Friday, February 27, 2009

My Redeemer Lives

While doing research on the Atonement last year, I found some information that helped me have a much clearer understanding of Christ’s title of “Redeemer.” It has greatly increased my appreciation of his willingness to fill that role. The quote below is one I used on my cd on the Atonement called "He Hid Not His Face."

A favorite hymn in the Church is “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” That hymn is based in part on this Old Testament verse found in Job:

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Job 19:25-26

In Titus 2:14, we are told again of his responsibilities as a “redeemer”:

“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

We should read the word “redeem” in this verse in light of ancient slavery practices. To “redeem” someone in antiquity meant to purchase their freedom either from slavery or by way of ransom from pirates or kidnappers (who often sold their victims into slavery as well). It was no dead metaphor in Paul’s day to say that Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness” (2:14; NIV emphasis added). Here slavery to sin and captivity to its deathly consequences are portrayed as the chains that only our “great God and Savior” could break by giving himself over to death in our place.

(Arnold, Clinton E. - Gen. Editor, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, “Titus”,Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2002, pg 505)

In the Book of Mormon we find a similar image of the chains of hell being broken and the joy of being redeemed by Christ.

Alma 5:7-9

...Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; ....yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.

And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Seeds and Trees

According to a famous modern rabbi, the truth of God's Word is never entrusted to mere words alone, but is always associated with gestures and word pictures.. For example, we could teach the topic of personal development using the format of an eloquent philosophical discourse. But that lecture wouldn't have the same lasting impact as a lesson likening personal development to something we can observe--like the growth of a seed, for example. The laws of nature provide visuals which are designed at have a lasting impact.

Our society cherishes the idea of growth through long and short-term goals; and it values having a daily, weekly, and monthly plan to accomplish them. This makes us feel efficient and gives us a sense of control. This 'day-planner' method works well in many areas, but if that's the path we expect spiritual development to follow, we'll experience much frustration and bewilderment.

Isaiah frequently uses the analogy of different kinds of trees to represent classes of people. It occurred to me once while reading Alma 32 that the analogy of the seed being planted could be read from the seed's point of view-since it grows into a tree. Once we understand the process governing the growth of a seed, we will then be able to identify corresponding stages in our own growth.

Imagine that you are a seed - an acorn, for example. You notice a tall majestic oak, and you feel a yearning to become a tree exactly like that. As a self-aware acorn, you realize you need help to accomplish this goal, and you seek assistance from a trusted Gardener. You express to Him your desires to grow into the stature of a mighty oak, and then place yourself in His capable hands, knowing that He will oversee every stage of your development.

To your surprise, you soon find yourself placed in a deep, dark hole, and covered over with lots of dirt. This isn't what you expected - growing on a beach in Tahiti would have been nice. But you decide to trust the Gardener and to have faith that He knows what He's doing.

Next you notice a quickening sensation, and as it continues, your shell (which made you such a attractive acorn) starts falling apart. "What's going on here?! I'm cracking up! Has the Lord abandoned me? Doesn't He want me to grow? How am I supposed to know what my boundaries are?" In the midst of all this confusion, you decide to continue trusting the Gardener, and to wait patiently for the promised upward growth.

Before long, you start to feel new growth beginning. "Now I'm making progress! Oh, I've missed the sun so very much. O dear! Look at that bit of me going down. I thought I was meant to grow upwards, and now look at me! I can't even grow in the right direction!" At this point, you think you remember hearing somewhere something about tap roots being important. And you hope that that's what happening to you now.

Finally, after a very long time, you experience a breakthrough! "At last! Wait.....where's the beautiful sunshine? This dreadful rainstorm is drenching my roots! I don't think I can take much more of this. I NEED SUNSHINE!" By now you're beginning to realize that the Gardener thinks about things differently than you. You struggle to reconcile yourself to His plan, instead of your own immediate desires.

Before long... "Ahhh! Sunshine. I bet it's smooth sailing from here on. Allll riiiight! Ouch! What's that? Someone's digging and aerating around my roots. That doesn't make me feel very secure. And what is that smelly concoction being placed all around me?! Is that dung?!?" Hanging on to a thought that you once heard, you remember that all plants require nutrients. But you wonder just how many of those truck loads of manure will have to be dumped to supply that need.

