Saturday, March 29, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 13: Bondage, Passover and Exodus

Let me apologize first to those that are following these lessons. I missed posting last week's lesson and was delayed this week due to a broken finger that limited my ability to type. Thank you for your patience. Things should return to normal now and I will hopefully fill in last week's lesson this week sometime.

Exodus 1- Deliverance of priesthood
v.5 Jacob had 70 children!!
v.6 New story as a few generations pass away (about 350 years)
v.7-11 an immigration issue. Having welcomed the people of Israel (Jacob) into the land they prospered like Joseph and before long they filled the land. A new Pharaoh, unfamiliar with Joseph and his people would suggest that the people of Israel got a little comfortable and did not continue to build relationships within their new homeland. Pharaoh's solution was to make them inferior, treat them as less than themselves and appoint taskmasters to "afflict them with their burdens", presumably in a bid to either enslave or drive them out of the land but certainly to control them. Certainly at the least they created a lower, serving class possibly by limiting employment to certain roles but the evidence is clear that this soon became brutal enslavement.
v.12 "But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew"This teaches us a great principle about adversity. We are given trials and adversity so that we can increase and grow.
v.15-21 Shiphrah and Puah - Hebrew midwives who feared God more than they feared Pharaoh and they were blessed with descendants. I am always fascinated by this story. Pharaoh is obviously trying to be sneaky at first by enlisting the midwives to kill the boys at birth and suggest to the mothers that they were still born or died during labour. This is obviously a horrendous thing for anyone to consider let alone midwives who dedicate themselves to help give life, not take it away. Nevertheless to be commanded by Pharaoh and disobey would have put them in opposition to a very strong and dangerous political opponent, and would have meant certain death for them and potentially their families. Like Joseph, they do not appear to have hesitated in their resolve. That they feared God more than Pharaoh is a remarkable testimony to these two noble women and a great example to us today. And they were blessed with families for it.
v.22 It would appear that this Pharaoh, in being unfamiliar with Joseph was likewise unfamiliar with the God of Israel and underestimated Him. His next move is to sign into law that all male babies should be killed. From a socio-political point of view, that this law was even considered shows a certain culpability of the ruling Egyptian people as well as their Pharaoh and goes some way to understanding the plagues and death that falls upon the Egyptian people and the house of Pharaoh as a consequence.

Exodus 2 - Deliverance of a prophet

v.1 a priestly family, a righteous covenant family
v.2 the child was healthy
v.3 remember the law now said all male children were to be killed. Around 3 months it is getting more and more obvious even with clothes on that the child is a boy and can no longer be disguised as a girl or hidden. An ark made of reeds and pitch, so as not to leak and sink.
v.4-10 How did the sister get into the company of the pharaoh's daughter and into a position to speak to her? There are some Jewish rabbis that suggest Miriam was Puah, one of the head midwives who had earlier saved the Hebrew boys at birth. We may never know for sure but it is a fanciful thought and certainly Miriam is a great woman and the first in all scripture to be accounted as a prophetess (Exodus 15:20). Either way she convinces Pharaoh's daughter to have Jochebed (Moses biological mother) nurse the baby. And then Pharaoh's daughter adopts him as her own son.

The symbolism is clear. Once more God is raising up a righteous young man in the midst of the Egyptians. Joseph nurtured and protected his people in Egypt and Moses would lead his people out of Egypt. Even so, Christ nurtures and protects his people in the world and delivers us from the world through his atonement.

However the obvious question is how can Pharaoh allow such disobedience under the roof of his own house? There is no real answer that we can see but there is much discussion in Jewish circles that  Pharaoh's daughter was the same mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:18 "Bithiah daughter of Pharaoh". It is also believed that this Bithiah, daughter of Pharaoh had not gone down to the river to bathe but rather to be baptized by immersion and had converted from idol worship when she saw the ark of reeds in the bulrushes and rescued Moses.

v.11-15 Moses sees the burden of his Hebrew brethren and slays an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew. You may wonder how he knew he was a Hebrew. But as discussed above he was nursed and loved by his mother and then adopted and loved by his adoptive mother Bithiah who if she had converted would have taught Moses of his own people and traditions as well as introduced him the the ways of Egyptian society. There is little doubt Moses knew who he was.
Commonly we see Moses as now fleeing Egypt and Pharaoh who now seek to kill him for his "crime". However in Hebrews 11:27 Paul suggests another reason for his departure. Could it be that his faith caused him to leave and seek out his mission in life?

He arrives in Midian (modern Jordan or Saudi Arabia we believe) and stops at a well. With all our previous biblical experiences at a well, can you guess what is going to happen here?
v.16-22 In these 5 short verses we have yet another example of service at the well that ends in marriage - you could say all's well that ends well! Moses protects Jethro's (Reuel) daughters and enables them to feed their sheep. I love the father's question when they get home earlier than usual that day "How is it that ye are come so soon today?". It seems it is common that they are troubled by the other shepherds and have to struggle to get their water. Their father to this point does not seem to have stepped in and helped them but rather has allowed them to continue struggling day by day until they are one day delivered from their trying circumstances. Their father and it is implied the daughters appear to accept this as part of their lot in life. I wonder if there is symbolism here with Moses as Christ delivering us from our daily trials and providing us with the waters of eternal life?

Moses marries Zipporah and they have a son Gershon.
v.23-25 "In process of time". Most often we are asked to endure through a process of time. The Lord hears us but rarely provides instant replies as it is necessary we must endure for a while. Eventually Pharaoh dies but the bondage continues and the children of Israel pray for deliverance. And while on the ground, in the moment, in that test of faith, while the lashes continue and the work is burdensome somewhere up above, overlooking and with the big picture and eternal perspective "God looked upon the children of Israel" and "God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob."

Exodus 3 - The Deliverer is called
v.7-10 The Lord announces that he has heard the cries and will deliver them through Moses to their land of promise.
v.8-14 Moses asks two questions:
Who am I to defeat Pharaoh and deliver Israel? The Lord 's answer is "Certainly I will be with thee"
What shall I tell Israel is your name? The Lord's answer is "I Am THAT I Am...I Am hath sent me unto you" (cf John 8:58)
Tetragammaton (YHWH)
The first question seems to assure Moses that he is called of God and that he has the backing of God. The second question is to assure Israel that God has heard them. I Am not only emphasizes a living relevant and active God but the root form also serves as a derivation of the tetragammaton (four letters) YHWH commonly used in Hebrew to mean Yahweh or Jehovah. God is literally telling Moses that He, the God of the Old Testament is Jehovah, Jesus Christ. This truth has since been lost and most today consider Jehovah to be God the Father but clearly here we have the Eternal Deliverer, Jesus Christ instructing his own type, in Moses, to go deliver his people from physical bondage. What we are about to witness is the greatest symbol of the Atonement in all scripture.
v.15-22 The Lord God gives further instruction to Moses and warns him that Pharaoh will not give in easily but that it will serve God's purpose and that eventually there will be deliverance.

Exodus 5 - Deliverance begins with increased burdens
v.1-2 "Let my people go". The pharaoh shows his ignorance and also his arrogance by asking "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?" He may regret that later.
v.4-14 Pharaoh increases the daily tasks of the children of Israel but then still demands the same production from them. Satan similarly crushes our spirits gradually increasing the burden on our spirits whether it be in debt or sin.
v.15-23 the children of Israel complain and Moses takes their complaint to the Lord and asks what the point of all this is if their slavery and burden is only increased. Moses appears to have forgotten the Lord's warning that Pharaoh would not respond initially and that instead it would take many wonders to deliver them. We get a glimpse here of the short-sightedness of man on earth compared to those with a more elevated view who are able to grasp the bigger picture. It is not easy to wait on the Lord's time. That is our test. How do we get that elevated view? How do we see as the Lord sees?

Exodus 6
v.1-8 The Lord reiterates who He is and that He will deliver the people of Israel and then further promises that he will covenant with them. Note that he is not covenanting with them at this point - they must first free themselves of their burdens (which we see takes a full generation and 40 years in the wilderness). But there is a beauty in the phrasing of his simple promise that alludes to marriage when He says, "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God, and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God" There is something about that phrasing that touches deep within my soul and feels so very personal.

The LDS Gospel Doctrine teachers' manual asks us not to focus in this particular lesson on the miracles and plagues that follow this chapter. Please note this is not due to some discrepancy or anything they wish us not to study in general. I will cover the plagues here below in detail but for the purposes of personal study rather than use in the Sunday School classes. I believe the First Presidency's intent may be to keep us focused in the Sunday School classes on the Deliverance itself and on the Deliverer Himself rather than the plagues that were a means to an end but not the ultimate point of the story.

