2 Nephi 17

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 17.

This chapter compares to Isaiah 7.

This chapter, and all the way through chapter 24, is the next section in Isaiah’s teachings: his prophesies.

This chapter begins the prophecies about the birth of the Messiah.

The prophesies come in the midst of political context, all of which is unfolding prior to the Babylonian captivity that would destroy Jerusalem.  Isaiah prophesies of this, and as he does so there is a double layer to his prophesy.  First, the immediate captivity about to happen when Jerusalem is destroyed, but also the later destruction that will come at the end of times.

Specifically for the tribe of Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israelites), this destruction was fulfilled in 721 BC, when Assyria conquered them.  They were “scattered” when they were carried away, so that other tribes also became known as “the lost tribes” (See 2 Kings 17:22–23 and 3 Nephi 15:15; 17:4).

But the Lord, through Isaiah the prophet, sends a message of hope to His people:

“Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted…” (verse 4).

This message was for the people of Isaiah’s time, and for the people of the latter days.

“Take heed” – do what He says, for that is the way of protection and provision and preparation.  Heeding His instruction is what will safely get us there.  He will show us the way.

“Be quiet” – listen to Him!  “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  Let Him be the God that He is, and know He will do His job.  He will take care of things, so let Him.

“Fear not” – we are commanded to act in faith, not from fear.  Part of knowing who He is includes acting in faith in response to that knowledge.  That demonstrates obedience, and demonstrates our faith.  The Scriptures tell us to “fear not” 87 times, and “be not afraid” 28 times.  This “fear not” commandment is given to us more than any other commandment.  We cannot know the joy that comes from His presence, or experience the peace that He brings, if we are afraid.

“Neither be faint-hearted” – be strong in the Lord!  Accept (ACT in FAITH!) the strength that he offers.  Be empowered by Him (through the atonement and through the Temple).  Be strong and of good courage!

This whole verse echoes what Joshua said:

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest”  (Joshua 1:9).

The Isaiah talks about how some of the tribes, including Ephraim, have taken “evil counsel” against their brother, Judah.  This takes us back to the politics of war that is happening around them, and Isaiah explains who the “evil counsel” is, and who is above that.  So we see who they are in “cahoots” with, and who the leader of the whole mess is.

But, really, the underlying causes is the same as what we see throughout the entire Book of Mormon: contention.  Contention causes war and destruction.

The Lord says, “Stop it.”

Really, in verse 7, He says, “It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.”

Because contention is not of God, He will not let it come to fruition.

There will be natural consequences from those acting outside of His Order, His will, His way, but they will not ultimately – in the end – succeed in their plans because their plans are not of God.

Not only will He put a stop to the bad behavior, but then Isaiah prophesies that the tribe of Ephraim will be scattered, so much so that it will seem “broken”, in less than “threescore and five years”.   A “score” is twenty years, so he is saying this will happen in less than sixty-five years.  We know, from history, that it did happen right at sixty-five years, but also the symbolic message is that the people who caused the contention will suffer the consequences and be scattered.  So an entire generation will be gone and scattered because of their behavior.  This reminds us of the Israelites wandering in the desert for all those years with Moses, until the whole generation – every one of them – had passed away, so that it was their children who actually received the promised land, or temporal blessings that came from their deliverance.  This all connects back to the previous chapter, and why we must be cleansed (set apart) from not only who we were before we truly chose the covenant, but also from the people of our generation.

So the Lord makes it clear that we only be established if we believe (verse 9).  Our parents being in the covenant isn’t enough.  Going through the motions of the covenant isn’t enough.  We must be truly living it, which is to believe and be acting in faith in response to what we know to be true.  Always, action is required.

So then come the famous words of WHO we believe IN, and it comes through a covenant.

A covenant is when we agree with God that we will both do something.

He promises He will do something, and we promise we will do something.

Always, when a covenant is made, there is both a “sign” and a “token” given.  Signs and tokens are both literal and symbolic.  They serve as reminders to both parties – both to God and to His people – of what has been promised, and their obligation to each keep up their end of the deal.

The difference between a sign and a token can get pretty in depth, but for now we can keep it sweet and simple.

A sign is a symbol that a promise has been made.

A token is a symbol of what that promise is.

So it kind of overlaps, yet is different.

The best place to read about this, or the most famous example, at least, is reading about the rainbow given after Noah’s ark finally lands.  The story is in Genesis 9.  We all have seen rainbows, but that chapter in Genesis holds their meaning and history.

The Lord made a covenant with Noah.  The Lord promised never again to destroy the Earth by water-floods.  Noah and his family promised to be obedient and raise their children to be obedient.

The sign of that covenant was the rainbow.

The “sign” of the rainbow reminds us that a promise was made.  It’s beautiful, it’s pretty, it catches our breath.  We drag people outside to see it, we love them, we celebrate them.  They make us feel as happy as butterflies.  Because we know it is a sign of love, that He chooses not to destroy us.  So it is a sign to us and to God, a reminder to us and to God, that a promise was made.

But there is also a token within the sign.  It is a bow.  Of all things, it is in the shape of a bow.  As in, a bow and arrow.

This is part of the sign, the token part of the sign.

This rainbow itself is a “sign” in that it is a reminder that a promise has been made.

But the shape it takes – that of a bow – is a “token” of WHAT the promise was exactly.  The promise is that we would not be destroyed by water, ever again.  So the WHEN is after rain, because that is part of the promise.  But the WHAT is in its shape: a bow, from a bow and arrow.  A bow is a sign of death, and the bow-after-the-rain is given as a token in that it is set facing heaven, not facing us.  He has turned away (bow pointing up instead of at us) the bow-after-the-rain.

He has turned away destruction-through-rain.

But we know from science that it only happens when the sun pierces through, and the storm is finished and on its way.

So is judgment stayed only because the Son was pierced.

“He was pierced for our transgressions…” (Isaiah 53:5).

That’s how signs and tokens become symbols to us not only that promises have been made, but what those promises are.

And that’s how all of them point to the atonement, which was the ultimate and premortal covenant (that the Lord would provide the atonement, and we would testify of it).

When we are baptized, as the Earth was, He does turn away destruction.

And so here, Isaiah says that the Lord gives us a sign:

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call us name Immanuel” (verse 14).

A sign is being given, which means a covenant is being made.

The sign will be an “impossible birth” made possible, in that a virgin shall conceive.

This points to the token, which is that our spiritual birth, or conversion, (re-entering Heavenly Father’s presence) is impossible, because “all have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) EXCEPT THAT the Lord does make the impossible possible.  Through Him, the impossible is made possible, and through Him we are able to return to our Heavenly Father (because she did bear this son).

And the name, which goes with covenants, is given: Immanuel, which means God with us.

God being with us is part of what is the-impossible-made-possible.

Like a bow pointed away from us, it is a sign of love.

In fact, it is the completing of love, because it is the at-one-ment.  Because now, not only is the bow pointed away from us, but the one who holds it has come near to us and does embrace us and is with us.

That’s the reason rainbows make us happy: because it is a a sign of love… love that makes us at-one again.

2 Nephi 16

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 16.

This chapter compares to Isaiah 6.

These chapters are the last of this group (2 Nephi 11-16) of chapters referring to Isaiah’s preaching about coming judgment.  His sermons in these chapters have referred to the immediate destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in that day, and it refers to the judgment to come in the last days.   The hope that comes from these chapters is that in both cases (back when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon and judgment in the last days), the Lord promises to remember His people that have truly remembered Him.   The next few chapters (2 Nephi 17-24) will be the prophecies about HOW the Lord will remember (provide, protect, and preserve) His people (humble and obedient covenant-keepers).

Nephi continues to use Isaiah’s words to preach because Nephi and his siblings and their families know of Isaiah as a contemporary prophet in their day, and so Nephi is able to point out how their father, Lehi, being led out of Jerusalem before Babylon destroyed it was part of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.  The Lord led Lehi and his family out of Jerusalem, and so he and his descendants were “remembered” (provided for, protected, and preserved).

So even how the background of this chapter reminds us that the Lord has already kept His promises, and will continue to do so, emphasis is added by reading of Isaiah’s vision of the Lord and remembering Lehi’s vision that warned him to take his family and leave (1 Nephi 1).   Together, they are “two witnesses” of this particular prophesy (His promise), or this particular characteristic of the Lord (that He remembers His people).

So the first verse of this chapter opens with the vision of Isaiah, in which he saw the Lord:

“I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”

This takes us back a few chapters to 2 Nephi 11:1-3, where we have Nepih’s testimony that he saw the Lord, and that his brother Jacob also saw Him.

