Come Follow Me – Judges


Judges cover the hundreds of years between Joshua’s death and the beginning of the Israeli Kings beginning with Saul. The book has three sections: an introduction providing a basic overview of the purposes of judges (Judges 1 – Judges 3:6), an overview of twelve judges (Judges 3:7-16:31) and concludes with two stories of lawlessness and idolatry. The judges described were not actual judges in the way we think of judges. Rather, they were regional leaders, sometimes called by God to deliver different parts of Israel from oppression from neighboring tribes. The stories have a regular pattern. The people feel oppression for a number of years, cry to the Lord for deliverance, at which time a judge is called by the Lord to deliver their people, the people enjoy a period of rest and peace. The book describe a few judges in great detail, the rest of them are mentioned in passing.


The book of Judges is extremely violent in often disturbing ways. The purpose of Judges is not to provide a model of righteousness, but rather how difficult it is to fulfill the promises of Abraham – to build up a covenant nation whose purpose is to bless the earth. The Israeli’s are commonly falling into bad habits of those around them, resort to violence and other serious ethical failings. They do have a national memory, consistently remembering their deliverance from Egypt, God’s hand in that deliverance, and with that, as times become desperate, they call on God for deliverance, often coming through violence. But this never results in long-term peace.

God’s alternatives are clear. God desires peace.

Therefore, arenounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to bturn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children;

Doctrine and Covenants 98:16

Blessed are the apeacemakers: for they shall be called the bchildren of God.

But I say unto you, aLove your benemies, cbless them that dcurse you, do egood to them that fhate you, and gpray for them which despitefully use you, and hpersecute you;

Matthew 5:9

Judges 2

This chapter offers a nice introduction of the theme of judges. In verse 1, an angel promises that God “will never break my covenant with (Israel)”. Israel is warned about the non-covenant people they share the land with that will be “as thorns in (their) sides” (verse 3) when they stumble. After Joshua’s death and as that generation passed on, the next generation after them “knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (verse 10). In their rebellions, they fall into the hands of their enemies.

Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.

Judges 2:16

Each time to people forget God, they fall under the rule of neighboring tribes. A number of years pass and they pray for deliverance, the Lord raise up judges who find a way to deliver the people. They people enjoy peace for time until they again forget God, rinse, cycle repeat (verse 16-19).

Why is it so hard to pass on knowledge of the Lord to the next generation?

How can we be influenced by good and influence for good as we are naturally integrated into a broader society that does not live within the same covenantal relationship with God?

Judges 3 – Ehud, the left-handed judge

Judges 3 spends most of the chapter describing the judge Ehud, a left-handed judge who confronts Eglon king of Moab who ruled over Israel for 18 years. Eglon is fat, Ehud is lefthanded, both facts are relevant to the story. Ehud makes a small two edge dagger and hides it under his clothes on his right thigh. In this sense, being left-handed is an advantage considering the people who would protect the king would expect and search him for weapons on his left side not realizing he’s left-handed. Ehud and his people present an offering for Eglon. Ehud sends everyone away, saying he has a secret errand for the king. Unsuspecting, Eglon allows Ehud to come to him alone at which point Ehud thrusts the dagger into Eglon’s stomach. Eglon’s fat “closed upon the blade” preventing Ehud from pulling it out. Ehud flees. His people assume, with the doors locked, that Eglon was disposed, giving Ehud an opportunity to escape. They finally break in discovering their dead king.

With the Moabite king dead, Ehud organizes his troops for battle and “Moab was subdued”.

Judges 4 – Deborah, the prophetess

Deborah is the only female judge sited in Judges, the only one who actually is said to offer judgment and the only one described with prophetic gifts. She is not, however, a war general, and instead calls Barak to deliver their people from Jabin king of Canaan, whose captain and key the story is Sisera. Barak refuses unless Deborah joins him. Deborah agrees, but prophesies that the glory will go to a woman deliverer.

At Deborah’s urging, Barak’s army confronts Sisera’s army, defeating them. Sisera flees leaving his people but pursued by Barak. Sisera seeks rest at the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, believing he’s found an ally and a source of support. Jael plays the part at first, offering him milk, shelters him and even covers him with a blanket. Once asleep, she drives a tent nail through Sisera’s temple, fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy.

How can unusual, looked over or unexpected gifts or circumstances be the means for accomplishing God’s plan for us?

Judges 6-8 Gideon

This story opens with the Midianites harrasing the Israelites like “grasshoppers for multitude”, devastating their livelihood. In verse 6:6, the Israelites cry to the Lord. An angel of the Lord visits Gideon saying the Lord is with him, a mighty man of valour (verse 6:12). Gideon questions the angel, remembering God’s past willingness to deliver Israel, wondering why God forsakes them now. God calls Gideon to be the deliverer. Like Moses, Gideon shrinks at first, saying “my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (verse 6:15).

Gideon, still unsure, asks for a sign as assurance (verse 6:17). Gideon prepares food, places them on a rock, the angel touches the rock and a fire rises up out of the rock and consumes the food, giving Gideon the sign he seeks.

The first thing God tells Gideon to do is to tear down the altar of Baal and built up an altar to God in its stead, offering a burnt sacrifice on it, something Gideon does with ten men in the middle of the night. When the Midianites discover this, they quickly realize it was Gideon’s doing and demand his father, Joash, to turn Gideon over so that they can put him to death. Joash defends his son telling them to let Baal fight his own battles.

The Midianites and the Amalekites gather for a battle, and Gideon gathers people from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Additionally, he asks for further reassurance involving a fleece of wool on the floor. Assured, Gideon prepares for battle, but the Lord tells him he has too many people. In response, Gideon tells anyone who is “fearful and afraid” to leave. 22,000 people leave, but still with 10,000 left behind, the Lord still says Gideon has too many and offers an extremely random an unrelated for battle filtering mechanism. The army are told to go down to the river to drink. Any of them who drink the water with their hands can remain. Those who get on their knees to drink straight from the pool are dismissed. This left 300 soldiers remaining, sufficiently small enough to go to battle.

Three hundred Israelis against the Midianites and Alalekites who “lay along in the valley like grasshoppers” (verse 7:12). Gideon in preparation went down with his servant, Phurah to scout things out in secret and overhears a man tell another about his dream, who then interprets it. This dream assures Gideon of their impending success. He returns, divides the 300 men into three companies and stations them around their enemies’ camps, with a trumpet in one hand and a lamp in another, but notably no weapons. In the middle of the night, just at the beginning of the middle watch, they blow their trumpets, hold up their lamps, injecting chaos into the minds of their enemies causing them to flee.

In chapter 8, Gideon is shown to be a much more decisive leader, completes his overthrow of his enemies and is ultimately offered the position of king, , “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: The Lord shall rule over you.”


How can we rise up to our challenges when we feel overwhelmed?

How does knowing God is with us help? How can we get that assurance?

Can we over-prepare? How come sometimes the Lord asks us to become more vulnerable? Can you think of applications?

Judges 13-16 Samson

Chapter 13 focuses on Samson’s mother. With previous judges, they are called into action as adults, directly by God through a prophet or by an angel. With Samson, his mother is called to bring forth a child that will be dedicated to called as a Nazarite. Even from the womb, she is not to take “strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” (Judges 13:7). Manoah, the father, is not included in the original vision but wants in and asks God for that visitation. The angel comes again, but again to his wife. His wife summons her husband and they, together, encounter the angel. Like Gideon, Manoah offers a sacrifice upon a rock, and like with Gideon a flame consumes it and the angel disappears, confirming the angel’s divine mission.

The remaining chapters in this section focuses on Samson who over and over again uses his gifts not for the benefit of Israel but for his own purposes. In Chapter 14, he desires a woman from the Philistines. On his way, Samson kills a lion unknown to his parents. Later, on a return trip, he sees a swarm of bees with honey in the lion, eats and takes honey for his parents.

Still later, at the wedding feast, his prospective wife brings thirty companions to which Samson offers a riddle they have no hope in answering, wagering thirty sheets and garments as part of the wager. His to-be-wife’s companions badger Samson’s wife to find out the answer or risk having their house burned down. She badgers her husband for seven days and finally he tells her. When the companions successfully answer the riddle, Samson expresses anger to his wife, goes to Ashkelon and kills thirty men in order to honor the wager. In response, the wife is given to his companion.

When Samson discovers he lost his wife, he catches three hundred foxes and sets them loose on the Phillistine corn, destroying their crops, vineyards and olives. The Philistines respond by killing Samson’s wife and father. Samson response by killing them with “a great slaughter (Judges 15:8). The Philistines respond by threatening Judah. They convince the men of Judah to deliver to them Samson. Samson allows the men of Judah to bind him and deliver him to the Phillistines promising him they will not attack him themselves.

Bound and delivered, Samson uses his strength to break the cords. He sees a nearby jawbone of an ass and kills one thousand men with it. After the battle, he is thirsty and for the first time, calls on God to provide water, which is provided.

The final chapter (16) begins with Samson sleeping with a harlot. The Gazites want to kill him and wait for him in the gate of the city. Samson waits until nightfall and takes the doors of the gate and the two posts and carries them to the top of a hill. After that, he falls in love with Delilah.

The Philistines see an opening through his wife and offers her a lot of money to find out how to weaken Samson. After multiple attempts to discover Samson’s strength, Delilah finally discovers the secret is his hair and she has it cut off. The Philistines subdue Samson, gouge his eyes and imprisons him.

The story ends when the Philistines bring him brought him out of prison and tie him between two pillars in order to mock him. Samson finds renewed strength, brings down the pillars killing him and all those who were there celebrating.


What lessons can we learn from Samson’s birth and the way it echoes Abraham’s, Jesus’ and John the Baptist?

How does this echo the birth of our own children?

Samson has obvious gifts but uses them for selfish purposes. What are the difficulties, dangers and temptations of having gifts that put us in positions of power and authority over others?


