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Scriptures, Not Traditions

Mormon’s abridged account of King Benjamin gives us a wealth of background information about the Nephite sacred history. Look at what leaks through in these opening verses:

“And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days. And it came to pass that he had three sons; and he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman. And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord. And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God. For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time. I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.” (Mosiah 1: 1-5.)

Notice the “plates of brass” are mentioned. These are not the Nephite records, but the records obtained from Laban. (See 1 Ne. 3: 3; 1 Ne. 4: 24; 1 Ne. 5: 10-16.) These Old Testament records were “in the language of the Egyptians” which was required to be able to “read these engravings.” Therefore, it was necessary for King Benjamin’s sons to “be taught in all the language of [King Benjamin’s] fathers” in order to be able to read these records. From this we can conclude the earliest Jewish records were composed and preserved in Egyptian rather than Hebrew. As a matter of historic fact, Hebrew did not exist as a written language until several thousand years following Egyptian writing. This is an interesting detail that leaks through. Joseph Smith would not likely have known this.

To even be capable of reading these scriptures, the Nephite student was required to be proficient in another language. This proficiency was required in order to prevent this line of faithful descendants from “dwindling in unbelief” because they would never be able to remember all of God’s “mysteries” apart from the record. When they lose this kind of information they “know nothing” and “do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.”

What is the difference between ignorance of scripture because they cannot be understood due to the inability to read the language (Egyptian) and ignorance of the scripture because you do not study?

Do we dwindle in unbelief because we fail to study as easily as one would who couldn’t read the language?

Can we overcome the incorrect traditions of our fathers if we fail to study the scriptures any easier than we could if we were unfamiliar with them because of apathy?

Is it possible today to dwindle in unbelief because we do not study the scriptures and acquaint ourselves with God’s mysteries?

King Benjamin intrudes into the Nephite record following the content of the Small Plates of Nephi. The Small Plates document a dwindling by the descendants of Jacob. The greatest content is early, and as the record moves along, it has less and less to offer about God and His mysteries. Then abruptly, King Benjamin reverses this pattern. He emerges as a figure of restoration in a pattern of decay. But his ability to serve in that role was directly related to him “remembering” God’s mysteries, which came directly from his study of scripture.

You neglect the scriptures at your peril. You dwindle as you lose contact with God’s mysteries contained in scripture. Trusting in the traditions of our fathers is risky. Traditions get measured against scripture, not the reverse.

The Constitution is likewise a guide to protect our liberty. We are free to ignore it, and thereby lose the protection it provides us. Because we have done this, we have destroyed our freedom. The scriptures are also a guide to save us. Because we ignore them, we have lost our way. In place of liberty and salvation we have chosen captivity and damnation. The cure for both is only found through repentance and remembering God’s great mercy to us, then laying hold again upon that mercy.

An Ideal Society

King Benjamin taught how to be engaged in the work of God. “I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2: 17.) Service to others, and charity to others, not judging the begger but relieving their suffering, these were the hallmarks of King Benjamin’s religion. He practiced his faith by helping others. He tied together forgivness of your sins with helping those who are in need: “For the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God– I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.” (Mosiah 4: 26.)

King Benjamin is teaching the ideal. This is his pattern of righteousness for his people. If they follow this sermon, there will be unity and no poor among them.

This single focus on helping others was to the exclusion of a lengthy discourse on evil. In his great sermon he only briefly discusses evil, focusing instead on avoiding contention. He taught that contention allowed an evil spirit to enter in, at which point other bad things would follow. (See Mosiah 2: 32-33.) He admonished you to return what you borrow from your neighbor. (Mosiah 4: 28.)

To cover the topic of evil, he wisely counseled as follows: “I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.” (Mosiah 4: 29.) That frank assessment by King Benjamin is beyond the wisdom of a young person to grasp. It reflects the lifelong contemplation of an aging king, not the clever fiction of a young Joseph Smith. It is one of the reasons I do not believe Joseph Smith authored the Book of Mormon and one of the proofs it reflects a greater wisdom than was his when the book was first printed. King Benjamin was unwilling to give a lengthy list of what not-to-do, because the list would be endless. Instead he tells what ought to be done to avoid it in an ideal society.

Likewise, the Lord was not concerned with all the temptations which befell Him. Instead, He chose to give them “no heed” (D&C 20: 22), staying focused upon what good He could do to His fellow man. Had it been followed, King Benjamin’s blueprint would have made a better Nauvoo. The fact it wasn’t is proof Joseph Smith did not author the Book of Mormon, nor possess the society-organizing wisdom of King Benjamin. But, then again, Joseph died at 38, and King Benjamin lived into old age.

False but Repeated

There is a false rumor which gets often repeated, and I thought I’d mention here.

