1 Nephi 12

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 12.

In response to his pondering and seeking understanding, Nephi’s vision continues.

And in response to his asking for the interpretation of his father’s dream, the angel continues to explain to Nephi what the dream means.

Nephi sees his descendants, and the descendants of his brothers.  He sees them living in a “land of promise”, which refers to the physical and actual place where they live – and also is a metaphor for returning to the presence of Heavenly Father.  Because we know this, anytime you read in Scripture and it talks about “the promised land” or the “land of promise”, etc., you can know it is covenant language happening and that it may be talking about a physical, temporal palce, but also is a metaphor for the celestial kingdom.

In his own vision, Nephi sees “wars and rumors of wars”, and many cities after many generations have passed.

Then Nephi sees what we saw in the tornado storms last night: “I saw lightnings, and I heard thunderings, and earthquakes, and all manner of tumultuous noises…”  (verse 4).  He goes on to describe earthquakes and other natural disasters.

This is the testimony of nature, the groaning of the Earth, the waiting for the Lord to return so that the Earth may be cleansed and her people gathered.

And the Savior does come, Nephi sees in his vision.

“I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them” (verse 6).

Nephi also sees the Holy Ghost coming upon “twelve others; and they were ordained of God, and chosen” (verse 7).  The angel goes on to explain that these twelve will judge the twelve tribes of Israel, and that Nephi’s descendants will be judged by them because he (Nephi) is of the House of Israel.  But judgment is not to be feared, for all will understand and agree with their judgments, and the quality of their eternal life will match that which they have prepared for and chosen now – so they will be comfortable and happy with their judgment, knowing eternal life is a gift of mercy.

And those that believe are “righteous forever” (verse 10) because of HIS righteousness gifted in exchange for their sins through the atonement, the at-one-ment, the work of the Savior.

The angel then continues explaining Leh’s dream…

The “mists of darkness” are the temptations of the devil (verse 17).

The “large and spacious buildings” is pride.

Nephi sees into the future, seeing his descendants.  He sees that when they “dwindle in unbelief”, they become a dark and filthy people who are full of idleness and do not do the things of God.

But there is hope in the symbols already interpreted in the last chapter: the “rod of iron” is the word of God, that is a “light” for the path.

The path leads to the tree, which represents the presence of Heavenly Father, and the happiness we have when we live at-one with Him.

1 Nephi 11

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 11.

So Nephi, now understanding more and more about the dream his father had – and the message his father and other prophets have always given – wants to understand more.

There is always more.

Nephi believes his father, that the Lord really made these things known unto Lehi, and Nephi wants to know for himself.

So he ponders.

Pondering leads to inspiration and revelation, which leads to testify for the benefit of others.

“Pondering” always makes me think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, “pondering these things in her heart”.  Her testimony came when a certain doctor named Luke came by to interview her about the life of her son.  This is why we have the book of Luke: it is the interview of Mary.  It is Mary’s perspective.  This is why the Christmas story we all read is from Luke’s version: because it is the mother’s story.

So Nephi is pondering these things in his heart, “believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me” (verse 1).

Then we get the pattern of the revelation, the pattern of the Testing, the pattern of the teaching and proving of faith.

This is the pattern of at-one-ment, of the embrace, of the seeing clearly, of the welcome-home.

The Spirit says, “What do you want?”

Nephi says what he wants: “I desire to behold the things which my father saw.”

The Spirit says, “Do you believe?”

Nephi says, “Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.”

The the Spirit gives more words, many words, more than the simple answers after the first few questions.  He blesses Nephi for believing “in the Son of the most high God” (verse 6).

And then, because Nephi has passed the test, he gets what he wants, what he asked for in the first place: to see the things he has most desired, which is the presence of God as symbolized by the tree from Lehi’s dream.

And so, as is the pattern anytime the Lord establishes a covenant, Nephi is given a sign that represents what that covenant is about or symbolizes it in some way.  This is the pattern as it has always been, such as the rainbow when the Lord covenants with Noah that He will not ever again destroy the earth by water.  And so Nephi sees.

Nephi sees the tree as his father Lehi saw it, and it is beautiful and whiter than white.

Then the Spirit repeats the instructional pattern.  Just like our physical muscles in our bodies, our spiritual muscles develop and grow through repetition and focused use, regularly and often. So Nephi goes another round with the Spirit, who is training Nephi according to a specific pattern.

First, the Spirit asks what Nephi wants.

Nephi answers.

Then the Spirit shows Nephi more (the city of Jerusalem, the city of Nazarath, the mother of the Savior), and asks what that is.

Nephi names it.

Then the Spirit asks about “the condescension of God”, which refers to the atonement.  That the Lord would deign to come down to Earth, and be pierced – killed – with nails in His hands – all to rescue us and to bring us home again.

Nephi cannot answer the full question directly because he does not yet have the information.

So the Spirit does teach him and explains to Him that the mother is the mother of the Son of God.

Now that Nephi knows the full answer, the Spirit asks him again, “What is it?”

Nephi this time is able to give the meaning, which does unite him with the Savior, and does make him at-one with the love of God.

That is the pattern.

“It is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable of all things… the most joyous to the soul” (verse 22 and 23).

So now the tree with the fruit represents this love of God, and partaking of the fruit represents entering back into the presence of our Heavenly Father and the joy we have in His presence.