Come Follow Me – Numbers (Numbers 11-14, 20-24)


Of the four standard works, the Old Testament has to be the most challenging but perhaps also the most rewarding. The narratives are deceptively complex in ways that prevent quick, superficial interpretations and as a result map quite well onto the complexity of our actual lives. The prophets are flawed, the covenant people are often as troubled as the people they contend with. Even God, at times, acts in mystifyingly, seemingly human ways. Fundamentalist interpretations of the text have to flatten out all of this complexity in order to preserve fundamentalist loyalties. A manipulative reader must cherry pick, hand-wave past contradictions, and otherwise force the text into the shape the reader already had in mind for it. Why even read the text with this objective? Many don’t.

I, like many, believe this text to be set apart as sacred scripture and as such, I’m required dig in and figure out what God is trying to teach through these complicated, confusing and sometimes contradictory narratives. The words come at me through thousands of years of translators and redactors. Flawed people wrote these words down, flawed people redacted, compiled and translated the text over time. We don’t have to accept every word as the literal word of God, but we ought to take it seriously.

With that as introduction, I’d like to go through the book of Numbers from all of the perspectives offered – Moses obviously, but also other leaders identified, Moses, Miriam, Caleb, Joshua and Balaam, and of course from the perspective of the Israelites as well as those the Israelites encounter. Come Follow Me suggests the focus be placed on Numbers 11-14 and Numbers 20-24. (The Old Testament is really, really long).


Moses was born an Israelite of the tribe of Levi, the tribe ultimately responsible to administer the tabernacle. But this was by birth. Culturally, he was raised in the Pharaoh’s household, raised not as an Israelite but as an elite part of the Egyptian class. As a young man, encountering injustice, he slays an Egyptian and then ultimately flees, realizing his life is in danger. Away from both Egypt and the Israelites, he marries and raises a family. In this setting, he’s called by God to rescue the Israeli people from slavery. I mention this to point out Moses’ awkward and disconnected relationship with the Israelites. He did not directly experience the slavery of his people. He was raised with the comforts of power but then flees from the conflict to save his own life. Only as an older man, he is called into service and leadership but reluctantly and with uncertainty. Ultimately and over time, Moses becomes a great conduit of God’s law and power. The rescue from Egypt was done by the power of God with very little help from Moses . But Moses led the people out of Egypt, received and administered the law and was the religious leader of this early Israelite nation.


The Israelites were multiple generations removed from Jacob and Joseph by the time Moses came to rescue them from slavery. The Lord had not instituted formal religious ritual or an expansive law. Noah and Abraham were given instructions and commandments, but it’s far from clear how much of this was passed down. Joseph, in Egypt, showed a resilience and a natural ability to depend on God in the face of trouble, receiving revelatory dreams and turning bad situations in his favor. But he was clearly fully acclimated within Egyptian culture, setting up his family for what would ultimately become generational slavery in Egypt. By the time Moses arrived, the Israelites had born the increasing burden of slavery that proved unifying but also gave them burdens and weaknesses that needed to be rooted out if they were to become the nation God wanted them to be. Even their deliverance was more God remembering the promises made to Abraham rather than the Israelites really asking for it.

Numbers describe their journeyings through the desert. Almost from the get-go, whenever they faced difficulties, rather than lean on a dependency of God, time after time, they yearn for a return to what they know – Egypt.

Moses’ Burdens – Numbers 11:

This chapter describes two episodes of Israelite’s complaining, both times incurring God’s wrath and then ultimate redemption through Moses’s interventions. The first is very brief. The people complain in verse 1 and God responds with fire. The people plead to Moses for help (verse 2), and Moses prays to God and the fire dies down. The second complaint is more specific – the people are tired of manna, remembering the meat, cucumbers, melons, and other diversity of food they enjoyed in Egypt, perhaps forgetting the slavery bits. This sets Moses off. Moses hears these complaints and decries the burdens of leadership he’s forced to carry in verses 11-15, culminating in a plea for God to just kill him now.

God’s responds to Moses’ burdens by calling seventy of Israel’s elder. “I (God) will draw upon the spirit that is on you and put it upon them; they shall share the burden that is on you and put it upon them; and you shall not bear it alone.” (verse 16, 17).

The Lord promises Moses that he will send enough meat to consume them for an entire month, so much meat that it will come out of their nostrils. Moses wonders how this could be done, in verse 23, the response, “Is there a limit to the Lord’s power?”.

Seventy people are called out to the tabernacle and blessed with the Lord’s spirit such that “they spoke in ecstasy” (verse 25). Two men, Eldad and Medad, who weren’t called, remained in camp but receive the spirit as well. Joshua pleads for Moses to restrain them. Moses’ responds:

“Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!”

Numbers 11:29

From this chapter we see a Moses burdened with leadership, weighed down by the concerns of the people he loves, who seem to constantly want to reject Moses’ offerings and visions, rather preferring to return to the people who had enslaved them. We see a Moses that does not seek for power or rejoice in hierarchy, a sort of reluctant leader, who wishes his people would stand up and seek God for themselves. He seems reluctant to delegate, the command for delegation and hierarchy comes from God to help Moses with his burdens.

Israelite Difficulty

Ultimately God responds to their desire for food diversity by sending quail. They engorge themselves on the unexpected abundance, but this abundance comes with a curse. The chapter ends with a plague with quail still in their teeth.

Moses’ Meakness and Sibling Rivalry – Numbers 12

In chapter 12, Moses’ brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam question both Moses’ authority and marriage. (verse 1, 2). “‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?'” The narrative pauses at this question to describe Moses in verse 3, “Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other on earth.”

It’s not Moses that confronts Aaron and Miriam, it’s God. They meet God at the Tent of Meeting and Miriam is struck with leprosy. Moses prays for Miriam and is told that after seven days, banished from the camp, she will be healed and may return. The people wait for Miriam’s return before setting off again on their journey.

Moses has often been the reluctant leader but always willing to respond to God’s call. Time after time, Moses receives the brunt of the people’s criticisms and grumblings. Time after time, Moses responds with love, service and ultimately redemption. Here, his siblings question both his authority and his marriage. God intervenes, not Moses. Miriam receives the blunt of the consequence and then Moses advocates on behalf of Miriam to God.

Moses the Advocate, the Israelite Fears and then Overcompensates – Numbers 13-14

In Numbers 13, Moses sends representatives from each of the twelve tribes into Canaan to scout it out. Canaan is their ultimate destination, the land promised to Abraham as the blessed land where a righteous nation would be established. Unanimously they declare the land full of abundance but also worry that the people are too formidable for a confrontation with the Israelites. Caleb and Joshua pronounce faith that God will deliver this land, the rest of the people, once again wish they had never left Egypt.

Verse 11, the Lord repeats an earlier desire to give up on the people and replace them with Moses’ seed. Moses resists this plan in almost the exact way he resisted it the first time it was proposed. What would the Egyptians think if the Lord gives up on these people (verse 17)? Moses reminds God of his capacity to forgive with mercy (verse 18). And then pleads with God for forgiveness of this people.

The Lord forgives the Israelites but they lose the right to enter Canaan, postponing this blessing for the next generation (and to Joshua and Caleb (verse 30)). When the Israelites realize they will not in fact be able to takeover Canaan and will be forced to wander the wilderness, homeless, for forty years, they realize their mistake and vow to try anyway. Moses warns them against this. They will not succeed without God, and they don’t to devastating effect.

Here again, Moses, the dutiful leader of a people still struggling to rid themselves of the legacy inherited from Egypt, lacking confidence both in themselves and in God. Lacking it because they haven’t earned that confidence in themselves, nor have yet learned how to completely trust in God, not yet prepared to begin a nation.

Moses Forgets the Source of His Power, So Do the Israelites – Numbers 20

They give up on Canaan and move on, still in the desert. In Numbers 20, the Israelites worry about water. What’s so toxic about their complaints, time after time it’s coupled with either a desire to return to Egypt or a regret of ever having left. Moses and Aaron receive instruction from God to call forth water from a rock. Instead, Moses announces his ability to get water from the rock and then strikes it.

In this moment, perhaps, God realizes Moses isn’t quite up to the task of leading them into Canaan, which is understandably extremely difficult work. In verse 12:

“Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land I have given them.”

Numbers 20:12

In this chapter they encounter the people of Edom, requesting safe passage through the city which they are denied. To avoid conflict they must head south and around Edom. Near Mount Hor, Aaron dies, denying him the blessing of seeing their arrival into Canaan. Aaron is beloved by his people, Moses brother and religious counselor but unlike Moses someone who had lived and suffered with the people.

The Israelites Grow in Strength as they learn to trust in God – Numbers 21

The chapter opens with an encounter with the king of Arad who initially captures some of the Israelites in battle. After Israel vows with the Lord, the Lord delivers them victories as a preview of coming future successes in battle.

For the final time, the people after years of wandering, again complain about the food and regret their departure from Egypt. This time the people are plagued with serpents. The people immediately recognize the connection and plead to Moses for an intervention. Here is where God tells Moses to build a staff made up of a bronze serpent. If the people look at the staff they will live.

This chapter concludes with further battles. As Israel pushes north they encounter and defeat the Amorites and King Og of Bashan allowing them to continue on to the steppes of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho.

Balak and Balaam – Numbers 22-24

The reputation that comes from these Israelite military victories grow to an extent that Balak, king of Moab fears what Israel might do to them and seeks Balaam, a religious figure, to curse Israel. Balaam speaks to God and receives the instruction not to curse them for they are God’s people. Balaam refuses Balak’s request refusing to go against God’s counsel. Balak tries again, offering riches, really offering anything Balaam might want.

Baalam’s response to Balak through these chapters is consistent expressed in Numbers 22:18 but repeated throughout.

Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, big or little, contrary to the command of the Lord my God.”

Numbers 22:18

Balaam’s power does not come from within but comes from God and Balaam recognizes he does not have the to control God at all. Balak’s insistence, pulls Balaam to him in which he tries three times to get him to curse the Israelites by placing him in three different perspectives. All three times Balaam blesses rather than curses Israel.

I cannot skip the truly wild incident of the talking donkey. On his way to Moab, riding a donkey, the donkey is blocked by an angel that the donkey sees but Balaam does not. Balaam beats the donkey into proceeding but in three attempts the donkey refuses to move. Finally, the donkey speaks, asking Balaam why he would beat him. Eventually Balaam sees the angel, repents, and is further repeated to only speak the words God gives him.