That’s three witnesses.

The words of Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah make up about 135 of the 143 pages of the “small plates” (1 Nephi through the book of Omni) (Book of Mormon manual, chapter ten).  Taking D&C 17:1-4 into context, we now understand that the purpose of these “small plates” has been to establish how we got the Book of Mormon (where the plates came from through the story of Lehi and his family), and to establish it as another testament of Jesus Christ (Elder Holland).  This lays the foundation for teaching the doctrine of Christ in the Book of Mormon that comes later in the “large plates”.

(CLICK HERE to read about the different “plates”.)

As the three witnesses establish the Book of Mormon, we are still in context of Nephi urging us to liken Isaiah’s words (and all scriptures) to ourselves.

In 2 Nephi 11:8, Nephi has just given the reason why he is quoting and teaching the words of Isaiah:

“And now I write someof the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men. Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men.”

We need to apply them to our own lives, in today’s world.   So part of what this first verse tells us, is that we should also be seeking the Lord, not just to be doing what He says or following His example… but also seeking to truly see Him, know Him, and develop our testimony that He is real, He lives, and that He is who He says He is.

And when we know who He is, we cry out to each other (testify!) “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (verse 3).

This caught me by surprise this morning, in that I know He is “Lord of Hosts” as in “Lord of all Beings”, but the literal, actual word also caught me in that as we love others the way He loves us, we “host” them.  We invite them, we care for them, we welcome them.  It caught me in that way, as I have been studying and learning about that recently.

Also, the whole earth is “full of His glory” because of His great atoning sacrifice.  His glory is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of all of us.  And so the whole earth being full of His glory means that He has done this, that He has kept His promise, that we have all been (will be) changed by that Great Exchange of Him taking from us what is not of God, and filling us with His righteousness.  This is His work and glory (Moses 1:39).

“And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him…”

The “posts of the door” remind me of Revelation 3:12 where the Lord says that those who take upon themselves His name, He will make as the pillars of His temple.

Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

So again, it is the Lord’s covenant people – those who not only made, but also kept their covenants – these people are moved at the Lord’s voice.

But the posts of the door being moved is the opening of the door.

So His covenant people move – open and receive – His words when they come.

It’s the reminder that a matriculation ceremony does not mean that you have graduated, but rather that you have met the prerequisites to enter the college for advanced learning.  It is not graduation; you are not finished.  You are just eligible to enter.  It’s just the beginning of your progress.

These days matriculation ceremonies have been reduced to online enrollment.

But in the old days when tradition was both passed down and honored, matriculation ceremonies were a big deal.  The ceremony was a beautiful and formal event.  See this example, from the Mona Lisa Smile movie:

The matriculation ceremony was not graduation, but initiation.  It’s just the beginning.

To get from enrollment to graduation is quite a process.

It requires change and attaining what one was not before that change, or transformation, happens.  It requires change beyond what one was before.

I love that in Isaiah’s example, he focuses on his “unclean lips”.

Our words come out of our heart, often revealing what is in us before we even realize it is there.

The cleansing of words is a cleansing of the heart.

And one cannot cry “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the Lord until one’s words (and heart) has first been cleansed.

The cleansing is the prerequisite to the matriculation ceremony.

So we see, in a few short verses, the unfolding of the plan of salvation, the entirity of the Gospel and all its ordinances, beginning with the principle of repentance:

“Wo is unto me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (verse 5).

Note that he must be cleansed not only of himself, but also of the people around him.

This reminds me of D&C 88, which is all about the priesthood and things not for this blog on 2 Nephi.  But suffice it to say that the reason we must be cleansed not only of ourselves but also of the people around us in our time is because of the setting-apart (being made holy) that must happen.

I would go so far as to say that the “unrighteous” is not others, but ourselves.

The unveiling of God coincides with our own sanctification.

Celestial-ness is not out-there, in the future, but in process now, as we meet the prerequisites and begin the matriculation ceremony.

This is why love is above all other things.   Because just as D&C 88 holds the pattern of the priesthood, so also must we all live in the pattern of the Savior.  Our final sanctification is only possible through “saving” others through charity, the pure love of Christ.

Becoming like Him isn’t just about going to the Temple a couple of times and being good in between visits.  We must deliberately work to become sanctified through our covenants.  The biggest mistake we most frequently make is thinking our covenants are about what NOT to do, when really they are about what we should be doing, how we should be living, what changes we should be making, and above all else – how we interact with others.  This is the work of redemption: to gather through the invitation of love and the demonstration of love through service.

The work of the atonement is the work of doing for others what they cannot do for themselves.

And not because they don’t deserve it, but because there is such deep love for them, that you can see their potential and who they will become.

It’s not about being so good that others are helped.

It’s about loving so well that others are changed.

That’s how the Savior loves us.

Isaiah sees it in his vision, when a hot coal is laid in his mouth, to cleanse him of those unclean lips.  It’s like those difficult and dark experiences of mortality that teach us and cleanse us and change us.  It’s the fire of the Spirit, which does purify and sanctify us by the power of the atonement.

“And he laid it upon my mouth, and said: Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thing iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” (verse 7).

This verse has always been one I have begged for, because I have often needed my lips cleansed.  It is an intimate verse, when cleansing of self and cleansing from those around us is deep and thorough and pure.  It is the “set apart”-ness that makes us holy.  It is the story of when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and told them that his true disciples would be differentiated from the fakers by who is truly loving others, and loving them well (see John 13:34,35).   That is what makes us clean “every whit” (John 13:10).

And so our sin is “purged”, and our sins our forgiven.

That is the atonement.

When we love others, truly and well, we act out the atonement in His name.

This is always the pattern of how the Lord works in us.

He gives to us, so that we can give to others.

He prepares us, so that we can “go and do”.

This is how it has always been.

Isaiah (now cleansed) hears “the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?  Then I said: Here am I; send me.” (verse 8).

So many layers here!

First, it is the layer of being a type of Jehovah.   We know that when Heavenly Father presented His plan for us to come to earth, it was Jehovah who volunteered to be the one to atone for us (see Abraham 3:27-28).

This was our premortal covenant: He would atone for us, and we would testify of it.

In the same way, Isaiah now is sharing his premortal experience of being called as a prophet to testify of Christ.

Elder Holland said:

“Isaiah is by every standard the messianic prophet of the Old Testament and as such is the most penetrating prophetic voice in that record. He, more than any other witness in the Old World, saw and wrote and prophesied of the Savior’s coming both in the meridian of time and again in the latter days. He is quoted more often in the New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and contemporary documents such as the Dead Sea Scrolls than any other Old World prophet. …

“It would seem even from Isaiah’s name (‘Jehovah saves’ or ‘The Lord is salvation’) that he was prepared at birth—or, more accurately, from before birth—to testify of the Messiah, bearing witness of the divinity of Christ in anticipation of both his first and second comings”

(Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [1997], 75–76, 77–78).

If we are likening the scriptures to our own lives, then we know that we also were prepared premortally to testify of Christ.

This is our “go and do”, being sent from the premortal realm, so that we can return to Heavenly Father’s presence and report that we did according to His plan.

This is our offering to Him, the offering that can only be given through the use of agency (our ability to choose).  Our offering to Him is choose to love Him, and demonstrating that love by loving others well.

This love is part of our testimony, and without it words mean nothing.

Our soft hearts soften the hearts of others.  Our seeing helps others to see.  Our hearing helps others to hear.  Our understanding helps others to understand, so that they can “be converted and be healed” (verse 10).

The ultimate healing is the at-one-ment.

This is our salvation, to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Isaiah compares us to “an oak whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves”.  Just as an oak tree drops acorns, and even though those acorns are only little seeds and not yet trees, the substance of the tree is already inside them.  As the acorn breaks open into a sapling, the sapling will grow and grow until it is also a tree.   While not yet a tree, the acorn holds within it the potential to become a tree.

Because it is made of the same substance.

“So the holy seed shall be the substance thereof” (verse 13).

And so we, the children of our Father-in-Heaven, hold within us the divine potential to become like Him.

Following the example of our Savior now, in our choices and interactions, helps us to be at-one with who we truly are, holding within us the divine substance of our Father.

Following the example of our Savior now, in our choices and interactions, helps us to be at-one with others, knowing the divine substance of our Father is also in them.  This also helps them to begin to align themselves toward being at-one with our Father, like tuning forks responding to each other.

