To me, the book of Ether is full of “Life Lessons”. There are many parallels between the experiences the Jaredites had and the way that we need to live our lives.
We ended yesterday’s reading by beginning the book of Ether. The book of Ether is Moroni’s abridgment of the history of the Jaredites. The Jaredites came to the Americas centuries before the people of Lehi. Following the Flood in Noah’s day, a group of people attempted to build a tower “whose top may reach unto heaven” (Genesis 11:4). The account of the Jaredite nation began during this time period. The Lord dealt with the widespread wickedness by confounding the common language and by scattering the people across the face of the earth (see Genesis 11:5–8; Ether 1:33). This account in the book of Ether begins with Jared and his brother seeking the Lord’s help when He confounded the language of the people at the Tower of Babel. The Lord preserved the language of Jared, his brother, and their families and friends and led them through the wilderness toward the promised land.
I invite you to create a list of “life lessons” that you can see in the book of Ether as you study it. Your list may look similar to mine, but you will probably catch things that I didn’t and you can add them to the list that I will share with you.
Life Lessons from the Book of Ether 1-3, According to Bro Simon Says
Life lesson #1 from the book of Ether: Learn to “Cry” (Ether 1:34-43; 2:14)
How would you describe the kind of prayer that is described as “crying” unto the Lord? What kind of a prayer is that? Have you ever had the need to “cry” unto the Lord? I have found that President Henry B. Erying was correct when he taught:
“As the challenges around us increase, we must commit to do more to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Casual prayer won’t be enough. Reading a few verses of the scripture won’t be enough. Doing the minimum of what the Lord asks of us won’t be enough. Hoping that we will have the Atonement work in our lives and that we will perhaps sometimes feel the influence of the Holy Ghost won’t be enough. And one great burst of effort won’t be enough. Only a steady, ever-increasing effort will allow the Lord to take us to higher ground.” (see the full talk at, “Raise the Bar”)
Our need to “cry” unto the Lord need not be an “every now and then” experience. In the world that we are living in we need to learn to “cry” unto the Lord on a daily basis. I am learning to “cry” unto the Lord, but it is not a natural thing for me to do. It takes time and it takes effort, but I have found that when I do it, it is always worth it!
Life lesson #2 from the book of Ether: Learn to “Go to Work” (Ether 2:16)
This admonition from the Lord came after the Jaredites had been brought by the Lord to the seashore, and they had dwelt there for four years. I must admit, I wouldn’t mind that either. I love “beach bum” living! But that is not where the Lord wanted them to be. He had a “Promised Land” for them. They were content with the beach, but the Lord had land of plenty prepared for them. It was time to “go to work”.
Sometimes we may be content with the “seashore”/beach that the Lord has brought us to. We may pitch our tents and begin to enjoy our “four years” of rest and relaxation. But then the Lord comes along and reminds us that THE ONLY REASON that He brought us to the “seashore” was so that we could “go to work” and move towards the “promised land” that He has so mercifully prepared for us.
The following quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley seems to show us how lessons #1 & 2 work together:
“Carry on. Things will work out. If you keep trying and praying and working, things will work out. They always do.” (in Dew, Go Forward with Faith, 423)
Life lesson #3 from the book of Ether: Learn to Hang “Tight” (Ether 2:17; 6:7)
Brother S. Michael Wilcox explains this so well:
Now I have a tendency, because I’m an English major, to edit almost everything I read. It’s just a habit I can’t get out of with whatever I read—textbooks, newspapers, novels, biographies—I’m always editing. I edit the scriptures as I’m reading them. There are actually times where I say, “Lord, I could fix this verse for you if you would like me to.” And one of the verses that I used to think I would edit is Ether chapter two, the seventeenth verse; the description of the Jaredite barges. Can you realize what word I might write if I were editing this? This is how it reads:
“They were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish”—that’s once. “And the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish”—twice. “And the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish”—three times. “And the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish”—five times.
I would have written redundant. We get the impression they are waterproof. It’s like taking a jar and sealing it and throwing it. These are not submarines; they float light like a fowl, we are told, on the water. But the problem is that great waves are going to be washing over them, and so they need to be waterproof.
