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.

2 Nephi 8: tsedeq (Melchizedek = Righteousness)

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 8.

Jacob’s “covenant speech” continues in chapter 8, and it parallels Isaiah 51 which can be split up into three poems:

Verses 1-8: Creation (The Plan of Salvation)
Verses 9-16:  Prophets  (The Way of Salvation)
Verses 17-23: Zion (Israel’s History and Destiny: Salvation)

These layers all culminate in the promise of salvation, which is a great relief after the previous chapter.

But, like the last chapter, it isn’t automatic.  We have to wake up, look, receive, act, do the work of obtaining that salvation.  Even though it is waiting for us, we must do the work to receive it.

This is the message of Isaiah’s poetic words, of which Jacob reminds us as he starts reciting the first poem:

“Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged” (verse 1).

This is both type and shadow.   The Savior is the “rock”, while Satan wants to drag us down to the pit.  This is metaphorical language we know from recent chapters.

In applying this to ourselves, we know that the substance from which we are made is our Heavenly Parents and the covenants we have made to love them by doing the work to return back to them.  This is what we should be made of, and it is the substance of which we are carved – shaped – created – sanctified as the Spirit works in us as we choose our covenants.

The hole of the pit is how far we have come since being “rescued”.  As a convert, this is easy for me to see in lots of ways.  I know the pit I was in before, and how great a hole He had to dig to rescue me out of there.  This is the working of the atonement – not in a looking-back-like Lot’s wife kind of way, but in an acknowledging that the atonement has brought me out of that pit kind of way.

“Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him” (verse 2).

This is covenant language.

Look to our covenants!

Our covenants shape us, mold us, create us into who we are promised to become.

As we are obedient to our covenants, He will bless us with that becoming-ness.

“For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody” (verse 3).

This is our comfort: that it is possible to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father.

This is our comfort: that he has dug us out of that pit.

This is our comfort: that the atonement changes us, that we are being created out of rock – solid substance built on the Savior.

This transformation of our wilderness into Eden, our desert into a garden – this is the work of the atonement.  It is the Great Exchange of our sins, lost-ness, and chaos (wilderness and desert) for His righteousness (Eden, garden, His presence).  It is the exchange of our separation from God for our at-one-ment with Him.

This is our joy and gladness, to be reunited – embraced by – the Lord once more.

In His presence will we find joy and gladness, and give thanks!

“Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation; for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light for the people” (verse 4).

But to return to His presence, we must keep our covenants.

Listen and do; go and do.

It is by His covenants, through His covenants, that He does protect and provide for us.

It is by His covenants, through His covenants, that He does make a way for us to return to Him.

So it is by these laws (of the covenants) that we are judged (as to whether we have followed the way to return to Him).

In this way, His laws are a light to our path, leading to His rest (presence).

“My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth…” (verse 5).

He is near, waiting to justify us, waiting to give us His righteousness, waiting to save us.

But we must look and see.  We must open our minds, ears, and hearts to receive.

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner.  But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (verse 6).

His salvation is forever.

This is not just a permanent, un-ending state.

His salvation, what He offers, has already been defined in the earlier Isaiah verses as like a garden, like Eden itself.

Gardens grow.

Eden was the heart of creation, producing fruit and life of all kinds.

This isn’t just a state of non-death.

It is the ongoing process of creation.

His salvation is forever means even the very act of creation will continue, like a garden that continues to produce.

But righteousness – the Great Exchange of the atonement, so that we are at-one, His righteousness is required for that garden-state-of-being.

We all will have immortality; His resurrection accomplished that.

But we must exchange what is in us that is not of God – that must be exchanged for His righteousness if we are going to return to His presence, going to get to live in this garden, going to get to BE this garden, the garden that continues creation by continuing to (re)produce.

What qualifies us for the ongoing celestial style living that is eternal life – as in the process of eternal living – more than just only immortality (never dying)?

The next verse tells us:

“Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings” (verse 7)..

 How do we qualify?

By becoming like Him.

How do we become like Him?

By listening and doing what He says.

That verse says “ye that know righteousness” – this is not for those who are not members of the church, or who do not know or understand.  This is for the church, for the covenant people, for those who do know and understand!

