OT 6: Noah and the Flood

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As introduction to this lesson, we are now nearing the end of our study of the Pearl of Great Price in conjunction with our study of the Old Testament. I want to quickly review what kind of Book we got when this was compiled and added to our cannon.

The Pearl of Great Price is a short book of scripture, only 61 pages in our current edition. For a long time, when adding a class about the Pearl of Great Price was discussed at BYU, it was thought that there wasn’t enough material in the Book to fill a full semester of study. Maybe that says more about us than it does about the Pearl of Great Price.

This reminds me a story told by a Professor of Philosophy at BYU:

When I was a graduate student in philosophy at Pennsylvania State University, one of my professors, Stephen Goldman, was a devout Jew who was also a lay leader in a nearby small Jewish congregation. Though his specialty in philosophy was the philosophy of science, knowing his background, I asked if he would allow me to study part of the Old Testament with him. He agreed and asked me to propose a course of study for the next quarter. “Well, since I don’t want to go too fast, why don’t we just read the book of Genesis?” I said. He was amazed. Though I thought studying one book of scripture in eight weeks was a snail’s pace, he thought it impossible to do that much reading in so short a time. He suggested that we read only chapter 1. Since that was equally amazing to me, we compromised on “as much as we can get through.” He warned me that we might not get very far, and we didn’t. We barely made it through chapter 3, and he obviously felt pushed.

The first day we met, I had read all of chapter 1 and at his request brought several questions with me. One of them was, How do you reconcile the account of creation in this chapter with what is taught in science class? He refused to discuss that question. He did not think it interesting; it was not worth the time. There were, he said, much more important things to discuss, things pertinent to our lives and salvation. Professor Goldman allowed me to ask my other questions, and he had no trouble answering them. In fact, he answered each so completely that at the end of the hour I still had questions that needed to be answered.

At our next meeting, he finished answering my list of questions and asked if I had more. “No,” I said, “I’m ready to move to chapter 2.” “Before we do so,” he asked, “do you mind if I ask a few questions?” That was a trick question, for he began talking about and asking questions about the details of the scriptures, questions that, by focusing on those details, went on and on. He asked about words and patterns of words, pointing out things I had never seen or had thought inconsequential. In almost every case I had no answers for him or felt that the answers I had were shallow and inadequate. But he was patient with me. As I fumbled for answers, he began to explain what he thought some answers to his questions might be and how the things he noticed were important.

For the first time, I felt that I really knew what this scripture meant. I had experienced the voice of the Lord in the scriptures. Though I knew intellectually that the scriptures reveal all things, especially when coupled with direction from a living prophet, I had never before known this truth in my heart. With Professor Goldman’s help, I learned that a careful reading of scripture shows that the gospel was revealed from the beginning. This man had less knowledge of the restoration than I, yet he expounded a great deal of the restored gospel from only three chapters of Genesis…I began to see that the understanding of the gospel realized from such a study would be much deeper than my previous understanding.

I took that semester-long Pearl of Great Price class, and I found it, if anything, too short. Just remember what we have in this unimposing little book of scriptures: we have a record from each of the main seven dispensations of the Gospel:

  1. Adam
  2. Enoch
  3. Noah
  4. Abraham
  5. Moses
  6. Jesus Christ (Joseph Smith–Matthew)
  7. Joseph Smith

Included in this, we have 2 accounts of the pre-mortal council and the fall of Satan, as well as the prophecy of the 2nd coming and destruction of the world in Joseph Smith–Matthew. In essence, this little 61 page book stretches from Eternity to Eternity.

So, with that background, lets turn to see what this little volume says about Noah. We pick up the story in Moses 8:19-30.

It doesn’t take long before we start learning things that are new:

And the Lord ordained Noah after his own order, and commanded him that he should go forth and declare his Gospel unto the children of men, even as it was given unto Enoch.

-Moses 8:19

This reference to Enoch is important. Remember, Enoch and Noah were contemporaries before the City of Zion was taken into Heaven. The same gospel that allowed Enoch to accomplish that with his city was also given to Noah.

In the Joseph Smith translation from Genesis 14, we find a discussion about Melchizedek, which is also in the context of the gospel of Enoch:

27 And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,

28 It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;

29 And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.

-JST Genesis 14:27-29

This story of the Prophets in the Old Testament receiving Priesthood from the Lord is something Joseph taught in these 2 passages, and also in something found in the Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“Answer to the question, Was the Priesthood of Melchizedek taken away when Moses died? All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.”