We can’t change reality, we can only face it with courage, truth and grace. Balaam could have vocalized a cursing, that he refused to speaks to his relationship to the true God. Even a donkey could see this.


This lesson ends with Balaam, a prophet residing without the Israeli camp who had direct access to God, personifying Moses’ desire that all people would become a prophet. Israel takes forty years and possibly the next generation to grow into the kind of people worthy to receive their inheritance, to begin a nation as a covenant people in service to God. I don’t think those who escaped Egypt should distress over this turn of events. They were in difficult circumstances, asked to do something that turned out to be beyond them. That vision was left up to their children. Every parent wants their children to go beyond them, a burden we impose that’s not always fair. But in this case, it’s ultimately successful. Moses is a central figure in the Israelite history, a founding father of the nation. Throughout it all, they were successful as they leaned into the mission God had for them to fulfill. That mission is both unique and individual to each of us.

Come Follow Me: Exodus 24; 31-34


First a bit of context. The Israelites have escaped Egypt by virtue of the Red Sea and are now wandering through the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. At this point, they have paused near Mt. Sinai where Moses receives the law including famously the ten commandments as well as other instructions. The first map shows the possible route of the Exodus. The second map is a zoomed out version of the area with modern day geography.

Exodus 24

Preceding Exodus 24, Moses received the law from God, but the people had not yet heard it, neither is God done with instruction. Still to come is information about the tabernacle, its purpose, instructions on how to build it and ultimately how to administer it. The tabernacle is the means through which the people of Israel will gain access to God through regular ritual, ordinance and a reminder of their ever-present covenants. However, none of that has happened at this point. It’s not obvious Moses even anticipates or understands what’s still left to learn. In chapter 24, he appears anxious to connect with his people. Also it’s important to recall the nature of the covenant that God is so desperately trying to make alive in this people He has chosen, repeated beautifully in Exodus 19:4-6

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on aeagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will aobey my voice indeed, and keep my bcovenant, then ye shall be a cpeculiar dtreasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a akingdom of bpriests, and an choly dnation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

Exodus 19:4-6

In verses Exodus 24:1-3, God calls Moses and those who will become the priestly leaders back up to the mountain for more instruction. Verse 1 “Come up unto the Lord, though, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel.” Moses alone will ascent to where God will instruct, but Aaron and others so designated will ascend partway.

But Moses does not immediately head this call. Instead, perhaps realizing he might be up on the mountain for awhile, attempts to nurture, succor and ultimately bind the people to the laws through covenant. He builds an altar, representing God and twelve pillars, representing the people. He gives them the law, sacrifices oxen, sprinkles blood on both the altar and the people, although people here likely means the twelve pillars.

This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you concerning all these commands.

Exodus 24:8

Once this ordinance completes, he heads up with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel as instructed to meet with the Lord. On their way up, in verse 10, they “saw the God of Israel” and in verse 11 “they saw God, and did eat and drink”.

Finally, Moses leaves his companions behind and ascends further into the clouds that cover the mountain (verse 15). Here God is hidden from Moses in the clouds for six days until on the seventh, Moses is called in. Perhaps the delay was needed to give Moses some time to prepare. Nevertheless, the Israelites witness a “consuming fire on the top of the mountain (verse 17) remaining there with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights (verse 18).

Exodus 31

Exodus 25-31 contains the record of the instruction, consisting mostly of creating a sacred space, the tabernacle that will travel with the Israelites through the wilderness, a place God may dwell with His people. Chapter 31, however, describes sacred time. But first, in the early verses, Bazelel and Aholiab are identified as men with special skill, ability and knowledge to make the designs for the tabernacle. Next, though the Lord establishes a sign of the covenant through Sabbath observance. Sacred time, a time to rest, rejuvenate and to look upward. Coming to a group of people who endured 400 years of slavery, working taskmasters, building monuments to the Pharoah, having one day in seven as rest must have come as a relief.

Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my asabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.

Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual acovenant.

It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in asix days the Lord bmade heaven and earth, and on the cseventh day he drested, and was erefreshed.

Exodus 31:13, 16, 17

Exodus 31 concludes with a pronouncement that God wrote “tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God”. Is there anywhere else in the text that describes words written directly by God? Interesting that before Moses embarked on this journey to God, he wrote down his knowledge of the law, on his second trip up into the mountains, he comes down with God’s written law.

Exodus 32

The last thing the Israelites see is what appears to be a consuming fire on the mountaintop in the very place Moses was heading, then they do not hear him for 40 days. It’s good to remember, again, these are former slaves to the Pharaoh, who were rescued by God without asking for it or really fully understanding it. God does all the work, orchestrated through increasing negotiations between Moses and Aaron and the Pharaoh. They were called into the Exodus by Moses, who was also learning how to lead this people. It’s within that context, we get the iconic story of the golden calf with some amount of sympathy.

In verse 1, the people entreat Aaron to “make us gods”. They had so little experience with God and that experience was mediated through Moses who was now absent. They were homeless, wandering in the desert, hungering for direction.

Aaron, the entrusted leader with Moses away, concedes to their demands, asking them to bring all of the golden earrings they brought with them from Egypt and with that gold, Aaron creates a calf (verse 4). The next day, they rise up, offer burnt offerings and sit down to eat, drink and play, somewhat of an echo of the rituals Moses lead in chapter 24. Perhaps this was an attempt by Aaron to mimic Moses, merging influences from Egypt (the calf) with the rituals witnessed.

Meanwhile, Moses still on the top of the mountain in communion with God, hears from God that his people have corrupted themselves. God wants to give up and start anew with Moses.

And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a astiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my awrath may wax hot against them, and that I may bconsume them: and I will make of thee a great cnation.

Exodus 32: 9-10

Moses, echoing Abraham’s earlier negotiations, pushes back, reminding God that He delivered them from Egypt and what would people think if that deliverance ended with their destruction in the desert. He further reminds God of the covenants he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Sometimes we all need someone to intercede on our behalf. Sometimes we need to intercede on another’s behalf. God knew what was happening, but not sure Moses in fact did. Verse 19:

And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he asaw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ banger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and cbrake them beneath the mount.

Exodus 32:19

When Moses actually witnesses the scene, he loses it, breaks the very tables God created, grinds the calf to a powder and makes the people drink it. He then confronts Aaron who attempts to shifts blame to the people and softens his own role in the ordeal in verse 24:

And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.

Exodus 32:24

Perhaps for the first time seeing things the way God sees them, realizing desperate action is required, calls for a purge. The sons of Levi volunteer and ultimately kill 3000 men. More contrite, Moses returns to the Lord hoping to find redemption:

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have asinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; bperadventure I shall make an catonement for your sin.

Exodus 32:30

Moses pleads on behalf of his people for forgiveness and then offers to pay the punishment, telling God to “blot” him out fo the book. God does neither. Further reconciliation is required.

Exodus 33

God must now deal with the reality of a people not fully consecrated to him and responds accordingly. The promises are still there. The land of milk and honey promised to them awaits, but perhaps for their offspring. God will no longer be able to be in their midst, but an angel shall “go before thee”. They still had the tabernacle, but it was moved outside of camp requiring anyone who sought the Lord to leave camp to do it.

In addition, the people mourned this loss as they realized the extent of their disconnection from God. In verse 4, “when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments”. They couldn’t connect to God, they eskewed all reminders of the idol that brought on that separation.

The rest of the chapter describes Moses interaction with God in the tabernacle. Here, Moses begins his own transformation, closing his own gap with God as he earnestly strives to atone for the sins of the people he leads. The Lord speaking to Moses “face to face” (verse 11). In verse 13, Moses prays to God, recognizing he has found grace, that God should “consider this nation they people.” Verse 16, Moses pleads for more intimate knowledge of God’s ways and further reconciliation for Israel. How shall the people know they have found grace if they remain separated from God. Verse 17, God concedes on Moses’ behalf. The chapter concludes when God gives Moses a view of his person.

Exodus 34

Having dealt with the incident of idolatry, Moses returns to the mountain for forty more days. Nobody journeys with him even part of the way. This chapter describes the nature of God, “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (verse 6, 7).

Moses pleads that God “take us (the people) for thine inheritance” (verse 9). Next, God warns against intermixing with the culture and the religion of the people they encounter. Again a reiteration to “make thee no molten gods” verse 17. This chapter appears to be a reiteration of the earlier law against idolatry and a plea to sanctify the sabbath.

The tablets Moses had previously destroyed get replaced again with the ten commandments (verse 28). When he returns, his face radiates. The people of Israel reclaim their conduit to God through Moses their prophet.


This lesson centers the message round Israel’s mistaken impulse to create the golden calf. Moses had already spent time receiving the law, he comes down and attempts to bind the people through a blood ordinance to God and then leaves them for forty days to receive instruction on the tabernacle. While gone, the people fall into idolatry. Moses returns, deals with it and then returns back to God to ultimately receive forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately spends an additional 40 days receiving the covenant anew.

What can we learn from this episode? How are we beholden to idols? How can we dedicate and consecrate our lives to God? How can we enjoy God’s presence in our lives? What can we learn about repentance and our own efforts at true atonement? What do we learn about the nature of God from these episodes?


The central doctrine driving Christianity is Jesus’s victory over sin and death that is both remembered and celebrated during this Easter season. I grew up with certain narratives about how to view, interpret and internalize Christ’s atonement in ways that I simultaneously took for granted and was completely mystified by. Historically, my Easter experiences haven’t been moments of deep reckoning with these mysteries. Rather, my Sunday experiences have the same basic feel week after week with only slight variations even during religious holidays. Tomorrow, there will be Easter themed talks, our choir has been working on an Easter musical number they will perform and it’s my turn to teach Sunday School.

This year in Sunday school, we’ve been studying the Old Testament, timed to be working through the Exodus story just as the Easter and Passover religious holidays arrive. To really parse this out with the detail it deserves is going to take some time and is beyond the scope of both this post, my training and my Sunday School lesson tomorrow, but hopefully I can point out broad themes.