Who are the people that know righteousness?

“the people in whose heart I have written my law”

Again, He is speaking directly to the covenant people, to those who have already received His law!

We can see it better in Hebrew, where this word righteousness is tsedeq, which is the root for the name “Melchizedek”.

That is what qualifies us!

The second poem then begins, and it is about how the Lord – who is faithful in keeping HIS covenants (and so is both our example as well as already fulfilling His promises to us) – has worked with the children of Israel. Specifically, we get the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.  This is what ties this poem in with the first poem, because we know this crossing of the Red Sea was the mikveh, or baptism, for the Israelites.  So the covenant language continues, through the use of symbols for ordinances.

“Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days. Art thou not he that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?” (verse 9).

This is a prayer, this is the people crying out to the Lord.  They are asking for His protection and deliverance, by acknowledging it was the Lord who “cut our arrogance” (Rahab) and killed the Pharaoh (dragon).  Interestingly, it says “wounded” the dragon, which refers to the type of Christ in that the Pharaoh’s wound was the death of his firstborn son and the loss of all the Israelites who chose to leave.  In the same way, Heavenly Father experienced the death of His firstborn, but it as in order to bring all His children home again.

“Art thou not he who hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?” (verse 10).

Just as the Israelites passed through the Red Sea unharmed, so we will pass through mortality unharmed (though not without its own difficulties).  But we are unharmed only when we do the work of keeping our covenants, because it is our covenants that free Him up to protect and provide for us.

“Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (verse 11).

So it is by His power, His plan, His way, His LIGHT – that we are able to pass through mortality and return to His presence.

This will be our joy.

“Holiness shall be upon their heads”  = Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord

We will be holy because we will become His people.

He will comfort us, because we will be HOME.  We will no longer be in exile, or captive, or in bondage.

We will be HOME.

The third poem in the final verses of this chapter

He will say to us, “Thou art my people” (verse 16).

This is the ultimate at-one moment, to be claimed as His people, the people of the covenant, the people of Holiness, the House of the Lord..

Verses 18-21 compare the rebellious people – those of us who should know better – as the sons of the drunken woman.  The drunken woman is Jerusalem (a feminine word in Hebrew), which symbolizers all of us who are of the covenant, but in a stupor, not worthy, careless, staggering, distracted by excess, and unable to speak (not testifying).  When we act like that, we deserve the rebuke of God.  Because we area already the covenant people, so we should already know better.

If we do not wake up, and if we do not step up, then we will be delivered over to those who oppress us.

We must wake up: “awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion” (verse 24).

We must be purified, sanctified, justified, so that we can be made holy.

And this is done through ordinances (participating frequently and often) and keeping our covenants.

2 Nephi 7

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 7.

This chapter parallels Isaiah 50. Remember that Isaiah’s teachings would be familiar to both Jacob and the Nephites from the copies of scripture they had and from Isaiah being the prophet around the time Jacob’s father, Lehi, took his family out of Jerusalem.

Jacob’s teaching to the Nephites, the big Covenant Speech, continues in this chapter, as he quotes chapter 50  in which Isaiah preaches in first person as if he were the Messiah.  Isaiah wasn’t confused and thinking that he was, but he was just delivering the message of the Lord in first person directly to the people.  However, chapter 50 of Isaiah almost cannot be understood fully without reading it along with chapter 51, because the chiasm goes through both chapters, pulling them together as one unit:

50:4-9 A
50:10-11 B
51:1-2a C
51:2b-3a D
51:3b C’
51:4-6 B’
51:7-8 A’

These are beautiful verses, and ones I need to read often.

They are verses where the Lord reminds us we are not forgotten.

At the end of chapter 49, the Lord says, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty or the lawful captive delivered?” (verse 24).

This means “who can take the prize away from the winner?  Who still needs saving if they are already safe?”

These are rhetorical questions the Lord is asking, patiently responding to our disbelief that He is enough for us, that His great atoning sacrifice was big enough – even for me.

So chapter 49 is about Zion (the Lord’s covenant people), symbolized by Jerusalem, will put itself into captivity (symbolized by Babylon), by thinking – murmuring, even – that the Lord has forgotten them.

