Monday, June 5, 2017

Covenant Book, Part 4: His People



Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

But, behold, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people shall dwell safely in the Holy One of Israel if it so be that they will repent.
—2 Nephi 22:28


In the prior post in this series, we examined the idea of a promised land. Connected with the promise of land, is the promise of protection to those who dwell in the land if they keep the Lord’s commandments:
Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever. (2 Nephi 1:9)
Lehi expressed the promise this way to his son Jacob:
Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi; and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men. (2 Nephi 2:3)
God fulfilled Lehi’s promise. Nephi and Jacob did indeed dwell safely in the land of Nephi without being displaced. But as later generations began to turn away from the covenant, they became increasingly unsafe, requiring increasing efforts by prophets to warn—and even threaten—the people against transgression:
Behold, it is expedient that much should be done among this people, because of the hardness of their hearts, and the deafness of their ears, and the blindness of their minds, and the stiffness of their necks; nevertheless, God is exceedingly merciful unto them, and has not as yet swept them off from the face of the land... 
And it came to pass that they came many times against us, the Nephites, to battle. But our kings and our leaders were mighty men in the faith of the Lord; and they taught the people the ways of the Lord; wherefore, we withstood the Lamanites and swept them away out of our lands, and began to fortify our cities, or whatsoever place of our inheritance... 
And thus being prepared to meet the Lamanites, they did not prosper against us. But the word of the Lord was verified, which he spake unto our fathers, saying that: Inasmuch as ye will keep  my commandments ye shall prosper in the land. And it came to pass that the prophets of the Lord did threaten the people of Nephi, according to the word of God, that if they did not keep the commandments, but should fall into transgression, they should be destroyed from off the face of the land. (Jarom 3, 7, 9-10)
Eventually, even the threat of destruction couldn’t induce the people to maintain obedience to God, so destruction is exactly what they got:
Behold, it came to pass that three hundred and twenty years had passed away, and the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed. For the Lord would not suffer, after he had led them out of the land of Jerusalem and kept and preserved them from falling into the hands of their enemies, yea, he would not suffer that the words should not be verified, which he spake unto our fathers, saying that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall not prosper in the land. (Omni 5-6)
It took generations to sweep them away, but eventually the Nephites fell to the Lamanites. The few remaining righteous in the land of Nephi fled with King Mosiah to the land of Zarahemla, where Mosiah’s son, Benjamin, labored with his whole soul to reestablish a covenant with God for the people in Zarahemla (Words of Mormon 1:18, Mosiah 5:6). As they did so, the Lord’s protection returned, and their enemies fell (Words of Mormon 1:14).

Zeniff

Meanwhile, a group of Nephites who had fled to Zarahemla, desired to return and repossess the land of Nephi, including Nephi’s temple (Omni 1:27). As you may recall, their first attempt to do so ended with them mostly killing each other (Omni 1:28). The second attempt, under Zeniff, restored them to the land of Nephi, though under a crafty Lamanite plot to subjugate them and keep them as slaves (Mosiah 9:10).

But these Nephites repented, remembered the covenant of their fathers, and called upon the Lord. He responded to their repentance by restoring their blessing of safety. Though vastly outnumbered, they repelled massive Lamanite attacks. Twice.
Yea, in the strength of the Lord did we go forth to battle against the Lamanites; for I and my people did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, for we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers. And God did hear our cries and did answer our prayers; and we did go forth in his might; yea, we did go forth against the Lamanites, and in one day and a night we did slay three thousand and forty-three; we did slay them even until we had driven them out of our land. (Mosiah 9:17-18)
Unfortunately, it all changed when Zeniff died. His son, Noah, lived in sin and debauchery. He also taught his people to do so by eliminating the priests who taught truth, and appointing priests who taught wickedness. The Lord, ever faithful, sent Abinadi to warn King Noah of the resulting loss of protection:
And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God. Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies. (Mosiah 11:23-24)
As you know, Noah rejected God’s warning and killed God’s messenger. Quickly thereafter came the fulfillment of Abinadi’s warnings, with the Nephite colony conquered and Noah killed. Breaking the covenant cost them the Lord’s protection, precisely as Abinadi said it would.

Noah’s son, Limhi, made a deal with the Lamanite king, allowing the Nephites to remain on the land as renters, paying half of all they possessed to obtain what God would have given them freely, had they remained obedient. Three times they attempted to drive the Lamanites out; three times they suffered terrible defeat. Without the Lord’s protection, they could not dwell safely in the land.