Now being ‘Tight like a dish’ causes two problems for the Jaredites’ crossing of the sea. Number one, minor problems, it was probably Mrs. Moriancumer who pointed them out to her husband: “We can’t breathe in here, and we can’t see, so unless we are going to get the Promised Land in sixty seconds, we’ve got big problems. Did you get the instructions right?”
And so Moriancumer, the brother of Jared, goes back to the Lord, and he presents his two problems. Now you learn something about your Father in Heaven in the solution or the handling of these two problems. Of the two problems—no air and no light—the Lord solves one of them just because He is asked. He tells them to put the holes in so they can have air. And sometimes when we go to the Lord, we simply ask and we will receive. He tells us the solution. The second problem we have to seek and find; for the second problem the Lord says, “You come up with a solution.” Now He put some parameters on that. He tells them, “You can’t go by windows”—probably not invented yet, and the second, “You can’t go by fire”—oxygen is a problem anyway. All that tossing around in the sea with coals flying everywhere probably wouldn’t be good, so you come up with a solution.
Now you are the brother of Jared. I want you to listen with his mind at what the Lord says because the twenty-fourth verse is a really interesting verse of Ether chapter two:
“Behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.”
Now the reason they need ‘Tight like a dish’ ships is because there are going to be mountain waves. Now what causes mountain waves in the ocean?—wind and storm. And what did the Lord just say the source of the winds were? “The winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and the rains and floods have I sent forth”—do you have a solution to the problem?
If I were the brother of Jared, I would have said, “Lord, we don’t need these ‘Tight like a dish’ ships at all. Since waves are the problem, and waves are caused by wind, and wind comes out of your mouth—blow softly. Blow softly. Breeze us to the Promised Land. We’ll sit on deck, we’ll fish, we’ll get tanned, we’ll play shuffleboard.” How many here want the first watch cruise version of life?—that’s me; I’m a first watch person. I don’t like mountain waves.
And then the great lesson: We know God can still the storms of our lives—we know that; there are precedents. But he prefers to do something else:
“Behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. What will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:25)
What we need to understand about our Father in Heaven is that He prefers to prepare us to face the storms of life, the contrary winds, rather than to still them. So if you are past your fourth watch and He has not come, don’t assume that He is not there, that He doesn’t care, He doesn’t listen, or that you are not worthy. Assume your ship is tight like a dish. You will not sink. Somewhere in the past of your life, experiences have been placed by a wise and foresighted Father in Heaven to prepare you to face the very things that you are facing. As the lion and the bear came to David, before Goliath, to prepare him to face Goliath, so will lion-and-bear moments come in your lives before the Goliath moments come. Because if your ship was not tight like a dish and you have reached the fourth watch, He will come to you and still the storm. So if the storm is not still, we must assume our ship is tight like a dish. (Bread or Stones: Understanding the God We Pray to)
Life lesson #4 from the book of Ether: Learn to Listen and Listen to Learn (Ether 2:18-25)
“God’s children should learn to listen, then listen to learn from the Lord… The wise listen to learn from the Lord.” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, “Listen to Learn,” Ensign, May 1991)
As the Brother of Jared performed the work the Lord had commanded him, he realized that there were a few “details” that needed to be addressed regarding their voyage in the “tight like unto a dish” vessels: no light, no steering, no fresh air. Each of these are major problems when crossing the “great sea which divideth the lands,” but only one of them is immediately life-threatening: no fresh air.
What we can learn here is that when God gets specific we need to take note, because it is probably a life-or-death situation (physically or spiritually). In other words, where the stakes are high (physically or spiritually) you get specific instructions from God.
Did you catch that? Is it true?
Ordinances are a great example to illustrate this principle. In the Church, an ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our exaltation. These ordinances are called saving ordinances. They include baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (for men), the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing. Each of these soul-saving ordinances include very specific wording and instruction because they are essential for our exaltation.
The Lord gave the Brother of Jared very specific instructions on how to take care of the air! The only wise thing to do then was to follow it, to the specifics. “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise.” (Prov. 19:20.)