We put ourselves in bondage, into captivity, into misery, when we believe the Lord has forgotten us.

But, whether we believe it or not, the Lord has *NOT* forgotten us.

So in 2 Nephi 7, Jacob opens with the verses that continue the Lord’s urging us to believe Him.

“Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? For thus saith the Lord: Where is the bill of your mother’s divorce?” (verse 1).

Here the Lord is asking the rhetorical questions continued from Isaiah 49.  He is asking if we really believe He is just going to quit on us, give up on us, let us go.  Do we really believe He is just trying to get rid of us?  Like seriously, really, after Gethsemane and the crucifixion and the whole entire atonement process, now He is just going to give up?

No.

But, if we are separated from Him, what caused it?

Is it because His atonement wasn’t big enough?

No.

It is our not obeying the laws of the covenant, or not living up to the privileges of the covenant.   This is the divorce: our straying from, leaving, or abandoning the covenant.  It’s not because His atonement isn’t big enough, but because we are using our agency to NOT believe it, to NOT apply it, to NOT consider it adequate for us.

Maybe the atonement is great for other people, but I am too naughty, too bad, too far lost, too far gone, so it doesn’t count for me.

FALSE, says the Lord.

“To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Yea, to whom have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away” (verse 2).

Again, He has not put us away.  He has not sent us away.  To the contrary, He is constantly and consistently inviting us to Him.

But it is the apostasy of Israel, or our own iniquities, that separate us from God.

And when we are separated, we are not at-one.

When we sin, or fail to live up to our covenants, we are selling ourselves.

Interestingly, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for “iniquity” in this case is most often associated with specific forms of idolatry: pride from money (or dependence on it so that you are in bondage to debt or failing to fulfill family obligations because you are working too much) and adultery (in our day this would include emotional attachments to someone who is not our spouse and also pornography).

Breaking our covenants isn’t just about being bad, and more than just slacking off.  It’s about not living up to the privileges and promises HE offers – about not doing our part so that He is not able to do His part.

Romans 9:31 describes this as when the people “did not attain the law of righteousness”.

This reminds me also of Romans 3:23, where we “come short of the glory of God”.

His promises of the covenant, dependent upon our keeping our part of the covenant, is His glory.  His presence is His glory.  The immortality and eternal life (celestial-ness) is His glory.

When we come short or do not attain, this is breaking our covenants.

This is removing ourselves from His presence.

This is selling ourselves.

Because we ourselves have done it to ourselves, we cannot blame God for quitting on us or abandoning us.

He is still there.

He is still waiting.

He is still inviting.

But we must answer when He calls.

“Wherefore, when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver?” (verse 2).

He is there, waiting and inviting.  He wants us to answer, and He continues calling.

So more rhetorical questions: is His hand too short (too small, not big enough) to redeem us?  Is He not strong enough, big enough, powerful enough, God enough to redeem us?

The Lord answers His own rhetorical question in Isaiah 59:1, when He says, “NO!  My hand is not shortened!” and “Yes! I do hear your prayers!”

He is enough.  His atonement is enough.  Even for me.

D&C 35:8 says, “For I am God, and mine arm is not shortened; and I will show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name.”

He is there, waiting.  The moment we believe, He will show us.

There is evidence of Him, but we must act in faith and look to see.

“I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering” (verse 3).

A dark night is the opposite of His Light, the sheckinah of His presence.

Sackcloth was goatskin used in shame or mourning in the old days.

So He is speaking here of the shame and grief experienced when separated from His presence.

It is a rebuke!  He is chastizing us for refusing His message.  He is reminding us of His power.  It is the twitter update version, in 140 characters or less, of the parable of the 10 Virgins.  He came, and no one was home.  He knocked, and no one answered.  He called, and the phone just rang and rang and rang.  He appeared, and no one saw.

He is waiting to give you EVERYTHING that He has, but cannot until you accept the gift.

For us, it could be the call to faith – to really believe.  It could be the call to service, to cheerfully and willingly do what He needs us to do so that He can accomplish His work.  It could be the call to obedience, so that He can bless us through protection and provision.  It could be the call to repentance, so that we might turn around and see Him, so that we might be embraced by Him so that we can again be at-one with Him.

