Monday, December 7, 2015

The Heart of the Book of Mormon - The Heart of the Covenant (Part 2)

"For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity. He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go.” (Proverbs 2:6-9)

Covenant Love - The Ember from the Altar of God

It might be strange for our American culture to understand, but the Book of Leviticus which is the Heart of God's covenant with Israel, is actually a Book Regarding the Love of God:

"Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18)

When God called to Israel from Mt. Sinai, or the tabernacle in the Wilderness, or his abode in the Heavens to the People of Nephi gathered at the temple it was a call to embrace eternal love as only can be endowed by the Spirit of God. It was a call to transcend the mortal and to step onto the journey of ascension along the ladder seen in vision by Jacob/Israel the man.

After Jesus Christ reveals the image of the state of blessed-righteous and holiness, He begins to draw the minds of the body of Israel gathered at the temple back to the covenant he had made with the Fathers in Ancient Israel by explaining the principles/commandments upon which Zion - the sacred space is to be established.  In doing so he fulfills the Law given to Moses or in Hebraic understanding he teaches them the correct interpretation and performance of the commandments that were originally given to the Fathers.

Jesus A Prophet Like unto Moses

The scriptures reveal many similarities between Moses and Jesus.  This should come as no surprise as he is described in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon as the prophet like unto Moses:
“And the Lord will surely prepare a way for his people, unto the fulfilling of the words of Moses, which he spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.”  (1 Nephi 22:20)

Those like Lehi and Nephi  who were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah would therefore be looking for someone “like Moses” who would speak in the name of God (YHVH) and follow his commands.  Like Moses he would be the mediator of the Covenant between God and the House of Israel.

The covenant is a continuation of the covenant God made with the Fathers.   It was a marriage covenant between God and Israel.  Even as Israel (both Northern and Southern Kingdom) broke the covenant it was a necessity for the covenant to be renewed.   Jesus Christ did not come to do away with the former covenant and mediate a brand new covenant but to renew and restore the same covenant relationship he made with the Fathers.

When God spoke with Israel he only spoke the ten commandments to them before the people pled with Moses to not let God speak with them, but that Moses should go up to hear and relate the words of God to the people. (Exodus 20:19)  Jesus is like Moses in that he delivered the words his Father gave him and instructed the people concerning Torah with authority, “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mat 7:29)

Just like Moses, Jesus ascended a mountain and taught the commandmets of God  to the people.  Unfortunately it has been portrayed by modern Christianity that his word contradicted Moses or was given as a different law.  For example it is generally taught that Moses taught an "eye for an eye" and Jesus taught "turn the other cheek".  It is believed that Moses taught  "hate your enemy" and Jesus  taught to "love your enemy."  While at first glance it may seem that these are contradictions, from an Israelite point of view we find that they are actually NOT contradictions at all.  Jesus was the law giver who gave God’s instructions to Moses:

“And he said unto them: Marvel not that I said unto you that old things had passed away, and that all things had become new.  Behold, I say unto you that the law is fulfilled (correctly interpreted) that was given unto Moses. Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end.” (3 Nephi 15:3-5)

Jesus himself was very clear that He was the prophet like unto Moses and that he and Moses were in agreement, “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:46-47)

Just as we see modern LDS Pharisees exerting their authority to solely interpret scripture in favor of their re-written history and traditions, so too did the Pharisees of Jesus day.  Jesus directly  challenged their authority and their corporate interpretations.

Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Mat 5:18)

The instructions given by Christ to the Jews and the Nephites are in large part a commentary on the Books of Moses.  As the adversary has gone to great lengths to convince people that these books are old, out dated, archaic and “done away” the words of the Christ in his respective Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at Bountiful are given as direct instructions on how to fulfill the terms of the Covenant given to Israel and renewed through him.

Loving God and Your Neighbor

There are those who believe that Jesus either changed or threw out the commandments thereby reducing them to just two- Love God and Love your neighbor:

“One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?

 Jesus replied, ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

This statement however is only a restatement of the Shema which is the pinnacle of God’s Instructions as given to Moses and is recited by known and recited by every Israelite to this day:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.  And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8)

The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is found in Leviticus 19:17-18
“Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.”

The teachings of Jesus revealed the hypocrisy and priestcraft of the Pharisees.  By creating burdens of traditions and customs they transformed God’s instructions  as plainly taught by Moses into a weight too heavy to be born. They attempted to achieve righteousness through their check list of customs, performances, and ordinances.   In his Sermons, Jesus was bringing an end to the man made performances and ordinances by which people carried out the commandments he delivered to Moses at Sinai.  In doing so, he restored the Law to it’s proper interpretation and understanding—i.e. he fulfilled it and not one dotting of an I or crossing of a T had passed from the Law.