Of course the Gardener was right. You are becoming a beautiful tree - skinny, but at least bearing some resemblance to the majestic oak. You rejoice in the development of numerous branches that reach in every direction. "Hey! I'm trying really hard here to become an impressive tree, but every time I seem to be making some progress, someone shows up with pruning shears."

We, of course, knowing the laws associated with botany, can confidently predict that after many seasons of sun, rain, dung, and pruning - each in its necessary time -the 'tree' will reach its full potential, and its beauty and shade will be a blessing to many. On some of the "digging and dunging" days, this gives me a lot of hope.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Preventing the Dawn

I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. Psalms 119:147

When I first read this psalm, I couldn't figure out how David thought he had enough power to keep the sun from rising. Since David was a poetic sort, I assumed that he was speaking metaphorically and possibly meant that in his depressed state, it was as though no sun rose in his mind and heart. A bit of research into the original Hebrew and other scripture translations helped me gain a more accurate perception.

Prevent is used 15 times in the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament, but always in the now obsolete sense of go before, anticipate, or precede. The NIV expresses the meaning of the Hebrew clearly, "I rise before dawn." This is a part of the description of the devotional habits of a spiritual person who rises before the dawn to begin the day with meditation and prayer. In the following verse, 148, "Mine eyes prevent the night watches" is now translated "My eyes are awake before the watches of the night."

When Peter came to Jesus to report that they were asked to pay the half-shekel tax (Matthew 17:25), the KJV says that Jesus "prevented him." That does not mean that he kept Peter from speaking; it means simply that Jesus spoke to him first. When Paul tells the Thessalonians, anxious to know what will happen on the last great day, that "we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep" (1 Thessalonians 4:15), he is not thinking of a possible attempt to keep the dead in their tombs; he is saying simply that those who are alive will not precede the dead to the triumphant meeting with the Lord.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Eating With Sinners

I have an entire chapter in my book on this topic, but I thought this quote was a nice little summary regarding the scriptural significance of sharing a meal at the same table. It is a profound concept when we consider of the implications of how blessed we are to be able to take the sacrament each week.

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? Matthew 9:10-11

To understand what Jesus was doing in eating with ‘sinners’, it is important to realize that in the east, even today, to invite a man to a meal was an honor. It was an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood, and forgiveness; in short, sharing a table meant sharing life.

The report in II Kings 25.17-30 that Jehoiachin was brought by the king of Babylon from prison to the royal table is a public proclamation of his rehabilitation. In a similar way, king Agrippa I had the supreme commander Silas, who had fallen out of favor, invited to his table as a sign that he had forgiven him.

In Judaism in particular, table-fellowship means fellowship before God, for the eating of a piece of broken bread by everyone who shares in the meal brings out the fact that they all have a share in the blessing which the master of the house had spoken over the unbroken bread.

Thus Jesus’ meals with the publicans and sinners, too, are not only events on a social level, not only an expression of his unusual humanity and social generosity and his sympathy for those who were despised, but had an even deeper significance.

They are an expression of the mission and message of Jesus (Mark 2.17), anticipatory celebrations of the feast in the end-time (Matt. 8.11 par.), in which the community of the saints is already being represented (Mark 2.19). The inclusion of sinners in the community of salvation, achieved in table-fellowship, is the most meaningful expression of the message of the redeeming love of God.

(Jeremias, Joachim. 1971. New Testament Theology. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons., pgs 115-116)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Circumcision and Fruit Trees

This perspective about circumcision as it relates to an agricultural setting is so interesting. It helped me understand what was meant by perplexing verses elsewhere referring to such things as uncircumcised lips and hearts.

And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of. Leviticus 19:23

Indeed, biblical language describing circumcision is the same used to describe the practice of pruning fruit trees to increase their future yield: “When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as its foreskin. Three years it shall be uncircumcised for you, not to be eaten…only in the fifth year may you use its fruit—that its yield to you may be increased.”

Thus, God’s covenant with Abraham—to “make you exceedingly fertile” and to make your descendants “as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore”—is symbolically enacted each time a Jewish male child is circumcised.

One possible reason that the eighth day was designated for circumcision is that the number eight, representing one more day that the period of Creation, symbolizes eternity or infinity.

