Scheduled for study Feb. 17-23, 2020. This week is all about how we can rejoice in Christ. Sometimes finding ways to rejoice takes a change in perspective. Sometimes it requires we do something openly to express our gratitude for Christ.

Day 1

2 Nephi 11-25 – How can I better understand the teachings of Isaiah?

Nephi taught that Isaiah’s words “are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:4). As you read, seek the spirit of prophecy by preparing yourself spiritually, listening to the Spirit, and recording your impressions.

Instead of focusing on the three phrases examined in the manual, I would like to share with you the lessons I learned from today’s reading (yes, that means all 15 chapters).

By the time I finished reading through 2 Nephi 23 I was feeling very frustrated. Why would Nephi spend so much time copying the prophecies of Israel’s destruction? The week’s focus is supposed to be on how we can rejoice in Christ. How does reiterating the declarations of destruction that is about to come upon the people of Israel help Nephi’s people, or us for that matter, rejoice in Christ? Over and over again the people are told that their choices to turn away from God will bring swift and severe consequences. They will be scattered among all the nations of the earth; they will crucify their own God, and justify the Lord’s punishments upon them completely.

As I went back and read just the chapter headings, I noticed that after each foretelling of doom there was a promise of great blessings from God in the future. When Israel was promised that Babylon would destroy their city and take the nation captive, they were also promised they would someday return and rebuild their beloved city of Jerusalem. With each promise of Israel’s scattering and punishment, they are also promised that they will someday be gathered and blessed beyond measure. The more I read the more confused I became.

Nephi was gathering his people together to help them rejoice in Christ and his promises to them, yet the words he uses are mostly filled with God’s condemnation for their wicked behavior. The descriptions of their punishments are specific, graphic, and severe. The same goes for God’s promises of redemption. I could see why all the promises of redemption and blessings to come in the last days and in the Millennium would be shared, but why did he need to be so detailed and prolific about their punishments? What good was going to come of it? How did the threat of destruction help the people rejoice in Christ “today”?

I finally got myself into such a tizzy I called my mother to see if she could set me straight. She didn’t see what the problem was. She read the same material and was able to focus on the redemption of God’s people. I was only seeing a lot of death and destruction with a payoff of blessings thousands of years later. My main question was about the timing. So what if their posterity thousands of years later would be redeemed from their fallen state and restored to a place of favor with God? How was that supposed to help them rejoice in Christ “today” when they saw the scattering and punishment of their posterity that would last for a couple of thousand years between their day and the day of their posterity’s redemption?

It’s all about perspective

I write all the time about how perspective changes everything. The scriptures are full of shifts in perspective that take good people in bad situations and cause them to rejoice in their God, despite their current situation. My mother was kind enough to keep me talking until I answered my own questions.

In 2 Nephi, the people are feeling cut off from God’s blessings because they have been left alone upon one of the isles of the sea. They had no neighbors. Their immediate family was all they had to talk to – well them and the rest of their family who wanted to kill them, the Lamanites. They were wondering if they were really going to be included in all of the blessings promised to God’s chosen people. The whole book of 2 Nephi goes from one sermon to the next about this very issue. Nephi even says that the very reason he is quoting Isaiah is so that his people could liken Isaiah’s promises to Israel unto themselves, because they are of the house of Israel.

The words of Isaiah quoted here are painting the story of all of God’s dealings with His people from Isaiah’s day down to the end of time. This is the big picture. Nephi is using Isaiah’s prophecies to show how his people, who are Israelites, are included in the great tapestry of the plan of salvation. The plan of salvation is not just about what happened in our premortal life, it includes everything that God has mapped out in mortality and beyond as well. Nephi was showing his people that they, as part of the chosen people, had a very important role to play in the Lord’s plan for His family while they are in mortality.

