Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Covenant Book, Part 6:
It’s Time for Plan B

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And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled. 
—3 Nephi 29:1

We’re finally ready to discuss Christ’s message to us from 3 Nephi. I’ll admit, it took a fair bit more preparation and background than I initially thought—hence the 5-post prelude to prepare for the message.

I also realize it’s been a long time coming, so I’ll offer the following points from the prior 5 posts as refreshers before we move forward.

  • Christ’s message was meant for US, not for the Nephites who received and recorded it. He is speaking to you and me, not to them.
  • Though Christ delivers the message, it actually comes from the Father. It is the Father’s work, the Father’s plan and the Father’s covenant.
  • As Christ teaches, He doesn’t adhere to our linear, time-bound way of thinking. He tends to jump around in chronology.
  • Our assumptions and traditions do us harm as we attempt to understand Christ’s words. We are best served by casting away what we think we know and what our prior, ineffective traditions tell us.
  • Keys to recognizing the covenant include a promised land, safety, liberty, and a family connection to Israel, which is a family connection to Christ.
  • This family connection is available to all who will repent because the bloodlines are already in place. Bloodlines alone have no saving power, but those who will accept the Lord’s offered covenant will become Israel’s family. 

OK, got all that? If not, you might want to review some of the prior posts in this series. If you’re good, let’s move ahead to 3 Nephi 15. We’ll start in verse 11:
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he said unto those twelve whom he had chosen: Ye are my disciples; and ye are a light unto this people, who are a remnant of the house of Joseph. And behold, this is the land of your inheritance; and the Father hath given it unto you. (11-13)
It’s vital to notice that Christ spoke this directly to the 12 disciples whom he called up out of the multitude and empowered. He said that the Father “hath given” the land to these disciples. Given what we know about the covenant, what does that indicate about these twelve men? And how is that knowledge enhanced by verse 24, which reads as follows:
But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me.
If the Father has given the land to these twelve, and has given these twelve to Christ, they clearly have a covenant relationship with God. I suspect this is why these particular twelve men were chosen and called by Christ out of the multitude—because they had already obtained a covenant with Him.

While we’re on the topic, we also need to note that ALL of Christ’s remarks in this portion of His message—starting with 15:12, and continuing through the entirety of chapters 15 and 16—ALL of this portion is spoken NOT to the multitude, but directly to these twelve covenant holders. It’s very important that we recognize this truth as we study what Christ said. We must realize He is speaking in the context of a covenant, to those who have obtained it. There’s a lesson there for us.

OK, are we good? Let’s move on.

Christ next gives a lengthy explanation regarding His statements at Jerusalem about “other sheep.” The salient points He makes are as follows:

  • The people at Jerusalem don’t know about these Nephite covenant holders.
  • Christ spoke of these Nephites as His “other sheep,” but the Jews didn’t understand and made false assumptions, based on their false beliefs. 
  • The Nephites were separated because of the iniquities of the Jews. In other words, Christ separated Lehi and gave him a promised land because he was willing and able to accept God’s covenant, while the Jews rejected it. 
  • There are other covenant holders who have also been separated from the Jews at Jerusalem at various times.

Christ commands these Nephites to write His words, for a very peculiar purpose. Here are His words:
And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer. (3 Nephi 16:4)
If you look closely, you see that Christ outlines two possibilities in this commandment because it could go two ways. Either:

A) The believers at Jerusalem will ask the Father and receive knowledge of the other tribes by the Holy Ghost;


B) These writings will be manifested to the Gentiles, and through the “Gentile fulness,” the remnant of the lost tribes’ seed will be “brought in,” or brought to a knowledge of Christ.

This is a very peculiar either/or statement. Christ expressed two possibilities as if there were two ways to accomplish the end goal, which is to “fulfil the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel.” (16:5) Given this purpose, we must ask some obvious questions. What was it about receiving “a knowledge" of the Nephites and other tribes that would bring about the fulfilling of the Father’s covenant? Was it enough to simply know about them? What was Christ getting at? How would knowing about the other tribes help?

Holy Order

The answers to these questions will require us to go back just a bit further. Like back to Adam, and this prophecy he made:
Now this same Priesthood, which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also. (Moses 6:7)
“This same Prieshood” refers to the patriarchal order, or as Abraham put it when he sought it, the “right belonging to the fathers.” Here’s a bit more about Abraham’s understanding of this order:
And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers. It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me. (Abraham 1:2-3)
Abraham spoke of a holy order, organizing the family of God, with a patriarchal head connecting the family on earth to God in heaven. Abraham’s connection through Melchizedek (Shem) therefore reached back in a direct line to Adam.