According to the midrash, circumcision also symbolizes human partnership with God, an example of our role in completing the divine work of creation. By extension, the word “uncircumcised” often refers in the Bible to body organs that are spiritually incomplete or obstructed: uncircumcised lips, hearts, and ears.

(Frankel, Ellen, and Betsy Platkin Teutsch. 1992. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., pgs 26-27)

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Savior's Scent

In a class at Education Week last year, I taught about the spiritual significance of body parts in the scriptures. In preparing the material, I learned that one of the spiritual gifts associated with the nose is discernment. That makes a lot of sense when you consider that through smell, we are protected from spoiled food and other unpleasant experiences. After finding the quote below, I realized there was another blessing associated anciently with anointing the nose.

As a side note, a few people who have had near-death experiences mention that in the Savior's presence, a scent like sweet orange blossoms can be discerned.

Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad. Psalms 45:6-8

It was precisely to this spiritual sense of smell that Ambrose, the fourth-century bishop of Milan, referred when he explained to newly baptized adults why he touched their nostrils during the baptismal ceremony. The meaning of this ritual gesture, he told them, was that they might always be able to catch the scent of their Savior.

(Paillard, Jean. 2003. In Praise of the Inexpressible: Paul*s Experience of the Divine Mystery. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers. Translated by Richard J. Erickson., pgs 8-9)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bless or Curse

Years ago when I was studying the Ten Commandments from the Hebraic perspective, I was excited to learn about the literal meaning of "Honor thy parents." The commandment wasn't given with the option of ignoring it if your parents were less than honorable. I wondered how those with challenging family circumstances with could fully keep that commandment. I learned that, Biblically speaking, parenthood is a "weighty" task and that we could honor that, even if other behaviors left much to be desired. Just giving birth and keeping us alive is to be valued and acknowledged.

For those blessed with good parents, it would be a joy to have the privilege of adding "value" to them by our honor.

This concept of "weighty glory added upon" is also found in the Doctrine and Covenants as well as the New Testament-see 2 Corinthians 4:17, D&C 63:66, and D&C 132:16.

John Trent wrote the quote I have used below, and I hope you find it as helpful as I have. I love knowing the power I have to bless and that I should be aware and careful of the power to diminish others with my words and actions.

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: Deuteronomy 30:19

I’m referring to the choice we make each day, as parents and people who love Jesus, to add or subtract. Put in biblical terms, to bless or to curse.

Do you know what the biblical meaning of the word bless is? When we sing, “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul!” or read that the Lord is worthy to be “blessed,” it literally means He is “heavy, weighty,” worthy to be “bowed before.” The meaning comes from gold that is weighed out on scales. The more weight added, the more valuable. So when we bless the Lord or our children, we’re adding “weight” to their words or person.

Do you know what the word curse means in the Scriptures? It’s used to describe a stream that has dried up to a muddy trickle because water has been “subtracted” from it.

From the first “curse” that fell upon Adam and Eve for their sin, you can see the idea of “subtraction” linked to it. Their choice to disobey took away Eden and subtracted life from them as well.

What does this have to do with parenting? Every day, we've got a choice set before us. Literally. Whether we are a parent or a leader. Teenager or grandparent. Accountant or welder. Husband or wife.

(Trent, John, Quiet Whispers From God’s Heart For Parents, J. Countryman, Nashville, Tennessee, 1999, pgs 24-25)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Satan-an Aramaic perspective

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Matthew 16:23

As readers of the Bible, one of our main challenges and difficulties is that we take everything we read in Scripture so literally. Let us consider a saying recorded in John’s gospel. The traditional translation reads: “Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil (John 6:70)?” The Eastern Aramaic text reads: “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and yet among you one is a Satan (John 6:20, Aramaic Peshitta text, Errico translation)?”

Satana, “Satan,” derives from the Aramaic root sata, and means “to slip,” “to slide,” “to deceive,” “to miss the mark,” and “to cause one to be misled or go astray.” In Aramaic, calling an individual a “satan” means that the person is going astray or misleads. “Satan” is a Chaldean-Aramaic term. The first five books of the Bible rarely used it. Israel’s prophets also hardly ever employed the expression “Satan.” It gradually crept into Jewish literature during the exile and post-exilic period of Israel’s history.

