Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Studying Scriptures for Revelation about the Bad as Well as the Good

The lesson yesterday was based on the outline entitled, "How can I use scripture study skills to help me learn more about the Priesthood?" - but I changed the focus to learning more about revelation instead of the Priesthood.

We started by reading a bunch of the scriptures listed in the outline, focusing on the key words and phrases I have bolded below:

1 Nephi 10:19 - For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

I emphasized that it's not enough just to read - that we need to SEEK and do so "diligently". I also pointed out that being "unfolded" implies multiple steps and more time that just one or two times.

D&C 88:118 - And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

I asked the students what they think of when they read "the best books" - that we would be focusing on the scriptures today but what other books would fit that category. They mentioned textbooks, books about science, math, history, etc. One person mentioned historical fiction and how it can be easier to read and ponder than the more "dry" textbooks. I mentioned scriptural commentaries, even by people outside our religion, and the scriptural texts of other people. I told them that they need to find their own "best books" - the things that will give them the "learning" they want to obtain.

1 Nephi 19:23 - And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.

I mentioned that we usually talk about likening things from the scriptures by focusing on the positive messages and how we can get a "moral to the story" from them. I told them that such an approach is important, but it is more important to read each story and passage carefully to see what we can learn from it, no matter what that is, good or bad. I mentioned that, later in the lesson, we were going to look at two specific stories in the Old Testament with that in mind.

2 Nephi 4:16 - Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.


D&C 138:1 - On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures;

I simply emphasized with these verses that it is important to think about what we read at times other than while we are reading them - that often the deepest insights occur after we have had time to "digest" what we've read and mull over it a bit.


2 Nephi 32:3 - Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ;

Using that as the foundation (really digging into the words as if we were participating in an old fashioned feast), we turned to two stories in the Old Testament: Abraham and the attempted sacrifice of Isaac (which we have discussed at least twice previously in class) and Moses and the annihilation of the Midianites.

We read Genesis 22:1, and I told them that I had missed a word and its implications for nearly 50 years as I read and talked about this story. That verse says:

And it came to pass after these things, that God did TEMPT Abraham.

We looked at the notes at the bottom of the page and saw that two possible alternative readings for that word are "test" and "prove". I asked the students why we always use "test" when talking about this passage and never "tempt" - the word that actually is in the translation we use. They said that "tempt" has a negative connotation and is used to talk about trying to get someone to do something that is bad - that we don't see God as someone who tempts people and tries to get them to do bad things.

I then asked them, since it was Mother's Day, how they would react if the thought hit them that they should kill their mothers - or if a friend told them he had had a dream in which he was told to kill his mother. They all looked shocked and said they would never have that thought (and certainly not act on it) - and that they probably would recommend professional counseling if a friend seemed serious at all about it.

I summarized by saying that such a thought / impression / whatever would not be a temptation for them - and asked them why it would have been a temptation for Abraham if he thought God had asked him to kill his son. We talked about the story of the destruction of Sodom and how Abraham had argued / bargained with the Lord about saving the city. I asked them why Abraham hadn't argued / bargained with the Lord about killing Isaac - and, again, why the word "tempt" might be a great word to use for what happened.

That stumped them completely, so I took them through an abbreviated version of the story in the PofGP about Abraham's background - how he had been raised in a culture and religion that practiced human and child sacrifice - how nobody in that area would have questioned the idea of him sacrificing Issac (that nobody at that time and place would have suggested professional counseling). They would have understood and supported him, so, given his own personal history, it really would have been a temptation - and, given how he reacted, a temptation to which he succumbed. Ultimately, God had to stop him from actually doing it - so, even if we use "test" instead of "tempt", the use of "tempt" can help us see that Abraham might have failed the test by succumbing to the temptation of his upbringing and not questioning or arguing with the Lord about it.

I emphasized that what we had just discussed was completely consistent with the actual account in the scriptures and only hit me as I talked with others about the story and pondered / feasted on it.

We then turned to the story in Numbers 31 about the Israelite war with the Midianites and how similar it was to the current situation in Nigeria with the girls who were kidnapped and given as "brides" to the soldiers. We read verses 1-2, which say:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, "Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people."

I pointed out that the only thing the Lord commanded was that the Israelites fight the Midianites and win. There are NO specifics in the account.

In verse 14, it says Moses was "wroth" (extremely angry) and that Moses commanded what happened next - not just the death of all the men capable of fighting (which already had been done) but the killing of all the women and male children and the giving of all the virgins to the Israelite soldiers as wives.

I told them that it is easy to skim over the story and assume that God commanded everything that was done - but that simply isn't what the account says. I then shared with them the idea articulated by a friend that we can get so passionate about doing what we believe to be what God wants that we end up being over-zealous and going beyond what was commanded. We can believe that tithing is important - and figure that if 10% is good, 11% or 60% has to be better; we can believe that the scriptures are important - and eliminate all other books from our lives; we can believe that the Sabbath is a day of rest - and sleep all day each Sunday; we can believe that missionary work is important - and harangue people until they avoid us like the plague; etc., etc., etc.

We discussed the concept of using scriptures not just to teach us "the good parts version" (anybody recognize that reference?) but also to help us avoid making the mistakes other people have made (even prophets) throughout history.

We finished by going back to the title of the lesson, and I told them that I view the new insight I had gained from studying those two stories over a long period of time and with "real intent" to be a good example of one type of important revelation - the uncovering of something that previously had been hidden from me.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Fascinating take!

I fully agree that we skim rather than probe, which makes us vulnerable to easily accepting others' interpretations rather than listening to what the scriptures say to us personally.

Levinas says the lesson of that Abrahamic story is, "Thou shalt not kill!"

Temptation. Fascinating.