Having said that, knowing how powerful God is surely there are many simpler ways to release the children of Israel. Why did he go the route of the plagues?
A deeper study of the plagues suggests that each plague was a direct attack on the Egyptian Gods and their entire belief system. Pharaoh rather rashly and arrogantly asked why he should follow the God of Israel and plague by plague, the God of Israel replies, showing his dominance over the false gods of the Egyptians. But that in and of itself does not seem enough. What is the point of showing Pharaoh and his people all of this if rather than convert them He plans to drown them in the Red Sea?
We spoke earlier of how the Lord promised to covenant with his people but that he did not make the covenant with them at that point. After years of living in Egypt, they had become infested with Egyptian ways and beliefs including idol worship. To truly deliver His people it was necessary to free them from the bondage of false idol worship also. The only way to do that was to show them that they were false, to defeat them in every way to prove to the children of Israel who the true God was. Thus the plagues were less a means to convince Pharaoh to release the children of Israel as they were a means to release the minds and souls of the children of Israel from all remnants of idol worship, thus preparing them for the covenant with their one true God, the God of Abraham, Jehovah, YHWH, the Great Deliverer!
Let us consider then the plagues:

Exodus 7:10-12 Serpents were considered symbols of deity. This opening episode could be considered a declaration of war. When Aaron casts down his rod and it became a serpent it was telling Pharaoh we have deity on our side. That forces Pharaoh to show his true colours and he orders his magicians to copy this wonder, thus declaring that they had the god of this world on their side (Satan). Notice however that Aaron's serpent ate the other serpents. Pharaoh would have been wise to back down there and then but he was not wise and he stubbornly went up into battle against the God of all creation.
For further relevance also notice how these plagues are suspiciously similar to the plagues to affect the world prior to the second coming when the world will be delivered from wickedness once more. I have cross-referenced these scriptures at the end of each plague.

Exodus 7:19 Plague 1 Nile turned to blood. Egyptian god of the Nile, Hapi is defeated. Sorry I cant resist - I'm sure Hapi was not very Happy. (see also Revelations 16:3)
Exodus 8:2 Plague 2 Frogs. Egyptian goddess of fertility, Heket (had head and body of frog) is defeated. (see also Revelations 16:13)
Exodus 8:16 Plague 3 Lice/dust of the earth. Egyptian god of the earth, Geb is defeated. (see also Doctrine and Covenants 29:18)
Exodus 8:21 Plague 4 Flies. Egyptian God Uatchit (had head of a fly) is defeated. This is also the first plague where it clearly states the Lord will protect the children of Israel from its effects. (see also Doctrine and Covenants 29:18)
Exodus 9:2-3 Plague 5 Cattle. Egyptian goddess of Love and Protection, Hathor (had head of cow) is defeated. (see also Revelations 16:2,11)
Exodus 9:9 Plague 6 Boils. Egyptian gods of medicine, healing and diseases, Imhotep, Serapis and Sekhmet are defeated. (see also Revelations 16:2,11)
Exodus 9:23-24 Plague 7 Hail. Egyptian goddess of the sky, Nut is defeated. (see also Revelations 8:7)
Exodus 10:13-14 Plague 8 Locusts. Egyptian goddess Serapia was supposed to protect them from the locusts specifically and is defeated. Also defeated were the gods of crop and grain, Seth and Nepri.
Notice also the locusts were brought and taken away by the wind. The Egyptian wind gods, Amun and Shu are also defeated here.(see also Revelations 9:3-10)
Exodus 10:22-23 Plague 9 Darkness. Egyptian sun god, Ra is defeated. (see also Revelations 8:12)

After these plagues, Pharaoh is humbled to give in only to then harden his heart again and refuse to let the children of Israel free. After the 9th plague he again hardens his heart and tells Moses that if he ever sees Moses again, he will kill him.

Exodus 11 The Lord tells Moses that there will be one more plague - death of the firstborn. A direct assault on the Egyptians' one living god. Pharaoh was himself considered a god. His direct lineage were considered gods. Jehovah had defeated their false idols, destroyed all hope and reliance on them but one still stood defiant - Pharaoh himself.

Exodus 12 - Passover
v.1-11 The Lord gives Moses specific instructions for the children of Israel to eat a strange meal. They must eat this meal with shoes on and belts on and staff in their hand. Or in modern day lingo, hats and coats and car keys in hand! The meal was to consist of a lamb without blemish no older than a year. They had to kill it in the evening. They also had to paint the blood of the lamb on their homes' front door - both on the side posts and upper post of the door frame. They were to roast the entire lamb. Nothing was to remain even if it meant sharing with another family or burning the remains before morning. And they were to eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. And they were to eat it quickly. "it is the Lord's passover."
What was this all for, what was this passover?
v.12-28 Jehovah, the master teacher, Rabboni, was setting in motion one of the greatest object lessons ever to be taught. This meal would be repeated from this day forward every year. And every year they will eat unleavened bread only, for 7 days. That seven days will be started and ended with an assembly, congregational meeting. And the blood on the door was to serve as a sign that those inside were protected under the promise of the Lord from the 10th plague. The families were told to stay indoors.
Of course there is deeper spiritual symbolism and significance here. The blood of the lamb on the door of the homes represents the covering atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives. It covers us only as long as we choose to stay under its protection. For those that did not fulfil the instructions and choose not to use the blood of the atonement in their lives, there is only one result - spiritual death. For those that choose to cover themselves in the Atonement they and their entire household can be saved together.
Boyd K Packer taught,
"Surely, young people, you see the prophetic symbolism in the Passover. Christ was "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29, 36), the firstborn, male, without blemish. He was slain without breaking his bones, even though the soldiers were sent to do it.
But it is not from mortal death that we shall be spared in such a passover if we walk in obedience to these commandments, for each of us in time shall die. But there is spiritual death which you need not suffer. If you are obedient, that spiritual death will pass over you, for "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us," the revelation teaches (1 Cor. 5:7)." ("The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises," Ensign, May 1996, 19)
 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland asked,
“Do we see [the sacrament] as our Passover, remembrance of our safety and deliverance and redemption? With so very much at stake, this ordinance commemorating our escape from the angel of darkness should be taken more seriously than it sometimes is. It should be a powerful, reverent, reflective moment. It should encourage spiritual feelings and impressions” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 68)
In essence the Passover anticipates the Atonement of Jesus Christ, while the Sacrament remembers the Atonement of Jesus Christ. And finally Bruce R McConkie describes the symbols application to us by declaring that we must "apply the atoning blood of Christ" upon the "doorposts of our hearts and the lintels of our souls".

v.29-30 Plague 10 Death of the Firstborn. Pharaoh, Egypts living god is struck down and defeated by the only true living God, Jehovah, the God of Israel. His firstborn and all of Egypt's firstborn sons are killed. These sons represented the future, their heritage, their kingdom, their descendants, their legacy. All of these things were symbolically killed that tragic night. Likewise, if we fail to follow the Lord God of Israel, we too will find ourselves without spiritual increase or inheritance. We will have no eternal legacy or kingdom.
v.31-36 Pharaoh lets them go and all of Egypt give up their gold and silver and raiment to the children of Israel.
v.37-38 Those that leave number 600,! With women and children included there must have been at least 2 million people who left Egypt that night. And then all their herds and cattle. Visually can you picture the scene? Epic does not describe it. Symbolically what is the Lord teaching us with this great exodus?

Exodus 13
v.17-18 Notice the Lord again ever-considerate of the strengths and weaknesses of his children leads them where it best helps them. Instead of taking the short route home through Philistine which would have meant war and tested their faith beyond their present levels, he re-routes them across the Red Sea and into the wilderness. A longer journey but better for them. Does it seem the Lord has ever re-routed your life? Have you ever wondered why the Lord takes one direction when another direction seems more logical?
v.20-22 The children of Israel, despite all they have seen, having just been taken out of Egypt after 430 years appear to need this great visual protection to maintain their faith. I doubt the Lord needed it for any other purpose.