So that we don’t miss these specific types of soul-saving instructions, God will usually invoke the Law of Witnesses in our lives. The Law of Witnesses is helpful in at least two ways here: it gives validity to the specific instructions being given, and it allows us to catch a specific message that we may have missed the first time it was given. “When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention.” (President Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, May 1997)
As a final example of this principle, consider the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. (By the way, it is not just for the youth. It is STRENGTH FOR YOU!) In just about every section you will find “specifics” like the ones I have mentioned. Things that they Lord has told us through multiple witnesses, very specifically, that we should do or not do. These are NOT suggestions. They should be likened unto the dilemma of the Brother of Jared, who referred to such dilemmas with the words, “therefore we shall perish” (Ether 2:19). And indeed we will “perish” (physically or spiritually) if we ignore them.
- Agency and Accountability: “Have the moral courage to stand firm in obeying God’s will, even if you have to stand alone.”
- Dating: “You should not date until you are at least 16 years old.”
- Dress and Appearance: “Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest.”
- Entertainment and Media: “Avoid pornography at all costs. It is a poison that weakens your self-control, destroys your feelings of self-worth, and changes the way you see others. It causes you to lose the guidance of the Spirit and can damage your ability to have a normal relationship with others, especially your future spouse. It limits your ability to feel true love. If you encounter pornography, turn away from it immediately.”
The list goes on and on. Those who have not followed these types of specifics have learned from “sad experience” that when God gives specific instructions we need to follow them to the specifics.
Our rule should be the rule that the Prophet Joseph made for himself: “I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 160.)
Life lesson #5 from the book of Ether: Learn to Take Important “Things” to God (Ether 3:1-6)
Once the Lord gave the “specifics” to the Brother of Jared about how to obtain fresh air, He proceeded to explain that He would “steer” them forth to the promised land. Brother Wilcox did a great job of covering that subject above. Sometimes God just “prepares” us for what is to come and steers us with His wind and waves (Ether 2:25). What I would like to discuss for a moment is the importance of taking important “things” to the Lord.
Why do I use the word “things” in quotes? Well, because when the Brother of Jared had “molten out of rock sixteen small stones,” the took them to the Lord and said, “behold these THINGS which I have molten out of the rock.” (Ether 3:3) How had the Brother of Jared come to this point? Well, the Lord had already told him what he could NOT do, and then left him with the question, “What will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:25)
The Brother of Jared was left to make a decision, a very important decision, and the Lord trusted him to make the right one!
Here is how I liken and apply this principle to myself. When I have an important decision to make (or other significant “thing”), I study it out with due diligence and make a decision regarding the “thing” (compare Ether 2:23-24 & 3:4 with Genesis 6:16, footnote a). Then I “cry” unto the Lord “upon the top of the mount” (Ether 3:1), and I ask Him to “touch” the “thing” that I have brought to Him. When He doesn’t touch it, I go back to the metaphorical drawing board. When He does touch it, I go forward with faith!
Now I am not suggesting that you take every “thing” to God. I have been trying to stress that I am referring to important “things”, like having light in your life. Here are three quotes that help me when the Lord places me in these types of situations about important “things”. I hope they will provide proper balance to this principle:
“The Lord counsels us on balance. Faith is vital, but it must be accompanied by the personal work appropriate to the task. Only then do we qualify for the blessing. The appropriate approach is to study as if everything depended upon us and then to pray and exercise faith as if everything depended upon the Lord.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign, Oct 1994, 11)
“In the past I have tried to figure out whether I should go into business or into teaching or into the arts or whatever. As I have begun to proceed along one path, having more or less gathered what facts I could, I have found that if that decision was wrong or was taking me down the wrong path—without fail, the Lord has always let me know. On the other hand, there may have been two or three ways that I could have gone, any one of which would have been right and would have been in the general area providing the experience and means whereby I could fulfill the mission that the Lord had in mind for me. Because he knows we need growth, he generally does not point and say, “Open that door and go twelve yards in that direction; then turn right and go two miles…” But if it is wrong, he will let us know—we will feel it for sure. So rather than saying, “I will not move until I have this burning in my heart,” let us turn it around and say, “I will move unless I feel it is wrong; and if it is wrong, then I will not do it.” By eliminating all of these wrong courses, very quickly you will find yourself going in the direction that you ought to be going.” (Elder John H. Groberg, Speeches, 1979, 97-98)
“If I ask [God] to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, …and get no answer from him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, he is bound to own and honor that transaction, and he will do so to all intents and purposes.” (Teachings Of Presidents Of The Church: Brigham Young, p.41)
Life lesson #6 from the book of Ether: Learn to Answer God’s Questions (Ether 3:7-26)
If God knows everything (which He does), then why does He ask questions? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland is our next guest speaker! He will help us understand why God asks questions so that we can appropriately answer them:
One of the greatest prophets in the Book of Mormon goes unnamed in the record that documents his remarkable life. He is identified only as “the brother of Jared.” Yet the revelation that unfolded before his eyes was so extraordinary that his life and legacy have become synonymous with bold, consummate, perfect faith.
