Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lamanites Cursed (2 Nephi 5)

My brudder Bob and me in 1979
Again about 2005
My own siblings and I have always been close friends.  It makes me sad when siblings don't get along.  This one guy told me once, "I really love how good of friends you and your brother (Bob) are.  I haven't spoken to my brother in 20 years."  I was totally blown away.  I guess it happens.

After the death of dear old Lehi and Sariah, Laman & Lemuel wouldn't stop being butt-heads, so The Lord warned Nephi to get out of Dodge.

2 Nephi 5: 5-6
5.  And it came to pass that The Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me.

6.  Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me.  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.  

  • I'm glad Nephi mentioned his sisters.  Women didn't get a lot of mentions in the old days.
  • Jacob and Joseph didn't have families yet, apparently.
  • There were others besides the known good guys who followed Nephi.  I wonder if this included any of the children of Laman, Lemuel or the sons of Ishmael.  
Can a principle be applied to us from this little story?  Yup, I reckon it can.  See, back at the beginning of this chapter Nephi tells us why the move was necessary.

2 Nephi 5: 1-2
1.  Behold, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cry much unto The Lord my God, because of the anger of my brethren.

2.  But behold, their anger did increase against me, insomuch that they did seek to take away my life.
I think it's worth noting that Nephi had some major challenges in his life, brought on him through no fault of his own.  He prayed to his Heavenly Father for this challenge to be removed.  Specifically, that his brothers would stop behaving so badly toward him, and stop threatening him with death day in and day out.  Was it in The Lord's power to answer this prayer the way Nephi wanted it?  Yup. Did He?  Nope.

Instead, "their anger did increase against me."  Why wasn't Nephi's prayer answered?  Well, it was, just not the way he wanted.  Not the way he wanted, but in a way that would not only benefit his posterity for many generations, but you and me as well.

Ya see, kids, in this case, it was absolutely vital that the 2 groups, Nephites and Lamanites, one obedient and the other not so much, separate, and then the more righteous group would have to lean on The Lord almost constantly in order to not get destructed by the udder group.  That's how The Lord saves them, by giving them trials that encourage them to call upon Him for His blessings.  If not for the trials of life, they [we] would have gotten too complacent, & felt like they didn't need Him so much, and slowly drifted away toward the world.

Wherefore, we can pray about our own challenges, and sometimes those challenges will be decreased or removed, while other times, we will be blessed to be able to handle them.  In any case, The Lord's answer will ALWAYS play into the bigger picture, which means the answers may not come in the way we wanted.

It took some searching to find the following scripture, but I knew it was there somewheres.  Anywayz, it kind of illustrates my point.  Sorry if I overcomplicated a small principle, but that was where my thinks took me.  So, read this Alma thing, and then let's move on....

Alma 48: 15
15.  And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger.

So, they moved from the land of Lehi north to the land of Nephi.

In their new home, Nephi and the newly dubbed "people of Nephi" prospered exceedingly in the land.  They worked hard and kept the commandments of The Lord, according to the Law of Moses.  Nephi constructed a temple after the pattern of the Temple of Solomon.

A few chapters back, when Lehi was talking to his posterity, he told his grand kids that if they ended up being cursed, that the cursing would be answered on the heads of their parents, and that in the latter days, they would be brought back into the light.  Here's the curse... 

2 Nephi 5: 21-23
21.  And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity.  For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto to my people The Lord did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

22.  And thus saith The Lord God:  I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

23.  And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing.  And The Lord spake it, and it was done.

Raise your hand if you were offended by anything in those verses...

Yeah, taken at face value, without an understanding of the whole picture, I can see how this would make people stop and wonder what this was about.  Even a lot of devout believers in the BOM hurry over this part, I'd imagine.  This is something that's hard for me to write about because I don't have a clear understanding of it myself. 

But I'll tell you some of my thinks...

