Ether 12:27 – weakness, strength, and humility & pistis, hesed, and charity – LeGrand Baker

Please note: In this discussion of the veil ceremony of the ancient Israelite temple drama, the conclusions I express here are only my opinions . That will become increasingly obvious as I make straightforward assertions in this little essay, and then leave it to you and the footnotes to examine the evidence for those assertions.

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In the scriptures, there are five different but equally important discussions of the ancient Israelite temple drama veil ceremony. They are:

1. Psalm 21 which was sung by the congregation as the king approached the veil of Solomon’s temple. The words of the psalm begin by describing the ceremony, then conclude with Jehovah’s promise of invulnerability spoken from behind the veil. {1}

2. The second is Nephi 9:41-42, where Jacob warns the children of Lehi of the consequence of not keeping their covenants.{2}

3. Ether chapters 3 and 4 is one of the most explicit and beautiful examples in the scriptures. We discussed that a few weeks ago.

4. Ether 12:27-41 (our subject today) is a splendid explanation of why it is necessary.

5. Job is a detailed, but deeply encoded description.{3} ——————–

Ether 12:27 27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

When taken by itself, verse 27 is one of the most frequently quoted passages in the Book of Mormon. This is because it is one of the most encouraging to us ordinary mortals who sometimes struggle with a sense of our inability to change or to cope.

However, when taken as a part of its sub-textual contest, it is sublimely beautiful. The verse is part of a conversation between Moroni and the Savior. At the beginning of that conversation Moroni expresses his concern about his weakness in writing.

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;

That verse is the key to understanding the rest of their conversation. The key words are “my grace is sufficient for the meek” If you believe as I do that words in the Book of Mormon have a consistent meaning, and that the meanings are the same as in the King James Bible, then pay careful attention to the Savior’s use of “grace” and “meek” to identify those who acknowledge their “weakness” and who “humble themselves before me.”

First, we must ask, “What is grace, and who are the meek?” Both words describe those who make and keep covenants. Here is a very quick discussion of their meanings.

GRACE

The Greek word is charis. It is an expression of kindness. {4} It is graciousness — “the divine influence on the heart.” {5} In the New Testament it is always the love that God gives to man.

Its nearest Hebrew equivalent is hesed. {6}

HESED

Hesed is “unfailing love, loyal love, devotion. kindness, often based on a prior relationship, especially a covenant relationship.” {7} It is “the closest of human bonds.” {8}

Unlike “grace” in the New Testament, hesed in the Old Testament is a reciprocal love that God gives to man and that man gives to God, or that people give to each other. The word hesed is usually used to describe the relationships between God and men, or between man and man, but it is not limited to that. In the devotion of Ruth and Naomi the word hesed is not found, but Ruth’s covenant is one of the most endearing passages in the Old Testament (Ruth 1:16-18). In that same story hesed is translated as “kindness” when Boaz accepts Ruth to be his wife (Ruth 3:10).

In the psalms hesed is often the covenant of love between God and the king. During the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama the king was the main actor, but whatever ordinances or covenants happens with the king symbolically also happens with each man in the congregation. For example, Psalm 25 is spoken by the king in this world, but the references are to his personal premortal covenants. Hesed is used four times in that short psalm. The first is translated as “lovingkindnesses.” The other three are translated as mercy. Psalm 25 is my favorite because it makes the covenants we made at the Council in Heaven an important part of the experiences we have in this life. We have discussed that at length in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. {9}

PISTIS

In verse 27, Moroni writes, “for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” We will discus that verse below, but here it needs to be pointed out that the sense of eternal covenant in the words “grace” and hesed is also shared by the word “faith.” The Greek word translated faith is pistis. Its nearest modern English equivalent is contract or covenant. The New Testament and the Book of Mormon consistently use “faith” to represent covenants we made/make with God. {10}

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament ties a nice bow around the covenant meanings of “grace,” hesed, and pistis.