To give them the big picture it was necessary that they understand that disobedience to God’s laws always brings punishment. As His covenant people, they could not expect anything less. Isaiah even tells them that God has a hand in setting up and bringing down every nation on earth. And in every case the nations are destroyed because they reject the laws God gives them, and they refuse to repent. He teaches Nephi’s people that it is usually by the wicked that the wicked are punished. And where there is no one to punish them, the Lord steps in and does it Himself.

The focus of what Isaiah is teaching them is that in every instance where God finds it necessary to punish His people, His anger does not last forever. There is always the promise that Christ will come and bring universal salvation to anyone who is willing to believe in him and obey his commandments. Isaiah clearly shows Israel that despite the punishments they will receive for their disobedience, their posterity will not be utterly forsaken. God will gather them back in and greatly bless them in the future. They are still His chosen people. Isaiah paints for them the images of salvation and redemption that will be available to their families during the Millennial reign of their Savior.

It is important to recognize a couple of items here. Repentance is always offered and promoted at each and every step along Israel’s path. Nephi’s people are not told when the scattering will take place, or when they will be destroyed, except in general terms. The scattering is not the focus, but the opportunity to repent and not be scattered today. The redemption and saving that Christ brings is always offered as the first and best choice for everyone today. Yes, all the things Isaiah and the other prophets have said would come to pass in the future would certainly happen. But today need not be that day, for we can always repent and receive the blessings of the righteous right now, and that only comes through belief in and obedience to the commandments of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

I believe it was a good thing for Nephi to show the grand tapestry of the future of Israel to his people. They could see where they fit into the history of the whole world. They could also see that even though it was known that their descendents would rebel against Christ, and be roundly punished for their rebellion, they would not be cast off forever. Their descendents would eventually be brought back into the covenant fold of God and receive His greatest blessings. Is this not something they should rejoice in?

Prophecy is a promise, not a prediction. God sees all things from the beginning to the end in the here and now. All of time is currently before Him. When He tells the prophets what will happen in the future, unless the people living then are able to make changes, and He tells them they can, there is nothing they can do to change that future. All any of us can do is make sure we are obedient today. To those who are obedient to the commandments and covenants God’s blessings are as much in affect today as they were back in Adam’s day, Abraham’s day, Noah’s day, or any other time period in the history of the world. God’s blessings remain unchanging and firm from generation to generation – if we seek salvation through His Son, Jesus the Christ, we will receive eternal rewards that will bring us everlasting happiness.

What I was missing in my reading of the Isaiah passages was my perspective. I was looking only at my time in mortality. Isaiah’s prophecy covered thousands of years and demonstrates God’s love for His people in every generation. It also demonstrates His sorrow over those who rebel against His laws of happiness, for obedience to God’s laws always brings joy. That joy is what Christ offers us.

Day 2

2 Nephi 11:2-8; 25:19-29 – The right way is to believe in Christ.

Nephi taught that Isaiah’s words “are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:4). As you read, seek the spirit of prophecy by preparing yourself spiritually, listening to the Spirit, and recording your impressions.

Nephi’s testimony of Christ, as given in the two passages of today’s lesson, consist of three main points.

1  There is only one way back to God, and that way is through Christ.

2  The purpose of the law of Moses is to keep us looking forward to Christ’s coming. At some point in the future Christ will fulfill the law of Moses making it no longer necessary. When that day comes, don’t worry about letting go of the law of Moses.

3  Because we are commanded to live the law of Moses, we do, but technically, we have outgrown the law. The point of the law of Moses is to bring us to Christ – to get us to believe in him, and to look to him as the source and way for our salvation. Since we already believe in him, we preach of him and teach of his coming to our children, living the law of Moses is only a formality we obey because of Christ’s commandment to do so, until he personally fulfills the law.

I love that the manual points out that Nephi opens and closes his quoting from Isaiah with his testimony of Christ. Nephi’s testimony, especially in chapter 25 states that it is only in and through the Christ that we can become reconciled with God and be saved. What he doesn’t say directly is that the law of Moses could not provide salvation. Only Christ can do that. It is for this reason that he taught his people to look beyond the law of Moses, and to look to Christ for a remission of their sins.

