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The Exodus—Ancient & American

Brigham Young has often been called the “American Moses” because he led thousands of Latter-day Saints from their home in Nauvoo, Illinois across the wilderness of America and into a new home in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah. While this similarity is evident, when looking at the historical records, we can actually find many details of this great story that forge an even stronger link between this American Exodus and the Exodus of the Old Testament. For example, we find that both groups of people made their trek across a large body of water—the parted Red Sea for Ancient Israel and the frozen Mississippi River for Modern Israel. Both groups experienced miracles such as the flocks of quail that each group received at a time when food was needed.

There are numerous other examples, but one record that provides many such links is Doctrine & Covenants 136. This is the only section included in canonized scripture that was a revelation given to Brigham Young. This section identified Brigham Young as the leader of the Church and also instructed him as to how the camps of Modern Israel were to be established. The camp was to be organized into companies with leaders over tens, fifties and twenties. This was the same kind of organization that was had in Ancient Israel. These companies were then under the direction of the Twelve Apostles.Further on in this revelation, the Lord also gave the Saints some specific commandments that are reminiscent of the Ten Commandments. Some of these commandments are to not covet or to take the name of the Lord in vain.

One last interesting parallel between Brigham Young and Moses is that they were not the first leaders of their people but were rejected by the world. In D&C 138:36, it says, “For they killed the prophets, and them that were sent unto them . . .” Also, verse 34 says, “Thy brethren have rejected you and your testimony, even the nation that has driven you out.” The world had rejected and killed Joseph Smith and then rejected the next prophet Brigham Young. As a result, Brigham Young and Modern Israel had to depart from the world and go to a land prepared for them by the Lord where they would have peace for a time.Similarly, Exodus 1:8 says, “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.” In other words, the great prophet Joseph was rejected by Egypt, or the world. Moses, the next prophet was also then rejected, and so Ancient Israel needed to find a new home prepared by the Lord and away from the world where they would have peace. In all, both Joseph and Joseph Smith, Moses and Brigham Young and Ancient Israel and Modern Israel were rejected by the world but led to a new land.

The accounts of both the Ancient Exodus and the American Exodus are fascinating and truly show how the Lord uses the same models to teach us. I am so grateful I have been able to take just a small look at their similarities through the section 136 of the Doctrine & Covenants.

Crandall Printing Museum

Last Thursday, I had the great opportunity to visit the Crandall Printing Museum on Center Street in Provo. Despite having lived in Provo throughout my life, I had only visited this little gem  of a museum once back when I was in seventh grade. Walking into it, I immediately felt at home as Brother Crandall and those who work there were so kind and obviously passionate about their work. They truly brought history to life in this museum.

To begin the tour, we were ushered into a room containing a replica of Gutenberg’s printing press. We were given a short history lesson about how records were kept during the dark ages in monasteries. Afterwards, we were taught about Gutenberg and his press. The most amazing thing to me was just how many complicated tools had to be invented in order for him to be able to print books. Leaving, there was no doubt in my mind that this man had been inspired by the Lord to create a means that the scriptures and words of the Lord could go to all people.

After, we were taken into a small room which had a replica of Benjamin Franklin’s press. In this room, we discussed the importance of the written word in the founding of America. Without the printing press, America would not have been the one country in the world which had sufficient freedom to allow the gospel to be restored. I believe that the printing press was part of the preparation Brigham Young was talking about when he said,“We believe that the Lord has been preparing that when he should bring forth his work, that, when the set time should fully come, there might be a place upon his footstool where sufficient liberty of conscience should exist, that his Saints might dwell in peace under the broad panoply of constitutional law and equal rights.” America was a land of liberty, and the reasons for that can be traced back to the liberty of conscience and thought that it fostered through such things as the written word and the accessibility of the word of God.

From here then, we moved into a room which had a replica of the Grandin printing press. This press was the one that printed the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. In this room, we learned of the miraculous circumstances of a printing press and book binder being in Palmyra, New York just long enough to facilitate the printing of this book of scripture. It loved having the opportunity to learn a little more about how the Book of Mormon was printed. It was quite fascinating and inspiring.

I truly believe that the Lord had a hand in the history of the printing press, and that was strengthened as I visited the Crandall printing museum. I hope that many more people will also have the great opportunity to visit this museum and gain a better understanding of the rich history of the written word and its importance in the gospel.