Following the example of our Savior now, in our choices and interactions, helps us to be at-one with our Father by being who He created us to be: acorns in process of becoming trees, seeds of God, “children of the most High” (Psalm 82:6).

2 Nephi 15

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 15.

This chapter compares to Isaiah 5.

Remember that the last chapter was all about atonement-ness, and how His people become covenant people.

When they become covenant people, and really do that work, then He is able to make them holy.

“And then will I sing to my well-beloved (His covenant people)…” (verse 1).

This begins a song in which the prophet Isaiah now compares the relationship between the Lord and His people to the relationship between the man and his vineyard.  So now, rather than using the symbolic image of a bride, the church is now a “vineyard”.

“What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?”  (verse 4).  What else could the Savior have done for us that He has not done?

Yet if we persist in not bringing forth good fruit, if we do not grow because we will not do things His way, then we have chosen to be outside His protection and provision.

“I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down;” (verse 5).  When we let down our boundaries, we get “eaten up” – used up, overdrawn, disappeared.  When we break down the walls (the Laws of God) that protect us, we will be squashed and knocked down and overcome by things that attack us.

“And I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor digged” (verse 6).  Once we remove ourselves from the protection the Lord’s Laws offer, then He lets us choose our own destruction.  He stops trying to refine us.  He stops trying to warn us.  He stops trying to dig out what is not good for us, and dig us out of where is not good for us.  Because we will not listen to Him, He lets our consequences come as we choose them.

So instead of natural development like in the Garden of Eden, “there shall come up briers and thorns” (verse 6).  This means that instead of it coming to us easily and naturally, we will have to work hard to understand.

“I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (verse 6).  When we are not living worthy of the Lord’s protection and help, we also are not living worthy of His spirit.  His spirit does nourish us like water, and cleanse us like water.  His spirit does correct, instruct, and guide.  However, we cannot receive these benefits if we do not live worthy of them.

And without the Spirit, there is “no knowledge” (the Spirit brings pure knowledge and revelation both), and so “their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst” (verse 13).  They are wasting away because they are not being nourished, not by studying scriptures or prayer or being worthy of the spirit.

And so he goes on to describe the difference between those who ignore the Lord and so sell themselves into captivity, and those who acknowledge the Lord and give Him credit for everything, and so in Him find themselves free.

So we must learn the difference between what is good (righteous) because it is of Him, and what is evil (wickedness) because it is not of God.

“Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (verse 20).  We can’t play switch-a-roo on what is good and righteous, or on what is evil and wicked.

And we cannot be content with lack of progress, not improving our lives, not growing spiritually, or saying no line-upon-line is sufficient.  It is not.

We cannot say darkness is light.

In the same way, when the Lord does work, we must acknowledge His working in our lives.  We cannot take what is good and throw it away.  We cannot fail to use the gifts the Lord has bestowed upon us.  We cannot forget to testify.  We cannot be ungrateful, thinking what we have is not good enough in some way

We cannot say light is darkness.

When we do, we are messing with the plan of happiness.

And that messes with other people’s understandings of that plan of happiness.

It’s the knocking someone down while they are already weak.

(This is the opposite of edification, which is uplifting and strengthening.)

“Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people….” (verse 25).

But when we return to Him, He is immediately there – like the father of the prodigal son – already waiting, already watching, so that he see us from “a long way off” (Luke 15:20).

2 Nephi 14

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 14.

This chapter compares to Isaiah 4.

Here is what is fun about 2 Nephi 14: the chapter before (2 Nephi 13) has a prophecy that was fulfilled by the Babylonians about 587 B.C; however, this chapter specifically states that this prophecy will be fulfilled in the millennial day.

Many of Isaiah’s prophecies have more than one fulfillment, usually at least one literal fulfillment in that day and time (back then), and at least one spiritual, symbolic fulfillment later on.  These other fulfillments always point to Christ, either to His coming the first time as a baby and Messiah or His second coming as King.

In the context of 2 Nephi 13 already having its temporal, literal, in-the-day fulfillment, we know to take its symbols into 2 Nephi 14 for the spiritual fulfillment in our day and time.  We know 2 Nephi is about these latter-days of the latter-days in which we now live.

So we continue the metaphor of the ladies, as begun in the previous chapter (before the weekend of tornadoes began), and we use the symbols of them to understand the people of the last days.  We know this is for all people, and not really just about women specifically, because the Lord is using the style of Hebrew poetry (as seen in Isaiah) to describe His relationship with His covenant people like a marriage relationship.  It’s classic language, and meant to describe the covenant people, not just ladies.

So it starts:  “And in that day, seven women shall take hold of one man, saying: We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach” (verse 1).

These women (symbolizing the covenant people) are humbled by their situation (the state of the world at the time, the environment over which they have no choice, and their life experiences resulting from the choices they did make).

The man is a groom, and symbolizes the Lord.

The women are brides-to-be, and symbolize people in process of choosing the covenant.  Not just born into it, and not just knowing the covenant, but in process of doing the work to become covenant people.

For the literal interpretation, I love these women because they are industrious and able (and willing) to provide for their own needs. They are self-reliant!  They are self-reliant physically, financially, and emotionally.  They love the man, but also can take care of themselves.  It is an interdependent relationship where they appreciate and care for him without being clingy or dependent in an unhealthy way. They are not all whiny and needy and bothering the man; they are simply being obedient and taking care of business.  And the man loves her for it (see Isaiah 54).  These women, in that day, will know how to do what is right because it is right, and love him for it and love their task, without all the crazy trauma-drama of our day.  It will be different, somehow.  There is a footnote in Isaiah that indicates that then, in those last-days of the last-days, social perceptions will be so different than now.  So much so, that women (of the covenant) will be “reproached” for not being married or having children.  Being married and having children will mean more to them than anything else, so much that they will be willing and able and prepared to provide for themselves and their children without depending on him to do it for them.  Their marital status will be according to the laws of God (the Law of Sarah reinstated), and not the laws of men as we know them today.

But, back to the spiritual interpretation and historical context of the people in Isaiah’s time, what has happened to these ladies, or, rather, to those who should be the covenant people, is that they are not acting like it.  The ladies should be married, but they are not.  The covenant people should be within the covenant, but they are not.

They are not because they have been unfaithful (worshipping idols).

2 Nephi 12:12-13 describes how false idols did not give any real protection, and so the people who worshiped them or depended on them were destroyed.

Through this experience, the covenant people realize that false idols – depending on people and things instead of God – offered no help at all (2 Nephi 13:18).

So now, in this first verse of 2 Nephi 14, the daughters of Zion – the covenant people – are humbled as they ask to be married again, as they do the work of choosing the covenant.

This could be us anywhere on the continuum.  It could be us remembering to go back and sit down and read our scriptures, or crawling into bed only to get back out because we forgot to get on our knees first.  It could be the reunion and healing of friends becoming at-one again.  It could be serious repentance, public or private, and the humility that comes through that process.  Regardless, it is cleansing.  Cleansing enough to lead to at-one-ness again.

“In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious… And it shall come to pass, they… shall be called holy… When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion” (verses 2-4).

When Isaiah says “the branch of the Lord”, it also implies there are other branches that make up the tree!  We know this is only one planet of many.

Also, if we were reading this in Hebrew, it would indicate new growth.  Not just other growth, but new growth.  If we go back to the awesome ladies of the last days, the industrious ones willing to take care of business just to raise their children, this would also have the layer of meaning that the children born to these ladies will be “glorious and beautiful”.

This concept seems confirmed by the next verses where it says the “fruit of the earth” will be “excellent and comely”, and seems to refer also to when the Earth is renewed, and again as it was meant to be.  This seems confirmed in Isaiah 10:2, where it talks about the “escape” of Israel, meaning that they have been released from some great captivity.

“And it shall come to pass” means that it will.  We must have faith that it will.  He promised.  It is His work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of all of us, and He has promised He will do that work.  So we must humble ourselves enough to submit to Him enough to let Him do that work.  When we do, He gets credit for bringing about the work (because we could not do it, only He can do it), and so in this way it adds to His glory.  Our progression is also His progression.  He leads us to become more like Him, while also constantly leading the way ahead of us.

It is like me and my mother.

I could work to finish high school like she did, but by the time I did, she had already moved on.  So I could then work to finish college like she did, but by then she had already moved on.  So I could then work to finish grad school, but by then she had already moved on.  She leads the way, and even as we grow close together, she is still ahead of me.  She will always be my mother.  No matter how much progress I make, I can never catch up to her exactly.  She will always be my mother, and no amount of progress changes that.  But I can “inherit” my own Emily World by doing what she showed me how to do, like staying in school and getting an education.