There is such power in this order, that Cain’s lust for it incited the first murder. Noah’s son Ham, though he could not hold the right of the firstborn, nevertheless sought to imitate this order, because even an imitation provides power. (Abraham 1:26-27) Throughout the ages, the knowledge of this order has ever been abused by those seeking for power and gain. The Book of Mormon calls this knowledge “the oaths which were given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain.” (Ether 8:15)

Those who practice these things in wickedness form “a secret combination, even as they of old; which combination is most abominable and wicked above all, in the sight of God.” When such secret combinations become powerful and widespread, the results endanger all humanity, the earth, and the whole universe. There comes a point at which a merciful God must intervene to stop the spread of this particular form of wickedness.

-Like with a flood.
-Or by confounding languages to prevent communication.
-Or by wiping out entire civilizations.

In fact, history shows God will put up with some very bad things, but abuse of this knowledge is where he draws the line. These secret combinations proved the “entire destruction” of the Nephites (Helaman 2:13), the Jaredites (Helaman 6:28, Alma 37:26) and the inhabitants of Ammonihah, (Alma 8:16-17, 10:18, 16:9-10) among others.

And yet, this knowledge, when applied in righteousness, and employed in strict conformity with God’s commandments, makes a connection with the Fathers in heaven, restores God’s family to the earth, and brings again Zion. This sacred knowledge is, quite literally, the key to obtaining heaven or hell. It has the potential to make families of gods or devils.

Given that such knowledge exists, must remain on earth, and must be protected, while also preserving agency, and must safely come forth in the last days to fulfill God’s promises (Alma 37:14, 18)—what must be done? How would you approach such a daunting task, especially given the failures of the past, which were only mitigated by widespread destruction? How would you preserve and protect such knowledge?

I submit that God established an incredibly brilliant plan to do what is required. He took steps thousands of years ago to preserve and protect this sacred information, and bring about the circumstances required for its proper application at the right time in the last days. Explaining it all would take many blog posts, so I’ll just summarize with a few bullets, as follows:

  • The information was divided up between several covenant families, or “tribes” who were led away to various lands.
  • It was recorded in durable records (like metal plates or papyrus) so it would last thousands of years
  • The information was written in languages that would be largely unknown by the latter days, so it could only be interpreted by the power of God (and likely the aid of tools called “interpreters.”)
  • It was written in such a way that even when translated, the meaning could only be discerned by the Spirit of God.
  • The records were safeguarded by prophets who obeyed the Lord.
  • A master key, or keystone, to the discovery and reassembly of the scattered information was prepared and hidden on this continent, to come forth in the latter days and start the process of gathering scattered Israel, including the scattered records. This keystone is the Book of Mormon.
  • If you’ll forgive a modern computing analogy, the Lord prepared a distributed, encrypted backup, and has handed us the password.

Plates of Brass

As an explanatory example, we should consider Lehi’s departure from doomed Jerusalem. After Lehi obtained a covenant and left Jerusalem for the promised land, he received a commandment from the Lord to send his sons back to obtain a very strange record.

What was so strange about the record?

Well first, it was written on brass plates. This manner of record keeping was largely unknown in antiquity; it was difficult, costly and time consuming. This points to the importance and intended permanence of the information to be preserved. Also, the record was kept under lock and key, in a “treasury” guarded by 50 men, in the city of Jerusalem. Laban, the leader of the guard, held a position of wealth and prestige, as well as high religious office. Even his ceremonial armaments were extremely precious and valuable. While all of the above doesn’t necessarily prove the record was kept at the temple treasury, it at least holds out a very strong possibility of just that. In fact, I think it’s more likely than not, that Laban had charge of the temple treasury, and hence the keys to obtain the brass plates. (I could give more details, but this topic is beyond the scope of today’s post.)

Remember, Lehi left Jerusalem ahead of the Babylonian destruction. The temple would shortly be sacked, the treasury looted, and the treasures carried away to Babylon—except this record, which escaped with a covenant family, under a cloak of strict secrecy, to be carried across an ocean and hidden on a different continent. Babylon would conquer the Jews, but would not capture their record.

