Psalm 82, LeGrand Baker, the law of consecration
The law of consecration is taught in the Book of Mormon
This was originally written as a commentary on Alma 34:28-29
28 And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
29 Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men (Alma 34:28-29).
In these two verses we have the short version of the ultimate prerequisites necessary for one to become a celestial person. The law of consecration is described in verse 28, and charity in verse 29. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the most important commandment is that we live the law of consecration. In the Book of Mormon, the most important commandment is that we be charity. They are two sides of the same coin. The law of consecration is what we do when charity is what we are.
The law of consecration was first introduced into the Church in Missouri as a way to help the poor saints. The problems were two. First, the law was structured as a system much like the united order. However, whereas in the united order, property was held in common, in the Missouri law of consecration small farms held as private property, but the farm came from a large piece of property that was first owned in trust by the church leaders. Individual jealousies and frustrations got in the way of its success. The second problem was expressed by the covetousness. The law of consecration was introduced into a non-consecrated people, rather than the other way around.
The law of consecration is still a covenant based commandment, but now Zion is a subset of the Church, or perhaps the Church is a subset of Zion. Zion is the society of those who ARE charity, and who LIVE the law of consecration. The difference between ourselves and the Saints in Missouri is that now we are expected to live the law of consecration as individuals and families rather than as an organized community. The law of consecration is, as Amulek said, “[to] impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need.”
My favorite example is this: A single mother needs a car— a member of the ward who has the means buys her one (nothing too fancy, because that would be more than she needs) and he may, or may not, give it to her through the bishop, that is, he may or may not let her know who bought it for her. The mother has a son who mows the lawn of an old widow who lives near by. The old lady frequently sits in the park where she watches the children play. When one is hurt, picked on, or sad, she makes a point of bring him to her park bench, giving him a cookie and a hug until he feels better. The point is this: there is no difference. The car, the lawn mowing, and the hug are all perfect examples of one’s living the law of consecration. One gives according to one’s ability, and according to the needs of the recipient. It is just as Amulek said:
. . . for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
In the ancient Israelite temple drama, the members of the Council in Heaven— while they still in the presence of their Father in Heaven— make a covenant that they will live the law of consecration when they come to this world to this world. (The following is a review of Psalm 82 taken from Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, p. 233-42. I have left the footnotes out of the quote.)
Psalm 82: Instruction and Covenant
A narrator introduces the scene
1. God standeth in the congregation of the mighty;
he judgeth among the gods.
These words are clearly spoken by a narrator, or a chorus as in a Greek play, explaining what is happening on the stage.
Here, and in the next verses, to “judge” means the same thing in Hebrew as it does in English. When pronouncing judgment, a judge may condemn or exonerate; or a judge is also one who selects, chooses, or assigns. In an ancient court of law, a judge would sit as an evidence of his superior status. In this psalm he was standing, as one did when making a covenant. Thus, a more explicit translation might be: “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he chooses among the gods.” During ceremonies like the one depicted in Psalm 82, the congregation also stood to make covenants, and in doing so they spoke in unison, as with one voice.
The gods among whom Elohim was choosing were the members of the Council in Heaven. That situation immediately calls one’s attention to Abraham 3:22-23, where “God saw these souls [the noble and great ones] that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers.” There he was standing and judging or choosing. These appear to be two versions of the same story:
ELOHIM SPEAKS TO THE MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL.
2. How long will ye judge unjustly,
and accept the persons of the wicked?
The Hebrew reads simply “the wicked.” The Tanakh, which is the official Jewish translation of the Old Testament, renders this verse as “How long will you judge perversely, showing favor to the wicked?” That is the pivotal question upon which everyone’s salvation ultimately turns. It is about prejudice, bigotry, and intolerance. As soon as we arrive in this world, no matter what human culture we arrive in, that culture teaches us that some people are better than others, so favor should be shown to those with political prestige, money, education, expensive toys, “correct” cultural preferences, and “appropriate” lifestyle. It does not matter whether they are better because they have ten cows rather than just two, or whether they have a huge house rather than a simple one. The principle is the same—and that idea that some people are better than others—says God in these instructions to his children, is the misconception they must first correct in themselves, and then reject altogether. One does not judge people by their appearances or by their prestige. In the festival temple drama, that message was relevant far beyond its presentation on the stage. Its purpose was to remind the people in the audience about the covenants they had made before they came to this world, and to give them the opportunity to re-make those same covenants in this world, and to receive instructions about how those covenants should be fulfilled. There could have been no question about the implications of that command. The Law was explicit:
5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might (Deuteronomy 6:5).
18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:18).
At the Council, the Father’s first instructions to his children was that when they come to this earth, they must obey what James called the “royal law:”
8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors (James 2:8-9).
THE FATHER GIVES INSTRUCTIONS ABOUT WHAT ONE MUST DO WHILE IN THIS TEMPORAL WORLD:
3. Defend the poor and fatherless:
do justice to the afflicted and needy.
“Defend” and “do justice” suggest the power, authority, and responsibilities of kingship to defend those who have no political or military power, or who are impoverished:
4. Deliver the poor and needy:
rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
“Deliver” from “the wicked” seems to represent the power, authority, and responsibilities of priesthood. The denotation of the word translated “poor” is weak or feeble, but the connotation seems to have spiritual rather than physical overtones. The wicked are those who are morally wrong, who neither know nor wish to know the truth. Thus, these instructions pertain to the way every man in the congregation must execute the duties of priesthood and sacral kingship.
