Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:1-2

1 And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.

2 Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.

“Gather, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.” This is quite an opportunity! A chance to hear a prophet foretell the destiny of one’s posterity through the ages, to learn what their ultimate legacy will be.

As with Ephraim and Manasseh, these blessings will not be “wishful prayers.” They will be the truth, and some of it will be more positive than others. Not all the sons are going to necessarily receive from God what they want. Some of their people will face affliction from the natural turmoil of the world, and some from the natural consequence of choosing a baser form of life, and some as a scourge to bring them back to the light. Some of them will enjoy prosperity and joy…for a time. All of them will pass through trials of being conquered and enslaved and scattered, but through it all, they will remain preserved and eventually restored by their God.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 48:20-22

20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. 

21 And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.

22 Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

Ephraim and Manasseh will not only be full-fledged tribes in Israel, but also the envy of all the others. Of course, these prophecies will take time to be fulfilled, at this point the sons of Jacob have their own households, but they are hardly full-blown tribes. We won’t hear of them in that capacity until the book Exodus, at which point they are slaves to the Egyptians, longing for the return to their promised land.

Which, Israel assures Joseph in verse 21, will certainly occur. He entrusts his son to the care of the same God that has kept and preserved him, and passes on the promise that he received of God: that the Israelites would be returned to their homeland once again.

This moment is a beautiful callback to when Jacob was a much younger man, leaving his father’s home to escape the wrath of his brother Esau. Then, in a strange land, he had committed to pay a tithe in return for the promise that he would one day be returned back to his father’s abode. Now he is in a strange land once again, but trusts that though he will die here, his people will return back home just as he did all those years before. No doubt he is able to have faith in that unknown, by having experienced the fulfillment already in the past.

In fact, Jacob’s earlier journeys in a strange land foreshadow the Israelites detour in Egypt in many ways. Just as he was under unfair servitude to his uncle Laban, they will be under unfair servitude to the Egyptians. And just as he was eventually delivered by the blessing of the Lord, so too, will they. Jacob’s entire life was being used as a template to let his own people, the Israelites, what to expect. Rightly, then, did the Lord name him Israel.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 48:17-19

17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.

18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.

19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

Joseph notices a little late that Jacob has his hands crossed upon Ephraim and Manasseh’s heads. He seeks to correct the placement, presumably assuming that Jacob had made some oversight.

Jacob assures that he knows exactly what it is he’s doing, though. As mentioned before, the record makes it sound as though Jacob and Joseph have had very little interaction over the past years, that this might even be his very first time meeting these grandsons, and so it cannot be petty favoritism that Jacob holds towards Ephraim over Manasseh. The only reason Jacob has to differ from the norm in this blessing is because he is being guided by truth and prophecy.

For every blessing that is a true blessing must also be so guided. It is not supposed to be a concoction of the speaker. It is not meant to represent what the giver of the blessing hopes for, for then it is merely a declaration of wishes, with no binding power behind it. A true blessing must be the words and actions inspired of God, a declaration of truth, totally independent of expectation or personal desire. And the truth in this matter is that Ephraim will exceed Manasseh. Not because Jacob wants it, but simply because that was what would be.

How many of us when we seek a blessing do so with the intent of receiving pure truth, unfiltered? How many of us are willing to set aside what we hope to hear, to accept what we do hear?

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 45:25-28

25 And they went up out of Egypt, and came into the land of Canaan unto Jacob their father,

26 And told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not.

27 And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived:

28 And Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.

The news that Joseph is still alive is too incredible for Jacob to believe. Only as he hears all the words that Joseph spoke and sees the gift that his long-lost son sent to him does the truth settle into his heart.

We hear nothing of Jacob’s response to his sons selling Joseph into Egypt. A thought occurs to me that possibly they didn’t tell him. Could they have maintained that they really thought Joseph was consumed by a beast and they’re just as surprised as their father to find out that he’s really alive?