In verse 25, we get another interpretation: “I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God…”  So the rod of iron represents the Scriptures and the words of prophets, for it is by Scriptures that we are able to find our way home again to our Heavenly Father.  Psalms 119:105 says “thy word is a light unto my path and a lamp unto my feet”.   So we know that prophets are the “flaming sword” of Genesis 3:24 that guard the way back to Heavenly Father’s presence.

Nephi continues his learning in verse 27, when he sees “the Redeemer of the world” and “the prophet who should prepare the way before him”.  Nephi sees the Messiah being baptized, and the the Holy Ghost coming down in the form of a dove.  This is a prophetic vision, as it is still about 600 years before Jesus was born.  Nephi also sees the multitudes of people gathered to him him teach, and then he sees the people cast him out.  Nephi even sees the twelve disciples, and he sees Jesus and the disciples healing many.  He sees that Jesus is “lifted up on the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (verse 33).

Then comes Nephi’s understanding of the “large and spacious building” from his father Lehi’s dream, and that this represents the wisdom of the world that fights against the apostles of the Savior.  It is “the pride of the world”, and Nephi saw the building “fall”. He understands this represents “the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people that shall fight against” the Savior and His apostles (verse 36).

But still, there is more… more of Nephi’s receiving of the interpretation of Lehi’s dream in the next chapter!

1 Nephi 10

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 10.

In chapter 10, Nephi goes back to his story, back to the part of the story where Lehi has finished telling about his dream.  Nephi says that his father also prophesied, like Isaiah and Jeremiah of the Old Testament, of the coming destruction of Jerusalem.  But Lehi also promised, like other prophets, that one day the Jews would be brought back out of captivity and possess their land once again.

Lehi also promised that six hundred years after they (Lehi and his family) left Jerusalem, the promised Messiah would come to redeem His people.

This is powerful language, and like the Old Testament prophets, it points to the way the people will be rescued and delivered: not just brought out from captivity or delivered from bondage, but actually redeemed, or ransomed.  A price has to be paid, and the Messiah is going to pay it.  There is going to be a political exchange, both on the temporal and spiritual levels.  The Messiah is going to buy back His people, so that He can set them free.

We know He did this physically, conquering death so that all may experience immortality, so that all people can live forever.

But He also did it spiritually, so that those who exchange their sins for His righteousness may then qualify to return to our Heavenly Father.

This is the atonement, that we may be reconciled to God.  And when we are reconciled to God, we become at-one with Him, and He does embrace our prodigal selves like the Father who was waiting and watching all along.

Lehi says in verse six, “all mankind were in a lost and fallen state” and that all can be saved if they “rely on this Redeemer”.

Like the other Old Testament prophets, Lehi also prophesied of John the Baptist, that he would be a prophet who came before the Messiah, “to prepare the way of the Lord” (verse 7).  He prophesied the things John would say, and that John would baptize the Messiah (verse 8), and that afterward John would testify “that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world” (verse 9).  Lehi spoke of the Messiah being killed, that “he should rise from the dead” (verse 11), and that He would manifest Himself even to the Gentiles.

Lehi talked about the Gentiles and the house of Israel (the Jews), and compared them to an olive tree.  He said the olive tree (the Jews) and its branches (the tribes of Israel) would be broken off and scattered across the Earth.  He told his family that their leaving Jerusalem was part of that scattering, and pointed out how it was an example of the fulfilling of prophecies made by prophets long before they lived.  But he also reminded his family that the prophecies also say that the tribes of Israel will one day be gathered again, but not until the Gentiles have received the full Gospel, or message of the Lord.  After the Gentiles are grafted into the olive tree (the house of the Lord), then also will the tribes of Israel be brought back through knowledge of the true Messiah, their Lord and their Redeemer.

In verse 17, Nephi says that after hearing all this, and all about his father’s vision of the tree and the rod of iron, and all about the promised Messiah promised to come, that he “was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all who diligently seek him.”   Nephi describes God as being the same God that He has always been, which means that if God did manifest Himself to people in the past, then Nephi knew God could manifest Himself even to Nephi in some way.

He says in verse 18, “for He is the same yesterday, today, and forever”.

But then he adds his next thought, the revelation that comes through his pondering the truths of God, and declares that “the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.”  So we know that since the beginning, since before the beginning, the way for our deliverance has been part of the plan.  Taking it one step further, this would also mean that since the beginning, since before the beginning, we have known that He is our God and that we need to return to Him, that we want to return to Him.  It is His plan, this way prepared from the foundation of the world, that makes it possible.

This means that since before we came to Earth, we have known that the plan – an agreed upon plan that we all knew and understood – was to get back home to our Heavenly Father, and that we could do this by the power of the atonement.  It is through the promised Messiah that we can become at-one, and be embraced as we are welcomed home again.

But how?

Nephi tells us in verse 19, “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost”.  Nephi says again, that the Lord will manifest Himself through the Holy Spirit to people today just as He did in the old days.  But you have to do the work to prepare for it and do the work to notice it.  That’s the diligence part.

The more familiar New Testament words from Jesus Himself sheds light on the process:  ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be answered.

This is the pattern of how the atonement works: ask for truth, and you will receive it; seek to understand and you will be taught; knock and you can enter His presence.

