Friday, January 15, 2016

"BLESSED ART THOU" - some thoughts on 1 Nephi chapter 2


The Lord gave Moses these short verses, which are called the "Lord's Prayer of the Old Testament", as a prayer Aaron and his sons were to use when they blessed the children of Israel. 
"The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace."

(Num. 6:24-26)
One of the greatest desires of a believing Christian is to be blessed by God, and know that it is He who blesses you. The understanding of how this blessed state is achieved and what it means to be blessed differs among various Christian denominations and their adherents, even among members of the Church.

There are many definitions of the word "blessed". The definition I believe hits closest to home when we speak about being blessed by God is this: to confer a benefit on.

What are these benefits, and on who are they conferred?

The Book of Mormon, a manual for achieving a state of blessedness

As I've noted in an earlier post, the Book of Mormon opens up with the story of Lehi, a seemingly ordinary man who, in response to prophesyings of real prophets, awaken to the awful state of God's "chosen" people (see also Ether 8:23-25). Later on, he adds his voice to the testimony of the prophets, receives death threats from his peers.

Nephi, who writes about his father's experiences, ends this part of his record with these words: 
"I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." (1 Ne. 1:20)
This sets the tone for (at least) the part of the Book of Mormon written by Nephi. He invites us to look for how the tender mercies are given and how a person or group of people can become 'chosen' (see D&C 121:34-36 and JST Gen. 14:26-27).

Nephi continues the story this way:
"For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream, and said unto him: Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life." (1 Ne 2:1; emphasis added)
In the same chapter, Nephi is challenged with the Lord's command to his father Lehi that they are to leave Jerusalem and head into the wilderness. We often speak about Nephi like he was this always believing, never doubting, ever faithful guy who's his father's greatest fan. I'm sure he loved his father, but it seems that he did struggle with the new direction his father was heading (that is, heading straight out into the wilderness).

About himself, Nephi wrote:
16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.
17 And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. And it came to pass that he believed in my words.
18 But, behold, Laman and Lemuel would not hearken unto my words; and being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts I cried unto the Lord for them.
19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart. (2 Ne. 2:16-19; emphasis added)
Later on in the Book of Mormon, Alma the older is faced with handling a transgressor. Since neither he, nor king Mosiah, knew what to do, Alma, as the high priest, sought the Lord in prayer.  We read the following:
14 And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying:
15 Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
16 And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them.
17 And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people.
18 Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine. (Mosiah 26:14-18; emphasis added)
Alma the younger, who saw the wickedness of the church, the great inequality among the people leading to some "turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted, began to be very sorrowful; nevertheless the Spirit of the Lord did not fail him." As a response to this, he left the judgment-seat to Nephihah, so he himself "might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them." He "confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy." (Alma 4:11-20) Later during his mission tour,  the following happened:
8 And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them.
9 Now Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah; therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma.
10 Nevertheless Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.
11 Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts, [… and] withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city, he departed thence and t
ook his journey towards the city which was called Aaron.

14 And it came to pass that while he was journeying thither, being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, it came to pass while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto him, saying:
15 Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you. (Alma 8:8-15; emphasis added)
In the end of Zenos' allegory of the olive tree, we read these words:
75 And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou [the servants of the Lord of the vineyard]; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard. (Jacob 5:75; emphasis added)
From these excerpts we can distill a list of attributes of these servants of God, who were proclaimed "blessed". They were blessed because of:
  • "the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee" (Lehi)
  • "thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart" (Nephi)
  • "thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi; thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people." (Alma the older)
  • "their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them; [they] are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine." (the people of Alma)
  • "thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him" (Alma the younger)
  • "ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away" (the servants of the Lord of the vineyard)
With this said, we shouldn't forget what brought these men to the position of hearing the voice of the Lord/the Angel:
  • be threatened to your life and be mocked for teaching the words of the Lord (Lehi)
  • share the words of the Lord with your neighbor and cry unto the Lord for your hardhearted and stiff-necked brothers (Nephi)
  • pour out your whole soul to God in order to deal with transgressors in the Lord's way (Alma the older)
  • labor much in the spirit, wrestle with God in mighty prayer for the spiritual welfare of apostates  and be weighed down with sorrow, wade through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the apostates (Alma the younger) 
The common theme is that these men received a mission to perform, and they performed it well (not well in regards to numbers, but rather when looking solely on the effort put in; see D&C 117:13)! We, in order to be blessed, first need to qualify for a mission call directly from the Lord.