  • I think there were other peoples living here in the Americas who were a darker skinned people, possibly even from the Orient and had crossed over the land bridge of Alaska during the ice age as science suggests.  I think that while Nephi and his followers kept their covenants of chastity and keeping their relations within the house of Israel, the Lamanites mixed and mingled with the natives, causing their offspring to inherit the darker skin.  Did Heavenly Father snap his fingers and these people's skin just turned dark in an instant.  I just have a hard time believing that.  Though it is important to make note of the fact that I DON'T KNOW.

  • I think that the real cursing was being cut off from The Lord, cut off from the Holy Spirit.  In verse 24 it says that, because of the cursing, they did become idle and full of mischief and subtlety.  I don't think that the color of someone's skin causes them to be idle, mischievous or subtle (devious).  I think it is the absence of God and His direction in a person's life that does these things.

  • I think the darker skin was to keep the 2 groups separate so that they wouldn't mix together and make one big semi-righteous group.  This would have caused the righteousness in them to slowly dwindle away to nothing.  You've just gotta have a Lamanite Army always trying to kill you to keep you on your toes, and on your knees.  

  • I think this was the best strategy for The Lord to use in order to save the greater number of His children.  It really is the reason that the Book of Mormon was able to be written in the first place, and it will serve in the end to bless this ancient situation greatly.  

  • I think that the reference in verse 21 to the Lamanites before the cursing being "white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome," refers to them having the Spirit with them.  And afterwards when they're called "loathsome", this refers to them losing that Spirit, and it showed in their countenance.  Those who have the Spirit of God with them have a certain thing about them, a spark, a radiance.  Those who don't, don't.  In Jacob 3: 8, Jacob tells the Nephites that, due to their iniquities, at the judgment bar the skins of the Lamanites would be more white than theirs, if they didn't repent.  And in Alma 23:18, speaking of the thousands of Lamanites who were converted to The Lord, "...and the curse of God did no more follow them."  Much later in 3rd Nephi 2: 15, it says of the righteous Lamanites, "And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites."   

Anyone still offended?


Well, I just don't think that the transformation spoken of that came over these people was a sudden and physical change from dark skin to light skin.  I just believe that it was the light in their eyes, in their countenance that signified that God was a part of their lives, and that they had been enlightened by the Spirit of God. 

Consider this...

Alma 5: 21
21.  I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of Him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem His people from their sins.

Isaiah 1: 18
18.  Come now, and let us reason together, saith The Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

3 Nephi 19: 25 (When The Savior Himself appears to the people of the Book of Mormon)
25.  And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto Him; and His countenance did smile upon them, and the light of His countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof.

White is a symbol of purity and cleanliness according to the cultures of those who kept these records.  Is that a racist statement?  Well, sort of, at least, pretty politically incorrect according to today's standards, but I don't think it was meant that way.

My final argument is this:  I know that The Bible and The Book of Mormon are truly the words of Christ, our Lord.  I echo the words of Nephi back in...

1 Nephi 11: 17
17.  And I said unto him:  I know that He loveth His children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
That's about the best I can do.  If you are troubled by any of these things, please seek The Lord in prayer.  He said,

"Ask, and ye shall receive.  Knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

Peace be with you...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nephi's Soul, Saved By Grace (2 Nephi 4, part 2)

A scene from Mr. Holland's Opus
Play The Sunset
There is a scene from the movie Mr. Holland's Opus where Mr. Holland is trying to encourage a high school girl who wants to quit the clarinet because she just can't get it, despite lots of practice, to keep trying.  She's wants to play Theme From A Summer Place.  After many mistakes, Mr. Holland has the idea to take her music away from her (because she knows the notes) and have her try to play the music while she envisions what she likes most about herself.  I really like this scene; I think most people do.  She says that she likes her red hair the most because her Dad says it reminds him of the sunset.  Mr. Holland says, "Play the sunset."  The girl closes her eyes and plays the song without a mistake. Mr. Holland was trying to teach her to play, not from the notes on the page, but from her heart, from her soul.

Anudder scene from Opus

I like a Gershwin tune; how 'bout you?  Then there's this udder scene where Mr. Holland advises anudder girl how to sing a Gershwin song.  He explains that she needs to know what the song is about.  She needs to know what the subject in the song is feeling in her gut, and then sing from her gut.  Her rendition made Someone To Watch Over Me one of my favorite songs.

