Friday, March 29, 2013

004. Wise Serpents (Part II)

Many of the early apostles and disciples of Christ were killed because of their convictions, sealing their testimonies with their blood. Peter was crucified upside down. Luke was executed on an olive-tree. John was cast into a vessel of scalding oil. Many other reformers, prophets, and righteous individuals have given everything they had, even their own lives for what they believed. All who follow Christ must endure some degree of suffering, if not the deepest of trials. Clearly, there have always been wolves who seek to destroy the work of the Lord. But if serpents carry an overwhelmingly negative or evil connotation in the scriptures, why would Christ instruct His disciples to be as wise as a serpent? The Greek word for wise, phronimos, used by Christ in this verse means practically wise, prudent, sensible, and discerning.

Serpents demonstrate wisdom in both avoiding their enemies and catching their prey. Thus, the disciples of Christ were warned to avoid unnecessary contact or conflict with “wolves” who might try to harm or destroy them. If such conflict or contact were to occur, the disciples should act wisely in handling the situation in a way that would minimize the ability of the “wolves” to succeed in their attack. In other words, the disciples should not seek to provoke or do things that would incite attacks from their enemies, but to share truth and light in a wise and prudent manner, which might even frustrate the designs of the wicked against them.

Snake blending in to surroundings so as not to be noticed, hide from an enemy, or await its prey
A person can be filled with truth and knowledge, yet it is possible to express or share it in an offensive or even harmful manner if they are not careful. They must know their audience, ascertain their level of knowledge and understanding, and present new knowledge in a manner that is digestible and understandable by the recipient. To do so otherwise is foolish and harmful. Does what we say create disorder, dissension, confusion, or strife? If so, what has been shared has not been done so wisely, even if it be "the truth". Or, when we speak of heavenly things are we and others edified, uplifted, or healed? Does the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, attend our conversations? If so, then knowledge has been imparted wisely, and the recipient will know it is from God. Our words should never hurt or offend, they should only bring understanding, healing, and enlightenment.
3 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. James 3
19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:19-20
Christ himself set the example. Throughout His ministry He was wise as a serpent in regard to the “wolves” that were seeking His destruction. Christ did not seek to provoke conflicts with them. If opposition to his preaching and service became too intense, he would depart from the vicinity for a time. He knew how to answer their attacks and at the same time expose their designs. Matthew 21 and 22 provide several examples of this approach. Christ understood that the “wolves” who sought his destruction were those among the religious establishment of His day, and not the common people (Mark 12:37 - ...And the common people heard him gladly), the poor, the rejected, or the sick among whom He labored. From these, Christ won their trust, and on various occasions the people's support protected Jesus from the wolves' attacks.
12. And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way. Mark 12
47 And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, 48 And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him. Luke 19

Friday, March 22, 2013

003. Wise Serpents (Part I)

Serpents are referred to frequently in the scriptures. The word serpent appears in 82 verses in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. In the Topical Guide to the LDS standard works under the entry Serpent, both Jesus Christ and satan are listed as alternatives. Most incidents of the word serpent in the Old Testament use the Hebrew nachash (pronounced nakh'-ash), which means snake or serpent (see Strong's 2010 Concordance of the Bible for references to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek translations in my posts). This pronunciation is very close to an alternative, naw-khash', which means to hiss, to whisper (a magical spell), to prognosticate, to enchant, or to divine. These are all satanic references to the old serpent who lies, flatters, deceives, and seeks to lure away souls through dark arts and temptations. Interestingly, this same pronunciation also means to learn by experience or to diligently observe; these are interesting and deep meanings for this term (not discussed here). Thus there is double meaning in the pronunciation. The Hebrew word for serpent is also very close to the Aramaic word nechash (pronounced nekh-awsh'), meaning copper or brass. Think brazen serpent.

There are several places in the Old and New Testaments as well as in the Book Mormon where the incident between the camp of Israel, Moses as intermediary, and the fiery flying serpents is described: Numbers 21:6-8, Isaiah 14:29, Isaiah 30:6, John 3:14-15 (indirectly), 1 Nephi 17:41, 2 Nephi 25:20, Alma 33:19-22, Alma 37:4-6, Helman 8:14-15. The Hebrew word used here does not mean serpent at all. The word is saraph (pronounced saw-rawf') and means consumingburning, or a burning one or fiery being. The plural, seraphim, means burning or noble ones, referring to ministering beings with perhaps a serpentine form or a glowing quality about them. In other words, destroying angels.
Gustave Doré The Brazen Serpent
There are a few places in the Old Testament where other Hebrew words are used for serpent, namely tanniyn (pronounced tan-neen') or zachal (pronounced zaw-khal'). Generally, these were non-religious references to worms, sea monsters, whales, dragons, and plain old snakes or vipers, but can also refer to crawling or to fear or to be afraid.

The Greek word ophis (pronounced of'-is) is used exclusively for serpent in the New Testament. The root of this word, optomai (pronounced op'-tom-ahee), means to gaze with wide open eyes, as at something remarkable. Optomai does not mean to merely voluntarily observe or use vision mecahnically, casually, or passively. Ophis, for serpent, through the idea of sharpness of vision, means sly cunningness and artful malice, referring to satan.