Many people, including those who criticize Passing the Heavenly Gift, claim that the talks I began on September 10, 2013 in Boise, Idaho were to “promote” that book. That accusation comes from the stake president’s letter demanding that I not promote the book in his summons letter. That letter was written before any of the talks were given. He was guessing the about the talks. I responded to him, and on this blog, that I’ve never promoted the book and the planned talks have nothing to do with the book. The subject of the lectures is Zion. I have concluded five of them. You can search them if you like. There is nothing in any talk that promotes Passing the Heavenly Gift. If it is mentioned, it is only to give context to something discussed. I do this with other things I have written. It helps quickly put something in context. That is not promotion.

Before the talks began the Salt Lake Tribune also said the purpose of the upcoming talks was to promote the book. They took that from the stake president’s letter. Of course, since no talk had been given, they were merely speculating along with the stake president.

Reviewers writing after the Zion talks began, the Salt Lake Tribune writing before the talks began, bloggers writing after the talks began, and those making comments on news articles both before and after have repeated the stake president’s unsubstantiated fear that I was planning to promote the book on a speaking tour. When the accusation was originally made, he didn’t know what I was planning to speak about and he feared (or more correctly those who were behind the court feared) it would be about the book. The accusation continues to be repeated that I was excommunicated because I refused to stop promoting the book. The fact is that I’ve never begun to promote it. It is dishonest to continue to claim the contrary, even when five of the talks have now been given and they have nothing to do with promoting a book.

At the talk venues, which I pay to rent, the public is invited to attend without any cost. My books are not available for sale at the venues. Those who spend their own time, provide the equipment and recording media sell copies of the recorded talks. They charge to offset their costs. I get nothing from the sales, and any portion considered mine is donated to further the missionary effort of the church.

The talks are about Zion. You can read transcripts of them by using the links on this blog. If you find something promoting Passing the Heavenly Gift in any of these talks, please send me a comment pointing it out to me.

The first five talks laid a foundation for the next talk, which will address Zion directly. The talk after that (which will be the seventh) will speak of Christ. Thereafter, the criteria and characteristics of mankind related to Zion will be discussed. All of the talks are on one subject only: Zion. In retrospect you will see there was only one talk given, in ten increments, on that single topic.

Just to be clear, I am not angry. Sometimes in this politically correct culture, correcting an error is thought to represent an angry outburst. That is not the case. I just want to be clear about the truth. If you believe I am promoting a book in the talks I have been and will be giving, then you are mistaken because you believe a false accusation which, by now, has proven to be untrue.

Benjamin, Christ and Joseph

King Benjamin’s teaching are astonishing to read. For him the critical question was his conscience: “I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God.” (Mosiah 2: 27.) This was important because he knew he needed to put the burden upon his people by warning them, otherwise he would be accountable for failing to warn them. His sermon was so that he “might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you.” (Id.) He knew that warning the people in plain language would be the only way his conscience would be clear before God. Then his people could choose between heeding his teaching and thereby obeying God, or rejecting his message and being accountable.

King Benjamin also taught a lesson almost identical to what the risen Savior would later teach. Here is King Benjamin’s language:

“O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and he list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah. For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that spirit;” (Mosiah 2: 32-33.)

Here are Christ’s words:
“And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Ne. 11: 28-29.)

Neither King Benjamin nor Christ anticipated complete agreement among their followers. All of us understand things somewhat differently, and in some cases more completely as a subject begins to be studied. Even the same individual will understand things differently at different times. As you study in good faith and confidence before God you may believe in a proposition that you will change your understanding about later. That is inevitable when we are progressing.

Assuming we take seriously King Benjamin’s and Christ’s instruction to refrain from contending in anger with one another, how do we proceed as brothers and sisters in sorting out our unavoidable disagreements? The answer, of course, is provided in counsel from Joseph Smith found in scripture which clarifies how we overcome our disagreements:
-by persuasion
-by long-suffering
-by gentleness and meekness
-by kindness
-by pure knowledge
(D&C 121: 41-42.)

The inappropriate disputations and contentions that were condemned by King Benjamin and Christ would likewise fit Joseph’s scriptural clarification. We are warned not to:
-cover our sins
-gratify our pride
-pursue our vain ambitions
-exercise control
-exercise dominion
-exercise compulsion
-persecute the Lord’s saints
(D&C 121: 37-38.)

One of the strongest evidences Joseph Smith was in harmony with the Spirit of the Lord is shown in his words mirroring both King Benjamin’s and Christ’s. King Benjamin counseled his people after a lifetime of service and contemplation. Christ’s counsel was given following His resurrection in His appearance to a Nephite audience. In contrast, Joseph’s inspired words came while he was confined to Liberty Jail in Missouri. Gracious words from all three, but Joseph’s were composed in the worst of circumstances. This is one of the reasons I have such respect for Joseph.