Exodus 14 - Deliverance of a people
This chapter is one of my favourite chapters in all of scripture. Here we see a people escaping from the world, their old bad habits and addictions, but they are being chased by the world. It is not an easy place to escape from and it is a formidable foe.
v.10-13 we see here how weak the children of Israel are. This is not a criticism but more just a state of where they are at currently. They have not gained sufficient strength to fight this fight. They have just enough strength to make the break but when the temptations and the trials reappear they wonder why they bothered leaving in the first place. If you have ever been a missionary, if you were ever a convert, if you have ever been involved with helping new members or investigators, you will recognize this feeling. What can we learn by understanding how the children of Israel felt - not fully settled in a new world but not fully clear of the old world either?
v.13-14 Moses does his job as a leader and as a prophet with an inspirational battle cry that tells them not to worry, stand still, God will fight for you. Remember they are trapped, locked in by the Red Sea on one side and the advancing Egyptian army on the other side. This seems like the kind of speech a good leader would make but Moses himself seems unsure how they are going to survive.
v.15-16 it seems Moses after telling the children of Israel not to worry then went to the Lord and told him he was worried. And the Lord's response is clear and inspiring. I paraphrase but it went something like: OK Moses yes I will help you but only by helping you help yourselves. Instead of standing still and watching me fight for you, I want you all involved. "speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward; but lift up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea and divide it." Wow!
The children of Israel did not yet have faith enough to fight the Philistines or the Egyptians themselves but they had a leader who the Lord deemed strong enough and had faith enough and had the correct priesthood authority to be able to divide the waters of the sea. All he required of the children of Israel was to focus on moving forward. Not looking back and not standing still but moving forward with the small measure of faith that they did have.
v.19-22;27-29 The Lord did his part. Moses did his part and the children of Israel with their infant faith did their part.
v.30-31 Having entered into the sea and out the other side they had collectively, figuratively entered the waters of baptism and emerged the other side free of the world and of the Egyptians, with their tiny particle of faith they moved forward and in so doing, in trusting in the Lord and his servants were delivered. Notice the world, the Egyptians, our sins are left at the bottom of the waters of baptism or in this case the Red Sea symbolizing the Atonement, covers our sins if we truly are willing to leave them behind.

Let me add to that passage my testimony. There are many people out there looking to leave Egypt, some have heard the prophet's voice and come to the waters edge, others look longingly across the shoreline, others still are shuffling their feet, unsure if this new world is for them and still more stand still. We must not condemn them. We must not leave them. But with loving arms we must gather them in and help them to move forward. They do not hesitate because they do not want to be free. They hesitate as their faith has not yet been fully nurtured. We must help them. Of course, we can not do it all, we too must trust in power of the Great Deliverer but even as the noble Hebrew midwives were entrusted with saving lives, so too are we. I pray we may also be filled with the Spirit of the great exodus and its symbolic departure from the world of sin and bondage. I pray that we can recognize the one true living God in our lives, and put away all those false gods that surround us daily. I pray that we may recognize our great responsibility in not only moving forward but in helping others move forward too. And I pray that we may recognize the great power of the priesthood when held by those who are righteous and faithful. May we ever be ready to do that which is required of us and may we never forget the great Atonement and its effect in our lives and over our families is my humble prayer and testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, even the Lamb, the Son of God, the Great Deliverer, YHWH or Jehovah. Amen.

Old Testament Lesson 12: Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction

Life is a testing ground. For those that feel it should be easy, life can often be filled with self-pitying calls of "Why me?" as they struggle to understand how a life of comfort and ease evades them. Joseph of Egypt shows that even if you hold one of the top positions in the land you still will face trials and tests. But what Joseph also shows is that if you follow the commandments and keep your integrity, the Lord will prosper you.

To be continued....

Genesis 40: The forgetful butler and the doomed baker
Genesis 41: Pharoah's dreams
v.38-46 there is none so wise, total governanace
v.50-52 two sons, one Ephraim= "God has caused me to be fruitful in the Land of my affliction." How long?
Genesis 42: Return of Joseph's family -
v.8 And Joseph knew his brethren but they knew him not - how sad

Friday, March 14, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 11: How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?

This week's lesson deals with physical passions and temptations and jealousies. It contrasts different ways biblical characters deal with them and ends by highlighting the way God requires us to deal with them. This lesson will not deal so much with repentance as much as with trying to resist sin in the first place.

Genesis 34 Shechem and Dinah - How evil works.
v.1-12 On the surface we have a story here that seems to indicate either a tale of fornication or a tale of rape. It is somewhat ambiguous as to which occurred though most believe it was rape and the Hebrew suggests also that it was forced but we are left with no doubt that a sin of some kind was committed and that Shechem is the problem and holds the main accountability, not Dinah. However, an interesting consideration in this story is the contrast between where Dinah is when we first meet her (v.1"went out to see the daughters of the land") and where her younger brother Joseph is when we first meet him (Genesis 37:2 "with his brethren"). Could it be that Dinah was associating with friends who were not helping her keep gospel standards or that led her into unsafe situations? In a society that has become more "liberated" and "equal" is it fair today to consider the male more accountable in these matters? Consider the gospel and priesthood perspective with this question.
Is it possible for Shechem to truly love Dinah as we are told he does in v.3 when, with our first introduction to Shechem, we are also told in v.2 that he "saw her, he took her, and lay with her and defiled her". How does Shechem's story of "love" compare to the story of Jacob's love for Rachel that we studied last week? What can parents and young women learn by comparing these two stories?
Parents and young women would do well to study together the first twelve verses of Genesis 34 as a way of understanding how the natural man works and thinks, so that they can better defend against it. From a lesson perspective it may also be worth considering how Shechem could do this great wickedness?  Obviously Shechem valued self and instant gratification above the needs and desires of those around him. He wanted only what he wanted and he wanted it now, no matter the cost.

In Shechem, we have a type of Satan. Our first introduction to Shechem is one who is spoilt and takes what he wants and has no self-control and no care for the damage his actions have on others. "Damsels" or young women would do well to be aware of or specifically beware of the pattern of actions many young men of the world follow today. They profess love and utter kind words of flattery. They want you as "theirs" and they are often willing to use whatever influence and pressure they can to make you succumb to their selfish desires. (v.3-4)
Satan, like Shechem, desires to have all of us. He will try force (v.2), he will try flattery (v.3), he will try bribery(v10-12). Even as Shechem desired to be with Dinah physically, so Satan desires to be one with us spiritually. What he is seeking is not just one brief flirtation with us. Rather, he wishes us to be seal us in his own way to him for time and all eternity(v.12) - he wants our bodies, he wants our souls.

Genesis 37 Righteousness does not innoculate us from trials
v.1-11 From this brief introduction we learn that all is not well in the house of Jacob. To suggest this was a house lacking in the Spirit would be too extreme an interpretation but certainly we would do well to recognize that even the house of Jacob had emotions and insecurities bubbling within. Likewise, in the house of Lehi and the house of Adam, the house of Abraham and the house of Isaac and many other homes with righteous parents we find similar circumstances. What lessons and comforts can we take from this as parents? It would certainly appear that as parents one of the lessons to be learned is that, while we can (and must) teach gospel principles and lead by example and with love, ultimately we are raising individuals who have agency and must make their own choices.

In Jacob's home we learn there is jealousy (v.10) there is preference (v.3), there is contention (v.4) and there is hate (v.5,8). I am intrigued by Jacob's position in all this. While he is not perfect we know he was righteous and the recipient of the great covenant of his fathers and the associated blessings. To suggest he foolishly played the brothers against each other with preferential treatment of Joseph does not seem entirely accurate or realistic. I wonder if the scriptural translation we currently have leaves the truth somewhere in between the lines. Certainly, we were told previously that Jacob was closer to Rachel than his other wives - she was, after all, his first love, his chosen one. It would therefore be natural to have a special place in his heart for the children of this first love and especially after Rachel died in childbirth with Benjamin. But could it be that Jacob's preferential treatment of Joseph was more the brothers' tainted perspective of the blessings that Joseph had earned through his obedience and righteousness? Maybe when we read that Jacob "loved Joseph more" in v.3 it is better interpreted as Jacob was happier with Joseph's choices and righteousness compared to his brothers.
Another way to look at this puzzling stance of Jacob's is through the symbolism inherent in the story - Jacob symbolizes Heavenly Father and Joseph symbolizes Jesus Christ and the other brothers represent the rest of the world. Does Heavenly Father love Jesus more than everyone else? I think the answer to that is no but there is no doubt there is a special bond and relationship between the two that we do not yet have in our current state. Christ's constant righteousness leaves Heavenly Father constantly well-pleased in his Beloved Son. In our more inconsistent state I would imagine Heavenly Father is not as consistently well-pleased with us. I believe it was thus with Jacob and Joseph and his siblings.

