Mosiah 15:10-14 — LeGrand Baker — On being a child of God

Mosiah 15:10-14 — LeGrand Baker — On being a child of God

One of the best known testimonies of the Saviour found in this scriptures is this one in D&C 76.

22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father –
24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God (D&C 76:22-24).

That was written in February, 1832. Eleven years later, in February 1843, the Prophet Joseph published a poetic version of that same revelation. The major difference between the two versions (apart from the literary style) is that the 1832 revelation is a description of a revelation shared by Joseph and Sidney Rigdon, and so it is written in first person plural – “we saw…” In contrast, the 1843 poem is written in first person singular – “I saw…” and it apparently represents many other visions that the Prophet had seen and understood. In the poem, his testimony reads,

And now after all of the proofs made of him,
By witnesses truly, by whom he was known,
This is mine, last of all, that he lives; yea, he lives!
And sits at the right hand of God on his throne.
And I heard a great voice bearing record from heav’n,
He’s the Saviour and only begotten of God;
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career in the heavens so broad.
Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons
By the very same truths and the very same powers. {endnote  1}

As one contemplates the enormity of that last phrase, one cannot help but echo the words of Enos, “Lord, how is it done?” I suppose that same question stirred in the soul of the young prince Alma as an understanding of Abinadi’s message began to unfold in his mind.

If I am correct in my last week’s suggestion that Abinadi’s discussion of the Saviour’ atonement contained a subtext that was designed to help Alma begin to comprehend his own Self, and that with the help of the Spirit, Alma and Abinadi were communicating privately during Abinadi’s public address to king Noah; then Abinadi’s response to Alma’s unspoken question was not just the next logical step in the young man’s education; it was the next necessary step. If one assumes, as I do, that Alma understood Abinadi’s message, and now wished to know how to fulfill his own covenantal responsibilities, the next question Abinadi must address would be, “How does one become a son of God and an heir to the Kingdom of Heaven ?”

The reason this question would have been as obvious as it was important is this: Assuming (as I do) that king Noah’s coronation ceremony was not substantially different from the coronation ceremonies of the kings of Israel{2}, then at the time of his coronation Noah had been ceremonially identified as a “son” and legitimate heir of God (See Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord for a discussion of the coronation ceremony and Psalm 2).

And (further assuming that things happened in America in the same way they happened in Jerusalem before the destruction of Solomon’s temple) the people who witnessed the king’s coronation ceremony had symbolically also been made heirs – sons and daughters of God – thus making the whole nation a covenant people. Now (also assuming that young Alma had participated in those ceremonies, and was familiar with those ordinances), Abinadi had just challenged the very foundation of the king’s authority, by declaring that Noah and his kingdom were apostate, and that he, Abinadi rather than the king, was authorized to speak the words of God.

If this was the academic and ceremonial context in which Abinadi spoke, then for Alma there would have been only two possible responses: Either he must agree with Noah that Abinadi was too dangerous to be permitted to live, or he must believe Abinadi’s testimony. Since the latter was true, now the young prince Alma must seek to know from Abinadi the answer to the most fundamental of all royal questions: “How, then, if those ancient ordinances are not in themselves sufficient, can one become a son and heir of God?” and it is to that question that Abinadi next addressed.

10    And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?
11    Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord – I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.
12    For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed?
13 Yea, and are not the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy, that has not fallen into transgression, I mean all the holy prophets ever since the world began? I say unto you that they are his seed.
14    And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth! (Mosiah 15:10-14)

The nature and promise of sacral kingship and priesthood were the whole focus of Abinadi’s explanation as he described what one must be to become a child of Christ. As I have already observed, the coronation rites at the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama not only represented the renewal of the king’s earthly authority as adopted son of God, but they also represented the renewal of the ordinances and covenants of salvation for the king and every individual who participated in the ceremonies. Consequently, when Abinadi asked, “who shall be his seed,” then answered his own question, he answered in terms of sacral kingship:

His argument was not unique. Indeed, his conclusions are the same as are found everywhere in the scriptures. The high-point of the Beatitudes, “…for they shall be called the children of God,” is only one example. It was also, appropriately, part of King Benjamin’s address to his people during what appears to be the celebration of a New Year’s festival ceremony.