“…or by the voice of my servants”

Near the end of the Doctrine & Covenants are found several unique sections for the reason that they are letters and sermons of the Prophet Joseph Smith rather than direct revelation from the Lord. While these are different from the other many sections in the book, they are not actually unusual in the larger canon of scripture. In fact, looking at the Bible and Book of Mormon, we find that the majority of scripture seems to be stories and sermons from prophets and apostles rather than revelation where the Lord speaks in first person. November 1, 1831, the Lord explained why this is the case when He said, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away,but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1: 38). Not all the words and revelation that come from the Lord must be in first person. At first, this was necessary as the church was being organized, and simply not enough was known about the way in which to organize it. Yet as time passed, Joseph and the saints became better prepared to give revelation and receive it through the means of sermons. Near the end of Joseph’s life, we see evidence of this through the five sermons that have now been canonized (Sections 127-131) due to the teachings contained therein regarding exaltation, eternal life, the work of salvation for the dead, the nature of God and many other important doctrines.

While pondering on this, I keep thinking about how this same pattern of revelation being taught through sermons from the Lord’s servants continues today. In less than two weeks, members around the world and all who so desire will have the opportunity to listen to our prophet President Thomas S. Monson, the apostles and other general authorities speak for two days at General Conference. I’ve always loved this time since I was a little girl, and it just gets better every year. When I hear these great men speak, I feel the spirit and know that their words are scripture, as they come from the Lord. It is a great blessing to know this and know that we do have modern day scripture that can lead us through the trials of our day just as the revelations of the Lord through Joseph Smith led the early Saints, the sermons of King Benjamin led the Nephites and countless other sermons from prophets, that are in reality revelations from God, have led His children throughout time. I am so grateful to have a living prophet and modern revelation.

Leadership

Leadership and its following responsibilities have always been important factors in the Church. According to the sixth Article of Faith written by Joseph Smith and contained in our scriptures, “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.” In other words, we believe that the leadership positions and organization that we have as a church are the same that Jesus Christ set up in His church in the meridian of time.

Doctrine & Covenants section 102 was one of the sections of scriptures that helped organize leadership in these the latter days. Joseph Smith was instructed to organize a high council that would conduct trials of members accused of various sins. All was to be done in a righteous and just manner, and its organization would help assure this. While reading this section about leadership from The Joseph Smith Papers, I began thinking about some things I was just taught over the weekend about a different and specific calling of leadership: that of motherhood.

On Sunday, I was blessed in being able to go to a special Relief Society meeting for several young adult stakes at which Sister Julie B. Beck, the General Relief Society President, spoke. The fireside began with Sister Beck asking the sisters to think of questions. She then spoke for a few minutes about our worth as daughters of God before beginning to answer the questions. It was interesting to see how the same type of topics came up over and over again with various questions. Probably the most discussed topic of the night though was unsurprisingly motherhood and the role of mothers.

One of the questions asked about motherhood was, “What would Sister Beck tell a woman who doesn’t feel like her role in life is to be a mother?” Her answer was profound I felt, as she led us to the Pearl of Great Price and the story of Adam and Eve. She shared with us that Eve meant “wife,” not “mother.” Motherhood, rather than a role or part given to women to play, is instead an essential leadership position. This position encompasses half of the responsibilities of carrying out the Plan of Salvation. Women will be judged as to whether or not we accepted those responsibilities in this life. One important thing to note with this is that we need to accept those responsibilities even if marriage and childbearing are never possible. Exaltation will be a continuation of that leadership position and subsequent responsibilities. So, motherhood is truly something we should value, as it is one of the most essential leadership positions in the gospel. I am grateful that this responsibility will one day be mine, and I’m grateful for all the many leaders, both men and women, in the Church. 

“All Things Bear Record of Me”

While living in France last semester, I had the opportunity to visit many museums and see countless great works of art. I have now seen some of the most famous pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Monet, Manet, Renoir and many others. It was a wonderful experience to see all these great works, and it has left me more grateful than ever for art museums where we are allowed to look and contemplate upon God, life, history, people and the various lessons we continually are learning.

I haven’t had the opportunity to visit a museum since my last week in Paris and that final visit to the Louvre, so it was a nice to have the excuse last week to go to the Museum of Art at BYU with my D&C class. I’ve always loved this museum since the first time that I came as a little girl, but I think with the new appreciation I have gained for art in the last three months, it meant even more to me now. Our class went to see the exhibit, “Types and Shadows: Intimations of Divinity.” (Which might I mention closes this Saturday the 13th, so go see it if you have the chance. It’s definitely worth it!) This exhibit is a collection of about 40 different pieces of various artwork that all are evidence that “. . . all things bear record of me [God]” (Moses 6:63).  I truly believe that this scripture is true, and we can see testimonies of the Lord throughout the world, as we learn to look and recognize. I saw this in the artwork that I saw in France, and I was able to see the same thing at this exhibit at the MoA.

