Thursday, January 12, 2012

the Lord has prepared

In preparation for sunday school this week I was reading through the teacher's manual, studying the scriptures and thinking about the questions (I'm not teaching, but I do use the manual to study sometimes anyhow) and I had a couple insights that I want to share.

First of all, the background -- it's Lesson 2 "All things according to His will" and I had read my way through the story of all the ways in which Nephi and his brothers had tried to obtain the brass plates, and failed. Finally in 1 Nephi 4 they try one last time and Nephi entered Jerusalem:

And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. (1 Ne. 4:6)

The manual asks "What are some situations in which we might need to be “led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [we] should do”? (1 Nephi 4:6). What can we learn from Nephi’s words: “Nevertheless I went forth”? (1 Nephi 4:7)."

I thought of a couple of different times when I had to make choices in my life -- taking steps into the darkness because I didn't know exactly what I was going to do or why and I had to trust that things were going to work out -- and just go forth. With these experiences in my mind I read on through the chapter of how Nephi was led to the unconscious figure of Laban in the streets and "was constrained by the Spirit" to kill him (4:7-10). In regards to this, the manual asked: "Why was Nephi reluctant to kill Laban? (See 1 Nephi 4:10.) How did Nephi become convinced that he should kill Laban? (See 1 Nephi 4:11–18.)"

In reading those verses, and thinking on those questions, I identified that Nephi was reluctant to kill Laban because he had never "shed the blood of man" and "shrunk" from the task. This isn't surprising because I believe most people would hesitate to kill another human being (no matter who it was) and it's less surprising given the fact that Nephi had been raised with the law "Thou shalt not kill" and it would be difficult for anyone to accept that they were being asked to break a commandment... yet, as put by the prophet Joseph Smith, this was "revelation adapted to the circumstances" and "whatever God requires is right, not matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof til long after the events transpire" (TPJS p. 256). Having to be obedient in the face of a seemingly contradictory position is a scary place to be!

This connected to what I was thinking about earlier, about moving forward and not knowing what you are going to do but just continuing onward, because as I have moved forward I have been faced with the challenge to do things that I did not want to do -- and, tho not to the same degree as Nephi, at one time my choice even seemed to fly in the face of what I understood to be right... 

Nephi began to be convinced that he should kill Laban as the Spirit explained to him that the Lord had delivered Laban into his hands and as he thought about how Laban had already tried to take his life and had taken his property (vs 11). As Nephi thought on that, the Spirit again told him to slay Laban, explaining that the Lord "delivered" Laban into Nephi's hands for that purpose, so that he could slay "the wicked" and "bring forth" the "righteous purposes" of God (vs 13) -- those purposes being that Nephi and his descendants could have the plates and thereby not "dwindle and perish in unbelief" by having the scriptures/the law contained thereon. 

As he thought on all of this, Nephi fully realized "that the Lord had delivered Laban into [his] hands for this cause—that [he] might obtain the records according to his commandments. Therefore [he] did obey the voice of the Spirit" (1 Ne. 4:17-18).

Now this isn't where the line of questioning ends... By referring by to a well known verse the next question in the manual connects everything in the story (and in the answers to the previous questions) to one very critical concept...

1 Nephi 3:7
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.

  • How did the Lord “prepare a way” for Nephi to do what he had been commanded to do? How has the Lord prepared ways for you to keep His commandments?

As I thought about how to answer to this question, what gripped me here is that that the Lord didn't just prepare the way for Nephi to obtain the plates by putting Laban in Nephi's path, he also prepared the way for Nephi to do what needed to be done in order to get the plates. In other words, the Lord prepared Nephi -- to accept the instruction to kill Laban in order to obtain the plates.


First, by letting him fail to obtain them the first couple times so that he could see that there was no other option. How could a good man like Nephi kill another man if he thought that somehow there might be another way? 

Second, by ensuring that Nephi understood the importance of the plates in helping he and his family to keep the Lords commandments. How else could he see that the ends justified the means?

And third (and most important), by implanting in Nephi's heart an ability to seek out and recognize the directions of the Spirit -- something that he had practiced many times before then. Without this, how could he ever have take the step to disregard previous commandments in order to obey immediate revelation? 

Yes, we take steps into the darkness, "not knowing beforehand" what we are going to do, but WE DO NOT GO UNPREPARED.