The News to Rejoice

King Benjamin’s instruction to his people (and in turn to us) was not just a good man giving fatherly advice at the end of his life. His message was given to him to deliver by heaven itself. King Benjamin said, “And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me. And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy. For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.” (Mosiah 3: 2-4.)

First, it is noteworthy that the message he received was because “the Lord hath heard thy prayers.” The message would not have come without a petition.

Second, the petition was granted because the Lord “hath judged of thy righteousness” and determined King Benjamin was qualified to receive the messenger and the message. The petitioner must be judged righteous. Petitioning without qualifying would not have accomplished anything.

When a sermon has a Divine source, it is important to listen. More than what an academic can offer, an angel’s message is given from God, who is the author.

Notice the purpose of the message is to cause the recipient to “rejoice” and for those who he was permitted to relay the message to likewise “be filled with joy.”

When you read the message, however, there are many things contained within that do not cause us to “be filled with joy” because we learn about the coming of the Lord Omnipotent into the flesh (Mosiah 3: 5) to “suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death” (Mosiah 3: 7). The message continues that men will “consider him as a man, and say he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.” (Mosiah 3: 9.) Yet despite these horrible details of the Lord’s life, we all (King Benjamin, his people and us) are told this is news which should “fill us with joy” when we hear it. It is as if the Lord wants us to be mature enough to look beyond the trouble, the difficulty, the terrible price and to the effect of His sacrifice. To the extent we ponder His awful suffering, it stands as a powerful symbol, testimony and record of His great love and willingness to go to the extreme to reclaim us from condemnation and suffering. We should stand in awe of His love, because this suffering was born from His great love. In no other way could He open the door to bring us back from death and hell. Therefore, the message must necessarily include these awful details.

The joy we are to feel comes from the result of His suffering: “he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.” (Mosiah 3: 10.) Christ will rise! Through the power of this suffering He is qualified to judge! He will judge righteously!

The good news continues: “his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.” (Mosiah 3: 11.) These are good things, indeed.

However, what decides if we are blessed by the Lord Omnipotent when He stands “to judge the world” and imposes a “righteous judgment?” King Benjamin expounds this sermon precisely to teach his people how to take advantage of the atonement of the Lord Omnipotent. I think the sermon is worth studying. It was given to allow those who hear this message (including us) to take advantage of the Lord Omnipotent’s great sacrifice. We ought to all be interested in doing that.

King Benjamin: Come Together

Nephi divided the kingdom between the prophetic line (descended through his brother Jacob) and the kingly line (descended from Nephi). Jacob’s line maintained the plates. Nephi’s line maintained the kingship and called themselves after Nephi. The prophetic line used whatever name they were given at birth, with no need to retain Jacob’s name. The direct line from Jacob (Nephi’s brother) ended with Amaleki. In his day two things happened. He would die without an heir (Omni 1: 25) and the plates they had been maintaining were filled and there was no more room to add to their engravings (Omni 1: 30).

It apparently did not occur to any of those who descended from Jacob that the Small Plates of Nephi could be expanded by adding additional plates. (See e.g., Jarom 1: 2; Omni 1: 30.) There is no explanation for this in the small plates. Perhaps there was an oral tradition (see, e.g., Omni 1: 9) with Nephi instructing that no more plates were to be added. That would account for the plates being “full” at the time of Amaleki, because none could be added.

In any event, when the plates are filled, Jacob’s direct line ends. I do not believe this is a coincidence. The convergence of these two events is what puts the small plates into the hands of King Benjamin, and in turn through his descendants, into the hands of Mormon. (Words of Mormon 1: 3.)

Amaleki was impressed with King Benjamin’s efforts on behalf of the Nephites. He described King Benjamin as one who labored “with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul.” As such, he was able to convert the people back to the Lord. (Words of Mormon 1: 18.) However, in accomplishing this, King Benjamin had to “use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people” (Id. v. 17) as he and other prophets preached repentance (Id. vs. 17-18.) Apparently King Benjamin had no problem with others who preached repentance to his people. (Id. v. 18.) Instead he welcomed these “prophets” who taught repentance.

In many ways King Benjamin is the perfect leader, both civic and religious. It is no wonder the lines divided at the time of Nephi and Jacob would come together again in the person of King Benjamin.

My Viewpoint

I sent the following comment in an email this morning, and thought I would put it up here as well:
________________________________

I believe the form of Mormonism practiced by the LDS Church is in great peril at the moment. If the members do not fight to retain their religion it will continue to alter and degenerate into something very different that it was and it will fail in its purpose to bring again Zion.  If the members allow the trend to continue, the church may “succeed” in the world, but it will not succeed in the mission of bringing Zion again.  Like happened in the Book of Mormon, it will require another off-shoot to repent and return.