These are the “mysteries” of God, with “mysteries” meaning ordinances for how the things of God – gifts of God – are bestowed upon His people.

These are the ordinances of God: to ask for truth and receive it, to seek to understand and be taught, to knock and enter His presence.

It is the diligence that unfolds the mysteries; it is the diligence that unfolds the ordinances.

By the power of the Holy Ghost, these mysteries can unfold before you.  It’s like a scroll opening, ever so gently, ever so slowly, with each bit of unrolling revealing more and more of what the scroll says, and the more you study it the more it makes sense because the more pieces you have, until it becomes like a movie playing in the air above you, inside of you, instead of just something you hold in your hands.

So remember, Nephi says, remember.  We knew all this from the beginning, from before the world came into being, and Nephi urges us to do the work of remembering.

Listening to the prophets, whether it is reading the Scriptures or watching General Conference or memorizing any of those words or studying or any effort to make the words of ancient and living prophets a part of you, that is how to remember.  The more you remember their words, the more you will remember what you already knew before you came here to Earth.

Nephi then reminds us that because we knew the plan before we came and because prophets have been sent to remind us now, there is no excuse for not knowing.  The Messiah has accomplished His work of atonement.  He has conquered death, so we will all have immortality.  But our choices now determine the quality of that eternal life later.

Nephi says this life is our “probation”.  It’s a time of testing, of proving.  We were sent here to learn how to make choices, and to prove that we would choose God in all things.

But God is holy and pure, and no unclean thing can be in His presence.  So if we are to return to His presence, we must become as He is.

We, of course, in our own selves cannot do it. There is nothing in me that is god-like or god-ly.

This is why we need the great exchange.

The Savior took all the parts of us that are not worthy of Him, all the parts of us and that prevent us from being able to return to his presence.  He takes it away, He covers it, He wipes it off the record.  He removes it from us, so that without Him we are nothing.

But then He fills us back up.  In exchange, we get HIS righteousness, HIS purity, HIS holiness.  In this way, we become His people.  We become like Him because He has purified us, cleansed us, filled us up with good-ness.

It’s a process, though, and we have to choose to let Him do that work in us.

But this atonement, this exchange of our sins for His righteousness is what makes it possible to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father.

This is Nephi’s testimony, which he declares in verse 22: “And the Holy Ghost giveth authority that I should speak these things, and deny them not.”

1 Nephi 9

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 9.

This chapter is another monologue from Nephi.  He again puts down his writing-on-metal-plates pen and looks up to talk to us directly.  The story is on pause, while he takes a minute to explain the process of writing.

Basically, he is talking about how his writing is going to be organized.  There are two sets of plates, he says.  One is a more secular history (“the larger plates”), and one contains more sacred things (“the smaller plates”).

The larger plates of the secular history include the reigns of the kings and the wars and contentions of the people.   The smaller plates of the “sacred things” are more about the ministry to the people and other teachings.

This is very much like the Old Testament, where we have entire books that are histories of people, and accounts of their wars and the story of different kingdoms, and other books that are just the work and words and messages of prophets.

But for some reason, Nephi says, the Lord wants me to organize my writing this way and make two copies of my record, each containing a different perspective of the same events.  And so he does.

In verse 5, he says “the Lord hath commanded me to make these plats for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.”

So Nephi is saying, “I don’t understand why we have to do it this way, but it is the way the Lord said to do it, so I am doing it.”

We have the benefit of hindsight, long after the life of Nephi, and we know what that “wise purpose” was, in part, the lost pages.

The Lord already knew all this would go down the way it did, and He provided a way for Nephi’s writings to be protected.  He prepared the way, long before anyone understood why.

Verse six closes the chapter with this:

“The Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words.”

I love this chapter, because it reflects one of my all time favorite Hebrew names for God:

Jehovah-Jireh, or, The God who provides what you need before you know you need it.

That’s powerful.

1 Nephi 8

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 8.

So now Lehi has the family records, and Nephi and his brothers have wives.  The families have reunited in the wilderness, and they have taken the time to thank the Lord.  Now that they all back together, and settled in (as much as you can be while journeying in the wilderness), Lehi tells them he has had a dream.

This dream is the “seed” of the fruit to come (the understanding of why we are here and who we are and where we are going, or – in other words – the plan of salvation).

This dream continues the same theme, with Lehi expressing his confidence in Nephi’s decisions to follow the Lord and his efforts of behavior that proves him a child of the covenant, as well as his concerns about Laman and Lemuel continuing to refuse.

So this is Lehi’s dream:

There is a dark and dreary wilderness.

After many hours of traveling in the darkness, he prays to the Lord asking for mercy “according to the multitude of his tender mercies”.

This last piece is important, because that is how it works for us.  The tender mercies are like tiny little blessings meant just for us, specifically for us, unique to us, and they show us the way and give us direction and understanding and hope.  They are, for Lehi in this dream, a “light” in the darkness, shedding just enough light on the path that he knows where to step next – or that it is safe to do so.

Finally, Lehi (still dreaming) sees a field, with a tree in it.  The fruit of the tree makes people happy.  Lehi tasted it, and it was sweet, and he was happy.

It was so good, and made him so happy, that he wanted to share it with his family.  Verse 12 says, “And as I partook of the fruit thereof, it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.”

