Ether 12:22-26 – the power of words – LeGrand Baker

22 And it is by faith [pistis = covenants] that my fathers have obtained the promise that these things should come unto their brethren through the Gentiles; therefore the Lord hath commanded me, yea, even Jesus Christ (Ether 12:22).

What follows is a remarkable, and very enlightening conversation between the Savior and Moroni.

23 And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;

The problem Moroni expresses was confronted by all of the prophets before him. When two or three people speak of sacred things, they don’t have to “spell out” what they mean to each other. Sometimes half sentences and incomplete explanations work nicely. When one speaks of those things to a larger audience, a few carefully selected code words will suffice for the speaker and some, perhaps many in the audience to communicate. (The Brethren’s Conference talks are a good example.) However, when one writes, no matter how carefully he chooses his words, he must depend entirely on his readers to make the right connections.

I suppose it is for that reason that the Book of Mormon is written in two separate languages — and they are both English. There is a surface text that anyone who is literate can read. It is wonderful, as I and millions of other people can attest. The second language is in code, and the ancient temple is the code. If one knows the Nephite temple, one knows the code, otherwise the encoded text is simply not there. An example is between the dashes in 2 Nephi 1:10.

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).

Moroni gives another reason why it is difficult for him to write the ideas he wishes to convey.

24 And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands.

Part of the difficulty was their method of writing sacred texts on metal plates. Joseph’s description of the plates tells us a great deal about that. He wrote:

These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold. Each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings in Egyptian characters and bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving.{1}

From the text itself we learn that the writing on the brass plates was also engraved, just as were Nephite records throughout their history. {2}

It is apparent that the writing on the plates was not simply scratched onto their surfaces, and that the fine art of engraving on the very thin gold plates had been passed down from generation to generation. That makes it very easy to understand why Moroni would bemoan “the awkwardness of our hands.”

24 And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.

I suppose that there were two reasons the brother of Jared wrote with such power. One was that he wrote in the language that Adam, Enoch, and Noah spoke before human languages was confounded. Second, and this is only a subset of the first, he did not need to use any code words, but spelled it all out with exactness that could not be misunderstood. On one hand, such exactness would be mocked by anyone whose experiences had not already validated the meanings. On the other, such straightforwardness would condemn anyone who refused to understand.

Moroni did not have the luxury to do that because the surface text of the Book of Mormon is a magnificent missionary tool, and, therefore, must teach without giving offence.

25 Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.

The “placing of our words” can be a problem in any language. Let me give you a simple example. When I was a young man people said I was “good looking.” Now I am an old man people say I am “looking good.” Same words, opposite meanings !

It is apparent to me as I read the Book of Mormon, that prophets wrote with great precision and that the translation — accomplished “by the gift and power of God” — was equally precise. That leaves the burden of understanding entirely on intent of the reader.

26 And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;

When the Savior spoke the Beatitudes, he quoted or paraphrased parts of Isaiah and the Psalms. One reads, “Blessed are all the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” The Savior is quoting Psalm 37, “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace (Psalms 37:11). There it implied, and in D&C 88:17-18 clearly says, the meek will inherit the celestial earth. In Psalm 25 it says that the meek are those who keep the covenants they made at the Council in Heaven (“secret” = sode), and that their children will inherit the earth (eternal family).

The Lord assures Moroni that “my grace [probably hesed] is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness.” {3}

In the next sentence, the Savior moves the subject from Moroni’s perceived weakness to the real weakness of those who are meek. The surface text on that sentence is one of the most quoted in the Book of Mormon. The subtext is one of the most sublime.

{1} Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B.H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1946): 4:537.

{2} A few examples that give us that information are 1 Nephi 3:3, 1 Nephi 9:3-4, 2 Nephi 5:32, 3 Nephi 5:10, and the testimonies of both the three and the eight witnesses.

{3} Search “Psalm 25” in this website to find the meaning of sode and hesed as they are used there.


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