Topic Study: Feast Upon The Word

(September 2006.  Topic prepared for a sacrament meeting talk on Sept 17, 2006 in the Woodridge II Ward)

Overview

Nephi learned in his life about the importance of feasting upon the word of God, the scriptures.  This talk presents how Nephi came to learn that, and what he did to feast upon the scriptures.

Introduction

My assigned topic today is taken from Nephi’s writing, in 2 Nephi 32:3

3  Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.  Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

2 Ne. 32:3

The second half of this verse is simple, straightforward, and very understandable:  We need to do more than just read the scriptures; we must feast upon them.

But what does the first sentence of the scripture mean?  “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, wherefore they speak the words of Christ.” It seems sort of strange.  Of course they do.  Why does how angels speak matter, to me?

Today I hope to explain briefly why it matters.  But first let’s consider how Nephi learned to feast upon the words of Christ.

Sister Cheryl C. Lant, Primary General President, in October 2005 General Conference expressed an interesting framework that I think explains how Nephi came to feast upon the scriptures.

[In reading the Book of Mormon in response to President Hinckley’s challenge] I rediscovered 2 Nephi 4:15, which reads, “For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.”

This scripture teaches us how to read the Book of Mormon. It mentions three important ideas. (“My Soul Delighteth in the Scriptures” Cheryl C. Lant, October 2005 General Conference)

She then talks about the ideas of delighting in, pondering and writing scriptures.

I             Delight

How could someone come to delight in something they had never experienced?  Let’s examine how Nephi might have come to know and learn to love the scriptures.

I.A            Hear

Nephi begins his record speaking of his good parents, how they had taught him to read and write.  Hugh Nibley, an LDS scholar has speculated that perhaps Lehi was a merchant who traveled in caravans; giving him the experience he needed to take his family into the wilderness (See Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, “Lehi as a Representative Man” Vol.6, Part.2, Ch.4, p.46, originally produced as “An Approach to the Book of Mormon”).  I imagine, in my minds eye, that Lehi and Sariah may have taught their children in the same way Mary Fielding Smith taught her son, Joseph F. Smith as she traveled into the wilderness to Utah.  From the “Teaching of the Presidents of the Church” we read:

Throughout the trek to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848, Mary Fielding Smith sat with her son Joseph and other family members and studied the scriptures by lamp and firelight. These were the days of Joseph’s earliest spiritual education, obtained from his mother in the tent, in the camp, and on the prairie. Later in life, President Joseph F. Smith recalled: “As a child I was impressed, deeply, with the thought, and firmly with the belief, in my soul that the revelations that had been given to and through Joseph the Prophet … were the word of God, as were the words of the ancient disciples when they bore record of the Father and of the Son.”  (35744, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 5: The Inspiration and Divinity of the Scriptures, From the Life of Joseph F. Smith, 39)

Nephi’s feasting on the scriptures began early in his life.  In our family one of my favorite family home evening memories is when our oldest children were in Jr. Primary.  A great uncle was visiting that has not been to our home since.  For family home evening, we opened the scriptures and read from the children’s scripture readers about Noah.  We then acted out the story, each choosing to be an animal or character.  This great uncle chose to be a turtle, which given his pace in life was just about right.  He was a very convincing turtle, and I have a fond memory of those few minutes teaching the scriptures together. [This was a memory of my Uncle Drew Holman]

Such times need to include a concluding minute to testify of the importance and truthfulness of what the scriptures teach.

I.B            Own A Copy

Nephi’s next major interaction with the scriptures is the story of the brass plates.  Considering the length and danger of the journey, Nephi must have been impressed with his father’s commitment to having a copy of the scriptures.  Consider what Nephi told his brothers after their first attempt to get the scriptures failed in 1 Nephi 3:19-20:

19  And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records, that we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers;

20  And also that we may preserve unto them the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, which have been delivered unto them by the Spirit and power of God, since the world began, even down unto this present time.

1 Ne. 3:19 – 20

And Lehi’s feeling after studying the scriptures when they returned:

21  And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.

22  Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.

1 Ne. 5:21 – 22

As a teenager, I carried my scriptures with me a great deal.  I was grateful to have my own set of scriptures.  I still treasure the things I learned from them.  I am grateful to see my own children wanting to understand and study them more fully.  Elder Holland mentioned in training just last week now gratifying it is to see younger and younger children bring their scriptures with them to church and use them.