The Exodus

Before Exodus, Israel was a person (previously named Jacob) who had twelve sons who all ended up in Egypt because a famine forced this migration after Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, had been sold by his jealous brothers into slavery in Egypt. Joseph, by good fortune and revelatory skill, rose up to become second only to the Pharaoh in power and instituted a program to store food in preparation for that very famine that drove his family into Egypt with him. Joseph’s family prospered in Egypt because of Joseph’s position and power, receiving their own land, special privileges and access to resources that were broadly unavailable to the rest of the country. This privilege worked against them in subsequent generations. The next Pharaoh, not having the same feelings of loyalty toward Joseph’s progeny, worried that their increasing numbers posed a threat and as a result imposed escalating levels of burden in an attempts to control and reduce their numbers and power.

This is the setup for Exodus, the pharaoh, the wicked dictator suppressing and enslaving the chosen people of Israel. God calls first Moses and then through Moses, Aaron to lead the people out of Egypt in a manner that there would be no question of God’s intervention. These attempts consisted of an increasingly virulent Godly interventions that culminate in a sacrifice. The Lord required each family in Israel to sacrifice a “lamb without blemish, a male of the first year” (Exodus 12:5) then they shall take the blood and “strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses.” (Exodus 12:7). The Lord would then “pass through the land of Egypt this night, and smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast” (verse 12). Those with blood on their door will be passed over. This event would then be memorialized in ritual as a way to keep this miracle in the memory of subsequent generations (verse 27).

And of course on the night of the passover, the people leave Egypt only to be held up on the borders of the red sea with Egyptians armies bearing down on them. God rescues them, famously, by the parting of the seas allowing Israel to escape.

In the book, Founding God’s Nation, Reading Exodus, Leon Kass makes the case that the oppressive Egyptian Pharaoh was decisive in turning Israel into a nation. Rather than allowing Jewish integration into the Egyptian economy, culture and eventual inter-marriage, similar to what happened with Joseph who married an Egyptian and had fully assimilated into the culture, the Pharaoh treated this people like the other, a group to be feared and oppressed, and ultimately enslaved with escalations that turned into multiple attempts to murder their children. It’s through this oppression that God intervened, turned this people, previously bound together simply through genealogical lineage into a covenant people chosen by God.

The Exodus is the founding story for the people of Israel. The passover is remembered through covenant and ritual. Through subsequent generations they managed to regain control of the land promised to Abraham only to lose it to later oppressive regimes, notably Babylon and ultimately Rome.

Through those years, different notable prophets record prophetic and aspirational predictions of an eventual King that will rescue, restore and ultimately reign.

I think it’s worth a pause to consider how important the Exodus story has been in US history, inspired from the this interview with Rabbi Meir Soloveichik that makes note that the US founding, the slave emancipation and the civil rights movement took inspiration from Exodus. The Mormon exodus from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City was also inspired by this Biblical story. It’s impossible to underestimate the influence and effect the Exodus story has had on the world.
Specific examples:

America’s Founding

  • Thomas Paine compared the British monarch to the Pharoh
  • The third most cited biblical text during the Revolutionary War was Exodus 15’s “Song of the Sea”.
  • Both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson suggested stories from Moses become the seal of the United States.
  • Pastor Eli Forbes in his eulogy of Washington called Moses the “Washington of Israel”.


Civil Rights

Jesus – Atonement

A Bit of Roman Historical Context – Inspired by NT Wright’s book Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Jesus was born into the world during the Roman empire’s rule over Israel. Rome had a form of a Republic with various checks and balances. Julius Caesar a military leader of notable success made himself Roman dictator in 49 BC but was assassinated in 44 BC and later deified so that his successor, Caesar Augustus could claim the label, son of God. By the time Jesus came on the scene, Caesar Augustus was an absolute monarch of Rome with some claim to divinity. In that time Herod was appointed ruler over Jerusalem given the name “King of the Jews”. Rome by this time was also overpopulated, relying heavily on the import of resources from Northern Africa and other regions through which Jerusalem was situated. Rome really needed stability and cooperation within the region of Israel to sustain its empire.

The Jewish people knew in their bones the story of Exodus, God’s promises for Israel and the prophecies of a new Messiah. They felt like it was their destiny and their promise to overthrow Rome and re-establish Israel. Judas the Hammer was an early example of someone who attempted this with some success although it ultimately ended in failure. Simon bar Kokhba was another, later attempt of this that also had some early success followed by ultimate failure.

This is the context Jesus appears on the scene, with Rome in control feeling they have divine authority for their empire with every incentive and power to suppress uprisings that happen to arise. And a Jewish people who feel their history in their bones, recorded in scripture, bound by covenant, looking forward to a restoration of their nation. Within the Jewish people, there were some who cooperated and found favor with Roman rule, and others who sought opportunities to undermine the empire in hopes of being worthy to help usher in the fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus knew the history, understood the prophecies and through the course of his three year ministry, offered a completely different interpretation of its fulfillment in ways that even his closes followers had trouble immediately understanding.

The events that lead up to Christ’s resurrection follow a well documented series of events, timed to correspond to passover, the ritualistic celebration of Israel’s redemption from Egypt.

  1. Palm Sunday – Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, prophesied in Zechariah 9:9
  2. Monday – Jesus cleanses the temple.
  3. Tuesday – Jesus laments over Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives
  4. Wednesday – Rest
  5. Thursday – Passover and the Last Supper ((Zechariah 11:12-13)
  6. Friday – Trial, Crucifixion, Death and Burial
    1. Isaiah 53:4,7
    2. Psalm 22:16, 18
    3. Psalm 69:21
    4. Isaiah 53:9
  7. Saturday – Day in the tomb
  8. Sunday – Resurrection
    1. Daniel 12:2

First of all, aligning these events with the passover marks a transition. Just as Exodus transitioned God’s work from the familial to the national. Christ pushed this work out into the world. Christ’s work was most definitely both religious and political in ways that subverted both Roman and Jewish narratives. Romans needed this redemption just as much as the Jews. Their political systems needed redemption as well. Jesus work was radically non-violent and sacrificial. Jesus offered himself up as the sacrifice and it was through that sacrifice we find redemption, from both sin and death.

How Can We Make that Sacrifice Resonant In Our lives – Ideas Inspired by An Early Resurrection among other Sources

Christ’s sacrifice calls us into sacrifice. Christ’s death is an invitation for our death – the death of our old self and resurrection into a new life in Christ. This message of death and renewal is everywhere. The cold dark season of winter brings forth new life in the spring. The darkness of evening followed by the light of the morning. So, we are called daily to sacrifice our old self to a life in Christ, which means a life fully and completely connected and alive. In this sense death is a form of surrender. We give up realizing that on our own we are hopelessly not enough. Our best efforts will always come up short. We will eventually die. So we surrender in Christ and then become renewed in Christ. How is this done? In the way it’s always been done. We seal this intention through covenant and ordinance and then live into these promises through regular, daily efforts, through constant and consistent sacrifice and consecration.

I think we can look at what’s expected of us by looking at what was expected of Christ’s closest followers. The book of Acts provides a good example. In the lives of Peter, Paul, Stephen and others, we see to live in Christ means acting like Christ, becoming as Christ was, fully engaged in the world, attempted to redeem it through sacrifice, obedience and covenant.

That is the Easter message.

The Lord is With Us in Hard Things

Last fall my wife and I were asked to help out with the Trek experience, which is a reenactment of the early handcart pioneers making the journey from Nebraska to Salt Lake City.

From the period of 1846 to 1868 less than 10% of the total immigrants into Salt Lake used handcarts, consisting of ten total companies. We remember two of those companies, the Willie and Martin handcart companies because they met with tragedy, more than 210 of the 980 pioneers in that company did not make it across.

These Saints were poor, the church was poor, as what was so common in our early history we were striving to build Zion in our poverty and God was with us. Their stories and sacrifices continue to inspire us to this day. We have church history sites in Wyoming in Martin’s Cove where these Saints sought shelter from a brutal winter storm awaiting rescue. And many stakes across the world, commemorate these sacrifices by a re-enactment we refer to as Trek.

Last fall, when our former bishop and now young men’s president, John Jones visited my wife and I to see if we would help out with trek, my thought was.. do you actually know my camping history? what I do for a living? That I spend my days sitting on a computer. We’ve tried to camp over the years with our family, but we always do so with a bathroom nearby. We gone on family hikes, but we have a history of turning around early.

I’m going to give you a brief summary of the experience from my perspective. I was asked to be a captain, helping John Jones navigate the hiking and communicating between the families and the leadership.

Going in we knew there it was going to be unseasonably cold and that there might be rain and maybe even snow. Normally on trek the kids sleep under a canopy for some overhead protection from rain, but basically outside. The first adjustment was that they brought in 10-person tents, two for each family.

Thursday morning began, we got the families together to assemble the handcarts, load in their bucket with their clothes and their garbage bags on top holding their sleeping bags. Everything was tied down with a tarp. And we started the journey. The first day was going to be out long hike. We started our hike around 10:30am and expected to finish somewhere around 6 or 6:30pm. We hit some initial challenges almost immediately. Sleeping bags kept falling out on the bumpy trail, and families kept having to stop to make adjustments. We hit the spot for lunch which was at a fork. If we went left as planned, it would take us on a pretty long loop north of our camp where we would hit a road that would take us south back.

The plan was that we would go down the road for some distance and then turn around back to the fork and then take another road that would bring us back into camp cutting out a few miles and avoiding some pretty steep inclines.

When we got to the point where we thought we should turn around, we decided to ask the kids what they wanted to do. At this point it was about 3pm. Still pretty warm though with clouds. We could push through and potentially be out on the trail after dark. We collectively decided we should turn back. And that was a good decision because as we started the journey back, some hard winds started to bear down on us. When the winds started to die down a bit of rain started. Soon that rain turned into a wet snow and the trail got muddy. Our shoes picked up a lot of that mud.

We had intended to let the kids and the big brothers and sisters push the carts, but soon after the mas and pas jumped in. And then so did I. With a collective effort we made it into camp before the sun fell and before it got really cold. That night it got down into the 20’s but worse, the wind continued relentlessly through the night. Some of our tents weren’t strong enough to resist, some broke collapsing on the families inside. None of us slept very well because of the relentless noise.

