I really enjoyed the beginnings of our discussion last week—Joe always has a way of looking at things that startles me into new thoughts. My approach, while not as rigorous as Joe’s (unfortunately!), will hopefully spark a fruitful continuation of the discussion. Onward!
3bWherefore, I know that thou art redeemed because of the righteousness of thy redeemer. For thou hast beheld that in the fullness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men, 4and thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory—wherefore, thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh. For the spirit is the same—yesterday, today, and forever—and the way is prepared from the fall of man; and salvation is free
Let’s start with the “wherefore.” As a conjunction and in this context, it is perhaps best read as “because of which” or “as a result of which”—something more akin to our modern usage of “therefore.” It’s important to remember that the “which” referred to here is found back in verse 2: “thou knowest the greatness of God, and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” Here, Lehi describes Jacob’s knowledge and then gives him a promise. Verse 3 includes two sentences, each beginning with “wherefore.” The first: “Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother Nephi, and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God.” And then the second: “Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed because of the righteousness of thy redeemer.”
I put all this out there because I think it’s important to realize how much Lehi pins on Jacob’s knowing “the greatness of God” and his promise of the consecration of Jacob’s afflictions. Put another way, because Jacob knows the greatness of God, and because God will accept Jacob’s afflictions to Jacob’s gain, Jacob’s soul will be blessed, he will dwell safely with Nephi, he will live a life of service to God, and Lehi knows the righteousness of Christ redeems Jacob. That’s quite a list, but when we put them all together it highlights why Lehi broke it into the two “wherefore” sections. The first “wherefore” indicates a kind of cause and effect: testimony and consecration result in blessing, safety, and service to God (put this way, I think it strengthens to argument that Lehi is setting Jacob apart for temple service here). The second “wherefore,” however, is not as straightforward. It seems to indicate, rather, Lehi’s witness that because of Jacob’s testimony and the promise of the consecration of his afflictions, Lehi himself knows of Jacob’s redemption through the righteousness of the Savior.
So we have a scenario in which a father’s witness and testimony of the efficacy and power of the atonement and the righteousness of the atoner himself are strengthened by, if not perhaps even due to, his knowledge of his son’s testimony and his prophetic promise that his son’s afflictions will be consecrated. Which, to me, darkly underscores the potency of Jacob’s afflictions—as a parent, I desperately want to believe (and often do) that the afflictions of my children will somehow ultimately be changed from damaging them to building them. Read this way, this second “wherefore” is not just a straightforward testimony regarding Jacob’s redemption through the righteousness of Christ, but also a heartfelt acknowledgment of Jacob’s suffering: my son, I know how bad things have been, and they have been bad enough that I know that the only power capable of changing these experiences from fundamentally damaging to eternally redeeming is a power that comes through the rectitude, perfection, and passion of Jesus Christ and his atonement.
Lehi then echoes the two-part structure of the previous “wherefores” with the repetition of another phrase: “thou has beheld.” “For thou hast beheld that in the fullness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men, 4and thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory.” A quick note on the conjunction “For” here: clearly, it echoes the “because of which” sense of the previous “wherefores”; Lehi seems to be offering a sort of explanation as to how or why he knows of Jacob’s redemption. But what is interesting is that Lehi, the visionary man, does not claim that he has seen Jacob’s redemption or even his Redeemer. Rather, Lehi’s knowledge rests on Jacob’s own capacity as a seer.
For Lehi, Jacob is a son who sees. Jacob is the son who has received visions from heaven. At some point he shared their contents with at least Lehi, although it is likely that the rudeness and afflictions Jacob suffered were due in part to a negative reaction from Laman and Lemuel at having yet another visionary younger brother. It’s easy to imagine that they might have sought to “shut down” Jacob with greater vehemence since they already felt they had let Nephi “get out of hand” so to speak. But Lehi is not about to let Jacob, nor his brothers, forget Jacob’s visionary experiences.
In identifying Jacob as someone who receives visions from God, Lehi subtly underscores Jacob’s visionary inheritance. Jacob’s identity as someone who has seen, who has beheld, overlaps with that of Lehi himself. It is interesting that Lehi, in some sense, seems to be marking Jacob as his visionary heir rather than Nephi. Why Jacob and not Nephi? Or why not both? I don’t have a good answer.
And what, exactly, are the things that Jacob has beheld? Again: “that in the fullness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men, and … in thy youth his glory.” When and what is this fulness of time? (Do we have some sort of super-saturated moment here, where time is exceeded in the completion of the atonement and its eternal effectiveness?) Is there anything to be made of the contrast of this fullness of time with the discrete time period known as Jacob’s youth? (Jacob can’t be that old, but note that Lehi speaks of Jacob’s youth as a thing past and gone; again, a possible indicator of a loss of innocence resulting from his afflictions?) Does “thou has beheld in thy youth his glory” necessarily refer to a vision of the Savior? If not, what does it mean to behold his glory? Could Jacob’s vision here refer to a type of insightfulness or reflective quality that allows him to perceive things as they really are such that in his youth he came to understand the nature and reality of God’s glory? (If so, what is this nature?)