-Joseph Smith, TPJS, pp180-818

Well, here we know not just that Noah was a good man, God himself ordained him to this work, perhaps even preserving him on the Earth when he might have otherwise risen with the City of Enoch.

As I read the traditional story of Noah and the Flood from the Bible and other Jewish traditions, I ran across this take on Noah from a book called Jewish Literacy

Traditional Jewish teachings tend to be hard, nonetheless, on Noah, and often compare him unfavorably with Abraham. When God informs Abraham of His intention to destroy the degenerate cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Patriarch engages the Almighty in a remarkable debate, attempting to persuade Him to cancel His decree. When God tells Noah of His intention to flood the world, Noah does not argue. He builds his ark, knowing the world is about to be destroyed, and apparently never tells anyone why he is doing it.

-Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy

So, why didn’t Noah try to warn the people? Why didn’t he try to preserve them against this terrible thing that was sure to come?

Well, thankfully, we have the Pearl of Great Price

20 And it came to pass that Noah called upon the children of men that they should repent; but they hearkened not unto his words;

21 And also, after that they had heard him, they came up before him, saying: Behold, we are the sons of God; have we not taken unto ourselves the daughters of men? And are we not eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage? And our wives bear unto us children, and the same are mighty men, which are like unto men of old, men of great renown. And they hearkened not unto the words of Noah.

22 And God saw that the wickedness of men had become great in the earth; and every man was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually.

23 And it came to pass that Noah continued his preaching unto the people, saying: Hearken, and give heed unto my words;

24 Believe and repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, even as our fathers, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost, that ye may have all things made manifest; and if ye do not this, the floods will come in upon you; nevertheless they hearkened not.

25 And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained that the Lord had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at the heart.

-Moses 8:20-25

  • What kind of world was Noah living in?
  • What was the message of Noah to the people?

For the rest of the story of Noah, we must turn to the Bible, in Genesis 9. I to remind ourselves what we have when we turn to the Bible. Joseph Smith stated in the articles of faith that we believe the Bible to be the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly.”

Remember that Joseph used the word translate differently that we might think of today. There is, of course, problem with translation as we think of it, rendering something originally in one language into a different language.

Another way to think about translate is in terms of transmission and loss from the time the scriptures came of this original writer’s pen. Until the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of what we call the Old Testament went back only to around 1000 AD. Greek texts which we have are older, but still only as old as the 4th or 5th centuries. The Dead Sea Scrolls push the Hebrew text back a millenium to between 150BC-70AD. Still many hundreds or thousands of years after their origins, and most scriptural books in the Dead Sea Scrolls are only fragmentary and incomplete.

Of course, the Book of Mormon predicts such a state of things:

And after these plain and precious things were taken away it [the Bible] goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles..thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.

-1 Nephi 19:29

As we see, the scriptures restored by Joseph Smith shed so much more light on what is going on in the Bible. Until we get the full Book of the Lamb of God, we must muddle through with the Bible as we have it, and trust and ask the Lord to fill in what the original intent of the scriptures were. Remember that after Oliver and Joseph were baptized and received the Aaronic Priesthood, the Holy Ghost descended upon them and as Joseph recounts:

Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.

-Josph Smith History 1:74

We can have that same promise as we study the Word of the Lord that has been preserved for us in these books of scripture.

The Field Is White

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In reading the beginning of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, it is impossible to miss the repetition of the phrase, “The field is white already to harvest.”

For many years the grammar of this phrase has puzzled me, greatly. I hear the echos of my English teachers that if the field is now finally prepared to be harvested, the word should be “all ready,” not already, which is an adverb. I’ve chalked up this usage to a 19th century mistake and just figured the spelling was wrong.

Until I realized this week that the original quotation actually comes from John 4:

35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.

Well, I guess I’m going to have to push back my “bad grammar” argument a few more centuries, maybe it is just an archaic usage.

The nice thing, though, about finding the usage in the New Testament is I’m now not limited to an original English document such as the Doctrine and Covenants, I can go back to the Greek and see what in the world is going on with this phrase.

For example, here is the New King James translation of the verse:

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!

Aha! So we DO have the right word, just an word order that makes the meaning harder to see.

Another clarification this translation starts to make clear is that “to harvest” isn’t the infinitive form of a verb. The strong number for “to” is G4314, which is a preposition that means “at,” “near,” or “by.”