After their terrible defeats, the Nephites repented and sought a covenant with God again.
And now since the coming of Ammon, king Limhi had also entered into a covenant with God, and also many of his people, to serve him and keep his commandments. (Mosiah 21:32)
But by the time they humbled themselves enough to receive the covenant, they could no longer recover rights to that particular land. Therefore, the Lord led them to another promised land, back to the land of Zarahemla, where the main body of Nephites dwelt.

What Lessons Can we Learn?

It’s plainly illustrated for us that the rights to a promised land are conditioned upon obedience to the covenant. If you keep the terms, you dwell in safety. If not, you get swept off in the Lord’s due time. Many may possess lands, and temporarily think they own them, but the inalienable right to promised land only comes from God, and it only comes by a covenant He offers.

Bloodlines alone DO NOT confer a covenant, or a right to the land. Those who claim this land is the exclusive property of Lehi’s descendants, or other “Native Americans” fail to recognize that those former possessors lost the covenant right, lost the land, and experienced almost complete destruction. They were scattered and trodden down. (3 Nephi 16:8) Regardless of the bloodlines anyone may possess, there is NO covenant right to anything until one has actually received the covenant from God. If bloodlines alone were adequate to secure the promises, Lehi’s descendants would never have been driven and swept off this land by Gentile invaders.

Claiming superior right by virtue of blood, rather than righteousness, is a time-honored technique designed to eliminate the need for repentance. The Jews made the same false claims at the time of Christ, supposing their ties to Abraham conferred special status. (John 8:32-40) And then the Romans wiped them out.

Covenant Cycle


Do you see how the cycle we’ve commonly called the “Nephite Pride Cycle” is really the cycle of receiving and rejecting God’s covenant? Starting with Lehi, those who received and obeyed the covenant from God received right to the land, and God’s protection in it. Those who rejected the covenant through disobedience lost right to the land, lost God’s protection, and experienced destruction and removal from the land. In the Book of Mormon parlance, they were “swept off.”

That cycle yet remains active, and the Gentiles who currently possess this land of promise will likewise be swept off when they are fully ripe. God has allowed the gentiles to possess this land for a time, and even made them a mighty nation, but that time will come to an end and they, like all others who don’t have God-given right to the land, will be swept off.
And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity. For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off.
And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done. (Ether 2:9-11)
These are not idle warnings. The time is rapidly approaching when those who will not repent and receive God’s covenant will be swept off. In the face of these dire circumstances, we can attempt to rely on promises to our ancestors—and fail—or we can make up stories about how a covenant isn’t required—and fail—or we can even claim to obtain the covenant in some other way than the way God decrees—and fail. The hard-hearted Gentile tendency is to fight against God while claiming to be righteous. Such will surely be swept off.
And I say unto you, that if the Gentiles do not repent after the blessing which they shall receive, after they have scattered my people— 
Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.Thy hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off.
And I will gather my people together as a man gathereth his sheaves into the floor. For I will make my people with whom the Father hath covenanted, yea, I will make thy horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass. And thou shalt beat in pieces many people; and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth. And behold, I am he who doeth it. 
And it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that the sword of my justice shall hang over them at that day; and except they repent it shall fall upon them, saith the Father, yea, even upon all the nations of the Gentiles. (3 Nephi 20:15-20)

Liberty

Connected to the promise of safety is the guarantee of liberty in the land for those who keep the covenant:
Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever. (2 Nephi 1:7)
When the Lord offered the covenant to the saints in Joseph Smith’s day, His language included the following statements:
And I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey, upon which there shall be no curse when the Lord cometh; And I will give it unto you for the land of your inheritance, if you seek it with all your hearts. 
And this shall be my covenant with you, ye shall have it for the land of your inheritance, and for the inheritance of your children forever, while the earth shall stand, and ye shall possess it again in eternity, no more to pass away. 
But, verily I say unto you that in time ye shall have no king nor ruler, for I will be your king and watch over you. Wherefore, hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people, and ye shall have no laws but my laws when I come, for I am your lawgiver, and what can stay my hand? (D&C 38:18-22)
Freedom of thought and action are required for agency to fully operate. If Zion is to come, it must be by the free-will decisions of those who wish to be one with the Lord and each other. Oppressive laws and governments are the antithesis of Zion, and will prevent it. Lucifer’s plan from the beginning was to destroy the agency of man. (Moses 4:3) The Lord promises liberty to those who will abide His covenant.