We got up, had a hearty breakfast and made further adjustments. We pushed the handcarts with just the buckets. Some of the kids were not up for the second day hike. Some couldn’t push and just had to walk alongside. The hike was shorter and concluded by lunch when we were able to enjoy a day of activities. That night we had a beautiful fireside. And finished with an incredible hoedown.

On the third day, we hiked out. By then, our feet and legs hurt, some of us endured blisters. But we were in good spirits. And we had fun.

D&C 88:13 The alight which is in all things, which giveth blife to all things, which is the claw by which all things are governed, even the dpower of God who esitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

The assigned topic given to me was that God is with us when we do hard things. And yes, God is with us. He will strengthen us and comfort us and guide us. God was in that decision to turn around we did, so that we would not over-extend ourselves. But if we had made the opposite decision, God would have been with us as we worked through the cold and snow and darkness. God was with us that night when the winds were blowing our tents over and none of us could really sleep. But God was also with us the next night when the night was a little warmer and the winds were still and the night was quiet. On that second night, we had a beautiful fireside, Mattie Watson spoke about her connection to our handcart heritage. The stake presidency spoke. We had a beautiful music number in the cold. And then we all sang “I am a Child of God.” in the dark and in the cold and God was with us.

Then they asked the kids whether they wanted to finish the night with a hoedown or just go to bed. They got a mixed response, but some kids wanted the dance. A ma and pa on the trip brought instruments and in the cold played their viola and violin while the kids danced. I was too tired and sore to join them but I watched the joy and the energy. God was in the dancing and in the music.

And that last day when we all hiked out. Some of the kids were strong, others less so, but we all made it out. About half way we pulled off and the families found spots of ground and had a testimony meeting. I didn’t listen but I could that God was in that moment of reflection and testimony.

God is in the midst of all things, including the details of our lives. Especially when our lives our difficult and we need him the most.

In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

Come Follow Me: Noah and Babel, Genesis 6-11 and Moses 8

This week’s Sunday School lesson covers a lot of territory and among the most common, well-known stories in all of western civilization, if not beyond. I heard on a podcast that we are in danger of taking Noah’s flood both too casually and too seriously. I know my kids had this toy as an example of taking this story a little too casually. Because this story is so familiar it’s easy to take it for granted without having absorbed all the lessons it has to teach us.

Taking the story too seriously can be perhaps more damaging. Noah’s God comes off as cruel, willing to wipe out human life at a catastrophic scale. Or we can take the wickedness/punishment binaries too literally and wonder why our own efforts at goodness don’t always lead to positive earthly results. Thinking too literally about the global flood as a scientific possibility can lead one down anti-scientific backwaters. The stories in Genesis’ first 11 chapters is an invitation to think through the lens and worldview of those writing the story, the way they perceived the world and God. What, then, can we learn about the mercy and grace of a loving God we all so desperately want to believe in. Noah’s flood is a story we get only through this religious text, although there are very similar flood stories in other myths around the world. This religious text wants to teach its reader about God and that is the way we have to get through and into the story.

This lesson includes the Genesis account of the story as well as Joseph Smith’s revelatory expansion of chapter 6 found in Moses 8.


The people’s wickedness is described consistently as corrupt, a description that is both broad and generic(Genesis 6:11,12, Moses 8:28, 29) but the text does provide three specific examples of that corruption.

A Corruption of Family and Marriage

First, In Genesis 6:2,4 and Moses 8:14,15 it appears on the surface the people were honoring and obeying the one commandment Adam received as he left the Garden of Eden – to multiply and replenish the earth. However, there appears to be corruption underlying this behavior. The sons of God take the daughters of men for apparent superficial reasons rather than as true, loving and equal partners working together within a marriage covenant. Men take possession of women “because they were fair”. In Moses, the Lord accuse the women of selling themselves. This union appears to be more about status than love, an an intermingling between faithful lines ( Sons of God) and those more concerned with their own welfare (the sons of men).


Second, violence is a clear component of their wickedness (Genesis 6:11, 13, Moses 9:28, 30). The flood would be a violent response to violence, but perhaps the flood is emblematic of what usually happens when societies devolve into violence. Violence begets violence. Individual violence scales up into society violence. A society organized into violence struggles to properly protect themselves against the inevitable violence nature inflicts on humanity.


Finally, pride is a clear sin described in the narrative. Genesis 6 describes the people as giants, mighty men, men of renown (Genesis 6:4, Moses 8:18). It appears that that description is probably both accurate but also says something about their emphasis, prioritizing personal accomplishments and renown over faithful lives.

In his book, The Beginning of Wisdom, Leon Kass wonders if this corruption was precipitated by the first non-violent death to take place on the earth when Adam dies. After nearly 1000 years fulfilling the promise given to him after eating the fruit of the tree (Genesis 5:4). These expansive lifespans may have been given them a feeling of invincibility only to have that punctured by the death of the first human, their lone human connection to the garden. How much of our corruption occurs in response to our anxiety of our own mortality?

Response/Consequence of Wickedness

The Righteous Grieves

God sees the wickedness and grieves (Genesis 6:6). In Moses, Noah is the one who grieves (Moses 8:25). Believing in a God who weeps, I believe both accounts are accurate and expresses God’s love and concern for all humanity and offers a lesson for us as well. We should be moved by the catastrophes we see in the world no matter what part of the earth they occur, even if we ourselves are unaffected.

A Massive Reduction in Lifespan

God reduces human lifespan (Genesis 6:3, Moses 8:17) severely impacting how much one person can accomplish, forcing a lifelong reckoning with one’s mortality. Growing lifespan is often used as a metric of progress and a reduction of lifespan usually comes from catastrophe – war, disease, despair. God wants us to have a full and long life, but ultimately, the primary purpose for life is to attach ourselves to God and through God to others. We don’t need one thousand years to do this type of work. What we do need is to emphasize helping the next generation continue our faith traditions. Our lives are short, our primary emphasis needs to be that our faith does not die with us.

A Reboot Through Flood

Ultimately, God decides to reboot. The language of Genesis echos the creation story in some surprising ways. First God looks upon the earth and beholds its corruption (Genesis 6:12). And then allows the waters to come in to destroy the “breadth of life” (Genesis 6:17). In Genesis 7:11, God allows the fountains of the great deep and the windows of heaven to undo what the creation did.

To understand this language it’s helpful to view the world the way the authors of this accounting did, surrounded by water. In the creation, the firmament is created by separating the waters from the waters (Genesis 1:6, 7). The flood reverses the separation, opening the windows of heaven and breaking up the earth.

A view of the world in this way, it’s easy to see the human vulnerability, sitting on unstable soil floating on deep waters, shielded from waters overhead by a leaky roof. Water in this world was symbolic of chaos and water, though necessary for life could also destroy it.

Noah: The New Adam

Starting over did not require a new creation. Instead, God preserves Noah, his family and a selection of the animal kingdom. Noah is tasked to preserve and continue life through this massive cataclysm, chosen not for his skill but for his faithfulness (Genesis 6:8,9,22, Moses 8:13, 27).

God commands him to build the arc, gives him precise instructions and Noah unquestionably obeys (Noah 6:22). In Moses 8, Noah tries to warn the people, pleads for them to repent, pointing them to Christ, through covenants and ordinances (Moses 8:16, 29, 24).


Through this story and the next, covenant runs through the narrative and becomes one of the key lessons for those of us wondering how we can find peace and safety (though not necessarily freedom from suffering or death) in a troubled, difficult and often tragic world. In Genesis 6:18, God makes a covenant with Noah that he will be protected through the flood. In the midst of the flood, God remembers Noah (Genesis 8:1). The first thing Noah does after leaving the ark, seemingly unbidden, is to offer sacrifice. In response, God recognizes the inherent flaws in humanity and then makes the most famous covenant noted by the rainbow, to never again flood the earth (Genesis 9:11-15). Finally, Genesis 11 ends with the introduction of Abraham, connecting Israel to Noah through both lineage and God’s grace.

Shem, Japeth, and Ham

Noah, though righteous is flawed, understandably so. The sadness and anxiety of being among the very few who survive the flood. In response to that trauma, creating wine from a vineyard seems to have been an urgent priority. Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent. Ham sees it and tells his brothers. His brothers cover his nakedness being care to do so without looking.

Like the rest of early Genesis, the story is spare. But in Ham there seems to be an impulse to denigrate his father. In Shem and Japeth there seems signs of respect for his authority. In the end, Noah curses Ham’s son, not Ham and recognizes the God of Shem. Our sins, weaknesses, failings and struggle tend to transmit through to our children. Geneology and the blessings, culture and faith that transmits through geneological lines is an important part of the Biblical narrative. Failure to respect, cherish and absorb the best of what our parents have to offer us will hurt not just us but those children we bring into this world.


The lesson concludes with another spare story, the impulse to build a tower in Babel. Here is among the first attempts at civilization. Likely in response to the flood catastrophe and a recognition of their own vulnerability, Babel is a fully human attempt to take control and provide protection and sustenance. Using brick for stone, slime for mortar (Genesis 11:3), they try to reach heaven and make a name for themselves that will endure (Genesis 11:4). God has to come down to see this and decides to disrupt their attempts by confounding their language (Genesis 11:7) and as a result of their confounded language, they abandon their attempts and scatter (Genesis 11:9).

How do we try and fail to control our environment, predict the weather, hold back the floods, lean into technology without grappling with our ethical responsibilities beyond just what we can do and what we discover. Is scientific and technological innovation all we need? Can a fully humanist response to the human condition be enough? This story provides an emphatic no in response to these questions.


What’s clear in these narratives our primary focus should be toward God through covenant, manifested through reproduction and ensuring the transmission of faith flows through the geneology that comes out of that reproduction.

Making our mark more often than not ends up in catastrophe. Or perhaps catastrophe is baked in the his world. The writers of Genesis believed in a world surrounded vulnerably by waters from both above and beneath. Water can be catastrophic and chaos inducing. Even today, we struggle to deal with the chaos of water as hurricanes spring up on a regular basis, flash floods erupt out of an unusually excessive storm. We’ve made progress in predicting the weather, holding back the water, but regularly nature overwhelms are best efforts.

