Friday, January 30, 2009

Kicking Against the Pricks

I have read a few different ideas about what "kick against the pricks" means. One author said that it was like slapping a hornet between your palms so that you are stung in the process. The general idea seemed to include any behavior that is counter-productive.

The explanation below makes the most sense to me.

And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. Acts 26:14

The plowman in Bible Lands carries in his hand a long pole or goad, with a sharp metal point or prick on one end of the pole and at the other there is a flat piece of iron which is used to clean the plowshare. Quite often the young ox, probably not well broken in, will kick, because he does not like his work. The plowman then holds the pole or goad in such a position that when the ox kicks again, he will kick against that prick or sharp point, and thus the animal will learn it doesn’t pay.

Paul, kicking against the plan of God, learned his mistake.

(Bowen, Barbara M., Strange Scriptures that Perplex the Western Mind, Grand Rapids, Michigan, WM B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1944, pg 66)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dynamic Kernels

In 1940, a miller in Tecumesh, Michigan was inspired by two verses of scripture (John 12:24 & Malachi 3:10) and decided to put the Word to the test in an experiment that received nationwide publicity. He called his experiment "Dynamic Kernels." I love this true story.

The following is excerpted from The Intelligent Heart, by David McArthur.

While many experiences exist of individuals testing tithing as a tool for expanding their abundance, there was a very objective test that was conducted by a group of people in Michigan around 1940. They conducted their experiment in a public manner and kept careful records.

In their experiment they started with one cubic inch of wheat containing 360 kernels. They blessed the wheat and made the commitment to tithe ten percent of the harvest to their church. They then planted the wheat in a little plot behind the church.

From the first year's growth they harvested fifty cubic inches and tithed five cubic inches to the church which they fixed for the minister's breakfast. They planted the remaining nine-tenths which was forty-five cubic inches.

From the second year's growth they harvested seventy pounds of wheat. Their tithe to the church that year was seven pounds. By this time more and more people were interested in their experiment and over 350 people, including Henry Ford (who was himself a proponent of tithing), came to the dedication ceremony.

By the third year the public interest had really expanded with over 1,000 people, including the press, attending the event. The fourth year the governor of the state was in attendance, and the results were carried in the newsreels of the day. When they reached the sixth and final year of the experiment they did not have enough land to plant the wheat in. They sold the wheat to local farmers who agreed to keep careful records and to give a tenth of the harvest from the wheat to the church of their choice.

The final harvest after six years of planting nine-tenths of each year's harvest was 72,150 bushels of wheat. The tithe was 7,215 bushels.

At the start of the experiment, the people had arranged with a local miller not only to keep track of their harvest but also to compare their yields with the yield of other wheat farmers in that area. Using the state average for each year's production, the miller computed that if they had not tithed but had utilized the full ten-tenths of their crop, they would have received a yield of 5,297 bushels.

Planting ten-tenths = 5,297 bushels

Planting nine-tenths (one-tenth to God) = 72,150 bushels

Their tithe was greater than the entire harvest they would have received if they had not tithed.

The stunning result of this study comes not from what they did receive, but from what the miller's figures showed if they had continued to run their experiment for another six years. In the sixth year (the twelfth of the experiment), there would not have been enough land mass on the planet Earth to receive the nine-tenths for another planting.

In the biblical book of Malachi, there is a promise made that if we tithed, God would “… pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” These people showed that promise to be literally true.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Looking in the Liver

For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way.... he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver. Ezekiel 21:21

The Eastern peoples in that day took few important steps without consulting the stars and the omens. When King Nebuchadnezzar and his generals couldn’t agree on a campaign strategy, they paused to consult their gods.

“Shaking the arrows” was something like our modern “drawing straws,” with the arrows marked with the possible choices of action. “Consulting images” had to do with seeking help from the images of the gods they carried with them. “Looking at the liver” involved offering and animal sacrifice and getting directions from the shape and marks on the liver.

The Babylonians were without divine guidance in the form of true prophets and the Urim and Thummim, so they had to make do with other counterfeit methods of receiving direction. As weird as their methods sound to us, it shows that throughout time, people have always been searching for a source of wisdom above their own.

How happy we should feel when we contemplate the blessings of inspired prophetic counsel and the direction of the Holy Ghost!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dancing with our Scriptures

The ancients believed that there were 70 levels of understanding embodied in each letter in the scriptures, and that it would take more than this lifetime to discover them all. Our modern prophets have also stated that increasing our understanding of the gospel is a lifelong task.

President Kimball once attended a Stake Conference, and after hearing a younger man's talk, he went to him and said, "I've read The Book of Mormon more than 70 times and yet today you used a scripture in a way that I've never thought of before. Like President Kimball, we can bear a similar witness that scriptural symbolism continues to unfold for us. In this way, we can model for our children the potential of many exciting new discoveries yet to be made in scripture study.