We know Joseph rightfully inherited the birthright (physical inheritance - the double portion) and blessing (spiritual inheritance) through a culmination of his obedience and Reuben's disobedience. It is widely, though inconclusively, thought that the "coat of many colours" (v.3) was in fact a garment signifying Joseph's status as the "firstborn". While Jacob "rebuked" Joseph for his youthful exuberant but tactless announcement of his dreams, yet the scriptural record makes a point of telling us that Jacob "observed his saying" (v.11) and in so doing indicates a respect for and a recognition of the special relationship his son had with the Lord.
At this point Joseph is just 17 years old.

v.12-17 Considering how brief a history we have in the Old Testament I cannot help but wonder why we end up with these 6 verses to tell us simply that Joseph went to meet his brothers. There seems to be something more going on. Who was the mysterious "certain man" of v.15? Why was Joseph "wandering in the field"? Why do we need to know about this? I do not have answers to these questions and would welcome any input for I am sure there is meaning and symbolism to it.
What I do know is that what is about to happen will shape the history of the people of Israel and set them on a course that would shape their identity as a people. Similarly, what was about to happen would also shape Joseph's personal history and would shape his identity as a person. Maybe when the stranger asked Joseph "Ma t'vakesh?" or "What seekest thou?", he was not just looking to help a lad lost in a field but in fact knew what lay ahead and was challenging Joseph personally to look inward and consider that which was most important to him before embarking on this great trial that lay just over the hills in the next village.

v.21-22 Some might consider Reuben's attempt to free his brother as a somewhat redeeming tale. I personally wonder if it merely illustrates further, that this man was not worthy of the birthright or blessing. He seems afraid to speak up for Joseph and merely deflects the other brothers' anger and hatred rather than defending his innocent brother. The truth is Reuben allowed his brother to be kidnapped and thrown in a pit. How could he do this great wickedness? Obviously he had not become strong enough to stand up to the temptations of his brothers or worried too much of what his brothers thought of him.

v.26-28 In Reuben's absence, Judah also relinquishes the responsibility to do what is right. While again, his tale may be considered redeeming - he did not want to shed his brother's blood - Reuben still was happy to sell his brother into slavery, never to be seen again. How could he do this great wickedness? Obviously he had not learned to temper his jealousies and passions.

v.28 "twenty pieces of silver" was the price of a slave in those days. Obviously there is symbolic significance with Judas also selling Christ for thirty pieces of silver (the price of a slave in those days). Joseph was a type of Christ. See below for a list of comparisons between Joseph and Christ that are covered in this lesson.

v.29 "and he rent his clothes". This practice was normal for one mourning the loss of a loved one. The tearing symbolized the separation from the loved one and the breaking of their heart at the loss. A truly symbolic way to show grief. I wonder how empty a gesture this was though, in this case. As we read v.30 it seems to suggest that Reuben's main priority was for himself and how to get out of this mess he was now in. Reuben was not contrite, he did not truly mourn Joseph, instead he covered up his part and figuratively washed his hands of the whole affair, much like Pilate did literally years later with Christ. Comparing Reuben's grief to that of his father Jacob in v.34-35, you can judge for yourself who was more genuine.

Genesis 39 "The Lord was with Joseph"
v.1-6 Joseph rapidly rises from being your average slave to being placed in a position of authority. We are told that he prospers, everything he does prospers, and all those associated with Joseph prosper. Joseph is made overseer of all his master has and is trusted implicitly. To what does the account credit this incredibly "lucky streak"?  v.2 "And the Lord was with Joseph". Why was the Lord with Joseph? v.6  "And Joseph was a goodly person" There can be no simpler testimony in all of scripture of how we can prosper in life. What a great obituary that would make of any person - Joseph was a goodly person and the Lord was with Joseph.
Consider for a moment how you and those around you may have prospered through living the gospel? How have you and your family been blessed by the Lord's presence in your lives? Be sure to remember that this does not make you immune to troubles and trials. Joseph, remember, was kidnapped and sold into slavery. But in the midst of these trials he prospered, he survived because he was a goodly person. And because he was a goodly person, the Lord was with him.

v.7 "Lie with me" Potiphar's wife cast her eyes on Joseph just as Satan casts his eyes on us and just as Shechem cast his eyes on Dinah. Each represent sin and wickedness. We are in a fight against sin. Sin does not battle us with swords and spears but with flattery and pride. It dresses itself up, it makes itself look good and then with eyelashes fluttering, it whispers "Lie with me". Those not trained to recognize sin and those unsure and insecure in the understanding of who they are will be lured in and lost. 

v.8-9 For those trained in the art of recognizing and avoiding sin the initial advance can usually be rebuffed. This is where parenting pays off. Teaching our children to recognize sin can usually instill an instinct and a reasoning that will automatically push away the initial advances of sin. Joseph, having been trained in righteousness, is able to explain to Potiphar's wife the ill-logic in giving in to her temptation. He gives her two reasons why he will not give in to her temptation.
  1. Having been trusted with everything and risen to a position of great trust within his master's house how could he do this great wickedness and betray the trust his master has shown him.
  2. It would be a sin against God
Both the socio-logical and theo-logical reasoning are strong enough to resist the initial advances of Potiphar's wife.
The Saviour similarly resisted Satan's temptations by using scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). Moses similarly resisted Satan's temptations by using what he had been taught (Moses 1:12-22). What can we learn from Joseph, the Saviour and Moses about resisting the initial advances of sin (temptation, bad thoughts etc)? What does this teach us about the importance of parents?

v.10 notice Satan does not give up easily. He returns, just like Potiphar's wife, day by day. Remember, he seeks to have you! He wants you for himself. And what is Joseph's reaction? "He hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her." It is clear Joseph had made up his mind that he wanted nothing to do with this woman or the sin she was proposing. Do you think Joseph had made this decision that same day?

v.11-12 at some point Satan will not just tempt you or actively pursue you. At some point he will grab a hold of you as did Potiphar's wife with Joseph. Remember he wants you and he will get you if he can destroy you spiritually. And what is Joseph's reaction as sin reaches out to touch him? Does he linger? No. "He left his garment in her hand and fled and got him out."I cannot help but see a comparison in Joseph's swift reaction and Shechem's swift actions at the beginning of this week's reading. Shechem we are told, in brutal brevity, "saw her, took her and lay with her and he defiled her". Sin like a cobra can slowly lull us but it can just as swiftly strike and before it's defenseless victims (in this case Dinah) know what has happened, they are trapped in sin's deadly stare. Joseph however, equally swiftly, we are told "left his garment in her hand and fled and got him out." When spiritual salvation is on the line there is no time for dilly-dallying. Don't think - just get out, flee and dont look back! We must not hesitate. And that is really the point. Satan will not give you time to think. The natural man will act on instinct and it's natural instinct is to sin. If Satan can get you before you can think he knows he will likely succeed. The only way for us to beat him is to have decided previously, beforehand, how we would act if faced with sin. Thus we must train our instinct before hand to act in an opposite manner from the natural man. Society now calls this "denying ourselves". I don't think Joseph cared what society called it. He cared more about what was right. He determined long ago that he would always flee sin.

v.13-20 Joseph is falsely accused and thrown in prison. Sometimes there will be a social price for fleeing sin and pursuing righteousness. A loss of popularity, a loss of friends, a loss of social status, maybe a loss of a promotion or even a job or a career.

v.21-23 "But the Lord was with Joseph...and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper"I find this to be an astoundingly beautiful testimony. How comforting to know that no matter what goes wrong in life, no matter what injustices may befall you, no matter what you might lose or have to give up, if you do what is right and flee sin, the Lord will be with you and He will prosper you.

