Alma 9:13-24 — LeGrand Baker — ‘hand’ as a codeword

Alma 9:13-24 — LeGrand Baker — ‘hand’ as a codeword

Alma 9:23
23 And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them.

Alma’s admonition in Alma 9:13-24 to the people of Ammonihah appears to be a restatement of a warning Lehi made in 2 Nephi 1:9-10. In each, the word “hand” is key to understanding the importance of what the prophets are saying. Lehi said to his sons:

10 But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them. (2 Nephi 1:10)

Because hands are such an integral part of both civil and religious ceremonies, it is not surprising that the word “hand” is often used in double entente. It can function as a code word where the subtext is making reference to an ordinances where the use of the hand is an important part of the ordinance or of covenant making

The surface text may have one or more of a number of obvious meanings: the exercise of power, strength, or authority (as in phrases like “the hands of the law,” and “the hand of justice”). Or it may be used in the affirmation of the truth of a statement, as when one takes an oath in court. The hand is an important part of the validation an oath. One makes the oath itself by simply speaking its words, but the oath is validated by what one does with one’s hands. Two examples are in court, when one swears to tell the truth, and during the inauguration of the President of the United States. The person repeats the words of the oath with the right hand raised, and the left hand on the Bible. It is the positions of the hands, not the speaking of the words, that demonstrates the truthfulness of the oath.

One gets the notion of that same sort of thing in the first chapter of First Nephi where the prophet bares his testimony and asserts, “And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.” The structure of the sentence is such that Nephi leaves open the question of whether he is saying that he is physically writing the record with his hand, or whether he is symbolically bearing testimony with his hand and therefore validating his words—thus the double entente. In other places, the hand appears even more clearly to represent ordinances, priesthood covenants, or blessings.

In ancient Israel, one would pray with hands lifted in the air. The psalms contain references to such prayer within the Temple: “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.” (Psalms 134:2) And also outside, looking toward the Temple: “Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.” (Psalms 28:2) Sometimes, a reference to lifting one’s hands, is simply a reference to prayer, as in Psalm 63.

3 Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
4 Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. (Psalms 63:3-4) [“Lovingkindness” is translated from a Hebrew word, hased, that has the same meaning as philadelphia and grace in the New Testament.]

1 On occasion the same sort of symbolism is used to suggest especially meaningful prayer: “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” (Psalm 25:1)

Use of the hand is also symbolic of exercising the priesthood, as in these instructions of the Lord to Moses: “But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” (Exodus 14:16) On the Day of Atonement, when Aaron and his sons transferred the sins of Israel to the scapegoat, they did so by putting “their hands upon the head of the ram.” (Exodus 29:15-22) Similarly, as the resurrected Jesus left his apostles, “ he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.” (Luke 24:50)

22 When Abraham described a covenant he had made with God, he said, “I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth.” (Genesis 14:22)

The right hand has special significance in both blessings and covenants, as is shown by the blessing Israel gave to Joseph’s sons:

14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.(Genesis 48:14)

8 And in the covenant described by Isaiah: “The Lord hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength. . . .” (Isaiah 62:8)

The Lord’s hand is also a symbol of the characteristics of his eternal Kingship, also as an example of sacral kingship generally.

13 Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.
14 Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.
15 Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.
16 In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.(Psalms 89:11-16)

That kingship, though it extends to the whole earth, always radiates from the Temple.

9 We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple.
10 According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness.
11 Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments. (Psalms 48:9-11)

Jehovah’s hand in the story of the brother of Jared is the classic example of God’s using his hand to fulfill a covenant, but there are also other examples, though some are carefully veiled. The criterion for man’s participation is clearly described in the psalms.

3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalms 24:3-5)

When that criterion is met, the Lord extends his hand as well.

6 I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech.
7 Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them.
8 Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, (Psalms 17:6-8)

Another example is Isaiah 40:1-3, where Isaiah used some of the same code words and phrases he later used in chapter 61.

1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

These are the beginning words of Isaiah’s commentary on the temple drama which continues from chapter 40 through the end of the book. It begins with the deliberations of the Council in Heaven. We can know that because the word “ye” is plural. Frank M. Cross has shown that the persons whom God is addressing are the members of the Council.{1} In this verse, “God” is translated from the word Elohim. Cross observes that whenever Elohim is represented as speaking to a group of people in the Old Testament, that group is always to the Council in Heaven, just as it is in this instance. {2} His instructions are “Comfort ye my people.” “Comfort” is the same as in chapter 61, where Isaiah follows “comfort” with instructions to wash (one removes ashes by washing), anoint, clothe, crown and give a new name – the entire ancient coronation ceremony is there – so it appears that his instructions to the Council in Heaven are to make his people kings and priests, queens and priestesses. That meaning is made clear in the next verse.