As you can see, I don’t have any clear-cut answers regarding what, actually, Jacob has seen. But I think this interpretive flexibility actually strengthens Jacob’s identity as another visionary man following Lehi—the important thing here is not necessarily what Jacob has seen, but rather the fact that he has seen it, witnessed it, and at some point shared these things with his father, allowing his father in turn to remind Jacob of his visionary inheritance.
Again, due to the things that Jacob has beheld, Lehi reiterates the idea that Jacob is blessed. But this time he provides an oddly specific, embodied blessing: “thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh.” Which begs the question: what is the blessing of those unto whom Christ ministered in the flesh? How is that blessing substantively different from the blessing received by those unto whom Christ did not minister in the flesh? And what, exactly, is it to minister in the flesh?
I think it’s easy to look at this phrase and assume (as I think it does, at least in part) that it refers to the blessing of being in the physical presence of Christ during his mortal ministry. But I really think there’s a bit of a catch here: how does Christ minister to any one except in the flesh? Put another way: we are here, embodied, and in that flesh fallen. We don’t want our spirits saved; we want our souls saved—we want to bring both spirit and flesh before the Father, and the only way we can do so is to receive the ministrations of Christ with our whole soul.
Our modern temple rituals emphasize the fleshiness of Christ’s ministrations, and they do so, I think, deliberately in order to impress upon us the physical reality of the atonement, and as such, the physical reality of our own corporeal salvation. The resurrection, while eminently practical (the only way to have eternal life is through the salvation and resurrection of the body and spirit), is also immanently poetic: it’s not just that Christ lives, but that he’s brought his body with him, and he will (literally) raise ours to him as well. Later on, when Lehi says that “salvation is free,” it’s easy to interpret his words in terms of grace; salvation as the graceful gift freely given by Christ. And yet, recalling this emphasis on Christ’s ministry as both enfleshed and as for the flesh, it’s possible to also read these words as saying that salvation as resurrection is free, is freely given, is graciously gifted to all.
*Reigns self in.* Ok, the point here is that I think it’s possible to read Lehi hear as again affirming Jacob’s priestly role and his dedication to the temple rites. Who would better come to understand the relationship between Christ, flesh, and ministry than his priest in the temple, sacrificing in the service of God?
I need to wrap this up, or I won’t get it posted in time, but we cannot simply skip that last sentence. So I’m going to cheat and urge you to return to the final section of Joe’s post, “Structure and Time.” This section didn’t really receive much commentary in the discussion last week, but I think Joe’s on to some really interesting readings of what’s going on temporally in the end of verse 4. I’m also going to throw a few additional questions below; basically sections I wanted to work out more fully, but haven’t yet (i.e., I’m hoping something might spark someone’s thoughts so they can do the work and I can just read and enjoy :)
When Lehi says “I know that thou art redeemed because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer, is he saying that he knows Jacob is redeemed due to the righteousness of Christ (and his atonement), or is he saying that his knowledge of Jacob’s redemption is dependent on the righteousness of the Redeemer?
What is “the righteousness of thy Redeemer”? Is this a reference to a specific aspect of Christ, or is it a more general reference? I think there’s a lot going on in this phrase, but I want to try and unpack it more together.
What does “he cometh to bring” mean? Why doesn’t Lehi just say “he brings”? Is there something significant in both the fact that Christ comes to earth and the fact that he brings salvation? We would normally, I think, hear the second part of that phrase as “he bringeth to pass salvation,” but that’s not what Lehi says. The image of bringing suggests some sort of physical work, some sort of carrying or bearing. Does this word choice emphasize the physicality of the atonement?
Which spirit does “For the spirit is the same” refer to? The Holy Ghost? Or is this spirit meant to contrast with the ministering Christ does to the flesh of mankind? By that I mean, is Lehi acknowledging that our spirits are eternal, but that our bodies can only become so through Christ?
How does “from” function in the phrase “the way is prepared from the fall of man”? As “the way is prepared since the time of the fall of man”? As “the way is prepared due to the fall of man”? Both? Something different? This seems like a fairly interpretively vague way to introduce the theme of the fall into the discourse.
How does the constancy of the spirit relate to the preparations for salvation as related to the fall? What is Lehi saying about the fall and atonement and why is he pairing it with a discussion on the eternal nature of (the) spirit?
Why is it significant that salvation is free? Is it free for everyone, and if so, what do we make of Lehi’s shift from his specific, tight focus on Jacob’s redemption to this broad, universalized understanding of salvation?