Joseph as a type of Christ:
  • Joseph was the first born (of Rachel) and heir to birthright and blessings; Christ was the only begotten of the Father and heir to all that the Father hath
  • Joseph was well-loved; Christ was beloved
  • Joseph was sent to his brethren by his father; Christ was sent to his brethren by his Father
  • Joseph was rejected and betrayed by his own family; Christ was rejected and betrayed by his own people
  • Reuben was too weak to stand up to his brothers; Pilate was too weak to stand up to the people
  • Joseph was sold as a slave to Egypt; Christ was sold for the price of a slave
  • Joseph was falsely accused; Christ was falsely accused
  • Joseph became ruler of the prison; Christ ruled over death and those in spirit prison
A summation of Joseph and his siblings battle with sin.
I have pondered all week how the old Mormon adage "Stand Ye in Holy Places" lines up with these stories of Dinah, Reuben, Judah and Joseph.
Dinah appears to have made some poor choices that led her away from the safety of home - she did not stand in holy places - and paid a price for it. Modern society would suggest this is blaming the victim, but the reality is, while Shechem holds full accountability, Dinah would likely have avoided all of her woes and the tragic events that followed if she had just not hung out with those friends, in those places. How can we teach our children this principle without it seeming restrictive and judgmental?
Reuben and Judah remained within the safety of their home yet made bad choices based on their insecurities and jealousies. They stood in holy places and yet never grasped the power available to them instead allowing sin to tighten its grip on them. How can we help children or imperfect members or less actives fully leverage the power of standing in Holy Places? How can we better treat them when they make mistakes without alienating them further or making them resent righteousness?
Joseph was forcibly removed from the safety of his home but still prospered. He was unable to stand in holy places but yet was holy. How can we better become like Joseph in our daily lives?
I think the thought that kept coming to me as I pondered this aspect of the lesson this week was that:

Standing in holy places helps but more important might be making where you stand a holy place

Why do we find our bodies under attack so much?
With drugs and tobacco and alcohol and sexual sin and suicide rampant in today's society it almost seems like our bodies are a battleground. Why?
Read Matthew 8:28-32
The reward for passing our first estate was to receive tabernacles/bodies wherein we could partake of and participate in the glorious divine gift of creation. Those that failed to earn this great reward (Satan and his followers) are body-less. As such, they are jealous of such a great gift and they wish to deprive us of ours. They seek to have us devalue and abuse these great gifts. They wish to be associated with our bodies in any way they possibly can. Satan seeks to own our bodies vicariously by spiritually killing us. So valuable, so precious are these mortal bodies, these tools of the divine gift of creation that they would even settle for the body of a pig to satisfy their lust for any kind of temporary association with a mortal body.
And how did the swine react to having this presence associated with them? They would rather perish physically than tolerate one moment with that wickedness within.

Jeffrey R Holland once said,
"We do not have to be a herd of demonically-possessed swine charging down the Gadarene slopes toward the sea to understand that a body is the great prize of mortal life. And that even a pig's will do for those frenzied spirits that rebelled and that to this day remain dispossessed."("Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments")
Our bodies are not to be worshipped as idols and they are not to be abused or relinquished as mere trinkets, they are to be protected and developed and used as holy temples. As such, we have the potential to become walking, living temples and thus have the Lord with us wherever we go.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 10: Birthright Blessings; Marriage in the Covenant

"True Love!Is the greatest thing in the world!" The Princess Bride
Many of us remember fondly the movie The Princess Bride and its search for true love. The world today would have us believe that true love is romance and physical attraction. What we will learn of in this week's study is the biblical version of true love - love that is often found through duty and service first. It certainly is not short on physical attraction but true love focuses more on the lasting beauty within, than the physical and fading beauty without. It is also not the fairytale romance that Hollywood and the media would have us believe it should be, where all things are simple and easy. Instead it takes patience and tolerance and often great heartache and sorrow. True love develops gradually, building act upon act, day upon day, year upon year.
In the lives of Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah we find moments of magical romanticism and at other times instances of stoic yet sorrowful hardship. Couple this with the blessings of the covenant of eternal marriage and we discover a path that, though at times testing and tough, is ultimately beautiful and rewarding and true.

Genesis 24
v. 1-10
Abraham being "old and well-stricken in age" makes it sound as though he is dying. He is actually around 140 yrs old and would live another 35 years, marry one more time and have another 6 children. What do you plan to do in your retirement?!
"Said unto his eldest servant of his house who ruled over all that he had..." This servant proves to be wise, inspired of God and faithful. We never are told his name in this passage but his example lives on as someone who we can all aspire to be.
In the symbolism of this story, who is the master and who is the eldest servant with whom the keys of the kingdom (all that his master hath) are entrusted and is asked to ensure the exaltation of his children (son)?

So part of Abraham's retirement plans was to instigate a search for a wife for Isaac with these conditions:
  •  not to marry a daughter of the Canaanites
  •  from my country and kindred take a wife for my son
  •  do not take my son to the old homeland
  •  if no woman follows you back, you are cleared of this promise but just never take Isaac back to that land.
Why is Abraham so insistent on Isaac not marrying a Canaanite?  He wants Isaac to have the blessings of eternal marriage which is the blessings of eternal increase and seed. He could be happily married by contract but it would not be in the covenant and would miss out on the eternal blessings promised to Adam and Eve, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham etc. Also the Canaanites were in general a wicked people who worshiped idols and believed in witchcraft. If we unite with these practices it is very hard to keep ourselves unstained from them.

The servant is sent on his search with 10 camels loaded with Abraham's wealth. Presumably much of this was as a dowry for the bride's family.
v.11-14 bold and very specific prayer. Do we ever pray like that?
v.15 Rebekah, Abraham's grand-niece and Isaac's first cousin once removed.
“Rebekah is unique among the wives of the patriarchs in at least two ways. First, she alone has a consistently monogamous marriage; we know of no other woman who married Isaac. Second, she plays a more active role in the Genesis narrative than her patriarch husband; her individuality and vitality among the covenant people is striking in stories of her qualifying as Isaac’s wife, receiving revelation from God for their sons, and ensuring the bestowal of the birthright on Jacob, as God intended… By contrast, Isaac is remarkably passive in the narrative.”
“Resolute in her duties, Rebekah demonstrated her faith in God by an unflinching commitment to act on what she knew to be right. Beginning with a servant’s inspired mission to identify the wife of soon-to-be-patriarch Isaac, the Rebekah narrative is dynamic and rich.” (Camille Fronk Olson, "Women of the Old Testament")
v.16 virtuous physically and spiritually (and pretty helps!)
v.17-28 Rebekah fulfills the test (camels can drink up to 30 gallons of water in one day! she only has a pitcher, has to run to and from the well filling up the trough for the camels to drink - it is dusk (eventide) and she came to gather water for someone else initially. These wells are very deep. That is a lot of pulling, hauling, running and time! What an incredible person she must have been to render that kind of service to a complete stranger and his camels when she had family duties to perform. The servant, likely could not believe that his prayers had been answered so quickly and in such a strong and resolute woman.
v.21 "the man wondering at her held his peace"This too probably shows the wisdom of the servant. Don't say anything, just watch and marvel!
v.27 "I being in the way". Imagine what could have happened if anyone of these involved had not been "in the way" of the Lord, standing in holy places, doing their duty, following the commandments; if Abraham or the servant or Rebekah had not been doing as they should be, at the time in their life that they should be.
v.50-51 Rebekah is promised in marriage to Isaac
v.55 more lingering (remember Lot and his family). It is only natural that many of us would be like Rebekah's family and want to prolong goodbyes and maybe give more time to getting to know this stranger that is about to take our daughter to a strange land, to marry a man she has not met
v.58 but Rebekah again shows her unique strength and determination and faith. She does not linger but instead chooses to depart immediately. The Lord has asked us to hasten his work. In what ways do we sometimes linger instead? In what ways can we hasten the Lord's work.
v.60 let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them. The gate of the city was usually where the affairs of that town or city were organized. Essentially it was like town hall or in modern terms politics. It seems to suggest that at some point Rebekah's descendants would have political control over their enemies.
v.61-67 obviously Isaac had taken his mother's death hard, pining, meditating/praying in the fields at night. They see each other and Rebekah is instantly accepted into the family. We are told "he loved her" and she became a comfort to him after his mother's death. This is mission accomplished for Abraham, having done everything he could to ensure his son married in the covenant.
"Let us plan for and teach and plead with our children to marry in the house of the Lord. Let us reaffirm more vigorously than we ever have in the past that it does matter where you marry and by what authority you are pronounced man and wife" Howard W. Hunter, Conference report Oct. 1994
Genesis 25
v.20 Isaac 40 yrs old when he married Rebekah
v.21 barren - but after much prayer Rebekah conceived 20 years later (see v26) MUCH prayer. Some prayers are just not meant to be answered as quickly as others. Why do some prayers take so long to be answered?
v.22 twins and not an easy pregnancy - notice the example of Rebekah. She had a question of the Lord and went to the Lord. Rebekah's example shows all women that the Lord truly is no respecter of persons but answers all prayers, men and women. Rebekah's spiritual strength is a fine example to latter-day saint women all over. Personal revelation is available to every worthy woman in the gospel. From all we see, Rebekah is a far stronger personality than her husband, who seems more gentle and passive in character. What can we learn from this contrast between husband and wife and the traditional characteristics we assign patriarchs and their wives?
v23 two nations, one stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger
v.25-28 Esau was a man's man - sporty, smart, physical, loved his venison while Jacob seemed a quieter, wholesome lad.
v29-34 Esau (nicknamed Red (Edom) because of his red hair and desire for red pottage - lentil soup) gives away his birthright/inheritance/blessings for a bowl of lentil soup. What was really the issue - pride, laziness, desire for immediate gratification. Do we give up prayer or scripture reading, home-teaching for a TV show or something else as trivial?
Dallin H Oaks once said,
"Many Esaus have given up something of eternal value in order to satisfy a momentary hunger for the things of the world" ("Spirituality", Ensign Nov. 1985)
The fact that this was all prophesied while they were yet still in the womb - does this suggest that we bring certain characteristics with us? If so, how are we supposed to overcome certain inherent weaknesses we developed previously? Whose fault is it we have those characteristics? Can Esau be excused because he brought that characteristic with him from the previous existence?

