Saturday, September 27, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 37: Thou Hast Done Wonderful Things

Much of Isaiah is treasured for it's allusion to Christ and his life.
Today's study of Isaiah, instead of taking us through each chapter, focuses on several specific Messianic passages in Isaiah highlighting the wonderful things Christ will do and has done.

Isaiah 22:22 From one perspective Isaiah is discussing a man named El-iakim (which means "one whom God will raise"). In this verse it suggests he will take over the role of treasurer/finance minister from Shebna and have the keys to the city of David and will be a very powerful man. But on another level he is alluding to the Christ. Christ will take on the keys to the spiritual House of David, the priesthood keys and the keys of sealing. What else does Christ have the power to open and shut? (Hell, Spirit World) See also Rev 3:7-8,20 and John 14:6
Christ is the key to getting back to our Father in Heaven.

Isaiah 24:21-22 Having told the people that there is no escape for the wicked v.17-18. Isaiah repeats this notion but with one extra little detail. What is the other detail he adds. Who are the prisoners Isaiah refers to here? What hope can they cling to? Who will visit them?
v.23 What kind of light can confound the moons light and shame the suns light? As a prisoner left alone in darkness for an extended period of time, what would it be like to suddenly feel this light?

Isaiah 25:1-4; 32:1-2 How does Isaiah describe Christ in these passages:
  • a strength to the poor and needy in his distress
  • a refuge from the storm
  • a shadow from the heat
  • a hiding place from the wind
  • a covert from the tempest
  • as rivers of water in a dry place
  • shadow of a great rock in a dry land
What do these passages teach us about times when we are struggling?

Isaiah 25:6-8 "in this mountain" could refer to the geographical area Isaiah was preaching from but it also alludes to the Lord's kingdom and to the our modern temples. It is here where the chosen and elect will receive the benefits of salvation
a feast of fat things
a feast of wines on the lees
the veil of spiritual darkness and unbelief will be lifted
death will be overcome
all of our tears will be wiped away
rebuke of his people taken from off the earth
The last 3 items definitely have pertinence to the atonement and resurrection.

How can temple attendance help us receive these blessings? Who does it say will provide these blessings? Revelations 21:3-4 gives us more insight into what causes our tears that the Lord will wipe away. Notice he doesn't just stop us crying - he wipes the tears from our face. This is not just a public and infinite atonement - it is a personal and intimate atonement as well.

Isaiah 28:16 How is Christ our tried stone and our sure foundation? cf. Heleman 5:12, Doctrine and Covenants 50:44
Why will "he that believeth NOT make haste"? Compare to Isaiah 24:17-19.

Isaiah 29:4, 10-11,14,18 Bringing forth of the gospel in the latter-days through the restoration and the Book of Mormon is a marvelous work and a wonder that will heal the spiritually deaf and blind.
Isaiah 30:19-21 such beautiful comforting words of promise to the righteous and to the repentant. Is life meant to be easy?

From these few passages we see Jesus Christ as the key to returning to our Father in Heaven. It is  only through him. He is our light in the darkness, our hope, our protector and our saviour. He loves us. He is our tried and tested and sure foundation and he has restored his gospel in these latter days to bring to pass the purposes of the great plan. If we put our trust in his teachings, following his way and accepting his atonement in our lives we will not only feel the effects in our lives, we will see him.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 36: The Glory of Zion Will be a Defense

So who was Isaiah? We have few clues. The bible tells us that he was the prophet during the time of 4 Judean kings - Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. He was a prophet for a span of close to 50 years, maybe more. And there is some suggestion that Hezekiah was his son-in-law and that Hezekiah's son Manasseh (Isaiah's grandson) killed Isaiah by putting him in a hollowed out tree trunk and having him sawn in half (cf Heb 11:37). So much for being able to enjoy your grandkids!

Isaiah's name means "Jehovah is salvation" and it is clear his name, ministry and life were meant to help point to Christ. Now before we start studying Isaiah it might be worth noting that 16 chapters of Isaiah are quoted in the Book of Mormon. For the next 5 lessons we will be studying Isaiah. The Saviour encouraged us to study Isaiah in 3 Nephi 23:1-3 ( I know some of us would prefer he had said the Book of Jarom or Omni) but interestingly although Nephi encourages a study of Isaiah also, he seems to recognize that people not of Isaiah's time and culture would struggle to understand his words. 2 Nephi 25:1-4. According to Nephi what is the key to understanding Isaiah?
The Great Isaiah Scroll of Qumran
Isaiah 1 we are told is a vision Isaiah had concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
What is the state of the people in v.2-4? rebellious, ignorant, sinful, evildoers, corrupted, gone away backward. Dumber than the dumbest animals - ox and ass.
What does that phrase "gone away backward" suggest?

How spiritually sick are the people? v.5-6 the whole head and the whole heart (leaders and the people) and notice what ails them - head is sick (unrighteous) hear is faint (weak and unrighteous), from head to toe it is ridden with wounds bruises and putrefying sores that have not been bound and closed or soothed with ointment. Based on that analogy what are the people sorely lacking? A good doctor? (cf Psalms 147:3). Who could heal them? And yet they hadn't even applied a band-aid yet. Why do people avoid repentance and healing?

What does he tell the people to do that are in this state? v.16-19 Repent, clean up.
v.18 "come now, and let us reason together" When? NOW. Don't delay.

v.29-30 alludes to the shrines set up and built with oak trees in gardens for idol worship
v.30 tow=tinder

Then he moves away from them and starts discussing the last days.
Isaiah 2:2-4 mountain of the Lord house to be established in the tops of the mountains.
It is interesting to note that when the Salt Lake valley was first settled, those that settled there wanted to call the region Deseret. However the US government in granting statehood insisted it be called Utah in common with their practice of naming states after the tribal people common to that area. Little did they realize they were helping fulfil this prophecy in Isaiah. Utah in the Ute language means "the top of the mountains".

Zion and Jerusalem to be the two centres of the Millenium. One the legal and judicial centre (constitutional) and one the spiritual centre (scriptural).
A world of peace and happiness is shown where there is no more war.

Why did Isaiah share this vision of the last days after telling people how sick they were? v.5  has the answer but try comparing to 2 Nephi 12:5 it's an invitation. You are wicked and suffering the calamities of your wickedness but there is a better way and one day it will be better. You can experience this if you walk in his light.

v.6-9 But currently you get your light and replenishment from psychics, eastern philosophies, marrying outside of the temple, your focus is on money, you have more cars and armies than you know what to do with, and you have sports idols, pop idols, movie idols and worship man-made things. Even your poor are proud! You give more credence to your own things than to the things of God. Google and Wikipedia are valued more than scripture. Which did you use more this week? We are far from the simple desire of the Lord's prayer - "give us this day our daily bread!" We chase riches and build armies in our vain efforts to self-preserve and forget the great Deliverer has promised us salvation and preservation if we just trust in Him.

What is the advice given if that is your state or condition in life - Hide! Crawl under a rock and hide! (cf Alma 12:14)

v.10. Why?
v.11-17 Because all the mighty and proud will be brought low. Cedars of Lebanon, Oaks of Bashan, Ships of Tarshish. All trees. Trees represent man. No matter how great you are, how powerful, how good-looking, how rich, He will bring you down!
v.10 and v.19 why will they hide? For fear - they will recognize he is greater than anything they put their trust in. Notice also it will be too bright for them..where do they go to hide? In dark places. Will their idols save them? No! v.20 in fact they are thrown to moles and bats. What do moles and bats have to with this? They also live in darkness and are blind!

And what is the lesson the Lord would have us learn from all of this? v.22  "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils..." We are nothing, we live - carried along by a mere puff of air. Can we save ourselves? NO. Only he who is mighty to save can save mankind, through the great atonement.

Notice that Isaiah 2 has two great heights that can be reached in life - the tops of the mountains where you will find the Lord's house OR the loftiness of man (pride). Which are you closest to scaling?

Isaiah 3 is a continuation of the vision Isaiah had and here he is told in vision that the Lord will take away his support from the people. He will no longer feed them, taking away the wise and replacing them with immature leaders v.1-4

v.16-26 even the women are guilty of pride and being followers of fashion more than faithful followers of their God. They will be shamed and their families torn apart by war.