However, our more modern view of the world should give us plenty of reasons to be petrified, a crust floating on a ball of fire making up a globe rotating around the sun with massive rocks regularly hurling past us, with plenty of marks indicating past, life altering collisions. Floods, fires, earthquakes, disease and all sorts of catastrophes spring forth out of nature regularly wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, humanity’s propensity to destroy ourselves has been pandemic in earth’s history with regular eruptions of violence happening individually and among nations.

Ultimately, in the midst of our vulnerabilities, weaknesses and confrontation with our mortality, the way to peace is God.

Come Follow Me – Moses 1, Abraham 3

Initial Old Testament Thoughts

This year’s Sunday School program covers the Old Testament, something that both scares and excites me as one of my congregation’s adult Sunday School teacher. I’m excited to finally be able to do a deep dive on this section of our standard works, recognizing it’s among the more neglected books in our cannon. I’m scared because it’s a messy, difficult, mundane book filled with contradictions, difficult to accept stories, and a lot of minutiae. It’s the one part of our cannon I still have not read cover-to-cover. Excited because there exists thousands of years of thinking and writing on this inspired work of scripture. It has inspired three of our major global religious traditions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism and has attracted the attention of the best minds that have ever existed. The amount of scholarship and scrutiny this book has endured over the thousand of years of its existence speaks to its timelessness and influence. It’s a book worth careful study despite its difficulties. I look forward to it, trepidly.

Historical Context for Moses and Abraham

My religious tradition takes the Old Testament seriously, even if I, for the most part, have not. Soon after, Joseph Smith completed the translation of the Book of Mormon and organized the church, he began an effort to re-translating the Bible, starting first with the Old Testament. The Book of Moses that now sits within “The Pearl of Great Price” comes from this re-translation attempt, written sometime between June 1830 and February 1831. The book of Abraham has a more complicated history addressed by the church in on of their Gospel Topics Essays on the Book of Abraham. The short story is that in around 1835, Joseph Smith purchased a mummy that came with papryi scrolls. Joseph Smith was interested in the scrolls more than the mummy and attempted an inspired translation of them. Joseph Smith was not a scholar of any subject and had no knowledge of languages, so the translation process for Smith was more a revelatory experience. From this, the book of Abraham was produced, eventually published and eventually accepted as scripture.

Both the books of Moses and Abraham provide an expansion on the lives of these two Old Testament prophets from what we find in the Old Testament, providing theological teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to God, our purpose here on earth, the eternal nature of souls and our eventual destination after we pass on.

The scriptural content stand on its own whether one accepts Joseph Smith’s translations as literal events that actually happened or not. Regardless of where one comes down, although these passages of scripture deal with ancient prophets in an ancient text, the books of Moses and Abraham have only been made available with Joseph Smith’s introduction, so they were written for a modern audience. I think situating these experiences within the Moses and Abrahamic narratives is fruitful, the revelations come through Joseph Smith’s perspectives and biases. In that sense, they stand apart from the Old Testament.

Major Themes

Abraham 3 and Moses 1 have cover very similar ground. Both describe a visionary encounter between God and the prophet. The subject of each vision cover similar ground and hit on similar themes. Given that, I will proceed through both chapters together.

Abraham 3 provides a bizarre and esoteric astronomy lesson describing a sort of hierarchy of planets, orbits and stars, some being greater than others, the greatness determined by its proximity to God. The revelation identifies the governing star of the universe, Kolob, being the star nearest to God (verse 3), describes a hierarchy of of planets based on its orbits, determined by its proximity to God (verse 9). Now it’s important to note God’s purpose in this exchange is not to teach about astronomy but to teach about God. The book of Abraham is not a book about science, it’s a religious book meant to instill faith. Abraham is being prepared to enter Egypt, a civilization obsessed by the stars with beliefs connecting stars with gods, each having a relative hierarchy of importance. God’s intent here, then, is to find a way to connect with Egyptian thought and lead them to the God who gave them life.

Prophetic Mission

Both Abraham 3 and Moses 1 describe a prophetic encounter with God before each prophet is about to embark on a mission with the Egyptians. Both visions are preparatory.

And the Lord said unto me: Abraham, I ashow these things unto thee before ye go into Egypt, that ye may declare all these words.

Abraham 3:15

And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the asimilitude of mine bOnly cBegotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the dSavior, for he is full of egrace and ftruth; but there is gno God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I hknow them all.

Moses 1:6

We talk often of being present, to avoid allowing our past mistakes to consume us with regret, or possibilities of the future to consume us with worry. Total presence is the way Moses describes God here. “All things are present with me, for I know them all.”

The Lord is Greater than Us, Eternal and Endless

Among the points in these rich revelations is to evoke an awe inspiring reverence with the vastness of God, God’s creations, and our relative diminutive place within that.

And I saw the astars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;

Abraham 3:2

And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am amore intelligent than they all.

Abraham 3:19

And he said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof.

Abraham 3:12

Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two aspirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are bgnolaum, or eternal.

Abraham 3:18

And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God aAlmighty, and bEndless is my cname; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

Moses 1:3

 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore alook, and I will show thee the bworkmanship of mine chands; but not all, for my dworks are without eend, and also my fwords, for they never cease.

Moses 1:4

 And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the aworld upon which he was created; and Moses bbeheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly cmarveled and wondered.

Moses 1:8

When God leaves Moses the first time, he was so overwhelmed he fell to the earth (verse 9) and wakes up after many hours to exlaim “I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (verse 10).

We are God’s Children, Also Eternal and Can be Partakers of God’s Goodness, Grace and Abundance

And it was in the night time when the Lord spake these words unto me: I will amultiply thee, and thy bseed after thee, like unto these; and if thou canst count the cnumber of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds.

Abraham 3:14

Both Abraham and Moses are referred endearingly as God’s son (Moses 1:4, Abraham 3:12, 19)

God spends time to discuss stars as a setup to discuss intelligences, the eternal nature and potential of human life.

And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast achosen before thou wast born.

Abraham 3:23

Our souls existed as intelligences “before the world was” (Abraham 3:22) and each of us were chosen before our birth. There’s something intuitively true about this idea. Each of feels like we have a calling, a life’s work. We each seem to have our own unique aptitude and circumstance that spans beyond our life’s circumstances. We’re born with gifts, it’s our job to discover this calling and to do our best with what we have.

When Moses is delivered from the temptation of Satan, God promises him glory and power.

And calling upon the name of God, he beheld his aglory again, for it was upon him; and he heard a bvoice, saying: Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have cchosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many dwaters; for they shall obey thy ecommand as if thou wert fGod.

Moses 3:25

The True Temptation is to Forget God’s Light and Our Own potential

In Moses’ revelation, Moses’ interaction of God is followed by an interaction with Satan. The contrast is instructive. First of all, in Satan’s temptation, Moses is referred to as a son of man and desire of Satan is to become Moses’ object of worship.

And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, aSatan came btempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.
And now, when Moses had said these words, aSatan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the bOnly Begotten, worship me.

Moses 3:12, 19

In this encounter, Satan denies Moses’ familial relationship with God and attempts to redirect Moses focus from God. This is not an encounter I can see I’ve personally have had literally, but I’m wondering if my own temptations can’t be summed up similarly. Where I forget myself, my potential and my connection with God and my purpose is and my action, rather than getting wrapped up in God’s purposes are centered elsewhere – in my own neurosis or in an attempt to win favor, adulation, or acceptance in other earthbound sources, whether a religious figure or someone else with power that I admire and want to get near.

Moses response to Satan’s demands are to recognize Satan’s limitation because he was able to compare this encounter with the encounter he had with God. “But I can look upon thee in the natural man” (verse 14), “Where is thy glory?” (verse 15). But it took work and repeated effort for Moses to resist and reject Satan. Three times, with increasing effort Moses tries before he succeeds, culminating in verse 20:

And it came to pass that Moses began to afear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of bhell. Nevertheless, ccalling upon God, he received dstrength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of eglory.

Moses 1:20

It’s interesting to describe hell as bitter, resentful, jealous. In this sense, when our focus is on God, perhaps the temptation that causes such bitterness falls away.

The Purpose of God’s Creation, Our Purpose

Abraham concludes with the creation story.

In verse 24, God does not create the worlds from nothing. “we will take of these materials and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell.” For the purpose of our growth.

 And they who akeep their first bestate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second cestate shall have dglory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

Abraham 3:26

To keep our “second estate”, to meet the obligations of our life on this earth, it’s our job to receive God’s glory and as we receive the glory, we receive more, “grace for grace” “for ever and ever”.

In Moses second revelation, God gives Moses a vision of infinity.

And it came to pass, as the voice was still speaking, Moses cast his eyes and abeheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, bdiscerning it by the cSpirit of God.

Moses 1:27

After beholding all of God’s creation, Moses asks why (verse 30) and God responds coyly, “For mine own purpose have I made these things (verse 31).

First how, “by the word of my power” (verse 32). They are innumerable, but “all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them (verse 35).

Finally, God answers the question in verse 39:

For behold, this is my awork and my bglory—to bring to pass the cimmortality and deternal elife of man.

Moses 1:39


What can we learn from these experiences of Abraham and Moses? In what ways have we/can we have this type of experience with the expansiveness of God and our nothingness by comparison?

How can we experience are familial and intimate relationship with God as our Heavenly Father? Can we have that same feeling God’s children? How do these experiences (both reverential awe at the infinite and intimate connection with God) work in tension? When have we experienced each of these?

What sort of temptations have we or can we experience that can shake us from this relationaship and awe of God? How have we been asked to worship something other than God? Can all temptations be summarized in this way? Have we felt the bitterness of hell and what sort of lessons does that teach us? How can we learn to resist and endure through difficult experiences?

What is our eternal purpose? How can we discover it? How can we get this same sort of call that both Abraham and Moses receive?