What is a birthright and what is the blessing?
The Birthright was the physical inheritance of usually the eldest son. When the father passed away the estate, wealth, cattle etc was divided into equal portions between each son except that the eldest son received a double portion. So if a man had 3 sons, the estate would be divided into 4 and each son would receive a single portion except for the eldest son who received a double portion. This double portion was expected to be used to look after and protect the widowed mother and servants and unmarried sisters. The eldest son also became the social patriarch of the family and leader of their business interests.
The Blessing was a spiritual inheritance of the priesthood promises, blessings and keys. It was also a transferal of the spiritual or religious leadership of the family. Again this was traditionally passed to the eldest son but the predominant qualification for receiving this special blessing was the righteousness of the recipient.

Genesis 26
v.1-6 famine causes Isaac to move his family but God tells him to stay in land of Philistines and not go down to Egypt. Isaac stays and blessings of Abraham are renewed between God and Isaac.
v.7-11 Isaac and Rebekah and Abimelech go through the same experience as Abraham, Sarah and Pharoah. Why? What are we to learn from this?
v.12 Isaac is rewarded according to the law of patience and obedience and non retaliation (cf Doctrine and Covenants 98:22-26)
v.13-16 due to his obedience Isaac becomes wealthy and powerful
v.17-22 the three wells - Strife and Opposition and Patience. what is the meaning of these 3 wells? Some say that they represent the three Jewish temples of which Solomon's and Herod's were destroyed and the third is prophesied to be built in the last days. I would be very interested to know if any LDS students can attribute symbolism to these wells. What is clear is that Isaac seems to make a habit of avoiding contention and strife in favor of quiet patience throughout his life and thus on one level the wells are very symbolic of his life. On another level all those who wish to taste of the living waters of the gospel may often need to go through strife and opposition and may need much patience if they wish to partake fully of the temple blessings.
v.23-25 pitched tent in land of the temple, built an altar and dug a well. How might these three things symbolize the kind of life the Lord wishes for us? We would all do well to follow this simple pattern in life.
v.26-32 Philistines come to Isaac asking for peace due to his example and seeing he was blessed of God, Isaac obliges. The well produces water.
v.34-35 Esau takes two Hittite wives at the age of 40 - once more showing disdain for the ways of the Lord and the covenant and in the process making his parents very sad.

Genesis 27
v.1-5 Isaac, old and going blind, plans on passing blessings onto Esau. Why would Isaac do that when Esau has shown such disdain for the covenant?
v.6-17 Rebekah devises a plan to ensure Isaac receives the blessing and birthright he legally bought. It involves deceiving Isaac. Why was it necessary to deceive Isaac?
v.18-29 Isaac blesses Jacob with the blessing.
v.30-40 The deception is discovered but the blessing cannot be reversed as it was sealed with the sacrament of sustaining (v.37). Verse 33 confirms that whatever deception may have taken place, Isaac now recognizes that this is of God and declares Isaac's blessing valid with the words "and he shall be blessed".  Esau is given a blessing, but of subservience until later generations.
v.41-46 Esau angrily decides to kill Jacob once his father dies. Rebekah hears of his plan and tells Isaac to leave and go to the land of their fathers (Haran). She convinces Isaac this will prevent Jacob from marrying a Hittite and that it is for the good.

There seems to be a substantial amount of aggressive manoeuvrings by Rebekah when it comes to Jacob's well-being. Was she justified in these actions by the earlier revelation from God (see Genesis 25:23) and if so why would she have kept this secret from Isaac?

Isaac receives birthright over his elder brother Ishmael. Jacob receives the birthright over his elder brother Esau. Joseph received the birthright over his elder brothers. Ephraim received the birthright over his elder brother Manasseh. What does this remind us about the Lord's standard for inheriting the blessings and birthrights. Is it tradition or righteousness that takes precedence?

Genesis 28
v.1-5  Isaac in his old age sends Jacob to his uncle's land to find a wife. Once more he is instructed as was Isaac not to marry outside of the covenant. For both Jacob and Isaac the foremost instruction the top priority in marriage was not make sure you are in love, or make sure she is blonde, or make sure she has green eyes, or make sure she is a career woman or make sure she has this characteristic or that skill. The first and foremost thing they are to look out for in marrying is someone who will allow them to continue in the covenant. What is our equivalent of this today? What does that tell us we should be teaching our children about marriage and love?
    Why was it safe for Jacob to return to the lands of his fathers but forbidden of Isaac? What was Abraham worried about that Isaac and Rebekah are not?
    v.6-9 what was Esau's motive here - obedience or wanting to be liked, to find favor? Do we obey commandments because we know we should and it is is right or do we do it to look good in the sight of others? To be fair to Esau it would seem in future chapters that he has turned his life around and has embraced the gospel. Despite this turn around he still missed out on the birthright.
    v.10-15 Jacob's Ladder
    who sleeps with stones/rocks for pillows??? Some significance must be laid on these stones. Does anyone know what they represent?
    Jacob dreams of a ladder set on earth and that reaches to heaven with angels going up and down on it. What makes this different from Tower of Babel? Satan often replicates the things of God in an attempt to deceive us. What Jacob saw was the natural and proper progression into heaven - the true order from telestial through to terrestial and then celestial glory with the angels attending up and down and within these progressions. Satan convinced people that they could build their own ladder/steps/way into heaven. Here Jacob learned of the true order in heaven along with its covenants and promises.
    In his dream Jacob sees God and is promised the blessings of Abraham.
    v.16-22 Jacob indicates a lack of awareness originally of where he was but then covenants to accept the Lord as his God and to give him a tithe. Could it be that being in the presence of God and being educated of God this is Jacob's temple endowment? Do the stones hold some temple significance?

    Genesis 29
    v.1-8 Jacob meets shepherds of Haran who know his uncle Laban. They inform him that the water is currently not available as all the flocks are to be gathered before the stone protecting the well is rolled away. Again it would seem there is great symbolism here. Water symbolizes life and I know of only one other rock, in scripture, that was rolled away and that was in the Garden Tomb to reveal the resurrected Lord. Simply put the story of the Atonement like the story of Jacob and Rachel is one of love. Because of his love for us he conquered death, He rolled away the stone of the tomb and invites us to partake of the living waters of eternal life. We, the church of the Latter-days, represented by Rachel are the future bride invited to partake of the living waters of the Saviour and his gospel. When we partake and invite him into our homes and our lives then eventually we become as one. As with all studies of the scriptures there are likely multiple symbols and multiple layers of meaning and I would be very interested to hear some of your thoughts on these possible meanings and symbols.

    There also seems to be a great emphasis on these meetings at the well, throughout scripture. I would imagine there is also some great symbolism to be found in further study of such meetings. What we do know is that the well was a pivotal point of social life during these times. The water was the life force for families and their cattle and herds. No one could live without it. Thus these wells were considered very important and worthy of protection (possibly the reason for the stone covering the well in this case). Undoubtedly, based on the social structure of the day, the well would have been a prime spot and a logical place to go to see who the young eligible women of the area were, on any given day.

    v.9-14 Jacob boldly rolls the rock away so Rachel's sheep can be watered. He tells Rachel who he is and she tells her father and Jacob ends up staying for a month.
    v.15-20 how shall I pay thee - Jacob asks for his daughter Rachel who is beautiful and well-favored (but is also the younger sister of Leah -who just has pretty eyes). Laban confirms that he would prefer Jacob, as opposed to anyone else, to marry her and they agree a price of seven years labour for her dowry. I love v.20. Is there a more beautiful love story in all the bible?