“The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned…” (verse 4).

This reminds us of all the prophets, who like Moses, had some human-ish flaw so that they felt inadequate to be His messenger.

Yet still, they were called to the work.

We must, if we truly believe, we must know that His atonement was big enough – even for us.

“The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned…” (verse 4).

We know from Luke 21:15 that wisdom comes from the Lord.

The Hebrew in the Isaiah 50 parallel indicates “learned” as being “one who is qualified to teach others”.

This is premortal covenant language, speaking of one qualified to teach others by wisdom they receive through the Lord.

We are talking about testifying.

It reminds me also of 2 Nephi 9:28, which we will study in just a few chapters:

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.

We must open our ears to the Lord, and hearken (listen AND obey!) to the counsel He gives us and sends to us.  Then we must go and do.

The Hebrew for this verse in the Isaiah 50 parallel is this:

אדני יהוה נתן לי לשון למודים לדעת לעות את יעף דבר יעיר בבקר בבקר יעיר לי אזן לשמע כלמודים׃

The Jewish Bible in English translates it this way:

Adonai ELOHIM has given me the ability to speak as a man well taught, so that I, with my words, know how to sustain the weary.

How is that not a verse I need every morning before I go to work?!

How is that not a verse we should hold in our hearts before interacting with anyone, be it spouse or child, parent or friend?

This takes us to the “go and do” part, where we should be using that testifying to lift up the weary, to teach those who want to be taught, to make the world a better place, to bring ourselves and our families and those around us (within our “bounds” of “time and place”) to be more at-one with the Savior, more at-one with our Heavenly Father.  We should be sustaining, comforting, and refreshing those around us.  When we do so, we are becoming that Light, as we are led by the sheckinah-ness of the Lord.

Even me, with literal cochlear implants, I must turn them ON to hear.

Even turning them on isn’t enough – the batteries must be charged and connected.

And spiritually (all things are temporal and spiritual, right? even cochlear implants!), the question is not how well can I hear, but how well do I obey?

“The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (verse 5).

D&C 58:1 says that this hearkening is not just for obedience, but that through the process of hearkening we can learn from Him what He wants for us and what He has promised for us.  We can know Him, ourselves, and His purpose for us.  This is huge and amazing, but we must listen to understand.

Part of listening is doing.

When the Savior says He was not rebellious, He is taking us to Gethsemane, where He prayed “not my will” and where He submitted to His Father’s will.

He submitted to His Father’s will, to the greater purpose, to the plan His Father had for ALL His children, even when it was great sacrifice to Him.

“I gave my back to the smiter, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (verse 6).

He endured physical lashings, cultural disrespect (pulling out hairs from the beard), public shame, and the personal offense and gross-ness of spitting.

We, like Him, should be obedient despite the persecution that may come at us, and no matter its form.

“For the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (verse 7).

He is our help.

Not being confounded means no one can argue against us.

No matter what other people may say, no matter how others may bring up our past, no matter the persecution that may come…

If we have faith enough to believe atonement is big enough – even for us – then we can be at-one with Him.

When we are at-one with Him, then He has removed the curse that we earned (mercy, see Isaiah 22:23,25) because He has already taken our punishment for us.

Because He has already done it, it is finished.  It is all said and done.  No one can argue against us because the price has been paid.

In this way, the Lord has justified us.

“And the Lord is near, and he justifieth me” (verse 8).

This brings us to Romans 8:32, which shows that His justification of us is not only mercy (removing the punishment we deserved by taking it for us), but also grace (giving us what we do not deserve).

He wants to give us EVERYTHING.

Everything He has, He wants to give to us.

“Who will contend with me?  Let us stand together” (verse 8).  I love this because He is showing how those who argue against can be made at-one.

“Who is mine adversary?  Let Him come near me, and I will smite him with the strength of my mouth” (verse 8).

The strength of His mouth is His words.

His words are His instructions and promises of the covenant, which say He will crush the adversary through the atonement.

Satan is called the adversary because he is adverse (against) the atonement.  He doesn’t want the atonement to be an option, and so he will try to make us adverse to it, even if by thinking it is not big enough for us, or we are too bad, or we are not good enough.

