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In Our Ward: Lesson 8: “O How Great the Goodness of Our God”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 26, 2012

Lesson 8: “O How Great the Goodness of Our God”

2 Nephi 6-10

Purpose: To help class members understand their need for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and to teach them how to receive all the blessings of the Atonement.

Introduction/Context

We have reached an interesting yet very subtle point in the development of the Book of Mormon narrative. As we’ve discussed before, Nephi kept two sets of records: one, the large plates, or the record of “the history of my people” (2 Nephi 5:33) – a record which will pass down through the descendants of Nephi and which is not available to us today: we do not know the names of his sons and grandsons and great-grandsons who were the kings of the people (other than that they all assumed the kingly title Nephi – see 1 Jacob 1:11), nor the other details of establishing their civilization in the New World. And the second set of records, of course, are those that contain “many things … which are good in [the Lord’s] sight, for the profit of thy people” (2 Nephi 5:30) – a record which will pass down through the priestly line. This record part of the text of the Book of Mormon: we do know the names and family relationships of those who kept this set of records.

It is at this point – the end of Chapter 5 of 2 Nephi – that we first see this fork in the road between the kings and the priests. Up to this point, first Lehi and then Nephi have served both roles: Each led his people in both the temporal sense and the spiritual sense. But in 2 Nephi 5:26 we see the delegation of the spiritual leadership:

26 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people.

This calls for some speculation, I realize, but what might be some of the reasons Nephi places religious responsibility on his two younger brothers? [Perhaps the Nephite realm has grown too large – numerically and/or geographically – or the responsibilities of government have grown too complex for one man to manage them all; perhaps Nephi is aging; perhaps the Lord has explicitly instructed him to do this; perhaps his sons who will inherit his position are more suited to government than priesthood, perhaps ... {The purpose of this question is to encourage class members to think about and question the text, rather than merely to read it.}]

Does this necessarily mean that Nephi is no longer exercising a prophetic or religious function? [Not necessarily; they could have been acting under Nephi’s direction]

Then, with Chapter 6, we see Jacob, rather than Lehi, preaching to the people

1 The words of Jacob, the brother of Nephi, which he spake unto the people of Nephi:

2 Behold, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, having been called of God, and ordained after the manner of his holy order, and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi, unto whom ye look as a king or a protector, and on whom ye depend for safety, behold ye know that I have spoken unto you exceedingly many things.

It is clear from statements made throughout 2 Nephi that Nephi is still keeping the records on these plates; the “I, Jacob” here and throughout this sermon signal that Nephi is preserving the words spoken by Jacob, not that he has turned over responsibility for the records to him.

Verse 2 gives Jacob’s credentials, his authority to preach. What are those credentials? [called of God; ordained in the manner required by God; consecrated in his role by the recognized authority]

Wait – this sounds like rites of the priesthood. Even if we don’t insist that the organization and offices of the priesthood as we know them today existed in precisely the same forms in the Nephite dispensation, we can probably still assume that a legitimate exercise of priesthood required the transmission of that authority from one priesthood holder to another, that no man can just assume that priesthood on his own. How can we explain priesthood among the Nephites? [We don’t know precisely, and can only speculate. We do see Lehi acting as a priest – offering sacrifice – only a few days’ travel away from Jerusalem. Perhaps, too, although it isn’t recorded in the Book of Mormon, Lehi or Nephi received the priesthood in the same way Joseph Smith did, during one of their visionary interviews. In any case, we have not only the actions of priests throughout the Book of Mormon which reflect the priesthood, we also in this verse have Jacob’s testimony that he was in fact ordained to what we would recognize as the Melchizedek Priesthood, “after the manner of his holy order.”]

Jacob continues in verse 3:

3 Nevertheless, I speak unto you again; for I am desirous for the welfare of your souls. Yea, mine anxiety is great for you; and ye yourselves know that it ever has been. for I have exhorted you with all diligence; and I have taught you the words of my father; and I have spoken unto you concerning all things which are written, from the creation of the world.

This sermon is really the first time we have heard from or seen Jacob in action – his previous appearances in the Book of Mormon have shown him as a young child, or as a youth receiving his father’s last blessing or the ordination from his brother. The Jacob we see here, though, is not a youth giving his first sacrament meeting talk. What can you deduce about Jacob’s ministry to this point?

4 And now, behold, I would speak unto you concerning things which are, and which are to come; wherefore, I will read you the words of Isaiah. And they are the words which my brother has desired that I should speak unto you. And I speak unto you for your sakes, that ye may learn and glorify the name of your God.

Jacob is by this point an experienced and recognized religious figure. Is he the head of the Nephite church, though? How do we know? [He is speaking by direction of Nephi, on a topic assigned by Nephi. This is somewhat reminiscent of Nephi’s deference to Lehi.]

5 And now, the words which I shall read are they which Isaiah spake concerning all the house of Israel; wherefore, they may be likened unto you, for ye are of the house of Israel. And there are many things which have been spoken by Isaiah which may be likened unto you, because ye are of the house of Israel.