7    And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.” (Mosiah 5:7)

And it is most beautifully expressed in the words of the Saviour to the brother of Jared:

14    Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.” (Ether 3:14)

Relative to these sacral kings and queens, the Prophet Joseph wrote,

1    The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell.
2    I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire; (D&C 137:1-2)

As I mentioned last week, the root of all these ideas may be found in Psalm 2. In Psalm 2 the king speaks, quoting Jehovah.

7    I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee (Psalm 2:7).

The most important statement in Psalm 2 is the affirmation by the king that God has told him said,

“Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Here “son,” “my son,” and in other places “son of God” and “Son of God” (There is a tremendous difference between “son of God” and “Son of God”!) are not just a statement of adoption or of genealogy, but are royal name-titles which signify “son” as in “heir,” “king,” or one who is anointed to become king{3}. As mentioned before, when the Father introduced the Saviour, he used that name-title (“this is my Beloved Son”) which defines both their literal relationship and the Saviour’s status as heir to whom all must do obeisance. Examples are Christ’s baptism, the Mount of Transfiguration, his appearance to the Nephites, and Joseph Smith’s first vision.

As is true with the Saviour, when someone is called a “son” or “daughter” of God, it is both a statement of one’s eternal relationship with their Heavenly Father, and also a name-title which denotes a covenantal relationship. Several scholars have discussed the evidence for the ancient Israelite use of sacred king-names. Honeyman observed that the religious practice of giving and receiving a new name,

…is based upon the belief that the name is or symbolizes the self or soul, and that an alteration of the name will effect or symbolize and perpetuate an alteration of the self; on this supposition a man whose name has been changed is no longer quite the same man, for he has been cut off from his own past, or from certain aspects of it, and the future belongs to a different being. {4}

Mowinckel wrote,

The mention of the king’s ‘name’ [in Psalms 7:18] contains an allusion to the fact that the oracles and ‘decree’ really contained those names of honour which the deity gave to the king on the day of his anointing, his ‘regnal-name’ which expressed both his close relation to Yahweh and the promise of the happiness and honour he was to gain for himself and for his people. We know this to be the case in Egypt, and both in the East generally and in Israel the custom prevailed that the king should take a new name at his accession. Probably also has to be interpreted to the effect that David’s son Jedidiah as king took the name Solomon. {5}

Honeyman concurs.

The account in II Sam 12:24-25 of the birth of Jedidiah-Solomon imputes the former name to the prophet Nathan under divine inspiration and the latter to Bathsheba or David. … Solomon is the throne name and Jedidiah the private name…. The slayer of Goliath was Elhanan the son of Jesse of Bethlehem, (II Sam. 21:19) Elhanan can be none other than he who reigned as David. {6}

So it appears that “David” (which is was not an Israelite name) became the covenant king-name of Elhanan, a man who grew up in Bethlehem, only a few miles from the Jebusite city of Jerusalem.

A new name is a kind of statement of fact – it is also a formal token of the covenant it represents.

It can be a name that evokes memories of covenants made in the past, or it may be ongoing and current in the present, or it may project one’s covenants into the future.

Some covenants guarantee the fulfilment of other covenants. Prophecies about the future are one example. On a more personal level, Ephesians 1:13-14 is a covenant made between God and individual members of the Council in Heaven, guaranteeing one’s opportunity for redemption when one finally gets out from under the burdens of this life. The verses read,

13    In whom [Christ] ye also trusted , after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
14  Which [sealing] is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

An earnest is an enabling contract – one that guarantees another contract in the future: “I promise you that you can buy my bike when I get a new one” is a simple and informal form of an earnest. It is a covenant that another covenant will ultimately be fulfilled. In a very broad sense, a new name, like “son,” is an earnest because it is not only an acclamation of who one is, but is also an avowal of who one is becoming.

In the course of one’s life here – and most probably in the course of one’s full eternal existence – one accumulates a large number of covenant names. For example, in the king’s name-titles, one might find the whole history of the king’s final ascension to the throne. (In England, for example, the prince, becomes the Duke of York, becomes the king.) Mowinckel implies that:

The enthronement psalms must be understood against the background of this festival, with all the rich experiences contained in it, experiences including past and future in a re- creating present….  {7}

Nibley explained that the ancient Egyptians had the same concept. In ancient Egypt one received a number of names, some of which were symbolic of where and what one is doing just now, others represented one’s role in the Council and creation, still others were promises for the future. The name with which one evoked God for blessing or information was determined by the sort of information or assistance one wished.