Here are some alternate translations if you are curious.

The significance of this, in my mind, is that shift changes slightly in what the verse is telling us about the field. It isn’t that the field is “all ready” and prepared for a final harvest, but instead that the time has already come, and is now, that the harvest must begin.

A subtlety, to be sure, but interesting.

There is one more thing to consider, though:

You shall declare the things which have been revealed to my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun. You shall begin to preach from this time forth, yea, to reap in the field which is white already to be burned. (D&C 31:4)

I’ll leave it to you to untangle that one.

I’ve Often Wondered

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This might sound like a strange question, but one I’ve thought about off and on over the years, with different conclusions:

Where have all the devils gone?

I don’t say this with the belief that they really have vanished, disappeared, lost their power, etc. One look at the world around us, compared with previous times, should convince us that the power of the adversary is alive, well, and prospering.

We are certainly a religion that believes in the reality of Satan and his angels. The Book of Mormon is full of references, we have modern revelation explaining the origins in the grand councils of heaven of these devils and their fall from grace.

We have keys given to us to aid us in detecting them, priesthood and methods for driving them away. As a believing member of the LDS faith, their existence is undeniable.

The New Testament is also a witness that the Savior and his Apostles in ancient days found devils in abundance among the people. They were the cause of sicknesses, loss of speech, madness, and other maladies. Casting out devils was explicitly listed as something that believers would do.

We are a very sophisticated society today, and look with skepticism on anything supernatural. We go to doctors for sicknesses, therapists for speech problems and take drugs for psychosis. The supernatural is what we entertain ourselves with, but that kind of superstition is a relic of the past. Does our sophistication and unbelief alone prevent devils from causing the havoc they did in former days?

Are the old records just a naive explanation of the diseases that we understand so much better now? If so, what was Jesus really doing when he cast out devils and the individual was healed?

Where have all the devils gone?

Moderation in All Things.

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It has becoming an almost overwhelming guiding principle in Mormondom that we are to practice “moderation in all things.” Many times this is referred to in reference to the Word of Wisdom, so much so that you might be surprised to find out that the word “moderation” appears nowhere in section 89.

What does it mean to have “moderation in all things?” It is to maintain a mean, an average between two extremes. Think just a moment about what that means.

Should we seek for the mean, the “in-between” state in all things? Do we really value the middle ground between sin and righteousness as the ultimate goal? Moderation in the law of chastity?

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Revelation 3:16

In fact, the phrase “moderation in all things” is not found anywhere in the standard works. It comes from the philosophies of Aristotle and his Doctrine of the Mean, which seeks for a middle ground between excess and deficiency. But even in that regard, “all things” distorts his ideas.

What do the scriptures actually say about “all things?”

And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things, whatsoever shall be entrusted to his care.
D&C 12:8

Aah, temperance might be mistaken for moderation, but the two are not synonymous. Temperance is self mastery, self control, self discipline. Temperance in training for a competition or a race may well involve some “unbalanced” focus on health, exercise, diet, etc. This is not moderation in all things, but it is self-discipline in obtaining a goal.

And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
1 Corinthians 9:25 (NKJV Translation)

Finding a balance, a moderation between excess and deficiency is a worthy goal in most cases, but not in all things.

Gospel Doctrine BoM-24: These Commandments

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And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.

The first thing we have to deal with in this chapter is “the Lord God gave these commandments.” “These” refers to things discussed in previous chapters, which were covered in a separate lesson last week, so we’re going to have to recap to figure out why Alma starts giving a lesson on Priesthood.

Looking at the previous chapter, Alma 12:21-37 seems to be the relevant verses. As is the case with many prophets, Alma is teaching the people by expounding on Adam and Eve and the fall. The Lord gave a first commandment to Adam and Eve in the garden, which they transgressed. As a result, the Lord then gives them his “second” commandment, referred to in 12:31-33.

This second commandment includes: * do no evil (12:32) * repent (:33) * don’t harden hearts (:33)

As a result, we can obtain mercy through the only begotten, according to the plan of redemption prepared before the foundation of the world. Ok, this is all well and fine, but what does this have to do with Alma 13? Well, we have to look just a bit further back into chapter 12,

28 And after God had appointed that these things should come unto man, behold, then he saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them;
29 Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory.
30 And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works.

God sends angels, he ordains High Priests and sends them as prophets to his people. This was Melchizedek’s great work. This is the goal of the all the prophets, call upon people to repent, put their faith in God to a sufficient degree that they enter into his rest.

