Short Take: Skipped Are the Words of Isaiah?

Author’s Note

I recently baked some fresh Alaska salmon. It practically melted in my mouth. I almost didn’t need teeth.

But I also love steak. Think what I would miss if I avoided it, because it requires a lot more chewing.

Don’t skip the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon.

This may help: remember we’re reading Hebrew poetry. Translation takes its toll, but even in English much of Isaiah’s poetry survives.

Hebrew poetry often repeats the same thought in different words. For example, we may think there will someday be two world capitals, one religious and one secular, because we read, “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (2 Nephi 12:3; Isaiah 2:3). Maybe – but he’s probably just saying the same thing twice.

A few verses later, we see more repetition. Isaiah describes Israel’s wealth, saying the land is full of silver and gold, then repeating (in different words), “Neither is there any end of their treasures.” Then he repeats the point – twice – by saying, “The land is full of horses,” (and) “neither is there any end of their chariots.”

The next verse uses this pattern to make and repeat a key point: (1) “Their land is also full of idols; (2) they worship the work of their own hands, [now he repeats that too] that which their own fingers have made” (2 Nephi 12:7-8; Isaiah 2:7-8).

Slow down. Take small bites. Chew your food.

It’s often beautiful. It’s frequently powerful. And – don’t be turned away – it’s poetry.

Short Take: Parallel Experiences

Author’s Note

In 1 Nephi 1 Lehi’s experience resembles Joseph Smith’s later experience with visions and the gold plates (see Joseph Smith – History), and foretells our own experience with the Book of Mormon.

Troubled by prophets’ warnings that Jerusalem must repent or be destroyed, Lehi prays “with all his heart in behalf of his people” (v. 5). Like Joseph, who prayed with a different question and later in penance for his own sins, Lehi sees a pillar of fire and hears much. Like Joseph, he is physically exhausted afterward (v. 6-7).

Another vision follows. In it a heavenly being (perhaps Christ) descends from heaven with twelve others. As Moroni to Joseph, they bring to Lehi a book. (See vv. 9-12.)

Lehi reads and learns of the imminent Babylonian captivity (v. 13) and other things. The book tells of God’s mercy, and “the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world” (v. 19).

Not coincidentally, this happens in the first chapter of a book we are commanded to read – a testament of Christ, and an account of the scattering and gathering of Israel – which was first delivered to our dispensation by an angel responding to earnest prayer.

Like Lehi and Joseph, we’re to teach what we learn from the book. We hope not to be threatened with death, as they were, but we can expect a common blessing with Lehi and Joseph nonetheless: as we read, we too will be “filled with the spirit of the Lord” (v. 12).

Short Take: “The Lamb . . . Shall Feed Them”

Author’s Note

Sometimes, when reading the Revelation of John, we come across gems which don’t require us to decode a lot of symbolism. Here’s a personal favorite. It’s half of Revelation 7, and it’s good for times when it’s hard to see a happy ending through the tears and tribulation.

John is seeing in vision our future in the heavenly kingdom of God. A numberless multitude from all nations is before God’s throne, praising him. “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne,” they say (or sing), “and unto the Lamb. . . . Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.”

A being asks John if he knows who these people are and where they came from, but he doesn’t. The being explains: “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Then he continues, ”He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more. . . . For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:9-17).

I like to envision that.

Short Take: Paul, Agrippa, Grace

Author’s Note

Paul tells King Agrippa what he did at Jerusalem and elsewhere: “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests. And when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” (Acts 26:10).

He was devout, faithful, zealous. “After the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” (Acts 26:5). He thought he was doing God’s work.

We want to excuse Paul’s legally-sanctioned murders, because of what he became. But he had Christians killed for believing in Christ – and he thought God wanted that. There’s no way – and Paul didn’t try – to explain or excuse that grave crime down to a mere misdemeanor.

Two thoughts.

First: No wonder Paul speaks so often and so gladly of grace. He knew the limits of Law and works; he knew his own need for “the grace of God that bringeth salvation” (Titus 2:11). The zealous former Pharisee bid his own people, “Come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). He did not dismiss obedience (see Titus 2:12), but he knew that our best, while necessary, is not even remotely enough. We are saved by grace – by the gift of unearned mercy.

Second: If God could, would, and did make Saul the murderous Pharisee into Paul the apostle, then my own flaws and sins – and yours – are certainly within the scope of God’s grace, love, and power.

Therefore, with Paul: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1).

Short Take: “And Lifted Him Up”

Author’s Note

“Now Peter and John went up together into the temple . . . And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple . . . to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; Who seeing Peter and John . . . asked an alms.”

There is already admirable service here; consider the nameless good people who took the crippled man to the temple every day.