When Re says to the gods, “ I have many names and many forms; in me Atun and the youthful Horus are addressed,” he signifies that he may be conjured either as the Ancient of Days or the Newly-born, depending on the name employed and the situation in which his presence is desired…. {8}

The reason it was important to have many names was because one’s existence covered an enormous span of time, and during that time one played many roles with covenantal responsibilities.

Every name is an epithet designating some peculiar attribute or function of an individual. That is why it is possible for persons even in our society to have more than one name, each name calling attention to a different aspect of the individual: for to have many forms and functions is to have many names…. {9}

Examples he might have given of our current use of multiple name-titles are mother, and father, or bishop, that are a kind of statement of rank assigned by one’s society, culture, or priesthood ordination. These name-titles are expected to last a lifetime. Others, like Relief Society President, scoutmaster, and high counselor are names which denote temporary called responsibilities. These name-titles are no longer effectual after one is released. In ancient Israel there were some names that were much more significant than others. The most important were given by formal ordinance and covenant.

If the psalms, and the ancient temple ordinances and covenants that were associated with them, are the background of Abinadi’s public challenge to king Noah, and of his very private conversation with Alma, then this weeks verses from Abinadi can be summed up this way:

To Noah, Abinadi said, “To be a ‘king’ one must make and keep covenants, but one’s just going through the form of the ordinances is not sufficient: Therefore, Noah, you and those like you just don’t qualify.”

But to Alma he said, “All the prophets and all those who believe in the Saviour, these are his seed – his children and his heirs. These are they who publish peace, who bring good tidings of good, who publish salvation; and say unto Zion: Thy God reigneth! – these are his sons and his daughters, the kings and queens, priests and priestesses of the Kingdom.”

————

ENDNOTES

{1} “A Vision” by the Prophet Joseph Smith – – the Prophet re-wrote the vision which is the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants in poetry form. It was published in the Times and Seasons, February 1, 1843, and republished in the Millennial Star, August, 1843.}

{2} As I mentioned before, that coronation ceremony is not described in the Old Testament, except briefly in Isaiah 61:3. However some of the greatest biblical scholars of the last century maintained that the text of the ancient Israelite temple ceremony (“including its coronation rites) is preserved in the Psalms. That is, that the Psalms are the are the words of the ancient temple ceremony. If you wish to pursue that idea, the best sources to begin with are Sigmund Mowinckel, translated by A.P. Thomas, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 2 Vols. (Abingdon, Nashville, 1962); and Aubrey R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel (Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1967).}

{3} David, Solomon, and apparently Mosiah II, were all anointed to become king before theywere anointed “king.”

There is also a different usage of the word “son.” In the context of ancient governmental covenants and treaties where one authority was recognized as superior to another (as in the relationship between the king of Egypt and his subservient overlords), the title “son” denoted vassalage rather than heirship. }

{4} A.M. Honeyman, “The Evidence for Regnal Names Among the Hebrews,” in Journal of Biblical Literature, 67, 1948: 13.}

{5} Sigmund Mowinckel, D. R. Ap-Thomas, trans., The Psalms in Israel’ s Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 2 vols., 1979), 1: 63 and n. 86. See also: James K Hoffmeier “From Pharaoh to Israel’s Kings To Jesus,” in Bible Review (13/2, June 1997), 48. In a footnote he adds: See 2 Kgs 23.31 (Shallum-Jo’ahaz); 23.34 (Elijakim-Jehoiakim). 2 Sam. 12.24-25.

{6} A. H. Honeyman, “The Evidence for Regnal Names Among the Hebrews,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 1984, 67:23-24.

{7} Sigmund Mowinckel, translated by A.P. Thomas, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 2 Vols.(Nashville, Abingdon, 1962), vol. 1, 183. Mowinckel’s footnote reads as follows: “Pss. 47., 9; 93.2, cf. V. 5b; 96.13; 97.2b, 7b, cf. The description of the epiphany- procession of entry in vv. 3-6; 98.3b, 9b; 99,1.”

{8} Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1975), 40-41.

{9} Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1975), 40.

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