Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 18

This time Abinadi expected to be caught, of course. He threw off the disguise and said who he was. He wanted an audience with the king, and he got it. They took him to the king. Then they accused him of this prophecy. Now this is a very interesting study in textual criticism because this is what he said. Verse 3: "The life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace; for he shall know that I am the[Lord...[verse 11] And again, he saith that thou shalt be as a stalk, even as a dry stalk of the field, which is run over by the beasts and trodden under foot. And again, he saith thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land."

These passages are very interesting because they are found [in another place]. I was talking last time about a parallel case of the Teacher of Righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls, who goes through the same routine-the same persecution, the same hiding, and everything else-as Abinadi. And it happened about the same time, but it was in the Old World. He prophesied too, and he used the same expressions. We see that these expressions come from a common source. There are references in chapter 50 of Isaiah. This is what it comes down to. First, put down Isa. 50:9-11 . This is the prophet speaking, just as Abinadi is speaking, just as the Teacher of Righteousness is speaking. They both quote Isaiah, and they quote it in a very interesting way from an older text. We find the parallel texts not in Joseph Smith and the Bible, which he could have used, but in Joseph Smith and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which he couldn't have used because they are a recent discovery. They quote it in the same way that Joseph Smith quotes it. If you can keep this straight, it is a neat [p.64] example of textual criticism. So Isaiah says, "Who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment [he is not talking about the garment being burned]; the moth shall eat them up [that's what happens to garments]....Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled," you people that play with fire. These irresponsible priests in their wickedness are playing with fire, and they will be burned up by it.

Bearing that in mind, what does the Dead Sea Scrolls man say? "For those who stubbornly oppose God, there shall be violence and overpowering and a flame of fire. They are playing with fire and throwing sparks around." I suppose he got that from Isaiah. This is from the Damascus Covenant 5:13. Then the next verse is interesting. "Their weaving is a flimsy thing, the weaving of spiders." Notice how Abinadi combined them. If you play around with flimsy old garments and put them in the fire, they will be burned in a hurry. Here he says they are playing with sparks and throwing fire around, and their weaving (their arguments, etc.) is flimsy, as the weaving of spiders. Then he says another thing, "Thou scatterest the remnant of the men who fight against me, like chaff before the wind." Now Abinadi "saith that thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire....And again, he saith that thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land." Well, I guess they got that from the first psalm about the wicked man. He shall be "like chaff which the wind driveth away." But the thing is that Abinadi put them in the same combination that the Teacher of Righteousness did in the Old World. They both used the same old text is the point. It's an older text. Remember, we have the Isaiah text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is a thousand years older than our Old Testament Isaiah. Ours comes from the ninth century, and this is the first century B.C. This is the older text, and Abinadi cites the older text.

Abinadi is the most interesting character from the point of view of literature of any writer in the Book of Mormon because he is very subtle and clever. In his long speech here he uses puns, and a bitter humor comes through. And he knows the scriptures and sticks to them. He chides these people for not knowing the scriptures, for their ignorance. They claim to know them and he says, you're ignorant; you don't know anything about them. "The life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace." And [the king's] servants report to him, "And he also prophesieth evil concerning thy life, and saith that thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire....And again, he saith that thou shalt be as blossoms of thistle, which...the wind bloweth."

At the same time the Teacher of Righteousness was saying, "For those who oppose God there shall be violence and flame. They are playing with fire and throwing sparks. Their weaving is a flimsy thing, the weaving of spiders." The other is the likeness of thistles, and they are "scattered like chaff before the wind." They play with these ideas and bring them in. This is a neat literary problem in the Book of Mormon.

We proceed then after he tells them about that. What do we have here? Verse 13: "And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man. And now, O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you, and he has prophesied in vain [How do we know we are righteous? Because we have prospered, they said]. And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also prosper." They are talking about the king. They are pretty nice, and this is an important thing. The message here is we are good because we are strong and prosperous.

A special concern of the prophets, and especially in the Book of Mormon, is the self-image. This is a big thing in the Book of Mormon, as you know. The more corrupt and wicked people are, the more they insist on their respectable, proper, decent, upright self-image. After all, who dresses flawlessly in the height of style? The mafioso, of course. You've seen plenty of TV dramas; you know the oil fellows on Dynasty, etc. The most ultra- respectable people are those who are up to the nastiest business on all fronts. They have to have this front of respectability and righteousness, and they work on it awfully hard. This has something to say about our times too, as you can easily see. But this is a necessary fiction if they are to meet the charges and put the prophets in the wrong.

(Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon--Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988--1990 [Provo: Foundation for Ancient Re 63.)

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on Abinadi's sermon:

Surely the most sublime, the lengthiest and most lyrical declaration of the life, death, and atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ is that found in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, quoted in its entirety in the Book of Mormon by Abinadi as he stood in chains before King Noah. Abinadi was, of course, a prefiguration, a type and shadow of the Savior, a fact that makes his moving tribute to Christ even more powerful and poignant (if that is possible) than when Isaiah wrote it. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been invited to seek everything that is "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy," a fitting description of the Holy One of Israel as declared by Isaiah and Abinadi in their testimonials of him. Consider these elements of his life, love, and gift to all:

"For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground." Sometimes we forget that Christ was born into mortality not only to die for us but also to live like us. He experienced his infancy, childhood, teenage years, and adulthood so that he might more fully understand the challenges associated with life spent in a world that is not our home. Under the watchful eye of his Heavenly Father, he was "tender" in at least two ways-he was young, pure, innocent, and particularly vulnerable to the pain of sin all around him, and he was caring, thoughtful, sensitive, and kind-in short, tender. In his childhood and youthful years with Joseph and Mary, at which time he was only a plant, he was to anchor himself and become a mighty root; then he would grow to become the Tree of Life. (The tree of life as a symbol includes the tree on which he would be slain for the sins of the world.) This would all be accomplished within a few square miles of dry and rocky terrain in ancient Palestine, and in a climate of dry and sterile Judaic legalism that had long since choked out the lifegiving strength of earlier gospel dispensations.

