them without reason, and they, too, feel they have no control over their environment.
“Children of authoritative parents, however, realize very young that they do have control over their environment. Because the reasons for rules and punishments are explained to them, they begin to see their own actions as the cause of the good and bad things that happen to them.
 (Orson Scott Card, “Who’s Minding the Children?” Ensign, Aug. 1977, 11)

 Of course, there are a few disobedient souls regardless of training and teaching, but the great majority of children respond to such parental guidance. The scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6.) And if he departs, he will probably return if he has been brought up in the right way. (Spencer W. Kimball “Train Up a Child,” Ensign, Apr. 1978, 4-5)

If you read all of 1 Samuel 2 there is a wonderful contrast weaved throughout the narrative. The old priestly family that is living off the tithes and sacrifices of the people, ruling with greed and without honour, is contrasted with the young boy, Samuel, under Eli's charge. Consider below what we learn of Samuel all the while we are reading about the wickedness of Eli's family. We are told Samuel,
"ministered before the Lord"
"grew before the Lord"
"grew on and was in favour both with the Lord and also with men"

How is it possible that Eli's own sons can be so unrighteous and yet Samuel who is being brought up under Eli's guidance can be so righteous? What is the difference? Parenting and personal choice. Eli does not seem like a bad man but he seems like a weak man. He seems kind and yet too tolerant of unrighteous things in his home.

Honoring God
1 Samuel 3 starts with some interesting descriptions regarding light and darkness. See if you can spot them (v.1-4)
no open vision
Eli's eyes wax dim - he could not see
the temple lights went out
What is the significance of these verses that are filled with references to light? Could it be the Lord is indicating how severe the lack of spiritual leadership was at that time?
Whatever the reason, from that darkness, as Samuel presumably closed his own eyes to sleep, a voice called Samuel by name. We all know the story. Samuel, thinking Eli was calling him, got out of bed and went to Eli and said "Here am I", to which Eli responded by telling him to go back to bed. This happens three times and on the third time Eli recognizes what is going on and teaches Samuel about how to answer the Lord.
Now up to this point we can see that Samuel was learning and growing spiritually but v.7 of 1 Samuel 3 is interesting.
Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him. Has he not been in the temple acting under Eli's guidance all of his young life? What is this scripture telling us?

How many times did the Lord call Samuel? 4 times and on the fourth time he called his name twice. We are often counseled to call upon the Lord but how many check for messages from the Lord?

The Lord told Samuel that Eli's family will lose their status and their blessings. 
What reason does the Lord give for punishing Eli himself so heavily? v.13
What does verse 16 tell us about Samuel?

What else do these last few verses (v.19-20) tell us about Samuel that we can add to his list of attributes?:
"Samuel grew"
"the Lord was with him"
the Lord "did let none of his words fall to the ground"
"And all Israel...knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord"

Honoring the World
1 Samuel 8
Samuel's sons also reject the Lord (v.3). How did their unrighteousness affect the people? v.5 "like all the nations"
How strong is that pull today to be like the world?
The temptation to be “like all the nations” is ever present. The standards and images of the world are not to become the ideals of Abraham’s seed. The Old Testament in particular offers a warning to the Lord’s covenant people of today as it chronicles the people of the past. In it we see the results of failing to bless all the families of the world because one desires to be like the world. Eventually Abraham’s seed were lost, scattered, and taken captive by the world they so anxiously tried to imitate (S. Michael Wilcox, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 47).

v.7 Why would the Lord give in to the people's unrighteous demand, especially when he knows the consequences?

Ezra Taft Benson
God has to work through mortals of varying degrees of spiritual progress. Sometimes he temporarily grants to men their unwise requests in order that they might learn from their own sad experiences. Some refer to this as the “Samuel principle.” The children of Israel wanted a king like all the other nations. The prophet Samuel was displeased and prayed to the Lord about it. The Lord responded by saying, Samuel, “they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” The Lord told Samuel to warn the people of the consequences if they had a king. Samuel gave them the warning. But they still insisted on their king. So God gave them a king and let them suffer. They learned the hard way. God wanted it to be otherwise, but within certain bounds he grants unto men according to their desires. Bad experiences are an expensive school that only fools keep going to. (See 1 Sam. 8.)
Sometimes in our attempts to mimic the world, and contrary to the prophet’s counsel, we run after the world’s false educational, political, musical, and dress ideas. New worldly standards take over, a gradual breakdown occurs, and finally, after much suffering, a humble people are ready to be taught once again a higher law. (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” New Era, May 1975, 17-18)

v.9 What parenting lessons can we learn from this?
v.10-18 Why was this king thing a bad idea?
v.19 What parenting lessons can we learn from this?

People will reject the gospel principles for worldly fads and fashions. Even our own children. We must never give up our duty to remind them and to teach them correct principles but ultimately they must choose for themselves.

Old Testament Lesson 20: All the city...doth know that thou art a virtuous woman

Today's lesson we are going to study the Book of Ruth.
Interestingly this is the only book in the Bible where there is no prophet, no priest, no king and no judge. This book almost seems like a rare glimpse into the lives of ordinary people during the time of the judges of Israel. But within it lies an extraordinary tale of loyalty, faithfulness, and love.

As we study the lives detailed within the book of Ruth, remember that a study of the Bible is largely a study of a patriarchal society, and an elected people. Here our focus is on someone who was not of the elected people and was a woman. Certainly not deemed to be anyone of special significance or importance in the grand biblical scheme of things. In fact the book of Ruth does not even start with Ruth.