So he looks around for his family, and sees them a ways away.  He sees his wife, and Nephi, and one of Nephi’s (good) brothers.  When he looked at them, he could tell they did not know what way to go.  He calls out to them, and tells them to come to where he is and to taste this fruit.  They do.

Lehi keeps looking, because Laman and Lemuel are missing!  When he finally sees them far away, they refuse to come to him to taste the fruit.

Then Lehi sees a “rod of iron” that leads along the path to the tree where Lehi stands trying to pass out the happy fruit.  He sees how people can cling to this iron rod to stay safely on the path, even when the mists of darkness come.  He sees how people wander away or get lost when they do not hold on to the iron rod.

He sees also, a “great and spacious building”, floating in the air.  It is filled with all kinds of people, and these people have attitudes of mocking and pointing fingers at those trying to get to the happy fruit or those who have tasted the happy fruit.  They are scoffers and scorners, these people in the great and spacious building.

Then verse 29 is a tiny monologue, as if Nephi looked up from the metal plates upon which he had been writing.  Nephi lets us know that he is not sharing the whole story of his father’s dream, just a part.

Verse 30 continues the dream-story again, as Lehi describes that those who “press forward” along the rod of iron are they who make it to the tree to taste the fruit.

But Lehi’s concern about his sons Laman and Lemuel continues to grow, as in his dream they refuse to taste the fruit.  Lehi is scared for them, that they will not be able to enter the presence of the Lord.  So he preaches to them, prophesies to them, and urges them to keep the commandments.

Then he is done, having said all he could say.

This “rod of iron” dream of Lehi’s is classic mormon culture literature.  The different pieces of the dream itself get interpreted a few chapters later, and it is worth the way!  But this is a big piece to LDS theological concepts.  We even sing a song about it!

Here is part of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing it:

1. To Nephi, seer of olden time,
A vision came from God,
Wherein the holy word sublime
Was shown an iron rod.

[Chorus]
Hold to the rod, the iron rod;
’Tis strong, and bright, and true.
The iron rod is the word of God;
’Twill safely guide us through.

2. While on our journey here below,
Beneath temptation’s pow’r,
Through mists of darkness we must go,
In peril ev’ry hour.

3. And when temptation’s pow’r is nigh,
Our pathway clouded o’er,
Upon the rod we can rely,
And heaven’s aid implore.

4. And, hand o’er hand, the rod along,
Through each succeeding day,
With earnest prayer and hopeful song,
We’ll still pursue our way.

5. Afar we see the golden rest
To which the rod will guide,
Where, with the angels bright and blest,
Forever we’ll abide.

(Text: Joseph L. Townsend, 1849–1942; Music: William Clayson, 1840–1887)

Music of the Spheres

It turns out that the horrible, scary sound that happens inside my head when I take off my cochlear implant processors…. is really actually only the music of the stars.

It’s good to know.  Comforting, actually.

CLICK HERE to see this just released (short) video of clips of actual star sounds.  Scientists are using these to measure the structure of stars, which is fascinating.

Most of all, I love how this sound does remind me of the voice that is like “the rushing of great waters” from The Living Christ (top paragraph of right column), or verses like Ezekiel 1:24 or Ezekiel 43:2 or Revelation 1:15 or Revelation 14:2.  Beautiful.

It is the sound of nature declaring the purpose of their creation, singing their song of testimony.

The stars are echoing the earthquakes.

It is the sound of poetry, the sound of judgment, the voice of mercy.

It is the prophetic sound of a voice declaring the work of the atonement accomplished.

It is the music of the greatest love there is, like a testimony.

It is the sound of God coming near.

Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King!  And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness.  Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy!  And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever!  And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!

~ Doctrine & Covenants 128:23

And so my heart does sing:

This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all natures sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.

1 Nephi 7

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 7.

In chapter 7, Nephi has finished his short (but powerful) monologue, and is back to telling the story of his family.

Before the family can move along in their wilderness journey, they have a tiny problem to solve:

Lehi has a family full of boys who are now grown and itchin’ to get married.

The solution seems simple enough:  go back to Jerusalem to the family of Ishmael, who was like Lehi’s BFF back in the day and who just so happens to have a brood full of daughters, and bring the family to travel with them.

The plan: let the kiddos mingle.

The end of verse one has both immediate and celestial implications:  “that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise.”

Remember, “the land of promise” always refers to the immediate end of their physical wandering in the actual wilderness, as well as to the celestial kingdom of heaven following our mortal lifetime journey.

So what happens next?  Yep, you guessed it.  Nephi and his brothers get sent back to Jerusalem AGAIN.  Only this time there is no murmuring going on, because they are going to see the ladies.  Boo-yah.

So they go to Ishmael’s house, and gain his favor.  They even get to “speak unto him the words of the Lord”.  This is important because it means they are talking with him about what the prophets have said, and what it means for Jerusalem.  So Ishmael isn’t leaving his home just to marry off his daughters, but because he believes the words of the prophets.

Now we have the family of Lehi and the family of Ishmael traveling together in the wilderness, and the children are mingling, and over time the kids decide who likes whom.

But still, there are growing pains.  Now that everyone is showing off for everyone else, the murmuring starts again.  And even the girls chime in, now that they are daydreaming about fairytale weddings – they want the big fancy event in Jerusalem, where all their friends can come.

Nephi “grieved for the hardness of their hearts” (verse 8), and calls them out on this nonsense.

