Friday, June 23, 2017

The Legacy of the Brass Plates -- 1 Nephi 19

What Happens
"Nephi makes plates of ore and records the history of his people—The God of Israel will come six hundred years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem—Nephi tells of His sufferings and crucifixion—The Jews will be despised and scattered until the latter days, when they will return unto the Lord."
1 Nephi 19 Chapter Heading


Commentary
In our last episode, Lehi and Ishmael's merged families had all arrived in the promised land, and were thankful to be there.  In this chapter, now settled in, Nephi is commanded to make a record of his people, so he goes out and makes plates to record the history.  Then, God asks him to make a new set of plates to record the mainly spiritual highlights to teach his people, and "for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord."  One of the reasons was the missing pages issue when the Book of Mormon was translated--always cool to see God working across the centuries, but it's also cool that he's talking about what we are reading right now.  Maybe a hint of God's perspective, to feel connected across time like that.

The part where Nephi talks about Christ coming to earth is interesting.  He says " they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men" (verse 9).  This seems to apply not only to the literal things that happened to Christ while he was on Earth, but also to how we figuratively treat him when we "set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels" (verse 7).

The prophecy of the Prophet Zenos is an interesting one here, because he predicted the three days of darkness for the people on the isles of the sea (verse 10), as well as them being gathered back in (verse 16).  Nephi came across his prophecies on the Plates of Brass (verse 21), but that isn't something that we have in our version of the Bible.  It will be interesting if someone discovers the writings of the Prophet Zenos someday, not only as a cool indication that the Book of Mormon is legitimate, since we know that already, but it will likely be an interesting read if he knew (as is apparent in verse 21) about the lost tribes. :)

Then, the last part, which might be my favorite part of this chapter.  Nephi teaches from the scriptures.  That's kind of the whole chapter, but this is where he says he is teaching it to others.  We start to see the incredible impact that the Brass Plates have on this soon-to-be civilization starting right here.  I love that Nephi loves the scriptures, maybe because I do too, but also just because here is this little family in the middle of a huge continent, and this is how they start.  This is what gets passed down through the generations, and Nephi is trying to ensure that people will know the gospel and the Lord.

In the last verse, Nephi starts quoting Isaiah, and I know that book can be confusing, but it is also awesome.  Tune in next time as we read along with him.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Journey to the Promised Land -- 1 Nephi 18

What Happens
"The ship is finished—The births of Jacob and Joseph are mentioned—The company embarks for the promised land—The sons of Ishmael and their wives join in revelry and rebellion—Nephi is bound, and the ship is driven back by a terrible tempest—Nephi is freed, and by his prayer the storm ceases—The people arrive in the promised land."
1 Nephi 18 Chapter Heading


Commentary
In our last episode, Nephi had just shocked his brothers, as instructed by the Lord.  That got them to help with the boat, or the ship as it is called in this chapter.

Nephi mentions that the ship wasn't built after the manner of men, and that kind of got me to thinking--maybe Nephi's lack of ship-building experience, rather than being the detriment that his brothers thought it was, was actually a benefit.  He didn't have any preconceived notions about how things had to work.  He just consulted with God.  Maybe a good lesson for us, in being open to God's ways, even if they seem to conflict with the world's ways.

When the ship is finished, Nephi's brothers humble themselves again, seeing how awesome it is, and knowing that it is the Lord's work.  This is a really good sign, but unfortunately, it doesn't last.

God commands Lehi to pack up his family and get them all into the ship.  I like that God is talking to different people here.  The task to build the ship was given to Nephi, but the task to lead the family still belongs to Lehi, so the Lord talks to him about it instead.  Theoretically, the Lord could have been talking to Laman or anyone else in the company as well, if they were open to it.  Revelation is for everyone, not just prophets.  Unfortunately, in this case, I think that God's messages to Laman were mostly of the shocking and threatening kind, because that is the only thing he would listen to.  That's another good lesson for us, perhaps.  We need to be diligent in listening to the Lord, so that we don't end up having to learn the harder way.