Nephi has just buried his Dad.  His brothers got ticked at him again.  Nephi preached to them again, 'cause that's what Nephi does, but Laman and Lemuel ain't having none of it.  We don't have details of this conversation, but I think it's safe to assume it wasn't pretty.  Nephi wrote down the details, but on his other plates, which were part of the lost 116 pages of translation that Joseph Smith loaned to Martin Harris.

2 Nephi 4: 14-16
14.  For I, Nephi, was constrained to speak unto them, according to His word; for I had spoken many things unto them, and also my father, before his death, many of which sayings are written upon mine other plates; for a more history part are written upon mine other plates.

15.  And upon these I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass.  For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.

16.  Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of The Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

So, what does Nephi write when he sings from his guts?  2 Nephi 4: 15-35 is known as "The Psalm of Nephi".  I was going to only quote a few verses of this chapter 'cause I figured don't have to write it all down when you can read it for yourselves, which I exhort you to do, but I couldn't not do it.  My heart delights too much in some of these chapters, and chapter 4 is a big one for me.  It teaches such  beautiful truth.

2 Nephi 4: 17-18
17.  Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of The Lord, in showing me His great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

18.  I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

Wait a minute, this is Nephi we're talking about, right?  "The temptations and sins which do so easily beset me"?  Nephi? 

Not my favorite style of scripture art, but...
Nephi is pretty upset in these verses.  He must have done something awful.  What did he do?

2 Nephi 4: 26-29
26.  O then, if I have seen so great things, if The Lord in His condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?

27.  And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh?  Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?  Why am I angry because of mine enemy?

28.  Awake, my soul!  No longer droop in sin.  Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

29.  Do not anger again because of my enemies.  Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

Sounds like Nephi's sin is anger.  Who is he angry at?  His enemy.  Who is his enemy, his brothers?  No, I think he's talking about Satan.  Right?  "No longer droop in sin.  Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul."  Maybe his original sinful behavior was reacting in anger to his brothers bitter aggression towards him, but I think his regret is that he allowed Satan room in his heart, to bring him down to their level and push the Spirit of The Lord away.

Man, Nephi is such a tower above me.  Yet, we all could be saying this stuff, couldn't we?  Nephi has such a clear understanding of the plan of Salvation, and the pivotal role of The Savior, Jesus Christ in his life.

  • Nephi understands the struggle between his flesh (natural man, subject to the effects of the fall of Adam) and his spirit (that part of him that desires nothing but holiness), and does such a masterful job with the struggle over the flesh.
  • Nephi acknowledges his weaknesses, and knows he is not above temptation and sin, even though he has had such powerful spiritual witnesses and experiences.
  • Nephi knows that Christ will come in less than 600 years, and will, at that time, pay for his sins.  
  • Nephi strives not to be perfect, but to be continually forgiven and sanctified by the atonement of Jesus Christ through faith on His name.

These verses, I think, are some of the most profound scriptures we have when it comes to what it means to be Saved By Grace.  Read some more with me...

2 Nephi 4: 19-21
19.  And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

20.  My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.

21  He hath filled me with His Love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.

Obviously, Nephi does not forget to remember not to forget The Lord's blessings.

2 Nephi 4: 30-35
30.  Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto The Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise Thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in Thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

31.  O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul?  Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies?  Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?

32.  May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite!  O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of Thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!

33.  O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of Thy righteousness!  O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies!  Wilt thou make my path straight before me!  Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way -but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.

34.  O Lord, I have trusted in Thee, and I will trust in Thee forever.  I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.  Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

35.  Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh.  Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto Thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness.  Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto Thee, my rock and mine everlasting God.  Amen.
Yeah, that's me, having a sandwich on top of Mt. Timpanogos, right after I died.
I love the hope in Christ and the Love for my Savior that fills my soul when I read this chapter.  I love how Nephi shows his weaknesses and confesses that he has sins too, so he's someone I can actually relate to, and yet, despite his own perceived challenges, his faith in Jesus, and that He will walk out of that tomb, causes his hope of salvation in God's Kingdom to never diminish.

