Ether 2 & 3 — veil of light, of fire, of cloud, shechinah – LeGrand Baker

Today I wish to discuss the real veils that separate man from God, and the veils in Solomon’s Temple that represented those real ones.

The story of the brother of Jared that appears in the first three chapters of Ether is not autobiographical. Rather it is Moroni telling the story, and consistent with the pattern his father used, the story is encoded— told with a specific and well executed objective. Briefly, the story Moroni tells is that three times God spoke with the brother of Jared through a cloud, then on the fourth time, God put his finger through the veil and turned the stones into a source of light. The verses that tell that story are these:

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, and the brother of Jared saw him not. (Ether 2:4).

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, and gave directions whither they should travel (Ether 2:5).

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 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 2:14).

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 (Ether 3:6).

The cloud is the veil through which one sees the finger of the Lord. Moses had a similar experience:

15 And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud 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 on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.
18 And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights…..(Exodus.)

18 And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God (Exodus 24:15-18, 31:18, see Deuteronomy 9:9-10).

In the scriptures the veil is often described as a brilliant light. Sometimes it is represented as a “pillar of light” or a “pillar of fire.” This veil of light is called the shechinah (pronounced with a soft a = sha KE na). There is a short definition in the LDS Bible dictionary. It reads: {1}

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 .. bright- ness and glory defy all description,” standing “in the light” (JS-H 1:16-18). {2}

In reality, there are two veils that separate us from God. The first is the one we see all the time. It is the walls of a room or the mountains and the sky — it is the place beyond which our eyes cannot see.

That veil, the one we always see all around us, was represented in Moses’s Tabernacle and in Solomon’s Temple by the magnificent, beautifully embroidered veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.

God’s instructions to Moses to make the veil for the Tabernacle is found in Exodus 26.31; 36.35. The one veil in Solomon’s Temple was similar, except it was much larger. Both were woven of fine white linen with cherubim embroidered in threads of blue, purple, and crimson (2 Chronicles 3:14).

The Old Testament describes only one veil in the Temple, but Paul mentions a second one. 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 (Hebrews 9:1-4).

If Paul is correct that there was a “second veil” that led into the Holy of Holies, then that presupposes there must also have been a first veil that stood in front of it.

The second veil in Solomon’s temple would have represented the shechinah, the veil of light that separates man from God, or the Holy Place in the Temple from the Holy of Holies. Beyond that second veil, against the back wall of the Holy of Holies, stood the Ark of the Covenant and a representation of God’s celestial throne. They were overshadowed by the wings of two great, golden cherubim who guarded the throne. {3}

Solomon’s Temple was said to represent God’s temple in Heaven. For that reason, the Holy of Holies of the earthly temple contained a throne that represented the throne of God. Thus, to enter the Holy of Holies was to symbolically enter the presence of God.

The designs of the Great Veil suggests both the reality and importance of the second veil. Significantly, there were cherubim embroidered on the first veil. Cherubim were representative of the gods who were the members of the Council in Heaven (as in Isaiah 6). Since the Law of Moses prohibited Israelites from creating artistic representations of either gods, men, or animals, Jewish artwork never showed either God or the gods. But they could show mythological representations of the perfection of the members of the Council in the form of cherubim. Cherubim have the hind quarters of an ox (the strongest of all domestic animals), the forequarters of a lion (the greatest hunter of the wild animals), the wings of an eagle (the greatest of all birds), and the head of a man (the smartest of God’s creations). Thus, the symbolism of the cherubim represented perfection — therefore they could represent the noble and great ones who were the gods. {4}

In ancient tradition, the cherubim guard the throne of God. We see that same idea represented in the story of the Garden of Eden. There, cherubim and a flaming sword (shechinah) are stationed to prevent man from approaching the Tree of Life, and therefore from returning to the Garden, and therefore from entering the presence of God (Genesis 3:24, Alma 12:21, Alma 42:2-3, Moses 4:31).

The symbolism of the cherubim on the Great Veil in Solomon’s Temple is that they guard the approach to the second veil and to the presence of God. If one is to come to the throne in the Holy of Holies he must first pass by the cherubim who guard the second veil.

That is the symbolism. The reality is that when Prophets tell us about their seeing God, the shechinah is often the first thing they describe, and sometimes it is the only thing they mention (as in 1 Nephi 1:6, “as he [Lehi] prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much”). The shechinah is described many ways, but always as a bright light—sometimes a fire, sometimes a cloud. Moses’s burning bush (Exodus 3:2); and the Prophet Joseph reporting, “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me” (Joseph Smith-History:16). Joseph’s making a point of describing the shechinah in connection with his account of the First Vision is another evidence that he was telling the truth.