Stress is often laid on the fact that this [pistis] is a higher endowment than wealth. … Concretely pistis means the ‘guarantee’ which creates the possibility of trust, that which may be relied on, or the assurance of reliability, ‘assurance’. … pistis is the ‘oath of fidelity,’ ‘the pledge of faithfulness,’ ‘security.’ This leads on the one side to the sense of ‘certainty,’ ‘trustworthiness,’ on the other to that of ‘means of proof,’ ‘proof.’ In particular pistis denotes the reliability of persons, ‘faithfulness.’ It belongs especially to friendship. {11}

Primarily, then, pistis is an attitude of man to himself, not to others. As man’s faithfulness to himself, however, pistis makes possible the right relation to others, He who is “faithful to himself” can also be “faithful” to others; he alone is capable of genuine friendship. {12}

The conclusion is that “grace,” hesed, and pistis are all about covenants that sustain and validate friendship. It gets better!

PHILADELPHIA

Non-LDS scholars are at a great disadvantage when they try to define “the hesed of God.” Some insist it is an expression of God’s love, while others say that it is only about the legality of the covenants he made with Moses. {13} The scholars struggle with trying to make hesed mean the covenants God made with Israel, and the reciprocal covenants we make with each other. The reasons for these diverse opinions is that in their system of thought, God is mystical undefinable, and people have no premortal existence. Therefore, the scholars cannot understand that there were premortal friendship-covenants-relationships. However, for Book of Mormon prophets, God’s love is eternal and the covenants are an expression of his love. The most important covenant was between the Father and the Savior, and with us. The Savior’s Atonement is the token, validation, and fulfillment of that covenant (Moroni 10:32-33).

When you and I read the definition of hesed as “unfailing love based on a prior covenant,” our minds find no conflict in finding two sources for the love and the covenants.

The first is our premortal covenants and the second is the covenants we make in this world.

The premortal covenants were reciprocal both between each other and between us and God. The friendships and sacred covenants we make in this world are probably affirmations of the ones we made before.

The idea that charis in the New Testament is the same as hesed in the Old Testament works well when discussing the covenants God makes with us. However, it does not work so well with the covenants friends make with each other. An example of hesed as brotherly love that many scholars like to use is the love that initiated the covenants between David and Jonathan.{14}

Hesed works fine as a description of such mutual friendships and covenants in the Old Testament, but the word philadelphia is probably a better New Testament Greek representation of brotherly love.

The Greek word philadelphia means what the city’s moto says it means: brotherly love, or “fraternal affection.” {15}

That opens up a slightly different but equally fruitful line of inquiry.

Even though the hesed relationship described in the psalms is often between the king who speaks the words, and Jehovah to whom he addresses them, it must be remembered that in the ancient Israelite temple drama the king represented every man in the congregation. Therefore, the hesed relationship described there also evokes the terms of the covenant between Jehovah and each worthy man. That being so, it follows that this same hesed relationship also exists as an eternal bond between each of God’s children and Jehovah, perhaps between the people and their prophet/king, and most certainly among each other. Consideration of the this-worldly continuation of those premortal hesed relationships brings us to Peter’s assurance that “brotherly kindness” (philadelphia) is prerequisite to making one’s calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:1-11). {16}

The first four verses of 2 Peter uses the word pistis (faith) to mean the entire ancient Christian temple service, concluding with: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)

Then Peter lists in sequence eight things we must do in order to make our “calling and election sure.” (2 Peter 1:1-10)

The first four are qualities which have to do with only our Selves:

1 The first is faithpistis, covenants we make and keep.

2 Then virtue – the literal meaning is “manliness,” strong, brave, intelligent, with integrity.

3 Then knowledge –I understand that in light of this statement: “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24)

4 Then temperance – self control, not doing anything in excess.

The second four are about our relationships with other people:

5 Patience – we must be patient, not only with other people, but also with ourselves and God (as is expressed in Psalm 25).

6 Godliness – The LDS Bible footnote says “reverence.” It means accepting others for the beauty that is in them. We cannot be hurtful to anything or anyone we revere.

7 Brotherly kindness – The Greek word is philadelphia – one-on-one fraternal love.

8 Charity – Love for everyone.

8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:

11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1-8).

