Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Book of Mormon – A Covenant Roadmap to Zion (Part 1)


The works and words of the Lord are Great and Marvelous.  Indeed, there are great revelations of light and truth before our very eyes written in plainness.  Because of tradition and transgression, we often find ourselves without the light of truth and our minds become darkened:

“And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received— Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.  And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written— That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.” (D&C 84:54-58)

How many times have we heard the admonition to read the Book of Mormon?  How many times have we read it?  How many times do we have to read it until we get it?  These may seem like simplistic questions, but perhaps the challenge we face is not reading the Book of Mormon from cover to cover, over and over again, but reading it with covenant eyeglasses.  Instead of reading it in a linear/Greek fashion let us examine the Book of Mormon as a NEW COVENANT.

Our modern American culture is so foreign to that of the writers of the Book of Mormon that we are missing the importance and details of their message that were meant to be communicated.  The prophet-writers of the Book of Mormon were Israelites.  Their account follows the language and culture of ancient Israel.  Like the Torah (Five Books of Moses), the Book of Mormon follows the pattern of a covenant treaty.   If we approach the Book of Mormon from this paradigm, we will find that we have been given a layered message with the heart of the message being the specific instructions on how to be reconciled to Christ, come into his presence,  and to become a Zion people.

Ancient Israelite Covenant relationships and treaties can be identified on the basis of certain principles or pillars that establish the covenant treaty and govern the relationship.  If God as the King is the grantor of the covenant then as such he establishes the terms of the covenant.  We as the recipient of the covenant, (and as a lesser being), are only in a position to either accept or reject the covenant relationship and the terms.  Once accepted the terms become binding.  Loyalty to the King and obedience to the terms brings blessings.  Disloyalty to the King and transgression of the terms brings covenant curses. 

What we are after is the "Heart" of the Covenant. As once the seed that God desires to plant in our hearts takes root, we receive the name of Christ/Messiah and conform to his image.  Having conformed to his image we are then able to produce the fruits that God desires us to bring forth. These words are not just symbolic but literal. Our God is a covenant making and keeping God. His Kingdom or righteous dominion is established and governed by covenant. Those who would enter by some other way are "thieves and liars" because without the grant of a covenant they have no claim on the promises God made to the Fathers.  With regard to the Book of Mormon, the fathers we are speaking of are Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos, down to Omni.  Their record comprises God's revelation of himself and a declaration of his sovereignty:

 6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly. (God's Revelation of Himself)

 7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.

 8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.(Declaration of God's Sovereignty), (1 Nephi 1) 


While at first glance this revelation of God to Lehi and the visionary declaration of his sovereignty may seem self evident and simplistic, this testimony of Father Lehi establishes the identity of God (i.e. the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and declares his majesty and power through a Heavenly Vision of God sitting upon his throne surrounded by concourses of mighty ones.  Just as Lehi sees God at the center of all creation so too does Joseph Smith declare a revelation of God and his sovereignty:

"We here observe that God is the only supreme governor, and independent being, in whom all fulness and perfection dwells; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life; and that in him every good gift, and every good principle dwells; and that he is the Father of lights: In him the principle of faith dwells independently; and he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings centers, for life and salvation." (Lectures on Faith 2:2)


In Hebrew the word for faith is more than just mental belief.  Aman/Emunah which is translated as faith/faithfulness denotes trusting loyalty and dependence upon God.  In the Hebraic sense faith is not that I merely believe that God exists, but that he exists and I trust him, am loyal to him, and recognize my dependence upon him like a wife to a husband, a child to their father, or a servant to a King.  If as Father Lehi states that God is in the center surrounded by concourses of angels and "...he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings centers, for life and salvation." then this record of Nephi is our Genesis or the Beginning of our Faith in that it establishes the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at our center and to whom we are placing our trust, our loyalty, and our dependence upon in all things. 


Just as the Book of Genesis establishes the first pillar or foundation of Israel's covenant relationship with God, so too does the record of the Book of Mormon Fathers establish the foundation of our covenant relationship with God in this land.  As a “New Covenant” we would expect that the Book of Mormon would contain its own Genesis.  The first six books of the book of Mormon comprise the “Genesis” of the Book of Mormon. In true covenant pattern, the books of Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, and Omni establish the first pillar of the New Covenant.  In God’s revelation of himself to Lehi and Nephi we see the covenant declaration of himself as God and the God of their Fathers-Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  We see in these records an account of God’s dealings with the Book of Mormon Fathers (Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, etc.) just as Genesis gives us an account of God’s dealings with the Fathers of the Children of Israel.  Like Genesis, this first portion taken from the Plates of Nephi establish the promises God made to the Book of Mormon Fathers, the history and beginnings of their covenant,  and their covenant land of promise as their inheritance in the Americas.   


Notice that the covenant of Lehi is derivative of Israel's covenant relationship with the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph), which is why he goes to lengths to point out that he is a descendant of Joseph (one of the Fathers to whom God made covenant with in the Book of Genesis):

"And it came to pass that my father, Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph; yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt, and who was preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he might preserve his father, Jacob, and all his household from perishing with famine." (1 Nephi 5:14)

Lehi points this out because as all covenant relationships have a beginning, God also establishes the eternal continuity of the covenant through the posterity of the one to whom he made Covenant.  We see this established by God's promises to Adam and Eve and their seed, God's promises to Enoch and his Seed, God's promises to Abraham and his seed, and now Lehi and his seed. 