I.C            Read

Soon after this Nephi asks to see and understand the same vision his father Lehi saw. Nephi learned a great deal about the scriptures in the vision, and the overall context of the gospel.  He learned about the history of the world, and how it related to his experiences.  He learned about the importance of the Savior.  This vision deepened Nephi’s understanding of what he read in the scriptures.  He summarized the key points in explanation to his brethren.

23  And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?

24  And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.

1 Ne. 15:23 – 24

I think in some ways this vision might be similar to a seminary experience in the life of a youth, or a period of intense gospel study when asked to teach Sunday School or Primary for a convert.  In my own life, my first Seminary teacher, Howard John, provided me an understanding of the deep meanings within the scripture.  When in 9th grade, I studied the Book of Mormon in Seminary.  I remember being very impressed by his approach to marking his scriptures.  I wanted to do something similar, and that provided the motivation for an intense study of the scriptures that year.

We need to read and be taught by someone who knows about the scriptures if we are to understand and feast upon them.

I.D            Summary

Familiarizing ourselves with and hearing those we love bear testimony about, having and using our own scriptures, and reading and being taught the truths of the Gospel by a skillful teacher can help us learn to delight in the scriptures.

II            Ponder

What was the impetus for the vision Nephi had?  1 Nephi 11:1 tells us.

1  FOR it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord,…

(1 Ne. 11:1 Ephasis added)

Do we ponder upon the scriptures?  I think there are three aspects to pondering: taking time, teaching others, and hearing or reading others’ testimonies of the scriptures.

II.A           Time

Do we take time to ponder upon the scriptures?  My mother-in-law impressed upon me her love of the scriptures in a very quiet way.  He husband was killed one year after my wife and I were married.  I watched as she struggled to adjust to a different life as a single mother of 4 children still at home.  I could tell she took time for and looked to the scriptures for answers simply by looking at her scriptures.  She would read in the bathtub in the morning.  It was clear she didn’t do this just once or twice because every page of the scriptures must have become wet; upon drying they fanned out so completely that the covers no longer closed.  The image of these books would come to my mind the few times I heard her bear a powerful testimony of the importance of the scriptures, knowing that she spoke from experience.

To me the best quote on scripture study from a modern prophet is from President Kimball.

I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.  (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.135)

We need to make consistent time for the scriptures.

II.B           Teach

I think another aspect to pondering is to teach the scriptures.  Teaching causes us to think more deeply about what they mean.  Toward the end of 1 Nephi, we start to see Nephi become a teacher to his brethren, preaching directly to them from the scriptures.  Listen to what he says in 1 Nephi 19:23

23  And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses [he had spent time there!]; 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 [he had spent time there!]; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.

1 Ne. 19:23

Nephi is teaching the scriptures.  And by doing so, he learns how to liken the scriptures to himself.  They become part of the way he thinks, and he understands them better.  Consider the example of President Harold B. Lee, from the “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church.”

President Harold B. Lee and his wife…journeyed through Europe and the Holy Land in 1972, teaching missionaries and members the doctrines of the gospel. …Sister Hinckley [who traveled with them] recalled: “It was interesting to see how President Lee moved into a situation. When we met with the missionaries, it was usually in the morning in a chapel filled with full-time and part-time local missionaries. As he stood to address them, he would seldom start with a word of greeting or preliminary remarks but would open the scriptures and begin a discourse. He moved through the scriptures with such ease that sometimes it was difficult to know when the words were his and when he was quoting. After one such meeting I asked him how he had gone about memorizing the scriptures. … He thought for a moment and then said, ‘I don’t think I ever consciously memorized a scripture. I guess I have just worked them through so much that they have become a part of me and my vocabulary.’ ”(35892, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 7: The Scriptures, “Great Reservoirs of Spiritual Water”, Introduction, 59)

Teaching the scriptures deepens our understanding.

II.C          Other’s Word and Teaching

In the first 10 chapters of 2 Nephi, we see Nephi recognizing the value of other’s writing and understanding of the scriptures.  He quotes extensively from Lehi and his brother Jacob as they explain the scriptures.

We can also gain a great deal by studying the words of those that love the scriptures, including prophets and apostles.  As we study their words, we see how they have likened the scriptures to our day, and to their own lives.  Such study, if it does not keep us from spending adequate time with the scriptures themselves, can enhance our feasting.