King Benjamin’s Wisdom

King Benjamin taught his people to repent and rely on God’s mercy. He declared that salvation comes “through faith on his name.” (Mosiah 3: 9.) Therefore, he testified of Christ coming to suffer, be rejected, killed and rise the third day. (Mosiah 3: 9-10.)  King Benjamin’s testimony was that this atonement would allow everyone to repent, and even those who sin “ignorantly” would be forgiven of their sins. (Mosiah 3: 11.)

To King Benjamin’s thinking, the great error was willfully doing what you know was against God’s will. However, even then, King Benjamin invited his listeners to repent and reclaim the mercy God offered. (Mosiah 3: 12.)

His sermon presumes that his audience were sinners, and suffered from a myriad of shortcomings. As King Benjamin explained, “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3: 19.) This doctrine is astonishing because it:
-makes each person individually accountable to follow the Holy Spirit
-presumes that the Holy Spirit will entice you directly
-puts each person in a position to be submissive to God
-accepts the fact that life will always “inflict” even the best of us
-makes God the one who is responsible for life’s challenges
-bids us to accept these afflictions, because they come from a wise Eternal Parent.

King Benjamin is remarkably democratic in his view of God and His involvement in our lives. God is direct, immediate and involved with everyone. He reminded his audience to “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (Mosiah 4: 9.) This should be self-evident, but how often do we need to be reminded that we do not understand all that God understands. We are inferior in our understanding, we lack wisdom and are more often than not unable to understand what God does or why He does it. Yet we presume to judge whether God is right or wrong in many matters which, to our limited understanding, seem unfair, unequal, unkind and unfeeling. This is a product of our ignorance. God is merciful, kind and seeks to exalt mankind by bestowing His grace upon us. We take His wisdom to be offensive. How often have you heard: “I cannot believe in a God who….” followed by a list of preferences and demands for greater latitude in behavior. Since we don’t (indeed can’t) comprehend all God does, we make ourselves fools when we insist we know better than God, or we are right and God is not.

His message does not focus on man’s failures, but instead focuses on hope through Christ. This hope, he declared, obligated the believers to take care of  the needs of their fellow men. King Benjamin made charity to others the hallmark of retaining a remission of our sins: “for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God– I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.” (Mosiah 4: 26.) For him, our assistance to those in need is directly related to retaining forgiveness of sins.

Can you imagine a government led by someone with this outlook?

King Benjamin’s Self Reliance

King Benjamin struck the perfect balance on the subject of “self-reliance.” His example was his greatest sermon. Although he could have done so as their monarch, King Benjamin refused to tax or oppress his people. (Mosiah 2: 14.) Instead, he labored with his own hands and spent his life serving his people. (Mosiah 2: 12.)

His policy anticipated the discontinuance of servitude in the Law of Moses. (Mosiah 2: 14.) Long before Christ would do so, King Benjamin made people free from slavery. But that came at a social cost. Without servitude as a form of repayment (limited under Moses’ law to six years servitude, in the seventh they go free Ex. 21: 2), some were reduced to begging. For those, King Benjamin taught his people that they must give to beggars. He required that his people notice them, and not allow them to petition in vain for relief from their needs. (Mosiah 4: 16.) He forbid withholding from beggars because of the convenient thought beggars deserve their direful condition. (Mosiah 4: 17-18.)

King Benjamin’s overall theme reminds us that we are all beggars. (Mosiah 4: 19.) In a very real sense, none of us are or can ever be anything more than a beggar, dependent upon God. God gives us the power to live. (Mosiah 2: 21.) We borrow from God the power to breathe. (Id.) We borrow from God the ability to move and do whatever we do. God lends all this to us so we can do according to our own will. (Id.)

Since we are beggars, utterly dependent upon God for our very existence, we have nothing to brag of and no legitimate claim to self-reliance. (Mosiah 2: 24-25.) That recognition of our condition is what motivated King Benjamin, although a monarch, to humbly labor for his own support.

In our day of abundance, we are easily be misled into thinking that the blessings of our productive society permit us to be self-reliant. Of course that is only temporary. The principles upon which our society’s abundance are built have been discarded. Therefore, our “riches will become slippery” as the fruit of true principles vanish from those who dishonor the foundation upon which prosperity is conferred.

Safety in the coming scarcity of the last-days will only be found through Zion. (D&C 45: 66-68.) Because the occupants of Zion will be one, they will follow two controlling principles which create the “self-sufficiency” of Zion.

First, the counterpart to the world (or Babylon as the scriptures have nicknamed the world) is Zion. Zion will require the laborer to labor only for Zion, not for themselves. (2 Ne. 26: 31.)

Second, we must perform the required great labor. We cannot expect to eat or be clothed in Zion if we do not work to produce the necessities of Zion. (D&C 42: 42.)