Although we live in a modern culture which thrives on the spiritual "fast food" of superficial understanding, we need to realize that the Lord has spread a banquet for us that can not be fully consumed in this life. When we are truly feasting on the word, we can never have a "been there, done that" attitude toward the scriptures, nor will we ever be complacent regarding the teachings given in sacred places.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed with all there is to learn, this realization that the scriptures contain many hidden treasures should cause us to rejoice. Speaking of feasting and rejoicing-- the Jews throw a party every year to celebrate the great blessing of having access to God's Word. They express gratitude for the insights they have gained during the past year, and anticipate with delight that precious new truths will be unfolded during the coming year. On this occasion, members of the congregation take turns carrying the Torah scrolls holding them high above their heads, or over their hearts, while everyone joins in a celebratory circle winding its way around the room. This is done with great joy in a style reminiscent of Tevye's exuberant dancing as portrayed in Fiddler on the Roof.

I love this idea of dancing with our scriptures. Dancing is a powerful symbolic gesture as well as a form of Biblical worship. We too can rejoice that Heavenly Father's words to us will never become stale, because the unfolding symbolism keeps His teachings forever fresh.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Great Sea

A favorite quote of mine speaks about the word of the Lord and how it is a precious blessing for all ages.

The Word of the Lord is a great sea

whose smiling surface breaks

into refreshing ripples

at the feet of our little ones,

but into whose unfathomable depths

the wisest may gaze

with the trembling of amazement

and the thrill of love.

adapted from Freidrich Farrar¹s translation of St. Augustine

Friday, January 23, 2009

Little Children

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. John 13:33

[Middle] Eastern teachers, when conveying their love and closeness to their disciples, will address them as “little children”. Ecclesiastical authorities, when addressing a letter to the members of their churches, will write: “My beloved children [sons].” One also hears people engaged in conversation calling each other “my father” or “my son.” Elders usually address the younger ones as “my sons.”

Interestingly, according to custom, people call or address unlearned men, no matter how old they are, as “little children.” When God called Jeremiah to preach to the people, the prophet said: “I am a child.” This means “I am unlearned.” In Arabic, people refer to such person as jahil, “inexperienced.”

(Errico, Rocco A. Let There Be Light, Noohra Foundation, Santa Fe, New Mexico: 1994, pgs 195-196)

We see this particular usage of "little children" as well in D&C 50:40-41. Joseph Smith certainly was inspired, because this is not a typical (or respectful) way to address grown men in American culture.

40 Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and the knowledge of the truth.

41Fear not, little children,for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cup of Trembling

Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. Zechariah 12:2

As you might have guessed by now, I enjoy collecting information that helps me understand unfamiliar scriptural phrases and terminology. Best of all, I love seeing the same imagery in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. That’s because when I figure out the Biblical understanding, I then have an insight to apply to modern scriptures. One fact equals several more scriptures made more meaningful and less confusing.

According to one scholar, " ‘cup of trembling’ means a cup of wine mixed with poison. In the East many princes, governors, and prominent men are poisoned during banquets and dinners. Some of those who are suspicious of the poisoning tremble when the cup is handed to them.

The days were to come when Jerusalem would be a cup of trembling to the nations who would come to fight against it and besiege it. They would tremble because the capital city and Judah would be defended by God himself [verses 3-6]. (Lamsa, George M. 1964. Old Testament Light. San Francisco: Harper Collins., pg 951)

The words “cup” and “tremble” or “trembling” are found together or in close proximity in five places in the standard works. Nephi’s recounting of Isaiah is one example:

2 Nephi 8:17,22

17 Awake, awake,stand up, O Jerusalem, which has drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury—thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling wrung out--

22 Thus saith thy Lord, the Lord and thy God pleadeth the cause of his people;behold I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of my fury;thou shalt no more drink it again.

Additionally, I believe it is also alluded to in the poignant description of the Savior’s experience with the Atonement.

D&C 19:18

Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink--

I am eternally thankful that because the Savior drank the painful and bitter cup, we- through our repentance- can know the sweetness of reconciliation with Him.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Bottle in the Smoke

Today is weird scripture day, and this one was initially very strange to me..When I first read this verse, the only "bottle in the smoke" I could readily visualize was something like the T.V. sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie". Learning about how water and wine containers were made from kid and lamb skins was helpful to me. Even today, in some of the country villages I've visited in Jordan, such skin "bottles" are still used. I've been told that, under good circumstances, they can stay in usable condition for many many years.

For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.

