Mosiah 12:17-30 — LeGrand Baker — ‘How beautiful upon the mountains’

Mosiah 12:17-30 — LeGrand Baker — ‘How beautiful upon the mountains’

Mosiah 12:20-21
20     And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying:
21     How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;

I recall once when I was much younger, I read this – all caught up in the drama of the story – and thought “Wow, they really asked Abinadi a hard one, I could not have answered that.”

What I have since learned is that they were not asking him a hard question at all. What they were doing is entrapping him so they could accuse him of treason.

To illustrate that, lets quickly review the concluding scenes of the Feast of Tabernacles in the ancient Israelite New Year festival. In the drama, after Jehovah has rescued the king from the world of the dead, the king, the Ark of the Covenant, and the people marched in a grand procession around the city, defining it once again as sacred space, and symbolically rebuilding the city and its temple to a renewed glory. During the procession they stopped at a pool where the king was ceremonially washed.  After going all around the city, they walked through its gates and into the temple precinct. When there, the doors of the temple were opened, the veil in front of the Holy of Holies was also opened, and symbolical, the Holy of Holies was extended to include everyone in the congregation. This did not violate the sanctity of the temple because all the people had been cleansed on the Day of Atonement in preparation for this great event. The description of the king’s anointing is not given in the Bible, but some scholars believe that it was the same as is described for the anointing of the High Priest. The king’s anointing was apparently a dual ceremony. It was an adoption ordinance, so now the king became a son of God (he had to be a son, or he would have been a usurper when he sat upon the throne). And it was also the final act of coronation ordinances. So after his anointing, the king was both “son” and king. After his anointing, some scholars believe, the king sat on the throne in the back of the Holy of Holies and delivered a lecture (probably from Deuteronomy) about the law and the covenant. The final ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles were a general feast which took place after the king’s speech, and the next day — the conclusion of both the Feast of Tabernacles and of the New Year’s festival — there was a great feast.

In Moses’ Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant had been the portable throne of God, but when Solomon’s temple was constructed, there was a great throne built at the back wall of the Holy of Holies. On either side of the throne were two cherubim, whose wings stretched over the throne. The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God, and after the procession, when it was brought back into the temple, it was sat in front of the Throne. Some scholars believe that after the king was anointed and sat upon the throne as the legitimate son of God, that the Ark was his footstool. The Ark contained a jar of manna, the bread of life representing the fruit of the tree of life; Aaron’s rod, which represented the power of the priesthood; and the tablets on which the Lord had written the Ten Commandments, which was the Law. So the contents of the Ark represented all the powers of sacral kingship. To have one’s feet “established” probably referred to that symbolic part of the coronation ceremony.

It appears that Isaiah’s statement which Noah’s priests quoted to Abinadi is about that aspect of the coronation ceremony.

21    How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;
22    Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;
23    Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;
24    The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?

If this scripture is a celebration of sacral kingship, as it appears to be, and if Isaiah’s words were quoted by Noah’s priests to remind Abinadi of that, then, because the ceremony would have been familliar to all the Nephites, just as it was familiar to all the Jews in Jerusalem, it is probable that when the priests quoted the scripture, that King Noah, his priests, all the people, and Abinadi knew exactly what the scripture was about. They understood that it was an affirmation of the sanctity of the person of the king.

Abinadi had accused king Noah of violating the laws of God. So now, if he were to explain the Isaiah’s words in the way Noah’s priests expected, he also would have had to admit that the king was appointed by God, and was God’s legitimate representative.

What amazed the priests was that Abinadi did not answer the way they expected. Some scholars believe the king’s coronation was symbolic of the coronation of everyone who was watching the ceremony. That is, what the people were watching the king do, was symbolically happening to each one of them as well. If those scholars are correct, then every person in the congregation had symbolically placed their feet upon the Ark, and it could be said of each one of them, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good;.” Abinadi seems to have used this understanding of the ceremony to explain to the priests that each person who was righteous was a sacral king, and it was ultimately the righteousness — not just the ceremony — which made one’s sonship and kingship real. Only a righteous person could be a legitimate king.

The priests were unable to respond to his answer, and they had to find a different accusation to bring against the Prophet.

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