How great will be the desolation and destruction according to Isaiah 4?   7 women will ask 1 man to give them his name. Don't feed or clothe us just let us belong. (v.1) Only the righteous will be left in Jerusalem and Zion.
v.5-6 Every home (dwelling place), every congregation of his people (assembly) shall be protected by a pillar of fire at night, and by a cloud and smoke during the day. What else will be there - a tabernacle (temple). How is it described? As a shadow from the sun and heat, a cover from rain and storms and a place of refuge. Could we use a place to get away from the storms and the stresses of our life? Could we do with having a place of refuge and protection for us? Go to the temple!

Isaiah 5:1-7 The Lord now compares his people to a vineyard. How did he look after it? Built a fence (protection and defence), gathered out the stones (made life a rich place to grow for us) planted the choicest vine (the best, the chosen people were given for their roots Abr. 3:22-23), built a tower in the midst (a place of gathering and a sign of God's presence in our midst - the temple), made a winepress (gave us challenges to bring the best out of us). What was the result - sour grapes! What was the Lord's reaction - take away the protection and stop looking after it.
v.8-24 a expansion on who these sour grapes are.
wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil:
Spencer W. Kimball
Jesus Christ our Lord is under no obligation to save this world. The people have ignored him, disbelieved him, failed to follow him. They stand at his mercy which will be extended only if they repent. But to what extent have we repented? Another prophet said, "We call evil good, and good evil." Men have rationalized themselves into thinking that they are "not so bad." Are they fully ripe? Has the rot of age and flabbiness set in? Can they change? They see evil in their enemies, but none in themselves. Even in the true Church numerous of its people fail to attend their meetings, to tithe their incomes, to have their regular prayers, to keep all the commandments. We can transform, but will we? It seems that we would rather tax ourselves into slavery than to pay our tithes; rather build protections and walls than drop to our knees with our families in solemn prayers night and morning. (Conference Report, Oct. 1, 1961, p.31)
v.25 his hand is still stretched out against them - there is more destruction to come.
v.26 in the last days an ensign will be lifted and people will gather to it swiftly with the aid of young lions (missionaries).
LeGrand Richards
Since there were no such things as trains and airplanes in that day, Isaiah could hardly have mentioned them by name, but he seems to have described them in unmistakable words. How better could "their horses hoofs be counted like flint, and their wheel like a whirlwind" than in the modern train? How better could "Their like a lion" than in the roar of the airplane? Trains and airplanes do not stop for night. Therefore, was not Isaiah justified in saying "none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken"? With this manner of transportation the Lord can really "hiss unto them from the end of the earth," that "they shall come with speed swiftly." (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, p. 236)
Isaiah 6
Isaiah is called of God but feels unworthy of his call saying he has unclean lips and lives among people with unclean lips. How was Isaiah made worthy? v.6-7 Where did the coal come from? Why was it hot? What does the coal symbolize?

Once cleansed and purified Isaiah answered his call saying, "Here am, I send me" alluding to the Saviour's own mission call in the pre-existence.

Our first study of Isaiah has been a study full of symbols and imagery. But it is clear that the wicked are being called to repentance. The righteous are promised great blessings and all can still be saved through the cleansing power of the great atonement.
As we are cleansed, attend the temple and live the commandments we will find that the Lord's Glory will attend us and will protect us.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 34: I Will Betroth Thee Unto Me in Righteousness

How does God love us? And how do we know God loves us? How do you know God loves you?
John 3:16 He loves us so much he gave his only begotten son
Ezekiel 16:1-14 He loves us so much he has saved us, washed us, cleaned us, dressed and clothed us, adorned us with fine jewellry, entered into a covenant with us, protected us, gave us the very best, fed us the very best, crowned us.

The scriptures are clear in showing us that God loves us. But I sometimes wonder if we maybe miss the overwhelming depth of that love.
One of the ways that God has tried to explain his love for us is by using marriage as an allegory for his relationship with us. Why would he use marriage to illustrate his love for us?

What other examples in the scriptures do we have where this allegory is used? (Genesis 2-3, Matthew 25:1-13, Ephesians 5:25-33, Ruth, Revelations )

What is a betrothal? Unlike a modern day engagement, a betrothal was as holy and sacred as the final marriage vows. It was a commitment to one another. Do we as latter-day saints enter into betrothal agreements?
Have a look at the sacrament prayers:
and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son.
We take the bread as a reminder to us and a witness to others of the covenants we made at baptism to be willing to take upon us the name of Christ. Taking the bread (symbolic of his body) represents he and us becoming one spiritually.
When we take the water it represents his blood and is symbolic of us remembering and accepting his dowry that pays for us - the Atonement.

Every Sunday we are renewing our betrothal covenant with the Lord. We promised to become one with Him and our weekly sacrament is our reminder of that covenant and promise. How grateful he must be when he sees us renew that covenant each week.

It is obvious that the Lord takes marriage and betrothal and these covenants very seriously, that they have great depth of meaning to Him. It is clear he considers this a topic of great sanctity and sacredness. Which makes this next scripture all the more shocking in comparison.

Read Hosea 1:2, 3-4, 6, 8-9 WOW! I didn't see that one coming. What could possibly have happened that makes God want to order his prophet to marry a harlot and to curse the children of that marriage and to declare "for ye are not my people and I will not be yours"?

Several Old Testament prophets lives were used as similitudes or "object lessons" for the children of Israel and indeed, for us also. For example, Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac. Moses delivered his people. Jonah's experience in the belly of the great fish reflected the Lord's period of time in the Spirit World. The period of growth of Isaiah's son was used as a direct illustration of the time period Israel had left before Assyria would attack Damascus (Isa. 8). One of the most dramatic examples of such an object lesson was Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was asked to create a model of the city of Jerusalem being besieged by an invading army complete with a little miniature battering ram to represent the prophesied invasion to come! He was then told to lay down (with bare arms) by this model in public on his left side for 390 days, representing the number of years that the Northern Kingdom had been wicked. Next, he was to lay down (with bare arms) by the model on his right side for 40 days, representing the number of years that the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been wicked. He was also given specific things to eat and very specific cooking instructions. He was supposed to make bread from a mixture of grains and beans and lentils, but he was to bake it on a fire made of dried human excrement. For some reason, Ezekiel didn't like that idea too well and protested to the Lord. The Lord was merciful and allowed Ezekiel to cook his bread with dried cow chips instead of human ones! 
What was the Lord's point? The Israelites must have been horrified to see a prophet eating bread cooked over cow chips! The Lord needed to shock them just to get their attention because they had ceased to listen through the normal channels. The point was to show the people exactly how disgusting and gross their behaviour was to the Lord and how unclean they had become - the whole reason they would soon be invaded and over-run. What an object lesson!

Similarly, Hosea's marriage was to serve as an object lesson. So what was that object lesson with Hosea?
Hosea's marriage to the unfaithful Gomer symbolized God's covenants with Israel. The children - Jezreel (God scatters), Lo-ruhama (Not having obtained mercy) and Lo-ammi (Not my people) were the fruits of that unfaithful union. Clearly he's telling the people they have been unfaithful and the fruits of their infidelity to him would be that they would be scattered without mercy and would no longer be His people. 
What infidelity were the children of Israel guilty of? How can we avoid these temptations today? When the Lord likens this to marriage what is he suggesting is the key to avoiding temptation? (What is the first and great commandment?) LOVE the Lord they God with all thy heart, might mind and strength. How do you think the Husband feels? 

Now compare Hosea 2:1-13 with Hosea 2:14-23. Even though the wife had been unfaithful, the husband still loved her and wanted her back. In today's society that is often seen as weakness. Why would the husband take the unfaithful wife back? What does the Lord promise if his unfaithful wife returns? see also Hosea 2:19-20, 23.
v.14-15  The Valley of Achor is a valley north of the Jezreel Valley.  It is the route out of the wilderness into the heart of the land.  The word Achor means "trouble."  So the husband will use the route of trouble to bring Israel back to him, as the Lord often uses trials as a means of encouraging us to return to or to strengthen our relationship with him.

V. 23 is very reminiscent of a renewed marriage vow.
Why is this promise important and what does it teach us about God's love?