Jacob sounds like Nephi, doesn’t he, with his “delighting” in the words of Isaiah? Jacob, like Nephi, finds Isaiah especially relevant to the people he is addressing. The words of Isaiah aren’t just good advice; they don’t merely give an outline of sacred history. Isaiah, according to both Nephi and Jacob, spoke explicitly to and about the house of Israel, including the Nephites listening to this sermon. Nephite history was a fulfillment of a part of Isaiah’s prophecies (the “things which are”), and the prophecies Isaiah made which had not yet been fulfilled (things “which are to come”) will apply directly to the Nephites and their children, as members of the house of Israel.

Jacob then goes on to read – not quote, or paraphrase, or summarize, but read – what we know in the Biblical text as Isaiah, chapters 49-52. Unlike Jacob, though, who must have had a lot more time than a 40-minute Sunday School period, I will have to summarize those prophecies:

Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed and its people carried away captive – Jacob assured his listeners that that prophecy had now been fulfilled. Yet at some future point – future in Jacob’s day, although past from our perspective – the Lord would bring a significant portion of those people back to Jerusalem. In time, the Lord himself would live among them, but they would reject him. Because of that rejection, the people would again be scattered and afflicted. The Lord would not allow them to perish, however, and one day would gather them together yet again, and restore them to the “lands of their inheritance.”

Jacob wanted his people to liken those things unto themselves. Which part of his hearers would likely have taken the most comfort from hearing about a restoration to their homeland? Would the promise have meant the same thing to the youngest Nephites, born in the Arabian desert or in the New World, or to other people already living in the New World who may have been converted and joined with the Nephites? What is there in the history of our own dispensation that may be analogous to this promise of returning to an earlier homeland? Can that prophecy possibly have the same emotional impact for our generation as it did for our grandparents who had actually lived in the Midwest and had fond memories of their interactions with Joseph Smith there? (I mention this tangent only to encourage us to see the perspective of many Latter-day Saints today who have no real emotional connection to “ye mountains high” or “our lovely Deseret”: Salt Lake to members of the Church elsewhere, and Jackson County to us, and Jerusalem to the younger generations of Nephites, may all have significant symbolic or even prophetic importance, but emotional connections may lessen with time and distance.)

Jacob told his audience, through the words of Isaiah, about their relationship to the Gentiles: some would join Israel and become part of the covenant people; others would “afflict and smite” them; at a future date the Gentiles would play key roles in restoring Israel to its rightful inheritance, and Israel must be willing to accept the help of the Gentiles in that restoration.

Jacob reminded his people, through the words of Isaiah, that the Lord had never forgotten Israel, that he would never forsake them, that he would keep his covenant with them. Israel should look for his coming, and not be afraid, because he would redeem his people.

Scripture Discussion

[1. Through His Atonement, Jesus Christ offers redemption from temporal death and spiritual death.
2. Certain attitudes and actions prevent us from receiving all the blessings of the Atonement.
3. The Lord remembers His covenants with His people.]

And now we reach 2 Nephi 9. Jacob has finished reading his passages from Isaiah

1 And now, my beloved brethren, I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel –

2 That he has spoken unto the Jews, by the mouth of his holy prophets, even from the beginning down, from generation to generation, until the time comes that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God; when they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise.

3 Behold, my beloved brethren, I speak unto you these things that ye may rejoice, and lift up your heads forever, because of the blessings which the Lord God shall bestow upon your children.

4 For I know that ye have searched much, many of you, to know of things to come; wherefore I know that ye know that our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God.

These verses mark a transition in Jacob’s sermon. Up to this point, Jacob has quoted Isaiah, speaking about the entire future history of the house of Israel, of which Jacob’s people are a part. Now he will zero in on one specific point in Isaiah’s prophecy and he will offer his own commentary – in his own words, no longer quoting Isaiah – to teach his people the central focus of the entire history of Israel:

God will keep his covenant with Israel, and he will do that through the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ.

5 Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.

6 For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.

7 Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement – save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. and if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.

There is almost too much in these three verses to unpack. Yet as compact as it is, Paul said it even more compactly:

1 Corinthians 15:22

22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

There are phrases in our gospel vocabulary so familiar that we repeat then almost without thinking about what they really mean. “We came to earth to get a body.” “Men are that they might have joy.” “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” These and many more speak of life in the body – either the temporary joining of body and spirit in mortality, or the eternal joining of body and spirit after the resurrection. Frankly, I don’t fully understand the necessity of a body – probably because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have one. But Jacob seems to understand that the physical body, and its restoration through resurrection, is so essential to our present and future and without the body all would be lost:

8 O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! for behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.

9 And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.

That, however, will not be our fate. Jacob teaches:

10 O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.

11 And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave.

12 And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.

Very often the scriptures seem to jump from one subject to another. In large part I think that is due to the way we have divided the text up into chapters and verses: each little bit is visually separated from every other little bit, and we come to think of the meaning of each little bit as being distinct, too. But remember, everything we have talked about to day comes from a single sermon, where Jacob is probably trying to make one unified point. Think back to how he began his sermon, by reading the prophecies of Isaiah about the scattering and the restoration of Israel.