He looks Laman and Lemuel right in the eyes, and schools them with, “DUDE!  You guys are older than me!  What’s your problem?  You should be my example, but I have to be an example to you.  Get with it, already!  Why won’t you listen to the Lord?  How is it you have seen an angel, and still won’t do what the Lord says?  Have you forgotten everything the Lord has done for us?  Have you forgotten everything we have seen and been through?  What’s the deal?!  We must be faithful to the Lord, puh-leeeeeze.”

He pleads with them and tries to reassure them with the promised blessings, saying in verse 13: “And if it so be that we are faithful to him, we shall obtain the land of promise…”

So again, this simple sentence contains a double meaning.  He is talking about now, in the present moment, being faithful, so that they will get through the wilderness to the promised land (like Moses and the Israelites).  But he also is referring to their mortal journey, that they must be faithful to get back to the presence of Heavenly Father.

He is saying, if you can’t do it in the small and simple things, how will you do it in the overall plan?  The overall plan is accomplished each and every day.   We become who we act like now.

In the same verse, he reminds them of why they cannot go back to Jerusalem (because it is going to be destroyed):  “and ye shall know at some future period that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; for all things which the Lord hath spoken concerning the destruction of Jerusalem must be fulfilled.”

Then, in verse 14, he uses Jerusalem as an example to give his brothers a stern warning: “… the Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them; for behold, they have rejected the prophets, and Jeremiah (of the Old Testament) they have cast into prison.  And they have sought to take away the life of my father, insomuch that they have driven him out of the land.”

The brothers know all this; they were there.  Nephi doesn’t have to tell them the latest status update from Jerusalem’s facebook.  They know all this.

Rather, Nephi is using Jerusalem as an example, warning his brothers that they are choosing to act the same as the people in Jerusalem, ignoring the words of prophets.

He is warning them that whether it is murmuring, or putting prophets in jail, neither is makes them worthy of the Spirit of the Lord.

He is warning them that if they are choosing a similar destruction.

But still, they have their choice, both literally and metaphorically.  But he tells them the consequences for either choice (to stay or to go back to Jerusalem).

This tells us more than just about the brothers and how they are doing.  It also tells us about Nephi.  Because Nephi is so full of the Spirit, he cannot NOT warn them.  That’s the job of a prophet, to warn.  Anyone who warns is a prophet (with a lowercase “p”); anyone who preaches about the use of agency and consequences for using it wisely or not, is a prophet.  Prophesying, or testifying, is a natural result from being filled with the Spirit of the Lord.  We cannot, if we are full, keep it to ourselves, because it is one message for all people.  It comes out of Nephi because that is who he is.

There is a quote I love by CS Lewis, which says, “creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection.  Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.”

This is an example of that quote.

Laman and Lemuel were born into the covenant, and they were obedient to their father in leaving – even though they were hesitant in doing so.  This does set them apart from the people in Jerusalem who tried to kill Isaiah and who threw Jeremiah in jail.  Laman and Lemuel are complaining, but at least they went along with the plan (begrudgingly).

However, Nephi then chose the covenant, which is more than just being born into it.  And he is not complaining, even though he faces the same hardships.  And he is doing the things – study and prayer and teaching and sharing – that develop him spiritually.  This is in sharp contrast to his brothers, who repeatedly just barely make the cut.

Laman and Lemuel don’t like Nephi calling them out.  He’s their younger brother, and nobody likes to be busted.  They are angry, it says.  I am a therapist, so I know that “angry” means embarrassed, hurt, ashamed, scared, confused, offended, lonely, abandoned, and all sorts of other things that run like a river beneath the shores of “angry”.

They grab Nephi and tie him up, leaving him in the wilderness to die.

This reminds us what happens with Joseph, in Genesis 37, when his brothers throw him in the pit to die… only to barely have compassion enough to sell him as a slave instead.  Nice.

But Nephi prayed, “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.”  (verse 17)

This verse is PACKED.

First, Nephi’s immediate response was not to get upset or retaliate or give up and quit.

He prayed.

And he knew how to ask for help:  “according to my faith”.

In this moment, Nephi is relying on all those hours of study, all those early morning seminary meetings, all those “small and simple things” that have built up within him, “line upon line”, a great faith.  This great faith is what empowers him.

It is the power of the Lord, but Nephi has the right to call upon it because he has invested the time and energy and effort into claiming that power.  He is worthy of it, and he has worked hard to obtain it.  So this power is available to him, and he has the ability to use it.

He is also claiming who he knows God to be, stating that He knows the Lord is able to deliver him.

Nephi breaks loose, and undaunted, gets right back up and confronts his brothers him again.

Now they are even more angry!

Except by now, there has been such a commotion going on that the ladies have come out to intervene.

The ladies speak with Laman and Lemuel, softening their hearts.

This is the miracle of the divine work of women, truly.  There is something in us that has this special “divine attribute”, as it was called in General Conference last weekend.  It is meant to comfort and to soothe.  It is meant to create life-ness where there is nothing and to bring peace where there is destruction and division.

But I think that is also why there is such drama in girl world, and why we cause such severe destruction and pain when we fail to be life-givers and peace-makers.  It is not just a failure to do good, but it is a causing of harm.  In those moments when we lose our tempers, when we last out, when we act so ugly and mean… we are perverting the divine gifts within us.  It is our unrighteous dominion.  It is a terrible, terrible thing when we are negative and hateful and ugly.  When we act like that, we deny the basic nature of God.