But the Savior, the Savior Himself, declares that we are right.  This is Him justifying us, declaring us to be right, declaring us to be holy, declaring us to be His.

We are right because of that great exchange in Isaiah 22:23,25.  We are “right” because of His righteousness.  We are “right” because He has declared (justified) us to be right.

“For the Lord God will help me. And all they who shall condemn me, behold, all they shall wax old as a garment, and the moth shall eat them up” (verse 9).

We must trust in the Lord’s provision and protection.

We must believe that He has a plan for us, that we can discover our purpose, and that He will enable us to accomplish that purpose.

In this way, the Lord asks one more rhetorical question in verse 10:

“Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light?”

Who can come to know the Lord, and not obey Him?

How can we obey Him, and not know Him better?

How can you walk a path toward light, and it not get lighter along the way, the closer you get to that light?

The parallel verse in Isaiah 50:10 adds: “let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.”

That “stay” means “be supported by”.

So even in the process of learning who God is, and learning how to obey Him, we must have faith in the atonement and let Him support us along the way, throughout this journey.

“Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled.  This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.”

This final verse of this chapter would be confusing if we didn’t understand the parallel poetry going on.  Now, instead of comparing human learning against the wisdom of God, the Lord is saying that we can only walk by His light.  If we make up our own light, we will be burned.  Doing things our own way will lead to destruction.  We must do it His way to succeed, and doing so will bring us provision and protection.

When we listen and do what the Prophets tell us, and when we heed (act on) the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we will walk in Light.  We will enjoy the presence of the Lord, and He will provide for us and protect us along the way as we do His work, as we testify of Him.  That’s the covenant.

2 Nephi 6

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 6.

This chapter has our first real shift in authorship as Nephi’s plates get handed down.  Years and years and years have now passed since Lehi took his family and left Jerusalem.  Now Jacob, one of Nephi’s younger brothers, has taken over the writing on the plates.

Chapter 6 is a speech that Jacob gave to the people of Nephi, those we will soon begin calling Nephites.

For context, it helps to read the chapter heading given before the chapter starts:

Jacob recounts Jewish history: The Babylonian captivity and return; the ministry and crucifixion of the Holy One of Israel; the help received from the Gentiles; and the Jews’ latter-day restoration when they believe in the Messiah. About 559–545 B.C.

So that’s Jacob’s speech, a review of the history.

This is always the pattern for HOW the Lord brings His covenant people to be at-one with Him.

This is the pattern:  there is a recounting or a review of the history of the people, then Laws are given to establish the covenant nature of the relationship between the Lord and His people, the people then cry out to the Lord in prayer, and then in response the Lord gives them specific instruction that leads them (and grants them permission) to enter His presence.

We see this pattern in this chapter.

But before Jacob can start speaking to the people, first he clarifies that he has the authority to do so.

“Behold, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, having been called of God, and ordained after the manner of his holy order, and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi…” (verse 2).

Before Jacob can speak to the people as a Prophet, first he is called of God, ordained to do so, and consecrated (set apart).

And then he begins.

And when he begins, he begins by saying that he is “desirous for the welfare of your souls.  Yea, mine anxiety is great for you; and ye yourselves know that it ever has been.  For I have exhorted you with all diligence; and I have taught you the words of my father; and I have spoken unto you concerning all things which are written, from the creation of the world” (verse 3).

So, beginning with the creation of the world, Jacob teaches the people by taking them through this pattern that is always used to bring the covenant people into His presence.

Jacob starts out with the idea that we should study the words of the Prophets – in this case, Jacob mentions Isaiah specifically – and that we should liken their words unto our own lives.  This means we should take those long ago words, and see what they mean for us in this present moment.  We should take the Scriptures and keep them real in our very own lives in this very moment.

Jacob says we can do this because Isaiah was writing to the House of Israel, and we are the House of Israel.

The “House of Israel” is “the covenant people” of the Lord.

As we become covenant people, we are made holy.

As we are made holy, we become the House of Israel – or, being made holy – and bringing this Holiness to the Lord, we become the House of the Lord.

Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.

And so we see how he does make us holy, through this pattern.