Most references to serpents in the scriptures are referring to something evil, if not to satan himself. Christ referred to the scribes and pharisees as serpents and vipers. The scriptures refer to the treachery, venom, poison, skulking, and murderous proclivities of the serpent frequently, which represents sin, evil designs, and hatefulness.

There are two times in the scriptures in which the term serpent is used in a sense that is not evil. The first is in reference to the brazen serpent spoken of above. Moses was instructed to raise a brazen serpent that the camp of Israel was to look upon in order to avoid destruction. This was symbolic of the means provided by Heavenly Father to save His children from sin through the sacrifice (atonement) and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From John 3:
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The second place in the scriptures where the term serpent is used in a positive sense is when the Lord is teaching His disciples about how to conduct themselves when performing in their ministries. There are two verses that describe their conduct in a similar fashion:
Matthew 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Doctrine & Covenants 111:11 Therefore, be ye as wise as serpents and yet without sin; and I will order all things for your good, as fast as ye are able to receive them. Amen.
Thus, we are counseled to be wise as serpents in our service to the Lord. What does a serpent do that makes it wise? What sort of wisdom does a serpent possess? How does one be wise, yet avoid becoming serpent-like (evil)? These issues will be explored in the next posts.

002. Sheep & Wolves

In Matthew 10, Jesus commissions the 12 Apostles to conduct missionary work among the "lost sheep of the House of Israel" (v6). He tells them to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out devils (v8). The disciples of Christ were dispatched to preach the gospel in the towns and villages of Israel.
"The Sending of the Twelve" by Duccio di Buoninsegna (14th century).
As part of His commission, Jesus then both warns and counsels His disciples about the persecutions they will face. He tells them that they will be “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (v16). So their errand to reclaim the lost sheep will be beset with threats from lurking wolves. From Matthew 10:
16. Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Wolves existed in ancient Israel and are frequently mentioned in the scriptures. They are beasts of prey who hunt in the darkness of night. They are fierce, cunning, and have an appetite for other mammals. As such, wolves represent bloodthirstiness, ferocity, and treachery. Wolves were especially fond of stalking a sheepfold or goat pen at night in hopes of catching easy prey. Who are the wolves? Chief among them is satan. He is cunning and treacherous. He operates in darkness. He seeks to destroy the righteous. Other wolves include followers of satan such as false prophets, hypocritical leaders, oppressive tyrants, deceivers, and those that persecute the righteous.

Sheep were also common in ancient Israel as a source of milk, meat, and fabric. However, unlike the wolf, sheep are weak, unassuming, and docile. They are not carnivorous. Sheep cannot defend themselves from an attacking wolf; death would be the certain outcome.

The difficult message put into this analogy is that the disciples of Christ were to be sent forth into situations of certain danger and risk of death in which they were practically defenseless against powerful and vicious foes. They would be opposed, their mission would not be easy. Indeed, many of Christ's disciples perished at hands of ferocious wolves.

Therefore, in addition to being the keeper of the sheepfold and their protector, Christ taught his disciples that they must act in a certain manner in order to survive the dangers be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It was a fine line to walk, only possible through reliance on the Holy Ghost as one's guide.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

001. New Life

Today is the first full day of Spring. And it snowed. Yet the sun was simultaneously shining, creating a heavenly and beautiful combination of white flakes drifting through golden sunlight. Yesterday was the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. Equi, meaning equal, and nox, meaning night, indicates that (in some places on Earth), the scales of light and dark were in balance. After which, the tide will turn and increasing amounts of light will fill our days. The Spring Equinox represents new life and rebirth. In Christianity, the resurrection of Christ is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. It is time for transformation and renewal, and gardening again.
New life from Gogi Berry cuttings after one week of light and water.
I've never really had the urge to publish a blog. I have little time to devote to such endeavors and I don't feel peace in much of what I see online. Although there is much good here, there is also much darkness. There are places to hide, places to be someone you're not, places to be tempted or distracted or deceived, and there are places to seek out things that are not of God or of any lasting value.

This week, however, a theme came to mind that I feel impressed to write something about. The timing also seems right...with Spring here now and the opportunity for newness. The intent of this blog is to help spread the light and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and to encourage others to follow Him. In order to do so, we must often go forth among the wolves and the dark places of this world. I don't know if this blog will help turn the tide from darkness to light, but maybe in some small way it will help, even if it's just for my own posterity's benefit. However, the Lord also charges us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. In our day, these are critical characteristics to seek for and possess. I will talk in more depth about them in the future.

By way of introduction, I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who loves the gospel of Jesus Christ with all my heart. I take the gospel of Jesus Christ seriously and sincerely believe in, and try to live as best I can, the restored doctrines of Christ as revealed through the Holy Scriptures and His latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith Jr. We are truly living in the latter days of this world's existence. Christ's 2nd coming is near. The signs are all about us to so testify. Our common enemy, satan, is increasing in his powers of darkness and ability to lead people away from God. His capacity to deceive and blind the children of God is real and dangerous.

However, this is also a wonderful and exciting time to be alive. There is no greater work than to assist in bringing others to Christ. There is a greater degree of truth and light available to us because of the truthfulness of the gospel and the power of our Savior. I will strive to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit as I write. I wish to remain anonymous and give all the glory to God. I will approve most comments, as long as they are not blasphemous or derogatory.