They get all loaded up with food and seeds and people, and they set out on the great adventure of crossing the sea.  Everything is going well until some of them decide to throw a party.  We know there was dancing and singing, but the only description of what they did wrong is "exceeding rudeness," and Nephi mentions that they were forgetting that God brought them there, so I'm guessing that the rudeness involved some kind of blasphemous talk or actual sin.

Nephi stands up to give another lecture, and interestingly, when his brothers act predictably and tie him up this time, God doesn't loosen his ropes, or fill him with power to wither or shock them as he has previously.  He lets it happen.  What he *does* do is cause the compass (I'm guessing the Liahona is the compass referred to here) to stop working, and sends an increasingly powerful storm to drive the ship the wrong way.

It's an interesting move by God, and perhaps it accomplishes more than if Nephi had just walked out of the ropes himself.  Instead of facing their bossy younger brother, they are facing God, and they have to figure out for themselves how to fix their relationship with *him.*  It takes four days and a huge storm, but they eventually get it.  They let Nephi go, and they can clearly see that they need him, and God, if they are going to survive.  Which is also true for us, though it sometimes takes us more than four days to figure it out. :)

After Nephi is released, the compass works, the storm dissipates, and they are able to continue on their journey.  And they get there. :)

A cool and interesting thing at the end of this chapter is Nephi saying "we did call it the promised land" (verse 23).  Sometimes when we think of a promised land or Zion, or a utopia given to us by God, we think it will come with furnishings.  You know, mansions, grocery stores, lighning-fast internet, etc.  When Lehi's family got there though, it kind of looked like... wilderness.  They planted seeds and were blessed in abundance, but after camping out for so long, it surely could have been disappointing for them when they had to start from scratch.  And yet, they still called it the promised land.  They pitched their tents and got to work exploring and finding all that the Lord had to offer them.  A good thing to remember in our own lives, when our promised lands don't look like much either.  The promise God offers us is the potential, but we still have to work for it, and make it into our dream place.

Tune in next time for the continuing adventures of Nephi and his family in the new world.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Nephi's Boat: Hardships and Faith -- 1 Nephi 17

What Happens
"Nephi is commanded to build a ship—His brethren oppose him—He exhorts them by recounting the history of God’s dealings with Israel—Nephi is filled with the power of God—His brethren are forbidden to touch him, lest they wither as a dried reed."
1 Nephi 17 Chapter Heading


Commentary
In our last episode, they found the Liahona and Ishmael died, stirring up some disharmony in the group.  At the beginning of this chapter they are on the move again.

Nephi starts out by talking about some of the hardships that they are going through.  Eating raw meat, bearing children in the wilderness, and mentions in verse 4 that this has been going on for eight years. Yikes.  A good reminder that the journey to the promised land isn't an easy one.  I like Nephi's faith-promoting message in verse 3: "And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them."

This message is similar to what we have heard from Nephi before, in his "go and do" speech in 1 Nephi 3:7.  The difference here, I think, is that it is less naive and theoretical. Nephi's idealistic faith in God worked when he got the plates of brass, but now Nephi has lived for years in the wilderness and their whole group has gone through a lot of hardship.  Sometimes that tends to make us bitter, hardened, and less faithful, but Nephi was paying attention, and he knows that God is still strengthening and helping them during the long, enduring part of the journey, not just the fast, dramatic events.  It might be a message to us all that we need to hang on to some of that idealism of our youth, and that "sure" hope that it talks about in Ether 12:24.  But I'm jumping ahead, so back to the chapter.

They get to the sea, and there is a lot of fruit (which sounds better than raw meat), so they are happy.  They camp there, and Nephi is asked to build a ship.  Remarkably here, Nephi doesn't question the Lord or his own ability.  He merely asks where he can find ore to make the appropriate tools.  Now, that is faith.  I'm guessing I would have been a little bit like Nephi's brothers in verse 17 who question his sanity for thinking that he can just build a boat and cross the sea.