2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

The codeword “double” is used twice in Isaiah 61 the same way it is used here. It is a reference to birthright blessings. In ancient Israel a double portion was given to the heir who had the birthright. For example, if one had four children, he would divide his property into five parts, giving the birthright son the double. That is why there is no tribe of Joseph. He had the birthright and received a double portion, so he is represented by two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh. In terms of the priesthood, the “double” is the birthright blessings of Abraham which one receives in conjunction with other priesthood blessings. Here, in Isaiah 40, as in Isaiah 61, “double” is the double portion given to the birthright “son” (the name-title of the anointed king in Psalm 2). So in this instance it would be the priesthood birthright blessings of Abraham, which one receives from “the Lord’s hand.” If one reads that phrase to be a precise description of how one receives the “double” – the birthright blessings of Abraham – then the meaning of the instruction to “comfort” the people takes on great significance . That description could not be more explicit – but then, if one does not know how to read the code – neither could it be much more obscure.

In my opinion, the most powerful of all the ordination prayers found in the scriptures is in three short verses in a psalm that depicts the king’s foreordination at the Council in Heaven. (Here, as elsewhere in the scriptures, glory and majesty are name-designations of sacred clothing. Majesty representing the kingly garment; “glory,” his priesthood authority)

3 Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.
4 And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible [awesome] things.
5 Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee. (Psalms 45:3-5)

Job’s is similar, but in his account, the words appear as instructions prerequisite to seeing God:

6 Then answered the Lord unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, . . .
9 Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?
10 Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty. . . .
14 Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee. (Job 40:6-14)

After the Lord gave Job the instructions he sought, Job spoke in amazement:

1 Then Job answered the LORD, and said,
2 I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
3 Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
4 Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
5 I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. (Job 42:1-5)

Job’s response is like that of the psalmist:

17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. . . .
23 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
24 Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. (Psalms 73:17-26)

The 21st Psalm also suggests one must be dressed properly before approaching the Lord.

1 The king shall joy in thy strength, O LORD; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! . . . .
4 He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever.
5 His glory is great in thy salvation: honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.
6 For thou hast made him most blessed for ever: thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance. (Psalms 21:1-6)

When one uses the meaning of those psalms as a gage by with to measure the meaning of others, their intent also comes into sharper focus. Here are some examples:

35 Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.
36 Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip. (Psalms 18:35-36)

And

10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. . . .
13 For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. (Isaiah 41:10-13)

As in the blessing in Psalm 45, many of the psalms conclude with a promise of physical protection and priesthood invulnerability. The entire 139th Psalm is an acknowledgment of that blessing, with several references to God’s hand.

1 O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Psalms 139:1-12)

Elsewhere the psalmist wrote,

6 Now know I that the Lord saveth his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand. (Psalms 20:6)

Sometimes the hand is referred to in a very powerful way, even though it is not actually mentioned: Here are a few examples:

11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life [if one is to physically lay hold of something, it requires the use of one’s hand], whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12-15)

That same concept is found in Moroni’s testimony on the last page of the Book of Mormon:

28 I declare these things unto the fulfilling of the prophecies. And behold, they shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the everlasting God; and his word shall hiss forth from generation to generation.
29 And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true.
30 And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.
31 And awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled. (Moroni 10:28-31)

One of the most explicit (yet obscured) references to one’s hand is found in Mormon’s masterful sermon on faith, hope, and charity. If one takes faith to mean pistis, the tokens of the covenants, and hope to mean living as though those covenants were already fulfilled, and charity to mean the ultimate sealing power, then these words have great meaning:

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
21 And now I come to that faith [pistis = the tokens of the covenants], of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.
22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.
23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.
24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.
25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ {3}; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.
26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you. (Moroni 7:18-26)

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As far as I can tell, the “hand” in Isaiah and the Psalms (and therefore in the other scriptures as well) represents three main ceremonial functions. We have already discussed the first two:

The first is the one that is most obvious in the surface text. That is that God will demonstrate his strength and exercise his power to be hurtful. That is not what it means in the subtext however. As in the blessing to the king in Psalm 45:

3 Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.
4 And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible [awesome] things.
5 Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee. (Psalms 45:3-5)

In the subtext, even though the strength of God’s hand is often expressed as military aggression, it is actually a promise of protection: Many of the psalms end with a promise of spiritual and personal invulnerability, just as they are supposed to do. Examples are the conclusion of Psalm 21, which takes place at the veil; and the last verses of Psalms 25 and 27.

The second ceremonial use of the hand is to issue or to accept an invitation—either an invitation to enter the presence of God, or to learn from him. Or both. Psalm 45 is also an example of that: “and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible [awesome] things”; as is Job 40:14. “Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.” So is Isaiah 40: 1-2.