Kings

Similarly, kings are prohibited on the land, both in the passage above, and in other Book of Mormon passages. Here’s an example:
But behold, this land, said God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land. And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles. (2 Nephi 10:10-11)
In the Book of Mormon, we repeatedly see how wicked kings lead their nations into abominations and destruction (Mosiah 29:24). And yet, we also confront the righteous examples of King Benjamin and King Melchizedek (who’s very name means “king and priest”) who actually led their respective societies into a covenant relationship with God. How can this be?

Well, it has to do with the definition of “king.” If that word is defined as a sovereign monarch who exercises absolute authority and dominion over his people as their ruler, then yes, such will inevitably lead to exactly the sorts of problems we have the Book of Mormon to warn us against. On the other hand, if “king” isn’t a political position, but rather a title in the household of God, and it really means “servant and teacher,” as was the case with Benjamin and Melchizedek, well then, you have an entirely different situation. Such “kings” can and will exist in lands of promise. Such kings elevate and bless others, bringing them into a relationship with the Lord. Indeed, when Christ returns, He will reign on earth as King over such kings (and queens), even though all political kingdoms will be destroyed.

Family

And this brings us to the final blessing of the offered covenant: A place in God’s family.

We’ll start to examine this topic by taking a look at some things Christ said just prior to his atoning sacrifice, in what is commonly called “the Intercessory Prayer.” Referring to his disciples, Christ prayed the following:
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17: 11-12)
Note that Christ refers in this passage to those the Father had “given” Him. What does that mean? This cryptic passage has been applied in a number of ways, based on a number of assumptions, by many flavors of Christians. If the King James version of John were our only resource, we would still be left to guess what Christ meant by these words. But fortunately, we have the additional light available in the Testimony of St. John, where Christ prays the following:
I have explained your title to the men you gave to me from out of the fallen creation. They were yours at the beginning, and you have given them to me as my offspring. And they are devoted, prepared and always waiting to respond to your words. Now they understand and accept that everything I have done and taught comes from you. For I have said to them the things you told to me. They are devoted to the truth and know I am your sent Messiah. I pray for them, and what I ask is for them and not the world, for they are yours. And all who are devoted to me are yours, and you share with me, and I am their light. I am soon to depart from this creation, but these followers will remain here as I return again to be with you. Holy Father, please watch over these like a sentinel. Protect and guard them using your power, so that they may be united as one, as we are united as one. While I accompanied them in the world, I shared light with them in your name. Every one you gave to me I have kept, and none of them will be lost to us, other than the son of perdition. Those who are kept and those who are lost are divided according to your covenant made from the beginning. (TSJ, p. 27, emphasis mine)
Christ explicitly states that the Father has given Christ these disciples as His offspring—part of His family—to be numbered among His household in the eternities. And this according to the Father’s covenant, made from the beginning. Accepting God’s offered covenant leads to Him claiming you as His child. (I’ve written extensively about this idea in another blog post).

We find this same idea in Psalms:
I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. (Psalms 2:7)
King Benjamin’s covenant delivered the same results:
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mosiah 5:7)
Connecting back to Christ in a family relationship through other covenant fathers will require Elijah’s last-days mission. Such is recorded in Malachi 4:5-6—which is included among the material Christ quoted to the Nephites and instructed them to record for us (3 Nephi 25:5-6). It is also the topic discussed by the angel in Joseph Smith’s bedroom on September 21, 1823 as a prelude to the restoration. In other words, the topic of connecting mortals to God through a family relationship is at the very heart of what we call “the Gospel.” It is the purpose, and the result, of the covenants God offers to mankind.

Those who receive God’s covenant, He calls “His people.” He claims them as His own, which, incidentally, is the only way to become “His.” HE must claim you—not the other way around. Many, many people claim to be “His,” speaking, acting, and teaching in His name. But foolish claims by mortals mean nothing. Only the Lord’s view matters. You are not His until He says so.

I believe the family relationship with God is the root of all other promised covenant blessings. You get a land because He gives His family a place to live. You dwell there safely because God defends His family. You enjoy liberty because God wants your agency to result in your exaltation so you can dwell with Him.

Recognizing the Covenant

As we approach Christ’s message in 3 Nephi, we now have some tools to recognize references to the covenant that was offered in the past and will be offered in the latter days. Specifically, we should watch for the following:
  • A promised land, and the right to possess it.
  • A promise of safety in the land, including divine protection from enemies or interference.
  • Promised liberty, including freedom of thought and action, and a prohibition against rule by kings
  • A family connection to Christ, often by way of other covenant Fathers. 
Now that we’ve covered some of the blessings offered by way of covenant, we will be better prepared to receive our Lord’s message from 3 Nephi, which we’ll get to in due course, after we discuss a few other important items.

Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
—Jeremiah 32:37-38

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