Ether 3:6-16 – The Conversation between the Lord and the brother of Jared – LeGrand Baker

The story of the brother of Jared is wonderful, not only because it answers some pivotal questions, but also because it asks others. Sometimes questions are more important than answers. Answers often satisfy us, and thereby invite us to stop wondering. But questions encourage us to think, and thus to expand the wonder. The story Moroni tells us is this:

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.
7 And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?
8 And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.
9 And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
10 And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
11 And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?
12 And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.
13 And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.
15 And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
16 Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh (Ether 3:6-16).

The most important answer we learn from that conversation is that the Savior’s spirit body looked like his physical body, and therefore, also like his future resurrected body. There are other places that infer it, such as the creation story:

27 So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them. (Genesis 1:26-28; Abraham 4:26-28; Moses 6:8-12, 2:26-28.)

But there is no other place that tells us unequivocally that our spirit bodies and our physical bodies are patterned the same way. That information is vital to us because it is the premise upon which we build our entire concept of the premortal spirit world.

One of the questions the story asks is, How did the brother of Jared come up with the idea of lighting his boats with rocks that shine. Hugh Nibley answers that one for us. He shows that Noah’s Ark could not have had a window as the Bible translation says, but that it had a “light giver” (translated “window”). Nibley suggests that the brother of Jared just followed Noah’s example and asked the Lord to provide him with the same light that Noah had. {1} That answers the “how” part of the question, but then it asks another question, Why was the brother of Jared so comfortable in telling the Lord how to fix the problem?

Another question is, Why was the brother of Jared so surprised that he could see Jehovah’s finger? But that is the wrong question. Wrong questions, like erroneous premises, lead to incorrect conclusions. He was not surprised that Jehovah had a finger. What he said was, “I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.” No doubt, he understood that Jehovah was a spirit. Therefore, what he saw seemed to call into question everything he knew about God. Therefore, the Lord responded to his concern:

9 And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger.

Another question is, Why did the Lord interview him before touching the stones? The Lord asked two questions, and received two appropriate responses:

9 … Sawest thou more than this?
10 And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
11 And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?
12 And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.

The first question, “Sawest thou more than this?” seems strange because we would suppose that the Lord already knew what he saw. However, the question left it to the brother of Jared to make the next request, “Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.”

That request required another interview question: “Believest thou the words which I shall speak?” And again the brother of Jared gave the correct answer, “Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.”

This is not strange. The question and answer sequence before one sees the Lord within the shechinah is consistent with other accounts. This one in First Nephi is an example:

1 For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.
2 And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?
3 And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.
4 And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?
5 And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father (1 Nephi 11:1-5).

The questions and answers are not the same in both interviews, but they are strikingly similar.

One of the brother of Jared’s answers expresses a truly amazing concept.

12 And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.

We live in a world where telling the absolute truth is something we rarely if ever do, and almost never expect. Most of the things we say are only approximations of reality. For example, much of what our teachers tell us in school will not be “true” a generation from now, and we accept that without concern. Another example is that we say we will be somewhere and a given time, but five, or even ten minutes before or after is usually acceptable and even expected. (When my wife tells me that she is going shopping and will be back in an hour, I understand that to mean she does not expect to be gone all day.) For the most part we consider these near-truths as perfectly acceptable. In our cultural context, the notion that there is a God who “canst not lie” requires that we deal with him differently than with any human being we know. That, in turn, requires us to approach God with an entirely different mind-set than the one we are accustomed to. That, in turn, requires that we must know our Selves with honest clarity.

Another intriguing question is, Why did the Lord say, “And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast.”

To discover the answer, we must limit our search of examples to events that preceded the time of the Brother of Jared, but we can also look to events after that to discover patterns and principles.

Because we do not know a date for the brother of Jared, the only prophets we can be sure lived earlier than he were those patriarchs who were before the flood. Of those, God conversed with Adam (Moses 6:22); “And the Lord ordained Noah after his own order (Moses 8:19).” And in the Pearl of Great Price, Moses chapters 5 & 6 describe an extended conversation between God and Enoch, during which:

27 And Enoch beheld angels descending out of heaven, bearing testimony of the Father and Son; and the Holy Ghost fell on many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion.
28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? (Moses 7:27-29)

All we have to find is one instance of a prophet who saw God before the time of the brother of Jared to cause us to wonder why the Lord said, “And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast.”

There is one very likely answer which would make the Lord’s statement a simple truth, and teach us a great deal about his relationship with the brother of Jared.

Most of the examples we have of prophets seeing the Lord are in conjunction with their sode experiences. In those cases the prophets are brought into God’s presence as in 1 Nephi 1:8-14 and Isaiah 6:1-13 (2 Nephi 16 is a better version). In all of those instances the prophet is brought to where God is. Or, as in Joseph’s First Vision, God chooses to come to where the prophet is. But there is no other place is the scriptures where a prophet summons God to come to him, which is what the brother of Jared did. That is unique! And would certainly account for the Lord’s saying “for never has man believed in me as thou hast.”

The questions and answers I have pointed out are the obvious ones. They are only subsets to the real questions: What was the personal relationship between the premortal Jehovah and the now-mortal brother of Jared? That in turn asks, What was their premortal friendship/covenant relationship (hesed), and how/why did it remain intact after the brother of Jared entered the mortal world? And that opens a whole bouquet of other questions!
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FOOTNOTE

{1} (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd ed. [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988], 348.)

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