Psalms 119:83

Wineskins and waterskins, leather containers used as bottles, were often stored in the cooking areas of Israelite homes, where smoke from the cooking fires left them sooty and blackened, even dried out and shriveled. The psalmist is saying that he has so much faith in God’s Word that even when he feels like he’s cast aside, gathering dust or defaced and made ugly by his circumstances, he won’t lose confidence in the rightness of God’s ways.

(General Editor Jean E. Syswerda, NIV Women of Faith Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001, pg 989)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Fire of Coals

And the other disciples came in a little ship;
(for they were not far from land, but as it were two
hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. As soon
then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of
coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

John 21:8-9

Notice the mention of “coal,” which always means
“charcoal,” the only coal of Bible lands. The poorer
class, with whom the Lord and most of His first
disciples appear to have associated themselves with,
did not commonly use any other fuel than wood for
heating their houses and dried cow or camel dung for
cooking purposes (Ezek. 4:15). To them, therefore,
“coal,” that is, “charcoal,” (Strong's G439 - anthrakia)

would be a great luxury.

Think of this in connection with the “fire of coals,”
that had such attraction for Peter at the
high-priest’s palace, that is, “the brazier of
charcoal,” used amongst the wealthy in towns instead
of our modern fireplace (John 18.18). Caiaphas was so
rich that he even heated his outside courtyard with
the most expensive fuel available.

The only other time we read of a “fire of coals” is
found in John’s account of a “breakfast.” The broiled
fish and bread which the Lord prepared for His
disciples was cooked over a charcoal fire. No wonder
John mentions “the fire of coals,” since these poor
men were accustomed to their food being cooked with
the usual fuel of dried cow-dung (John 21.9). Charcoal
certainly wasn’t found lying around on the shores of
the lake – Christ had to bring it with him.

What can we learn from these two instances – the only
ones in New Testament Greek – regarding charcoal fires?

Peter had been standing by a charcoal fire when he
thrice denied his association with Christ. Because
charcoal was so rare, Peter forever after would have
likely associated charcoal fires with his bitter
failure to be faithful to his Master.

In modern terms, we might say that by bringing
charcoal to the beach for the breakfast, Jesus was
providing an emotional “reframe” for Peter. By having
him thrice reaffirm his devotion and commitment to
serve while standing next to a charcoal fire, Jesus
tempered Peter’s anguished regret and gave him a
personalized renewal of his call to serve in the
Kingdom. Thereafter, every “fire of coals” could be a
trigger for gratitude and a reminder of the Lord’s
mercy and love.

Likewise, when our hearts are broken over

promises not kept, and disappointing outcomes, and
when we long for a second chance, we can be comforted
that we have a Savior who can and will heal all our
wounds when we come unto Him, and know that he longs for us
to work with him for the salvation of our brothers and

Monday, January 19, 2009

Word Picture: Christ as our Anchor

This scripture is a bit of a mixed metaphor. The overall idea is that we were and are helpless and unable to secure our own place with Heavenly Father without Christ acting as a go-between. Without Him, we are adrift at sea in a storm or shut out from the Lord’s presence forever.

Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Hebrews 6:19

The harbors are quite shallow in the Mediterranean Sea. Hence, a ship could not enter a harbor when a storm threatened, because the hull would shatter when the ship was tossed in shallow water. Furthermore, the Mediterranean floor was sand without rock, so it would not have provided a secure anchor.

Therefore, to secure a ship, the anchor was put into a shallow boat, this smaller boat was rowed into the harbor, and the anchor was secured to the shore. The author has this scene in mind when he portrays Christ as the forerunner “rowing” into the inner sanctuary [on the other side of the veil] and securing the anchor there.

(NavPress Bible study, Hebrews, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO: 1989, pg 91)

When the storms of life threaten to crash our lives, we can remember our Friend who lovingly goes before us, and is our true Anchor and safe harbor.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Balaam's Donkey

And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff. And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times? And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee. And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay. Numbers 22:27-30

Balak, the Moabite king, was afraid of the Israelites and sent messengers to Balaam whom he wished to hire to curse the Israelites. Balaam was an arrogant seer who wanted to profit from his powers, knowing full well that God did not want him to go curse the Israelites. While the arrogant Balaam called himself (Numbers 24:16): “one who hears the sayings of God and knows the knowledge of the Most High,” God showed Balaam that his own donkey saw things that Balaam did not. The ass saw an angel standing in the way with his sword drawn, but Balaam saw nothing. You might say that God made an ass out of Balaam. Also humorous, is the fact that Balaam said to his donkey (Numbers 22:29): “Because you have mocked me; if only there were a sword in my hand, I would now have slain you.” Balaam was ready to eradicate an entire nation with his ability to curse but he suddenly needed a sword to kill his own helpless donkey (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 20:14).