They go a little farther than just questioning his sanity though.  Every imagined past wrong comes up again.  They say (about the women) "it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions" (verse 20).  I sure hope their wives didn't overhear (or worse, actually agree with) this.  They also bring up the whole "we should have stayed in Jerusalem" thing where they believe "we might have been happy" (verse 21).  This is something that we do a lot too--idealize the past rather than living in the present.  I don't think that a years-long camping trip with raw meat, pregnant women and the resultant newborn babies sounds like much fun either, but this clearly shows that they were focusing on different things than Nephi was.  Nephi saw the suffering, but also the strength.  His brothers only saw the suffering, and discounted the strength... wishing to die instead, or at least saying that death was preferable for some of them.  And the whole insinuation that in all those years there was no happiness is a sad one, since that is most often something that we can choose, even in the worst circumstances.

Nephi reminds his brothers of all the Biblical (I guess Brass Platical in this case) accounts of miraculous events and the parallel story of Moses being led to the promised land.  He emphasizes that God "leadeth away the righteous into precious lands, and the wicked he destroyeth" (verse 38), and other acts of rebellion against God.  He reminds them in verses 45-46 that they actually saw an angel, and still they harden their hearts.

This lecture, of course, makes them angry, but as they go to throw Nephi into the sea, Nephi commands them not to touch him or they will wither.  As a testament to their underlying belief, they don't try.

Verse 51 is amazing: "And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?"  Again, when faced with the choice between doubt and fear or belief, Nephi chooses faith.  He believes that if it happened for all the people in the scriptures, then it can happen for him.  Another good lesson we can take away from this.  God can instruct us as well.

Nephi's brothers are scared to touch him for several days, and then God advises Nephi to shock them with his touch (which is another unexplained miracle among many), after which they say that they know the Lord is with him.  If only that conviction would last.

Tune in next time, where we find out that it really doesn't.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Spiritual Technology and Sibling Strife -- 1 Nephi Chapter 16

What Happens 
"The wicked take the truth to be hard—Lehi’s sons marry the daughters of Ishmael—The Liahona guides their course in the wilderness—Messages from the Lord are written on the Liahona from time to time—Ishmael dies; his family murmurs because of afflictions."
1 Nephi 16 Chapter Heading


Commentary
In our last episode, Nephi was explaining Lehi's vision to his brothers.  And in the beginning of this chapter, they tell him that the things that he said were pretty harsh, and they are having trouble processing it.  Nephi admits that to the wicked, it seems that way, and encourages them to be good.  And, amazingly, in verse 5 "they did humble themselves before the Lord."  Nephi has joy and great hopes for them... and we would too, except unfortunately, it doesn't even last the whole chapter.

Nephi, his brothers, and Zoram all get married to the daughters of Ishmael.  I wonder if it was like a big group wedding, or if this is just a summary of what happened over time.  Also, I know we talked about this a couple of chapters ago, but it still kind of blows my mind how Nephi has already seen his posterity rise and fall and all but a few that were mixed in with the Lamanites get destroyed... and *then* he goes to get married.  Hopefully it was just kind of an overall thing with no close-ups on his direct line, but still... that's a lot of pressure and a lot of background sorrow to throw into a relationship.  Of course, on the other hand, it could have also given him a lot of confidence about near-term tragedy.  If his descendants were going to perish eventually in the promised land, that means that he could trust that they were going to get there, and that a lot of the set-backs that they faced in these early stages were all going to be things that they could overcome.  I mean, he probably had that much faith already, but it can't hurt to have seen a vision of where you are going, and know that you made it. :)

After everyone gets married, God tells Lehi to get back on the road, and that is when he discovers the Liahona at his tent door, which is a round ball "of curious workmanship" (verse 10).  It points the way that they should go, so we often think of it as though it were a compass.  However, we learn later in the chapter that writing can appear on the ball (verse 26), and that the pointers work according to faith and diligence and heed (verse 28).  So, clearly, it is much, much more than a normal compass.  In one way perhaps a spiritual compass, but also kind of like texts from God, right?  It's spiritual technology that we don't have and don't understand even today, and it is very much more complex than many other miracles that we see in the scriptures.  I really like the idea of the Liahona, because, like so much else in the gospel, you have to be in tune with the spirit to even be able to use it.  Sometimes, obviously, that is frustrating when we aren't in tune, but things like that are fabulous reminder to us when we get off track, and simple ways to tell if we are going astray.