I very much like to think that this wasn’t the case. Jacob would want to know how his son survived, and that would mean that Joseph himself would have to be willing to fabricate a story and lie to his father’s face. And Benjamin would also have to be complicit in the deceit. Doing that would make Joseph and Benjamin become a part of the other brothers’ sin, and I find myself unwilling to accept that they would do that.

And so, though we have no record of what happened, I assume that the truth was made known to Jacob, and that somehow he made his peace with it. Perhaps he was able to surrender his anger towards his other sons by the joy of knowing that “Joseph my son is yet alive,” and “I will go and see him before I die.”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 3:9-13

9 And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

13 And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

Perhaps Adam and Eve hid themselves first, but I must applaud their honesty in these verses. When confronted with an inquiry they came forward and clearly confessed all that they did wrong. “I was afraid and I hid myself,” “the woman gave me, and I did eat,” “the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”

I do wonder whether it even occurred to them to lie. Perhaps they realized God would see through it, or perhaps no such notions had yet entered the human mind, or perhaps they were simply choosing to do what was right.

In any case, as one who has partaken of his own forbidden fruit and then lied about it, I have great respect for Adam and Eve bringing it forth directly. I am never able to move on from my shame until I am ready to confess, and the sooner I have been able to do that the better it has always been.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Summary

The idea of how to share the gospel message with others has been a recurring theme on this blog. I guess I have many questions about how to negotiate that intersection of living a godly life and living as a cooperative member of society.
Wanting to share the gospel in a socially kind way isn’t only about avoiding unpleasant tension, it is also essential to presenting your message in the light that was always intended to accompany it. You simply do not become a good missionary without first learning how to be a good brother or sister to your fellowman.
This study helped me to reiterate some of the ideas I’ve had on the subject before and also gave rise to some new ones. Here are some of the core concepts that stood out to me from my research.

Come to Your Own Knowledge)

First and foremost, you cannot properly testify of what you do not personally know. Testimonies that come from a place of “or so I’ve been told” are unhelpful to everyone involved. A testimony is not what you think and it’s certainly not what you’ve been told, it is what you have come to actually gain a knowledge of for your own self.
But most of us are terrified by the idea of admitting when we do not know something. Everyone has an answer to every moral question, even when they haven’t given the matter any prior thought. And I know that this game of pretended knowledge occurs because I have played it myself. I have spoken as if I had a sure confidence when I really didn’t. And I have seen enough to know I am not the only one that has done so. There are pretenders everywhere.
And there is no point in considering the question of how to testify of good and renounce evil unless we have first come to truly know what is right. To be able to testify with power you must be able to testify with confidence. You have to be able to believe your own words before you can expect anyone else to. And if you don’t really know what you’re talking about, then set aside the question of testifying for a time and focus instead on just coming to really, really know.
Matthew 15:14- Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Alma 32:34- And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

Wake Up the World)

But bit-by-bit one can come to know what they’re talking about. Not all at once, not the entire whole as a single piece, but gradually one can come to be sure that faith yields fruit, that repentance yields cleansing, that sacrifice yields humility, and that following God yields true happiness. Even before one can testify of all things they are able to testify of some.
And not only are they able to testify, they must! For there is already such false confidence given to hurtful philosophies that many men and women are left confused and derailed. When one awakens to the truth one sees how much untruth is being championed as fact. And untruth actively causes harm, it is sure to hurt the lives of those that abide by it.
One cannot idly sit back when these realities become apparent. We must try to help those in harm’s way, even if it means speaking with such boldness that some will become angry at us. We are compelled to renounce the lies and champion the truth. Not because we wish to condemn our brothers and sisters who are deluded, but because we love them and we want to help them.
Matthew 5:14- Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid
Acts 4:29-30- And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.