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THE SHECHINAH AS A GARMENT OF LIGHT

An ancient Jewish tradition holds that originally Adam and Eve had been clothed in garments of light, but they lost those garments when they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The fig leaves Satan suggested they wear was a counterfeit replacement for that garment, but then God made Adam and Eve coats of skin that replaced their garments of light. {5} A representation of that garment was a part of the royal Israelite clothing. When the royal clothing is named, there are almost always two parts. The outer one denoting his kingship is often called “majesty”, the undergarment denoting his priesthood and is often called “honor,” or “glory,” or something similar. (Psalm 8:5, Psalm 45:3-4, Job 40:10).{6}

Peter describes the Savior’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration as a coronation ceremony during which Jesus was dressed that same way:

16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount (2 Peter 1:16-18).

The psalms suggest that the royal and priesthood robes of the king are patterned after those worn by God. Psalm 93:1 says the Lord “is clothed with majesty … and strength.” Psalm 104 adds that he also has a garment of light:

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain (Psalm 104:1-2).

Both Paul and a revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants suggest that resurrected persons are clothed similarly. Paul wrote:

7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.
8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom (Hebrews 1:7-8).

The Doctrine and Covenants says:

12 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, and it hath gone forth in a firm decree, by the will of the Father, that mine apostles, the Twelve which were with me in my ministry at Jerusalem, shall stand at my right hand at the day of my coming in a pillar of fire, being clothed with robes of righteousness [zedek], with crowns upon their heads, in glory even as I am, to judge the whole house of Israel, even as many as have loved me and kept my commandments, and none else (D&C 29:12).

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THE SHECHINAH IN CONNECTION WITH SEEING GOD and/or SODE EXPERIENCE

The shechinah is also mentioned in conjunction with seeing God or prophet’s sode experience as in the following:

Moses and the burning bush == Exodus 3:1-6
Joseph’s First Vision == JS-History:16
Joseph’s vision of the celestial throne == D&C 137:1-10
Lehi’s sode experience == (1 Nephi 1:6-9).
Isaiah’s sode experience == Isaiah 6:4
Ezekiel’s sode experience == Ezekiel 1:4
Stephen “being full of the Holy Ghost … saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,” == Acts 7:55

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THE SHECHINAH IN CONNECTION WITH THE HOLY GHOST

There seems to be a relationship between the shechinah and being baptized with “fire and the Holy Ghost.” For example, Nephi and Lehi’s experience in Helaman 5:23-25 as Mormon tells the story is not identified as their being baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost. However, both the Savior and Moroni describe it that way: 3 Nephi 9:20, Ether 12:13-17. That, along with some of the following scriptures suggest that the phrase means to be inundated by the shechinah.

The baptism of Jesus’s twelve disciples is an interesting example:

11 And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
12 And he came up out of the water and began to ba ptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen.
13 And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
14 And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them.
15 And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them (3 Nephi 19:11-15).

Day of Pentecost

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, 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.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven (Acts 2:1-5).

Explanation in the Book of Moses:

64 And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water.
65 And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.
66 And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever;
67 And thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.
68 Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Amen (Moses 6:64-68).

Other examples are:

John the Baptist’s testimony == Matthew 3:11
Nephi’s testimony (following the example of Jesus) == 2 Nephi 31:13-19
The Savior’s promise == 3 Nephi 11:35-36, 3 Nephi 12:1-2
Mormon’s testimony (following the example of Jesus) == Mormon 7:7-10
Promises in the Doctrine and Covenants == D&C 19:31, D&C 20:41, D&C 33:11, D&C 39:5-9.

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EXAMPLES OF THE SHECHINAH IN NEW TESTAMENT

The shechinah is never mentioned in the New Testament in conjunction with Herod’s temple. When the New Testament gospels speak of the veil of the temple it is only to report that it “was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” at the time of the Savior’s death (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45).

However the shechinah is mentioned in the following places:

Mount of Transfiguration == Matthew 17:4-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 21:25-28.
Ascension of Resurrected Christ == Acts 1:9-11.
“Angels” in John’s Revelation == Revelation 10:1-6; Revelation 14:12.
Resurrection of “two witnesses” == Revelation 11:12.
Stephen says “there appeared to him [Moses] in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush” == Acts 7:30

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EXAMPLES OF THE SHECHINAH IN BOOK OF MORMON

Lehi mentions the veil (the shechinah) but does not tell us what he sees behind the veil:

6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire 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 (1 Nephi 1:6).

When Nephi explains his father’s vision of the tree of life, he points out two things that we do not find in Lehi’s account. He tells us about the filthiness of the waters and also about “the justice of God” which he describes as a veil of fire:

30 And I said unto them that our father also saw that the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire, which ascendeth up unto God forever and ever, and hath no end (1 Nephi 15:27-32).

The children whom the Savior blessed were “ were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.”

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 (3 Nephi 17:23-24).

Other examples in the Book of Mormon

Zion to have cloud and fire on housetops == Isaiah & 2 Nephi 14:1-6.
Angel who spoke to Alma == Mosiah 27:1.
Nephi and Lehi in the midst of a flaming fire == Helaman 5:44.