We only had the chance to look at a small handful of the pieces, but one of my favorite pieces was entitled “The Prodigal Son.” This painting wasn’t a typical look at the well-loved parable of the wayward son who leaves home and family for the pleasures of the world only to finally return when he comes to the realization that life is infinitely better at home. Instead, the painter, Bruce H. Smith, treats the story in an abstract but highly symbolic way.                                                             

As the picture (sorry it’s so small!) shows, the painting is divided into three sections like a triptych. The painting uses many hues and tones of gray to depict a table filled with grapes, apples and pigs. With the three sections, I believe the artist is showing premortal, mortal and eternal life. Within this scene, there are many interesting layers of meaning, but one thing I loved was the use of blue cloth above each section. Blue is often a symbol of heaven, and this is the case in the picture. I love the intensity of the blue over the middle section, as it is a type to me of the Lord’s care and help during this mortal existence when the influences of the world are all around us, and life can seem a little blurry. The Lord though is constantly over all, and with His help, we will make it home where all things await us.

I don’t have time to go into any of the other thoughts I had on this painting, but I’m so glad I was able to visit BYU’s Museum of Art, and see these beautiful and interesting artworks that bear witness of Christ.

According to their desires

In Doctrine & Covenants 88, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith certain truths about the resurrection and eternal life. From a previous section, Joseph had been taught that after earth life, resurrection and judgment, there are three kingdoms of glory prepared for the children of God. These are the Telestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom and the highest kingdom of glory, the Celestial Kingdom.

One scripture that has always stood out to me in this discussion of the life after death is verse 32 which says, “ They shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive . . .” This scripture states the truth that the degree of glory, Telestial, Terrestrial or Celestial,  which we receive in the after-life is entirely dependent upon what we desire to receive. Alma also shares this truth in the Book of Mormon when he says, “I know that he [the Lord] granteth unto men according to their desire whether it be unto death or unto life . . . whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction” (Alma 29:4 ). Alma later reiterates this idea when he says, “The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.”

The Lord loves His children and desires them to receive all glory, but it is essentially their desires and willingness to receive glory that determines what happens hereafter. This reminds me of a favorite book of mine by C.S. Lewis called The Great Divorce. In this book, C.S. Lewis explores the great divide, or divorce, between heaven and hell. The story follows a busload of people from hell up to heaven where they are given the opportunity to see what heaven is like and converse with heavenly beings. In the book, the people can stay in heaven as long as they wish, yet interestingly enough, few actually desire to stay. Most of them find heaven lacking or are uncomfortable there, and they decide to leave. They are not thrown out for their sins, but even though the heavenly beings wish for them to stay, most make the choice to leave.

This truth then that is taught in two different books of scripture and in C.S. Lewis gives me cause to ponder my true desires. It also brings hope, as I know that the Lord does know what these desires of mine are. As I desire righteousness and am willing to receive salvation, I know that every aspect of my life changes, and when I die, I will be able to return to God and stay with Him in heaven. I am so grateful for this truth that God grants unto men according to their desires.

A Temple Prison

When I was five years old, I had the opportunity to go on a Church and American history trip with my family to Missouri and Illinois. Being so young, I have few memories of this trip, but one place that made enough of an impression on me to still be etched in my memory was Liberty Jail. This small jailhouse in Missouri was where the prophet Joseph Smith was incarcerated for five months from December of 1838 to April of 1839. Being young, I didn’t really understand what the significance of this place was, but I remember feeling a spirit there.

Before Joseph was in Liberty Jail, the Saints suffered extreme persecution. The Saints were forced to flee from their homes, as their property was seized, and many horrible crimes were committed against the Saints. Then, the Lord’s prophet along with several other Church leaders were taken by the state and imprisoned at Liberty in awful circumstances. This time was truly a test for the prophet, as he began to feel that the Lord  had deserted the Saints until finally he cried out, “O God, where art thou?”

Yet, as Joseph was to once again learn,the Lord loves His children. He spoke peace and comfort to Joseph even as He told the prophet that he was not yet as Job who had also undergone extreme trials and persecution. The Lord knew what Joseph could endure, and told him that “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” Joseph’s responsibility as he gained a deeper understanding of discipleship and what the Lord Jesus Christ had suffered was to “endure it well.”

