CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 15.
This chapter changes gears. After Nephi’s pondering of his father’s vision, after his prayers to understand that vision, after the revelation that comes in response… after the unfolding of all these things, then Nephi must “go and do” again.
Always, these things are very internal, very deep inside of us, and change us, but we are not called to a monastic lifestyle. We are called to share, to testify, to teach, to edify. So while we can go deep within ourselves, we must return to the surface and interact with the real and present temporal world once again.
So Nephi leaves his private, solitary place and returns to the tent of Lehi his father, where his family is.
There he finds his brothers not just murmuring, but now fighting and arguing over what Lehi’s vision and teachings had met.
There are two things interesting about this:
1. They are arguing instead of edifying. Always, we are to be testifying, or sharing, what we are learning and what are experiencing. Not just one to another, like teacher-student, but all of us to each other, so that we are all built up and encouraged and lifted. This is mutual edification, and what you are learning teaches me more about what I am learning, and what I am learning teaches you more about what you learning. Because it is one Spirit, if we are at-one with each other, and in tune (at-one) with the Spirit, then truths and revelations should becoming even as we speak to one another about what God is doing in our lives. Here, the brothers are doing the opposite: complaining and arguing about what it means, instead of asking the Lord, instead of doing the work to be tutored by the Spirit. Look at how much – chapters and chapters – Nephi learned, just because he asked. And then asked again. And then asked again.
2. It feels like a lot of time has passed because Nephi learned SO MUCH over several chapters. But really, he has just gone for a stroll. It may have been a few moments or a few hours, but all that Spirit-tutoring happened in a relatively short amount of time. It does not take a great deal of “time” to be instructed or tutored by the Spirit, so much as it takes availability and willingness. Nephi was worthy of the Spirit’s instruction (through obedience and faithfulness), and he sought it out. He studied in his mind what he was learning, he prayed about it, and he asked what it all meant. If we live in such a state as to be LOOKING FOR, even expecting, the Lord to be communicating to us, we will become more and more sensitive to recognizing it. We will see, hear, and understand a great deal in very little time. We will be able to see clearly and discern what is of God and what is not, and what it means if it is of God and how to find our escape if it is not of God.
“For he (Lehi) truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought” (verse 3).
When Nephi saw this, he was “grieved because of the hardness of their hearts” (verse 4). He was sad that they did not understand, when it was so good to understand. He was sad they did not ask the Lord. He was sad they were still negative and argumentative and murmuring-ish. He was sad they were missing out on such joy and happiness so easily available to them. He was sad they lacked faith. He was sad for all the consequences that will come from this.
He spoke to them, to ask why they were fighting.
They said it was because “we cannot understand the words which our father has spoken” (verse 7).
Specifically, they are confused about the natural branches of the olive tree (Jews) and the Gentiles.
Nephi slams them, every so gently and appropriately, asking if they have asked the Lord yet.
They say no. But they don’t just say no. They say they haven’t asked the Lord because the Lord hasn’t answered them.
This is silliness. It is stubborn-head-ed-ness.
The Lord is waiting to answer them, but first they must ask.
But it also shows that they do not experience revelation. This is significant, and worth grieving!
The reason they do not experience revelation is not because the Lord is silent, but because their hearts are not soft and ready to receive the answers He has to give. Living worthy of the Spirit (being obedient, being faithful, doing what it says when it prompts you to do something, refraining from doing something when it warns you) is not just NOT doing really big, bad things. It is also the small and simple things like being kind, being generous, and having gratitude. Things like negativity, complaining, arguing, disrespect, ingratitude, and murmuring are a good way to turn the lights out on revelation.
The Spirit works to enlighten us, to uplift us, to brighten our understanding/minds/hearts/spirits.
If we do things or say things (or use a tone or say things in a certain way) that are not uplifting and enlightening and brightening and ennobling, then we are not prepared for the Spirit to give us such a gift.
It is a commandment to live in such a way that we have access to the help and guidance of the Spirit. This is what keeps us on the course. This is what corrects, instructs, and guides. This is what shows us the way. This is what keeps us company. This is what equips us with the tools we need to survive mortality.
So Nephi says to them, “How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts? Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (verses 10 and 11).
It is a promise that we will receive revelation, that God will enlighten us so that we know the way, so that we know what to do, so that we know who to become.
When there is a commandment with a promise, that means there is something WE are supposed to do and something HE is supposed to do.
That’s a covenant.
We have a covenant with the Lord that we will be obedient (keep our hearts soft and submissive to Him, do what He says, ask in faith, be kind and good and positive and encouraging and gentle and soft, ponder and pray and ask, expect answers, and diligently seek answers) and that He will provide understanding and knowledge through the Holy Spirit.
We will see, we will hear, and we will know.
We will KNOW.