What's in a name?
Ruth 1:1-2
Our story starts off with an ironic setting. Beth-lehem literally translated as "the house of bread" and later the setting for Christ's birth was in a famine. The contrast between the name and the lack of food is glaring. It suggests that this famine stretched beyond physical constraints but was also a spiritual famine.
And who were the people involved? Elimelech and his wife Naomi. EliMelech means "My God is king". Naomi means "pleasant or pleasing". The very names suggest a couple who were obedient and who followed the Lord God of Israel. And we are told they left the land of famine and moved to live with the Moabite people. The Moabite people did not worship the Lord God of Israel but rather worshiped other gods and idols. After all the commands the Lord had given his people not to mix with others who were not the chosen people this seems like an odd choice for a righteous couple.
And then note the names of their sons. Mahlon and Chilion. If you translate their names they are roughly translated as "sickness" and "death". Not a good omen! But let's remember that much of what we read in the Old Testament has great symbolic meaning attached to it.

I believe what we are being asked to recognize before the real story begins is the same situation as of old. Elimelech and Naomi represent Adam and Eve, living in the bosom of God. Then they no longer have physical or spiritual food available to them and are forced to leave to go into the world. Sickness and death follow. Likewise, we having once lived in the presence of our Father in Heaven, could not have our spiritual hunger satisfied and out of necessity we too were forced out of his presence into the world where we would experience sickness and death but where we could also be nourished further as necessary to our growth.

v.3-5 We learn that the sons did marry Moabite women - Chilion (death) married Ruth and Mahlon (sickness) married Orpah (please note this is not Oprah!!). Who Ruth married, I believe, holds some significance later in our story, but for now let's move on. Very quickly the narrative introduces 3 very tragic events. The entire priesthood line of this family is wiped out. Father and both sons die, leaving three widows, with no protection, no children or heritage or future, and nobody to provide. It is a stark reminder of the trials and tribulations that potentially face us all in mortality. Of course it also leaves us, the reader with the obvious question - What would we do? How would we survive? How are Naomi and her two daughters-in-law going to survive? More apt would be to ask how do we survive in a world where tragedy and turmoil are a natural part of life? We may not ever reach the extreme position of Naomi and Ruth and Orpah, but the questions are still posed and asked, how do we react, what do we do in time of need and trial?

v.6 It is clear Naomi has made her choice. In a life of trial and tragedy, she is following the path to the Lord for she "had that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread." Her faith teaches her that in returning to the Lord there is providence and protection. There is life.

v.8-13 Now Naomi gives those around her a choice. Her daughters in law are Moabite women. Their most obvious means of providence and protection is with their own people, not with Naomi's people. And as is the way of the gospel, Naomi places a choice before Ruth and Orpah. They must choose whether to follow her to her land and her people and her God or to return back to their people and their gods. Now part of the decision lies in understanding the laws of the time. In verse 11-13 Naomi outlines these laws. Essentially there was a law that protected widows from being left completely destitute. When a man died it became the legal responsibility of his brother to look after his wife and children. Tragically in Naomi's case even this law does not seem to help them. As she tells Orpah and Ruth, there is no logical or rational hope in following her. Naomi has no other sons who could take on the legal responsibility to protect and provide for Orpah and Ruth. And she reminds them that even if she remarries (which she indicates is realistically not likely as she is too old) and even if she has children (also unrealistic) and even if those children are sons, Ruth and Orpah will be old women before such sons would become of age to protect and provide and give them children. It is indeed a bleak path of loneliness and solitude ahead.
Likewise, in choosing the path of the Lord, we are also faced with the reality that logically, rationally it could be a very lonely path.

v.14-17 It was obvious that Naomi had a close relationship with her daughters in law. The scenes of bidding goodbye are emotional and personal. They know that in leaving, they will not see each other again. This is not a passing moment but an everlasting decision. Orpah originally chooses to follow Naomi out of loyalty to her. But when Naomi reminds her that there really is no hope of the life most women of her day would want and expect, Orpah emotionally changes course and returns to the world. And though we never hear of her again we are left with no doubt as to what became of her. When Naomi tells Ruth that Orpah has "gone back unto her people and unto her gods" it almost seems like an invitation and a warning. And in truth we are given the same invitation and warning. We can choose the world but a consequence of that is that we will lose our God.

But we are told Ruth was resolute in the path she chose. Rather than returning to her world, she chooses instead to follow Naomi, her life and her God. The words she speaks are almost like a marriage vow. I am not sure there is a more powerful or beautiful introduction to a character in all of literature than this statement of intent from Ruth,
"And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go: and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me."
Ruth's words outline a deep commitment to the path ahead. So committed is she, that she is willing to sacrifice her own people, her former life, and her future to follow the Lord's path. And additionally she is committed to Naomi's God, the God of Israel. One can only appreciate the full impact of this decision when they recognize what Ruth herself saw as her future. No longer would she have any luxuries in life. No longer could she look forward to having a family and watching children of her own run around and grow up around her. No longer could she hope for the love that all young women dream of. She was giving all of that up, to become a beggar, living on the edge of a society, destitute and wholly reliant on the charity of others while caring for an aging mother in law somehow. And all of this with a people whose God seems to have been unable to prevent the tragedy of her circumstances. When you see all of this in this perspective, you can begin to feel the import and impact of Ruth's statement begging Naomi to stop telling her to leave. Ruth's decision to join Naomi, to join her people, to join with their God, reflects the similar decisions new converts make every day across the world in Latter Day Saint communities and homes. Theirs too is a huge sacrifice. We are asking them,  to give up so much and to take on the path of discipleship and it is not easy. So next time you see an investigator or a new convert, keep in mind the huge decision they are making in their lives. Be mindful of the sacrifice they are being asked to make. Help them, love them, even learn from them.