Balaam’s donkey, suddenly endowed with the power of speech, did not talk like a lowly donkey and simply tell his master to stop beating him. Instead, God made the donkey speak like an intelligent and eloquent individual. His first comment to Balaam was a rhetorical question (Numbers 22:28): “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?” Balaam said, “Because you have mocked me; if only there were a sword in my hand, I would now have slain you.” The ass replied, “Am I not your donkey upon which you have ridden all your life until this day? Have I ever been wont to do such a thing to you?” Balaam’s response reveals him as irrational and hot tempered. The donkey’s words, on the other hand, indicate a superior and rational intellect.

(This paper appeared in Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, Vol. 13:3, Sept. 2000, 258-285. ©2000, by Hershey H.Friedman, Ph.D. & Bernard H. Stern)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gold shavings

The excerpt below was taken from a letter written by my friend's missionary son. I thought it was extremely insightful and asked if I could share it. It makes some wonderful connections.

Elder Redd says that there are individuals who take gold shavings and drink them with their alcohol. When I asked why, he responded that they do it because as the shavings pass through the esophagus and stomach they create undetectable, tiny cuts, and that in that way, the alcohol can enter the bloodstream more rapidly.

I was pondering on this, and it made me think of the situation in Exodus 32:20 when after the idolatrous mayhem that the Israelites demonstrated, Moses took the ground up golden calf and made the Israelites drink it with water. I had always thought he did that to make the water bitter, but I then saw that as these shavings passed through their bodies, it would have caused internal damage. This internal damage, just as the internal spiritual damage their idolatry was causing, would have passed almost unnoticed, but it would have cut them to the very center. As their increased exposure continued, they would become past feeling, and their veins would be filled with their drunkenness. As these otherwise foreign elements entered into their very lifeblood, they would have become what they ate: idolaters to the very marrow.

Thus when we pollute the living waters with our idolatrous ways, we unknowingly cut ourselves to the core and drink damnation to the soul. Who knew something so beautiful, valuable, and symbolically pure had the power to do such devastating harm to those who use it improperly?!

(Anthony Phan, mission letter, Thursday, October 10, 2002)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Strange breath

My breath is strange to my wife, though I intreated for the children's sake of mine own body. Job 19:17

"Breath" in this scripture is a translation of the Hebrew "ruach," which would be better understood as the word "spirit." Or in other words, Job was saying, "I am repulsive to my wife."

(The Bible Word Book, Bridges & Weigle, pg 326)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings: and thou shalt know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob. Isaiah 60:16

"Milk" is symbolic of wealth and God’s blessing. Among the pastoral people a man’s wealth is measured by the number of his sheep and goats, and by the large cauldrons in which milk is boiled. The Hebrews and the nations that were around about them were all pastoral people whose medium of exchange was butter, cheese, sheep, and goats. The prophets spoke and wrote in the terms of speech which were common expressions and well understood by the simple folk. Today we speak of gold, silver, stocks, oil fields, and coal mines.

"The milk of the Gentiles" means the wealth of the Gentiles. The Jews who were carried away captive were to find favor in the eyes of the Gentile kings and princes. The Gentiles were to give precious gifts of silver and gold to the exiles who were to return to Palestine. All those who had suffered for their faith, but had remained loyal to their God, were to be reimbursed for their losses. They would return to Palestine with a new understanding of God. Milk is the purest and most natural food, and symbolic of God’s truth.

In Eastern languages, when people offer lavish gifts and generous assistance to others, or are robbed of their goods, it is said, "They have been milked." (Lamsa, George M. 1964. Old Testament Light. San Francisco: Harper Collins., pg 716)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Aaronic Blessing

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. Numbers 6:24-26

Most are familiar with the beginning of the Aaronic blessing: “May the LORD bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24). We often read or say these words without really knowing what they mean. The words “bless” and “keep” are abstract words which we are familiar with in English. But, the ancient Hebrews were concrete thinkers who relate all things to concrete ideas.

The Hebrew word for “bless” is “barak” which literally means “to kneel.” A berakah is a “blessing” but more literally, the bringing of a gift to another on a bended knee. When we bless God or others, we are in essence, bringing a gift on bended knee. A true king is one who serves his people, one who will humble himself and come to his people on a bended knee.

The Hebrew word for “keep” is “shamar” which literally means “to guard.” [This was also part of Adam's job assignment in the garden] A related word is “shamiyr” which means “thorn.” When the shepherd was out in the wilderness with his flock, he would construct a corral of thorn bushes to protect the sheep from predators, a guarding over of the sheep.

With this more Hebraic concepts of Hebrew words we can now read the beginning of the Aaronic blessing as “May the LORD come to you on bended knee and place a hedge of protection around you.”