Alma 5:37-41 — LeGrand Baker — ‘The Good Shepherd’

Alma 5:37-41 — LeGrand Baker — ‘The Good Shepherd’

Alma 5:37-41
37 O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are puffed up in the vain things of the world, ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd, notwithstanding a shepherd hath called after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not hearken unto his voice!
38 Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
39 And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.
40 For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
41 Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him.

This week, Jim Cannon and I read John 10 together. Verses 1-18 are a close parallel to those verses in Alma 5. John 10:4 reads,

4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.

When we finished reading, Jim smiled and made one of the understated profound statements that is that is so typical of him. He said, “What this says is that the sheep have to do something.”

That’s what Alma is saying also, it is the responsibility of the shepherd to speak with a voice the sheep can hear and understand, but it is the responsibility of the sheep to follow. Many religions fail to make that connection.

One of the strongest (and strangest) doctrines of apostate Christianity is that the Saviour will make up the difference if one believes –– if one only has faith.

David Noel Freedman is one of the great biblical scholars of the last generation, in his article on “faith” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, wrote:

“Faith is a peculiarly Christian concept. While other religious traditions have aspects of what the churches have come to name “faith,” none has the specific quality of intellectual assent that distinguishes faith from fidelity. The problem of faith and the central discussion of it arises in the context of the medieval attempts to codify and integrate the Christian experience into the emerging philosophical language of the scholastics. (Article by David Noel Freedman, “Faith,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, New York, 1992, vol. 2 p. 744-745.)

When I sent this to Bruce Cowser, he responded:

A very interesting distinction he makes. I looked at several dictionaries and a thesaurus, and every one defines “fidelity” in terms of “faithfulness.” Put another way, his postulate distinguishes “faith” from “faithfulness.” Wonder how we even got the word “faithful” if it doesn’t have the same root as “faith.”

The answer, of course, is that our modern use of faith is based on Catholic and Protestant belief, rather than on the Greek pistis from which the word faith is translated in the New Testament. The modern meaning of faith is belief—intellectual assent. The problem with that is that what one believes may have no necessary or predictable relationship with reality. Faithful, on the other hand, has kept its original meaning. It means one’s doing what one said he would do— integrity, keeping one’s covenants. The Greek pistis means the tokens of the covenant. So to have faith means to have the token. To exercise faith means to use the token. To be faithful means to be true to the covenant the token represents.

Freedman’s is a masterful phrase, the “quality of intellectual assent that distinguishes faith from fidelity.” It perfectly defines the belief that all one has to do is believe, muddle through as best one can, and somehow the Saviour will magically make up the difference and carry us off to heaven. That idea is illustrated by one of the most famous paintings in Christendom. It shows “the Good Shepherd” carrying a lamb that was lost. It is based on the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:12-14. The painting is lovely, but what it fails to show is that when the shepherd returns to his flock he puts the sheep with the rest of the flock, and gives it another opportunity to follow him. He doesn’t continue to carry it forever.

The Saviour does not carry people who are not prepared to go there to the Celestial Kingdom. The notion that he does would presuppose that either the Celestial Kingdom is unclean, as they are; or else that he has cleansed them even though they had not fully repented. Neither idea is compatible with the scriptures. Rather, he speaks and leads the way. Those who choose to do so, follow him. “The sheep have to do something.” Throughout the gospels, Jesus frequently refers to his followers as his sheep.

The idea that all one has to do is believe and muddle through is a description of a sheep herder who imposes his will upon the sheep, not that of a shepherd who gives them the right to choose.

Nephi said it most clearly, and there is nothing in his words that suggests intellectual assent without fidelity.

17 O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die? Turn ye, turn ye unto the Lord your God. Why has he forsaken you?
18 It is because you have hardened your hearts; yea, ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd; yea, ye have provoked him to anger against you.
19 And behold, instead of gathering you, except ye will repent, behold, he shall scatter you forth that ye shall become meat for dogs and wild beasts.
20 O, how could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you?
21 But behold, it is to get gain, to be praised of men, yea, and that ye might get gold and silver. And ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world, for the which ye do murder, and plunder, and steal, and bear false witness against your neighbor, and do all manner of iniquity. (Helaman 7:17-21)

In the culture of ancient Israel, the imagery of sheep and shepherd meant the sheep chose to trust and follow the shepherd, and the shepherd had the responsibility to respond to that trust by providing for and protecting the sheep. That sentiment is found in Isaiah and the Psalms, from which Alma and Nephi would have drawn their imagery. Here are some examples:

Psalm 80 is a prayer. It begins with the notion that Jehovah will lead his people.

1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth. (Psalms 80:1)

(The words, “thou that dwellest between the cherubim,” are a reference to the throne that sat at the back wall in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple. The throne was between two great cheribims whose wings touched the side walls and the ceiling of the room. )

Probably the most famous of all the Old Testament references to the Shepherd are Isaiah 40 and the 23rd Psalm. Nephi was probably referring to both of them when he wrote:

25 And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture. (1 Nephi 22: 25)

Isaiah 40 shows Jehovah’s compassion.

11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)

Jehovah’s compassion for the little lambs and for their mothers (those with young) does not preclude the notion that when they are able, they will join the rest of the flock. Neither does it negate his insistence that the mature and able sheep must follow him as an expression of their own will.

Many of you have sat in my office and read with me the copy of Psalm 23 that hung on my wall. The psalm is written like a three act play. Act one begins, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Act two is this lonely, dreary world. It begins, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” And act three is simply, “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

If I understand that psalm correctly, the following is all part of act one. It is a recollection of our pre-mortal world (discussion of that interpretation is found in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord).

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures [in the imagery of sheep and shepherd, the green pastures would be the fruit of the tree of life]: he leadeth me beside the still waters.[waters of life]
3 He restoreth my soul (D&C 93: 38): he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. [There is always a new name that seals or ratifies a new covenant. The new name is a token of the covenant. For example, when we are baptized, we take upon ourselves the name of the Saviour, becoming his children. So that phrase might read, “he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his covenant’s sake,” without changing its meaning.] (Psalms 23:1-3)

The first words in Psalm 23 define our eternal relationship with the Saviour:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In the scriptural accounts of the Council in Heaven, it is always the Father who presides, and it is Jehovah who conducts and makes the assignments. In almost all of the accounts we have of fore-ordinations, they contain the principles and promises expressed in these words: “The Lord is my Shepherd”— he is in charge, and he will lead us in the way we must go to fulfill our eternal covenants.

It was he who gave instructions and foreordained us to our specific tasks; he and his Father made enabling covenants regarding the fulfillment of those tasks; and it is by his sustaining power that we are enabled to perform those tasks and keep those covenants –– “The Lord is my shepherd” –– the one whom I shall follow.

The Lord promised the Prophet Joseph,

41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.
43 And the Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.
44 Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.
45 And the day cometh that you shall hear my voice and see me, and know that I am.
46 Watch, therefore, that ye may be ready. Even so. Amen. (Doctrine and Covenants 50:41-46)

Alma’s words are scarey and uncompromising.

38 Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
39 And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.

There is lots of ancient temple code in those words. Knowing the name by which one is called is the most obvious. But the one that really caught my attention was this phrase: “whosoever denieth this is … a child of the devil” When Alma talks about one’s being a child of God, he is using the formal, legal notion of one who may, by right, inherit. If he is using “child of the devil” in that same way (and I believe he is) then he the warning he is giving is very severe indeed.

 

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