Then, in verse three, when it says they “shall be called holy”, it means “set apart”.  It means physically and spiritually distinct from the world around them.  They are changed, separated, set apart, made holy.  This is the becoming a people of the covenant; this is becoming the House of the Lord (Holiness to the Lord).

He is the one who cleanses us so that we may be made holy.

It is the Great Exchange of Isaiah 22, where we nail up our sins and transgressions and all that is in us that is not of God.  Then the Savior does the work of the atonement, which is threefold:

1.)  To cleanse us of that which is not of God;

2.)  To “cut off” or remove the curse we brought upon ourselves because of those things; and

3.)  To replace that with His righteousness.

This righteousness develops in us further through obedience, by the power of the Holy Spirit who does sanctify us and refine us, always through correction and instruction and guidance.

“by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning” (verse 4).

We can either use the spirit of judgment before we make choices, and use it to make good ones, or we can experience it after the choice, as part of the remorse and/or consequences of our sins (either from within or from the judgment of others).

We can either sense the burning in our hearts when the Spirit is trying to teach us, correct us, or guide us, or we can sense the burning in our hearts after choices that cause us to burn with guilt or remorse.  Either way, there will be burning.

So to be made holy, we must be made humble.  We can either do this ourselves by giving God credit where it is due, or He can do it for us through external circumstances. We must also feel sorrow for sin, either vicariously through Scripture study (and so then not sinning, in effort to avoid the consequences we read about), or through experience following sinful choices we make.  But then we see that not only is God “big enough” to cleanse us from all sin, but also there is power in making and keeping sacred covenants that protect us from evil (externally – from others against us, as well as internally – us making poor choices).  All of this sets us apart, or makes us holy, so that we can become His people, His covenant people.   Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.

“And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defense” (verse 5).

This is Temple language!

Go back to this chapter using the symbolic language of marriage to describe the covenant relationship between the Lord and His people (see Ex. 19:5).  As we enter a covenant relationship with Him (by LIVING it, not just going through the Temple once), we become a “holy people” (Deut. 14:2).   We see this over and over again in the Old Testament, with the Hebrew qadosh (meaning holy) and another is hasid (meaning godly).  In the New Testament it is the Greek hagios (meaning holy).  As we choose Him, He does the work of making us holy.  Then, as we offer ourselves to the Lord (Holiness to the Lord), we become His people (the House of the Lord).

Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.

So then read this verse again:

“And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion”
(at every place there is a Temple)
“and upon her assemblies”
(and at every meetinghouse, or, every time a ward gathers)
“the Lord will create… a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night…”
(His presence!  This is the SHECKINAH!)  (CLICK HERE).

So this verse is saying:

When we “gather” at the Temple, or attend our ward meetings, He promises to bless us with His presence!

Remember that next time you have some lame-o speaker that isn’t skilled in speaking or making any sense.  Turn off your murmuring heart, hush your lips, and just listen – let the Spirit speak to your spirit.  It’s a promise.

But not only that!

Not only does He promise to bless us with His presence, but He promises that in that presence, we will receive guidance and instruction!

“upon all the glory of Zion shall be a defense”

His glory has already been defined as our immortality and eternal life, and we know that our participating (by making good choices and doing what He asks) is what accomplishes this (by our willingness to participate in the Great Exchange that He provides).

So our good choices (doing what He asks) actually do protect us!

This is amazing.

But still, there is more.

All things are both temporal and spiritual, and that is the temporal.

The spiritual lesson in the verse relates to D&C 124 and where Temples are built.

Temples are for our protection!

Making and keeping sacred covenants, and living in that way, offers both physical and spiritual protection.

But so does the Temple itself.

“And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and a place of refuge, and a cover storm and from rain” (verse 6).

This is the spiritual rest and protection that we experience when we go to the Temple, and when we live in such a way that we are keeping the sacred covenants we make there.

But there will also come a time when it offers us physical protection as well.

And while protecting us, He – as sheckinah – will also guide us.

He promises to show us the way, to lead us there back to His presence, even making possible a way for us to do all that is required of us to get there.

It’s a promise.

Communication and Relationships: Talk at Jenks Ward

Communication is required in any relationship, whether it is with your spouse or parent or child or friend.  Good communication fosters mutual understanding and respect, and it increases love while reducing conflict.  This is true intimacy, and it includes thoughts, feelings, acts, and desires – all of which are shared both verbally and non-verbally (from “Strengthening Marriage“).

Since getting cochlear implants last year, I have experienced an onslaught of sound, so much louder than the non-verbal cues of the Deaf.  When I learned ballroom dancing, it was without words.  When I was loved into the gospel, it was without words – except for the thousands of text messages.  But those messages, those words-of-love and words-of-teaching are what got me baptized.

So, when we do use words, we need to use them carefully.

Words are powerful.

Words can inspire or degrade, uplift or knock down, heal or wound, create or destroy.

President Kimball said, “There is magic in words properly used. Some people use them accurately, while others sloppily.  Words are a means of communication, and faulty signals give wrong impressions.  Disorder and misunderstandings are the results.  Words underlie our whole life and are the tools of our business, the expressions of our affections, and the records of our progress.  Words cause hearts to throb and tears to flow in sympathy.  Words can be sincere or hypocritical.  Many of us are destitute of words, and consequently, are clumsy with our speech.”

We are far too often clumsy, or even careless with our words.

Four common destructive patterns of communication that we CAN change are these (from “Strengthening Marriage“):

  1. Criticism – attacking someone’s personality or character, usually in a blaming way
  2. Contempt – insulting or demeaning the spouse
  3. Defensiveness – responding defensively to complaints, criticism, or contempt by making excuses, denying, arguing, whining, or counter-blaming rather than trying to solve the problem
  4. Stonewalling – withdrawing physically or emotionally from the relationship when disagreements occur, becoming like a stone wall or placing behavioral walls between you

But NOT doing destructive things is not enough.  We must also do things that are life-giving and strengthening, positive things that not only heal but also improve our relationships.

In fact, research says we need a 5:1 ratio of 5 positive interactions for each negative interaction if we want our relationship to be healthy and stable.

Positive interactions include:

  • Showing interest in the other person, their experiences, their ideas, and their feelings
  • Being affectionate in tender ways
  • Showing you care by small acts of thoughtfulness, kindness and frequent communication
  • Showing appreciation by expressing thanks, giving compliments, and expressing pride in their accomplishments and contributions to the relationship
  • Showing concern when the other person is troubled
  • Being empathetic – understanding and feeling what the other person is experiencing
  • Being accepting – accepting and respecting the other person, even when you disagree
  • Play – joking around and having fun without being offensive
  • Sharing joy, excitement, delight, and development

How do these things show up in our day-to-day interactions with others?

We cannot communicate positively while engaging in negative thoughts that distort the weaknesses of the other person.

Destructive thoughts often involve feelings of innocent victim-hood or self-righteous indignation.

People who are “innocent victims” often fear their spouses, and feel unfairly accused, mistreated, or under-appreciated.  They use this victim stance to “avoid responsibility for saving their marriage”.

People who are self-righteous feel “hostility and contempt” toward their spouses for hurting them.  They feel their anger is justified, and do not want to use good communication skills because they do not care about listening or trying to understand.

Both of these approaches, outside of actual danger, are self-centered and focused on self-gratification.  They blame others rather than accept responsibility for problems, and may deny the extent of their behavior or its impact on others.  They may spurn or belittle their spouse for not meeting their selfish expectations” (from “Strengthening Marriage“).

What’s the healthy way?

