24 November 2014

Alma 32: The Most Precious, Sweet, White, Pure Fruit

Alma and his brethren went among the Zoramites, and started to try to convert them. They preached in their houses, synagogues, and even in the street. After a lot of work, they started to have success, but mostly just with the poorer Zoramites. They were easy targets, because they weren't allowed in the Zoramite synagogues on account of the "courseness of their apparel". I've never heard of a church with such a strict dress code! 
And it came to pass that they did go forth, and began to preach the word of God unto the people, entering into their synagogues, and into their houses; yea, and even they did preach the word in their streets. Alma 32.1 
And it came to pass that after much labor among them, they began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel— 32.2
Not only were they poor "as to the things in the world", they were also poor in heart.  Luckily, Alma was there to help. While he was preaching to others on the hill Onidah, the poor people started gathering around the hill, too.
Therefore they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart. 32.3 
Now, as Alma was teaching and speaking unto the people upon the hill Onidah, there came a great multitude unto him, who were those of whom we have been speaking, of whom were poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world. 32.4
The poor people asked Alma what they should do. They wanted to worship their God, but they weren't allowed into their synagogue. The same synagogue that they had built with their own hands! Alma was pretty happy to hear this, because it meant that they were ready to hear his preaching.
 And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do? 32.5
And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word. 32.6
Alma stopped preaching to the other people, and focused on the poor newcomers. He started off asking why they thought that they could only worship in the synagogue, and why only once a week? Then he goes on and on. The main thrust of his argument is that one has to humble oneself in order to truly know God. Luckily for his audience, they were already pretty humble.

And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word? 32.14 
 Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty. 32.15 
 Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe. 32.16

He throws a little reference to the late Korihor, by explaining the difference between faith and proof.

 Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. 32.17 
Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. 32.18

Alma also gives us this puzzling line. I think the only person who knows what he is talking about is Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.
Behold, I say unto you, that it is on the one hand even as it is on the other; and it shall be unto every man according to his work. 32.20b

But then Alma gets to the heart of his sermon. You see, the Word is like a seed. If you make a little space for it in your heart, and give it a chance, and believe in it a little bit, then it will grow and you'll start to believe in it a little more. As you convince yourself more and more, you'll be more and more convinced. Wouldn't this convince you? 

Eventually the seed will swell within your breasts, and when you feel these swelling motions, you'll know that it's a good seed. 
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. 32.28 
Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. 32.29
In case you have any doubt that any of this is real, this next verse should clear things up for you. Here are the cliff notes. It's real because it's light. Whatever is light is good, because it is discernible. So since the light is good, it's good. After you taste the light is your knowledge perfect? Of course it is. 
O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? 32.35
Alma continues in this fashion for some time. The only other interesting part is verse 42, where a little bit of the Book of Mormon's racism comes out again. Alma is describing how good the fruit of the tree of faith is going to taste, and he describes it as: "sweet above all that is sweet, white above all that is white, and pure above all that is pure". Oh boy! 
And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. 32.42

EJ&T Deuteronomy 16: Don't plant trees near God's altar or set up images that God hates

In the Every Jot and Tittle project, I am listing all of the Bible's commandments from Genesis to Revelation, in accordance with Jesus's words in Matthew 5:18-19. I have no idea how many commandments I'll find, but Jewish tradition claims there are 613. See here for a list of those that I've found so far.

  1. Don't plant trees near God's altar.
  2. Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the LORD thy God, which thou shalt make thee.Deuteronomy 16:21

  3. Don't set up an image that God hates.
  4. Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the LORD thy God hateth. Deuteronomy 16:22

23 November 2014

Fox News loses Scripture Showdown with President Obama

In his recent immigration speech, President Obama referred to scripture, saying:
Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.
Which is an accurate statement of Commandment 88:
Thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 23:9
And which also, of course, upset the true believers at Fox News. Here is what they had to say about it at Fox and Friends:

Steve Doocy began by saying:

So there the president of the United States in Cross Hall at the White House invoking scriptures, which I believe have to do with feeding the poor and hungry, and nothing about visas.
But Mr. Doocy's belief here is incorrect. The president's reference was nearly a direct quote of Exodus 23:9, which says nothing at all about feeding the poor and hungry, but rather how "strangers" ("immigrants" in The Common English Bible) should be treated. The Bible commands believers not to oppress immigrants. And that seems relevant to the immigration and visa policy debate.

Then came Elizabeth Hasselback, who began quoting scripture herself, challenging the president to a "Scripture Showdown" (begins at about 1:54):

I'm just saying, Proverbs 11:14, since we are in a scripture showdown: Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory. The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. Proverbs 12:15

From which, I guess, we are supposed to conclude that President Obama is a fool for not taking the advice of congressional Republicans. (Seems like a risky thing to say in light of Jesus's words in Matthew 5:22.)

And finally, Tucker Carlson said (2:48) this:

But to quote scripture? That is totally out of bounds -- that is just out of bounds!

Which is really interesting, since less than 48 hours earlier, Fox News complained that President Obama didn't quote the Bible enough. Now, when he quotes the Bible in his speech on immigration, it "is totally out of bounds."

Of course, I (more or less) agree with Mr. Carlson here. It is out of bounds. The Bible is worse than useless as a guide to government and public policy (or anything else). In this case, the president referred to one of the Bible's few good commandments. But what if he decided to impose Commandment 87 instead of 88?

Not even Fox News would go along with that one!

