The Simplicity of Scripture: Information, Interpretation, and Inclination
In Alma 37, Alma the Younger describes the meaning of certain relics to his son, Helaman who is about to come into possession of them.
The Liahona, Interpreters, and Gold Plates were among the items placed in Moroni’s box that was later unearthed by Joseph Smith. Missing from this list is the sword of Laban which I think the Nephites probably possessed their entire history up until Moroni. Why is it not mentioned? I’m not sure but this led me to wonder if the items that were listed had any significance or were related in any way.
Personally, I find Alma to be a very sharp individual and it isn’t uncommon to find many complex layers of meaning in his writings. He presents three particular kinds of relics to Helaman, three sets of metal plates, the Interpreters, and the Liahona. What I took from my latest reading of Alma 37 is the idea that these relics are representative of three essential elements that are necessary to make the best use of scripture: information, interpretation, and inclination.
In his list of items, the Liahona is key because it is a prime illustration of how our own inclinations determine the efficacy of scripture in our lives.
Alma had many records in his possession and he highlighted the plates of Nephi, the plates of brass, and the Jaredite record which consisted of 24 plates of gold. Alma emphasized that it was important to keep a general record of their people for a sacred and wise purpose. The brass plates contained their scripture and genealogy. Not only did the brass plates link them via their ancestors to Abraham and the covenant, they also served three additional purposes:
- Enlarge the memory of the people
- Convinced many of the error of their ways
- Brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls
The 24 Jaredite plates existed for the purpose of revealing “the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people;” (vs.21)
These records served a similar purpose that the Book of Mormon serves to us today, they are both records of fallen nations that succumbed to secret combinations. Today our nation moves swiftly in the same direction. Ultimately, we must first possess the information that God wants us to have because that is what he will hold us accountable for; we cannot say that we haven’t been warned.
The interpreters exist as a testament to the fact that there are language barriers to overcome with scripture, but that tools exist to help if we are wise in using them.
The interpreters have done their job in terms of bringing the words of ancient texts to minds of modern readers so we can learn from the past. Once we have those words there is more to be done, we must study and seek to understand the meaning of those words. I often employ various dictionaries (English, Hebrew, Greek) to help me gain a better understanding of whatever language is closest to the source.
The interpreters were physical objects that worked in conjunction with the Spirit similarly to our next item, the Liahona.
Inclination relates to the disposition of the mind; where we tend to lean. The Liahona was an object prepared by the Lord to assist Lehi’s party in their journey from the Arabian peninsula to the Americas.
It functioned for about a decade until it fulfilled this purpose and does not appear to have been used again after that. The Nephites retained it along with the other relics much like the Israelites did with the stone tablets, a sample of manna, and the rod of Aaron.
Alma explains that the Liahona was a type and shadow. I’ve often heard the Liahona compared to the Holy Spirit and while I think that works to some degree, Alma instead compares the Liahona to the word of Christ. He said, “it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass” (vs.44)
He says again, “For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.” (vs.45)
Like the Liahona, the scriptures will only point us to our desired destination if we use them in the same way. Alma points out some things that prevented the Liahona (and by implication, the words of Christ) from working:
- Slothfulness (he even mentions this three times)
- Forgetting to exercise faith
- Forgetting to exercise diligence
When these conditions existed, they experienced the following results:
- They tarried in the wilderness
- Did not travel a direct course
- Were afflicted with hunger and thirst
At this point, you might be drawing some parallels to your own life. Have you felt like you have been stuck in the wilderness? How about feeling like you are winding through some maze instead of a clear path? Have you felt a spiritual hunger or thirst like there was an emptiness deep within?
Well, the good news is that the way to reverse all this is pretty simple. The only problem here is that the solution is too simple for some, as Alma explained: “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. … O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way;” (vs.6,46)
Treat your scriptures like you would if you possessed an actual Liahona. Treat them the same way and you’ll be blessed in the same ways, you’ll be guided out of the wilderness in a direct course, filled with energy and strength.
The Liahona reminds us to incline ourselves to the words of Christ and receive those blessings of guidance that we each want and crave. So many answers are there, written in plain English (or whatever language you happen to be reading in). All we need to do to begin is to simply look and live.
“…so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever. And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live. (vs.46-47)
If you are in anyway struggling spiritually, then why not start here? Why not start with something so simple that virtually anyone can do it and receive powerful promised blessings? Don’t be stubborn, don’t be prideful, don’t be so stiffnecked that you suffer the same fate of the Israelites who could have saved their lives by simply turning their heads and eyes and looking for one second at a bronze serpent. Alma taught the Zoramites:
“But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them. O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?” (Alma 33:20-21)
Slothfulness is solved easily by simply moving i.e., pick up your scriptures, put them in your lap and open them. Do not forget to apply diligence with constant effort, pick up your scriptures again tomorrow and the day after and so on. Do not forget to exercise faith by applying what you are learning as you read to your life.
We neglect a lot of things in life but don’t ever neglect these things. These things are so simple that it is almost ridiculous but how wonderful it is that they are this simple.
Go for it. You can do it. You can do it right now. If you had time to read this post you could have easily read an entire chapter of scripture. Book, lap, open, look, then smile.
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