  • Be interested and attentive when the other person is talking.  Maintain eye contact, without staring, and pay attention instead of appearing distant or bothered.”
  • Ask questions to invite the other person to talk.
  • Listen actively by rephrasing what you hear; this provides an opportunity for the other person to clarify if something was misunderstood, and they know you are paying attention.
  • Share intentions before approaching difficult topics or tasks.
  • Use “I” statements (such as “I feel angry” instead of “you make me angry”, which is blaming)
  • Agree with the piece of truth inside criticism or blame.  Taking responsibility for mistakes, while denying truth will intensify problems.  Apologize sincerely, and let the emotion of the criticism go.  Just let it go.
  • Give honest praise.
  • Clearly state preferences and expectations. Whether it’s about dishes or the garbage or jobs or children or what to eat for dinner, when you have a preference, share it.  When you have an expectation, communicate it.  It’s not fair to just assume the other person already knows, and it cruel to punish them for not knowing when you never told them.
  • Remember that not all requests are appropriate.  Appropriate requests are specific, asked at an appropriate time, direct and brief without being watered down, and non-demanding.
  • Examples:
    • “Would you please take out the garbage?” is better than “I wish you would be more helpful.”
    • “I’d like a kiss goodbye before work” is better than “I know it’s a lot to ask and sometimes you’re not fully awake, but it would help me if…”
  • Identify and reign in control behaviors.  It may seem more efficient, but it provokes resentment and resistance because of the lack of tenderness.
    • “My spouse shouldn’t do anything without my permission…”
    • “If things are to be done correctly, I have to be in charge.  I can’t trust anyone else to do anything right around here…”
  • Share Decision-Making when it affects both people or others in the family.  Independent decisions are fine sometimes.  But if the decision affects others, consult them and receive their counsel.  The more you do this, the more others will gain confidence that you will more likely represent them well when making big decisions.  Practice with the little things.
  • Husbands, preside in righteousness.  This means you interact with your wife through righteous example, persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love, and kindness (D&C 121:41-42).
  • Wives, be nice.  We are to nurture, and that requires kindness.

The Savior taught what we say comes from our heart: “those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart” (Matthew 15:18).  So we cannot change our words or the way we communicate until we first change our hearts.

The “Strengthening Marriage” manual says, “This softening of the heart needs to take place in both spouses, even though one may be principally at fault for the problems.  While you can never force your spouse to change, you can change.  You can choose to love and forgive no matter what else happens.  The result will usually be a change in your spouse’s attitude and behavior as well.”

A “mighty change of heart” includes overcoming anger.

In fact, President Hinckley said we should “walk without anger”.

“Anger is [used] to control others. Some people have learned this art very well. They get what they want by becoming loud and angry. … Anger thus has the unrighteous goal of attempting to diminish the freedom of others” (Burton C. Kelly, “The Case Against Anger,” Ensign, Feb. 1980, 10).

There are several ways people express anger:

  • Aggression – physical violence (hitting, biting, kicking, hair pulling, throwing things, destroying property)
  • Emotional and verbal abuse (yelling, name calling, swearing, threatening, blaming, ridiculing, arguing, provoking, intimidating, manipulating, and demeaning)
  • Sexual abuse (rape, incest, harassment – even within marriage, is still illegal)
  • Internalization – directing anger towards self, depression, self-damaging acts or behaviors, putting self at risk or harm’s way un-necessarily
  • Passive-Aggressive behavior – anger expressed through in-direct actions (tardiness, irresponsibility, stubbornness, sarcasm, dishonesty, irritability, discontentment, blaming, criticism, procrastination)

(Ladies, see this “Mothers of Israel” talk I gave a few weeks ago.)

Anger is a choice.

We do not have to choose anger.

We can choose the atonement.

The story of King Lamoni and his Queen give us an example of choosing the atonement instead of anger.

(CLICK HERE for the full talk about King Lamoni and his Queen, including the Temple pattern and the spiral staircase of repentance.)

This story closely parallels the New Testament story of Lazarus and his sisters.

It brings us from where we were to who we are to become, like the story of the prodigal son being embraced by his father.  This is the at-one-ment.

Look also how this parallels with their neighbors after Aaron has gone there to convert them – look in Alma 23:6 and 7.

They never fell away because they became a righteous people!

This righteousness is the “Great Exchange” of Isaiah 22:23,25 – the “curse” or burden (message) of judgment being “cut off” by the atonement, and so we are “saved” because of the removal of that condemnation… the actual exchange is our sins and transgressions for HIS righteousness.

This is change in us is what makes us HOLY (set apart).  It is what makes us become people of the covenant, people of HOLINESS, of the House of the Lord.  It is what makes us at-one with Him, and with each other.

So Alma 23:6-7, in the context of communicating in relationships, defines for us what made them as a people (as a family!) righteous (holy and at-one).

They:

  1. Laid down weapons of their rebellion
  2. Did not fight against God
  3. Did not fight against each other

We must lay down our weapons.  We have to stop making things worse, and we have to stop injuring each other.  We have to stop using our words “clumsily” and carelessly.

This is critical: we are not to use our words to harm and destroy.

We are to use our words to testify.

That’s our first covenant, our premortal covenant: that the Savior would atone for us, and we would testify of it.  He has done our part.  Our words and behaviors should testify of Him, so that all are invited to also know Him.

This is what happened in this chapter of Alma.  If you look down in verse 16 and 18, you see the depth of conversion and what happened as a natural result of it.  They were so changed that they were given a new name, as is always done when a people become covenant people, as is always done when taken from who you were to who you will become (Revelation 2:17).

The became a new people because they opened a correspondence with the Lord.

They developed a relationship with the Lord.

Because they developed a relationship with the Lord, the curse of God no more followed them.

Instead, they followed the Lord.  The Savior led them, like His sheckinah in the wilderness, into the blessed state of peace and joy which He promises to all of us.

THAT is the plan of happiness!

It is hard work.

But we are not alone.

We have the example of Heavenly Parents who show us the way, one step at a time.  It’s like an eternal dance of learning to love and be loved, and how to communicate well with words – and without words.  And to love well requires knowledge, and to know requires listening and responding.  This is our dance, whether we are interacting with our spouse, children, friends, or in the workplace: to listen well, and respond in a tender and knowing way.

No pushing, no stepping on toes.

Just listening and responding.

Gently.

REFERENCES:

1D&C 132:3

2 President Spencer W. Kimball. Ensign, Nov. 1980, 4.

3Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Ministry of Angels,” Liahona, Nov 2008, 29–31.

4Sheri L. Dew, “We Are Women of God,” Ensign, Nov 1999, 97.

5,6,12The Family: A Proclamation to the World, first read by President Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society Meeting held September 23, 1995, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

7 Chapter 20: The Eternal Union of Husband and Wife,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 173

8 Alma 57:19-21

9 “Lesson 30: Developing and Teaching Self-Mastery,” The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A, 223.

10 Cree-L Kofford, “Marriage in the Lord’s Way, Part One,” Ensign, Jun 1998, 7.

11 Philippians 2:12

13 Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:177

14 Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, #292, “O My Father”.

15 Russell M. Nelson, “Now Is the Time to Prepare,” Liahona, May 2005, 16–18.

16 Genesis 28:12-13

17Andrew C. Skinner, “Jacob: Keeper of Covenants,” Ensign, Mar 1998, 51.

18 Johann A. Wondra, “Finding Hope in Christ,” Liahona, Dec 2002, 17.

19 Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde G. Williams. 1996, 256-257.

20 General Conference, October 2010 – Saturday Morning Session. Rosemary Wixom, Primary General President. “Stay on the Path”.  November 2010 Ensign.

21 Terrance D. Olson, “Teaching Morality to Your Children,” Ensign, May 1981, 10.

22 1 Nephi 11:35-36; 12:18

23 Revelation 12:9, 2 Nephi 2:18, D&C 10:22-27, Moses 4:6

24 Spencer W. Kimball. The Miracle of Forgiveness. Bookcraft: Salt Lake City, 1969.

25 “Marriage in the Lord’s Way”, part two, LDS Ensign magazine, 1998, by Elder Cree-L Kofford

26 Matthew 15:18

27  D&C 121:41-42

28 President James Faust in Conference Report, April 1981, 17; or, Ensign, November 1977, 10.

29  Strengthen Marriage (Instructor’s Guide).  2006.  Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2 Nephi 13

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 13.

Nephi continues his preaching of Isaiah’s words.

(This chapter corresponds with Isaiah 3.)

Specifically, this is the chapter that blows materialism out of the water.

Pride, in this chapter symbolized by material vanity, will destroy the covenant people.  It happened literally in 537 BC when Babylon conquered Judah and Jerusalem (which is why Nephi’s father, Lehi, told the family they had to leave).  But we will see leading into the next chapter, how this all specifically applies to our day, to these latter-days.

So Nephi shares Isaiah’s words, starting with the consequences of Jerusalem (the covenant people) removing themselves from the protection and provision of the Lord (by not being faithful to their covenants).  Because they have left Him, chosen against Him, the Lord will remove His presence and the ways He communicates His presence:

  1. Staff = Prophets
  2. Bread = Scriptures
  3. Water = Spirit

“For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem (the covenant people) and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water,” (verse 1).

And then blessings that come through the prophets, scriptures, and Spirit are also removed (because the people have chosen not to receive these blessings):

“the mighty man (strength), and the man of war (protection), the judge (discernment and wisdom), and the prophet (priesthood leadership), and the prudent (prepared-ness and provision), and the ancient (honor and nobility)” (verse 2).

