Jacob 2:12-17 — LeGrand Baker — Psalm 82
12 And now behold, my brethren, this is the word which I declare unto you, that many of you have begun to search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores, in the which this land, which is a land of promise unto you and to your seed, doth abound most plentifully.
13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
14 And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.
15 O that he would show you that he can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!
16 O that he would rid you from this iniquity and abomination. And, O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands, and let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls!
17 Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
Jacob is taking this problem of an abundance of wealth, and the consequent inequality which results, very seriously. But it is clear that his message is not primarily economic. Neither is it about looking after the poor. It is much more serious than that. It is about the violence which those who are seeking wealth and status are doing to their own eternal nature. The accusation that some “persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they” can be read as a comment on the problems of evolving social orders, or of the widening disparity of the distribution of wealth, but I don’t think it is about either of these things. I think it is about the canker which is happening inside the people who have designated themselves as the upper class “better sort.”
Jacob’s words were spoken in the temple, so it is reasonable to place his words within a temple context. If we do that we position his concerns against some of the highest ideas spoken of in the scriptures, such as loving the Lord and his children — charity, or the law of consecration, which I suppose is simply a functional way of describing charity.
If one is going to place his comments in the context of the ancient temple-related ceremonies, then one must return to the pre-exilic Jerusalem from which Lehi left in order to discover the context in which he was speaking. Jacob himself had never experienced the great festivals at Jerusalem, but his father and mother and older members of the party had. And it is reasonable to assume that those great Israelite festivals were as much a part of Nephite worship as they had been a part of the worship at the Jerusalem temple.
If the occasion of Jacob’s speech had been the New Year’s festival, then the context of that speech was much broader, and the implications of his warnings much more severe, than they might have been otherwise. If they had just gone through ceremonies in which they had depicted the Council in Heaven, and implicitly, their part in that Council, then what Jacob is saying is if one seeks self-aggrandizement in this world, then one is violating the most fundamental command given at the Council.
Each year, during their New Year’s festival, the ancient Israelites had an 22 day endowment session. Part of that session was the 7 day Feast of Tabernacles. Apparently, on the second day of the Feast of Tabernacles they saw a play which included a depiction of the Grand Council at which Elohim presided as King/Father, and Jehovah as the president of the Council. The play would continue by also showing the war in heaven, the creation, and the Garden story. Scholars say that the first part of Genesis was either read, or enacted, or both, during that part of the play which depicted the creation and the Garden. It showed Adam and Eve in the garden and then havingtogoaway. Adam took with him two tokens of his priesthood and kingship–his garment and a branch of the tree of life which was his scepter. The play continued to show the passage of time from Adam to Abraham, to Moses, to David and to the present king. Demonstrating that the now reigning king was legitimate in foreordination, genealogy, regalia, and “righteousness.” (All that is in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord)
The part of the play I wish to call to your attention takes place in the beginning, in the Grand Council. The dialog of that scene is in the 82nd Psalm, and is divided into three parts. The words of the narrator (v. 1), the instructions given by Elohim (v.2-7), then the response of the Council of the gods (v.8).
Scholars usually read the 82nd Psalm to be a court trial where the King of the Gods is passing judgement on some evil gods who were worshiped by Egyptians and others of Israel’s neighbors, and who had led their worshipers down the wrong paths. That conclusion is drawn by the use of the words “judges among the gods.”But that Hebrew word which is translated “judges” can mean to justify or to choose, as well as to condemn. Since I know of no story in the scriptures where God condemned members of the council for judging the people unjustly, I presume the scholars have misread something. But I do know a story where God justified the gods, chose them, and said “these I will make my rulers.” So I presume it is in that story where the scene of the play which is the 82nd psalm takes place. As I read it, the 82nd psalm can fit into Abraham 3 without even breaking the cadence of thought.
Psalm 82 can also be read as the Father administering the covenant of the law of consecration to the members of the Council in Heaven.
If I am correct, then this is part of the story of the “noble and great ones” who are called “gods” in the Book of Abraham. When I first realized that and read it that way, everything changed. The 82nd Psalm became one of the most profoundly beautiful scriptures I have ever read. If I am correct in guessing that Jacob’s speech was given at the New Year’s festival, and that Psalm 82 was enacted as a part of that festival, then the context of Jacob’s speech suggests that Jacob is telling those people that if they continue on the path of self-aggrandizement, they will be violating the most fundamental of the instructions they received at the Council.
In the first verse of Psalm 82 the narrator explains the scene:
1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
After that introduction, Elohim (the Hebrew word translated “God,” who, in the ancient Israelite religion is the King and Father of the gods) addresses the gods. He warns them of the dangers they will face when they go down to the world where one of their greatest temptations will be to pay homage to the great, powerful and wealthy, because of their prestige, power, and money. The warning reads:
2 How long will ye judge unjustly,
and accept the persons of the wicked?
Then he instructs them about their assignments. It sounds very much like his instructions to Isaiah (Isaiah 6) where he tells Isaiah what he must do, and also tells him that the people will not listen. This instruction is like that, but it is addressed to all the members of the Council, as though they would each face the same challenges. There are some things which every one must do, no matter what their specific assignments may be:
3 Defend the poor and fatherless:
do justice to the afflicted and needy.
4 Deliver the poor and needy:
rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
With those instructions comes the reason: the people on the earth will have also have forgotten their glorious past home in the pre-mortal existence. They will stumble in the darkness of forgetfulness. They must be helped–not just helped, but helped with great compassion.
5 They know not, neither will they understand;
they walk on in darkness:
all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
Then the reminder that the gods’ own individual experience will be the source of their understanding and of their compassion. They are gods, but they will all die, some like Abinadi and Joseph Smith will give their lives dramatically. (“fall” in battle like one of the princes) Others of the gods will simply use up their lives in the service of their Father’s children. With great compassion the Father says,
6 I have said, Ye are gods;
and all of you are children of the most High.
7 But ye shall die like men,
and fall like one of the princes.
Now, in this scene of the play, the gods respond, each having his own assignment, and each
assuring his Father and King that he will do his own part in order that the Father’s purposes may be accomplished among all people. The gods say,
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth:
for thou shalt inherit all nations. (Psalms 82:1-8.)
This generic charge given by the Father to the members of the Council may be reduced to a single word, “charity,” or to three words, “law of consecration.” They, in turn are the very foundation of every other commandment talked about in the scriptures.
It seems to me that what Jacob is saying is this: If you seek wealth in order to establish your social or cultural superiority, you will be in violation of the very reason you came to this earth. Jacob begs his listeners not to hurt themselves in such a useless and unnecessary way.