I do not think that it is coincidental that manual was put together this way -- to ask this question in regards to this specific preparation. It opened my mind and heart up to new ways of understanding how the Lord has prepared ways for me to keep His commandments by preparing ME to be able to keep them.

I hope you will spend some time pondering how this story is also your story... I testify it will enlighten your understanding and fill you with a renewed sense of love and gratitude for the Lord and his goodness.

**sidenote: i think it's especially interesting to think about this in terms of God's grace, how it is a power that enables us to do what He has commanded us to do.

Monday, January 2, 2012

David, Nabal, & Abigail

I want to go through 1 Samuel 25 because there are some beautiful concepts in this chapter that often get missed --

The set up for the chapter is that David has been set apart by the prophet Samuel to be king after Saul, who unsuccessfully tries to kill David but eventually admits that God is with David and he will be the king. Nabal is a great and rich man who is also very rude, in fact, his name "Nabal" basically means jerk -- he known by this because he is such a "corrupt, a doer of wicked deeds")

David needs some provisions and hears that Nabal is in the wilderness shearing his sheep so he sends some of his men ahead to greet Nabal and ask for what they need. He does this very nicely in verses 6-8
And thus shall ye say to him that liveth in prosperity, Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast. ...Wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes: for we come in a good day: give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand unto thy servants, and to thy son David.
However, Nabal's response illustrates his character:
10 And Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.
11 Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?
This made David angry. He had his men gear up for battle against Nabal for the offense that he took at Nabal's words. Fortunately, Abigail, Nabal's wife is told about the whole situation. She is described in verse 3 as "a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance" so when she hears the story from a servent of how David's men were good to Nabal's servants, helpful even, and they did not take what they needed but instead politely asked it of Nabal, who then "railed on them" (vs 14) she realized she had to do something to keep David from destroying Nabal and his household.
18 Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses.
19 And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal.
20 And it was so, as she rode on the ass, that she came down by the covert of the hill, and, behold, David and his men came down against her; and she met them.

David is really steaming at this point. He is angry that he had aided Nabal in the wilderness, protected him, and Nabal "requited [him] evil for good" (vs 21) and says that he will completely destroy everything of Nabal's. This is where things really get interesting:

23 And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground,
24 And fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid.
25 Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send.
Abigail throws herself at the mercy of David and asks that the offense of Nabal be upon her, that Nabal is as his name implies (a jerk) and that if she had met the men David had sent things would have been different.
26 Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the Lord hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal.
27 And now this blessing which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it even be given unto the young men that follow my lord.
 She offers David and his men the food she has brought, the thing they had asked for in the first place. Then she makes a very important point:
28 I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the Lord, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days.
29 Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling.
30 And it shall come to pass, when the Lord shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel;
31 That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the Lord shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.
She explains that undoubtably David is headed for greatness; the Lord has always been with him because he has always followed the Lord and done the right thing -- and in this situation the right thing is to forgive, which will allow David to continue to hold on to the favor of the Lord. In forgiveness he will avoid the "grief" or "offense of heart" that would undoubtably follow any impatience and anger-driven vengeance. One day he will be a ruler and he will be glad he forgave and kept on the side of heaven. 

David recognizes this and thanks her:
32 And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me:
33 And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.
34 For in very deed, as the Lord God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.
35 So David received of her hand that which she had brought him, and said unto her, Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person.
Both were blessed by her wisdom and humility.

The key idea here is that BY TAKING THE TRESPASS UPON HERSELF Abigail makes it easy for David to forgive. How can he stay angry when she has brought a gift, spoken so well, asked forgiveness, AND innocently taken the blame upon herself? She clears all the barriers. The interesting parallel here is to make Abigail a type of Christ -- in the same way that she willingly took on the offense of Nabal, Christ willingly takes on our offenses, ALL of our offenses, so that we can more easily forgive each other. After all, we have been commanded to forgive everyone  ("of you it is required to forgive all men" D&C 64:10) and this can be a difficult thing when we have been wronged... but the Atonement once again provides the enabling power to do it. As in this story of David, our "Nabal" falls out of the picture as Christ/Abigail takes on the offense and in that guiltless and loving state asks us to forgive.

It is a new way of looking at what the Atonement means for us in our efforts to follow Christ and become like him.

*Side note: Abigail went home, but did not say anything to Nabal who was having a party and getting very drunk. The next morning however, she told him what had happened and after vs 37 "his heart died within him, and he became as a stone" and 10 days later he died. Goes to show that those who offend get what is due them in God's own time.