They will so far remove themselves from the teachings of the Lord, that instead of great and wise leaders provided from the Lord, He will give them “children… to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them” (verse 4).

There are several interesting things about that verse four.

First, it is very Old Testament-ish (which, of course, Isaiah was), in that it reminds us of King Saul losing his privileges and so David taking over, or the younger receiving the birthright because the older gave away his inheritance.

It is also very New Testament, as it reminds us when Paul received the vision to share the gospel with the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Spiritually, it reminds us of the analogy of milk versus meat from 1 Corinthians 3:2, which is repeated in D&C 19:22 in an opposite direction kind of way.  In the first case, we are reprimanded for not taking spiritual “meat” when we are ready for it, and instead only being lazy to take spiritual “milk” and nothing else.  In the latter case, we are reminded that we cannot give spiritual “meat” to those not yet ready for it, and to first nourish them with spiritual “milk”.

As a therapist, it also makes me think of the family dynamics of today.  Within the church, we have Elijah’s promise from Malachi 4 that the Lord would turn the hearts of the children to the fathers.  That promise is for the covenant people, which means outside the covenant the opposite must be true: the children turning their hearts AWAY from the fathers.  Or, as this verse in 2 Nephi says, “babes shall rule over them”.

I see all the time these families where the children think they are the boss of their parents!  This is a prophesy of these latter-days!

“And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbor; the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honorable” (verse 5).

This loss of respect is happening already in our day!

There will be people refusing to be Bishops or take other leadership roles:

“In that day shall he swear, saying: I will not be a healer, for in my house there is neither bread nor clothing; make me not a ruler of the people” (verse 7).

This is the “ruin” of the covenant people.  It will cause the downfall!

But it gets worse:

“The show of their countenance doth witness against, and doth declare their sin to be even as Sodom, and they cannot hide it”.

Sodom was so evil, such a place of misery, that Heavenly Father had to destroy it because it was not even fair for new spirits to be sent there to be born.

Isaiah is saying our day, the last days, will be that bad and worse.

Only next time such grand destruction comes, it will be our Savior’s return and the sorting of people (“judgment”) according to what laws they did keep.

“Say unto the righteous that it is well with them; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings” (verse 10).

There are consequences to everything.

This is what I teach the children with whom I work.

There are consequences to everything: make good choices, and receive positive consequences; make poor choices, and receive negative consequences.

Our consequences are ours for the choosing.

The “fruit” is the evidence and consequences of righteous choices.

Or, the evidence of negative choices:

“Wo unto the wicked, for they shall perish” (verse 11).

All of this causes things to be out of ORDER (of the priesthood) as what Heavenly Father established for us.  Anytime we are out of order, there is drama and chaos and problems because we are removed from his provision and protection.  So things go topsy-turvey and become a mess.

“And my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them” (verse 12).  This verse again talks about kids thinking they are the boss of adults and other parents.  Women are given in the context of things being out of ORDER (with a capital P for Priesthood-ness), and so they are out of Order because it should be the Priesthood presiding in the home.

Verse 13 describes the Savior as our advocate with the Father: “The Lord standeth up to plead…”  He does plead for us!  But He also knows that He will have to enter judgment with us as we agree with Him upon the consequences of our choices.

Then, classic to Hebrew poetry, Nephi and Isaiah take this tiny reference to women and their relationship with the Lord as a “husband” (see Isaiah 54:5).  He is not picking on women directly, so much as using the woman as an analogy as a type for that which is not of Christ.  Some of the descriptors included in “not of God” include:

  • haughty (verse 16)
  • wanton eyes (not “eye single to my glory” as in D&C)
  • walking and mincing as they go (MURMURING!)
  • making a tinkling with their feet – these ankle bracelets symbolize our need to just be pretty or special or loved or important – so that we are complaining instead of being grateful and humble

But the Lord says He will take it away.  All the superficial things upon which we think our lives depend, He is going to take them away… all those things… and because we love these things more than the Lord, we will grieve and mourn the loss of them, not realizing it is the Lord who did that amazing gift of service and effort and diligence and faithfulness.

And yet, we will also mourn because those of us are at war (still in the War on Heaven), and we will see them “fall by the sword” (if the “sword” is the words of the prophets and scriptures, then to fall by the sword is to reject the words of the prophets and stray from the church.

And we will mourn them.

“And her gates shall lament and mourn….”

And so we will mourn, not only because we feel badly or miss the joy of our loved ones, but because we know it is part of our premortal covenant to testify to those around us.

And so we grieve and mourn those who are beyond where the scriptures can reach quite yet, or those who do not want to progress.

2 Nephi 12

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 12.

As promised in the last chapter, Nephi uses this chapter to share some teachings from Isaiah.

This chapter can be compared to Isaiah 2.

It opens with Isaiah’s prophesy about the Temples in the latter-days:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it” (verse 2 of 2 Nephi 12 and verse 2 of Isaiah 2).

We know “the Lord’s house” is the Temple, and that when scripture talks about the “mountain of the Lord”, it is a metaphor for the Temple or Temple pattern.

“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (verse 3).

So many people will say, “Let’s go to the Temple!”

And we know the Temple is the house of the the Lord, who is the God of Jacob.

We know that we make sacred covenants in the Temple, just as Jacob did, just as Abraham did.

And this is why we go to the Temple, for the Lord to “teach us his ways” so that we can “walk in his paths”.

We go to receive His laws and His instruction.

Verse 5 opens with “O, house of Jacob”, which is covenant language about how we (at the Temple) become the House of the Lord.

(See the Man-of-Holiness blog about how we become “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord”)

And when we do so, and as we do so, then we are able to “walk in the light of the Lord” (verse 5).

(See the Sheckinah blog about the “light of the Lord”).

“All have gone astray, every one to his wicked ways” (verse 5).  This is why we need the atonement, why we must repent, why we must choose (and do the work) to become the covenant people.

Instead, we too often try to do it our own way, and remain stubborn against the Lord while complaining about misery we created.  “And the mean man boweth not down…” (verse 9). We must do things – live life – Heavenly Father’s way, and follow our Savior in His example of loving and inviting.  Anything else – including force, misery, and the removal of agency – is Lucifer’s plan, not Jehovah’s plan of Happiness.

“For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, upon every one” (verse 12).

He will come again.  He will return, this time as King and Conqueror.

And everyone will know it.

And we each, as individuals, will be held accountable to God.

And we each, as individuals, we know and understand His justice – and His mercy.

2 Nephi 11

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 11.

Now that Jacob has finished his famous “covenant speech” in recent chapters, Nephi is back to his monologue, writing the story he has rather than quoting people.

Nephi says that he wants to write more about the words of Isaiah “for my soul delighteth in his words” (verse 2).   Remember that Isaiah was a contemporary of Nephi, and he could have even at some point been in an audience of Isaiah.  We don’t know that, but we know that Nephi knows Isaiah’s words and knows them well.

He also said earlier already that the words of Isaiah are very good to “liken” unto us, which means to take the story or words from back then and apply them to our individual lives today.

So, just as Nephi DELIGHTED in the words of his living prophet, so should we.

But there is more to that delight:

“my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (verse 4).

So not only does Nephi delight in the words of his living prophet, but He also delights in testifying of those words.

He delights in Christ, and delights in sharing what he knows of Christ.

“And also my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers; yea, my soul delighteth in his grace, and in his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death” (verse 5).

Knowing of Christ’s atonement and delighting in testifying of it is actually our very premortal covenant itself that we all share.  Understanding His atonement for us, helps us understand more deeply the pieces of what made this atonement possible: even His grace and justice and power and mercy.

And so Nephi does plead with us to study the words of Isaiah, and to liken the Scriptures to ourselves so that “these words may lift up” our hearts (verse 7).

Looking for what is life-giving and strengthening?  Study the words of Isaiah!

The next several chapters will help us do just that!

2 Nephi 10

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 10.

In this chapter, Jacob continues speaking to the Nephites about the righteous people who will choose the covenant when the gospel is restored in the future.

That’s us!

He prophesies that Christ will be born to the Jews.  This was already prophesied in Isaiah, of course, and the Jews knew the Messiah would be born to them.

But the next part of the same sentence (in verse 3) is a harsh reprimand to all of us: Christ will be born “among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him – for … there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God”.

OUCH!