Come Follow Me – The Family – A Proclamation to the World and The Living Christ – The Testimony of the Apostles

In the last two weeks of the Doctrine and Covenant study, the Come Follow Me curriculum covers the most recent officially published proclamations, The Family – A Proclamation to the World published in 1995 and The Living Christ – The Testimony of the Apostles published in 2000. Family and Christ are fundamental to the gospel. Christianity encourages its adherence toward better lives, providing guides, but then enables that adherence through the sanctifying power that comes when a Christian yields to Christ’s grace. We don’t live as individuals. So much of who we are is shaped by the community we live in. We think of individual responsibilities for sins, but the evidence points more clearly to societal culpability. Similarly, it’s through our associations, especially our familial associations where salvation comes. We need to strive to live up to standards, but in that striving we need to yield to Christ’s grace. This generosity and magical goodness is most profoundly felt and expressed during this Christmas season.

The Family Proclamation

Among progressive parts of the church, this proclamation has taken a lot of heat given the way it’s been filtered through the cultural war lens. It was at least partially written through that lens in response to an attempt to change the law in Hawaii to legalize gay marriage, one of the first attempts to do so. The proclamation describes the importance of traditional marriage, the eternal nature of gender and the traditional nature of gender roles in marriage. The proclamation emphasizes the need for children to be reared in loving nuclear family, to parents who sacrifice and willingly populate the earth with their progeny. Needless to say, those within the LGBTQ community, those who are single or from troubled or complicated family situations, and those who care about people in these situations, have very understandable reasons to struggle with the proclamation as it is written. And those people include all of us. Right now, half of the church membership is single, and all marriages and families have complications and struggles. For those who can’t or won’t read it, I won’t press the issue, but for the rest of us, there are beautifully important principles that can and should be elevated within our public discourse.

Through the Perspective of Children

Christianity is fundamentally about placing people into covenant to love and service to others. For a Christian, entering into the marriage sacrament is yet just another call to service – to love and care for a spouse and for most who do, to ultimately help bring into the world, the next generation of human life. According to the proclamation, marriage and families is “God’s planned destiny for children”. Christianity is a religion concerned about life beyond this life, but it’s also fundamentally concerned about this life. We hope for a better world in the there-after but we’re called into making this world as good as possible in a way that will sustain and progress long after we depart it. How we raise children is a fundamental part of that.

A few years ago, Diane Rehm interviewed Penelope Leach about her book on the impact divorce has on children. No matter how old the children are when divorce happens, they will feel the effects. What we do effects others and we should hold ourselves responsible for the negative impact our choices and behaviors have.

We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.

From the Family Proclamation

Every child deserves to have connection to loving, stable caregivers. We need to do more as a society to ensure every child has that opportunity no matter the exact circumstances that brought that child to this world. Too often, but inevitably, biological parents cannot fulfill the obligations of parenthood. Thankfully, many good-hearted people step in to fill in these gaps, through adoption and other essential social services.

But losing this connection to one’s biology leaves gaps.

 What I would say, though, is that even if a child is better off being raised in a one parent home, as this child clearly is, it’s still important that that child be allowed to know about the other parent. We all seem to need to know where we came from, and if you look at the — look on the internet, the adopted children desperately looking for news of their own backgrounds. The same is equally true of children of divorce.


I’m not an expert on divorce or adoption, I do feel the joys, yearnings and desires for the well being of my own biological children. I see myself in them. I worry for them in many of the same ways I worry for myself. Fiction is filled with stories about the struggles children have with missing, abusive, or otherwise severely flawed children. A past This American Life episode describes a crazy true-story case where a baby was accidentally switched at birth and the trauma both children felt feeling like neither fit in with the family they were raised in. Barbara Kingsolver similarly dives into the difficulties and complexities adoption imposes in her book, Pigs In Heaven, describing a women’s adoption of a Cherokee daughter.

Relying on the nuclear family, however, to do all of the lifting is problematic and fragile. To this point, David Brooks wrote an important essay recently about how much give up by removing the infrastructural support that used to be provided by an involved extended family, saying

If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.

David Brooks

The well-being of children, then, is not just the responsibility of parents. Extended family, church and society all should help shoulder the enormous burden of raising children.

Christmas is fundamentally a family celebration. At the heart of it is a Jesus’ birth. A new life, a young mother, a worldly celebration. I think every birth should have that celebration, that promise, that support, that hope.

The Baby Bust

We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.

From the Proclamation

The family proclamation is concerned with humanity’s eternal destiny. What becomes of us after we die has traditionally been church’s predominant concern. But we also care about the thriving sustainability of human life on this earth as well. We must strive for a growing, thriving existence for humankind on this earth right now. As such, we need to bear, raise and nurture the next generation. A shrinking number of us have children which will put pressure on society going forward. This baby bust has been a concern for Ross Douthat among many, many others.

Many young adults are delaying marriage and child-rearing not because they want to but because they feel a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty in an economic system that increasingly puts all the pressure and burden on them.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society

The Family Proclamation

If we want stronger, larger families, our policies should be designed to ease this burden, providing necessary financial support, more consistently good schools, and more equitable access to college.

A Multitude of Individual Adaptations

Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed. Extended families should lend support when needed.

From the Proclamation

There are broad and important principles in the proclamation but individual circumstances are messy and complicated. We understand the general principles but we can’t use them as weapons to beat ourselves or others. Not everyone will get married. Not ever married couple will have children. Some of this will be by choice, for many others, by circumstance. No life looks the same. Within each experience we have an opportunity, an obligation and grace. Extended family, friends, and neighbors can all lend a hand to provide the support for others. Church congregations can also fill in as a sort of unofficial family. In my faith, we lovingly refer to our wards as a type of family. I think this is right and important.

Life is Precious

We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

From the Proclamation

But it’s not just about having children, we must recognize the inherent worth of human life, every single human life. Parents have the primary obligation, but all of us should care for, nuture, and reach out to every single human soul to the best we can.

Grace Needs to Infuse all of This

I think it’s an interesting time of the year to be doing a deep dive into the Family Proclamation. Christmas has always been fundamentally a family holiday for me. I grew up in family poverty and dysfunction but I had older sisters who worked hard to provide the magic that is so much a part of my childhood memory. But not just my older sisters, members of my church congregation at times provided extra gifts to ensure Christmas magic had a slightly more bit of equity. There was also an over-arching infrastructure that provided this magic freely to as many who would pay attention. School, church and neighborhood programs and parties. Extra gifts sent out to those in need. Neighbors who spent time to light up their houses, widespread holiday music. The whole season is magical and unifying.

I can’t think of a better example of this than the Christmas truce in 1914.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

Interestingly, the Christ story itself is an example of an individual adaption to this nuclear family. Mary was single, though betrothed, pregnant and poor. Her people were marginalized and subjugated. Joseph, famously encouraged by an angel, chose to marry her despite a pregnancy that wasn’t his. Jesus life was lived in the shadows and on the margins. Defending, sustaining and nurturing those well on the outside of what was considered proper.

I think this is the message, we strive to live good lives, but we are vulnerable. We’re less vulnerable with support. Christ’s grace flows through the supporting networks we build up.
I love this message that was smuggled into the move Home Alone.

Home Alone

Come Follow Me – D&C 137, 138

Historical Context

These last two sections were added to the current version of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1981. Previous to that, these revelations were accepted as scripture and added to the Pearl of Great Price in April 1976. (Information from wikipedia). D&C 137 was a revelation received by Joseph Smith in Kirtland Ohio on January 21, 1836 just prior to the dedication of the Kirtland temple. D&C 138 happened much later, received by Joseph F. Smith (Joseph Smith’s nephew) on October 4, 1918. Both were revelations providing more light and knowledge about life after death.

The Come Follow Me lesson that introduces these sections reference a recent General Conference talk given by Dallin H. Oaks where he reminds us how little has actually been revealed about the after life. These revelations are glimpses only, revealing important and helpful principles and insights. As we feel tempted to wonder or worry about the details, we should, to use Elder Oaks’ words, “trust in the Lord“.

D&C 137 (January 21, 1836)

Alvin Smith

This revelation centers on and was triggered by Joseph Smith’s thoughts, feelings and relationship for and with his older brother Alvin Smith. Alvin had previously passed away on Nov. 19, 1823 at the age of 25. During his funeral service, the minister presiding over the funeral service had taught that Alvin’s soul was in jeapardy because he had not been baptized in any church before his death. Thirteen years later, Joseph received this revelation about the celestial kingdom after both giving and receiving a blessing from his father.

The Vision of the Celestial Kingdom

Verses 1-4, Joseph Smith describes his vision, “whether in the body or out I cannot tell.” He described the “transcendent beauty of the gate” “like unto circling flames of fire”. “The blazing throne of God”, the “beautiful streets of the kingdom” with the “appearance of being paved with gold.”

Next he describes who he sees, starting first with two significant Old Testament prophets, Adam and Abraham, followed by his still alive father and more significantly, his brother Alvin. (verse 5). Joseph Smith had long dismissed the authority of the minister who presided over Alvin’s funeral, but the preeminent importance of baptism stayed with him. Seeing this vision caused him to question and then receive an assurance.

 And amarveled how it was that he had obtained an binheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to cgather Israel the second time, and had not been dbaptized for the remission of sins.

Thus came the avoice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died bwithout a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be cheirs of the celestial kingdom of God;

Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who awould have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;

verses 6-8

That the Lord will “judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” (verse 9).

We should be careful to interpret these words too narrowly. As a general rule, imagine a kind, loving God who loves and cares for every single one of God’s children. Thinking too about the capricious, uneven, wildly unjust nature of this world, we’re called into love, compassion, care and forgiveness. There is an accountability. We do need to adopt a sense of urgency. We need to avoid complacency. But God wants us with Him. Heaven is not Harvard. The bar for Heaven is far higher and more essentially important than Harvard’s admissions, but God desires a 100% admission rates, US News & World Report rankings be damned.

D&C 138 (October 3, 1918)

More Background

This revelation came to Joseph F. Smith just as WW1 was ending, a war that resulted in an estimated 40 million lives lost. It was also the start of the first outbreak of deadly 1918 flu epidemic in Utah. One week after this revelation, there would be a ban on all public meetings in Utah. Moreover, president’s life was also nearing his end, his death would be a couple of months later, in December of that year. Joseph F. Smith’s life was filled with tragedy and death. He was only six years old when his father, Hyrum and his uncle Joseph were killed in Carthage Jail. When he was only 13, his mother died in Salt Lake City of pneumonia. He also had 13 children precede him in death.

