Monthly Archives: February 2021

Idols and Anger

In 1 Nephi 3, Lehi tells his sons to return to Jerusalem to get scriptures and religious records. In a pre-literate society, these would be rare and valuable things. In Lehi’s view, the information on them is worth more than the monetary value to be had from them – these are the words of God, after all. Lehi knows that his family is going away, far away, and that having such records with them will be what they need to retain their covenant relationship with God.

Lehi’s sons oblige their father and return to the city. There, Laman first asks the owner of the records, a man called Laban, if he might have them. Laban accuses Laman of being a robber and drives him out of his house. One should note that Laban is a very rich man – one of the types Jeremiah warned us about. At any rate, Laman having made his attempt wishes to chalk up a loss and then move on.

Nephi disagrees: he proposes to offer up the family fortune to acquire the records from Laban. Upon seeing the fortune, Laban chooses to keep his possessions and rob the sons of Lehi of all that they have. The sons of Lehi are driven from Laban’s house, and find shelter in a cave.

It is in this cave that Laman and Lemuel, Nephi’s older brothers, become enraged to the point where they begin to beat their younger brothers – Nephi and Sam – with a rod, until an angel halts the beatings and reprimands Laman and Lemuel. But what was it that made Laman and Lemuel so outraged?

Look at the treasures of Lehi for the answer. As long as the gold and silver and other fineries remained in the family home, a return to Jerusalem and the riches was always an option. The family, with or without Lehi, could always go back to the way things were after this unusual interlude in the desert.

But without the riches, the path back is destroyed. Without the riches, the family is completely committed to the path of being destitute wanderers in the desert. With or without God, the fact is that wandering in the desert is always harder to do than enjoying comforts in the city. And with the path back to the city destroyed, Laman and Lemuel become violent.

Laman and Lemuel do not see that returning to the riches is to be the adulterers in Jeremiah’s allegory. They do not see that returning to the riches is to forsake the meaning of their covenants with God, that it hollows out their religious purpose. Culturally, they still exhibit the external modes of righteousness. Internally, they are chasing after other gods: the gold, silver, and other fineries that are the idols of their desire.

We must remember that even if a thing is not associated with a Canaanite or Phoenician or Babylonian or any other god, it can still be an idol when our attentions to that thing cause us to forget that God asks us to be mindful of the poor and to have no divisions amongst us. And when those idols are threatened by God, the idolaters lash out with violence.

My Father Dwelt in a Tent

When Lehi abandons Jerusalem in 1 Nephi Chapter 2, the scripture is explicit in stating that he abandons his gold, silver, land, and possessions in the process. He takes only his family, provisions, and tents. That’s it.

That makes sense: when leaving behind wicked people, leave behind as well the objects of wickedness’ desire. Verse 15 underlines Lehi’s abandonment of the comforts of the city for the sparseness of the wilderness by stating, “And my father dwelt in a tent.”

We also see the first indications of trouble with Laman and Lemuel. What is identified as the source of their troubles? A desire to return to those comforts of home, the gold and the silver. They are with their family in the wilderness, but a stronger desire in their hearts is to leave the family behind and partake of the riches they knew. This is what Jeremiah identified as wickedness and abomination, as leaving behind God for to worship the works of their hands.

Laman and Lemuel are not drunkards, neither are they fornicators, adulterers, or robbers. Their sins stem from attitudes that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying luxuries and that what’s theirs is theirs. They see themselves as property owners, not as property stewards. The gold and silver is for them to enjoy, not to be spent in doing the work of God.

Lehi, by contrast, knows that time is, ultimately, short, and that it is better spent in doing the will of God than in idle enjoyments. He flees to the wilderness with nearly nothing. He could have fled to Egypt or on to Carthage. While Egypt fell under the rule of the Babylonians, Carthage remained independent. So why not go to those places? Even without riches, an astute man such as Lehi, with four enterprising sons, would be able to make a comfortable living in such places. There would also be the option to get ahead of the curve and go into Babylon itself, thereby avoiding becoming casualties in a siege and sack of Jerusalem. But, no, Lehi’s flight abandons not just Jerusalem, but all the cities and their riches – and the sins that go with those riches, as well.