1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

The third ceremonial use of the hand is to create sacred space by measurement. Such measurement is, of necessity always associated by a confirming prayer. This example is going to take a little explanation, but it is important that the following background be a part of the discussion.

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It is my opinion that one of the most significant passages that described the ceremonial use of God’s hand is in the 1 Nephi 20 rendition of Isaiah 48:12-14. In the Bible, that chapter is the conclusion of the Cyrus passages, asserting that Cyrus will have his way with the Babylonians. But in the Book of Mormon, this chapter is the introduction to the promise that the Prophet Joseph will restore the gospel, the temple, and the preserved of Israel. One of the most striking differences between the chapters is that the editors of the Bible version removed evidence of a conference held in the pre-mortal spirit world, at which Jehovah presided and the Prophet Joseph delivered the major address.

Because I feel that scripture is so important, I wish so take a short detour and show that “the heavens” are the members of the Council in Heaven, then I will return to 1 Nephi 20 and conclude this discussion.

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The plural “heavens” is used three different ways in the scriptures. One simply refers to the sky and the stars as we see them. The second is a reference to the place (Kolob) nearest to where God dwells.

26 And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen. (Moroni 9:26)

And

19 And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all. . . . .
21 I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen. (Abraham 3:19-21)

Here the Lord is said to have made the heavens and those who dwell there.

6 By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. (Psalms 33:6)

The third use of “heaven” is to refer to the members of the council who reside there, as in this Psalm where it is used to designate both the people and the place:

5 And the heavens [members of the Council]shall praise thy wonders, O Lord: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.
6 For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? (Psalms 89:5-6)

One of the more interesting references to the singing voices of the heavens is found in both Isaiah 49 and 1 Nephi 21. It is interesting because it is another instance where the Bible editors of the post-exilic period removed references to the Council in Heaven and to the temple. The Bible’s Isaiah reads:

13 Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13)

However, on the brass plates, it read differently:

a. To establish one’s feet is to place them on the footstool as one sits on the thrown, as in “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good tidings.

b. Those in the east are those who live in the direction of the rising sun. That is the home of the gods. (The Hymn of the Pearl uses the same imagery.)

c. Mountains are symbols of temples, and if they are to be smitten no more, that means there will be no more apostasy.

The editors took out both the Council and the promise. The Book of Mormon reads:

13  Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established; and break forth into singing, O mountains; for they shall be smitten no more; for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.. (1 Nephi 21:13)

The members of the Council are often depicted as singing, as when Nephi described his father’s sode experience: “. . . he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.” (1 Nephi 1:8) Thus, when the Lord asked, Job was expected to know the answer:

4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . .
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4, 7)

The Prophet Joseph echoed that poetry in a letter he wrote to the Saints:

Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers! (D&C 128:23)

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That quick diversion was to show that “heavens” and “stars” are often a reference to the members of the Council. I find the same kinds of references in 1 Nephi 20:9-17. It is another part of Isaiah that the post-exilic editors monkeyed around with and left wanting. Isaiah 49, in the Bible, is the conclusion of the Cyrus chapters, but in the Book of Mormon it is the introduction to the promise that the Prophet Joseph will restore the gospel, the temples, and then scattered Israel.

I begin with Jehovah’s words in verse 9:

9 Nevertheless, for my name’s sake [for the sake of the covenant and its associated name] will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain from thee, that I cut thee not off.
10 For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. [His affliction is the act of the atonement]

[Bible version reads:

10 Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. [replacing the idea of the atonement with the visualization of metallurgy.]
11 For mine own sake, yea, for mine own sake will I do this, for I will not suffer my name to be polluted, and I will not give my glory unto another. [The Bible version reads: “for how should my name be polluted?” On the brass plates, it appears to be a clear reference to the struggle described in Moses:

1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.(Moses 4:1) ]

12 Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called [named, ie. One who has accepted a covenant] for I am he; I am the first, and I am also the last.
13 Mine hand hath also laid the foundation of the earth [a reference to the creation motif], and my right hand hath spanned the heavens. [that’s the phrase I wish to discuss below] I call unto them and they stand up together .[they stand to make covenant, as in 2 Kings 23:1-3]

14 All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; who among them hath declared these things unto them? The Lord hath loved him; yea, and he will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them; and he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans.

[Bible version removes the words, “yea, and he will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them. It reads. “All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.” During Isaiah’s day, Assyria was the threat, not Babylon. But Babylon represented, as it always has, the wickedness of this world. The Prophet’s will would be to destroy those kingdoms as the little rock that rolled forth until it filled the earth. Cyrus, on the other hand, took Babylon by military conquest, so if the editors simply removed the reference to the speech, the passage could sound like a prophecy of Cyrus.]