Jacob follows the pattern, that sacred pattern that brings people into the presence of the Lord.

So, in following that pattern, Jacob begins at the beginning, reviewing the history of the people and where they came from.  He goes all the way back to Jerusalem.  Jacob reminds the Nephites that they left Jerusalem because they believed the Lord and His words.  Jacob reminds them that all of what was prophesied came true, and will come true, even the destruction of Jerusalem.

So, likening this to ourselves, Jerusalem represents that time or place in our lives where we used to be, but from which the Lord has called us.  Where (or what or whom) has the Lord asked you to leave, to change, to let go?  In what ways has following Him sent you into the wilderness so that you may learn to depend on His word alone?

But the Lord does not abandon us in the wilderness, whether literally or in the metaphor meaning mortality.

He provided a way to save us from the destruction that came to Jerusalem, a  way to save us from the destruction we caused when we were not following Him.

This is the mercy that balances out judgment.  This is the mercy that has always been a part of the Plan of Happiness.  This is the atonement.

The Lord is the way.  He is the one who saves us.

“Nevertheless, the Lord has shown unto me that they should return again. And he also has shown unto me that the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, should manifest himself unto them in the flesh; and after he should manifest himself they should scourage him and crucify him, according to the words of the angel who spake it unto me” (verse 9).

But to return to Him, to repent, we must let Him soften our hard hearts; we must bow down in submission, letting our stiff necks loosen up.

Hard times and challenges in life are not always things we earned or deserved in some negative connotation of a negative perspective on life.

But, the Lord can use these experiences to teach us.

“Wherefore, after they are driven to and fro, for thus saith the angel, many shall be afflicted in the flesh, and shall not be suffered to perish, because of the prayers of the faithful; they shall be scattered, and smitten, and hated; nevertheless, the Lord will be merciful unto them, that when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance” (verse 11).

Gathering-for-healing is the opposite of scattering-to-destruction.

“the people of the Lord shall not be ashamed.  For the people of the Lord are they who wait for him; for they still wait for the coming of the Messiah” (verse 13).

But, Jacob says, the Messiah will come “a second time to recover them” (verse 14).

The whole purpose of us being GATHERED is so that He can “recover” us.

And when the Messiah comes again, Jacob says, the Lord will “manifest himself unto them in power and great glory” (verse 14).

The problem with God demonstrating power and glory is that it will overcome you if you are not prepared for it.

For believers and covenant keepers, the return of the Messiah will be an amazing and powerful thing.

For non-believers or those outside the covenant, they will be driven to fear and confusion and chaos for not understanding the “signs of the times”.

“And they that believe not in him shall be destroyed, both by fire, and by tempest, and by earthquakes, and by bloodsheds, and by pestilence, and by famine.  And they shall know that the Lord is God, the Holy One of Israel” (verse 15).

We know from Revelation and other sources that these kinds of signs of the times are the Earth’s testimony that the Savior returns very soon.

But those who do the work to become covenant keepers – they will be gathered and delivered and saved, rather than scattered and destroyed “for the Mighty God shall deliver his covenant people” (verse 16).

2 Nephi 5

CLICK HERE to read 2 Nephi 5.

This chapter begins with Nephi in the raw emotions of feeling the sting of meanness from those he loves most and the grief of watching them reject what he knows is good for them.

“Behold, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cry much unto the Lord my God, because of the anger of my brethren” (verse 1).

The murmuring brothers are now being so mean and angry that they are trying to kill Nephi.

They don’t like Nephi telling them what is good and right.  They don’t want to hear it.  They don’t want to change.  They don’t want to live differently or feel better.  They like being miserable.

It gets so bad that the Lord warns Nephi he is in danger.  Nephi heeds the warning, taking those of his father’s family who had chosen to be covenant people into the wilderness for safety.  Nephi’s family goes, Zoram and his family go, and his brothers Sam, Jacob, and Joseph all go.

“And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words” (verse 6).

They travel through the wilderness to a new place of safety, and settle in tents in this new place.  They name this new place after him, calling it Nephi.

Because the place was called Nephi, the people who lived there were the people of Nephi, who came to be called Nephites.