That’s the covenant.
Now that the brothers are paying attention, Nephi is able to teach them. Because now they want to know, and have closed their arguing-fussing-complaining-negative mouths long enough to listen, to RECEIVE understanding, Nephi teaches them.
So Nephi says that in Lehi’s visions and teachings, the house of Israel was compared to an olive tree, and the scattering of the tribes of Israel is like branches breaking off the tree.
He teaches them that the Gentiles will get grafted in, so that it is really one tree.
This teaching has TONS of layers, and is packed with more than what I can share in this blog. But here are the four most important pieces:
1. The literal teaching of the physical scattering of the tribes of Israel, with the future implication of the Gospel being shared with Gentiles as well as Jews (thank you, Paul, in the New Testament), and then the present day gathering of all believers as one people (the restoration of the full Gospel in the present (latter) day.
2. The spiritual aspect of being born in the covenant (original tree) (growing up in the Church) but still needing to choose the covenant (be grafted in) as an individual doing their own conversion work.
3. The process of those who did not grow up in the church converting to the church.
4. “The house of Israel” is an important piece. In Moses 6:57, it refers to Heavenly Father as “Man of Holiness”, meaning He-who-is-holy. Then it says that the Lord, who is the Only Begotten Son, has a title, a name like His Fathers: “the Son of Man”. In the New Testament, all four gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) refer to the Lord – at some point – as the “Son of Man”. But Moses 6:57 clarifies for us the full title: if Heavenly Father is called “Man of Holiness” and his son is called “Son of Man”, then the full title for the Lord is “Son of Man of Holiness”. From this we get mankind, kindred, kin, all meaning like-one-another, or the-same-as-the-pattern. So we get this:
Heavenly Father = Man of Holiness
Lord = Son of (Man of Holiness)
In the same way, if we – who are “the House of Israel” by birthright – do the work to choose the covenant, then we become more than the House of Israel.
We become the House of the Lord.
The House of Israel is a genetic lineage, with promised blessings.
The House of the Lord is a chosen adoption, with claimed blessings.
How do we get from promised blessings to claimed blessings?
By being “adopted”.
How do we get adopted?
How do we choose?
We take His name upon us.
How do we take His name upon us?
At our baptism, we declare ourselves willing to take His name upon us. At the Temple, we actually do so. At Sacrament, we remember that we have done so.
We are “adopted” at the Temple.
At the Temple, we become the People of Holiness. We become the House of the Lord.
He gives to us His righteousness, and we give Him our Holiness. This makes us The House of the Lord.
Holiness to the Lord.
The House of the Lord.
“The House of the Lord” has, like all things – ALL things, both a temporal (physical) and spiritual meaning.
It is, physically, the House of the Lord. It is a consecrated, set apart space that is His holy house.
But it is also, spiritually, the place we go to become His people, to be adopted, to choose the covenant, to become His people: “the House of the Lord”.
“And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved” (verse 14).
“And then at that day will they not rejoice and give praise unto their everlasting God, their rock and their salvation? Yea, at that day, will they not receive the strength and nourishment from the true vine? Yea, will they not come unto the true fold of God” (verse 15)?
“Behold, I say unto you, Yea; they shall be remembered again among the house of Israel; they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the olive tree, into the true olive tree” (verse 16).
So Nephi explains to his brothers that what Lehi meant was that all this would not come to pass until after the scattering of the Jews.
Now the brothers are paying attention, even participating. So they ask another question: In Lehi’s dream-vision, what was the “rod of iron” that lead to the tree?
Nephi explains to them that this was the “word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (verse 24).
This is one of my favorite examples of the Book of Mormon clarifying Biblical text: if you understand the “rod” as being the word of God (words of the prophets, scriptures, etc.), then it brings a whole new understanding to Proverbs 13:24 and what it means to “spare the rod”. Now we understand the verse doesn’t mean that you should beat your children; rather, it means that you should teach your children the words of God. Teach your children scripture, and they will know the way to go. Teach them to hold onto the rod (the words of God), and they will be led to the tree of life (back to the presence of our Heavenly Father). Chasten them with scripture principles that are true, and it will teach them how to make their own choices and guide their own lives by scripture principles that lead them to safety and happiness. It’s a powerful understanding once you have the definition!
President Hinckley said, “The more surely you rear your children in the ways of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with love and high expectation, the more likely that there will be peace in their lives,” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 99).
So this is what Nephi wants to teach his brothers.
“I, Nephi, did exhort them to give heed unto the word of the Lord; yea, I did exhort them with all energies of my soul, and with all the faculty which I possessed, that they would give heed to the word of God and remember to keep his commandments always in all things” (verse 25).
Exhorting is more than just teaching. It is a kind of pleading, a kind of clarifying, a kind of urging forward. It’s a pleading-explaining.