I've said before that I wish I could be a man like unto Nephi.  While I was talking about Nephi's strength, spirituality, and commitment to obedience as well, what I really admire is his hope in Christ, and how he really gets it; he gets it in his soul.

I say the words of Nephi's prayer along with him:

Wilt Thou make me that I may I shake at the appearance of sin?

Peace be with you...

Monday, April 2, 2012

The heart of Grandpa Lehi (2 Nephi 4, part 1)

Before Lehi waxed old and died in verse 12 of 2nd Nephi 4, he continued to counsel and offer Priesthood Blessings to his family.  After speaking to Laman and Lemuel and Sam and Nephi and Zoram and the sons of Ishmael in chapter 1, Jacob in chapter 2, and Joseph in chapter 3, Lehi calls them all together again for one last effort.

2 Nephi 4: 3
3.  Wherefore, after my father had made an end of speaking concerning the prophecies of Joseph, he called the children of Laman, his sons, and his daughters, and said unto them:  Behold, my sons, and my daughters, who are the sons and the daughters of my first-born, I would that ye should give ear unto my words.

I can picture Lehi, old and gray, his grand kids sitting at his feet.  Lehi will die in 9 more verses, so he must be pretty frail at this time.  He feels a great need to reach out to the sons and daughters of his rebellious sons.  Can you feel his love for them?  Can you feel how he is now confident that his 2 sons will be lost, but doesn't want their kids to suffer because of the failures of their Dads?

2 Nephi 4: 5-7, & part of 9
5.  But behold, my sons and my daughters, I cannot go down to my grave save I should leave a blessing upon you; for behold, I know that if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it.

6.  Wherefore, if ye are cursed, behold, I leave my blessing upon you, that the cursing may be taken from you and be answered upon the heads of your parents.

7.  Wherefore, because of my blessing The Lord God will not suffer that ye shall perish; wherefore, he will be merciful unto you and unto your seed forever.

9.  ... but in the end thy seed shall be blessed.

Lehi didn't call "Laman and his sons and daughters" together, just the kids.  Maybe he tried and he wouldn't come.  Maybe he knew Laman wouldn't come, and so didn't try.  Or, maybe he was afraid Laman's presence would impede the Spirit of The Lord being felt by the young ones.  And the blessing is interesting too...

"If ye are cursed, behold, I leave my blessing upon you, that the cursing may be taken from you..."

This cursing comes in chapter 5, after Lehi is dead and buried, but Lehi has been shown the future of his posterity.  He knows that some of his grandkids will hold to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and some will rebel against it.  He knows that there is actually a righteous purpose to this, which is to stir up the believers to remember their testimonies, and lean upon their God for strength in their adversity.  Lehi knows that, in about 1000 years from then, all the believers in his family line will be gone, either by war or apostasy.  This is a downer of a story.  Where's the good news.

Here it is...

2 Nephi 4: 7 (again)
7.  Wherefore, because of my blessing The Lord God will not suffer that ye shall perish; wherefore, he will be merciful unto you and unto your seed forever.
And how will this be accomplished?

Like this...
Let's set the way back machine and go back a chapter...

2 Nephi 3: 23-24
23.  Wherefore, because of this covenant thou art blessed; for thy seed shall not be destroyed, for they shall hearken unto the words of the book.

24.  And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.
That is such a neat scripture to me, because it is prophecy being fulfilled right now, this very minute.

After Lehi spoke to Laman & Lemuel's kids, he counseled and blessed Sam and his posterity.  And then he died.

2 Nephi 4: 12
12.  And it came to pass after my father, Lehi, had spoken unto all his household, according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of The Lord which was in him, he waxed old.  And it came to pass that he died, and he was buried.
Goodbye, Lehi:  Husband, Father, Grandfather, Prophet of God.  Thanks for EVERYTHING!!!  I can picture you and your Eternal Companion wrapped in the arms of your Savior's love.

Peace be with you...