“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God's love encompasses us completely. ... He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken.” 
― Dieter F. Uchtdorf

In Hosea 3 the husband is instructed to purchase his wife. Her value at this time is the lowest of all values - that of a slave. This might not seem very romantic, it may appear in this time and age to objectify the woman and treat her as nothing more than a piece of property. However this was the law and the culture. And more importantly this man was willing to pay the price literally. Is there any doubt his love for her? When we understand how this purchase symbolizes our own ransom paid by the Saviour, can you see the depth of mercy and love exhibited? Can you feel the redeeming love? 
1 Peter 1:18-19

Elder Henry B Eyring says of Hosea's story,
"This was a love story. This was a story of a marriage covenant bound by love, by steadfast love...The Lord, with whom I am blessed to have made covenants, loves me and you...with a steadfastness about which I continually marvel and which I want, with all my heart, to emulate"
Covenants and Sacrifice (CES Symposium 15 Aug 1995)

I know that God loves us. I know that his arms of mercy extend far beyond my faults and my understanding. Like Elder Eyring I wish to and I strive to emulate the love He shows us. It simply stuns me and humbles me and fills my heart with gratitude that despite all of my weaknesses and all of my mistakes he still loves me and still wants me back. 

O to grace how great a debtorDaily I'm constrained to be!Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,Bind my wandering heart to Thee:Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,Prone to leave the God I love;Here's my heart, O take and seal it;Seal it for Thy courts above.Come Thou Fount, v.4
For those that feel this love does not extend to them please know that it does.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 33: Sharing the Gospel with the World

Jonah 1-4, Micah 2, 4-7
Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Fasting Jews gather to worship in their synagogues. Of all the sacred scripture available to them, they read the book of Jonah on this day. Why?

The main message of Jonah is that God's gospel is for ALL people and that no matter what your mistakes may be, if you return unto Him there is mercy and forgiveness waiting.
Today's lesson focuses on the Book of Jonah and its relevance to us today. We will also study the words of the prophet Micah.
Jonah 1:1-3 it's a fair assumption that Jonah was not singing "I'll Go Where You Want me To Go" when he received his mission call. Why not? What made a prophet of God turn down his mission call?
Ninevah is right on the banks of the Tigris in Northern Iraq. Ninevah is on the opposite bank from where modern day Mosul is today. Going there, as it is today, would have been fraught with danger. 
From an earthly perspective, it is no surprise that Jonah decided to get on a ship and head in the opposite direction toward Spain. But it was not the danger of the mission that turned Jonah away from his proselyting duties. Rather it was Jonah's worry that these heathens, who had caused his people so much pain, would be forgiven and given the same gospel blessings he had. He wanted to see Ninevah destroyed. Read Jonah 4:2 Why did he flee? Because he knew that God was a "gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness." This is quite amazing from a prophet and shows that Jonah is not really understanding of the true power of the Atonement. The Atonement was not a demonstration of God's love for his chosen people Israel. The Atonement was a demonstration of God's love for EVERYBODY! (cf. John 3:16) Jonah did not understand this. He was angered that those not "chosen" could be shown mercy and salvation. Jonah believes that sinners should be punished. It is a thought prevalent among all religions today including our own. Sinners should be punished. But the Lord believes sinners should be given a chance to repent and shown forgiveness. For all our cries of justice, the Lord ever answers with mercy.
So in fleeing, Jonah is declaring he wants nothing to do with a God who will not punish people. Why was Jonah swallowed by a great fish? Many will suggest it was punishment. NO!  The great fish was a means of salvation for Jonah. Rather than a punishment the great fish saved Jonah. Jonah was shown mercy by the Lord and by the sailors who tried everything they could to save him. Jonah 1:17 The Lord had "prepared" the great fish. Jonah sat in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Imagine, being in the belly of a fish in the depths of the sea, trapped. Would you really think you were going to escape? You are waiting to die. You are as good as dead - living but as good as dead. 3 days Jonah experienced this only to be delivered on dry land. What should that teach us about the Atonement? Surely it teaches us that no matter what depths you plunge to, no matter what darkness you become a part of, no matter how long you are gone, you can still be delivered! Jonah got that lesson. At least on a personal basis. He cried unto the Lord in his darkness and he was rescued. The lesson he did not get was no matter who you can be rescued.
As Latter Day Saints I think we are all aware of the saving graces of the Atonement in our own personal lives. But do we sometimes judge and discern for ourselves who is and who isn't worthy of that Atonement? Have you held back from sharing the gospel with a neighbour because they are just not the type? Have we given up on a less-active because they just don't appreciate it or make it difficult for us to do our duty? Do we sometimes react like the elder brother of the prodigal son when the Father's mercy and love enfold the repentant, quietly wishing our consistent righteousness would be noticed more?  
Jeffrey Holland speaking of the older brother of the prodigal son said,
"In the story of the Prodigal Son, we can miss, if we are not careful, the account of an elder son, for the opening line of the Savior’s account reads, “A certain man had two sons”—and He might have added, “both of whom were lost and both of whom needed to come home.”
This [older] son is not so much angry that the other has come home as he is angry that his parents are so happy about it. …
No, he who has virtually everything, and who has in his hardworking, wonderful way earned it, lacks the one thing that might make him the complete man of the Lord he nearly is. He has yet to come to the compassion and mercy, the charitable breadth of vision to see that this is not a rival returning. It is his brother. As his father pled with him to see, it is one who was dead and now is alive. It is one who was lost and now is found.
Who is it that whispers so subtly in our ear that a gift given to another somehow diminishes the blessings we have received? Who makes us feel that if God is smiling on another, then He surely must somehow be frowning on us? You and I both know who does this—it is the father of all lies…It is Lucifer, our common enemy, whose cry down through the corridors of time is always and to everyone, “Give me thine honor.”"
Jonah, for all his weaknesses was a prophet of God. His record is not here for us to condemn him, but rather as a reminder to ask ourselves whether we are active messengers of this gospel of mercy or whether we withhold it for those whom only we deem prepared and worthy? It stands as a true testimony of God's love for all - a witness that God's mercy and love, his Atonement, covers ALL who are willing to repent.

Jonah waits hopefully for Ninevah's destruction
Compare Jonah 3:1-3 with Jonah 1:1-3. Jonah has at least learned enough to go on the mission he is called to. He decides going to Ninevah is not so nearly as bad as rotting in the belly of a fish for 3 days and nights. He preaches repentance but is thoroughly disappointed when the people of Ninevah repent and are saved.

The book of Jonah finishes in a very odd way. It finishes like no other book of scripture - with a question.

It also follows chiasm patterns:
A.Go and preach against the wicked Ninevites
   B.Jonah sins; not wanting Ninevah to be saved
      C.Jonah repents and is delivered by the Lord
      C.Ninevah repents and is delivered by the Lord
   B.Jonah sins; not wanting Ninevah to be saved
A.The Lord asks "Should not I spare Ninevah?"

Remember the point of chiasmic literature is to focus the reader on the central point. Interestingly though the end question here is also asking the reader to consider the books central theme of repentance and mercy. Should God cease being God by not offering mercy and salvation? If Ninevah is not to be saved, who else must therefore not be saved, by the same logic?
Jonah's answer is never recorded. It does not matter because the purpose of scripture is to ask the reader the question. Like Jonah, we all must learn that to be worthy of the Lord's mercy we must be able to be merciful.

Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and preached repentance to both the Northern Kingdom of Israel as well as the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Like Isaiah, much of his prophecy has dual meaning, warning the people of his day while also prophesying of latter-day events.
Micah 2:1 describes a time when people eat, sleep and breath evil. Even when they sleep they are devising wicked plans to gain property and wealth and power over other people. Despite those perilous times what promises does the Lord make with his people in Micah 2:12-13? How are these promises being fulfilled today?

Micah 5:7 How does the Micah describe the Lord's people? How can the image of dew or showers upon the grass be compared to the effects of church members on the world? What does it mean that these dews "tarrieth not for man"?
Micah 5:8 How does Micah describe the Lord's people? What does this image suggest about the strength and power of the Lord's work? Who could stop it?
In 1842 the Prophet Joseph Smith declared,
“No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (History of the Church, 4:540).
That seems like a lot to live up to? Does the load seem heavy you are called to bear? How might Micah 6:6-8 be a comfort to those of us who can feel overwhelmed?