And Nephi did it with everything in him, wanting his brothers to remember and obey God, to keep His commandments ALWAYS in ALL things.
Always. In all things.
It’s not a buffet. It’s not a pick-and-choose which things we want to obey. It’s not a when-it’s-easy kind of choice.
Always. In all things.
Nephi’s brothers are still participating, and so they ask what the river in the dream represents.
Nephi explains that it is the separation between what is not of God and what is of God. He says that this is hell, to be separated from God’s presence. Not that hell is so much a place, as much as the feelings one has when they are separated from God.
This really gets the attention of the brothers, and so they ask for more: They ask if this means “the torment of the body (guilty and negative feelings) in the days of probation (mortal life, this lifetime, now)” or does it mean “the final state of the soul after the death of the temporal body” (verse 31).
Nephi answers that it means both. When we do something wrong, and feel guilty, that – right there in the now moment – is part of judgment, part of our paying the price. It is us being aware of our separation from God. It is our awareness that we have removed ourselves from the House of the Lord, from being the people of Holiness.
But it is also the state of the soul after death: if one is not worthy to enter the presence of God, then it cannot happen. God is holy, and nothing not-holy can enter His presence. God wants us to be happy, and we will judge ourselves for what quality of life we will experience later. We will be judged according to our works in this life. Our “works” is not just what we do, or “good works” as some interpret it, but rather what LAW we follow.
This is our work, to follow His laws. Each law has a corresponding blessing, or inheritance (state of being and/or kingdom). Together, all the laws demonstrate our love for Him and for others.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
So what are the laws the prophets have given us? There are only 5. Everything else comes from these 5.
1. The Law of Obedience – this law was given to all of us premortally, and we all followed it enough to earn the opportunity to come to Earth. The Family Proclamation says, “In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.”
2. The Law of the Gospel – this law is for all people who ever lived or will live on Earth. It is the premortal covenant that Christ would atone for our sins (which He did), and that we would testify of it (which we should be doing in our words and by how we live). It is the story of where we came from, why we are here, and what happens to us when we die. It is the Atonement. It is the good news that our Heavenly Father wants us back home, and has promised to provide a way for us to succeed.
These two laws are for ALL people.
All people who were born on earth get immortality because Christ conquered the powers of death. He gave life to us all.
But the quality of that immortality is determined by how many (which) of the other three Laws we follow.
How close we get to live to Heavenly Father later depends on how close we live to him now.
It’s no different than my own quality of life now. If I had never finished high school, I would be living a very different lifestyle. I might still be happy and comfortable, but I would not have access to the things (blessings) or freedoms that I have access to now. Or, if I had finished high school but not finished college, and was still working at Subway, my life might be a little better, but still not access to this full “promised land” of my shiny yellow house. If I had finished college, but not gone to grad school, then I would be better off than if I had dropped out of high school, and probably would have gotten a job better than just Subway. But I wouldn’t have the paycheck, benefits, and flexibility in scheduling that I have now.
In the same way, our quality of life later will differ by what we choose now. Our choices every day are eternal: not just for the moment now, in the illusion of impulse, but our choices now are actually our own judgments of ourselves. Our choices now prove what laws we are able to follow, what quality of life we qualify for later.
To work at Subway, I didn’t need a high school diploma.
To work at my first job with autistic kids, I had to have a high school diploma and a college diploma.
To be a therapist, I have to have a college diploma, a grad school diploma, and a license.
I had to qualify for that level of profession.
So while the first two laws are for everyone, the last three laws are the ones that show what kind of immortality-experience, or what eternal life, we qualify for. These three laws determine what quality of life we choose (now) to experience later. The laws are not just consecutive, but progressive. Each one builds on the one before, so that the second law includes the first but is higher than the first; the third law includes the first two, but is the highest of the three. In the same way, the inheritance for each is greater in a progressive sense. You cannot live a higher law without first being able to live a lower law.
1. The first Law of the first inheritance is the Law of Sacrifice.
While this was ultimately fulfilled in the great atoning sacrifice of Christ, we are to emulate it by our own sacrifices for His kingdom.
After Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, “he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake, saying, “This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth” (Moses 5:5-7).
Just as His sacrifice was required for the remission of our sins, our sacrifice (in honor of His) is required to retain that remission of sins. To sacrifice means “to make sacred”, and we are made sacred (set apart) through obedience. So even this law hinges upon both the Law of Obedience (to make ourselves sacred through obedience) and the Law of the Gospel (remission of sins is made possible by His atonement).
In this way, sacrifice is a prerequisite to revelation:
“Whenever the Lord revealed Himself to men in ancient days, and commanded them to offer sacrifice to Him, … it was done that they might look forward in faith to the time of His coming, and rely upon the power of that atonement for a remission of their sins” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith , 60–61; see also page 58).