On another occasion Peter rebuked Jesus. The apostle tried to persuade his master not to speak about his coming crucifixion and death. Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter. He responded by calling his disciple a “satan.” “Get behind me, satan; you are an offense to me because you are not thinking the things of God but things of people (Matt. 16:23, Aramaic Peshitta text, Errico translation).”

“Satan” here refers to Peter’s misguided intention. Peter attempted to redirect Jesus’ course. He didn’t want his master to talk about the cross and dying. Peter’s admonition was misleading to Jesus and would deter him from his destiny. Although Peter had honorable intentions, his rebuke to his master carried implications of which he was unaware. Nonetheless, the apostle thought, spoke, and believed like the masses concerning a conquering Messiah.

Everyone expected a powerful, worldly-wise, militant, Messiah-King. The messiah would live forever and save them from Roman domination and oppression. All the apostles believed in a political Messiah and kingdom (see Matt. 20:20-21), even after the resurrection (see Acts 1:6). Jesus returned Peter’s rebuke and called him “satan.”

Now in this passage of John’s gospel (6:20) mentioned above, Jesus knew that among the twelve one was a “satan.” Judas, of course, was the one to whom Jesus referred. From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Judas was a believer in his master. But when he realized that the prophet from Nazareth was not the militant, political leader whom he and the people had anticipated, Judas attempted to dissociate himself from his teacher. Feeling disillusioned, Judas deserted the ranks of the apostles and betrayed his lord and leader.

However, when Jesus referred to Judas as “satan” in this passage, he meant simply that Judas would behave deceptively and insincerely. Such statements are common in Aramaic.

(Errico, Rocco A. Let There Be Light, Noohra Foundation, Santa Fe, New Mexico: 1994, pgs 192-193

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Living Water

Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. John 4:13-14

There were different types of water found in the land of Israel . Cistern water was rainwater trapped in pits dug into rock and plastered to prevent leakage. Most homes and public buildings had them. The water was often dirty, having flowed from roofs or streets into the cistern. This source of water was not dependable because one season it might not rain or the plaster might leak and the water seep away.

Running water, especially spring water, was different. It stayed fresh and clean. And most springs were dependable, providing water year round. This constant fresh source of water was called “living water,” probably portraying its life-giving qualities as well as its constant freshness. God provides (and is described as) living water (Ps. 107:9; Isa. 35:6-7, 58:11; Jer. 2:13; Zech. 14:8; John 4:13-14, 7:37 -38).

Living water was cleansing (Lev. 15:1-3). The ritual bath of Jesus’ day, the mikveh–used before coming into the presence of God at the Temple or to the synagogue worship service–contained flowing water, or living water. John the Baptist’s choice of the Jordan River for his symbolic cleansing likely was based on the need for fresh, moving water to symbolize cleansing. Jesus described himself as living water (John 4:13 -14, 7:37 -38), and the people of his day understood the meaning.

Only God could provide living water. It would not fail to satisfy any thirst.

With the idea that 'living water' was water in motion and thus aerated, it is interesting to obseve the water source used in sacred washings.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Born Again-Jewishly speaking

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

According to Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, the ancient Jews had at least six experiences they referred to as being "born again," none of which applied to an old man such as Nicodemus (John 3:4). Each of the situations to which the Jews applied the term "born again" had to do with a drastic change or a new creation in one’s life.

The first of these was a person’s conversion to Judaism. When a person came up out of the waters of the mikveh, which was considered the womb of the world, he was considered born again and rendered a new creation. Upon his welcoming into the Jewish faith, he was said to be "under the wings of the Divine Presence." It is this designation that Boaz gave to Ruth when she converted to the faith (Ruth 2:12 ).

Other experiences that merited the phrase "born again" included being crowned King of Israel, being numbered with the believers of Israel at age thirteen (bar mitzvah), marriage, ordination as a rabbi, and becoming the head of a rabbinical school.

(Moseley, Ron. Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. Hagerstown, MD: Ebed Publications., pgs 131-132)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Speech that is seasoned with salt

Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. Colossians 4:6

Picturing a man salting his tongue is thinking like a Westerner—not an Easterner! In our culture, 'salty' speech is associated with pirates and risque behavior. This isn't talking about taste, but about something entirely different.

In Leviticus 2:13, God told Israel to season with salt all their offerings. In the East, salt represented, among other things, a sacred covenant. This "covenant of salt" bound people together, even unto death. Our words are to be salted because when we speak as people of the covenant, we represent our Father's word! We are to be true, not only have truth. The power of the 'salt covenant' also represents peace and harmony between the saints.