** What connections can you see between that part of the sermon, and this later part concerning the resurrection? [The scattering and gathering of Israel is a parallel of the separation and rejoining of the body and spirit.. Try to draw out of discussion that as we see evidence of the Lord’s keeping his covenant with Israel by restoring the Gospel and gathering his people again, through history and in our own day, we have more and more reason to be confident of the resurrection.]

The restoration of the body and spirit does not mark the end, the complete fulfilment of the covenant, though – another major event follows:

13 O how great the plan of our God! For on the other hand, the paradise of god must deliver up the spirits of the righteous, and the greave deliver up the body of the righteous; and the spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect.

14 Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.

15 And it shall come to pass that when all men shall have passed from this first death unto life, insomuch as they have become immortal, they must appear before the judgment-seat of the Holy One of Israel; and then cometh the judgment, and then must they be judged according to the holy judgment of God.

16 And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end.

17 O the greatness and the justice of our God! For he executeth all his words, and they have gone forth out of his mouth, and his law must be fulfilled.

18 But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.

How does this judgment differ in a fundamental way from the trials and judgments made in earthly courts? [That is, who is the chief witness and judge for each person? Is there any chance of concealing the truth? Can judgment be swayed by deceit or manipulation?]

There seems to be a parallel to these ideas in other latter-day scripture:

Doctrine and Covenants 88:22-24

22 For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.

23 And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.

24 And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.

Earlier in his sermon, when Jacob was teaching from the prophecies of Isaiah, he spoke of the Messiah who would come to save Israel in a temporal sense:

2 Nephi 6:14-15

14 And behold, according to the words of the prophet, the Messiah will set himself again the second time to recover them; wherefore, he will manifest himself unto them in power and great glory, unto the destruction of their enemies, when that day cometh when they shall believe in him; and none will he destroy that believe in him.

15 And they that believe not in him shall be destroyed, both by fire, and by tempest, and by earthquakes, and by bloodsheds, and by pestilence, and by famine. and they shall know that the Lord is God, the Holy One of Israel.

And here in Chapter 9, Jacob teaches a parallel role for the Messiah in the spiritual salvation of mankind:

20 O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.

21 And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.

22 And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day.

23 And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

24 And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptized in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it.

25 Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.

26 For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel.

Conclusion

Jacob’s sermon is a long one, much longer tan most of us tend to read scripture in a single sitting – and besides, it begins with one of those pesky long quotations from Isaiah that we usually find too hard to understand. They are not too hard to understand, however, with effort and the help of a good guide, as I expect Bishop Kendrick will demonstrate in our next lesson (it will help, of course, if you take the time to read the relevant chapters before class). Jacob’s sermon, though long, is also worth the effort of study as a whole – there are far more parallels between the first chapters quoting Isaiah and the last chapters speaking directly of the atonement of the Holy One of Israel. Recognizing those parallels focuses our attention on Jesus Christ, the one who remembers us, who will keep every one of the covenants he has established, and who invites us to take full advantage of his atonement, so that we may be “restored to that God who gave [us] breath.” [Testimony]



4 Comments »

  1. Your question about the connections between the Isaiah section and the atonement section is wonderful. Maybe you can share something about the discussion that it generated? That was a good opportunity to teach a very comforting doctrine.

    Comment by Todd — February 28, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

  2. They were quick (quicker than I had expected) to talk about the dissolution and scattering of Israel being comparable to the dissolution and scattering of the body at death, with the promise of gathering Israel again and building a new kingdom being representational of God being able to gather and rebuild the body back into life — something that was even more unknown to the Nephites than it is to us because at that point they didn’t even have the witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection to testify to its reality.

    We didn’t get much farther than that in our discussion at that point, but later on there was a little discussion about reading sermons as a whole, not just in pieces, and that recognizing what Jacob and Nephi were teaching in their easier-to-understand commentary might help make the Isaiah passages connected to them a little easier to understand.

    I’d love to hear any additional thoughts you have, Todd.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 28, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

  3. There is a lot I do not understand about the doctrine of the literal resurrection. Frankly, some of what I do not understand I do not really want to understand. However, it is a doctrine that brings comfort to me (and I know I am not alone in this) because I want to continue my relationships with people that I have loved who have died. What Jacob seems to be saying is: Look at God’s history of dealing with his people. We are being scattered. Someday God will gather us. Those who witness this will have a reason to hope that God is able to gather what is scattered.

    I do not understand the resurrection, but I do understand the hope of being reunited in the resurrection with people that I love and miss terribly.

    Comment by Todd — February 29, 2012 @ 9:55 am

  4. Thanks, Todd. We share that hope and belief.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 29, 2012 @ 10:32 am

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