    But that beautiful statement underlies a strict determination not to settle for less than the marriage of the covenant. He traveled to a strange country and gave 14 years of his life to get the covenant marriage he knew he should.
     "...the force of that titanic tribute to the attractiveness of Rachel and the gallantry of Jacob and the power of the human soul for enduring loyalty is almost totally missed if you miss the unwritten detail between those lines, if you fail to put yourself imaginatively in Jacob’s sandals herding goats and sheep in some place like the Sevier Desert for seven long sun-withered, wind-blasted, grit-flavored, sheep-stinking, backbreaking years of your own ardently impatient youth.” (Steven C. Walker, “Between Scriptural Lines,” Ensign, Mar. 1978)
    Brigham Young said,
    "There is not a young man in our community that would not be willing to travel from here to England to be married right, if he understood things as they are; there is not a young woman in our community who loves the gospel and wishes its blessings, that would be married in any other way; they would live unmarried until they could be married as they should be, if they lived until they were as old as Sarah before she had Isaac born to her." (Discourses of Brigham Young, pp195-196)
    v.21-30 I'm not sure how Jacob didnt twig that it was Leah he was marrying but somehow the deception was pulled off (maybe veils had something to do with it?) and Jacob goes to Laban after the wedding night. Laban explains the customs (maybe he made the initial promise assuming that Leah would already be married before the seven years had passed?) and promises Rachel to Jacob if he waits the ceremonial first week of marriage and if he promises to then work another 7 years as dowry for the second daughter. Jacob agrees and marries Rachel but loves Rachel more than Leah.
    v.31-35 Jacob and Leah's marriage is a loveless marriage, a marriage of duty. Leah feels unloved and has children hoping that they will help Jacob love her. She has 4 sons - each son's name reflects Leah's sad plight.
    Reuben - Look, a son (now my husband will love me)
    Simeon - Hearing (the Lord heard I was loved less and answered my prayers)
    Levi - Joined or Pledged (now my husband will be joined with me)
    Judah - Praise (now will I praise the Lord)
    Leah stops having children at this point, seemingly somewhat happier with life and not feeling the need to please Jacob with more children.
    "Every marriage is tested repeatedly by three kinds of wolves. The first wolf is natural adversity...Second, the wolf of their own imperfections will test them...The third wolf is the excessive individualism that has spawned today's contractual attitudes...May we restore the concept of marriage as a covenant, even the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. And when the wolf comes, may we be as shepherds, not hirelings, willing to lay down our lives a day at a time for the sheep of our covenant" (Bruce C. Hafen "Covenant Marriage" Ensign Nov. 1996)
    Further to the idea of making marriages work rather than expecting perfect lives, Jeffrey Holland gives some great advice,
    "I can't tell you the number of couples I have counseled who, when they are deeply hurt or even just deeply stressed, reach farther and farther into the past to find yet a bigger brick to throw through the window of "pain" of their marriage. When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died to heal." (Jeffrey R Holland, Ensign Jan. 2010)
    While the Hollywood portrait of relationships is often love at first sight and intense physical attraction,  the true order of marriage includes duty and sacrifice; it involves accepting people with very different habits and quirks to yourself; it means faith; sometimes it means accepting heartache and patience; sometimes it can feel like it is loveless but the key to a successful marriage is focusing on a covenant marriage thus allowing the fulfillment of eternal blessings. As we each focus on the covenant of marriage, respect grows and eventually true love blossoms.

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

    Old Testament Lesson 9: God Will Provide Himself a Lamb

    Today's lesson should provoke a number of questions pertaining to the Law of Sacrifice. Such a study will lead to a greater understanding and appreciation not only of what is required of us but of what has been given to us, by our Heavenly Father. That which is given and that which are required are inseparably bound as illustrated in Doctrine and Covenants 82:3,
    "For of him unto whom much is given, much is required..."
    Therein lies the basic foundation of any covenant. It requires effort on both sides, it requires sacrifice on both sides. Nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than in the story of Abraham and Isaac.

    A study of the text of Genesis 22
    v.1 "And it came to pass after these things..." After what things?  
    Read summary of Genesis 21- "Sarah bears Isaac - He is circumcised - Promises to Abraham preserved through Isaac - Hagar and her son cast out of Abraham's household..."
    It could also pertain to Abraham's life in general starting at his earlier life in Ur. 
    So after all of that, what?

    v.1-2 "God did tempt Abraham...and said, 'Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering...' ."
    Now we know that the word "tempt" has the same etymology or root as the verb "to temper". God did not tempt Abraham like some devil. He tempted him in the sense of testing him, trying his mettle, proving his character. 

    I went to a science fair yesterday and was introduced to a machine that I had never heard of nor seen before. This machine sends vibrations into a tree to measure the tree's strength of resistance to them. This allows foresters to better know the strength and properties of that tree and thus better direct it to its most suited purpose, eg house beam, table leg or furniture peg. In trying to explain the concept to the kids I joked that if I hooked them up to the machine the vibrations going through their bodies might tell us their true characters and strengths and allow me to give them chores at home that might better suit each one of them! Well in some ways this is what God is doing to Abraham and he does to us too. He sends us things in our life or requires things of us that can shake us to our very centre but that can reveal who we are and what our strengths and weaknesses are. Now, do you think God doesn't already know our strengths and weaknesses? So why do we go through all of this testing and proving? And in particular, why does God put Abraham through this heart-wrenching experience?

    In an address given on 13th August 1996,  at BYU, Elder M Russell Ballard related this story in answer to that question:
    "Brother Truman G. Madsen tells about a visit he made to Israel with President Hugh B. Brown, an Apostle of the Lord who served as both Second and First Counselor in the First Presidency. In a valley known as Hebron, where tradition has it that the tomb of Father Abraham is located, Brother Madsen asked President Brown, “What are the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” After a short moment of thought, President Brown answered, “Posterity.”
    Brother Madsen writes: “I almost burst out, ‘Why, then, was Abraham commanded to go to Mount Moriah and offer his only hope of posterity?’
    “It was clear that [President Brown], nearly ninety, had thought and prayed and wept over that question before. He finally said, ‘Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham’”" "The Law of Sacrifice" Ensign, Oct 1998
    I find that fascinating. Abraham must be somewhere around 115 yrs old or more at this point and yet he is still learning more about himself and his strengths and his faith and his character. When I consider this and then consider my own age and how I have handled my small "vibrations" in life, with the odd grumble and murmuring or complaint and more than a little impatience, I feel very humbled. It makes me feel like I have so much still to learn.
    How much testing will be done on us? Abraham records that we will be tested to see if we will do "all things whatsoever the Lord God shall command them" Abraham 3:26

    How does Abraham feel about human sacrifice? Abraham 1:11-12
    Put yourself in Abraham's shoes (sandals?). You might feel that you have been through every possible test and trial known to man. Your testimony and faith in your God finds one it's earliest forms with a miraculous escape from human sacrifice. And now, 100 yrs later, as you feel your life has attained that which it should and the end is in sight, retirement seems like a cozy option, you feel like you know your God and He knows you, suddenly the very roots of your faith are subjected to a request from your life-long God to return to that most hateful of all practices - human sacrifice. 
    How would you react?

