2 Nephi 2:14-17 – LeGrand Baker – origin of evil

2 Nephi 2:14-17 – LeGrand Baker – origin of evil

2 Nephi 2:14-17
14  And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
15  And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
16  Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.
17  And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.

The juxtaposition of ideas may sometimes tell one a great deal about the relative meanings of those ideas. If that is true of this section of the scriptures, then it may tell us a great deal about the nature and origin of evil, the purposes of Satan, and the reason his purposes are evil.

To begin, let’s examine verse 17, and clarify the meaning of some of the words.

And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.

First, let’s get the “suppose” out of the way so we won’t have to stumble all over it. I grew up thinking that the word means to assume, or to entertain an idea. The OED confirms those meanings, but they are numbers 6 and 8 of its definitions. The first is “to hold as a belief or opinion, to believe as a fact.” In that definition, one finds Lehi is expressing conviction and authority, rather than a wishy-washy not being too sure of himself. His conviction is reinforced by the words “must need suppose.” That is a very firm statement.

Now the question is, what is he using for a source. Obviously he has read something. But it is not an ordinary something. “According to that which is written,” is a very formal structure which denotes a source of absolute authority. It is probable that he holds some of the words on the Brass Plates in that regard, but that is likely not the answer. Remember how Nephi introduces us to his father:

9  And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
10  And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.
11  And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. (1 Nephi 1:9-11)

I suspect that is the book Lehi he is talking about.

Lehi is an extraordinary man: a great prophet, the patriarch and father of two mighty nations, and a profound theologian and philosopher. In this week’s verses he approaches and encapsulates the answer to a question which other theologians and philosophers have been wrestling with from the most ancient of times: what is the origin, nature, and purpose of evil.

One place in the Bible where the question of the creation of evil is addressed in those terms is not a credible place. It is in the middle of the Cyrus section of Isaiah. Scholars call its author “Second Isaiah” because it seems to be an attachment to the real Isaiah. I concur and believe it is a forgery put in the Isaiah text to impress and influence king Cyrus. In that section there is a classic bit of wisdom literature which reads, “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me:… I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:5-7)” If it is true that this part of Isaiah was written by Jews who were contemporary with Cyrus, then the statement “I…create evil,” was not on the Brass Plates, and cannot be considered as an influence on Lehi’s thinking. Besides that, I think the statement is false.

There are two other credible accounts of the beginnings of evil. One is in our cannon, and the other is in the cannon of the ancient Israelites and of the early Christians. The first is John’s Book of Revelation, the second is the Book of Enoch. Lehi himself saw the revelation John saw (Nephi says Nephi saw what John saw and also says that Lehi saw the things Nephi saw. As far as I can tell, that works out to say Lehi saw what John saw.), and the Book of Enoch was very likely on the Brass Plates. So in our quest to know what Lehi knew about the origin of evil, we would do well to begin with the Book of Enoch and John’s Revelation.

Since the Book of Enoch is not all that accessible, and the translation I like best is out of print, for the sake of you who would like to read it, I am going to quote much more of it than is necessary for my purpose here.

The ancient manuscript from which this portion of the Book of Enoch was translated is obviously an abridgment of the original. Whoever abridged it also added his own editorial comments as he went along. One frequently hears the voice of this ancient editor explaining the narrative. Except for the first sentence I quote, I will leave out those editorial comments, and only quote Enoch’s first-person account (The following long quote is from R.H. Charles, The Book of the Secrets of Enoch).

The ancient editor wrote:
Hence they took Enoch into the seventh Heaven. [Now I will quote only what Enoch wrote.]

And those two men lifted me tip thence on to the seventh Heaven, and I saw there a very great light, and fiery troops of great archangels, in-corporeal forces, and dominions, orders and governments, cherubim and seraphim, thrones and many-eyed ones, nine regiments, the Ioanit stations of light, and I became afraid, and began to tremble with great terror, and those men took me, and led me after them, and said to me: ‘Have courage, Enoch, do not fear,’ and showed me the Lord from afar, sitting on His very high throne….And all the heavenly troops would come and stand on the ten steps according to their rank, and would bow down to the Lord, and would again go to their places in joy and felicity, singing songs in the boundless light with small and tender voices, gloriously serving him.