Ever an Invitation)

We are meant to preach with boldness, we are meant to renounce sin without reservation, we are meant to speak of absolute truth in absolute terms. Our words and our example should testify of the truth with such weight that those who hear it cannot help but be moved. Moved to say to themselves “well I had better find out for myself on this matter.” Truth testified boldly has that effect: to compel the hearer to come to their own knowledge. It inspires men and women to find their own surety.
But…though we seek to be bold, to compel, and to inspire, in none of these ambitions is there justification for trying to force. I can make clear my own convictions, but I must never try to make your own convictions for you. This gospel is one of invitation. The message should be given in a very clear and powerful manner, but then it must be left to the hearer what they will do with it.
And some will choose to do nothing with that message and some of them will choose to fight against it, and we must accept and allow that. Though we seek to make the world a better place, we know that it can only be better when people are able to choose it for themselves.
2 Nephi 2:27- Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:41- No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

Discussing Spiritual Differences- John 18:37-38, Matthew 5:14

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

COMMENTARY

Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?
It is in our nature when we hear something untrue to correct it. Even small children cannot help but call out when a known fact is misstated. Point at something and call it the wrong color, mess up on a simple mathematical operation, attribute a quote to the incorrect historical figure, lie about where you were yesterday…someone will call you out on it. There is something in each of us that just wants for the truth to be spoken.
And certainly this applies to moral truth as well. When we have awoken to the balance of right and wrong we become unsettled to hear any declaration that is morally askew. When others speak a morally untrue message we feel compelled to correct it.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid
And this is a great source of friction to those that proselyte, for there are some who would rather they just kept their moral truths to themselves.
But exercising that restraint runs contrary to the very nature of truth. Truth is like a light: it shines forth. It is a city on a hill that cannot be hid, a candle that cannot be stowed beneath a bushel. When someone casts shades of untruth, whether it be “1 + 1 = 3” or “joy can be found in carnal living,” then truth is compelled to sweep forward to correct it. Truth, even undesired truth, yearns to fill every dark corner with light.

A Surety of Truth- Summary

As I came to the end of my last study I knew that my next topic of research had to be this one. My earlier studies had convinced me of the fact that I was flawed, and prone to all manner of error in opinion and perspective. And while there was an enlightenment in this, it also brought a discomfort to the mind.
For then I felt a vacuum inside of me, and the pull to the other extreme: to be jaded and cynical, disbelieving of all things, rejecting anything that was claimed to be a universal truth. In my heart, this did not feel right either, though. It felt like trading one delusion for another.
But I believed that if I sought I would find, and find the truer perspective in between these two extremes. And in the course of this study I found that to be true. Here are the key principles that I learned.

We Cannot Be Sure of Ourselves)

The first principle was an affirmation of what I was feeling at the end of my last study. I am a human, I am mortal, and I am sure to see the world through an imperfect lens. It is like looking at reality reflected in a fun-house mirror. Some things will be stretched or warped, difficult to make sense of, and prone to faulty conclusions.
There is no great shame in this, because this is the common lot of us all. Each of us has our own, personal wrong way of looking at the world. And because of this, each of our opinions is suspect. Even when we do find universal truths, we are likely to be uncertain of them. We think that they are right, but in and of ourselves we cannot know. Added to that doubt will be the fact that no matter how right they feel to us, they will always be disagreed with by some of our peers.
Now this is not the end of the story, but before moving forward we need to be able to accept this chapter of it. For by embracing this hard truth we are finally able to appreciate the beauty of another: that divine intervention has come to save us from that uncertainty.
Matthew 7:4- Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
John 5:31- If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true

God Can Be Sure)

We are limited because our state is one of being inherently flawed. If we were not flawed, if we were perfect in mind, body and spirit, then when we found a truth we would be sure of it, and would never doubt it. Indeed, part of the tranquility that I believe permeates through heaven is simply the comfort of finally being sure.
We are not such a flawless being, but we do have glimpses of one while here on earth. We feel the love and see the shadow of one who is perfect in mind, body and spirit. Indeed, one of the greatest gifts from God is that just by making His presence known to us we are able to hope for a greater world than our fallen one. Even while we are prone to uncertainty and shifting opinions, we can still believe that there is one out there who does know totally. And even if we do not hold that total knowledge ourselves, it is still a comfort just to know that there is someone out there who does.
And then, when we hear of the the truths that have been revealed by this perfect being, we can cleave to them in faith. Because we’re still flawed we’ll be shaky in our belief at first, just taking His word for it, and not entirely convinced of these precepts ourselves. But still we can trust, and hope, and believe.
Numbers 23:19- God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Matthew 7:24- Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