Here, however, the ladies serve Him well.  They soothe the men, they help calm them down, and they help them understand what Nephi is trying to say.  They help them shift perspectives and understand the truth.  They help them see the reality of what they were doing, and the severe implications.

And they get sorry.  Really.  They even ask forgiveness.

Then, in verse 21, Nephi replies:  “And it came to pass that I did frankly forgive them all that they had done, and I did exhort them that they would pray unto the Lord their God for forgiveness.”

This is amazing:  Nephi doesn’t take it personally.  He gets beat up (again), tied up, and left for dead, and he doesn’t take it personally.  He sticks to his eternal message, and points them (again) back to the Savior.

They do pray for forgiveness, and the brothers are re-united.

This is at-one-ment.  This is the atonement at work.

This is a family in a healing moment.

They arrive back at their father’s tent, and the families celebrate.

What is amazing and interesting about verse 22, is HOW they celebrate.

They celebrate according to the Temple pattern.

“And after I and my brethren and all the house of Ishmael had come down unto the tent of my father, they did give thanks unto the Lord their God; and they did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto him.”

It’s almost like you can see the wilderness landscape, with the temporary tent-tabernacle (Temple) set up, and the families joined for the sealings of these new couples.

Maybe, if you have cochlear implants, you can hear the distant wedding bells, and the singing and dancing that followed.

 

1 Nephi 6

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 6.

1 Nephi 6 is a short little chapter of only six verses!

It’s like a moment in a play on stage, where the story stops for just a moment while an actor turns and talks directly to the audience.  It’s a monologue to the reader, rather than part of the story he is writing.

We again have the very important “I, Nephi” statement, just as we did in chapters 1 and 3 (now again in chapter 6).  Why that matters will come later, but it is super important.  So remember it!

This is also an important moment because in verse one Nephi explains that the genealogy of his family, which we just read about Lehi studying in the previous chapter, is not recorded here.  Nephi states that his father Lehi has those records, and so Nephi is not going to repeat them here.

But he does say, in verse two, that they are descendants of Joseph, which would make them of the tribe of Ephraim or Manasseh.  These were the two sons of Joseph.

This brings up fun Jewish history.

In the Old Testament, we have Abraham who has a son named Jacob, who has a son named Israel.

Through Israel, we get the “twelve tribes of Israel”, which are really thirteen tribes.  The tribe of the Levites were not counted because they were to be exclusively devoted to the care of and service in the Tabernacle.  Jacob had twelve sons, and these are the twelve tribes of Israel; however, Joseph had two sons and thus two tribes.  Sometimes these two are counted together and the Levites are also counted, or sometimes the Levites are left out of the list and Ephraim and Manassah are counted separately.  It depends on the context.

But here, Nephi is simply saying they are descendants of Joseph, which means they are from the tribe of Ephraim or Manassah.

In verse 3, he uses the phrase “it mattereth not to me”.  I find this interesting because of the other times and places when this phrased is used in the Book of Mormon.  For example, we have that phrase when Ether writes in 15:34 that “it mattereth not” whether he dies or is translated, but only that he returns to the kingdom of God; and at the very end, when Moroni says in 8:4 he has finished the record and is going to hide the plates, and “it mattereth not” where he goes after that.

In all three cases, some task of the Lord is finished, has been accomplished, and so the seemingly trivial temporal matters really do not matter.  They are not that big of a deal.  They are not important.  It really doesn’t matter.  What mattered, more than their very lives, was protecting and preserving the word of God, testifying and recording the history of the Lord working amongst His people, and prophesying the consequences for those who do follow the Lord and for those who do not.

The only thing that matters to them, at the beginning – in the middle – and at the end of the Book of Mormon, the only thing that matters is that they have done what the Lord asked them to do.

So now Nephi is talking about the records his father has (their genealogy, and Old Testament writings, and other prophet writings that have since been lost), and has read and studied it for himself.

Now that he has read and studied it for himself, and received that learning (reference to the Temple pattern again, as it is a “house of learning”), and now that he has chosen and proven himself a child of the covenant, he wants to continue the record.

This is a natural next-step, and evidence of his progress.  He is testifying.  It is real to him, and he is sharing and teaching it in the ways he knows how.  He is being faithful by keeping his own family history (“book of remembrance”).  In a greater way, he is being faithful to his premortal covenant to testify of the atonement (which at this time, in 600 BC, has not yet happened but they know it will).

So he is explaining that he is going to continue the record, as is tradition. He is going to pick up where the record leaves off, and then pass it down as it was passed down to them.  This passing down of Lehi’s record, and what his descendants wrote as they protected and preserved this record, is what becomes for us the sacred record we now call “The Book of Mormon”.  That’s what the Book of Mormon is, these records Nephi wrote and what his children after him wrote.  It’s their family history.  It’s how the see and experience the Lord working in the lives of the family, and what happens in their family when they are obedient (being gathered and protected and blessed) or when they are not (scattered and destroyed).  It’s the same story we see play out in our everyday lives.

It’s like an amazing genealogy find, to read this ancient journal entry of him wanting to keep the record of his family history and how he wants to pass it down to his children, and their children, and to know we are really holding it right in our very hands!   It really did get passed down!  It’s better than my great-grandmother’s desk in my bedroom!