And the cherubim and seraphim standing about the throne, the six-winged and many-eyed ones do not depart, standing before the Lord’s face doing his will, and cover his whole throne, singing with gentle voice before the Lord’s face: Holy, holy, holy, Lord Ruler of Sabaoth, heavens and earth are full of Thy glory.’ When I saw all these things, those men said to inc: ‘Enoch, thus far is it commanded us to journey with thee,’ and those men went away from me, and thereupon I saw them not. And I remained alone at the end of the seventh heaven and became afraid, and fell on my face and said to myself: ‘Woe is me, what has befallen me? And the Lord sent one of his glorious ones, the archangel Gabriel, and he said to me: ‘have courage, Enoch, do not fear, arise before the Lord’s face into eternity, arise, come with me,’ and I answered him, and said in myself: ‘My Lord, my soul is departed from me, from terror and trembling,’ and I called to the men who led me up to this place, on them I relied, and it is with them I go before the Lord’s face. And Gabriel caught me up, as a leaf caught up by the wind, and placed me before the Lord’s face. ….

I saw the appearance of the Lord’s face, like iron made to glow in fire, and brought out, emitting sparks, and it burns. Thus I saw the Lord’s face, but the Lord’s face is ineffable, marvellous and very awful, and very, very terrible.

And who am I to tell of the Lord’s unspeakable being, and of his very wonderful face? and I cannot tell the quantity of his many instructions, and various voices, the Lord’s throne very great and not made with hands, nor the quantity, of those standing round him, troops of cherubim and seraphim, nor their incessant singing, nor his immutable beauty, and who shall tell of the ineffable greatness of his glory?

And I fell prone and bowed down to the Lord, and the Lord with his lips said to me: Have courage, Enoch, do not fear, arise and stand before my face into eternity.’

And the archistratege Michael lifted me up and led me to before the Lord’s face.

And the Lord said to his servants tempting them: ‘Let Enoch stand before my face into eternity,’ and the glorious ones bowed down to the Lord, and said: ‘Let Enoch go according to Thy word.’

And the Lord said to Michael ‘Go and take Enoch from out his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment, and put him into the garments of My glory.’

And Michael did thus, as the Lord told him. He anointed me, and dressed me, and the appearance of that ointment is more than the great light, and his ointment is like sweet dew, and its smell mild, shining like the sun’s ray, and I looked at myself, and was like one of his glorious ones.

And the Lord summoned one of his archangels by name Pravuil, whose knowledge was quicker in wisdom than the other archangels, who wrote all the deeds of the Lord ; and the Lord said to Pravuil: ‘Bring out the books from my store-houses, and a reed of quick-writing, and give it to Enoch, and deliver to him the choice and comforting books out of thy hand.’ ….

And he was telling me all the works of heaven, earth and sea, and all the elements, their passages and goings, and the thunderings of the thunders, the sun and moon, the goings and changes of the stars, the seasons, years, days, and hours, the risings of the wind, the numbers of the angels, and the formation of their songs; and all human things, the tongue of every human song and life, the commandments, instructions, and sweet-voiced singings, and all things that it is fitting to learn. And Pravuil told me: ‘All the things that I have told thee, we have written. Sit and write all the souls of mankind, however many of them are born, and the places prepared for them to eternity; for all souls are prepared to eternity, before the formation of the world.’ And all double thirty days and thirty nights, and I wrote out all things exactly, and wrote three hundred and sixty-six books. ….

And the Lord summoned me, and said to me: Enoch, sit down on my left with Gabriel.’ And I bowed down to the Lord, and the Lord spoke to me: Enoch, beloved, all thou seest, all things that are standing finished I tell to thee even before the very beginning, all that I created from non-being, and visible things from invisible. Hear, Enoch, and take in these my words, for not to My angels have I told my secret, and I have not told them their rise, nor my endless realm, nor have they understood my creating, which I tell thee to- day.

For before all things were visible, I alone used to go about in the invisible things, like the sun from east to west, and from west to east. But even the sun has peace in itself, while I found no peace, because I was creating all things, and I conceived the thought of placing foundations, and of creating visible creation.

I commanded in the very lowest parts, that visible things should come down from invisible, and Adoil came down very great, [Translator’s footnote: Adoil is from a Hebrew word meaning ‘the hand of God.” “The word does not occur elsewhere that I am aware of.”] and I beheld him, and lo! he had a belly of great light. And I said to him: ‘Become undone, Adoil, and let the visible’ come out of thee.’ And he came un done, and a great light came out. And I was in the midst of the great light, and as there is born light from light, there came forth a great age, and showed all creation, which I had thought to create. And I saw that it was good. And I placed for myself a throne, and took my seat on it, and said to the light: ‘Go thou up higher and fix thyself high above the throne, and be a foundation to the highest things.’ And above the light there is nothing else, and then I bent up and looked up from my throne. ….