20 November 2014

Alma 31: The Zoramites

After Korihor was *Ahem* dealt with, Alma heard of another problem in the land. Apparently the Zoramites, in the land east of Zarahemla called Antionum, were perverting the ways of the Lord. This concerned Alma because they might gang up with the Lamanites, and that could be really bad for his people. He considered his options, and decided that preaching to them would be better than fighting them, because in his mind, "it [preaching] had a much more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, that happened unto them". 

Now it came to pass that after the end of Korihor, Alma having received tidings that the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord, and that Zoram, who was their leader, was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols, his heart again began to sicken because of the iniquity of the people. 31.1
For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites. 31.2
Now the Zoramites had gathered themselves together in a land which they called Antionum, which was east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites. 31.3
Now the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites, and that it would be the means of great loss on the part of the Nephites. 31.4
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. 31.5
Alma gathered together the dream team: Ammon, Aaron, Omner, Amulek and Zeezrom, and two of his sons: Shiblon and Corianton. He left Aaron's brother Himni and his son Helamon to hold down the fort.
Therefore he took Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner; and Himni he did leave in the church in Zarahemla; but the former three he took with him, and also Amulek and Zeezrom, who were at Melek; and he also took two of his sons. 31.6 
Now the eldest of his sons he took not with him, and his name was Helaman; but the names of those whom he took with him were Shiblon and Corianton; and these are the names of those who went with him among the Zoramites, to preach unto them the word. 31.7
Alma and his crew had a tough job ahead of them. Not only had the Zoramites stopped praying to God, they were actively involved in another cultlike religion. They had built "synagogues" that were almost like pyramids, where only one man could pray at once. He would climb to the top of the synagogue, stretch his hands toward the sky, and recite a prayer in a loud voice.

Here is an artistic rendition of a Zoramite synagogue, from LDS.org

Now the Zoramites were dissenters from the Nephites; therefore they had had the word of God preached unto them. 31.8
But they had fallen into great errors, for they would not observe to keep the commandments of God, and his statutes, according to the law of Moses. 31.9
Neither would they observe the performances of the church, to continue in prayer and supplication to God daily, that they might not enter into temptation. 31.10
Yea, in fine, they did pervert the ways of the Lord in very many instances; therefore, for this cause, Alma and his brethren went into the land to preach the word unto them. 31.11
Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld; 31.12
For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person. 31.13
Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying: 31.14

Here is the prayer (verses 15-18). Apparently every single Zoramite would recite this same prayer. (It must have taken a while.)

Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ. 31.16
But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.  31.17
And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen. 31.18
For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers. 31.20

Alma and his brethren were pretty shocked when they heard this prayer for the first time.
Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure. 31.19
And the second time. And the third time. And the 4th time. Yes, every single Zoramite made this exact same prayer once a week, and then they just went home and carried on with their lives until the next week, when they did the same thing again.
Now, from this stand they did offer up, every man, the selfsame prayer unto God, thanking their God that they were chosen of him, and that he did not lead them away after the tradition of their brethren, and that their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about. 31.22 
Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner. 31.23
While observing them, Alma also happened to notice that they were wicked, greedy, perverse people who bragged all the time.
Now when Alma saw this his heart was grieved; for he saw that they were a wicked and a perverse people; yea, he saw that their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods. 31.24 
Yea, and he also saw that their hearts were lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride. 31.25
Alma finishes up the chapter with a long prayer to God, asking him to give them strength and success in converting the Zoramites. The prayer worked, and Alma and his brethren were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now it came to pass that when Alma had said these words, that he clapped his hands upon all them who were with him. And behold, as he clapped his hands upon them, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. 31.36
Alma's fellowship then split up to go preaching to the Zoramites. They didn't stop to think about what they would eat, drink, or wear during their mission. As luck would have it, though, God cast a magic spell on them so they wouldn't have to eat or drink during their mission, and they would have extra strength. How cool is that?
And after that they did separate themselves one from another, taking no thought for themselves what they should eat, or what they should drink, or what they should put on. 31.37 
And the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith. 31.38

19 November 2014

EJ&T Deuteronomy 15: Cancel all debts every seventh year

In the Every Jot and Tittle project, I am listing all of the Bible's commandments from Genesis to Revelation, in accordance with Jesus's words in Matthew 5:18-19. I have no idea how many commandments I'll find, but Jewish tradition claims there are 613. See here for a list of those that I've found so far.

  1. Cancel all debts every seven years.
  2. This law only applies to Jews. Loans made to Gentiles remain in effect during "the Lord's release."

    At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the Lord's release. Of a foreigner thou mayest exact it again: but that which is thine with thy brother thine hand shall release. Deuteronomy 15:1-3

  3. Lend money to other nations.
  4. Thou shalt lend unto many nations. Deuteronomy 15:6a

  5. Don't borrow money from other nations.
  6. Thou shalt not borrow [from other nations]. Deuteronomy 15:6b

  7. Don't do any work with your firstborn bull.
  8. thou shalt do no work with the firstling of thy bullock. Deuteronomy 15:19

  9. Don't shear your firstborn sheep.
  10. Thou shalt not ... shear the firstling of thy sheep. Deuteronomy 15:19

  11. Eat your firstborn bulls and sheep in the place where God chooses.
  12. Thou shalt eat it before the LORD thy God year by year in the place which the LORD shall choose, thou and thy household. Deuteronomy 15:20