In short, to goal is to establish Zion.

Gospel Doctrine BoM-24: Alma 13:10

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Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding patience in enduring years of Elders Quorum lessons and ward moving parties, and their extreme age before all other Elders, they choosing to sleep in meetings, even unto appearing to perish ;

One of the difficulties we sometimes have in reading the Book of Mormon is that we sometimes confuse the way things work now with the way things worked in the past. Alma 13 is a great example of the trouble this can cause. The chapter is an explanation of the calling of a High Priests, so we might naturally conclude the high priests referred to in this chapter are the same as those organized in all of the Stakes of Zion. This would be a mistake.

Obviously, I’ve altered the verse above to prove a point. In our current structure, the advancement of men to the office of High Priest is generally done for two reasons: (1) receiving a calling that requires the office (bishopric, high council, etc.), and (2) Age.

Obviously an age based advancement still requires a certain level of church faithfulness and activity, but many times the main reason for moving somebody on is that they are among the older members of the Elder’s quorum.

Alma is talking about something more than just standard advancement in the Melchizedek Priesthood, something we might miss if we latch too closely onto the term “High Priest.”

Observe the qualifications (again, from verses 10-12, the real ones this time):

  • exceeding faith
  • repentance
  • righteousness before God
  • choosing to repent and work righteousness
  • called after a holy order
  • sanctified by the Holy Ghost
  • garments washed white through the blood of the Lamb
  • pure and spotless before God
  • could not look upon sin without abhorrence
  • entered into the rest of the Lord their God

Alma goes on to name Melchizedek as the prototype for this kind of High Priest. Melchizedek wasn’t an everyday High Priest, remember that even Abraham deferred to Melchizedek. Melchizedek obtained the kind of calling we’re talking about, and worked the kind of righteousness in his sphere that brought his entire kingdom to repentance to the degree that they established Zion, had the heavenly beings among them, including the Savior. Melchizedek and his people obtained that degree of righteousness that they were taken up into Heaven as was done with the city of Enoch.

It is with this backdrop that Alma calls on us to repent, that we too may enter into this kind of rest. Do we have enough faith to even consider that such a thing is possible?

Listening to the Spirit in Conference

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With social and instant media booming in today’s world, it can be very easy to participate in the online LDS conference discussion to the point that it becomes a distraction, instead of a help. What exactly is said during a session is, in my opinion, secondary to what the spirit teaches as we hear the words.

I have participated in small ways in the twitter #ldsconf discussion over the past 2 years. I will also be participating in a limited way during this weekend.

Even so, the best talks draw me away from my computer and help me focus on really learning and connecting with the Spirit.

So, don’t be afraid to pause your timelines or turn off the electronics for a few minutes.

You might even get out an old fashioned notebook and start recording your own Small Plates.

Baptism of Fire

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There are a few blogs I follow that I think are teaching some important things. Even critical things.

Here is such a post, regarding being born again and obtianing a baptism of fire.

When we take whatever truth we understand, and whatever light we perceive, and reorder or lives to that level of obedience, sacrificing whatever is required in that small circle of light, then the Lord changes us in that instant that our hearts turn to him in diamond-hard desire. It doesn’t happen after years of proving our intent, it happens in the moment we choose to forever obey.

John Pontius UnBlogMySoul

What I Wish I’d Known Before Teaching Sunday School #1

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As I mentioned before, I have been teaching Gospel Doctrine in Sunday School for about 6 months now. I have very much enjoyed studying and gaining insights into the scriptures that I haven’t had before. This is more an indictment of the lack of depth in my study before this calling than anything.

I have been surprised a number of times, however, at what happens when I am standing in front of a class. I often find interesting and important teachings in the sections of scripture we study, insights that seem to me to open up the scriptures in a more enlightening way.

There have been many occasions when I have planned on explaining such an insight that my mouth has been constrained and the Spirit has not allowed me to teach. I do not believe that the insight or understanding were wrong, I have felt the spirit in my preparation and guidance in my study.

It seems the Lord knows much better than I do what the class at large is prepared to handle. I do know that many in the class are probably prepared to go to a new level of understanding, but perhaps there were many also unprepared who may have been led into misunderstanding.

I am not a very learned gospel scholar, and I doubt whatever understandings I have are all that remarkable to most people, which makes this phenomena even more interesting to me.