This is an important piece because sometimes we think the Nephites were just the descendants of Nephi.  That isn’t exactly the case.  The Nephites were the descendants of all these families, as well as others who had chosen or later convert to the covenant.  So for now, rather than meaning biological relation to Nephi himself, the term “Nephites” more accurately reflects those who chose the covenant, the people who follow the Lord, the people who were members of the church.

“And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses” (verse 10).

And because they were obedient, they enjoyed the presence of the Lord and were blessed.

“And the Lord was with us; and we did prosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance. And we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind” (verse 11).

So as life goes on, Nephi continues keeping the records of his people.  They grow and spread out over time.  They built buildings, and could work with wood and iron and copper and brass and steel.  They had access to gold and silver and other ores and metals.

Most importantly, they built a temple.

“And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” (verse 16).

Then, a small verse that shapes how we as LDS live, how the world sees our mormon lives: “I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands” (verse 17).

Nephi made sure the people were hard workers!  Self-reliant!  Industrious!

Because Nephi was so good at teaching them and leading them, the people began to want him to be their king.

This is what happened in the Old Testament, too!  The Lord’s pattern was that He would call prophets, and the people would follow the prophets (and continue developing their own individual relationships with the Lord as well, of course).  However, the people always began to demand kings.  This happens in the Old Testament over and over (think Samuel and Saul), until the people had removed themselves from the Lord’s protection and demanded secular and political structure instead.

Nephi knows the pattern, and refuses to be their king.  He urged them not to have a king.  In his teaching the people, he used this to teach them how following the Lord “sets apart” (makes holy!) the covenant people of God.  He is able to compare them to those who had refused to follow the Lord, and now instead of a successful and industrious people like they were, the others had become “an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety” (verse 24).

“And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction” (verse 25).

So the people decided to follow the Lord’s pattern, and Nephi’s brothers Jacob and Joseph were set apart as priests and teachers over the people and Nephi remained in the role of a prophet instead of being made king.

“And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness” (verse 27).

This is the plan of happiness!  Even through hard circumstances or challenging experiences, we can have happiness when we are living the Lord’s way.  When we are willing to submit to His will, and willing to do what He says, and obedient to what He asks for us, it moves us into a position of being “in order”.  This “order” is more than just organized, and more than just the proper hierarchy or roles and tasks defined.  It is about His Order, the Order of the Priesthood.  It is about becoming a people of holiness.  It is about Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.

As time passes, the Nephites become this people-of-holiness, the people of the covenant.

Those who did not follow Nephi, but remained with the murmuring brothers Laman and Lemuel become known as the “Lamanites”.  Like the Nephites, the Lamanites are more than just the descendants of Laman and Lemuel.  The term “Lamanites” comes to mean those who are outside the covenant.

For now.

What we know as the Book of Mormon unfolds is that the Nephites are the covenant people as long as they do the work required to keep those covenants.

But later in history, as the Book of Mormon unfolds, we see the destruction of the Nephites because they do not keep their covenants.

We will also see the conversion of the Lamanites, which Lehi had prophesied of before his death.

The story of all of this is what Nephi records on his metal plates, and then hands down to his son.  These records get passed down one generation after another, and it is this family history record that we know have and know as “The Book of Mormon”.

Verse 30-32:

And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people.

Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things.

And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God. And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.

These are the plates that got passed down and added to, until finally being hid for safety during the final days of the war that destroyed the Nephites.

These are the plates Moroni hid in the hill so that they would be safe, even if he were killed in the war.

These are the plates that Moroni told Joseph Smith about, and these are the plates that Joseph Smith dug up out of the hill and translated.

These are the plates we are reading when we read “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ”.

And so it begins, the “wars and contentions” (verse 34) between the Nephites and the Lamanites.

It’s classic Old Testament stuff:  whenever we keep our covenants, we are “gathered” and provided for and protected.

When we do not keep our covenants, we are “scattered” and destroyed.

It’s one of the most basic principles in life, and it unfolds on every level: physical, emotional, professional, mental, social, relational, literally, figuratively.

When we keep our covenants, we are “gathered” and “saved”.

When we do not, we are “scattered” and “destroyed”.

It’s really that simple.