The Nature of this Revelation

Joseph F. Smith before getting into the revelation describes the manner in which the revelation comes. He’s pondering over the scriptures, reflecting on God’s great love and mercy. While engaged, he remembers the writings of Peter.

While I was thus engaged, my mind reverted to the writings of the apostle Peter, to the aprimitive saints scattered abroad throughout bPontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and other parts of Asia, where the gospel had been cpreached after the crucifixion of the Lord.

I opened the Bible and read the athird and fourth chapters of the first epistle of Peter, and as I read I was greatly bimpressed, more than I had ever been before, with the following passages:


He proceeds to quote several verses in Peter culminating in 1 Peter 4:6

For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

1 Peter 4:6

As he reads these passages, the spirit rests upon him and the eyes of his understanding are opened, and he sees the “hosts of the dead”.

Christ First Teaches to the Just

His vision first focuses on the just. The scriptures often talk in binary, the just and the unjust, when in reality, this binary is not well representative as we all fall within some complicated continuum. What’s interesting here is the specific attributes that qualify someone as just.

  • Verse 12: “Offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God”
  • Verse 13: “Departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God”
  • Verse 14: Those “filled with joy and gladness”, rejoicing because the “day of their deliverance was at hand.”

There’s something within the just that has a general knowledge and relationship with God that calls them into an enduring effort to love and serve others. It was them that Christ preached the everlasting gospel. Unto the wicked he did not go (verse 20).

Death is described here as bondage that all endured. The difference is that the righteous had knowledge of God’s grace having experienced it while in the flesh, striving to live as Jesus lived. They had a gut-level hope of an eventual resurrection and with that, hope for deliverance. I’m sure there were degrees and continuums here, but it speaks to the importance of living well here, while embodied, to ease the burdens while there, disembodied.

Constrast With the Unjust

The unjust were those who “defiled themselves”, were rebellious and “rejected the testimonies and the warnings of the ancient prophets”. Who can this be? How can we recognize when it’s happening within us? I believe that the spirit of prophecy can come from all kinds of sources and that we need to be willing to listen to their testimonies and warnings with an open heart, willing to repent and change our minds and our hearts. There’s too much of stubbornness in this world.

Verse 22 describes their state and then compares them with those who have light.

Where these were, adarkness reigned, but among the righteous there was bpeace;

And the saints rejoiced in their aredemption, and bowed the bknee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the cchains of dhell.

Their countenances ashone, and the bradiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they csang praises unto his holy name.

verse 22-24

The Vastness of the Mission

In the middle of this remarkable vision, Smith begins to wonder and marvel, beginning in verse 25, that Christ’s ministry was so short (three years), converting only a smattering of followers and his ministry among the dead was even shorter. How could he reach so many people in so short of time.

 I marveled, for I understood that the Savior spent about three years in his aministry among the Jews and those of the house of Israel, endeavoring to bteach them the everlasting gospel and call them unto repentance;

And yet, notwithstanding his mighty works, and miracles, and proclamation of the truth, in great apower and authority, there were but bfew who hearkened to his voice, and rejoiced in his presence, and received salvation at his hands.

But his ministry among those who were dead was limited to the abrief time intervening between the crucifixion and his resurrection;

verses 25-27

The Mission – Continual Preaching and Teaching After Death

The answer came through a quickened understanding (verse 29), that Christ organized the mission among the just to teach the gospel to the unjust (verse 30). The gospel would be taught to those who died in their sins, “faith in God, repentance for sins, vicarious baptism, the gift of the Holy Gost” (verse 33). The idea here to entrance to God’s kingdom, that through God’s judgment they might live with God in the Spirit.

Thus was it made known that our Redeemer spent his time during his sojourn in the world of aspirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the bprophets who had testified of him in the flesh;

That they might carry the message of redemption unto all the dead, unto whom he could not go personally, because of their arebellion and transgression, that they through the ministration of his servants might also hear his words.

Verse 36-37

The Mighty and Great ones

Similar to Joseph Smith’s revelation in D&C 137, President Smith sees Old Testament prophets among those present in this revelation, but it’s far more expansive, spanning the dispensations, Adam, Eve, Abel, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Elias, Malachi, Elijah, and so many more. Righteous daughters of Eve, though many are sadly left out of scripture are referenced as well as the Book of Mormon prophets. This teaching spans from the very unique and narrow perspective of a prophet of this modern Christian church, but I think with a broader lens, one could see the need to teach and be taught from all prophets who ever lived everywhere, representing all traditions, cultures and people. This was a mission to shine light in dark places.

The Eternal Mission

The point of this mission was life:

For the adead had looked upon the long absence of their bspirits from their bodies as a cbondage.

verse 50

The spirits of the faithful were eternal, forever learning and expanding.

Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first alessons in the world of spirits and were bprepared to come forth in the due ctime of the Lord to labor in his dvineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.

verse 56


And so concludes the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. This book of scripture was intended, originally to contain Joseph Smith’s revelations as the church was just beginning while Joseph Smith was trying to figure things out and largely that is what this book is. The final two sections are appropriate exclamation marks on the ultimate mission and vision of this church. One from Joseph Smith, the other given by his nephew, both describing visions of the afterlife. Joseph Smith’s describes the Celestial glory with God and the real possibilities to be at one not just with God but our loved ones as well – our brothers, sisters and parents. Joseph F. Smith describes an afterlife filled with teaching and preaching, shining light where there was darkness and the proposition that repentance is still possible after death. Most emphatically, the revelation describes the need for the resurrection and that a core part of salvation is this intuitive longing for life.

How I Navigate My Church Membership

I Believe in a High Demand Religion, Not a High Stakes Religion

Churches seem to be losing members for a whole host of reasons. I don’t have my finger on all the reasons why. I’m sure every individual who stops regular church attendance has their own personal reasons. I don’t believe, however, the way to keep members active in the church is by scaring them into staying. It doesn’t resonate and is not backed up by empirical evidence. A person’s life will not completely fall apart when they transition out of organized religion. There are plenty of people within church whose lives completely fall apart while maintaining active participation.

I simply don’t believe in a sad heaven. I believe that loving relationships will continue into the next life regardless of faithful attendance. I believe in a God that loves all of humanity that will work with us in our language, within our culture and through our institutions. I believe in a church of God that spans institutional boundaries. I believe that we are saved by grace, that grace requires our active reception of it, but does not require literal beliefs in specific dogmas. There’s a way to think about grace that transcends Christianity. Grace is a core part of all healthy religious institutions. Grace is a part of all healthy institutions, secular and religious. Thriving businesses offer grace-filled working conditions. Academic studies find that forgiveness and gratitude are key components to mental health. Christianity believes grace was activated by Christ’s atoning sacrifice. But mouthing a belief in Jesus is not how we enable that grace in our lives.

Additionally, I believe that churches should be concerned with falling membership but not too concerned.

Matthew 16:25 reads

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will alose his life for my sake shall bfind it.

Matthew 16:25

I believe this verse applies to churches as much as people. Churches that think too much about church end up dying. To thrive, churches care most about how to help and encourage their members to lose their lives in the service of others. In this sense, I believe in a high demand religion – that we should be called into total consecration, intertwining our lives into helping our communities, societies and individuals thrive. But I don’t believe in a high stakes religion. No single religious institution has a monopoly on grace. High demand, but not high stakes.

There Are High Stakes in Life – We Need to Try Harder to Reduce Them

Leaving the church should not be considered a high stake catastrophe. I know people who have left my faith and found a thriving, healthy spiritual journey that has led them into a life of love and service. Our relationships should and must withstand these sorts of transitions. We should love, care and learn from others both within and without church, maybe even especially those who are critical. We should allow ourselves to be called into church service, called out of church service, called into the church and called out of the church.

But it doesn’t mean there aren’t high stake decisions in life. There are. Religious institutions can provide structure and protection here. Too many people die far too young. There are too many people living on the streets. Too much abuse of all kinds. Lives have been ruined by poor choices. Our societal institutions should do a better job trying to alleviate poverty, suffering, addiction and abuse by providing better, more effective safety nets and a network of community support. Churches play an important role here.
Reducing high stakes means better mental health support, more access to addiction services, a justice system that’s more restorative and less purely punitive, a much more comprehensive safety net, better access to an educational system that is nurturing and works better for more people.

Let People Not Programs Complicate Our Lives

Churches need to impose more sacrifice for those with the means, talents and abilities that can really make a difference. A church’s core mission is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. Those with excess resources, talent and abilities should sacrifice some of their abundance in the service for those with greater needs. Talented people should get the necessary training to care for and serve others, both professionally where necessary but also in their spare time.

We need more counselors and case workers helping the most vulnerable. Those with extra money should donate that excess to ensure those who need support get it. Many more people should be trained in caring professions.

The poor, the mentally ill, those with the most challenges should complicate our lives. More of what we do should be about pulling more people into our sphere of influence and uplift.

Some Truths are More Important Than Other Truths

Endless apologetic attempts to defend typical religious truth claims completely miss the point about the purpose of religion. I don’t know nor do I much care about what literally did or did not happen with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The six day creation story seems so obviously allegorical I feel embarrassed to have ever thought there was something scientific about the way Genesis presents creationism. Jesus leaving the tomb at his resurrection is a mystery I’m not sure how to even attempt to solve.

I have faith in life after death, in the eternal nature of relationships and identity. I don’t care too much about the details. I don’t think literal belief in religious truth claims should be a determining factor in someone’s religious participation. Does my involvement in my weekly religious service lead me into love, care, grace and gratitude? Truths about how to purify my soul into more consistent and sincere acts of goodness, love and charity are fundamentally what matters.


I’m not sure what will keep religious institutions thriving into the future. What will be the ultimate factor in convincing my children to stay active in this church? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that I want my kids to be kind, loving, thriving adults making significant contributions in society where they feel loved, included and supported. I want that for everyone. If they can’t find that kind of love and support at church, I won’t blame them if they leave. I believe they can find it at church, but church’s need to make that their primary mission. Nothing else matters nearly as much.