Baptism of the Twelve (quoted above) == 3 Nephi 19:11-15.)
Ascension of Resurrected Christ == 3 Nephi 18:37-39.
Brother of Jared == Ether 2 & 3.

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EXAMPLES OF THE SHECHINAH IN THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS

The Savior’s second coming == D&C 34:4-12; D&C 45:43-46; D&C 109:75;
Promises of fire and the Holy Ghost == D&C 19:31, D&C 20:41, D&C 33:11, D&C 39:5-9.

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EXAMPLES OF THE SHECHINAH IN THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE

Adam’s baptism (quoted above) == Mses 6:64-68

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).

First Vision == JS-History 1:16.)
Moroni in Joseph’s bedroom == JS-History 1:68-70.
Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood == JS-History 1:68-70.

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EXAMPLES OF THE SHECHINAH IN OLD TESTAMENT

There are two Old Testament references in the LDS Bible dictionary definition of shechinah:

“The glory of the LORD abode upon mount Sinai” == Exodus 24:16
The glory of the Lord in Solomon’s Temple == 1 Kings 8:9-12

M.G. Easton, Illustrated Bible Dictionary, gives us an interesting discussion of the shechinah, including a good list of its appearance in the Old Testament.

shechinah A Chaldee word meaning resting-place, not found in Scripture, but used by the later Jews to designate the visible symbol of God’s presence in the tabernacle, and afterwards in Solomon’s temple. When the Lord led Israel out of Egypt, he went before them “in a pillar of a cloud.” This was the symbol of his presence with his people. For references made to it during the wilderness wanderings, see Ex. 14:20; 40:34-38; Lev. 9:23, 24; Num. 14:10; 16:19, 42.

It is probable that after the entrance into Canaan this glory-cloud settled in the tabernacle upon the ark of the covenant in the most holy place. We have, however, no special reference to it till the consecration of the temple by Solomon, when it filled the whole house with its glory, so that the priests could not stand to minister (1 Kings 8:10-13; 2 Chr. 5:13, 14; 7:1-3). Probably it remained in the first temple in the holy of holies as the symbol of Jehovah’s presence so long as that temple stood. It afterwards disappeared. (See CLOUD.)”(Illustrated Bible Dictionary, M.G. Easton)

“Cloud” in Easton’s Bible Dictionary

Cloud The Hebrew so rendered means “a covering,” because clouds cover the sky. The word is used as a symbol of the Divine presence, as indicating the splendour of that glory which it conceals (Ex. 16:10; 33:9; Num. 11:25; 12:5; Job 22:14; Ps. 18:11). A “cloud without rain” is a proverbial saying, denoting a man who does not keep his promise (Prov. 16:15; Isa. 18:4; 25:5; Jude 1:12). A cloud is the figure of that which is transitory (Job 30:15; Hos. 6:4). A bright cloud is the symbolical seat of the Divine presence (Ex.29:42, 43; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chr. 5:14; Ezek. 43:4), and was called the shechinah (q.v.). Jehovah came down upon Sinai in a cloud (Ex. 19:9); and the cloud filled the court around the tabernacle in the wilderness so that Moses could not enter it (Ex. 40:34, 35). At the dedication of the temple also the cloud “filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10). Thus in like manner when Christ comes the second time he is described as coming “in the clouds” (Matt. 17:5; 24:30; Acts 1:9, 11).

Cloud, the pillar of, was the glory-cloud which indicated God’s presence leading the ransomed people through the wilderness (Ex. 13:22; 33:9, 10). This pillar preceded the people as they marched, resting on the ark (Ex. 13:21; 40:36). By night it became a pillar of fire (Num. 9:17-23).” (Illustrated Bible Dictionary, M.G. Easton)

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FOOTNOTES

{1} For further discussions, see both “shechinah” and “veil” in the subject index of Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord.

{2}For discussions of the veil, see Hamblin, “Temple Motifs,” 455-56; Nibley, “Return to the Temple,” 80-81; Tvedtnes, “Temple Prayer in Ancient Times,” The Temple in Time and Eternity, ed. Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999), 88-90.

{3} We have discussed these features of the Temple and the ceremonies that took place in those rooms in the chapters called “Act 2,” Scenes 9 through 13 in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord.

{4} In Abraham 3 the members of the Council in heaven are called the “noble and great ones.” To them Jehovah said, “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell(Abraham 3:24).” When the creation actually began, the story reads:

1 And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth (Abraham 4:1).

{5} For discussion of the garments of light see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition, 327-28; paperback edition, 235-6.

{6} For a discussion of the royal clothing see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition p. 483-94; paperback edition p. 349-57. Even in the Hymn of the Pearl there is a “thy bright robe and thy toga, which is laid over it.”

 

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