In the dispersion from the Tower of Babel, the people of Jared arrived at “that great sea which divideth the lands,” where they pitched their tents, awaiting further revelation about crossing the mighty ocean. For four years they awaited divine direction, but apparently they waited too casually, without supplication and exertion. Then came this remarkable encounter: “The Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.”
It is difficult to imagine what a three-hour rebuke from the Lord might be like, but the brother of Jared endured it. With immediate repentance and prayer, this prophet again sought guidance for the journey they had been assigned and those who were to pursue it. God accepted his repentance and lovingly gave further direction for their crucial mission.
For their oceanic crossing, these families and their flocks would need seaworthy crafts similar to the barges they had constructed for earlier water travel-small, light, dish-shaped vessels identical in design above and beneath so they were capable of staying afloat even if overturned by the waves. These “exceedingly tight” crafts were obviously of unprecedented design and capability, made under the direction of him who rules the seas and the winds to the end that the vessels might travel with the “lightness of a fowl upon the water.”
As miraculously designed and meticulously constructed as they were, these ships had one major, seemingly insoluble limitation. Such a tight, seaworthy design provided no way to admit light for the seafarers.
“The brother of Jared . . . cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?”
Then came an extraordinary and unexpected response from the creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are, he who boldly declared to Abraham, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?”
“And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” Then, as if such a disarming inquiry from omnipotent Deity were not enough, the Lord proceeded to articulate the very problems that the brother of Jared knew only too well. He said, “Behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
“For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. . . .
“Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?”
Clearly the brother of Jared was being tested. God had done his part. Unique, resolutely seaworthy ships for crossing the ocean had been provided. The brilliant engineering had been done. The hard part of the construction project was over. Now the Lord wanted to know what the brother of Jared would do about incidentals.
After what was undoubtedly a great deal of soul-searching, the brother of Jared came before the Lord-perhaps hesitantly but not empty-handed. In a clearly apologetic tone, he said, “Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; . . . O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock.”
Things. The brother of Jared hardly knew what to call them. Rocks undoubtedly did not sound very inspiring. Here, standing next to the Lord’s magnificent handiwork, the impeccably designed and marvelously unique seagoing barges, the brother of Jared offered for his contribution rocks. As he eyed the sleek ships the Lord had provided, it was a moment of genuine humility.
He hurried on: “And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
“Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.”
For all of his self-abasement, the faith of the brother of Jared was immediately apparent-in fact, we might better say transparent in light of the purpose for which the stones would be used. Obviously Jehovah found something striking in the childlike innocence and fervor of this man’s faith. “Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this.” In a sense there may be no more powerful expression of faith spoken in scripture. It is almost as if the brother of Jared was encouraging God, emboldening him, reassuring him. Not “Behold, O Lord, I am sure thou canst do this.” Not “Behold, O Lord, thou hast done many greater things than this.” However uncertain the prophet was about his own ability, he had no uncertainty about God’s power. This was nothing but a single, assertive declaration with no hint of vacillation. It was encouragement to him who needs no encouragement but who surely must have been touched by it. “Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this.”