These first records included by Mormon are essential in establishing our covenant relationship with God because not only does it reveal to us the identity of God and him as the sole object of our faith/loyalty, but in includes the historical records of the PROMISES God made to the Book of Mormon Fathers in specific regard to this covenant land grant  - AMERICA- and the people who reside on it. These records serve not only as a legal declaration of treaty between God and Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, and Enos, but they contain the actual historical setting and promises God made to them and all those who reside in this land. 


The promises made by God to the Book of Mormon Fathers are many.  In fact so many that there is not the space here to fully enumerate them.  But here are a few to start:

…And because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!” (1 Nephi 1: 14)

…But behold, 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 Nephi 1:20)

And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands. (1 Nephi 2: 20)

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)

4And it had come to pass that my father spake unto her, saying, “I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision, I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren. 5But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness.” (1 Nephi 5:4-5)

16And thus my father, Lehi, did discover the genealogy of his fathers. And Laban also was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records. 17And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy concerning his seed— 18that these Plates of Brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed. 19Wherefore, he said that these Plates of Brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time. And he prophesied many things concerning his seed. (1 Nephi 5:16-19)

17And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God— and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come— I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men. 18For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. 19For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; Wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round. (1 Nephi 10:17-19)


This is why it is essential for our covenant future and that of our children to search these first records to identity the promises God has established in this legal treaty.  Without a knowledge of these promises we have no hope.  Hope in an Israelite mind is not wishful thinking, but it is the expectation based on a PROMISE, therefore without a knowledge of these promises we have no idea what we are to expect in this covenant relationship.  The historical record of the Book of Mormon Fathers demonstrates that a covenant keeping God made them promises and promises to their posterity and others in regard to this land.  They also demonstrate a fulfillment of these promises to them as each of the Fathers obtained a fulfillment of the promises by receiving the revelation of God and his Messiah, being delivered out of tribulation in their wilderness, and obtaining a land of promises (among many other things).

Walking in the Covenant

God having revealed himself to the Fathers and establishing his sovereignty over all things establishes the first pillar of our covenant relationship.  We are then presented with a choice will we accept his rule and pledge our loyalty to him as the center of our faith?  As we go down into the waters of baptism we make a formal declaration of our loyalty and our intent to obey the God of our Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos). Having made a declaration of our acceptance of him and our loyalty to him, we must then search diligently in record of the Fathers to identify the promises God made to them and us as the recipients of their record.  

Once we have identified the promises made, the journey really begins. We must lay hold upon the promises-- or in other words we must make a claim for the promises.  God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of him. (Acts 10:43) As a covenant relationship is bound by legal terms, we must also make legal requests under the covenant.  In other words, we have to ask for the promises to be fulfilled.  

In ancient Israel, there was a protocol of prayer that has been preserved in what is called the Amidah. The pattern of this mode or practice of prayer can be seen in what we call The Lord's Prayer.  In every case from Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Nehemiah this type of prayer can be seen.  To make a long story short in regard to this ancient patter of prayer, The Fathers literally prayed the promises.  Like a servant supplicating to a King or a child to a Father, they acknowledged the Sovereignty of God and requested a fulfillment of his promises to them based on the covenant God made with the Fathers.  In all requests, though, they submitted themselves to his will and authority, "Not my will but they will be done."  They did not ask frivolous items or demonstrations of special effects of God's powers.  Everything was requested to do one thing become one (echad) with God and to establish his Kingdom according to his will on earth. 

Making a covenant request or asking God to fulfill his promises is not only possible, but it is commanded, "O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires." (Ether 3:2)

  We must ask under the terms he sets out in that relationship.  The first term being that He is God and He is Sovereign.  We can then make a covenant request for his promises or to make promises to us under that relationship.  We uphold his righteous dominion in our submission to him-"Not my will but thy will be done!" We ask in the name of Christ or as it is understood in Hebraic terms, we ask to fulfill his commandments, to establish his kingdom, and to conform our hearts to his image. 


Let us set aside our traditions and transgressions and honor God by approaching him the relationship that he established with the Fathers and which he sealed by his own blood.  As we do our minds will be filled with light and truth and our veil of unbelief will be rent.  This is only the first part or step in our covenant journey, but without this foundation we would find ourselves faint and weary in our journey.  We must place God in the Throne at the center of our Holy of Holies.  We must exercise our loyalty to him based on his character and attributes with our expectations of the fulfillment of his promises. It is only then that we can walk forward in our covenant journey and bring forth the fruits of righteousness.

Pillar 1 -The Sovereignty of God - God is the Center and Author of our Faith

"Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto ME the fountain of all righteousness." (Ether 12:28)

1.  God is God-- and you are not!
2.  Faith is trusting loyalty and dependence upon God.  Are you loyal to God?
2.  Hope is our expectation based on his promises.  What are the Promises of God so I know what to expect?

 The Second Pillar of the Covenant. (part 2).