In relation to one’s kingship duties, the poor and the needy are impoverished as to things of this world. With regard to priesthood duties, they are, as in the Beatitudes those who make he sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit, as also in Psalm 86.
1 Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me:
for I am poor and needy.
2 Preserve my soul; for I am holy:
O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee.
3 Be merciful unto me,
O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily.
4 Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee,
O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
5 For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive;
and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.
In that psalm, being poor and needy has nothing to do with worldly impoverishment; rather, it has to do with being holy and completely dependent upon the Lord. That same interpretation is probably equally valid in Psalm 82, in regard to these instructions received by the members of the Council about how they were to perform their earthly priesthood duties. In noting that, one also identifies an almost invisible line dividing the responsibilities of those to whom God was speaking. They were reasonable to protect, defend, and support the physically impoverished as well as the spiritually pure:
5. They know not, neither will they understand;
they walk on in darkness:
all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
“They” of verse 5 appear to be those who are called “wicked,” yet, their wickedness seems to be a consequence of a widespread chaos, rather than of their individual rebelliousness. If that is correct, then “they,” as well as the poor and needy, are those whom the members of the Council were sent to the earth to serve. These verses describe a situation in which chaos reigns supreme—lack of knowledge, walking in darkness, the earth out of course. It is the same imagery we find in the “valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23, and in the dark and dreary waste at the beginning of Lehi’s tree of life vision. It represents the condition of mortality where all persons must experience disorder, and choose from among its myriads of possibilities. The instructions were imperatives in which the members of the Council were commanded to work to overcome the darkness. The assignment that the Father gave to the members of the Council was that they go to the earth and help others walk in the light of truth—to help them transcend and overcome the chaos. However, the Father warned, it would not be all that easy. “They”—the people who most need the help—will not understand, and many, perhaps most, will reject the message. The Father further warns:
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.
With those words, God outlined the consequences of mortality for the members of the Council. An equally valid meaning of the word translated “but” is “surely,” which would simply be the assurance that death was a natural part of the assignment they were undertaking. In that case the verse would read, “and all of you are children of the Most High, surely you will die like men, and fall [as a hero in battle] like one of the princes.”
The warning was that when the members of the Council come to the earth they would no longer be identifiable as “the gods.” They would simply be ordinary humans like everybody else. They would feel sorrow and pain, until death would eventually consume their earthly bodies. Some would use up their lives in God’s service, while others would fall like princes in battle, sealing their testimonies with their own blood—like Abinadi and Joseph Smith, or like the “ordinary” men and women who would be killed during the Roman persecutions, or at the hands of a Missouri mob, or who would expire while trudging in the mountainous snow pulling a handcart toward Zion.
HAVING GIVEN THOSE INSTRUCTIONS, THE FATHER INVITES THE CONGREGATION TO RISE AND MAKE A COVENANT THAT THEY WILL OBEY HIS WORDS:
8 Arise, O God [or, “O gods”], judge the earth:
for thou shalt inherit all the Nations. (Psalm 82:1-8).
Verse 8 is commonly understood to be an adoration of Elohim offered by the members of the Council who invite him to rise. The problem with that interpretation is that in verse one, God was already standing, and it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to have the members of the Council ask God to stand up. The word ‘God’ is translated from the Hebrew word “Elohim.” Elohim is the plural for “gods”—“the gods” in the ordinary sense. It is also the name of the Father of the gods. This is clearly shown in verse one that is translated, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.” Both the first and the last words in that verse are “elohim.” So we have, “Elohim standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the elohim.” Similarly, verse 8 begins, “Arise, O elohim.” The translators of the King James Version chose to have it read, “Arise, O God.” However, an equally valid translation would be “Arise, O gods,” making that last verse read as the conclusion of the Father’s instructions, and his invitation to them to stand and make a covenant. While this translation seems more internally consistent to the psalm, there is a grammatical problem. The verb is singular so elohim must also be singular. Therefore, if the verse is the conclusion of God’s instructions to the Council, it must be understood that he was addressing each of them individually, and inviting each one to stand and covenant with him. With that covenant comes God’s guarantee of their success: “for thou shalt inherit all the nations”—a promise of eternal life and of their ultimate restoration to their former status.
During the performance of this psalm, the members of the Israelite audience probably understand themselves to represent the members of the Council in Heaven. If that were so, then it was they who stood to the covenant. Their watching the play was an opportunity for them to review the covenants they had made in the premortal world, and their participation in the drama became a new covenant-making reality. As they spoke the words in unison, each individual covenanted to fulfill his own assignment in order that the Father’s purposes might be accomplished. If those assumptions are correct, then, as in the story of King Benjamin, even though the words were spoken in unison, making of the covenant was the personal act of each individual in the congregation.
Because the congregation’s participation in the drama was, for each of them, a present and personal act, the words of the psalm and the enactment of the story were, as Mowinckel and Nibley suggested, not just a remembering of the myth and a re-enactment of the ritual, but a new actualization of the event and a new covenant. For each member of the congregation who participated in the drama, their making the covenant anew was a reaffirmation of an everlasting covenant, but it was also a new covenant, affirming one’s present relationship with God.