Specifically, he says, he doesn’t just want to write the story of his father, but “the things of God” (verse 3).

“For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.”

That’s covenant language.

That’s one of the reasons we, as LDS, say the Gospel has been “restored”.  This is what is being restored: the original covenant that has been since before the beginning.   Not just un-doing denomination bickering in the last 2,000 years, but since the beginning, since before the beginning.

When you really “get” that, it will take your breath away.

“Wherefore, the things which are pleasing to the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.”  (Verse 5)

Nephi finishes his monologue in verse six by saying that he will write the story of his family, and then pass these metal plates (upon which the records are written) down to his children for them to add to them their story.  But, he says, he will teach them only to write the things of God, and not to use up the space or time writing things which are not of true worth.

This is most important, he says.

Focus on what is most important, he says.

And then pass it on.

1 Nephi 5

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 5.

This chapter is a simple chapter about the reunification of Nephi and his brothers with his parents.

But if you study the layers within it, it is fairly profound as it reminds us of our own epic journey into mortality, and the day when we will be reunited with our Heavenly Parents.

So the boys – along with their new buddy, Zoram – arrived back at the camp in the wilderness, much to the delight of their parents.

Their mother, being the mother, was especially glad.  She had been so stressed out about whether they were okay or not!  She had been complaining to Lehi about what happened to them, and whether they were okay.

He calmly reassured her, saying that he knew the orders of this mission were from God, and it would be God who delivers the boys.  They will be home safe, he promises.

These words were a comfort to his wife, and “their joy was full” (verse seven) when the boys arrived safely home.

Their mother testified that “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them…”

Even the words she uses continue to reflect the mikveh theme, the great deliverance, both alluding to the past and pointing toward the future.

The Temple pattern continues in verse nine, “they did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer a sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel.”

They gave thanks!  They gave the Lord credit for accomplishing His work.

Lehi then took the records, and searched them.   He studied them closely to learn from them, and shared what he learned.  The records contained the five books of Moses (the Torah, or Genesis through Deuteronomy).  He specifically mentions the stories of the creation of the world and Adam and Eve.  The books have a history of the Jews up through King Zedekiah, who was king of Judah.  The records had writings of the prophets of the Old Testaments, and several prophets of which we have no record (as yet discovered).  The prophet Jeremiah is specifically mentioned.

Lehi also discovers his own family history in the record, so much as to know he is a son of Joseph, who was the son of Jacob.  He remembers the story of Joseph being sold into Egypt, and how he was “preserved” by the Lord for a special role in delivering His people.  He teaches his sons how the Lord let the Israelites of captivity back then, and how the Lord has delivered this family now.  The Spirit comes over Lehi, and he begins to prophecy about the future as well.

These records are sacred Scriptures, and are to be treated as such.  Even Nephi and others begin to study them to learn and improve and understand.  Then, like their father, they understood now that it was a top priority to preserve these records for later generations.

“Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.” (versse 22).

I love that verse, because that is how I feel now – that I have been led through the wilderness and into the land of promise, that the Lord still leads me through this mortality of life, so that I might in the future arrive in the land of promise.

That is a God of mercy, and a God of love.

I am grateful.

And that is what this chapter is about: how to “get a testimony”, meaning knowing for yourself what is true about God.

First, there is faith enough to pray and ask.  Then, there is some act of obedience.  These things together begin the seeds of testimony.  As this becomes reality (a “surety” in verse 8), we are moved to respond back to God – of through thanks and expressions of love and gratitude.  This helps us to be more obedient, and want to know Him better.  We get to know Him by studying the scriptures, and through the scriptures He speaks to us.  As we do this, we become more obedient, and He blesses us with provision and protection.  It’s an upward cycle where we learn more and more about who He is, and in that way become more and more of who we are meant to be.

It’s amazing.

1 Nephi 4

CLICK HERE to read 1 Nephi 4.

So now, finally, Nephi is ready to do his errand the Lord’s way.

Even his brothers, Laman and Lemuel (reluctantly) agree, and off they go.

Nephi tries to encourage his brothers, saying that they should be “faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth” (verse 1).  And if the Lord is so mighty, then surely the Lord can handle the bad guy Laban.

Then Nephi says something interesting.  In verse two, he says “let us be strong like unto Moses”, and then he reminds his brothers of the story of Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea onto dry ground.  What is interesting is that we just read in 1 Nephi 2, before Nephi and his brothers left on this trip, about the mikveh that was in the same place for the Israelites and for Jesus.

So, two things are happening in this conversation.  First, Nephi is reminding his brothers of the purpose of their trip, the pattern by which they can accomplish the task, and the One who empowers them to do it.  Secondly, Nephi is suggesting that in a way, this very trip will be a type of, or like a mikveh for them if they will let it.  Nephi had his experience already, and has chosen the covenant.  Nephi is saying to his brothers that this is their chance to act in faith and choose to be children of the covenant.  He is telling them that if they will focus, have faith, and do the things which the Lord has commanded, that this will be a transforming experience for them.  It is an invitation to follow the Savior.

At a practical level, he reminds them that they have just seen an angel.  So how “can ye doubt?”, he asks in verse three.  “Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.”

