3 Nephi 17:23-25 — LeGrand Baker — ‘Behold your little ones’

3 Nephi 17:23-25 

23 And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.
24 And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.

It is only two verses, yet, for many of us it presents our most vivid and moving image in the entire Book of Mormon. What the parents saw was the light with the angels who surrounded their children. What the child saw was whatever or whomever was within that light—that is, they saw the person or persons who were behind the veil. Many of those children would live and continue to bear testimony to their own children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—and those testimonies would sustain the Nephite culture of consecration until the end of the forth generation.

For me, that image became even more realistic and consequently took on even greater significance when I was able to identify the source and meaning of the light or fire that surrounded the children. It is the shechinah—the veil of light that separates man from God, and through which man must pass in order to come into the presence of God.

The word is found in the dictionary of the LDS edition of the Bible, with this definition:

Shechinah. The Presence. A word used by the later Jews and borrowed from them by the Christians to denote the cloud of brightness and glory that marked the presence of the Lord, as spoken of in Ex. 3:1-6; 24:16; 1 Kgs. 8:10; lsa. 6:1-3; Matt. 17:5; Acts 7:55. The Prophet Joseph Smith described this phenomenon in connection with his first vision, as a “light.. .above the brightness of the sun,” and said that he saw two Personages whose “brightness and glory defy all description,” standing “in the light” JS-H 1:16-18.

The Shechinah is the first thing one sees, and sometimes the only thing the prophets mention, when they are brought into the presence of God. It is described many ways—sometimes as a fire, but more frequently as a cloud. Examples are Lehi’s report that “there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him” (1 Nephi 1:6); Moses’s experience when “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.”(Exodus 3:2). In the book of Moses God explains:

2 And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence (Moses 1:2).

Moses explains further:

11 But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him (Moses 1:11).

There appears to be an equivalency relationship between that transfiguration, entering behind the veil, and seeing God. That may have to do with the Lord’s statement that

19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live (D&C 84:19-22).

The shechinah is usually believed to have been represented in Moses’s Tabernacle and in Solomon’s Temple by the beautifully embroidered veil that stood before of the Holy of Holies. But perhaps more likely, it was represented by the second veil that Paul mentions but is not described in the Old Testament.{1} Paul wrote:

1 Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.
2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.
3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;
4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;
5 And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly (Hebrews 9:1-5).

The psalms say God covers himself “with light as with a garment”(Psalms 104:1-2). In the Book of Abraham, Facsimile No. 2 shows us that Figure 3:

Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing also the grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed (Facsimile No. 2, Fig. 3, from the Book of Abraham).

An ancient Jewish tradition holds that Adam and Eve were clothed in a garment of light before that ate the forbidden fruit, and which Nibley suggests that clothing was the Shechinah. {2}

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FOOTNOTES

{1}  For a discussion of the shechinah as the veil of the temple see, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, the chapter called “Act 2, Scene 10: The King at the Veil.”

In Alfred Edersheim’s monumental work, he tells us, “The Rabbis speak of two veils, and say that the high-priest went in by the southern edge of the first veil, then walked along till he reached the northern corner of the second veil, by which he entered the Most Holy Place.” (Edersheim, Temple at the Time of Christ Chapter 2, FN 29. Matt. xxvii. 51).

{2}   Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981, 2000), 373.

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It is fascinating to me to see the various ways that the
SHECHINAH IS REPRESENTED IN THE SCRIPTURES. Below are two groups of scriptures. The first are the ones cited in the bible dictionary. The second group are others that probably also represent the veil of light that separates us from god.

Exodus 3:1-6

2 And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire [shechinah], and the bush was not consumed…..
6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

Exodus 24:15-18

15 And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud [shechinah] covered the mount.
16 And the glory of the Lord abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
17 And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire [shechinah] on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.
18 And Moses went into the midst of the cloud [shechinah], and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.

1 Kings 8:10-15

10 And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud [shechinah] filled the house of the Lord,
11 So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud [shechinah]: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord.

Isaiah 6:1-4

1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke [shechinah].

Matthew 17:1-6

1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, ….
5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud [shechinah] overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

Acts 7:54-56.)

55 But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory [shechinah] of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

OTHERS THAT ARE NOT MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE DICTIONARY ARTICLE:

2 Kings 2:9-11

11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire [shechinah], and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

Acts 2:1-5

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire [shechinah], and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Genesis 3:22-24

22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword [shechinah] which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Acts 1:9-11

9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud [shechinah] received him out of their sight.
10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Mark 9:6-8

6 For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.
7 And there was a cloud [shechinah] that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

Luke 9:33-36

34 While he thus spake, there came a cloud [shechinah], and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud [shechinah].
35 And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

Mosiah 27:10-12

10 And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king—
11 And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud [shechinah]; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;
12 And so great was their astonishment, that they fell to the earth, and understood not the words which he spake unto them.

3 Nephi 18:37-39

38 And it came to pass that when Jesus had touched them all, there came a cloud [shechinah] and overshadowed the multitude that they could not see Jesus.
39 And while they were overshadowed he departed from them, and ascended into heaven. And the disciples saw and did bear record that he ascended again into heaven.

Ether 2:4-6

4 And it came to pass that when they had come down into the valley of Nimrod the Lord came down and talked with the brother of Jared; and he was in a cloud [shechinah], and the brother of Jared saw him not.
5 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud [shechinah], and gave directions whither they should travel.

Ether 2:14

14 And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud [shechinah] and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.

Ether 3:6-20

6 And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear…..
19 And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil [shechinah]; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.
20 Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil [shechinah]; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him.

Doctrine and Covenants 34:7-8

7 For behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, the time is soon at hand that I shall come in a cloud [shechinah] with power and great glory.
8 And it shall be a great day at the time of my coming, for all nations shall tremble.

Doctrine and Covenants 45:44-45

44 And then they shall look for me, and, behold, I will come; and they shall see me in the clouds [shechinah] of heaven, clothed [shechinah: Psalm 104:1-2] with power and great glory; with all the holy angels; and he that watches not for me shall be cut off.

45 But before the arm of the Lord shall fall, an angel shall sound his trump, and the saints that have slept shall come forth to meet me in the cloud [shechinah].

Doctrine and Covenants 84:4-5

4 Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.
5 For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud [shechinah] shall rest upon it, which cloud [shechinah] shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house.

Exodus 13:20-22

21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire [shechinah], to give them light; to go by day and night:
22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud [shechinah] by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

1 Nephi 1:5-6

5 Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.
6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire [shechinah] and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.

Helaman 5:22-47

22 And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, they went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them.
23 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire [shechinah], even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned.
24 And when they saw that they were encircled about with a pillar of fire [shechinah], and that it burned them not, their hearts did take courage.

3 Nephi 9:20

20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire [shechinah] and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

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