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. That's it. And in return we have a God who will love us and show mercy to us. Micah 7:18-19.
So today we have discussed how the Atonement and God's mercy covers EVERYONE who wishes to repent and embrace the gospel message, we have spoken of how in the Latter-Days we will be called to help spread this message and gather in those who wish to hear this message. The message is a simple message. Elder Russel M Nelson described it as a message that was announced 194 years ago with just seven words: "This is my Beloved Son, Hear Him". Whatever age we are, whatever we do in life, whatever our circumstances, we can share this message. It does not have to be forced or contrived. We just have to be willing to go where he wants us to go, and do what he wants us to do and say what he wants us to say. His message is a message of love and compassion and mercy and it is a message for everyone.

Let me finish with a story told by Elder Henry B Eyring,

"A family moved into a house near us. The   home was new, so I was part of the crew of   Latter-day Saints who spent a number of   nights putting in landscaping. I remember the   last night, standing next to the husband of   the family as we finished. He surveyed our work and said to us standing nearby, “This is the third yard you Mormons have put in for us, and I think this is the best.” And then he quietly but firmly told me of the great satisfaction he got from membership in his own church, a conversation we had often in the years he lived there.
In all that time, the acts of kindness extended to him and his family never ceased because the neighbors really came to love them. One evening, I came home to see a truck in his driveway. I had been told they were moving to another state. I approached to see if I could help. I didn’t recognize the man I saw loading household things into the truck. He said quietly as I drew near, “Hello, Brother Eyring.” I hadn’t recognized him because he was the son, now grown older, who had lived there, married, and moved away. And because of the love of many for him, he was now a baptized member of the Church. I don’t know the end of that story because it will have no end. But I know that it begins with love."

Old Testament Lesson 32: I know that my Redeemer Liveth

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 31: Happy is the Man that Findeth Wisdom

The Book of Proverbs may give the impression that Solomon sat down and wrote a book of his wisdom. More likely is that his wisdom was gathered in snippets and eventually collected together. Proverbs is not even entirely written by Solomon and there are other influences. The book is not considered as revelation from a prophet but is deemed inspired counsel of a wise man under the guidance of the Spirit.
There are many themes found in Proverbs, including our marital relationships, communication with others, avoiding sin, trusting God, finding wisdom, and more. The lesson today will focus on 7 of those themes. However there are many other pearls of wisdom that can be found in Proverbs that may not be covered in these themes (eg. Proverbs 3:27-28; 8:22-31; 17:6; 29:18 and Proverbs 31) Some can even make you smile a little (Proverbs 6:9; 18:9; 21:9; 25:17) Thus while this lesson aims to be informative I hope it serves merely to whet the appetite for a more complete feast of this fascinating book.

1. Wisdom
Proverbs 1:7; 2:1-6; 4:7
Why is wisdom so important? 
How do we gain wisdom? Where did Solomon get his wisdom from?
James 1:5

"Wisdom to govern the house of Israel was given to Solomon, and the Judges of Israel; and if he had always been their king, and they subject to his mandate, and obedient to his laws they would still have been a great and mighty people-the rulers of the universe, and the wonder of the world." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 251)

2. Trust in The Lord
Proverbs 3:5-6; 16:25
How does the Lord direct our paths?
What experiences have taught you to trust in the Lord?

At the funeral services for the five little angels, I counseled: "There is one phrase which should be erased from your thinking and from the words you speak aloud. It is the phrase, 'If only.' It is counterproductive and is not conducive to the spirit of healing and of peace. Rather, recall the words of Proverbs: 'Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.' "
Before the closing of the caskets, I noted that each child held a favorite toy, a soft gift to cuddle. I reflected on the words of the poet Eugene Field:
The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and staunch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
And the soldier was passing fair,
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.
"Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
"And don't you make any noise!"
So toddling off to his trundle-bed
He dreamt of the pretty toys.
And as he was dreaming, an angel song
Awakened our Little Boy Blue,-
Oh, the years are many, the years are long,
But the little toy friends are true!
Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
Each in the same old place,
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
The smile of a little face.
And they wonder, as waiting the long years through,
In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue
Since he kissed them and put them there.
The little toy dog and the soldier fair may wonder, but God in His infinite mercy has not left grieving loved ones to wonder. He has provided truth. He will inspire an upward reach, and His outstretched arms will embrace you. Jesus promises to one and all who grieve, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you."(Thomas S. Monson "Think to Thank," Ensign, Nov. 1998, 19-20)
3.The Words We Speak
Proverbs 15:1-2
 "To men within the sound of my voice, I say, if you are guilty of demeaning behavior toward your wife, if you are prone to dictate and exercise authority over her, if you are selfish and brutal in your actions in the home, then stop it. Repent. Repent now, while you have the opportunity to do so.
"To you wives who are constantly complaining and see only the dark side of life, and feel that you are unloved and unwanted, look into your own hearts and minds. If there is something wrong, turn about. Put a smile on your faces." (Gordon B. Hinckley News of the Church 1984)

4. Pride
Proverbs 16:18-19
"Contentions result from the prideful power struggle that comes from pitting ourselves-our possessions or our intellect against others. The proud are easily offended, hold grudges, withhold forgiveness, and will not receive counsel or correction" (CR, April 1989, pp. 85-86)" (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987-1992], 3: 348)
I was always taught and I am ever thankful for having learned this teaching. "You are never offend-ED. You CHOOSE to take offence" I have been saved much drama and stress in life with that simple advise. There seem to be people all over society that are easily offended or almost seek to take offence. Life is a lot more peaceful and loving when you choose not to be offended.
5. Friendship
Proverbs 17:17
 "Among life's sweetest blessings is fellowship with men and women whose ideals and aspirations are high and noble. Next to a sense of a kinship with God comes the helpfulness, encouragement, and inspiration of friends. Friendship is a sacred possession. . . . One of the principal reasons which the Lord had for establishing His Church is to give all persons high and low, rich and poor, strong and feeble an opportunity to associate with their fellowmen in an atmosphere of uplifting, religious fellowship. This [association] may be found in Priesthood quorums, Auxiliaries, Sacrament meetings. He who neglects these opportunities, who fails to take advantage of them, to that extent starves his own soul." 
"True friends enrich life. If you would have friends, be one." (David O'McKay Living with Enthusiasm [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 49-50)
6. Raising Children
Proverbs 22:6
What do you think Lehi or Jacob would say about this and their errant sons? 
How does this scripture give hope to parents and what key element is missing from this equation? 

"There is an old and true proverb which says, "As the twig is bent, so the tree is inclined." May I repeat a story I have told in general conference. Not long after we were married, we built our first home. We had little money, and I did a lot of the work. The landscaping was entirely my responsibility. The first of many trees that I planted was a thornless honey locust, and I envisioned the day when its shade would assist in cooling the house in the summer. I put it in a place at the corner where the wind from the canyon to the east blew the hardest. I dug a hole, put in the bare root, put soil around it, poured on water, and largely forgot it. It was only a wisp of a tree, perhaps three-quarters of an inch in diameter. It was so supple that I could bend it with ease in any direction. I paid little attention to it as the years passed. Then one winter day when the tree was barren of leaves, I chanced to look out the window at it. I noted that it was leaning to the west, misshapen and out of balance. I could scarcely believe it. I went out and braced myself against it as if to push it upright. But the trunk was now nearly a foot in diameter. My strength was as nothing against it. I took from my toolshed a block and tackle, attaching one end to the tree and the other to a well-set post. I pulled the rope. The pulleys moved just a little, and the trunk of the tree trembled slightly. But that was all. It seemed to say to me, "You can't straighten me. It's too late. I've grown this way because of your neglect, and I will not bend."
Finally in desperation I took my saw and cut off the great heavy branch on the west side. I stepped back and surveyed what I had done. I had cut off a major part of the tree, leaving a huge scar about eight inches across and only one small branch growing skyward.
More than half a century has passed since I planted that tree. My daughter and her family now live there. I recently looked again at the tree. It is large, its shape is better, and it is a great asset to the home. But how serious was the trauma of its youth and how painful the treatment I had used to straighten it. When the tree was first planted, a piece of string would have held it against the forces of the wind. I could have and should have supplied that string with ever so little effort, but I did not. And it bent to the forces that came against it.
Children are like trees. When they are young, their lives can be shaped and directed, usually with ever so little effort. Said the writer of Proverbs, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). That training finds its roots in the home." ("Four Simple Things to Help Our Families and Our Nations," Ensign, Sept. 1996, 6-7)
Elder Richard G. Scott said: “You must be willing to forgo personal pleasure and self-interest for family-centered activity, and not turn over to church, school, or society the principal role of fostering a child’s well-rounded development. It takes time, great effort, and significant personal sacrifice to ‘train up a child in the way he should go.’ But where can you find greater rewards for a job well done?” (Ensign, May 1993, 34).