The sequence is necessary. One cannot have charity (love for everyone) if one does not first have philadelphia (one-on-one love between individuals). In this sequence Peter has taken our triumvirate of pistis, hesed, and charity, and shown us how those attitudes must first be focused on individuals before they can become universal.

Mormon, in Moroni 7, gives us a similar sequence, only with a different emphasis . He said that in order to “become the sons of God” we must have faith (pistis), hope, and charity. Hope is “living the covenants as though they were already fulfilled.” {17} Mormon asks,

41 And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise (Moroni 7:41).

In Peter’s sequence fraternal love is the prerequisite to charity. In Mormon’s sequence the prerequisite is hope. It is an easy logical step to equate “fraternal love” and “living as though the covenants [with God and man] were already fulfilled.” We cannot hope for eternal life if philadelphia is not a part of the fundamental definition of who and what we are. Then both the hope and the philadelphia bring us to charity.

The Prophet Joseph seems to have reached that same conclusion when he wrote: “Friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism.” {18}

As we consider these principles it becomes obvious that none of the relationships discussed here are limited to, or even focused on this life’s fleeting experiences. Rather, we are glimpsing the true nature of our eternal covenants with God and with each other. The infinite quality of those friendships is evinced in the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord explains:

45 Verily, I say unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., or in other words, I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me— 46 I called you servants for the world’s sake, and ye are their servants for my sake (D&C 93:45-46).

MEEK

Those who are meek are clearly defined in Psalm 25and therefore in the Beatitudes as those who keep the covenants they made in the Council in Heaven (sode). We have discussed that at some length in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. {19}

That brings us full circle back to the Savior’s assurance to Moroni that “my grace is sufficient for the meek.” Now that we have established the definitions of “grace” and “meek,” and their connotations of eternal covenants and eternal friendships, we can continue with an analysis of verse 27 as an explanation of the significance of the ancient Israelite temple drama veil ceremony.

The reason we had to define grace and meek before we could analyze verse 27 is that the “men” at the beginning of verse 27 are the meek who accept that grace in the preceding sentence. Read as a single idea, the verses say:

26-28 … my grace [love, hesed] is sufficient for the meek [who keep their eternal covenants], that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; And if men [the meek whom the Lord has just identified] come unto me [This may be a reference to either the temple veil or to the shechinah that separates us from God.] I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them [the covenant of invulnerability]. Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.

WEAKNESS

“Weakness” is singular in each of the five times it is used here (“weak things” is different). This suggests that there is only one weakness that men will overcome in this context of the ancient temple drama. The Lord explains what he means by “weakness” to Moroni a little later in their conversation.

37 And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore, thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.

In this verse, to be made strong is to be in the presence of God. And to recognize one’s weakness is to see the contrast between being away from him and being where he is. The whole purpose of the Nephite temple drama was to teach them how to achieve that end.

HUMBLE

Moroni now teaches us, by the Savior’s example, what it means to be humble.

38 And now I, Moroni, bid farewell unto the Gentiles, yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood. 39 And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things;

Now, if we are to understand “humble” in verse 27 we must define it in such a way that the definition also fits with the Savior’s “plain humility” in verse 39.

In the conversation as Moroni described it, we can hardly imagine the Savior’s humility as being self-deprecating as he explains the ramifications of his Atonement. Rather, what Moroni has presented to us is a conversation between to unassuming friends — without masks, or facades, or pretenses — just themselves as they really are.

Jacob described the masks some men wear before God when he taught the Nephites about how they must come to veil of the newly constructed Nephite temple. He said,

42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them (2 Nephi 9:41-42).

Moroni concludes his account of his conversation with the Savior with this prayer:

41 And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace [covenant friendship] of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen.

It is apparent to me that each of the code words discussed here can be fully understood only in light of all the others. So all of the concepts in these words must be part of the definition of the whole. In other words, each of these words is a different facet of our relationship to Heavenly Father with whom we made the covenant, and to the Savior whose Atonement is the terms, the hope, and the fulfillment of that eternal covenant.{20}

The central force that holds all of these ideas together is the singular intimacy of true friendship sustained by the triumvirate of pistis, hesed, and charity – unbounded mutual love validated by covenant.