    By all accounts and on multiple levels this should turn Abraham's world completely on its head.

    v.3 But the only reaction we know is that he rose early, cut the wood, saddled the ass, got his servants and Isaac ready and left. He just set about doing what he had been commanded. NO questions that we are aware of. 
    Do we have any hints as to Abraham's inner thoughts or feelings? "Rose early" seems to suggest he wasn't lingering or dallying or waiting to see if there was another command coming that might be different. He didn't question what he had heard. He didn't "accidentally" forget anything. He prepared everything and went. As you ponder that, consider the words of Spencer W. Kimball
    "How often do Church members arise early in the morning to do the will of the Lord? How often do we say, 'Yes, I will have home evening with my family, but the children are so young now; I will start when they are older'? How often do we say, 'Yes, I will obey the commandment to store food and to help others, but just now I have neither the time nor the money to spare; I will obey later'? Oh, foolish people! While we procrastinate, the harvest will be over and we will not be saved. Now is the time to follow Abraham's example; now is the time to repent; now is the time for prompt obedience to God's will." "The Example of Abraham" Ensign, June 1975
    So what was Abraham thinking, where did his faith rest? Read Hebrews 11:17-19 
    It would appear, according to Paul, that Abraham was trusting in God's powers of raising from the dead! Now I find that fascinating. If I was to put myself in Abraham's position, having experienced what he experienced, I would think that I would have been more likely to believe that Isaac would be saved BEFORE it got to the point of being sacrificed. I mean I could even see myself believing it might go all the way to the knife being raised above Isaac on the altar. After all wasn't it at that point that Abraham was saved earlier in his life? But instead, Abraham's point of faith was that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Why? What experience or teaching had Abraham been given that would make this the focal point of his faith? see JST Gen. 15:9-12 Here the Lord instructs Abraham not to worry, even death cannot stop the Lord's purposes or promises. He can conquer death.
    And so with faith in Christ's promises and power, Abraham rose early without any apparent physical hesitation to do "all things whatsoever" that he was commanded to.

    v.4 "on the third day" I think this really emphasizes the test going on for Abraham internally. Three days of conversing, three days of thinking, three days of knowing what was up ahead, three days of opportunity to turn back. And still Abraham continued on.
    v.5 "Abide ye here" No one else could be a part of this. This was holy, sacred and personal.
    v.6 "Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it upon Isaac his son...and they went both of them together." We don't know definitively how old Isaac was, but he was strong enough to carry the wood that was to be used to burn him. That's a sizable load of wood. That would suggest Isaac must have been at least in his mid teens. The next chapter tells us that Sarah died aged 127. That puts a high end estimate of Isaac's age at the time of this sacrifice around 37. So it seems Isaac must have been somewhere between around 15 and 37 yrs old when his father took him to be sacrificed.
    v.7 "Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Where indeed is the lamb - eventually we learn it was a ram with its head in a thicket but Isaac apparently knows nothing of his Father's plan at this point. 
    v.8 "God will provide himself a lamb" or "God will provide himself - a lamb"
    If this is Abraham's test why should God provide a lamb? Surely the law of sacrifice requires Abraham to give something. Whose sacrifice is this?
    What did God provide Abraham in this story? see v.13 it was not a lamb but a ram. I wonder if the point of this verse has been lost and that in fact Isaac was being taught of the foreshadowing that his sacrifice would point to? I wonder if, with that understanding, he took to the altar willingly, and possibly also with the faith that the power of God could raise him from the dead in similitude to Christ's resurrection. Certainly by the next verse, there appears to be no resistance from Isaac to being sacrificed.
    v.9 "And they came to the place which God had told him of" Where are they? see v. 2 
    The Moriah mountain range - runs within and without what we now know as Jerusalem. Abraham built an altar there, somewhere. What does that tell us? This was not an established temple site at this point. Obviously in the circumstances described here of Abraham building an altar and offering a sacrifice it has become a temple site but why do you think the Lord sent him to this site rather than a previously established temple site that Abraham was already using? 

    "and bound Isaac his son" - this is a "lad" strong enough to carry the wood on which he would be burned. That must have been a large amount of wood and therefore Isaac must have been a strong lad. No matter his age - to be that strong and be bound by a man over 100 yrs old seems somewhat far-fetched and instead strongly suggests that Isaac allowed himself to be bound. Why would he do that? What do you think Isaac, learned about himself here? 

    The Jewish people call this whole event the "akedah" or the "binding". How might their focus on this particular part of the story lend deeper meaning to the events we read in Genesis 22? In Abraham's personal life the key point of this event is that he showed his God that he was willing to sacrifice his son, to give that which he most loved and had worked hardest for. In essence he loved his God more than anything else. Of course Abraham did not actually sacrifice Isaac but merely demonstrated his willingness to. That was enough for the Lord. But this story was never really about Abraham, as much as it was about foreshadowing the sacrifice of the Saviour. And thus the focus on the binding is greatly significant. Isaac's apparent willingness to allow himself to be bound is a direct reflection on the Saviour's willingness to be bound according to the plan and direction of His Father. This willingness and obedience to His Father's plan is what made the Atonement possible. Both Father and Son had to be willing to sacrifice and herein lies the ultimate sacrifice. 
    "For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son..." John 3:16
    Heavenly Father gave His Son to be sacrificed, to show us how much He loved us. In obedience to his Father, Christ also willingly allowed himself to be sacrificed because of his love for us. The law of sacrifice is to test and prove someone and to show the depth of their love and allow us in so doing, to get closer to Christ. But here the ultimate sacrifice was performed by God and his Divine Son Jesus Christ. What were they proving and who were they drawing close to by this sacrifice, this Atoning sacrifice, this "at one"-ment?

    v.14 "Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh" There is a well-established tradition that the location for this sacrifice (that has come to be known as Mount Moriah) is located on the highly controversial and politically charged Temple Mount. This Mount is also within view of the traditional site of the Lord's final act in the process of his sacrifice - the crucifixion on Calvary (also called by some as Golgotha). While the Temple Mount is within the walls of Jerusalem, the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion is found just outside the old city walls. It is believed Jerusalem got its name when to honour both the righteous city of Salem and to honour the site of Abraham's sacrifice the Jireh and Salem were joined together to form the name Jerusalem that essentially means place from which peace is shown/taught/seen.

    v.16-18 "because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son..."
    Abraham's blessings are confirmed because he withheld nothing from God.

    B.H Roberts the church historian and one of the Seventy wrote,
    "when the voice of God came to him commanding him to kill he stood not quibbling or questioning with God, he manifested his readiness to sacrifice even his son unto God's commandment; but when it was clear that Abraham would not even withhold his son from God—when the test was completed, the trial passed, the ram in the thicket was provided, dragged out, and bound in thankfulness upon the altar to take the place of Isaac. How sweet must have been the communion of Abraham with God after that! What confidence must have been his in the presence of God even after that! And how grand the words that came from the lips of Jehovah must have appeared to him, saying: "Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." Oh! my friends, God indeed calls, nay, demands, sacrifice; but God is able to reward men for their sacrifices, even to the uttermost. You need not doubt it. From that day on, what blessing is there in heaven that Abraham cannot command? What power in the old patriarch now and forever! Marvel you that it is written here in the Doctrine and Covenants that Abraham hath passed by the angels, and is no more an angel, nor a servant, but one of the Gods in the council of the Father? He had the strength and power of it in him, because he had made the sacrifice. (Brian H. Stuy Collected Discourses, 5 vols.)

    Doctrine and Covenants 101:4 says that "the saints must be tried, even as Abraham was..." What does that even mean? For further study of this principle, read the lesson notes on the Church History Course Lesson 27
    John Taylor once quoted Joseph Smith as saying, 
    "'You have all kinds of trials to pas through, and it is quite as necessary for you to be tried even as Abraham, and other men of God,' and, said he, 'God will feel after you, he will take hold of you and wrench your very heartstrings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Kingdom of God.'" (Journal of Discourses XIV, 197)

    President Kimball said: 
    "If we would seek the blessings Abraham sought, we could also receive such revelation, covenants, promises, and eternal rewards as Abraham received.... Abraham sought for his appointment to the priesthood. He did not wait for God to come to him; he sought diligently through prayer and obedient living to learn the will of God." (Ensign, June 1975, p.7)

    From our study of Abraham over the last few weeks one thing that sets him apart was his personal inner drive to seek after righteousness. This is not a man who waited for blessings, who waited for time to teach him the things he needed to learn. He went out and sought after them. He actively looked for and found the Lord. Abraham was not just active in the gospel, he was proactive.

    Isaac as a type of Christ
    • Both were born under miraculous circumstances
    • Isaac and Christ were both beloved and only begotten. Isaac was beloved and the only begotten of Abraham through Sarah.
    • Both entered the area of Jerusalem with an ass
    • Both carried the wood upon which they were to be sacrificed
    • Both experiences endured a period of three days
    • Both sacrifices were offered on mountains/hilltops in the Moriah mountain range, in and around Jerusalem.
    • Both willingly offered themselves to be sacrificed and were subservient to the will of the father.
    • Both sons were resurrected or returned to their fathers on the third day. Isaac was as good as dead to his father who fully expected to sacrifice his son. On the third day God provided another sacrifice and Isaac was restored to his father.
    Isaac also typifies us. As he was saved from the suffering, so we too are saved from the suffering through the Lord's Atoning sacrifice.