Lehi's family gathers provisions and seeds, and they head out again.  They stop every now and then to hunt for food, and then continue.  But one day, Nephi's bow breaks, and suddenly the drama hits.  Understandable, of course, because it's hard to be hungry especially after travelling for so long, but still kind of a crisis of faith for the little group.  Once again, Nephi saves the day by helping everyone focus on looking to God for the answer... but not only that.  He also works for it as well, making a bow out of wood, and going to his father to ask where to go.  I like that part because it focused on his father's responsibility and authority as their prophet-leader.  Nephi goes to where the Liahona says to go, and brings back food. :)

Unfortunately, the next crisis is a bit more harsh.  Ishmael dies, and the power balance of the group shifts again, so much so that Laman is bold enough again to suggest "Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi" (verse 37).  Luckily, the voice of the Lord comes and puts a stop to the murder plot, and they repent once again, and God is able to bless them again with food.  If it were me though, I would be getting a little wary of the theme of murder popping up so often.  Kind of creepy to hang out with someone who has threatened to kill you so often.  Spoiler for those of you who are worried though: don't worry.  Nephi lives. :)

Tune in next time to read about Nephi building a ship.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

More in the Tent of Father Lehi -- 1 Nephi Chapter 15

What Happens

"Lehi’s seed are to receive the gospel from the Gentiles in the latter days—The gathering of Israel is likened unto an olive tree whose natural branches will be grafted in again—Nephi interprets the vision of the tree of life and speaks of the justice of God in dividing the wicked from the righteous."
1 Nephi 15 Chapter Heading


Commentary

After seeing the vision, Nephi returns to Lehi's tent to find his brothers embroiled in disputations one with another about Lehi's dream. Nephi agrees that Lehi's vision would be hard to grasp without seeking the Lord's help for understanding. He also teaches us a principle that if we are not "looking to the Lord" as we ought and feeling frustrated or argumentative, we should check the condition of our hearts for softness or hardness. 

When something is confusing to us, we should remember to turn to the Lord and not just lean on our own understanding. We can't simply argue our way to a better understanding.  In this type of power struggle, man's might does not make for right thinking. The Holy Ghost leads, guides, enlightens, teaches, and bears witness to the truth, but contention will most certainly drive away the spirit.

Nephi is grieved in his heart for his family and for the future wickedness of his people. His ability to love deeply matches his ability to feel sorrow--so much so that feelings of deep affliction had overcome Nephi. He does not immediately choose to enter the fray nor seek to contend with his brethren. He is wise to wait until after he receives strength (probably in response to fervent prayer) to listen/ask of his brothers what they think the cause of their disputation is (as they still need to own up to it). They are most concerned about the natural branches of the olive tree and the gentiles.

The words of verse 8 should really be in really big bold capitalized letters on the cover of our scriptures : "Have ye inquired of the Lord?" This is the best answer to obviate confusion. When we have a question that has to do with things of the Lord, it just makes sense to seek the answers from the purest source. 

The problem for some in receiving answers is in "if" requirements leading up to the "surely" promise in verse 11: "... If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you." I know that God's promises are sure when we ask in faith, believe, and keep the commandments. This verse holds a great key to personal revelation. It makes me think of young Joseph Smith and how confusion was dispelled and his prayer to know what to do was answered.

Nephi further explains what his brothers want to know. He connects the dots to the word of Isaiah. The house of Israel will be grafted back into the Olive tree in the latter-days. The people would come to know their Redeemer, and know how to come unto him and be saved. I hope that all the brothers actually felt great peace after the symbolism was explained to them. It does say that they were pacified and humbled. I can only hope that they were able to hear, feel, and see in a way that would also give them understanding and reverence and a testimony for the knowledge unfolded to them though Nephi. We still need a soft heart to have eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart open to understanding. I know that I am grateful that Nephi asked, shared his answers, and told us too how we can know for ourselves how to acquire spiritual knowledge by approaching the Lord.