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; 27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. 28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me —the fountain of all righteousness. ————————

FOOTNOTES

{1} For a discussion of Psalm 21 see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, chapters, “The King at the Veil of Solomon’s Temple,” and “The Veil Ceremony in Psalm 21″ First edition, pages, 527-557; paperback edition (the one that is available on this website) pages 390-400.

{2} For two short essays, use the search engine in this website. Search “2 Nephi 9:41.”

{3} For a brief discussion of job, see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, chapter, “The Symbolism of the Book of Job.” First edition, pages, 155-57; paperback edition, pages 116-118.

{4} “Tthe state of kindness or favor toward someone.” Strong # 5485. Kohlenberger, John R. III and James A. Swanson. The Strongest Strong’s, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

{5} Strong # 5485. James Strong, ed. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. (New York, Eaton & Mains, [first edition], 1890.

{6} “Indeed, if this fuller meaning [of grace] is to be represented at all by a Hebrew word, it is the word … (hesed)…. This word is, however, usually translated in the LXX by the Greek word … (‘mercy’).” Article on “grace” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1991), 2: 464.

{7} John R. Kohlenberger III and James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), Hebrew dictionary # 2617.

Katherine Doob Sakenfeld of Princeton University Seminary wrote a dissertation on “hesed” in which she argued that it meant “to do what is expected of one.” With regard to the covenant, God does what is expected (keep his covenant promises); man should also maintain “hesed” (keep his covenant promises). Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, The Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible: A New Inquiry (Missoula, Montana; Scholars Press for the Harvard Semitic Museum, 1978).

{8} “We may venture the conjecture that even in cases where the context does not suggest such mutuality it is nevertheless implicit, because we are dealing with the closest of human bonds.”

G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds., trans. Davod E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 15 vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986), article about hesed, 5:45-48).

{9} For a discussion of Psalm 25 see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, chapters, “Meaning of ‘Meek’ in Psalm 25: Keeping One’s Eternal Covenants” and “The Meek in Psalm 25.” First edition, pages, 525-43; paperback edition, pages 378-90. However, for a discussion of the psalm, the paperback edition is better and it is available on this website.

{10} See “Ether 12:4-30 & Hebrews 11:1-27 – ‘faith’ as covenant – LeGrand Baker” in this website.

{11} Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 6: 177. In the text pistis is written in Greek letters. In these quote pistis is written in italics. In the last sentence emphasis is added.

{12} Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 6:182.

{13}In addition to Strong, I am using the following sources in my discussion of the meaning of Hesed:

Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, The Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible: A New Inquiry (Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press for the Harvard Semitic Museum, 1978).

R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, Moody Press, 1980), 1: 305-7.

G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds., Translated by David E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (1986 Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 5:44-64.

{14} 1 Samuel 20:8, 14, 15; 2 Samuel 1:26; 2 Samuel 9:1, 3, 7.

{15} (Strong: Greek 5360 [first edition, 1894] reads: “philadelphia; fraternal affection: brotherly love (kindness), love of the brethren.” [Emphasis is in original).

{16} In this verse, the King James Version uses the phrase “brotherly kindness,” but elsewhere in the New Testament that same Greek word is always translated as “brotherly love” which has a somewhat stronger connotation.

{17} For a discussion of hope in the context of “faith, hope, and charity” see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, the following chapters, “Moroni 7: Faith, Hope, and Charity”; and “Meaning of ‘Faith’ — Pistis”; and “A Meaning of ‘Hope’”; “A Meaning of ‘Charity’.” First edition, pages, 1005 1043 ; paperback edition, pages 696-722.

{18} Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, compiled and edited by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980), 234.

{19} For a discussion of the context of “meek” in Psalm 25 see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, chapters, “Meaning of ‘Meek’ in Psalm 25: Keeping One’s Eternal Covenants” and “The Meek in Psalm 25.” First edition, pages, 525-43; paperback edition, pages 378-90. However, for a discussion of the psalm, the paperback edition is better and it is available on this website.

{20} Moroni 10:32-33 teaches us the relationship between the Father’s covenant and the power of the Savior’s Atonement.

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. 33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

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