That’s not just talking about those Jews or Romans of that day, when Christ was crucified.  It means even on our planet.  There are AMAZING old discourses by early prophets and apostles of this dispensation that talk about how – of all the worlds He made – Christ had to be born on THIS planet (and at that TIME – even Christ had the “bounds of time and place” we learn about in D&C).   They say He had to be born on this planet because we were the only people WICKED ENOUGH to KILL the Messiah!  The “world” is so dark and so full of sin, that we are the only ones who would kill Him!

“For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations, they would repent, and know that he be their God” (verse 4).

Everyone else would hear His words, repent, and obey!  Everyone else would hearken to His message, and obey!  Everyone one else would embrace Him and love Him and serve Him!  We were the only ones who would kill Him.  So we are the “darkest” planet of people, and so the “brightest” LIGHT had to come here.  That’s the Law of Opposition for you.

It is because of priestcraft and iniquities (sin).

Priestcraft is discussed later at the end of 2 Nephi, and in Alma.  But basically, there are three things that differentiate priestcraft (which is bad) from Priesthood (which is organized by and given authority from God):

1.  The person sets themselves up for a light unto the world.  Not in the way we should all be a light to the world, but instead of or better than the Prophet.  That’s what Lucifer did to Jehovah, and it is still the way he tries to work.  So in priestcraft, the person does preach, most likely saying all the right things, but they aren’t calling attention to the glory of God. They are, instead, calling attention to themselves, wanting others to praise them for their skills without giving credit to Heavenly Father (who gives us all gifts, and whose plan it is, and whose words they are).

2.  They preach for gain, and so want to be paid for their fancy-schmancy talking.

3.  They don’t seek the welfare of Zion (the covenant people), and are only looking out for their own selfish interests.

So this combination of priestcraft and iniquity is why we crucified Christ (verse 5).

So because of this, “destructions, famines, pestilences, and bloodshed shall come upon them; and they who shall not be destroyed shall be scattered” (verse 6).

When we are obedient and do things His way, we are rescued and gathered.

When we do not, we have – by our own choices – removed ourselves from His protection and provision, and so we get scattered and destroyed.

But always, He is waiting.  Always, He is inviting.  He is the ultimate prodigal-son’s-father, already watching and waiting so that He sees us the moment we are on the horizon headed home.

And then, in that day, “they shall be restored…” (verse 7).

And the Jews, specifically:  “It shall come to pass that they shall be gathered in from their long dispersion…” (verse 8).  But not only that, but it will be the Gentiles who gather them!   “and the nations of the Gentiles shall be great in the eyes of me, saith God, in carrying them forth to the lands of their inheritance.”

We do this through missionary work and through Temple work.

And the temporal (physical, here and now) blessings include this land of freedom and liberty in which we live.

And the spiritual blessing is Zion (the covenant people) being established on earth, and later the Earth being restored to its ultimate state… Noah’s flood did baptize the earth, and soon the Earth being purified and sanctified by fire (like we are by the Spirit).

“Wherefore, for this cause, that my covenants may be fulfilled which I have made unto the children of men…” (verse 15).  These are our premortal covenants!  This is completing the plan of happiness!  This is Him keeping His part!

Verse 17 is parallel poetry repeating the promise:  “For I will fulfill my promises which I have made unto the children of men…”.

Then He says that part of keeping this promise is that the Jews and the Gentiles will all become covenant people (those who choose it), and all will be numbered among the House of Israel.

Holiness to the Lord, the HOUSE of the Lord.   His people!

So, Jacob, says, “seeing that our merciful God has given us so great knowledge concerning these things, let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads, for we are not cast off…” (verse 20).

Such vital words!  Such uplifting words!

He is merciful!

He has given us great knowledge – we have the ability and the way to really understand, so that we are not lost or confused or abandoned.

Remember Him!

Be encouraged, and cheered up – He has not forgotten us, abandoned us, or rejected us.

We are not cast off!

This makes me cry and cry, good tears of peace and joy.

“Therefore, cheer up your hearts; and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves – to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (verse 23).

To choose eternal life, he says, we must “reconcile yourselves to the will of God”.  We must do what He says, and do it His way.  And even then, “it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved”.

I love the last verse in this chapter (verse 25):

“Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection,” – this is the gift of immortality!

“and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement,” – this is the gift of eternal life!

Immortality is living forever; eternal life is the quality of that forever living!

“that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God”  – this is celestial-ness!

“that ye may praise him through grace divine.”

It is by HIS grace, by HIS plan that includes the atonement, that we are saved.

This is the great exchange of Isaiah 22, where we give Him our sins and He gives us His righteousness… and because He is perfect, that righteousness-in-us is perfected, as in whole and complete, so much that we become as He is.

2 Nephi 9: tsedeq Poem

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 9.

This chapter closes out Jacob’s famous “covenant speech” (verse 1).  He tells the Nephites that the reason he gave the speech is so that everyone will know that the Lord established these covenants from the beginning, always teaching the people through prophets.  He says that if we make and keep covenants, and heed the words of the prophets, we will make it home again – home being our return to the presence of our Heavenly Father.  This is the Plan of Happiness.

He says that he wanted to teach these things to the people because he knows the people have searched and searched for truth, and that people want to know what will happen in the end times.  We know that our bodies will die, but they will also be resurrected because the Savior has given the gift of immortality to all and “in our bodies we shall see God” (verse 4).  So this has been the plan all along: that to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord” (vere 6).

So because of the transgression in the Garden of Eden, we all fell… and that falling is away from His presence.  We are separated from Him.

To be reunited with Him again, we need His “infinite atonement” (verse 7), the at-one-ment, to make us at-one with Him again.

Part of the atonement is the gift of immortality to all.  Jacob points out that if there were no resurrection, and our bodies just wasted away to nothing, then our spirits would be left abandoned, and we would be no different than the spirits who fell with Lucifer and never obtained bodies.

It goes back to Isaiah 14:12-15 and Revelation 12:7-9, where we learn that Lucifer, or Satan, was literally a spirit son of God, he was at one time “an angel” in authority in the presence of God; however, he rebelled in the premortal life, at which time he persuaded a third of the spirit children of the Father to rebel with him, in opposition to the plan of salvation championed by Jehovah (Jesus Christ). “Thus came the devil and his angels” (D&C 29:37). They were cast out of heaven, and were denied the experience of mortal bodies and earth life (Isa. 14:12–15; Rev. 14:4–9; 2 Ne. 2:17; 9:8; D&C 29:36–38; 76:25–26; 93:25; Moses 4:1–4; Abr. 3:27–28). (Bible Dictionary).

In contrast, the other 2/3rds of the Spirits – the ones who were not cast out – that was us.

This was the War in Heaven.

Heavenly Father had a plan for us all to come to earth, and develop real love for Him by choosing to love Him.  This ability to choose is called agency.  But because we would not be able to do this perfectly, we needed the atonement.  We needed someone to pay the price, and it was our eldest brother – Jehovah (Christ) – who volunteered.

But His volunteering was not just to pay that price, but to do it Heavenly Father’s way, for Heavenly Father’s glory.

Lucifer, on the other hand, wanted to force everyone to love Heavenly Father, and then keep the glory for himself since everyone would make it back.  This was not Heavenly Father’s way.

So we fought to defend Jehovah’s way, and Lucifer was kicked out.

Part of those consequences was that Lucifer – and those that followed him – was that they did not get to come to Earth to be born in bodies and to “gain earthly experience” (Family Proclamation) because they had already rejected Heavenly Father’s plan and Jehovah’s offering to be the sacrifice for us.  Because they rejected the sacrifice, they did not get the opportunity to live on earth and get bodies.  This means they missed out on our preparation for coming to earth, including the assigning of the “bounds of time and place”, the premortal covenants, and the ordinances that established those covenants.  They missed out on all the training that prepared us to come to earth to receive our bodies and learn to make good choices.

So, back to Jacob’s speech, if there was no resurrection, then after our bodies decayed then our spirits would be as body-less as Lucifer and his spirits.

A resurrection of our bodies, and the reuniting of our bodies and spirits into one being, has always been a part of the plan.

Our whole being must be perfected – made whole, completed – to re-enter the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Without the resurrection, we would be trapped away from Him!

“O how great the good of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (verse 10).

And so Heavenly Father always had the resurrection of our bodies as part of the plan, and the Savior conquered death to provide us with this immortality that had been promised from the beginning.

This was always part of the plan!

“O how great the plan of our God!” (verse 13).

This is the great plan of our God: that “the spirit and the body will be restored to itself again… incorruptible and immortal” (verse 13).

