Reading the New Testament (Week 5)

This week’s readings are Matthew 4 and Luke 4 and 5. These chapters expand on some of the events we saw briefly in Mark 1 last week. So much happens that I won’t be attempting a complete commentary.

Temptations in the Desert

Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13

We begin with three approaches to Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ temptations: the logistics, which have theological implications; the temptations themselves and their relevance to us ordinary mortals; and Jesus’ scriptural responses, which, taken in context, emphasize a certain theme. Then we’ll briefly note some parallel events and passages in scripture.

Logistics: The Devil’s Role

The King James Version (KJV) and the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) differ on key points, where Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness and his temptations are concerned. The KJV accounts raise some concerns.

Short Take: Shepherds and Lambs

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the New Testament in 2015. Here’s my “short take” for the month.

God invited shepherds to visit the manger that night, then bear witness – not religious, civic, or business leaders (Luke 2:8-18). The God and Friend of ancient shepherds – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Abel, Moses – was not just being social. He was continuing a frequent and powerful symbol, declaring both who Jesus is to us – Shepherd and Lamb – and who we are to him. (See Isaiah 53:6-7; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Nephi 13:41; Helaman 15:13.)

Observers of shepherds’ ancient ways report details which help us understand the symbolism.

Shepherds lead from the front, instead of driving from behind. (“Follow me” – see Matthew 9:9John 1:43.)

A shepherd knows the face, personality, and name of each sheep.

Each shepherd has a unique call, which his sheep recognize. (“My sheep hear my voice . . . and follow me” – John 10:27.)

Sheep generally follow their shepherd, but sometimes bolt. The shepherd knows which sheep is missing and goes to find it. Bringing a sheep back on one’s shoulders is heavy, smelly work.

A proper shepherd doesn’t recoil from an ailing sheep. He ministers.

A shepherd is compassionate. Jewish tradition tells of Moses tending a flock before his prophetic call. One sheep bolts. He pursues it all the way to a familiar watering hole. He is kind and understanding, not angry, and says, “It was because of thirst that you strayed.” He lets it drink, then carries it back to the flock.

Finally – as a prelude to our year’s study of the New Testament – when sheep hear their shepherd’s voice, they raise their heads, turn to him, listen, and gather to him.

Short Take: Huldah the Prophetess

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s this month’s “short take.”

King Josiah ruled Judah in Jeremiah’s and Zephaniah’s time. Tradition has Jeremiah teaching in the streets, Zephaniah teaching in the synagogues, and Huldah the prophetess preaching to women gathered to hear her outside the temple wall.

Josiah’s father and grandfather had led the people into idolatry, but Josiah’s desires were righteous. He began to turn his people away from idols and to repair and restore the temple.

During the temple renovation, Hilkiah, the high priest, found a scroll that had been hidden for safekeeping and long since forgotten. It contained the Law, the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy). Tradition dates it to Moses’ time and says it was open to a passage in Deuteronomy which prophesied destruction if the people disobeyed the Law. (See Deuteronomy 28:15-68.)

Knowing his people’s idolatry and shaken by the prophecy, Josiah sent Hilkiah and others to Huldah for her counsel.

She responded, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book . . . because they have forsaken me” (2 Chronicles 34:24-25; 2 Kings 22:16-17).

However, she had happier words for Josiah himself: because of his righteousness and humility, this destruction would not be in his lifetime.

Jewish history says Josiah summoned his people to the temple, stood on a platform, and read to them from the Law, and the people renewed their covenant to serve the Lord.

There is no further Old Testament reference to Huldah the prophetess. Josiah reigned righteously for 13 more years, until 609 BC. The prophesied destruction came 22 years later, after new wickedness — without repentance.

Short Take: Here Am I

When Samuel heard his name one night, he thought Eli was calling him. He answered, “Here am I.” Eli had not called; he sent Samuel back to bed. It happened again and again. Finally, Eli said it must be the Lord, and Samuel should say next time, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Samuel obeyed, and marvels followed. (See 1 Samuel 3:1-10.)

Long before Samuel, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses answered in turn, when the Lord called: “Here am I” (Exodus 3:1-4; Genesis 22:11; 31:11; 46:2).

In the Hebrew Bible, what Samuel, Moses, Abraham, and Jacob said, when the Lord called, was “hineni” (pronounced “hee-NAY-ee” or “hee-nen-EE,” depending on which rabbi is reading which verse).

Besides mere presence or location, hineni suggests devotion, service, and determination. Hineni implies what Samuel said the fourth time: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” Samuel was listening, and he was the Lord’s willing servant. I’m told that hineni also suggests, “This is where I take a stand. This is what I stand for.”

So I ask myself, and you could ask yourself, Is the Church just a nice place to spend time on Sunday? Or do I present myself there, as God’s willing servant? What of my prayers, my neighborhood, my home? Am I just there, or am I the Lord’s willing and obedient servant there?

My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. This is one such column, as previously published there.

Short Take: Using the JST

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

One purpose of the Book of Mormon is to establish the Bible’s truth (1 Nephi 13:40). Another is to restore “plain and precious things” which were lost from Bible (1 Nephi 13:24-29). After the Book of Mormon’s publication, God set Joseph Smith another large scriptural task: restore the Bible. The Bible is that important.

Under inspiration from heaven, Joseph restored much that was lost and corrected many errors. We usually call the result the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), though it is not a translation between languages. The LDS Church still uses the King James Version (KJV) – a longer story – but many JST excerpts are in footnotes and an appendix to the LDS publication of the KJV. Several whole chapters are included in the Pearl of Great Price. Noticing these enriches our reading and teaching.

For example, the JST version of the early chapters of Genesis is published in the Pearl of Great Price as the Book of Moses; the expansion is dramatic and priceless.

When Moses shows wonders to Pharaoh, beginning in Exodus 7, the KJV says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3, 13). The JST has Pharaoh hardening his own heart.

When John records – according to the KJV – both that Jesus baptized (John 3:22) and did not baptize (4:2), the JST says instead, in the latter case, that Jesus performed baptisms, but not as many as his disciples.

Short Take: Agency and the Alternative, Part Two

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

Note: We know the Book of Moses, mentioned below, as part of The Pearl of Great Price, but it comes from the Joseph Smith Translation version of Genesis.

(Continued from February’s newsletter.)

We often assume that Lucifer’s alternative to our Father’s plan was to compel everyone to do good, so that all might be saved. But there are other ways to damage or destroy agency, which the Lord said was Lucifer’s aim (Moses 4:3).

One way is removing consequences by saving everyone, no matter what they do – saving the people in their sins (Alma 11:34-37). Brigham Young and Orson Pratt taught (Journal of Discourses 13:282; 21:287-89) that this was Lucifer’s meaning when he promised, “One soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1).

His argument would have been quite seductive: “You, Father, profess to love your children, but your plan will save only the elect few. Most mortals will be too weak to win the rewards you offer. My plan is more loving, more merciful, and more just: I will save them all, whatever they may do.”

In truth, nearly everyone will rise to greater eternal glory than Lucifer could offer. And God is raising divine children, not feckless rabble. But the ultimate answer to the destroyer’s arguments is Jesus Christ. He is the guarantee and embodiment of our possibilities. He is the perfect assurance that justice, which cannot be robbed, will nonetheless be tempered with divine, abundant mercy. In him is the power and the will to save each soul to the limit of that soul’s desire to be saved.