Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Exodus 17

(March 4, 2014)
It is a difficult situation being wholly dependent on the Lord.  I have compassion and understanding of the people of Israel, who needed water and had no where to turn for that water other than to God.  We all want to be in control of our own destinies, and life seems so much the better in those times when we have the illusion of such a self-sufficiency (it is an illusion, nonetheless).  When we are aware of our dependence on God, wholly and completely, it is a frightening circumstance.  Any wavering of faith carries with it the fear that destruction is around the next bend.  Perhaps that is why this dependence on the Lord is such a good thing – only when we see the destruction that will come from our not having the help of the Lord do we acquire the faith to properly depend on the Lord over time.  We gain the confidence of knowing that we need God’s help and support, and then we receive it.

Mosiah 15

(March 4, 2014)
The language at the end of this chapter seems incredibly daunting to me.  I am far from a perfect man, although I would like to think that I am getting better as time goes on.  There seems to be no ambiguity here (although I might be proof-texting) – if I know a commandment of God and I am not keeping it (just one commandment), does that mean that I am lost for eternity?  It seems an incredibly high standard for me to meet right now, which is (I suppose) why I am still on the Earth.  Perhaps if I live long enough, I will be able to rise up to meet this required standard.

Exodus 15-16

(March 3, 2014)
Each of us wants so very badly for the security and peace that comes from being in control of our own destiny.  Like the Israelites, we want to gather up enough blessings each day to have enough for our needs today and enough in store for tomorrow (just in case).  Objectively, I realize that what that means is nothing more than that I don’t trust the Lord to be there tomorrow when I need Him to be there – a horrible thing, and an indictment of my character.  But the fear is real that, for whatever reason, we will find ourselves without protection, without manna, and without hope.

I suppose that it might perhaps be an issue of righteousness.  We may feel that way because we want to have the freedom to sin, and to know that if and when we do sin the result won’t be ‘starvation’ (in whatever form that would take for each of us).  But that cannot be the way we look at the world.  It is a good thing to be wholly dependent on the Lord (and we are, regardless of what we might thing), and it is a better thing for us to be aware of that dependance (and, ideally, thankful for it).

Mosiah 13-14

(March 3, 2014)
There is both condemnation and comfort for me in these chapters.  The condemnation is in Abinidi’s rebuke of the wicked high priests – they had studied and taught iniquity most of their lives.  While I have strived to do what is right, any objective review of my life has to come to the conclusion that I too have studied and taught iniquity most of my life as well.  But the comfort comes in the result of Abinidi’s preaching.  Although most in the situation of hearing Abinidi hardened their hearts and turned even further against God, Alma provided that even in this corrupt and wicked state it was possible to turn towards God when the time came that you are called to repentance.  I hope that, like Alma, that can be my response as well.

Exodus 13-14

(March 2, 2014)
This may be a silly question, but why did the people of Egypt pursue Israel?  I think there might be more going on than we know in this chapter, because it is hard to imagine that Pharaoh saw the Red Sea part and giant, towering walls of water on either side and his response was to charge right in and get the Israelites.  I think that my view of this miracle was always of it being a wall of water on either side (and the text supports that), but I wonder whether that might have been somehow symbolic.

Of course, the literal interpretation may also be correct.  First, it is possible that the pillar of a cloud blocked the view of the Egyptians from what they were doing.  Or, and despite it being hard to imagine this is perhaps the most interesting result, it is possible that the Pharaoh was so hard in his heart by this point that he was willing to charge into the Red Sea in open defiance of God.  I can think only of Joseph Stalin, who moments before his death sat up on his bed and shook his fist in rage at the heavens before collapsing and dying.  Perhaps his unwillingness to listen to the Lord and his unwillingness to accept his own mortality caused him to be so hardened that he pursued, thinking to shake his fist once more at the heavens himself.

Mosiah 12

(March 2, 2014)
The people who took Abinidi before King Noah, for what little it was worth, actually were correct in what they accused Abinidi of.  Yes, he did prophesy evil concerning the life of the king (as well he should have, since the king was evil).  Yes, the people of King Noah were a strong and mighty people, according to the arm of the flesh (King Noah apparently presided over an era of significant prosperity).

There are two things to take from this.  First, in my profession I am at risk of becoming hyper-technical or legalistic (a necessary trait in business, but not an admirable one in life).  The legal case might be made against Abinidi, but the moral issue is more significant than the legal case.  Secondly, just because we see prosperity in our life or the life of those around us does not mean that we are on the right path – in fact, we could be prospering precisely because we have left the Gospel path.  The Lord promises us untold riches, but not in this world but rather in His world.  We have to make a living, and we have to provide for those within our stewardships, but we cannot see worldly success as an evidence of virtue.

Exodus 12

(March 1, 2014)
I had two thoughts as I read through this chapter.  The first was how often we look at miracles as a naturalistic or mechanical result of our inspired actions – for some reason it is easier to believe that the Lord told us what to do (some aspect of our lives that we didn’t understand), but when we did that thing the natural, mechanical result of that action was the blessing that we sought out.  Thus the miracle becomes the inspiration rather than the Passover.