Lehi referred to the brass plates as “the record of the Jews,” not merely “a” record, but one important enough to be defined as “the” record  of the Jews (1 Nephi 3:3). When he read the record, he found it contained “the prophecies of the holy prophets from the beginning” and “a genealogy of his fathers” showing his connection to covenant Israel through Joseph. (1 Nephi 5:11-16) The record was still being expanded, even in the days of Lehi, because it contained many of the prophecies of Lehi’s contemporary, Jeremiah.
And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy concerning his seed—That these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed. Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time. (1 Nephi 5:17-19)

The brass plates will yet come forth, just as Lehi prophesied. Likewise, the other scattered records will be gathered in one.
And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews. And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one. And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever. (2 Nephi 29:13-14)
This brings us back to where we started—with Christ’s statement in 3 Nephi 16:4 about the Jews at Jerusalem learning of the “other sheep.” I submit that Christ’s statement has much less to do with knowing “about” the other tribes, and much more to do with knowing the things they know. The Nephite twelve were not the only people to have a covenant with the Lord; He also has “other sheep.” (3 Nephi 16:1-3). Each of these groups has recorded vital information, some stretching all the way back to Adam. This knowledge will be necessary for the fulfillment of God’s covenant and the re-organization of God’s family in Zion. These are “many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” Joseph Smith predicted God would reveal. (A of F 9)

By dividing the information and vouchsafing parts of it with different groups, God has ensured that the knowledge, and consequent power that comes with it, cannot fall into the wrong hands and lead to the sort of disaster that brings the destruction of the earth. The records will only be gathered when circumstances exist to keep the information safe and prevent its abuse.

As we know, the Nephite record, rich as it is, includes only the lesser things that Christ taught (3 Nephi 26:8-10). The records that came from the Jews at Jerusalem in the New Testament are similarly limited (1 Nephi 13:28).  The only way to get the whole picture is to obtain the knowledge vouchsafed with other covenant groups throughout the world. And that can ONLY happen through God’s direction, by the power of the Holy Ghost, after there exists a people with faith He has tried and proven.

Well, Plan A was for the Jews at Jerusalem to recognize the need for more knowledge, petition the Father, and set in motion the gathering of the lost tribes and their records into Zion. But that didn’t happen. Hence the need for a second plan.

Welcome to Plan B

And so, as we’ve seen, the Lord, in His wisdom, arranged a backup, in the form of a sacred record, etched on metal plates and buried for 1,400 years to come forth in due time and set the process in motion. The purpose of the Book of Mormon record is to provide an introduction—a teaser, if you will—together with directions for how to obtain more. It came to the Gentiles—you and me—for the specific purpose of setting in motion the Lord’s work once again, and bringing it to completion. It is the key to gathering the puzzle pieces and reassembling the puzzle. As Joseph Smith said, it is the “keystone of our religion.” (HC, 4:461)

That’s it. It comes down to you. YOU are plan B. You are the final hope for this world. You are where you are, when you are, because the Lord needs YOU to do what needs to be done. The early Saints failed and came under condemnation for taking these things lightly—most particularly the Book of Mormon. (D&C 84:54-58) We must not let that happen again. We must bring forth “fruit meet for [our] Father’s kingdom.”

Part of this process requires taking scripture much more seriously, which is why the current scripture project is so vital. It demonstrates to the Lord that there exist at least a few Gentiles who take His word seriously enough to attempt to recover it. Are you one of them? God will only reveal more to those whose faith He has proven.

If we make an acceptable effort and present an acceptable gathering of scripture to the Lord, it will demonstrate our commitment to His word. He will, in turn, offer a covenant by which we may become His people—identified as Ephraim. This is the first of the tribes to be gathered. Ephraim will be tasked with building a temple so the other tribes can gather as well.

As my wife, Tausha, covered in the previous post in this series, Ephraim has a unique role to play in the last days’ gathering.
And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence. And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep…And they shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim, my servants. And the boundaries of the everlasting hills shall tremble at their presence. And there shall they fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim. (D&C 133:26-32)
Ephraim’s role in blessing all the other tribes brings to mind Israel’s blessing upon his grandson Ephraim, that “his seed shall become a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 48:19) The Hebrew words melo hagoyim, translated as “multitude of nations” can be more accurately translated as “fulness of the Gentiles.” Ephraim’s seed shall become the fulness of the Gentiles, which is exactly the term Jesus used to describe what is now happening: 
…that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, [Ephraim] the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer. (3 Nephi 16:4, emphasis mine)
When there is a temple appointed, accepted and protected by God, and a proven faithful people He recognizes as His family—then it will be safe for the records of the other tribes—their “rich treasures”—to be brought to Ephraim at the temple in New Jerusalem, where they will be translated, understood, and added to the body of knowledge we call “the Gospel.” The record will grow until it is complete, and the family of God will likewise grow until it is organized completely.

It’s underway now. It begins with repentant Gentiles who value God’s word enough to begin recovering it from a distributed, encrypted backup. It’s time for plan B.

And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them. And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation.
—3 Nephi 26:9-10