"He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." We have no reason to believe that Christ was unattractive physically, but this verse may suggest that he was plain-as in "plain and precious." In any case we know that his power was an inner, spiritual gift, and that as the son of a mortal mother, he did not stand out in any distinctive physical way, leading his surprised and offended contemporaries of the day to say of him and his messianic announcement, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He certainly did not come to them in a way that filled the people's traditional hopes and views of a Messiah who would be striking in visage or powerful in politics.

"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." Ultimately Christ was rejected by the people to whom he had come, with even some of his closest disciples growing fearful and (at least temporarily) abandoning him in the end. When he was cursed, vilified, mocked, and spat upon, no one stepped forward to protect or defend him. This was, of course, according to divine decree that the full weight of the Atonement would be borne by Christ and Christ alone. Certainly as he bore the sins and sadness, the heartbreak and hurt of every man, woman, and child from Adam to the end of the world, it is an understatement to say he was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."

Part of the pain here is the fact that some thought this man of Galilee was getting what he deserved, being "smitten of God." The Savior's most piercing cry may have added to that misunderstanding: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Then, as today, many thought that if there is suffering, there surely must be guilt. Indeed, there was plenty of guilt here-a whole world of it-but it fell upon the only utterly sinless and totally innocent man who had ever lived.

"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." In a way that is as monumentally merciful as it is beyond our ability to comprehend, in a way that fills us with as much wonder as it does gratitude, Christ personally took upon himself, beginning in the garden of Gethsemane and continuing on to the cross at Calvary, both the spiritual and physical burden of the transgressions and iniquities of everyone in the human family, for all "like sheep have gone astray." Every accountable person who ever lived-except Jesus- has sinned "and come short of the glory of God." Furthermore, we know that Christ took upon himself other lesser but still painful burdens as well- sicknesses and afflictions, sorrows and discouragements and infirmities of every kind-that these sufferings might be lifted along with the suffering for sin and disobedience.

He who most deserved peace and was the Prince of Peace had peace taken from him. He who deserved no rebuke, let alone physical abuse, went under the lash that his taking of such stripes might spare us such pain if only we would repent. The total cost of such combined spiritual and physical suffering is incalculable. Yet the iniquities, including the sorrows and sadness, of every mortal being who ever has lived or will live in this world were laid across one lonely set of shoulders. In the most magnificent display of strength ever known in the world of human endeavor, they were carried until full payment had been made.

"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." Here the image of wayward sheep in verse 6 (the human family) is shifted in verse 7 to that of an innocent sheep (Christ), who goes to the slaughter without utterance. When confronted by the high priest Caiaphas, Jesus "held his peace." Later Herod "questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing." Finally with Pilate, the one man who could have spared his life, Jesus "gave him no answer." He was the Lamb of God prepared from before the foundation of the world for this ultimate and infinite sacrifice. In his sacrifice he was giving millennia of meaning to the untold number of lambs that had been offered on an untold number of altars in anticipation and similitude of this final blood offering of God's Firstborn. Here was at long last the Holy Lamb without spot or blemish that would again (and in a much more universal way) permit the destroying angels to pass over those of the covenant.

"He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth." Christ was taken prisoner by soldiers who entered the garden of Gethsemane expressly to seize him, and he spent the rest of his remaining hours in bondage and judgment at the hands of Pilate. He was then "cut off out of the land of the living." He died with the wicked, crucified between two thieves, and found a burial place at the hand of the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea. Christ was the embodiment of truth, with no deceit of any kind ever having passed his lips. Nor would he do evil (even in word) in his time of greatest injustice, praying in the last hours of his life that his Father would forgive those involved, "for they know not what they do."

"Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand." Certainly it did not "please" the Father to bruise his Son, as we currently understand and use that word. Modern translations of Isaiah render these opening lines "it was the will of the Lord" rather than "it pleased the Lord." That gives a clearer meaning of what was meant by the word pleased when Joseph Smith translated this passage early in the nineteenth century. Furthermore, acknowledging Christ's submission to the will of the Father in Mosiah 14 is consistent with and sets the stage for the very teaching Abinadi was about to give to King Noah and his people in Mosiah 15. Indeed, Abinadi would give a succinct definition of those who are Christ's seed. They are those whose sins he has borne and for whom he has died. His soul truly was "an offering for sin," bringing the joy of a glorious heavenly reunion with "his seed," a reunion nowhere more movingly described than in President Joseph F. Smith's vision of the righteous dead. All of this is, indeed, a "pleasure" to the Lord.

"He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Christ certainly did know and feel the "travail of his soul," an anguish commencing in the garden of Gethsemane, where he "began to be sorrowful and very heavy . . . even unto death." He prayed so earnestly through the depths of that agony that his sweat became "as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." Later he would describe the experience of that suffering: "[It] caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit-and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink."

But he was faithful to the end, "satisfied" in its most literal, legal sense, having made reparation and restitution sufficient to appease the demands of justice. Because he "poured out his soul unto death" bearing the "sin of many," he received the inheritance of the great, sitting on the right hand of God, where all that the Father has was given him. True to his nature and true to his covenant, Christ will share that divine inheritance with all others who will be strong in keeping the commandments, thus making them "heirs of the kingdom of God" in precisely the way Abinadi declared this doctrine to King Noah.

For such merciful protection and glorious promises we must never again "hide our faces from him and esteem him not."

(Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 89 - 90.)

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