Joseph did endure it well, and as a result the Lord blessed him with beautiful and important revelations inside that jail causing B.H. Roberts to later call Liberty a “temple prison.” Joseph’s deeper understanding through his experiences caused him to leave Liberty a more able and focused servant of the Lord. The revelations he received there also helped him better understand leadership, and he did come out of Liberty as a stronger leader—one that recognized that true power comes through the type of leadership Christ exhibited with love, kindness, pure knowledge, charity, etc.

Though I had never read Sections 121-123 of the Doctrine & Covenants when I visited Liberty so long ago, I think I did somewhat discern that it was a special place. Knowing now what rich doctrine Joseph received there, I truly do see that it was a special place. I know that great blessings can and did come in the face of great trials for Joseph and for the Saints, and I am so grateful that they endured well.

Salvation and Desires

There are many great passages of scripture, but I think one of the most beautiful and truly joyful is section 137 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The prophet Joseph Smith received this revelation as an open vision while in the Kirtland temple.  He was privileged to see the heavens opened and the celestial kingdom. This kingdom is the highest kingdom of glory where God dwells and is reserved for the faithful who become like Jesus Christ. While Joseph was viewing this place of glory, he saw God the Father, Jesus Christ and others including the Old Testament prophets Adam and Abraham. In addition to these, his father, mother and deceased brother Alvin were there. Joseph, we are told, marveled that his un-baptized brother would be in the celestial kingdom and presence of God. The Lord then used this time to teach a beautiful truth that had been lost to the world.

The truth that Joseph was taught is that all who would have received the gospel if they had been given the opportunity to hear it are saved in the celestial kingdom. Further, all children who die before reaching the age of accountability are saved in that same kingdom. The Lord doesn’t judge as man does; He judges men based on their works and desires of their hearts.

I love these truths. Every time I contemplate how many people that means are saved to live with God, I can’t help but think how loving and merciful the Lord is. He didn’t send His children down in order to fail and be sent to hell—especially those who die as children or grow up in countries or families where they never are taught about God and Christ. He sent them to succeed and become like Him even if they never learn of Him. The Lord knows though if they would have believed and what the true desires of their hearts were. These people then are saved to live with Him eternally.

I am so grateful to know that the Lord is merciful. He loves His children, and to me, this section of scripture testifies of this. I take great comfort knowing that we don’t need to worry about those who never could hear the gospel. The Lord has a plan and place for them with Him. It is now our responsibility to try our best in spreading the good news of the gospel to others, so they can find the peace and joy in life that comes from this knowledge.

Mormon Americana Seminar

This past week in my D&C class, I attended the Mormon Americana Seminar at the Harold B. Lee library at BYU.  This was my first time going down to the Special Collections of the library to see and learn about a few of the old and interesting books and journals BYU has acquired, and it was a great experience. While down there, we talked about the role of scribes and were privileged to see some very old Bibles that had been copied by monks before the invention of the printing press. I was amazed at how beautiful the books were with illuminated letters, borders and other decorations. The time and effort put into these works of art reaffirmed to me just how important books were. Likewise, they still should be, as they are the method by which we keep alive history.

During our time at the library, we were also able to see several pioneer journals including one by Emma Wells who later became the Relief Society president (an organization in the Church for women). Her journal entry exhibited a great deal of faith and optimism that was truly inspiring. This made me start thinking about the journals of my ancestors. In fact, today I looked up on the library’s website the name of my fourth-great-grandfather Joel Hills Johnson to find that he has several diaries and books in the library’s Americana collection. I’m excited to go and see these books now and learn about him. I’m sure I’ll feel a greater connection with him and gain a better understanding of his trials, triumphs and faith.

As I’ve been thinking about my great-grandfather, I’ve also been thinking about my own journal and the importance of keeping records. I remember when I was a little girl seeing my mom each night writing in her journal. One day, she told me that she had written consistently in a journal since she was a little girl and heard President Spencer W. Kimball give the talk, “The Angels May Quote from It.” This is a beautiful talk about how important journal keeping is and how the journals of prophets, in other words the scriptures, have blessed our lives. I can’t say that I’ve always been as consistent as my mom with keeping a journal, but I am feeling very inspired to begin anew and do better, so that one day my posterity can read about my life and come to know me through my writings.

I’ll just end this blog post now by saying that I am grateful for the experience of going to the Mormon Americana Seminar, and I would encourage anyone who can to visit the library, learn a little more about their ancestors and keep a personal journal.