Just as salt acts as a preservative, we as 'salty saints' can be a very great blessing wherever we are, and may be the reason that an area is spared in times of the Lord's wrath.

For other verses on the Covenant of Salt see also Numbers 18:19 and II Chronicles 13:5.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"End of life" metaphors

Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7

In wealthy homes lamps were traditionally made of gold and suspended by silver chains. Just as those today who can't afford diamonds will wear rhinestones, so in those days those who could not afford such luxuries would use lamps of base metal or pottery, paint them yellow, and suspend them from silver-colored cords. Light and water were Hebrew symbols of life. The loosened "silver" cord or the breaking and spilling of the "golden bowl" (the lamp) is a metaphor of death. Likewise, death is denoted by not being able to get water because the pitcher or the cistern-wheel is broken.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Idiom: They are bread for us.

Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not. Numbers 14:9

"They are bread for us" is an Aramaic idiom which means, "We can conquer them very easily." In the East, when a difficult task is described as easy, it is said, "It is like eating bread." This idiom is still used today. This is because eating food and drinking water are two of the simplest and easiest things in a man’s life. [Donna: We might say "It's a piece of cake"-to indicate how easy something is to do.]

The inhabitants of Palestine had weakened themselves by sensual Baal worship and other evil practices. And they were rejected by God because of their evil works. The Israelites were admonished not to be afraid of them, because the natives of the land were so weak that they could be consumed as easily as one consumes a loaf of bread.

When this Aramaic idiom is translated literally it loses its meaning. "For they are bread for us" in English would mean, "They are our very livelihood" or "They will feed us." This is also true of English idioms and mannerisms of speech. When translated literally they lose their true meaning.

(Lamsa, George M. 1964. Old Testament Light. San Francisco: Harper Collins., pg199)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I'm not much of a Greek student, mostly because I resonate so deeply with the Hebrew viewpoint. But I freely admit that the Greek language often has wonderful word pictures which have helped me to understand principles that seemed fuzzy on first reading. The author of the piece below, Spiros Zodhiates, has written several reference books which are filled with useful insights. He is a scholar with a good heart.


(Heb. 2:18; 4:15)

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

The Greek word for "temptation" is peirasmos which is derived from the word peira, which means "experience." In order for a soldier to be experienced, he has to fight, there has to be some battle in which he is engaged. And in order for us to be experienced, for our endurance to be tested, we must also engage in a battle, and that "battle" is temptation.

If we seek to know the Lord, to love Him, and to walk closely to Him, we won't be fearful when we are called upon to face temptation. When a father takes his child by the hand to lead him through the dark woods, the response of the child may be fear, and he may not want to go that way. But that may be the only path by which they can reach their home. The fact that his father is holding his hand will give the child the courage that he needs.

(Zodhiates, Spiros. 1998. The Lord's Prayer. Second Revised edition. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers., pgs 282-283)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Eating Butter and Honey

Here is an interesting cultural perspective on a familiar verse of scripture.

Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. Isaiah 7:15

We can better understand the cultural context of this passage when we consider that Near Eastern authors often use “butter and honey” symbolically to represent peace, harmony, meekness, and prosperity. For example, biblical writers called Palestine “the land of milk [butter] and honey.” This means that Palestine was to be a land of peace and prosperity.

In the old days, the milk that wealthy Easterners drank came primarily from sheep. They also used butter made from the milk of sheep. They very seldom used cow’s milk for drinking or for butter. The poor were the ones who used cow’s milk and by-products.

Sheep are gentle animals and trustingly allow shepherds to guide and feed them. They never resist their enemy, nor do they protest when the shepherd takes them to the slaughter. Sheep-raising people are famous for their hospitality, sincerity, and reverence for God.

In the Bible, we read of many great prophets who had been engaged in raising sheep when God called them to become prophets. For these reasons, in Near Eastern culture, sheep symbolized meekness. Easterners came to associate drinking milk from sheep with being meek and gentle.

Another association common with Semites relates to the way nature makes honey. To produce honey, bees gather nectar from flowers, and since the various colors of flowers were symbolic for Easterners, honey came to represent harmony and prosperity. (The various colors of flowers to Easterners meant peace, wisdom, harmony, and prosperity.)