Did they listen?  No.  Right back to murmuring.  And yet, they did follow Nephi back to Jerusalem.

That always makes me feel bad for Nephi.  It would be easier for him if they had just stayed behind, I mean since they were going to murmur the whole way anyway.  This is where I learn from Nephi (again), because despite the negativity and complaining and murmuring, he continues to invite his brothers to obey the Lord.

And they do follow him.  Whether that is a meager effort at trying, whether it is to wait and prove Nephi a failure, or whether it is a hyprocrite-going-through-the-motions-only, we may never know.  I suspect it is just the going-through-the-motions, because most often that is when there is the most murmuring.

Regardless, they got back to Jerusalem.  It was night time when they arrived, so they hid outside the walls.  Nephi left his brothers there, and snuck in alone toward the Laban’s house.

Then verse six is AMAZING:

“And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”

I love this verse because it is so New-Testament-ey.  I love it because he was in a scary place, at night time, doing what he had been asked, no matter what.  I love it because he has now developed a knowledge that the Lord will accomplish the task, and he is let himself be in a position of fully relying on the Spirit.  He is letting the Spirit correct him (from the previous ways that were not the Lord’s ways, and so unsuccessful), guide him (where to go), and instruct him (what to do).  It’s an amazing repentance -obedience-revelation process unfolding in a very concrete, specific example.

So there he goes, through the night air, towards Laban’s house.  It’s time to slay the drag.  He is the knight in shining armor, and the Spirit is what made his armor shine.

When he gets close to Laban’s house, he finds someone outside – he is passed out drunk.  And yes, it’s Laban, alright.

Nephi takes Laban’s sword, and finds himself in an internal struggle.  He knows the ten commandments like any good Jew, and he knows that he can’t just go around killing people.  He has never killed anyone before, so why would he now?  This is very much like Abraham and Isaac, except the opposite.  Laban is a bad guy oppressing and causing trouble, like a type of Satan, instead of the innocent Isaac who was a type of Christ.  So rather than the Lord preserving him like Isaac, Laban’s own judgment comes upon him.

But I especially love the process to which Nephi comes to a decision about what to do.  He really ponders the promptings he is receiving, being careful to understand what is happening and what it means and whether what he thinks are promptings match with what he knows is correct doctrine.  He considers carefully what he knows to be true, and then he ACTS in both faith and obedience.  I love, love, love, love, love this!   If you look at verses 13-18, it shows the pattern specifically like this:

I remembered
I also thought
And I also knew
And again I knew
Therefore I did obey

And obey he did, slaying that dragon like the knight in spirit-shining armor that he was.

But his heroic mission is not yet done: he still has to retrieve the records.

It’s like the next level on a video game.

So Nephi disguises himself in Laban’s armor.  He goes into the dragon’s castle, and finds the dude who has the keys to the treasury.  This guy is Laban’s servant, and you can imagine Laban wasn’t very much fun to work for.  The servant and Nephi go to the treasury, and get Nephi’s family’s records, and take them Nephi’s brothers waiting outside the walls.

The treasury guy with the keys is named Zoram.  He follows Nephi out to deliver the records to his brothers.  Easy-schmeezey.

Except when Nephi’s brothers see him dressed up in Laban’s armor, they freak out!

This tells us several things.  It tells us that they were not in tune with the Spirit, or they would have had some idea of what was going on – at the very least, some direction in how to respond.  It also tells us they were acting in fear, instead of with faith.  And because they start to run away, we know they are being “acted upon” instead of “act”ing.  Fail.

So then, Nephi has to call after them, so that his brothers know it is only Nephi dressed up in Laban’s armor.

Except then, when Zoram realizes it is Nephi, then Zoram freaks out.

Poor Nephi.  What a patient guy, dealing with all these freak-outs and all this people drama.  It teaches me so much.

So Nephi’s brothers turn around because they realize it is only their brother and not Laban after all.  While they are coming back, Nephi puts Zoram in what I like to call a “therapeutic hold” so that he can’t run away.  It’s a little trick you learn working the inpatient unit.  It’s a good and safe way to hold a person until they calm down, just so they don’t hurt themselves or others.

He talks to Zoram, explaining that Zoram doesn’t need to be afraid.  He explains why they are there, and says that if Zoram wants to go with them back to Nephi’s family, then they will let him come just as a person and not as a servant.  Zoram is sick of being a servant for a bad dude, I think, and he likes the idea.

In verse 34 is Nephi’s explanation to Zoram:  “And I also spake unto him, saying, Surely the Lord hath commanded us to do this thing; and shall we not be diligent in keeping the commandments of the Lord?  Therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father, thou shalt have a place with us.”

Zoram so likes the idea, that he takes great courage.  Nephi is setting this guy free, and letting him move to their wilderness community to live as a free man instead of a servant.  So Zoram takes up Nephi’s offer, and promises that he will move to the little wilderness community.

This is a deal that works for everybody.  Zoram gets his freedom, and Nephi and his brothers are safe without being chased all the way back to their father.

This calmed everybody down, and off they went… back to the wilderness, having accomplished their great heroic task.  I imagine they joked and whistled and sang songs as they went, with Nephi and his brothers so relieved to not be hunted down anymore and Zoram so excited to celebrate his new found freedom.

You can be sure that Nephi’s parents were glad to see them return home!  That’s in the next chapter!