We will be living souls!  Not just alive, but this is present progressive: we will be in the process of continuing to be doing the work of living.

And in this way, we will be as we are now – except that, as we continue to progress, “our knowledge shall be perfect” (verse 13).

This doesn’t just mean we will be perfect, as in brilliant and smart and know everything.

It means perfect, as in whole, as in complete.  We will understand… not everything, like know-it-alls, but everything about us and our relationship with God.

We will “have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness” (verse 14).   We will understand our sin, our transgression, what we have done, and what we have failed to do.  We will understand how very far we have “fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  We will understand – participate in, even – our judgment, and we will agree with that judgment.  We will know we deserve it.

Excepting God is not ONLY a just God.

He is also a merciful God.

And so there is also the mercy of His great atoning sacrifice, which does pay the price we owe.

But He is also a gracious God.  So that not only does He pay our debt, but He also gives us more as well.  As we give our sins and transgressions and failures to Him in the Great Exchange, the burden (curse) of our coming short of the glory (presence) of God is cut off (Isaiah 22:23, 25).  In exchange for giving up all that, He gives us HIS righteousness.  We are not righteous; we are not good.  We cannot do it without Him.  But His righteousness will save us.  This will be our joy, and this we will also perfectly understand.

“and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness” (verse 14).

Using what we learned in the previous chapter, we could re-read this from Hebrew using the tsedeq from Isaiah, and it would read as this poem:

and the righteous
(the Melchizedek priesthood-ers)
shall have perfect knowledge
(will be taught the priesthood knowledge)
of their enjoyment
(state of enter-into-joy-ment = celestialness)
and their righteousness
(their Melchizedek priesthood-ness)
being clothed with purity
(even according to the laws of the covenant)
yea, even with the robe of righteousness
(yes, even with the robes of the Melchizedek Priesthood)

And this, Jacob says, is what is required to pass the judgment-seat.

He says, “And it shall come to pass that when all men shall have passed from this first death unto life, insomuch as they have become immortal, they must appear before the judgment-seat of the Holy One of Israel; and then cometh the judgment, and then must they be judged according to the holy judgment of God” (verse 15).

The judgment seat comes from the Old Testament, all the way back to Moses.  Before that, too, but Moses and his tabernacle in the wilderness is where it is famous.  The ark of the covenant had upon it two angels, and between them was a “seat”.  This was the judgment seat, or mercy seat, or kapporeth – literally the seat of atonement.  It is here that Moses met with God and communed with Him.

On the Jewish calendar, on the Day of Atonement, the sins of the people were symbolically placed on the scapegoat who was then sent out of camp.  This “took away” the sins of the people.  It’s where we get the word “scapegoat” the way we use it today.  But taking away the sins was not enough.  There also had to be a sacrifice, and the blood from that sacrifice was sprinkled onto the judgment seat, or mercy seat.

This was a type of Christ, foreshadowing what He would do for us.

The kapporeth (seat of atonement, judgment-seat, mercy-seat) in Greek is hilasterion.

Read this:

All Greek nouns which end in -erion mean the place where something is done. Dikasterion means the place where dike, justice is done, and therefore a law court. Thusiasterion means the place where thusia, sacrifice is done, and therefore the altar. Therefore hilasterion can certainly mean the place where hilasmos, expiation, is done and made. Because of that, both in the Old and New Testament, hilasterion has a regular and a technical meaning. It always means the lid of gold above the ark which was known as the mercy-seat. In Exodus 25:17 it is laid down of the furnishings of the tabernacle: ‘Thou shalt make a mercy-seat ( hilasterion ) of pure gold.’ In only one other place in the New Testament is the word used, in Hebrews 9:5 , and there the writer speaks of the cherubim who overshadow the mercy-seat. The word is used in that sense more than twenty times in the Greek Old Testament. . . .

“If then we take hilasterion to mean the mercy-seat, and, if we call Jesus our hilasterion in that sense, it will mean, so to speak, that Jesus is the place where man and God meet, and that specially He is the place where man’s sin meets with the atoning love of God.” (Barclay, The Mind of St. Paul, pp. 87–88.)

This ultimate at-one-ness is required for us to enter the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Think flaming sword guarding the Tree of Life.

Think Aaronic priesthood boys guardian the doors at sacrament.

Think cherubim guardian the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant.

So, Jacob is telling us, that we must be clothed in the robes of righteousness – tsedeq (Melchizedek) – to pass by these angels guarding the way.

In Exodus, we learn that anyone with the priesthood would always be clothed in priesthood clothes.

That did not, however, give them permission to enter the Holy of Holies.

Only the High Priest could enter, he could only enter when wearing the robe of the word of God, as the bearer of divine testimony, upon which the covenant fellowship with the Lord was founded (OTSM).

To enter His presence, we must be dressed in the tsedeq robes – which is to be declared righteous by Him (His testimony!) and this must be evidenced by our righteousness (our testimony, through words and behavior!) of making and keeping covenants.

“O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel!  For he delivereth his saints…” (verse 19).

And so then, to close his covenant speech, Jacob shows how all of this must come about through the principles and ordinances of the Gospel.

“And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel” (verse 23).

But having a commandment requires a law, and having a law requires a punishment.  Having a punishment gives meaning to the atonement by which we are delivered (verse 25).

But such a gift brings with it a warning!

“Wo unto him that has the law (covenant!) given, yea, that has all the commandments of God” (verse 27) and wastes the days of this life!

Then is one of my favorite chastize-ment verses:

“O that cunning plan of the evil one!  O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men!  When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.  And they shall perish.  But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.”  (verses 28-29).

Similar warnings go out to the rich who do not help the poor and make life harder for the “meek” (verse 30).

Also, warnings to those who refuse to hear what the Lord says or see what He shows them.

Then, warnings for those who do not keep their covenants, break their covenants, do not live up to their covenants, or put worldly things before their covenants.

Jacob urges the people to hearken (hear and do, not just listen only) the word of the Lord.  As if maybe he remembers his older brothers murmuring against his brother Nephi or his father Lehi, Jacob says “Do not say that I have spoken hard things against you…” (verse 40).   This reminds us of when Nephi says the truth is only hard to those who don’t want it; the commandments are hard only to those who do not know the Lord from which those laws come.

“O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One.  Remember that his paths are righteous.  Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate…” (verse 40).

His paths are righteous… this is the tsedeq robes of covenant and testimony that are required to pass by the angels at the mercy seat, which really is the Savior Himself, who did give the great atoning sacrifice which we need to get back home.  We can only get there through Him.

“And whoso knocketh, to him will he open…” (verse 42).

It is by keeping covenants that we return home to His presence.

But we cannot keep covenants without first making them.

This, Jacob says, is what I am sent here to tell you.  “Remember my words” (verse 44).

Then, like the later saying of “I wash may hands of it”, he basically says, “Listen. I taught you all I can teach you.  You know better now.  It’s not my problem; it’s your problem.  I am choosing for me.  You have to choose for you.  My responsibility was testifying to you, was telling you the truth.  I have now done that, so the ball is in your corner.  It’s your responsibility now.”

“I am rid of your blood”, he says (verse 44).

But still, he continues to invite.  He compares this to our need to “shake off the chains” of the adversary, who wants to drag us down with him.

Instead, he says, “come unto that God who is the rock of your salvation” (verse 45).

So it’s time to get ready.  Now is the time to prepare to meet God.

“Prepare your souls for that glorious day when justice shall be administered unto the righteous, even the day of judgment, that ye may not shrink with awful fear; that ye may not remember your awful guilt in perfectness, and be constrained to exclaim: Holy, holy are thy judgments, O Lord God Almighty—but I know my guilt; I transgressed thy law, and my transgressions are mine; and the devil hath obtained me, that I am a prey to his awful misery.  (verse 46)

“But behold, my brethren, is it expedient that I should awake you to an awful reality of these things? Would I harrow up your souls if your minds were pure? Would I be plain unto you according to the plainness of the truth if ye were freed from sin?   (verse 47)

“Behold, if ye were holy I would speak unto you of holiness; but as ye are not holy, and ye look upon me as a teacher, it must needs be expedient that I teach you the consequences of sin.  (verse 48)

“Behold, my soul abhorreth sin, and my heart delighteth in righteousness; and I will priase the holy name of my God.  (verse 49).

These, he says, are the great covenants of the Lord (verse 53).

In this way, he says, covenants demonstrate His grace and mercy, while providing, protecting us.

And there are promises He makes.  So many promises.