Knowing HIS sacrifice (of the Atonement) does bring us to OUR sacrifice, which is a “broken heart and contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:19-20). This means not only repentance and obedience, but also loving others well, being kind, being gentle, being compassionate, and keeping a spirit of gratitude. These are the traits we must develop to retain a remission of our sins.
We need a remission of our sins if we are to become holy, right? And as we become holy – as we become the people of holiness – as we become the House of the Lord – then we take upon His name. If He knows our Name, then what is our adoption certificate? Our adoption certificate is our Temple Recommend, which includes the verification of our physical sacrifice of tithing. Tithing is so critical, such a part of following the Law of God, that D&C 85:3 says tithing actually enrolls our names with the people of God. It is tithing that enrolls our names as being adopted into the House of the Lord; it is the sacrifice of tithing that proves we are people of holiness. Not only that, but just as the blood of the Lamb protected the House of Israel at Passover, so will tithing protect the House of the Lord when the Messiah returns for the Second Coming.
“Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man (of Holiness), and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming”(D&C 64:23).
The first law has its own inheritance promised, and we know the first level of promised inheritance is called “the Telestial Kingdom”. Those who are able to follow the first law will gain the first inheritance. They will be happy there, and enjoy that life because they know they can live at that level of moral code, of spiritual expectations. They will be confident because they have already achieved
2. The second law (for the second inheritance) contains sacrifice within it. It is the Law of Chastity (or Fidelity to one’s spouse).
Chastity requires an internal purity.
This internal purity is a purity at the physical, emotional, and mental levels of experience.
Chastity means not DOING anything physically (sexually) with someone to whom you are not married.
But, Jesus pointed out that even THINKING about it is the same as doing it (Matthew 5:27, 28).
In the world of therapy, we make a triangle by connecting thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. These three things cannot be entirely separated. What you think about is what you feel, and what you do is based off that. In a simple way, we see how people who THINK negative thoughts, complain, and murmur FEEL miserable. Then they ACT mean or hateful or yell or isolate or behave in some negative way to show (“act out”) how bad they feel, which reflects what ugly, dark thoughts they are having.
In the same way, someone who is thinking about someone else inappropriately will start to have feelings related to those thoughts. Someone in this kind of inappropriate emotional attachment or emotional affair will act out that affair – whether it is escalating to an actual affair, or whether it is isolating from their current spouse. Emotional attachments can be as dangerous and unhealthy as an actual affair, and in many ways worse because they can be so secretive and long-lasting.
However, we know because thoughts, feelings, and actions are so intensely connected, you only need to change one to change the others.
If you focus on positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts, you feel better.
If you focus on good feelings in appropriate contexts, you will have healthy attachments that are appropriate.
If you make good choices, you have experience more happiness.
Chastity develops a unified core of self that is pure on the physical, emotional, and mental levels.
These skills must be developed because they are required for the next law. The previous law (Sacrifice) empties you of all of “you”, gives up what is yours in order to acknowledge (in gratitude) that everything you are and have comes from God. This law cleanses and purifies what is left of you, sanctifying you as holy, as set apart, as dedicated. It is the holy purity of what is not-violated. The next law gives that holiness to Him as we become His people, “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord”.
You can see how one law naturally flows into the next, how learning to meet the requirements of one law develops the ability to meet the requirements for the next.
Meeting the requirements for this second law qualifies you for the second (and better, higher) inheritance, the Terrestial Kingdom.
3. This third law (or 5th of all 5 Laws) contains within it both sacrifice and purity: the Law of Consecration.
D&C 109:12 defines consecrated as “to be holy, that thy holy presence may be continually in this house”.
“Offer your whole souls as an offering unto [God]” (Omni 1:26; see also Mosiah 2:24).
“Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Rom. 12:1).
This is the giving of our whole being (both existence and experience of it) to God. This is the exchange: we give our whole being, all that is us and all that is ours, to Him, and then he does cause “a might change” in us so that we become a new person ” – justified, sanctified, and born again with His image in our countenances (see Mosiah 5:2; Alma 5:14; Moses 6:59–60).
When we become like Him, holy as He is holy, when we become adopted into the House of the Lord, it is then that we qualify to enter His presence. We do not qualify in and of ourselves, but because He has adopted us and so we have the rights of inheritance. It is by the atonement that we are covered. We give Him our sins and transgressions and failures, and He gives us His righteousness. The Holy Spirit works this into our very being, so that we are changed, so that we become as He is. When we are holy as He is – by the power of what He has accomplished in and for us – it is only then that we qualify to enter His presence, to return home to the promised land of the celestial kingdom.
These are the things Nephi teaches his brothers.
These are the things which are “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (verse 36).