As you think back to the New Testament lessons, remember that the Jews had a really big problem with this idea of not living the law of Moses. They kept telling the new converts that they needed to accept the law of Moses if they wanted to be in the Church, but the prophets kept trying to explain to them that Christ fulfilled the law, so it was no longer needed. Indeed, it should no longer be practiced at all. Nephi already knew that the law would be fulfilled in Christ. He was already teaching his posterity to live the gospel as Christ would teach it more than 500 years in the future. But they still had to live the law, because it was still required by God that they do so, until His Son would come and fulfill all the requirements of the law.

I think Nephi is trying to help us see that Isaiah also understood the difference between the law of Moses and the law Christ would teach. As you think back on what you read in these Isaiah passages, think of how many references there are to Christ, his coming, and the redemption he offers to all. Historically, Isaiah speaks of the future events that will affect Israel and humanity. Doctrinally, Isaiah doesn’t really speak of the law of Moses at all, only of redemption through Christ.

Day 3

2 Nephi 12-13 – The proud and worldly will be humbled.

Nephi taught that Isaiah’s words “are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:4). As you read, seek the spirit of prophecy by preparing yourself spiritually, listening to the Spirit, and recording your impressions.

If you haven’t already read President Benson’s talk on pride referenced in today’s lesson, here is a quote from his General Conference talk.

Pride is a very misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance. (See Mosiah 3:113 Ne. 6:18.) In the scriptures there is no such thing as righteous pride—it is always considered a sin. Therefore, no matter how the world uses the term, we must understand how God uses the term so we can understand the language of holy writ and profit thereby. (See 2 Ne. 4:15Mosiah 1:3–7Alma 5:61.)

Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.” As Paul said, they “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philip. 2:21.)

Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled. (See Alma 38:123 Ne. 12:30.)

The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6.) They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works.

Our enmity toward God takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers. The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s.

Another major portion of this very prevalent sin of pride is enmity toward our fellowmen. We are tempted daily to elevate ourselves above others and diminish them. (See Hel. 6:17D&C 58:41.)

The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others. In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109–10.)

I suggest you read this quote a couple of times, at least. The whole talk (in my opinion) is the best treatment of the sin of pride found in the whole gospel library. Pride is what felled Satan, and what drives him and his agenda today. Pride is the antithesis of God’s love, for it is completely self-centered. It causes us to be consumed with our own self interests, instead of the interests of others. It pits us against all those around us. You could go point for point and identify how pride is the polar opposite of God’s charity or love. This is the characteristic sin of the last days. We are characterized all throughout scriptures by the enormous amount of pride that will exist in the world in the last days.

As President Benson states, many of us are sinning in ignorance, because we don’t really understand what pride is and how it works, so we can’t really tell if we are guilty of having pride. The world has turned pride into a virtue. We are proud of ourselves, proud of our children or sports team. We are taught by the world that we SHOULD BE proud, that it is a good thing. They tell us that the opposite of pride is shame. This is a lie. The opposite of pride is humility, and subjecting our wills to God. We need to think long and hard on how we truly feel about the definition of pride. Who is right and who is wrong?

If we believe the world is right then pride is a good thing and something we should seek after. If we truly believe God then we should seek to humble ourselves and only seek the establishment of God’s will in our lives and the salvation and welfare of all those with whom we come in contact. The world would call this being of weak character. God calls this being obedient and faithful.

The scriptures in today’s lesson are very clear that God has nothing good in store for those He considers to be prideful. The proud will not just be taught a lesson in humility, but they will be given the lesson with a severe lashing. Notice as you read these two chapters how strong Isaiah’s words are against those God considers to be guilty of pride. We don’t have to be proud. We can seek out God’s help to learn humility, but it will mean, for many of us, learning to eat crow/humble pie, and learning to swallow our pride. (I am sure there are other expressions you can think of to fill in the blanks here, but hopefully you get my drift.)