Abominations and Wickedness

In 1 Nephi, Chapter 1, Nephi makes reference to the wickedness and abominations of the people of Jerusalem. What, exactly, was the composition of the activities defined as such? I could assume certain things, but that would be an assumption based upon my experience and frame of reference. What were the abominations and wickedness that Nephi was talking about?

Jeremiah, a contemporary, mentions people worshipping the works of their own hands and following after other gods, likening such to committing adultery. But is that all?

Chapter 5 of Jeremiah indicates a social aspect to the abandonment of worshipping God: As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great and waxen rich. They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?

It’s clear: neglect of the poor and increasing social inequality is linked with abandoning worship of the one true God. In Chapter 7 of Jeremiah, the prophet declares that the people are not saved just because they attend temple services: the wrong that they do remains a wrong. When the uncharitable enter the temple, it is “a den of robbers.”

That there is child sacrifice associated with abandoning God makes it all the worse – but that goes along with the lack of charity and care for the poor. Jeremiah 9 adds lying to the list of abominations – not just a lie here or there, but constant lying to support and justify the actions of the wicked. Jeremiah 10 refers to luxury items and fine clothing as the trappings of the wicked. Jeremiah 17 again refers to those who pursue wealth as those who depart from God. Jeremiah 22 expands on that idea, condemning those who do not pay their workers properly, but hoard their wealth rather than pay justly for the labor they employ.

Note that this is not saying that the rich are not paying the going rate for labor – they very well may be doing so, but that rate itself may be unjust recompense for the labor rendered. Simply paying a wage does not mean that one is not exploiting one’s workers. Again, it is in being unjust and covetous of wealth that one serves a different god, a false god – this is what is meant by abominations and wickedness.

In later chapters of the Book of Mormon, the righteous are counseled to avoid wearing fine apparel or amassing wealth – the wicked, likewise, are condemned for it. I would say that the same rules would apply for people of this day, and that the people who promote the benefits of the wealthy at the expense of the poor have gone on to worship mammon and have forsaken God. There is nothing sacred or holy about an economic system that creates opportunities for the wealthy to exploit their fellow human brothers and sisters. It is, in fact, an abomination and a great wickedness.

A Search for a Better Purpose

I thought this morning, “I’m thankful for this day.” I say I thought that, but it was really a thoughtless moment, a sort of reflex action of gratitude I say to myself on any given day. I determined to think more carefully about my thankfulness for the day.

Was I thankful that I have work, a family, and time to enjoy leisure? Nice those things may be, but are those the purpose of my life? I have time to ponder the words of God in scripture, but is that all I am here to do, ponder when the mood strikes me? Preach those words, perhaps, but what is the best way to preach?

It is said that the word of God brings peace and comfort. But I know too many people who are complacent in thinking that peace and comfort is enough. They make no effort to better themselves. They do not examine their lives – ironically, an activity that does not bring peace and comfort, yet which is consistent with the word of God.

God asks that we repent. The word means literally to rethink. It is not enough for me to do the good that I know to do. I need to rethink what I am doing, to scrutinize my assumptions and ask myself what mental baggage do I need to set aside. The word of God brings peace and comfort only after the storm and struggle. Ibsen is right – I must war with trolls if I am to live, and the trolls exist within my heart and mind.

That’s easy enough to say: I declare that I’m working on my inner issues and everyone can assume that I’m succeeding in that effort. If I don’t pressure others, there’s no “what about you?” accusation that could come back to force my own self-judgment into the consideration, somehow exempting the target of that pressure from a similar activity. And if I say I’m not successful, I get pity or sympathy from a potential audience, not a hoped-for self-examination of their own efforts.

It’s just too easy, when trying to preach the word of God, to be told to mind one’s own business if the words are harsh or to face complacent smiles if the words are too easy. There are those who want to hear a message of self-examination, but their numbers are miniscule compared to those who have no intention of changing who they are in order to become a better person. How do I reach such people with a message of Godly wisdom and enlightenment?

And if I do not reach another with that message, what have I to be thankful for in that day? And the answer here is not in reassuring me or telling me that I had good words to say, but in pondering about one’s own life, in searching for that deeper meaning to existence.