A Bond Servant of God - An Eye for An Eye—and other Laws

Isolated from the covenant Christ revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai, the teachings of the sermon at the temple in the land of Bountiful can easily be taken out of context and twisted into a body of law with no context to reference.  When taken in the context of the covenant given at Sinai, his words become clear as they explain the message he was trying to convey--As a Nation of Kings and Priests to God we are the bond servants of God. We see this relationship demonstrated by the greatest of all- Jesus Christ in humility washing the feet of his disciples- the work of a bond servant.  A bond servant in Israel was someone who was purchased at a price.  The servant was the property of the Master.  His will was not his own and retribution for injustice could only be through the desire and will of his Master.  With this image in mind, the teachings of "An eye for an eye" become plain as they are portrayed in their context:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” ( Matthew 5:38-45)

There are those who cite the above passage to argue that in making the statements above Jesus was changing the law to a higher law.  To understand these passages one must know and appreciate the Torah of Moses to comprehend the teaching.  For example, in citing "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" he is referring to Exodus 21:20-27 that refers to the treatment of and behavior of bond servants.

Jesus is telling His disciples that if they belong to God (YHVH) then like a bond servant who is owned by God they must look to HIM for their justice and that they do not need to seek retribution or vengeance.   Like a bondservant we are to look to our Master for justice.  In declaring this teaching Jesus was not destroying the Torah of Moses but bringing them back to the heart of the covenant and restoring something that was always there in the commandments he gave to Moses.  By understanding that this teaching was given in reference to the words in Exodus he was explaining to them how he wanted them to see themselves in their relationship to him, that God was their Master , Judge, and protector.  He was teaching them how to fulfill (correctly interpret and perform) the laws that were already given so long ago.

Jesus Christ was blameless and innocent.  He did not deserve to be judged , hurt, and killed. Just as He came as a bond servant,  he did not seek his own will but the will of his Master. We as disciples must seek to do the will of our Master and walk in that relationship wherein he declares, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

With this in mind let us examine a very interesting statement made by Jesus, “ You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  Strangely this teaching to “hate your enemy” is not found in the written Books of Moses.  The statement would fall under the category of  performances (ma’asim) and ordinances (takanot) of the Law of Moses that developed over time.  It has been found among other writings (not the Torah) and the Essene Community as follows:

Loving and hating brethren; and duty to YAHWEH

“And these are the regulations of conduct for every man that would seek the inner vision in these times, touching what he is to love and what he is to hate.

He is to bear unremitting hatred towards all men of ill repute, and to be minded to keep in seclusion from them. He is to leave it to them to pursue wealth and mercenary gain, like servants at the mercy of their masters or wretches truckling to a despot.” (Manual of Discipline 9)

The Torah of Moses always taught that we should show kindness to an enemy when given the opportunity, “If you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that has strayed away, take it back to its owner. If you see that the donkey of someone who hates you has collapsed under its load, do not walk by. Instead, stop and help.” (Exodus 23:4-5)

As bond servants of Christ we are to follow the Torah of Moses and love our enemies and let God take care of the rest. In his sermons Jesus was pointing out that the different sects of Judaism were requiring things not specifically prescribed by the Torah of Moses.  They were neglecting  the “weightier” matters of the God's Commandments – justice, mercy, and faith. His words were meant to restore the understanding of the teachings and instructions originally delivered to Israel at Sinai.

Thou Shalt Not Kill

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot (inferior), you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell (Matthew 5-21-22)

Here we see the depth of the Messiah’s instructions regarding the law of, “Thou shalt not commit murder.”  God cares about our heart and not just outward acts and appearances.   If we were to take the traditional Christian view that the Law of Moses was thrown out then a problem presents itself- As long as I don’t get angry with you, consider you an idiot, or curse you I am now totally allowed to commit pre-meditated murder.   God gave many instructions to Israel in the Torah of Moses to clarify the commandment of “thou shalt not commit murder”.  The commandment given at Sinai is the law and Jesus Christ’s instructions at Sinai teach us how to fufill that law by establishing the depth/intent  of that commandment.

When the Savior employed the phrase, “you have heard it said” in the New Testament or “You have heard it written” he is engaging a classical expression that introduces instructions from the Torah Beginning here and throughout the following section of the Sermon on the Mount, Yahusha uses a formulaic expression to introduce Torah instructions.  He is referring to the scriptures that both the Jews in Israel and the Nephites on this continents were familiar with as found in Exodus 20:13, "you shall not murder."  When Jesus pronounces, "but I say unto you...", he is properly interpreting the deeper meaning of these commandments found in the Torah of Moses.

Now, the sixth commandment, "do not murder," has a a different meaning than the translation often rendered “thou shalt not kill.”  The Hebrew word is ratsach, means premeditated murder."  It is talking about the planned and intentional taking of a man's life without sufficient cause.  It does not mean "put to death" as in reference to capital punishment.  There are situations when "putting someone to death" is the right thing to do such as in the case of certain "capital" crimes, such as premeditated murder, adultery, rape, kidnapping and the like.  In proper context the commandment is against premeditated homicide.