Lehi's family, just like our families today, need the peace that only knowing the Lord and living in His way provides. Let us seek to lead lives worthy to receive inspiration, listen to latter-day prophets, and be comforted to know that the Lord truly rules in heavenly glory. He has always had a plan to redeem Israel and all his children. As surely as it has been said, even to Abraham, it will truly come to pass. He has assigned separate places to divide the wicked from the righteous. We will be judged by our works in mortality. 

Let's hold tight to the iron rod and never be ashamed to live the gospel. Let us come and partake at the tree of life and dwell in the kingdom of our God forever.  It was never meant to be too hard for us, and the Lord will help us find our way to the promised land, as we will learn in the very next chapter.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The End of the Vision (and the World) -- 1 Nephi Chapter 14

What Happens

"An angel tells Nephi of the blessings and cursings to fall upon the Gentiles—There are only two churches: the Church of the Lamb of God and the church of the devil—The Saints of God in all nations are persecuted by the great and abominable church—The Apostle John will write concerning the end of the world. "
1 Nephi 14 Chapter Heading


Commentary

In our last episode, Nephi saw the unification of the scriptures and said that Christ would manifest himself unto all nations, the first time to the Jews first and then the Gentiles, and the second time to the Gentiles first, and then the Jews.  Timeline-wise, the unification of the scriptures brought us up to the modern day, but the second appearances of Christ place the timing of this part of the vision as describing our future.  Interesting to see what is coming, right?

I really like the part right off where it talks about Christ taking away our stumbling blocks if we hearken to Christ.  Which makes me wonder what those stumbling blocks are, and what it would be like to be rid of them. :)  I also like that the great pit that was dug for us gets filled by the people who dug it.  Not that I'm rooting for their suffering--only happy that we get to avoid the trap.  Of course, all of this is *if* we repent and listen to God, because it also says that if we don't then it will be bad (the words "perish" and "wo" are used in verses 5 and 6, which can't be good).

I adore verse 7.  I am not even really sure why, but it is awesome.  My favorite part is "a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other."  It sounds like something absolutely amazing is going to happen and that there won't be room for dithering anymore.  No fence-sitting in the gospel anyway, but this sounds even more so.  We already have to choose God or Satan in our daily lives, but whatever this "great and marvelous work" is, it's going to make that so much more clear, and there will be no middle ground.

This part could be more symbolic, but as I read it, this big change makes it so that there are only two churches.  The bad one and the good one.  Unfortunately for the good guys, the bad side is much, much bigger, and gathers an army up to stomp the other side.  And here we are, the tension is rising.  We learn that God is going to pour out his wrath (yikes) on the bad guys... and we're waiting to see what happens at the end of the world.  And then... oh.  We're shut down.  Nephi got to see the end, but he isn't going to tell us, because John already told us (if we assume that is what the book of Revelation is).

It is totally cool that we have the book of Revelation for the end of the story, but there is that little mention in there that it used to be "easy to the understanding of all men," which it clearly is not now. However, hope is not lost for a sequel, since the story was told to several, and those versions are "sealed up to come forth in their purity."  This could be what is in the sealed portion of the golden plates, in fact.

It's also really interesting that Nephi tells us that he is only sending us a "small part" of what he saw, when we just read through 4 chapters of it.  We only got two chapters about the trip to get the plates of brass, so this is obviously very important to him, and still it is just a small part.  Nephi tells us that he saw the things his father saw, which was what he wanted in the first place, and so I wonder if Lehi saw all of it to to the end of the world as well, or if Nephi saw Lehi's dream, plus more.

Tune in next time to see what Nephi gets up to after seeing the end of the world, even though he doesn't tell us about it.  (Yes, I'm still bitter.) :)