II.D          Summary

To feast, we should ponder which includes taking time, teaching, and listening to the testimonies of others.

III           Write

We have learned how to delight in and ponder the scriptures.  But what is this about writing scripture?  There have been 15 presidents of the church in this dispensation, and only the words of six (if we include official declarations) have been canonized.  It is very unlikely that anything we write will become formal scripture in any way.  But perhaps we “write” scripture in different ways.

III.A         Written in Our Lives

Sister Lant, in her message said:

I, of course, do not write scriptures as did Nephi, but when I read the scriptures and live the principles learned, those scriptures become written in my life. They govern my actions and are written there for my children to see and follow. I can build a legacy, a tradition of righteous living, based on the principles I learn in the scriptures. (“My Soul Delighteth in the Scriptures” Cheryl C. Lant, October 2005 General Conference)

If we do not live by the principles we learn in the scriptures, our learning stops.  We have to live righteously.  But I have found that actually writing can significantly increase our understanding, insight into, and love of the scriptures.

III.B         Journals

When Nephi speaks of writing, I suspect he was thinking more of copying scriptures, like he did with Isaiah.  Although he came to understand how significant the Book of Mormon would be, I suspect he in humility, he would not have thought his writings would be canonized.  But think of what he learned as he put his thoughts to paper.

David McCullough, perhaps my favorite biographer, said of researching and writing books

There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching.…When I began, I thought that the way one should work was to do all the research and then write the book. In time I began to understand that it’s when you start writing that you really find out what you don’t know and need to know.  (David McCullough, Interview with Bruce Cole, National Endowment for the Hummanities Chairman, http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/mccullough/interview.html  [Link valid as of 9/13/06].  Emphasis added)

If you want to test what you really know about the scriptures, try to write it down.  Our teaching becomes more exact as we try to record it.  Insights come through the rigor of writing that will not come any other way.

Nephi recorded what he had learned in multiple ways.  He kept a record, perhaps a journal of some kind, as he and his family traveled in the wilderness.  As he noted in 2 Nephi 5, once in the promised land, he went back and wrote the books we have in the Book of Mormon, perhaps something akin to a person history.  Similarly, I have used multiple methods of recording my insights in the scriptures, but have found in the last year great new insights coming to me as I keep a small notebook with my scriptures, and I take a few minutes to record my insights from that day’s reading at the conclusion of my study.

III.C         Summary

Writing scriptures, by living the principles taught, and recording what we learn, completes our preparations to feast upon the word.

IV          Angels

Nephi learned to delight in, to ponder and to write his insights about the scriptures.  In doing so, he learned what it meant to feast upon the word of God.

But why should we do this?  What are the tangible benefits of feasting?  Nephi said the impact of feasting upon the scriptures is the ability to speak with the tongue of angels.  He was referring to what he had written in 2 Nephi 31:13.  Note the steps here to speaking with the tongue of angles.

13  Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent [perhaps another way of saying acting faithfully, or having faith], repenting of your sins [the second principle of the gospel], witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism [the third principle]—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost [the fourth principle of the gospel]; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.

2 Ne. 31:13

Moroni informs us that one of the benefits of having the Holy Ghost is that we “may know the truth of all things.” (Moro. 10:5)  I think the words in the scriptures are exacting; “all things” means all things.  We can know the truth not just on Sunday, or at seminary, but at work, at school, and home.  We can know the truth about any thing that is needful for us to know.

Knowing the truth, and then speaking it, means that our words can have power.  We can have the power in our words that angels have.  Our words can shake preconceived notions, uncover lies, and expose misunderstandings and untruths.  We can have power to convince others of the truth in any field if our hearts and motives are pure.

Summary

3  Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.  Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

2 Ne. 32:3

The words of Christ will tell us “all things” that we should do.  Not things we should do on Sunday, or at seminary, but all things that we should do.

I know this to be true.  I have experienced it countless times in my life.  The scriptures answer the questions of our daily lives.  Knowing them can guide us, and give us power to help others in the paths they should go as well.  We underestimate the value of the scriptures in our lives.  Feasting upon them makes the monologue with God we call prayer a dialogue with God.  He can answer so many of our questions through the scriptures.

Initial writing finished Sept. 2006

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