As an aside, I would like to point out that ministering is the cure for living a pride-filled life. Learning to look for the needs of others, and seeking God’s help in filling those needs, is what ministering is all about. Perhaps we should all take stock of how much actual time we spend directly ministering to the needs of someone other than those who will benefit us when we help them. Many of us will probably find that out of any 24 hour period only a moment or two is actually devoted to pure and sacred service to someone else who cannot respond in kind, and perhaps not even that much time. If we search through our days and have difficulty finding specific examples of how we are selflessly serving others, chances are we may need to rethink who we are really worshiping, ourselves, our things, or God.

Here is my commentary on that lesson from the Priesthood/Relief Society manual that contains President Benson’s talk.

Ezra Taft Benson – Chapter 18 w commentary

Please note that this was written a number of years ago. As I read through it now I see there are a number of changes I should have made in how I worded some sentences, or in how I stated an idea. But I stand by the work as a whole. I believe it to be sound and helpful, even with my flaws on display.

Day 4

2 Nephi 12:2-5; 21:9-12; 22:24:1-3 – In the Millennium, God’s people will enjoy peace.

Nephi taught that Isaiah’s words “are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:4). As you read, seek the spirit of prophecy by preparing yourself spiritually, listening to the Spirit, and recording your impressions.

Today’s lesson will be short. The principle of perspective talked about in the first day’s lesson also applies here. In Nephi’s day, Isaiah’s day, as well as in our day, there is much tribulation, and it seems that peace is increasingly being taken from the earth. The only peace we can achieve in our day is the peace that comes from Christ. With that peace nestled deep in our soul, we can approach everything we do with a spirit of calm that the world cannot grant us.

The peace the world seeks by applying laws and mandates on nations can only be achieved through personal submission to Christ’s will. Peace must come from within to be seen and felt without. Peace within us is what generates peace in our home. Peace in our homes generate greater peace in our neighborhoods and cities, etc. One cannot legislate peace, for peace is an individual quality each must possess for him/herself.

As each of us learns to achieve and cherish the peace only Christ can give us, we will create the peace that will be characteristic of the peace that will fill the world during the Millennium. This is what makes our homes, ward/branch/stake houses such sacred spaces. It is in such places we come to share our peace with others. They gain strength from our peace as much as we gain strength from theirs. Peace is only available to those who are repentant and submissive to God’s laws, for peace is a product of God’s love, the opposite of the world’s pride. Pride breeds enmity, the killer of peace.

One of the great blessings we can look forward to when we look toward the Millennial day is the blessing of living in a peaceful society. Our children can look forward to being in neighborhoods that are safe, supportive, loving, and filled with the knowledge of God. This is a blessing we should all be praying for and working toward, for we can build such places in miniature now within our own homes and wards. This is no mean feat, for we must do so while struggling against all the preaching and proselytizing of the world that surrounds us. But it is possible, and it is required of the people who will be ready for the Lord at his coming.

Scripture Study and Family Home Evening

2 Nephi 21:9 – Filling the earth with “the knowledge of the Lord.”

Here is the scripture verse.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

The average depth of the oceans of the world is more than 12,200 feet or more than two miles deep. Now reread the Lord’s statement that during the Millennium the world will be as “full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” I doubt any of us can begin to fathom everyone in the world having this much knowledge of God. In comparison, I would have considered a modern-day statement about how much the world knows of God to be like the occasional small puddle in a vast desert.

We have tremendous resources at our disposal in the last days. Just social media alone provides us with many opportunities to flood the earth with a knowledge of God, the Book of Mormon, and of our testimonies of the Restoration. The question is, have we taken the Brethren’s plea to heart to join the conversation and share what we believe online? Here is Elder Ballard’s plea.

“Now, may I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration.”

Elder Ballard points out that there are millions around the world having conversations about the restored gospel of Christ. We may not affect millions, but if we can affect even one and help to bring them to Christ by sharing our beliefs then we need to be online and participating in the conversation.

Here is a PDF of this week’s study material.
Print it out for greater convenience in your studies.

BoM Week 08