Now we can fully grasp the idea of the saying of Isaiah: “Butter and honey shall he eat that he may know to refuse evil, and choose good.” It also suggests that when spiritual understanding reigns in the hearts of humanity, humankind will eat “butter and honey.” Humanity will live in peace and prosperity. Nations will become harmless, and instruments of war will be no more.

(Errico, Rocco A. Let There Be Light, Noohra Foundation, Santa Fe, New Mexico: 1994, pgs 213-214)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Stones Part 2

The symbolism of stones can cross the boundaries of different cultures and help the pure in heart to discover valuable spiritual lessons.
Naomi Remen is a Jewish medical doctor who has spent many years helping to treat cancer patients of all ages. She is a brilliant and compassionate woman who is gifted with a deeply perceptive nature. This is also reflected in the books she has authored.

Dr. Remen was given a Book of Mormon by a Latter-Day Saint. In her book, My Grandfather's Blessings, she writes about an insight she gained from the book of Ether. I love the way she unfolds a deeper level of understanding in our precious Book of Mormon. It's wonders never cease to amaze me. Dr. Remen writes:

In the Book of Mormon, there is another version of the Exodus story. In it, the Jaredites, forced from their homes by conditions that stifle their freedom, set out across the great uncharted waters to reach the land of promise in boats sealed up tightly against the sea. The brother of Jared speaks to God about the difficulty in steering these boats in total darkness. He is told that if he brings stones with him, God will touch them and they will shine forth light.

The voyage is long and difficult in the extreme; there are mighty storms, and the boats are plunged deep beneath the water over and over again. But, their seal holds, and the stones, touched by God, continue to shine. According to Jung, the stone is is one of the two archetypal symbols for the soul. This image of a people sailing through heavy seas in search of freedom, steering only by the light that the touch of God kindles in their souls, is a particularly beautiful one for me.

In the course of any lifetime there are times when one has to sail into the unknown without map or compass. These can be times of despair and terror; they can also be times of discovery. Having accompanied many people as they deal with the unknown, I find the most moving part of the Mormon exodus story is a single line. Despite the challenges and great difficulties of this sea journey "the wind always blows in the direction of the promised land." I have seen many people spread their sails and catch this wind.

There is a grace in life that can be trusted. In our struggle toward freedom we are neither abandoned nor alone.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thinking about stones Part 1

Stones in the scriptures have numerous symbolic lessons to teach us.

Stones are closely associated with covenant making. The 10 commandments were written on tablets of stone, and Christ, our covenant head, is called the Stone of Israel; and yet he continues to be a stone of stumbling to many Jews. We know the importance of cornerstones in Temples and we can remember that Joseph Smith taught us that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. Satan tempted Jesus by challenging him to turn stones into bread. The stone seen by Daniel cut out 'not by human hands' is the one which will finally destroy the wicked kingdoms of the world. Lehi built an altar of stones to give thanks for deliverance. David gathered five smooth stones before his battle with Goliath.

Stones were also used as an educational tool. The Lord instructed Joshua to have a representative from each of the twelve tribes take a stone from a riverbed (where a miracle had just taken place) and to pile them together so that "When your children ask their fathers in time to come saying, 'What mean ye by these stones?...' these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel forever.

It is interesting that the sentence, 'What mean ye by these stones?' can also be translated from the Hebrew as, 'What do these stones mean to you?' This last question offered the father an opportunity to bear a personal witness of the Lord's involvement in his own life and to teach his child to seek and expect similar experiences.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Very naughty figs

One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad.
Jeremiah 24:2

When I first read this scripture, I was perplexed. How could a fruit behave badly? I learned from reading further into the chapter that the two different baskets of figs represented two different types of people-good and very evil. But I still wondered why the figs were described using a word I associated with little children. This verse definitely went into my 'weird scripture' file. I was happy when I came across the information below.

"Naughtiness" is really bad in the KJV; it means downright wickedness. The injunction in James 1:21 to "lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness" is now translated in more modern versions as "put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness."

The terms "naughty" and "naughtiness" have lost some of their evil through the years; they are now used for the misdeeds of children or the trivial misbehavior of adults who have not matured. The "naughty figs" that Jeremiah saw in his vision (24:2) were simply "bad figs," so bad that they could not be eaten.