What happened next ranks among the greatest moments in recorded history, surely among the greatest moments in recorded faith. It established the brother of Jared among the greatest of God’s prophets forever. As the Lord reached forth to touch the stones one by one with his finger-an action coming in undeniable response to the commanding faith of this man-“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.”
The Lord, seeing the brother of Jared fall to the earth, commanded him to rise and asked, “Why hast thou fallen?” The reply: “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.”
Then came this marvelous declaration from the Lord: “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?”
The brother of Jared answered, “Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.” Following this remarkable exchange and prior to the full revelation to come, the Lord confronted the brother of Jared’s faith one more time with a most intriguing question: “Believest thou the words which I shall speak?” he asked him. Not “Believest thou the words which I have already spoken” but a much more rigorous request: “Believest thou the words which I shall speak?”
Preparatory faith is formed by experiences in the past-by the known, which provides a basis for belief. But redemptive faith must often be exercised toward experiences in the future-the unknown, which provides an opportunity for the miraculous. Exacting faith, mountain-moving faith, faith like that of the brother of Jared, precedes the miracle and the knowledge. He had to believe before God spoke. He had to act before the ability to complete that action was apparent. He had to commit to the complete experience in advance of even the first segment of its realization. Faith is to agree unconditionally-and in advance- to whatever conditions God may require in both the near and distant future.
The brother of Jared’s faith was complete. Committing to the words God would yet speak, he answered, “Yea, Lord.”
Then the Lord removed the veil from the eyes of the brother of Jared and came into full view of this incomparably faithful man.
“Behold,” he said, “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.
“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 my own image.
“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.”
Understanding the Brother of Jared’s Experience
Before examining the doctrinal truths taught in this divine encounter, it will be useful to note two seemingly problematic issues here, issues that seem to have reasonable and acceptable resolutions.
The first consideration rises from two questions the Lord asked the brother of Jared: “Why hast thou fallen?” and “Sawest thou more than this?” It is a basic premise of Latter-day Saint theology that God “knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.” The scriptures, both ancient and modern, are replete with this assertion of omniscience. Nevertheless, God has frequently asked questions of mortals, usually as a way to test their faith, measure their honesty, or develop their knowledge.
For example, he called to Adam in the garden of Eden, “Where art thou?” and he later asked Eve, “What is this that thou hast done?” Yet an omniscient Parent clearly knew the answer to both questions, for he could see where Adam was, and he had watched what Eve had done. Obviously the questions were for the children’s sake, giving Adam and Eve the responsibility to reply honestly.
Later, in trying Abraham’s faith, God would repeatedly call out about Abraham’s whereabouts, to which the faithful patriarch would answer, “Here am I.” God’s purpose was not to obtain information he already knew but to reaffirm Abraham’s fixed faith in confronting the most difficult of all parental tests. Such questions are frequently used by God, particularly in assessing faith, honesty, and the full measure of agency, allowing his children the freedom and opportunity to express themselves as revealingly as they wish, even though God knows the answer to his own and all other questions.
The second issue that requires brief comment stems from the Lord’s exclamation “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.” And later, “Never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast.”
The potential for confusion here comes with the realization that many (and perhaps all) of the major prophets living prior to the brother of Jared had seen God. How, then, do we account for the Lord’s declaration? Adam’s face-to-face conversations with God in the garden of Eden can be exempted because of the paradisiacal, pre-fallen state of that setting and relationship. Furthermore, other prophets’ visions of God, such as those of Moses and Isaiah in the Bible, or Nephi and Jacob in the Book of Mormon, can also be answered because they came after this “never before” experience of the brother of Jared.
But before the time of the brother of Jared, the Lord did appear to Adam and “the residue of his posterity who were righteous” in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman three years before Adam’s death. And we are left with Enoch, who said explicitly, “I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face.” We assume that other prophets between the Fall and the Tower of Babel saw God in a similar manner, including Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” and “walked with God,” the same scriptural phrase used to describe Enoch’s relationship with the Lord.
This issue has been much discussed by Latter-day Saint writers, and there are several possible explanations, any one-or all-of which may cast light upon the larger truth of this passage. Nevertheless, without additional revelation or commentary on the matter, any conjecture is only that and as such is inadequate and incomplete.