15 Also, saith the Lord; I the Lord, yea, I have spoken; yea, I have called him to declare, I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.

[Bible version reads: “I have called him,” rather than, “I have called him to declare.” Again removing the reference to the speech.

16 Come ye near unto me; I have not spoken in secret; from the beginning, from the time that it was declared have I spoken; and the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.

[Bible version reads very differently, again with the intent of removing the reference to the speech. “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me.”

17 And thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I have sent him, the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go, hath done it.

[Bible version removes the words, “I sent him,” leaving the speaker altogether out of the story.]

17 Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. (1 Nephi 20:9-17)

The reason that I paid such close attention to those verses is because the use of the Lord’s hand here is so significant, but its significance has to be understood within the context of the pre-mortal conference and those who attended it. Verse 13 reads: “Mine hand hath also laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens. I call unto them and they stand up together.” The word “spanned” means to measure. A span is the distance between the end of one’s little finger and thumb when the thumb is extended, “The hand with the thumb and fingers extended, especially as a means of measuring,” reads The Oxford English Dictionary. Then it references our verse in Isaiah as an example of this usage.

The first steps in creating sacred space is always to receive the measurements from God, then to measure and define the space so that it can be designated as separate from profane space. For example, the Lord gave Moses the measurements of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant; he gave Solomon the measurements of the Temple; and he gave the Prophet Joseph the measurements of the Kirtland Temple. (see also: Revelation 11:1-2)

Thus, in 1 Nephi 20, the words, “my right hand hath spanned the heavens.” are referring to the members of the Council who on whose heads the Lord places his right hand—to measure them–-to define them as sacred space—literally as temples. Thereafter, he says, “I call unto them and they stand up together.” So the sequence is: they ordained, they make a covenant, and then they assemble together to attend the meeting where Jehovah himself presides.

Apparently Isaiah chapter 40 also speaks of the Lord’s hand measuring the members of the Council in Heaven:

12 Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? (Isaiah 40:12)

If my appraisal here is correct, then it is likely that in this world, when one who holds the Melchizedek priesthood places his hands upon the head of another, to ordain, bless, or set apart, that priesthood ordinance is in fact setting them apart—defining them as sacred space—confirming them as temples.

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It seems to me that we are so far removed from the origin of our discussion that we ought to return again to our starting place.

Alma’s warning to the people of Ammonihan:

23 And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them. (Alma 9:23)

This seems to be a reaffirmation of a warning Lehi made in 2 Nephi 1:9-10. In each, the word “hand” is key to understanding the importance of what the prophets are saying. Lehi said to his sons:

10 But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them. (2 Nephi 1:10)

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ENDNOTES

{1} Frank M. Cross, Jr., “The Council of Yahweh in Second Isaiah,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Jan.-Oct.1953, 12:274-277. See also Christopher R. Seitz, “The Divine Council: Temporal Transition and New Prophecy in the Book of Isaiah,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Summer 1990, vol. 109, no. 2, 229-247.

{2} See: Stephen A. Geller, “A Poetic Analysis of Isaiah 40:1-2,” Harvard Theological Review, v. 77, n. 3-4, 1984, p. 413-420.

Hanson, Paul D., Isaiah 40-66, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, John Knox Press, 1995), p. 223 – 226.

Seitz, Christopher R., “The Divine Council: Temporal Transition and New Prophecy in the Book of Isaiah,” Journal of Biblical Literature, v. 109, n. 2, 1990, p. 229 – 247.

Westermann, Claus, Isaiah 40-66, Commentary (Philadelphia, Westminister Press, 1969) 364 – 367.

{3} “exercise tokens”

If God’s house is “a house of order,” then everything must be done correctly. That means according to prior covenant (have we read the first 14 verses of 132?) If everything conforms to prior covenant, then one must evoke the tokens of the covenants to activate the purposes of the covenant. The Ether 12:30 is a good example. We are told the brother of Jared exercised faith, and are left to understand that the way he is holding his arm and the words his is authorized to speak are the pistis.

After Moroni leads us through the temple, he tells us what comes next.

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his [the Father’s] grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. (Moroni 10:32-33)

The phrase that is relevant to our discussion is “which is in the covenant of the Father.” The covenant he has just described is the great and eternal covenant. The Saviour is the personification of that covenant. That is, the covenant is not about him, rather, He is the covenant. The Saviour is also the fulfillment of the covenant. And his name is the only token of that covenant that acknowledged as valid by the Father. So when one prays in the name of Christ, one is evoking the token of the Father’s covanant. When one follows the directions of the Spirit, and prays as the Spirit says to pray, and in the name of Christ, then one is exercising that token (exercising faith) and the covenant will be fulfilled according to the promise of the Spirit. I think that’s what the scriptures mean when they say one must exercise faith.

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