7. Happiness and Good Humour
Proverbs 15:13; 17:22
"I dislike very much, and I believe people generally do, to see a person with a woe begone countenance, and to see him mourning as though his circumstances were of the most unpleasant character. There is no pleasure in association with such persons. In the family it is always a good thing for the parent to be cheerful in the presence of his wife and children. And out of that cheerfulness may arise many good gifts. The Lord has not given us the gospel that we may go around mourning all the days of our lives. He has not introduced this religion for this purpose at all. We came into the world for certain purposes, and those purposes are not of a nature that require much mourning or complaint. Where a person is always complaining and feeling to find fault, the Spirit of the Lord is not very abundant in his heart. If a person wants to enjoy the Spirit of the Lord, let him, when something of a very disagreeable nature comes along, think how worse the circumstance might be, or think of something worse that he has experienced in the past. Always cultivate a spirit of gratitude. It is actually the duty of every Latter-day Saint to cultivate a spirit of gratitude.
We should enjoy our religion. No religion has in it such prospects as has the religion of the Latter-day Saints. Nothing was ever introduced to man equal to it in its grand and glorious advantages. We ought to enjoy our religion to such an extent as to be happy most all the time." (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984], 62)
President Hugh B. Brown said: “I would like to have you smile because after all we must keep a sense of humor whatever comes. I think of all the people in the world we should be the happiest. We have the greatest and most joyous message in the world. I think when we get on the other side; someone will meet us with a smile (unless we go to the wrong place and then someone will grin), so let us be happy. But let our happiness be genuine—let it come from within” (The Abundant Life [1965], 83).
Ecclesiastes is written with the world's view in mind. Thus much of the writings are indicating that from the world's view and living as the world does there is not much hope. The main conclusion is short and sweet and as all conclusions should - comes at the end of the book!
Ecclesiastes 1:14
          All is vanity and vexation of spirit
Ecclesiastes 12:13
           Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: "Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man".


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 30: "Come to the House of the Lord"

Re-store: 1. to bring back into existence or use; reestablish
Today's lesson focuses on two righteous leaders who had the courage and strength to restore the temple and scriptures to the people. 

2 Chronicles 29
v.1-2 Hezekiah righteous Jewish king
v.3 What did Hezekiah make a priority in his life and how do we know it was a priority?
"in the first year of his reign, in the first month" he opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them. How is our relationship with the Lord? Do we need to open the doors to Him? Do we need to repair our relationship with Him? Has our relationship been allowed to fall into a little disrepair?
 “Members of the Church today face great challenges, both temporal and spiritual. Have we, on occasion, also ‘turned away [our] faces from the habitation of the Lord . . . [and] shut up the doors . . . and put out the lamps.’ Are we also ‘negligent’? Often so many pressures demand our time and attention. However, considering the times and the forces arrayed against our families, should we not follow Hezekiah's example and ‘sanctify the house of the Lord . . . in the first year of the first month?’ (Emphasis added.)” (S. Michael Wilcox, House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning in the Temple [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 62)

v.16 How did Hezekiah mend the people's relationship with the Lord? Cleansed the inner part, brought out all uncleanness from within and it was put into the brook Kidron. Why is that final detail in there? Because it shows a complete and utter abandonment of the uncleanliness. The brook Kidron once crossed was considered to be where you have at that point left Jerusalem. Essentially if you got this far, you were not planning on turning around. Likewise, if you bring your unclean things here, you are not planning on bringing them back with you. Thus taking all that was unclean symbolized the commitment to a complete and full and permanent cleansing.
v.17 We are told it took 8 days to cleanse the temple from within right up to the front porch. The people then took another 8 days of cleansing. What else might they have needed to cleanse other than the temple? Likewise, other than personal cleansing within, what else may we need to cleanse in and around our daily lives? In Hebrew culture, the number 8 symbolizes "new beginnings". That it took them two 8 day periods to fully cleanse again emphasizes their commitment to starting afresh with the Lord. What latter-day new beginning also has the number 8 associated with it? Baptism.
v.20 In our previous studies we have seen how the righteous are always noted in scripture for rising early. Hezekiah is no exception.
v.21-24 Part of the cleansing in former days is the sanctification through blood sacrifice. This practice was set up to foreshadow the ultimate and final, the last and ever-lasting, blood sacrifice, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Goats were often used as symbolic sacrifices for our sins. Thus the term "scapegoat" originated wherein someone else took the punishment for someone else.
v.24 "for all Israel" Why did Hezekiah make offerings on behalf of the Kingdom of Israel as well as his own kingdom of Judah? Was it just symbolic or did it have some practical use? Is this similar to our vicarious baptisms for the dead?
v.36 "for the thing was done suddenly" How quickly can we change if we truly want to? What delays personal cleansing?

2 Chronicles 30
Hezekiah invites all of Israel and Judah to cleanse themselves and come to the temple. Some do accept but many reject the invitation with mocking and scorn. Those that do accept are not fully temple worthy but through the righteous desires of their hearts, the prayers of Hezekiah and the sanctification of the offerings, they earn the mercy and healing of the Lord.

What was the result of Hezekiah's determination and priorities? The temple was restored.  Many people repented and were healed. Their prayers were heard. 

Spencer J Condie said,
"From King Hezekiah, as from King Benjamin (see Mosiah 2–5), we can learn a very positive lesson on leadership: circumstances do not always need to remain the same. Leaders can make a difference! Faith in the Lord and high expectations can bring about a mighty change of heart among an entire people." (“Some Scriptural Lessons on Leadership,” Ensign, May 1990, 27–28)

Sadly the great majority of the northern kingdom who mocked the idea of temple attendance and ordinances providing them protection, were (just a short three years later) attacked by Assyria and within three years after that initial attack they were carried away captive. This is the beginning of the lost ten tribes. 2 Kings 18:9-12. Interestingly enough in 1841 Joseph Smith was told to issue a similar invitation to all the world and the saints in Doctrine and Covenants 124:2-4, 10-11, 27-28. How did that turn out?

2 Chronicles 32
Sennacherib, King of Assyrria decides he wants to invade and sack Jerusalem.
v.3-8 What does Hezekiah do? cuts off anything that might give life to this invader of their sanctified lives. How can we cut off the oxygen or the water supply that feeds sin as it tries to invade our freshly sanctified lives? Notice Hezekiah does not rest on his sanctified laurels, he strengthens himself more. He rebuilds the wall higher and he builds a second wall of defence. He also prepares for a fight, adding more weapons. He organizes his people, appointing leaders and he inspires them, reminding them of who they ultimately look to for protection. How might we learn from this in our own homes and families?
Who are the servants of the Lord?
What is the heritage of the servants of the Lord? See 3 Nephi 22:17

v.9-20 Did Sennacherib attack them in open battle? No. He could not the defences were too high. So how did he attack them? He himself didn't directly attack them. He sent his servants among them to weaken their faith. He wrote letters to the people to weaken their resolve and even spoke to those on the walls in their own language to frighten them into giving in.
v.21 How did Hezekiah respond? Prayer. What was the result? How powerful can prayer be in our lives? see also 2 Kings 19:35

2 Chronicles 34
Hezekiah eventually dies, first his son Manasseh and then his grandson, Amon rule unrighteously. But then his great-grandson Josiah begins to reign at the age of 8 years old. Notice the symbolism of a new beginning. Josiah reigns in righteousness refusing to be turned.
v.3 after 8 years of ruling he starts to find his voice and seeks the God of David.In the twelfth year, being 20 years old Josiah begins to purge the land once more of false gods and the high places and altars that housed them
In his 26th year he takes the tithes and offerings that have been collected and uses it to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem. As they gathered the tithes and offerings of the temple what else did they find?
v.14 the book of the law of the Lord, as given by Moses.
It condemns the people to death for forsaking the Lord. When Josiah consults the prophetess Huldah, she confirms that future generations will die as a result but that he will be preserved because of his faithfulness and his humility. Josiah might be tempted to retreat within his self-preserved bubble but instead what does he do?