One possibility is that this is simply a comment made in the context of one dispensation and as such applies only to the people of Jared and Jaredite prophets-that Jehovah had never before revealed himself to one of their seers and revelators. Obviously this theory has severe limitations when measured against such phrases as “never before” and “never has man.” Furthermore, we quickly realize that Jared and his brother are the fathers of their dispensation, the very first to whom God could have revealed himself in their era.
Another suggestion is that the reference to “man” is the key to this passage, suggesting that the Lord had never revealed himself to the unsanctified, to the nonbeliever, to temporal, earthy, natural man. The implication is that only those who have put off the natural man, only those who are untainted by the world-in short, the sanctified (such as Adam, Enoch, and now the brother of Jared)-are entitled to this privilege.
Some believe that the Lord meant he had never before revealed himself to man in that degree or to that extent. This theory suggests that divine appearances to earlier prophets had not been with the same “fulness,” that never before had the veil been lifted to give such a complete revelation of Christ’s nature and being.
A further possibility is that this is the first time Jehovah had appeared and identified himself as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with the interpretation of the passage being “never have I showed myself [as Jesus Christ] unto man whom I have created.” That possibility is reinforced by one way of reading Moroni’s later editorial comment: “Having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus.”
Yet another interpretation of this passage is that the faith of the brother of Jared was so great he saw not only the spirit finger and body of the premortal Jesus (which presumably many other prophets had also seen) but also some distinctly more revealing aspect of Christ’s body of flesh, blood, and bone. Exactly what insight into the temporal nature of Christ’s future body the brother of Jared could have had is not clear, but Jehovah did say to him, “Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood,” and Moroni said that Christ revealed himself in this instance “in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites.” Some have taken that to mean literally “the same body” the Nephites would see-a body of flesh and bone. A stronger position would suggest it was only the spiritual likeness of that future body. In emphasizing that this was a spiritual body being revealed and not some special precursor simulating flesh and bone, Jehovah said, “This body, which ye now behold, is 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.” Moroni also affirmed this, saying, “Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit.”
A final explanation-and in terms of the brother of Jared’s faith the most persuasive one-is that Christ was saying to the brother of Jared, “Never have I showed myself unto man in this manner, without my volition, driven solely by the faith of the beholder.” As a rule, prophets are invited into the presence of the Lord, are bidden to enter his presence by him and only with his sanction. The brother of Jared, on the other hand, seems to have thrust himself through the veil, not as an unwelcome guest but perhaps technically as an uninvited one. Said Jehovah, “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. . . . Never has man believed in me as thou hast.” Obviously the Lord himself was linking unprecedented faith with this unprecedented vision. If the vision itself was not unique, then it had to be the faith and how the vision was obtained that was so unparalleled. The only way that faith could be so remarkable was its ability to take the prophet, uninvited, where others had been able to go only with God’s bidding.
That appears to be Moroni’s understanding of the circumstance when he later wrote, “Because of the knowledge [which came as a result of faith] of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil. . . . Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus.”
This may be one of those provocative examples (except that here it is a real experience and not hypothetical) a theologian might cite in a debate about God’s power. Students of religion sometimes ask, “Can God make a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?” or “Can God hide an item so skillfully that he cannot find it?” Far more movingly and importantly one may ask here, “Is it possible to have faith so great that even God cannot resist it?” At first one is inclined to say that surely God could block such an experience if he wished to. But the text suggests otherwise: “This man . . . could not be kept from beholding within the veil. . . . He could not be kept from within the veil.”
This may be an unprecedented case of a mortal man’s desire, will, and purity so closely approaching the heavenly standard that God could not but honor his devotion. What a remarkable doctrinal statement about the power of a mortal’s faith! And not an ethereal, unreachable, select mortal, either. This was a man who once forgot to call upon the Lord, one whose best ideas were sometimes focused on rocks, and one who doesn’t even have a traditional name in the book that has immortalized his unprecedented experience. Given such faith, we should not be surprised that the Lord would show this prophet much, show him visions that would be relevant to the mission of all the Book of Mormon prophets and to the events of the latter-day dispensation in which the book would be received. (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon, p.14-24)
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