I think that this is a wrong way to look at the world.  God has countless hosts of angels ready to intervene in any way that He needs them to.  He can speak, and the world and the matter thereof obeys.  The dust of the Earth (and that would include our physical bodies) is wholly obedient to His will.  While He typically works through mortal hands, or naturalistic means (as we understand them), He is not exclusively confined to those means.  We do a disservice to Him to attempt to explain away the Passover as a virus for which the blood provided some mechanism for resistance.  We do show proper gratitude, and we do not learn the lesson that we should.

The second thought was on putting leaven out of our house.  I doubt think that I am the only person who has ever accidentally eaten something in the middle of a fast without thinking – recognizing my mistake about midway through my first swallow.  Now I am not advocating putting all of our food out of our house on Fast Sunday, but it does show that there is a valuable lesson to be learned by the people of Israel being instructed to put all leaven out of the houses.  Not only were they to resist temptation and obey, they were to put up artificial barriers that would assist them in avoiding temptation.  Whenever we are struggling with a vice or habit, resisting the leaven is good but putting it out of our house (where we cannot reach it without effort) is even better.

Mosiah 11

(March 1, 2014)
It is easy for us to say that we would have followed Abinidi if he had come in our day, but I don’t think that it is really that simple for us to say.  I think that, at least in my case, I am far more likely to be standing in the crowd mocking the prophet as he comes to preach to us.  I don’t see me stoning him, but I likewise don’t see myself as being brought out of my wickedness and to the Lord.

This, as you can imagine, is a big concern for me.  How can I know and recognize the ‘prophets’ in my day?  Of course, in some ways I have things easier because when people speak at General Conference they have a little graphic under them that says that they are Apostles or in the First Presidency or members of the Quorum of the Seventy or something similar.  And I know who my Bishop is and who my Stake President is, and so we have those lines of authority that make recognizing the person who should be speaking under their stewardship easier and avoids confusion.

But I don’t think that is it.  I think that, in addition to having a Prophet to lead us, the Lord will continue to call prophets to guide us in our lives.  They may be friends or family or work associates or any number of similar people.  We may accept them, or we may ‘stone’ them symbolically.  But how can we recognize them?  I think the answer to that is a simple one – a prophet always calls you to repentance.  False prophets never call you to repentance, because Satan would not have you repent.  When you hear someone call you to repentance, you had better listen.  Perhaps you aren’t even guilty of what they are calling you to repentance for, but you are guilty of something.  Perhaps you don’t need to repent in the way they believe you do, but you do need to repent.  In this life, we are blessed with the capacity to repent and to forgive.  At any point we are not exercising both of these capacities, we risk our very souls.  Anyone who helps us to remember these obligations put us in their debt.

Exodus 10-11

(February 28, 2014)
There are hard lessons to be learned in these chapters.  How many innocent children had to die to allow Israel to go free?  Pharaoh, I imagine, knew exactly what was coming – Israel was leaving and was not coming back.  That was why he wanted them to leave their cattle behind – he wanted to know what intentions Moses had for return.  When Moses required bringing the cattle, Pharaoh likely knew what was coming.

Sometimes, in a similar fashion, we know plainly as day what is coming.  We know what we need to do to step out of the way of the oncoming train.  It would be only so easy to avoid the damage that we know is on its way – all we have to do is to not do what is right (even just this once).  But instead, we need to bite the bullet, as Pharaoh could not, and accept that your worst fears were coming to pass but because they were the will of the Lord, you are not to stand in the way of His work.

Mosiah 9-10

(February 28, 2014)
Some chapters are just full of secondary evidences as to the fact that the Book of Mormon is a translated work as opposed to a created one.  This happens to be one of them.  Whether it is the fact that the Lamanites made such a big deal about Nephi running off with the records (which they didn’t even want to get in the first place, were willing to abandon the attempt to get when it became difficult, which Nephi subsequently acquired by miraculous means, and which was more a source of annoyance when they were force-fed the doctrine than joy) – a situation that only makes sense in light of the ancient view of the holder of the codex as the head of the family line – or whether it was the small piece of evidence where King Limhi set the women on task to toil and spin (a level of micro-control that Joseph Smith would not have envisioned in his understanding of a large kingdom and ruling king in his day, but which matches the top-down dictation of economic activity in Mesoamerican during that time period), the evidence causes the book to burst at the seams.

Exodus 8-9

(February 27, 2014)
Our lives are, I believe, much like Pharaoh’s (you have heard me say this recently, I am sure).  And, like Pharaoh, sometimes we turn away from the Lord.  But we are not left without hope when we turn from Him – instead, He reaches out to us time after time.  Just as He did with Pharaoh, God gives us warning after warning, convincing us of the errors of our ways.  We turn back to the Lord, only to turn away again.  And yet, time after time and chance after chance, the Lord continues to prove to us of the need for our repentance.  Like with Pharaoh, it is only after countless chances of this kind have been squandered that we are destroyed – proving both God’s mercy and His justice.

Clerical Correction

Somehow I managed to get the dates wrong (one day off) over the past several entries.  The problem should be obvious in light of the date that has two separate readings in a single given day.

Mosiah 8

(February 27, 2014)
There are a couple of things that stood out to me in this chapter that I cannot say that I understand.  Whenever there are confusing things to me in the scriptures, that generally means that there is something for me to learn.  The first was why Limhi was so insistent on getting these plates translated – why was it such a big deal for him?  The second is less important, but why was there the point made that the breastplates were perfectly sound when the weapons had become destroyed by age – why would Mormon have pointed out that particular fact?