George Albert Smith remarked,
I am not concerned whether or not you have the books of the great libraries of the world in your home, provided you do have these books [the scriptures]. Think of the millions of volumes that there are in our own Congressional Library at Washington, in the British Library, and in the libraries of other countries, millions of volumes—and yet all that God has revealed and published to the children of men that is necessary to prepare them for a place in the celestial kingdom is contained within the covers of these sacred books. How many of us know what they contain? I frequently go into homes where I see all the latest magazines. I find the books that are advertised as best-sellers on the bookshelves. If you were to throw them all away and retain only these sacred scriptures, you wouldn't lose what the Lord has caused to be written and made available for us all to enjoy. So, brethren and sisters, among our other blessings let us not forget that the Lord has made it possible for us to have, enjoy, and understand the scriptures and to have his word that has been given down through the ages for the salvation of his children. (The Teachings of George Albert Smith, edited by Robert McIntosh and Susan McIntosh [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 52)

v.29-33 Josiah commits the people to live the Law of the Lord. They do all the days of his life.

Throughout this lesson, the temple's complete restoration to full usage and focus on the scriptures is hailed as the central component of people becoming sanctified and being able to draw upon the powers of heaven. Are those powers available to us today? How might we more fully restore the temple in our lives?

President Howard W. Hunter encouraged:
“Let us be a temple-attending people. Attend the temple as frequently as personal circumstances allow. Keep a picture of a temple in your home that your children may see it. Teach them about the purposes of the house of the Lord. Have them plan from their earliest years to go there and to remain worthy of that blessing.
“If proximity to a temple does not allow frequent attendance, gather in the history of your family and prepare the names for the sacred ordinances performed only in the temple. This family research is essential to the work of the temples, and blessings surely will come to those who do that work” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 8; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 8).

When personal circumstances or proximity do not allow us to attend the temple regularly, what other way, according to President Hunter, can we show the Lord that our hearts are in the right place?

"Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. Let us hasten to the temple as frequently as time and means and personal circumstances allow. Let us go not only for our kindred dead, but let us also go for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety which is provided within those hallowed and consecrated walls. The temple is a place of beauty, it is a place of revelation, it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It should be holy unto us." (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 239)

 Brigham Young once said,
If every one of the Latter day Saints lived up to their privileges, they would not fear the world, and all that they can no, any more than they fear that the cranes, that fly croaking three quarters of a mile above them, will drop their eggs upon them to dash their brains out. You might as well fear that event, as to fear all the forces of hell, if the people were sanctified before the Lord, and would do His will every day.
Are these ideas strange to you? Read and learn how the Lord protected the children of Israel in former days, even during their wickedness, and rebellion against Him.
Whenever a good man would say, "Cease your wickedness, turn from your idols, and seek to the Lord," and they hearkened to his counsel, then the Lord would fight their battles, and kill their enemies by scores and hundreds of thousands. And on one occasion the angel of the Lord slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand of those who came against His people to destroy them, "and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses." So reads the Bible. The Lord fought their battles.
Again, Elisha's servant saw that there was more for them than all who were against them; he saw that the sides of the mountains were covered with "chariots of fire."
When the Lord commands those invisible beings, shall I say, those who have had their resurrection? yes, millions and millions more than the inhabitants of this earth, they can fight your battles.
Now, since one angel could fight their battles in former times, and overcome the enemies of the people of God, whom shall we fear? Shall we fear those who can kill the body, and then have no more that they can do? No, but we will fear Him who is able not only to destroy the body, but has power to cast both soul and body into hell fire. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 2: 255 - 256)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 26: King Solomon: Man of Wisdom, Man of Foolishness

We are studying Solomon today. Much of the reading is taken from 1 Kings but a comparative reading can also be found in 1 Chronicles 1-9.
If you were to be granted one wish. Just one. Anything you want. What would it be?
Now if a 20 year old had just one wish what do you think they would ask for?

This is the situation a young Solomon found himself in after he became King. We don't know his exact age but most scholars believe that he became King somewhere between his early teenage years to early twenties. In 1 Kings 3:5 we are told:
"In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee."
In a small survey a few years ago, over 70% of teenagers when asked what they would want if they had one wish, said they wanted money, wealth or material possessions. What did Solomon ask for?  Read 1 Kings 3:6-9 "An understanding heart."
Somewhat overwhelmed by all the people he was now responsible for, he sought this gift not for adoration or recognition but so that he may discern between good and bad to judge the people righteously. We see this humility time and again from servants of the Lord, this recognition of their own inadequacies and their need to rely on the Lord's gifts.

What do you think put Solomon in a position to have been offered such a wish? Was it because he was a king? Was it because he found a magic lamp with a genie inside? Read 1 Kings 3:3-4
The reason Solomon was granted this great wish was because of three things:
He loved God
He obeyed the laws of the land
He made sacrifice to God in the most high place

Do you think having this wisdom of God would be useful in work, in families and in church? How might we be able to get this gift of wisdom and an understanding heart?

I suspect the Lord is willing to grant us our righteous desires if we similarly live righteously, love God and worthily attend his temple with the sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit. Notice after granting Solomon his righteous desire he also grants Solomon riches and honour and if he remains righteous, long life. (1 Kings 3:12-14)

On a side note you may have noticed the description of Gibeon in those verses and wondered why it claims the title of "the great high place". As we know there was no temple in those days and so altars were built upon the mountains which were considered holy places themselves. David built a tabernacle in Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant but the original Tabernacle of Moses that had been built in wilderness was, in the time of Solomon, set up at Gibeon. This tabernacle was held with great esteem for obvious reasons and thus was considered "the great high place". It was essentially the equivalent of our modern day Salt Lake City Temple. It was not the only "high place" whereby the people of Israel could go and make offerings but it was held in great esteem among all the high places.

The clear example of Solomon's wisdom is now infamous. Two prostitutes claim a single living child is theirs. Solomon carefully watching the body language and reaction of the two prostitutes deduces the true mother. Solomon is rightly considered wise but I wonder if he is remembered as wise for the wrong reasons. Not to suggest solving this very emotional and tough personal drama was easy but I suspect we may miss the point. Solomon's wisdom was not shown through the decision he made but rather through the fact that he even heard the case. Here is Solomon. He is the King. He has just spoken with God. He has just offered sacrifices at the two most holy places in the Kingdom - the tabernacle of Moses at Gibeon and the tabernacle of David in Jerusalem. Why would Solomon then lower himself to discuss a private squabble between two unworthy and unclean prostitutes. Therein lies the true wisdom of Solomon (and of God). True wisdom recognizes that we are all equal in the sight of God. We all are his children. Just because our choices are righteous and other's choices are unrighteous does not mean we treat others differently. Solomon recognized this and in choosing to hear this case of the two prostitutes he sent a clear message to his people that he was concerned for all of his people and that he would be fair in his judgements. Likewise God too loves us all, righteous or unrighteous. Even the lowest of us all will have their chance to plead their case before God. And we can feel sure that we will be judged righteously and fairly.

Solomon decides to build a permanent temple to the Lord. What motivated him to do this? Read 1 Kings 5:3-5
Solomon had heard of the prophecy and decided to fulfill it. Sometimes I wonder if we wait a little too much for prophecy to be fulfilled by God or by others. How might we each be able to fulfill prophecy today?
As you ponder this question within the context of your personal life, patriarchal blessings, your family and the church in general you may wish to read this talk by Elder Pearson of the Pacific Area Presidency from 2013. But one of the things he says is:
"Those willing to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to follow His latter-day prophets will not be content to merely watch these things happen. Motivated by our love for the Saviour and all of the Father’s children, each one of us can all help to make things happen."
How many others helped fulfill the prophecy of the temple being built in Jerusalem? 
Read 1 Kings 5:13, 15-16, 18
Clearly many people were needed to build the temple in Jerusalem. Likewise, here today we are all enlisted in this great work. We are all needed to help fulfill the prophecies of the last days.