And I summoned the very lowest a second time, and said: ‘ Let Archas come forth hard,’ and he came forth hard from the invisible. And Archas came forth, hard, heavy, and very red. And I said: ‘ Be opened, Archas, and let there be born from thee,’ and he came undone, an age came forth very great and very dark, bearing the creation of all lower things, and I saw that it was good and said to him: ‘Go thou down below, and make thyself firm, and be for a foundation for the lower things,’ and it happened and he went down and fixed himself, and became the foundation for the lower things, and below the darkness there is nothing else. ….

And I commanded that there should be taken from light and darkness, and I said: ‘ Be thick,’ and it became thus, and I spread it out with the light, and it became water, and I spread it out over the darkness) below the light, and there I made firm the waters, that is to say the bottomless, and I made foundation of light around the water, and created seven circles from inside, and imaged it (sc. the water) like crystal wet and dry, that is to say like glass, and the circumcession of the waters and the other elements, and I showed each one of them its road) and the seven stars each one of them in its heaven, that they go thus, and I saw that it was good. And I separated between light and between darkness, that is to say in the midst of the water hither and thither, and I said to the light, that it should be the day, and to the darkness, that it should be the night, and there was evening and there was morning the fist day.

That is from R.H. Charles, The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976), p. 141-146.

John’s account in Revelation is much more symbolic and difficult to understand, but it sounds to me like it might be the same story.

1  And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
2  And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
3  And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
4  And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
5  And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne (Revelation 12:1-5).

The broad sequence of these stories are strikingly similar to Nephi’s first account of Lehi vision. In both Enoch and John the sequence is that they see God and then are shown a great light. In John there are twelve stars associated with that light. Now, compare that with Lehi’s much briefer account and see what you think.

8  And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.
9  And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
10  And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. (1 Nephi 1:8-10)

My point in all that is simply to suggest that if we want to know what Lehi is talking about in the verses under discussion, a legitimate way of discovering that may be to examine the accounts of the beginning of evil found in Enoch and John.

————

Without making any attempt to speculate on what these creation accounts are trying to say, I wish only to observe that they appear to represent the primary creation. It appears that from a great light was born a smaller light in which was a great age. Apparently, the Lord then separated it into two parts, the first was those whose inclination was to do good; the second, those whose inclination was to do evil. The part of the story which may be important to Lehi’s statement we are reading is what Enoch reports to say about both the good and the bad. Here are the two relevant quotes taken from the larger quote above.

…and I beheld him, and lo! he had a belly of great light. And I said to him: ‘Become undone, Adoil, and let the visible’ come out of thee.’ And he came undone, and a great light came out. And I was in the midst of the great light, and as there is born light from light, there came forth a great age, and showed all creation, which I had thought to create. And I saw that it was good.

And I summoned the very lowest a second time, and said: ‘ Let Archas come forth hard,’ and he came forth hard from the invisible. And Archas came forth, hard, heavy, and very red. And I said: ‘ Be opened, Archas, and let there be born from thee,’ and he came undone, an age came forth very great and very dark, bearing the creation of all lower things, and I saw that it was good.

It appears to me that what this suggests is that God was so determined to give all in the creation an opportunity to receive whatever level of salvation they would accept, that he separated his creations into two groups, then let everyone in each group go through the system — each serving as opposition to the other. Thus those who were inclined toward good were tested by their encounter with those who were inclined to do evil; and those who were inclined to do evil were tested by their encounter with those who were inclined to do good. Thus all had a maximum opportunity to define themselves as to their final stance on the scale of good and evil and all had a maximum opportunity for salvation.

There is some support for that idea in the statement the Lord made to Cain.

18  And Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord.
19  And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
20  And Abel he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
21  But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him;
24 For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his lies; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.
25 And it shall be said in time to come–That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent (Moses 5:18-25).

The three parts of that quote which are relevant to our question are: #1, “And Cain loved Satan more than God.” #2, “And the Lord said unto Cain… If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted.” #3, “thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.”

I think that #3, “for thou wast also before the world,” can not be interpreted as saying, “Guess what, Cain, you had a pre-existence.” Because if it is read that way, it has no meaning at all since not only Cain but also everyone else had a pre-existence. So I think it must be read to say that Cain was perdition in the spirit world before he was born into this world. That idea was suggested in #1, but in #2 Cain is told that he can still repent and be saved. I like to think that promise is held out to every individual of God’s creations, whether they were originally separated into the portion which was light, or the portion which was dark and red.

Well, all that was only speculation on my part, but I think it is worth wondering about or I wouldn’t have written it. So lets us return to what Lehi said, and I leave it to you to decide whether what I have written is relevant or entirely beside the point.

14  And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
15  And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
16  Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.
17  And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God(2 Nehi 2:14-17).

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