The price to pay in order to "be blessed" by God can be summed up in these words: cultivate a sincere desire for the well being of others and being willing to intercede on their behalf, whatever it may exact from you; and when you receive a mission from the Lord–act!

When we've seen that the price to pay for this blessedness is high, what can possibly motivate us to want to pay it?

What it means to "be blessed"

The words ("Blessed art thou...") of the Lord are, in my view, not pointing to the future. Instead, they are they a statement of a present condition. In other words, this state of blessedness is something that we can, and I believe, should attain in this life.

Enos, the grandson of Lehi, is oftentimes, unlike his uncle Nephi, depicted as this deeply sinful man who are just harrowed up by the memory of his many sins and needs to pray for days on end to be forgiven. Just like Nephi initially wasn't the Peter Priesthood we imagine, Enos was no Apostate Andersen! I believe that the words from the Book of Abraham, describing Abraham himself, can be used to help us understand the inner workings of Enos. We read:
And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers [not his own apostate ancestors, but rather the righteous patriarchs from Adam and Set to Melchizedek; see verse 3 and 5], and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers. (Abraham 1:2)
Enos' story is well known. I want to point your focus to the emphasized words.
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it—
2 And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away. (Enos 1:1-6; emphasis added)
The Book of Enos is short, but extremely dense with meaning (check out Denver Snuffer's "Beloved Enos" if you'd like to read more on this). We read about Enos going forth preaching with exceeding harshness in order to keep his people in the fear of the Lord (v. 22-23). He ends his record with these words:
26 And I saw that I must soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.
27 And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansionsof my Father. Amen.
Between the time of his prayer in the woods and his impending death, Enos was indeed blessed by God. The essence of the state of blessedness we (hopefully) seek is found in this list, distilled from these two verses.
  • been wrought upon by the power of God to
  • preach and prophesy and
  • declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ 
  • declare it all my days
  • rejoiced in it above that of the world
  • my rest is with my Redeemer 
  • know that in him I shall rest  
  • rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality
  • shall stand before him
  • shall see his face with pleasure 
  • he will say unto me: "Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. Amen."
The meaning of hearing the Lord's voice stating that you are blessed is succinctly expressed by the Lord to Alma the older. We read:
Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep. (Mosiah 26:20)
This verse sums up the whole matter! Become His servant, and serve Him!

(Nephi's experience in Helaman chapter 10 can also be studied in this context!)

Conclusion

Let us have faith, repent, be humble and keep the commandments (through the power of Him who strengthens you) so well that we can be trusted with a personal commission from the Lord.

Then, let us perform the task without shrinking from it, not even if our life is threatened. Let us be aware of the fact, and receive with thankfulness, that we will be called to fall on our knees and pour out our whole soul in intercessory prayer for those we are called to serve. This will require a genuine and guileless love.

When we are called by the Lord to go a few rounds in an intercessory wrestling match with Him, let's give it all we've got. When this happens, it's important to keep in mind that wrestlers get to know each other well.

When we are called to labor much in the spirit, when we are weighed down with sorrow and wade through much tribulation and anguish of our soul, we do well to remember that, no matter how hard it is, our "adversity and […] afflictions shall be but a small moment" and the Lord has descended below it all (D&C 121:7; 122:8)

2 comments:

  1. I especially appreciated your discussion of receiving the "blessing" of the Lord and listing of the criteria that brings a person to that point.
    --Craig

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    Replies
    1. Craig!

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      -Christian

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