To fulfill (properly interpret and demonstrate) this commandment, the Savior gives his authoritative explanation of the commandment, “But I say unto you...."   Notice that Jesus does not nullify this commandment.  He does not tell his disciples that this commandment is no longer applicable. He does not "do away with" the commandment prohibiting premeditated murder.  Instead, he reveals the depth and intent of the command and how we should fulfill it by not even be angry with your brother without a cause.  Just as it would be sin to kill your brother without a just cause, likewise it is sin to be angry with your brother without a just cause.  And this is the correct interpretation of the sixth commandment.

Revealing the intimacy or depth of his interpretation he also states it is wrong to say "raca" or "you fool/idiot" to your brother.  His words clarify the Hebrew concept of lashon hara or “the evil tongue”. It  reveals the slippery slope of  name calling and character assassination when we are angry with someone.  His teaching explains that the sixth commandment forbids this kind of speech, because in many ways the evil tongue like premeditated murder cannot be undone once the act is committed.
 In Hebraic thought He is drawing our hearts to the second  great commandment to “love your brother like unto yourself, “You must not walk about as a slanderer among your people. You must not stand idly by when your neighbor's life is at stake. I am Yahuwah.  You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him.  You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:16-18).

Slander, hatred, vengeance and bearing a grudge are all precursors that lead to violence and murder. In putting the Saviors words back into their correct Torah context, these behaviors are implicitly forbidden to lead us to, “you must love your neighbor as yourself."

This is why it is so important to immediately take care of a situation in which you are angry with your brother or your brother is angry with you.  Drop everything you are doing, including offering up prayers and gifts to God, and do what you can to resolve the conflict.  The seed of anger allowed to take root in the heart leads to premeditated murder whether physical, spiritual, or reputation.

Free Yourself From Your Anger and Your Enemy

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.  (Matthew:  5:23-26)

Related to both murder and anger is the problem of an unresolved conflict with a brother or sister.  It is  quite typical that an unresolved issue between you and your brother that leads one to anger, and even murder.  Two principles are being addressed here,  the first is of an existing issue or disagreement  a brother still has with you.  The second is a brother who becomes an adversary who is looking to exact punishment on you for your offense against him.

The sacrifice being brought to the alter is a reference to the fellowship offering one brings to God as a gesture of thanks and request for divine favor.  As Jesus points out, one cannot stand in proper fellowship with God when there is an unresolved problem with a brother therefore one should first reconcile his problem with his brother and then can come before God with a pure heart to fellowship with Him.

The Book of Proverbs speaks to the issue of an adversary having something against you is one of the teachings Jesus is reiterating to his disciples. In dealing with a situation where you have not kept your word with your brother, the teachings of wisdom states:

 “My child, if you have put up security for a friend’s debt or agreed to guarantee the debt of a stranger—if you have trapped yourself by your agreement and are caught by what you said—follow my advice and save yourself, for you have placed yourself at your friend’s mercy. Now swallow your pride; go and beg to have your name erased. Don’t put it off; do it now! Don’t rest until you do. Save yourself like a gazelle escaping from a hunter, like a bird fleeing from a net.”  (Proverbs 6:1-5)

Just as the individual in this scripture finds them self in a position of indebtedness to his brother because he has made a vow or promise which he either has not or cannot perform, Jesus teaches us to do all we can to make right the wrong we have done to our brother before it leads to judgment, guilt, and prison.

Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount/ Temple that we need to correctly discern.  He draws our attention to the "letter of the Law" or “that which is written”.  He then goes on to explain the "spirit of the Law" or what is termed Halacha which is His authoritative instruction and interpretation of the Law.  The Halacha or "spirit of the Law" reveals the Lord’s interpretation and explanation of the meaning of the Law, but it does NOT nullify “that which is written”.  His words teach us how to interpret and carryout the commandments given by God in a manner that fills and writes his words in our  heart while upholding the words he engraved on the tablets of stone upon which his throne (The Ark of the Covenant) sits.

It seems strange to many that the Lord would go to such great lengths to illustrate what at first glance would seem "sundry" laws.  If we really step back and think about his instructions as a handbook for defining and creating covenant love with God and with our brother, then in reality what we have received is God's instructions on receiving grace (hesed) - or Covenant Love.  It is these instructions that give us the sayings that we may know how to worship and what we worship thereby growing from grace (hesed) to grace (hesed) receiving grace (hesed) for grace (hesed).

Grace = Hesed = Covenant Love

We worship the image we conform to. As a disciple, if we love God we practice and conform to the image (commandments) of covenant love given at the Sermon at the Temple. As we practice the instructions of covenant love, we create covenant love, and covenant love grows exponentially.  As we worship God in covenant love by keeping his commandments and love our neighbor according to the instructions of covenant love given by Christ, we create the sacred space of Zion.  In our weakness and desire to personify covenant love we reach up to heaven.  In response to this divine spark, the portals of Heaven open and the life giving fire that proceeds forth from the Altar of God in Heaven descend upon us in strength to become one with the spark that we offer upon the altar here on earth-like attracting like even, the earthly pattern reflecting the heavenly.

Part 3: The Coal that lights the Fire, The Altar of Mighty Prayer, and The Sacred Promises of the Messiah

No comments:

Post a Comment