A Personal Witness)

I specifically used the phrase “when we hear of the truths that have been revealed by this perfect being,” because this is how most of us first become acquainted with God’s doctrine: second hand. We hear of them from a parent, a teacher, a friend, a church leader. We are told that this is what God has said, and we can believe it, but…the person that told us this thing could also be wrong. There still remains that layer of doubt.
And frankly, this was my state for all of my childhood and early adult years. And I thought that this was all there was to it. You just trusted, but doubted, but hoped, but were unsure. And in that tug-of-war you just tried to spend more time on the believing side than the doubting. And perhaps this is the pattern for much of life, but there does also exist something more.
For as I have seen, though personal experience, there really are moments of surety. And they do not come when I “hear of the truths that have been revealed” through some second-hand source. They only come when I feel God speak directly to me. In that moment, He not only shares facts with me, He shares His mind and spirit. For a moment I feel I have His perspective, His confidence, and His certainty. In that moment I would say that I know.
For now I’m still learning what the balance is between those brief moments of knowing and all the rest of just believing. Are they bright spots that only occur sporadically, a refresher to strengthen me for the next leg of faith? Do they become more common as I continue in discipleship, until eventually they are the norm? I’m at peace with either, because I’m sure at the end of it all there is an afterlife where I will be always be sure. “Then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
John 5:32-34- There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me.

Matthew 16:17- And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

A Surety of Truth- We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

My country was founded on the belief that there are certain truths which do not have to be proven because they are “self-evident.” The assumptions is that a simple examination of them will reveal their inherent rightness, and they were therefore chosen as the fundamental building blocks for all that the nation should pursue and preserve.

But just because a truth is claimed to be “self-evident” does not mean it cannot be disagreed with. The fact is there have been many other nations that have rejected the “self-evident” truths of my own country, and have instead chosen fundamental principles that are totally different.

Indeed this is a common pattern of popular philosophies through the ages. A great many of them claim to be unquestionably true, given that they have been built upon self-evident truths, which will be obvious to anyone who simply regards them. But no matter how confident the author is in the theory, there always follows mass criticism, and the founding precepts of that philosophy are rejected by another competing philosophy. Though it has been claimed that the opening assertions are obvious to everyone, they frankly are not.

Now of course, I do happen to believe that there still are universal, self-evident truths. I believe the injunction to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is valid, and self-evidently so. It is perfectly balanced, applies universally, does not discriminate, and perpetuates only an increase of good.

But even though I believe there are universal, self-evident truths, I acknowledge that calling them out is not as simple as one might think. Indeed, self-evident truths are actually very rare and precious, and when one is found it should be considered most sacred.

A Surety of Truth- John 5:31-32, 34, 37

If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.

COMMENTARY

If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true
We have considered how all mortals have a perspective that is subject to bias, how each of us is destined to make flaws in our judgments, and how we believe things that are simply false. Thus, if my testimony comes from my own understanding, then it is not much to rely on. An “Abe Austin original” is not worth much at all. If ever I do manage to say something that is true or wise or edifying, it will be because it came from some other source.

But I receive not testimony from man: but the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me.
As we saw in the first verse, Jesus himself felt that a testimony which emanates only from the self is extremely suspect. If it was only his own claim that he was the Son of God, then that argument wouldn’t hold water. Anyone could say that, and in fact many of the insane have.
But Jesus is not the witness of his own divinity, and he did not ask his disciples to just take his own word for it. It is very significant that his witness of truth came from without himself. It came from the only sure and flawless source: God.
It might seem a bold thing to call out God, Himself, as the witness to the truths you speak, but it is the only testimony that will ever carry weight. It becomes less bold of an idea, though, when we realize we aren’t invoking Him to back up our truths, we are invoking Him to back up His own. If we don’t feel that we can call on Him to stand behind what we’re saying, then maybe what we’re saying isn’t actually from Him, and we should reconsider its validity.