There are a number of measurements and details found in 1 Kings 6 regarding the temple building. On another day they all have lessons we can learn from them, but the verse that touches me most is verse 7 where we read:
"And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building."
What does this tell us about how Solomon and the people felt about the temple? Can you imagine the extra sacrifice and effort that took? Some may have considered this an unnecessary inconvenience when the building had not yet been constructed and dedicated. Do we have similar situations today where worldly logic defies spiritual logic? It puts me in mind of the great sacrifice Hannah made. Before Samuel was even born into his mortal temple, he had been dedicated to the Lord. These acts are not within the basic gospel requirements. Such acts stand above the basic requirements and mark out those among us who have the greater faith and desire. They are to be honoured and held up as higher examples for us all to aspire to, like stepping stones of faith in our upward journey to become like Him and as Him.

The temple took 7 years to build. Upon completion of the temple they offered many sacrifices and held a great feast. The dedicatory prayer was offered by Solomon. The passage I would like to focus on is 1 Kings 8:44-53
This is another passage of scripture that I find so very touching and indicative of the Lord's love and mercy for us all. Having completed this great temple and dedicated it, the people of Israel will be able to participate in and do the great work within the temple. This requires taking on covenants that come with blessings and warnings. Solomon curiously yet prophetically indicates that wars lie ahead and maybe even being carried away captive into foreign lands ("for there is no man that sinneth not"). And in so doing calls upon the Lord to forgive those that sin
"...if they bethink themselves...and repent, and make supplication unto thee...And so return unto thee with all of their heart, and with all of their soul, and pray unto thee toward their land and the house which I have built for thy name: Then hear thou their prayer and their supplication and maintain their cause and forgive thy people that have sinned against thee and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee"
There isn't a soul among us who has not made a wrong turn, a bad decision or a foolish choice. But there is power, healing power to be found within the covenants of the temple when coupled with true repentance.
Solomon's dedicatory prayer also indicates that the temple itself would influence even those who were not of Israel 1 Kings 8:41-43. How might this passage apply to the temples and the Saints and the non members of the Latter Days? It puts me in mind of the words to our primary hymn:
"I love to see the temple. I'm going there someday

To feel the Holy Spirit, To listen and to pray.
For the temple is a house of God, A place of love and beauty." "I Love to See the Temple"
 President Ezra Taft Benson similarly said,
“In the peace of these lovely temples, sometimes we find solutions to the serious problems of life. Under the influence of the Spirit, sometimes pure knowledge flows to us there. Temples are places of personal revelation. When I have been weighed down by a problem or a difficulty, I have gone to the House of the Lord with a prayer in my heart for answers. These answers have come in clear and unmistakable ways” (“What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 8).
I have a personal testimony of the peace that can be found within the temple and of the ability of the Spirit's whisperings within to wash away the woes and worries of the world outside. I invite you all to seek that peace. If you are not a member, go visit the grounds of a temple. Sit and contemplate your life and your purpose and your desires in that setting with sincerity and you will find answers.
To find the nearest temple to you, click on this link: Current LDS Temples in the World

Despite Solomon being granted God's wisdom, choice is still a personal matter and later in his years Solomon made some foolish choices. Firstly he took wives that lead him away from his priorities and beliefs. Then he actively built altars and high places for other gods, notably Ashtoreth, Milcom and Chemosh, the gods of the Zidonians, Ammonites and Moabites. How does someone so wise make such foolish decisions? What can we learn from Solomon's sad example in his later years?
Notice the progression into foolishness from wisdom:
  • He is imbued with God's wisdom
  • He is praised by all including foreign dignitaries such as the Queen of Sheba
  • He is drawn to flattering words and loved many strange women.
  • These wives turned away his heart
  • They turned away his heart to other gods
  • His heart was not perfect
  • He did evil in the sight of the Lord.
We will learn in the oncoming weeks that as a result of Solomon's foolishness, the Lord allows the kingdom of Israel to be split into two. The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Within the span of just their first three kings, Israel has learned that not following the wisdom and counsel of the Lord and insisting on kings rather than God to lead them has left them divided and conquerable. That wisdom is only found through righteous choices. Solomon did not become righteous because he was wise. He became wise because he was righteous. Once he gave up righteousness, he lost his wisdom also. Some 300 years later Solomon's temple was destroyed. One family fleeing that oncoming destruction had a son called Jacob who wisely noted, "To be learned is good, if they hearken unto the counsels of God". (2 Nephi 9:29)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 25: Let Every Thing That Have Breath Praise the Lord

Old Testament Lesson 24: Create in Me a Clean Heart

Old Testament Lesson 23: The Lord Be Between Me and Thee Forever

Old Testament Lesson 22: The Lord Looketh on the Heart

The children of Israel have chosen to overthrow the theocracy in favour of a monarchy like all the nations around them. The Lord having warned them of the potential issues and consequences of a monarchy, allows them a king and tells Samuel to go anoint a king for them.

1 Samuel 9:
v.1-2 Kish was of the tribe of Benjamin and a mighty man of power. When we think of power today we more often think of money and position as that is what gets you power in today's world. I suspect their world was not much different but I also suspect Kish was not a powerful man in that sense but in the sense of the priesthood. As we read on in this chapter you will see why.
His son Saul was a choice young man and goodly. In fact there was no one more goodly and we are told that "from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people." Verse 2 is actually where we get the phrase "head and shoulders above the rest". Saul was literally and possibly spiritually head and shoulders above the rest of his people.
v.3-5 Kish loses some of his asses and sends Saul and a servant to look for them but having traveled throughout the neighboring lands they cannot find them. Seeking that long and hard for lost asses seems to suggest they were not wealthy family. This supports the idea that Kish's power was not in wealth or position but in priesthood.
v.6-10 the servant suggests seeking the prophet's help and Saul agrees. Interestingly enough the text tells us that prophets were called Seers before they were called Prophets.
v.11-14 with the help of some local young women Saul and the servant discover that Samuel is officiating in the temple there.
v.15-20 Samuel meets them, tells them he has been expecting them and that their asses are fine and have been found and also that Israel's fate rests with Saul. I would imagine Saul would be a little taken aback by all of this forthright prophecy.
v.21 Saul indicates he is of the least of the tribes of Israel and that his family is the least important of the tribe of Benjamin. This also indicates that Kish the mighty man of power found his power in the priesthood and would likely explain how Saul had become so choice and goodly.
v.22-24 Samuel places Saul at the head of the guests and serves him food that has been set apart for him. This must have been as an indication to Saul that Samuel was not joking but was very serious. After leaving the temple Samuel continues to instruct Saul in the highest place in their abode - the roof of the house. It would seem the Lord is both spiritually and physically educating Saul of his new elevated status.
v.26-27 there it is again "and they arose early". I wonder how much we miss by sleeping in. So many times in the Old Testament the righteous seem to be signified by their habit of arising early. It's an intriguing pattern.
Samuel decides to walk Saul to the edge of the city and instructs Saul to tell the servant to go on ahead. Where before the servant was suggesting to Saul what the next step might be, already Samuel is instructing Saul how to be a King and give instruction and commands.