Shakespeare used "naughty" frequently, the best-known lines being

"How far that little candle throws his beams!

So shines a good deed in a naughty world."

Merchant of Venice, V, 1, 91

(The Bible Word Book, Bridges & Weigle, pg 228)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Living Stones

If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:3-5

The Christian is to be built up as a "living stone." But how can a stone live? In the games of our childhood we used to play a guessing game with old postcards. The pictures stood for either "animal, vegetable, or mineral", and a correct guess earned the card to keep. All the dead objects were "minerals". In Arabic, however, it is possible to speak of both living and dead stones.

An Arab pastor once explained to me as we went along the Bethlehem road that an unworked, shapeless stone which has not yet been in the hands of the master is always a dead stone, but being shaped it comes to life. It thus has a form which will "support and carry others" and it "fits in to its own place." If the building should for some reason collapse or if it is abandoned, these "living stones" which have been fashioned by the mason can be used in another building. In this way a stone which has been rejected can become the capstone of a new building. From the time of Hammurabi, arches in the east have been built in such a way that their walls would burst inward if the keystone were to be taken away. (Santala, Risto. 1992. The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings. Jerusalem: Yanetz Limited., pgs 137-138)

Using this cultural background, it is interesting to think of Joseph Smith's description of himself as a "rough stone rolling"--being shaped and smoothed by his life circumstances. And Christ described himself both as the Stone of Israel and the cornerstone which was rejected by the builders of the Temple. Later this week, I will post some more of my favorite "stone" quotes.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Biblical Idioms

An idiom is a peculiar expression of speech that says one thing but means something else. Anyone who learns a new language must also become familiar with the common colloquialisms of that language.

Immigrants coming to the United States have difficulty understanding us when we speak idiomatic English. Even foreign scholars whose use of English is impeccable, often feel bewildered in the maze of everyday, common speech.

Most of the time we carry on conversations using these kinds of expressions without conscious awareness. We "blow our tops,""lose our marbles," and "become hot under the collar." Some of us dress ourselves "fit to kill.". We put "bugs in people's ears," and ask them to "get off our backs."

Confusion would arise if these statements were interpreted literally. Yet sometimes we take biblical idioms at face value, and their true meanings are misconstrued. There are more than 1000 biblical idioms. I¹m going to talk about two of them.

"Suffer me first to bury my father (Matthew 8:21)"

As a young person I was confused when reading this account:

"And Jesus said to a man, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. And the Lord replied, Let the dead bury their dead."

This answer seemed to me to be especially harsh and unsympathetic. Why wouldn't Jesus give this man a few hours to attend the funeral of his father? Aren't we supposed to honor our parents? My mistake was that I assumed that the father was either dead or very near death; but this probably was not the case. Chances were that the father was perfectly well and healthy and could remain so for years. A Middle Easterner would understand the man¹s request "to go and bury his father" to be nothing but an excuse which is still used today. As Americans, we could paraphrase his statement to read something like this: " Look, I'd really like to follow you, but I¹m going to hang around until my father dies, and then stay for another year to recite the prayers for the dead. There really isn¹t any way to know how long that will take, so I¹ll just get back to you later when it is more convenient."

Coals of Fire (Romans 12:20)

The next idiom is found in Romans, where Paul is quoting from the Old Testament. It says in Proverbs (25:22) that the Lord will reward us for "heaping coals of fire on the heads of our enemies." Paul says this can be done by giving food and drink to our enemies. When we say "heaping coals of fire on their heads," it doesn¹t sound like forgiveness to us, but more like taking revenge.

For this to make sense, we need to know that, in Bible lands, almost everything was carried on the head ­ water jars, baskets of fruit, vegetables, fish and other articles.

In many homes, the only fire they had was kept in a metal container, or brazier, which they used for simple cooking as well as for warmth. It was always kept burning. If it ever went out, a family member took the container to a neighbor¹s house to borrow fire. Then she would lift the brazier to her head and start for home. If the neighbor was a generous person, she would heap the container full of coals.

To feed an enemy and give him drink was like heaping the empty brazier with live coals ­ which meant food, warmth, and almost life itself to the person or home needing it. "To heap coals of fire upon their heads" was a saying which symbolized the very finest generosity.