Peter and John stopped, and Peter spoke to the beggar. “Look on us,” he said. The man must have been looking elsewhere, even after asking for money – perhaps in shame or because he had he given up on Peter and John and was watching for his next prospect. There is nothing to suggest that he knew Peter and John, but he looked at them expectantly when Peter spoke.

Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”

An impressive miracle is not the end here. What happened next is a lesson to all who would lead or teach or serve. “[Peter] took him by the right hand, and lifted him up” (Acts 3:1-7).

Peter did not confine his service to healing the man in Jesus’ name and telling him what to do. He reached down and helped him up.

In our ministries it is not enough to assure people that they can do something they’ve never done before, or haven’t done in a long time, or haven’t been doing well. Even powerful words are not enough. We must also act.

Then, if we’re to follow Peter and John’s example, having lifted someone up, we must also welcome his company.

“And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple” (Acts 3:8). After healing this man and helping him to stand, Peter and John allowed him to accompany them into the temple, though he was still, no doubt, dressed like a beggar.

Short Take: More Than a Sower

Author’s Note

In Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23) seeds fall in different places. Some are eaten immediately by birds. Some fall in stony places with little soil, where the sprouts cannot endure the heat of the day. Some sprout among thorns and are overwhelmed. Some fall in good soil and bring forth abundant fruit.

These outcomes represent common responses to hearing God’s word. Respectively, some people reject it; some receive it joyfully but cannot endure persecution; some hear it but are diverted by riches and the world’s cares; and some accept and understand it and bring forth fruit.

If we take this valuable parable too far, we might forget that ours is a God of Second Chances.

Having spent my youth on farms, growing grain, alfalfa, potatoes, and cattle – while tending a half-acre vegetable garden at home – I am cannot see the end of this parable as the end of the story.

Consider what the farmer and gardener do. If the soil is weak and shallow, they build it up – with organic matter and sometimes by bringing in more soil. If the soil is rocky, they remove the rocks. If birds steal the seed, they find ways to repel the birds. If weeds intrude, they spray or pull them, so the crop is not choked.

Our Sower returns to plant again and again, working faithfully to improve the soil – harrowing up our souls, when necessary (2 Nephi 9:47; Alma 14:6; 36:12; 39:7) – until he has done everything a God can do to save his children (see Moroni 7:36).

Short Take: One Parable, Six Roles

Author’s Note

In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), a man is robbed and badly beaten. Some people help him, and some don’t.

The cast of characters includes thieves; their victim, who was probably a Jew; a Jewish religious leader (priest); a Jewish temple worker (Levite); a Samaritan, whom the Jews thought racially and religiously impure; and an innkeeper (called the host).

The thieves leave the victim half dead. The priest and Levite see him but keep their distance; contact with blood or a corpse would make them ceremonially unclean. The Samaritan had compassion and “went to him, and bound up his wounds, . . . and brought him to an inn, and took care of him,” leaving extra money with the innkeeper and promising more, if needed.

We might see ourselves in each of these roles.

One hopes we are never the thieves, wounding people and leaving them half dead. Are we ever the priest or Levite, using our (Christian) religion as an excuse not to be Christian? Sometimes we are the innkeeper, serving others in a supporting role.

We like ourselves in the role of Good Samaritan and aspire to play it often. “Go, and do thou likewise,” said the Lord.

This parable has another level, because we are also the thieves’ victim: damaged, fallen, left for dead. The Savior himself – “despised and rejected of men” (Isaiah 53:3), like a Samaritan – is the Good Samaritan, who rescues us, heals us, engages others to help us, and pays the full price of our redemption.

Short Take: “Our Daily Bread”

Author’s Note

In the scriptures Jesus both prays and teaches prayer. His best-known instruction is what we Christians call the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4; 3 Nephi 13:9-13).

In this model prayer Jesus praises his Father and acknowledges his own subordinate place – as we might well do from our lowlier position. He asks for big things: “Thy kingdom come,” and so forth, showing that he knows and is committed to the big picture. Then he turns to daily needs: forgiveness, protection from evil, and food.

“Give us this day our daily bread,” he says. But why should I ask for it? Don’t I buy it – and the minivan and fuel I use to haul it home – with money I earn by working?

I might feel independent, but in truth our dependence on God is total.

Paul said, “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. . . . In him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:25, 28).

King Benjamin said, “[He] is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another” (Mosiah 2:21).

Much later, the Lord himself explained that the power of God “is in all things [and] giveth life to all things” (D&C 88:13) and “enlighteneth your eyes” and “quickeneth your understandings” (D&C 88:11).

By asking – or thanking – God for my daily bread, I acknowledge him as the ultimate source of all life, including mine.