1 Samuel 10
v.1-8 Samuel anoints Saul king of Israel. He then instructs Saul of three things:
  1. As he returns to the edge of his tribal lands where his roots are his asses will be restored.
  2. Then on the way to Beth-el (or the house of God) men carrying offerings will give him some of their offerings. And he will receive it.
  3. At the foot of the mountain of the Lord he will meet other prophets carrying instruments and prophesying and Saul will feel the Spirit and join them in prophesying.
As a result of this journey Saul is promised he "shalt be turned into another man". This is an interesting journey. I wonder if the significance might be lost today. Here the Lord is promising Saul who has just been anointed to represent all of Israel, that if he returns to his roots, and if he partakes of the bread which is of the house of God (the Gospel), and continues on to the Mountain of the Lord (the Temple) and associates with the brethren that all that was his will be restored to him, he will receive of the spirit, will be one in fellowship with the prophets and will be turned into a new man.
I wonder if there is not a spiritual lesson there for all of us?

v.9-16 Samuel's prophecies concerning Saul's journey are fulfilled and Saul begins to be seen as a prophet and people are surprised. Although he tells his family of his journey and meeting Samuel, he does not tell anyone of his anointing.
v.17-25 Samuel calls a general conference where he once again reminds the people that in choosing a monarchy they are rejecting the Lord. Having done that he introduces Saul to the people as the man the Lord has chosen and the people proclaim him their king. Samuel sets forth the constitution of the monarchy in a book and adjourns the conference.
v.26-27 Already discontent and division arises as some who feel the spirit follow Saul while others do not do not even honor him as their king.

1 Samuel 11:
v.1-3 Nahash the Ammonite lays seige to the city of Jabesh-Gilead. The men of the city offer themselves as servants to Nahash if he covenants to spare them. Nahash accepts on one condition - that he can pluck out the right eye of every man. (He doesn't seem like a particularly jovial kind of fellow!) The men ask for 7 days to see if anyone will rescue them but promise to submit themselves to Nahash's conditions after 7 days if no one does rescue them.
v.4-8 Saul the king, as he is with his herds, (does not seem very king like - he hasn't maybe got used to being a king yet) hears of this news and sends a message to all the tribes to unite like the yoke of an oxen or have their livelihood destroyed. They all unite to create an army of 330,000 men.
v.9-15 Saul absolutely annihilates the Ammonites and the people of Israel praise him and he deflects the credit to the Lord. Saul is re-established as King before the people.

1 Samuel 13:1-14:
This seems so harsh on Saul at first glance. Having been king for two years he has won a pretty big battle but then a large Philistine army gathers and many of the Israelites flee. Saul is told to wait for Samuel but when Samuel doesn't show Saul decides to take matters into his own hands and offer the sacrifice before the battle. When Samuel arrives and realizes that Saul has taken on the prophetic and priestly duties he condemns him and tells him that he has lost the right to have his kingdom and that another will be appointed in due course.
Essentially what Saul did would have been like Harry Reid or Mitt Romney saying Pres. Monson is late for conference so we will open up conference and preside in the temple with the brethren. When his faith and patience were tested, Saul fell short of the mark. It's an incredibly swift fall from grace and maybe shows the pride and arrogance that comes from gaining a little worldly power and position. (cf. Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-40)

1 Samuel 15:
In case we thought the last instance was a lone instance, we are provided more evidence of Saul's willingness to disobey the Lord and do his own thing and to serve his own purposes. On being commanded to utterly destroy the Amalekites, he saves Agag, the King of the Amalekites and the best of their crops and herds and cattle. He only destroys that which he decides is bad.
When Samuel hears of this and Saul's reasoning that he felt it would make the people happy to have a grand feast and offering of these things Samuel utters the famous line "to obey is better than sacrifice". Samuel also reminds Saul of when Saul was "little in his own sight", indicating Saul's now ever-increasing pride and arrogance.
Notice Saul's progression into the dark side, he presumes to take Samuel's place and then presumes to dictate to the Lord what is best. This usurpation is utterly unacceptable and Saul is once more reminded that he will lose his kingship to another, one who is "better than thou"(v.28). That is a pretty humbling put down to a man that has become filled with his own greatness.
v.32-33 Samuel, once a little child in the temple learning to discern the voice of the Lord, has become a powerful instrument of the Lord. There is something very terrible and decisive about this denouement. After being summoned by Samuel, Agag approaches "delicately" and politely suggests the heat of battle is over, let's talk. And Samuel's response? He cuts Agag into pieces.
Sometimes the world will use political correctness and favorable speech to deter you from doing what is right. Sometimes what you are expected to do may even be portrayed by others as abject cruelty. Notice today how standing up for your religious beliefs and principles is often portrayed as victimization of others or as sexist or racist or homophobic. I wonder how many faithful Saints who previously heard the call will fall short when tested in the battlefield of public opinion and political correctness.
v.35 Despite Samuel's harsh words and actions it is interesting to note the final verse of this chapter returns to the private sadness Samuel feels for Saul. We are told "Samuel mourned for Saul" and though the rest of the verse is obviously not correct I wonder if the true intent was to imply that the Lord too mourned for Saul and the choices he made. The Lord does not delight in our mistakes. He is not waiting to punish us and strip us of blessings at the first opportunity. He wants us to succeed but while this is His plan, the results and consequences are all based on our choices. When we choose well, He is happy, when we fall, He mourns for us. For me this chapter really highlights what so many view as the God of the Old Testament - the god of destruction and swift judgement. But it also shows a God who cares deeply for people even when they fall.

1 Samuel 16
v.1-5 Samuel is sent to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse to find a new king. Samuel is a little worried that Saul might kill him if he finds out what he is doing but not as worried as the people of Bethlehem are when they hear Samuel is arriving. We are told "the elders of the town trembled at his coming" and asked,"Comest thou peaceably?".
Having reassured them of his peaceful intentions and then calls Jesse and his sons. On seeing the eldest son, Eliab, Samuel feels sure this is the Lord's chosen. But the Lord counsels him not to look on appearances but on the heart. With this wise counsel Samuel rejects all of Jesse's sons and asks if he has any others. Jesse's youngest son, David, is summoned from the fields where he was tending the sheep.
v.12 suggests that while the Lord looks on the heart it does not mean only ugly people will be called. David is described as good looking and is immediately identified as the next king just like the good looking Saul before him.
v.14-18 In contrast Saul has now lost the spirit he once had and even those around him notice it enough to mention it to him. In an effort to regain that which he once had they recommend a little bit of harp music as the cure. Cruel fate or intentional planning, it turns out the best harp player around is David, the son of Jesse - the secretly chosen and anointed king-to-be. Interestingly enough not only is he recommended for his cunning in playing the harp (skilful play) but he is also mentioned as being a mighty valiant man, a man of war, prudent in matters, comely in person and the Lord is with him. All of these things would be useful in a resume if you are going to be considered for the position of adviser to the king but they also echo Luke 2:52 where we are told Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man. The Lord is not looking for religious fanatics or extremists, he is looking for well-balanced individuals who excel in many areas of their lives.

1 Samuel 17
I view this chapter as one of the greatest chapters in the Old Testament. There are so many lessons to be learned from this chapter. So much that is taught. I will not be able to do it justice in this blog - it would take an entire book - but I hope I can whet your appetite just a little.
v.1-3 The Philistines and the Israelites are fighting a religious and territorial battle here. One one side you have the Israelites with their one God, in whom they have trusted before but have forgotten lately (as symbolized by their king Saul). They are pitched in the mountain on one side of the Valley of Elah. On the other side of the valley pitched in the mountain opposite are the Philistines, who worshiped a number of gods but generally trusted in their own strength. What we have in essence is a fight between the Gods (in the mountains), played out among mortals (in the valley). Jehovah often fights against the mortal odds to show his presence and his power but rarely do we get to see it in such simplistically stark contrast as we do here in the valley of Elah.
v.4-11 Championing a cause is a phrase we hear often today but it comes from the days when armies would have their champions and where often, battles and decisions were won and made by one-on-one combat between two champions. Here we are introduced to the Philistine champion, Goliath.
He is described as 6.5 cubits tall. Some say that is about 6'9 and others say it is 9'9. Considering he wore a brass helmet, and his armor weighed somewhere around 200lbs it is fairly safe this man was a big man and a daunting sight. Someone else even carried his shield for him.
Goliath taunts the Israelites and defies them. Saul and all Israel were "dismayed and greatly afraid".
Things do not look good at this stage for the Israelites, they have forgotten their God and are afraid while the opposition have a champion that is strong in his own belief and strength.
Now I know kings did not usually fight as champions but was Saul not head and shoulders above the rest of his people. At a time like this, if in the right mindset, would not Saul be the best man to fight Goliath? Obviously, while confident in his own strength, Saul knows that physically he is no match for Goliath. He is also aware that he has been rejected by the Lord. Would you have any confidence in facing Goliath without the Lord?