Sunday, August 15, 2010

Three Sons, Three Priesthood Generations

Though he lived to be 950 years old, the scriptures only record three of Noah's children by name. "And Noah was four hundred and fifty years old, and begat Japheth; and forty-two years afterward he begat Shem of her who was the mother of Japheth, and when he was five hundred years old he begat Ham" (Moses 8:12). From these three sons would come the peoples known in scripture as the Gentiles, the Israelites, and the people of Egypt and Africa.

It appears that each of these sons were righteous before the flood. "And Noah and his sons hearkened unto the Lord, and gave heed, and they were called the sons of God... And thus Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord; for Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation; and he walked with God, as did also his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth" (Moses 8:13, 27).

When it comes to the priesthood, the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth were each given a time and a dispensation in which they could be ordained with the priesthood power. The timing of these ordinations appears to be based in part upon the actions of these three sons of Noah, though the scripture is more clear in the cases of Ham and Shem and less clear when it comes to Japheth.

Japheth was the oldest son, yet he is often mentioned last when the sons of Noah are listed together. In a not altogether uncommon scenario, the birthright blessings and the priesthood authority passed over Japheth's descendants to Shem, who, like Nephi or Joseph, carries the spiritual torch for the family and the people of God in his time. Nothing negative is ever mentioned about Japheth, however. Japheth's descendants, the Gentiles, were allowed to be ordained to the priesthood following the resurrection of Christ (see Acts 1-2).

As mentioned, Shem was the spiritual leader of his generation. Jewish tradition holds that Shem was also known as 'Melchizedek', the great high priest to whom Abraham paid tithes. The validity of that tradition is not certifiable, but among the supporting evidences is the presiding authority common to both (for more evidences, look here). The descendants of Shem, Israelites including Peleg, Abraham, Moses, Christ and Peter were the only people considered worthy for the priesthood from the time of Shem until after the death of Christ. Including Joseph Smith in our own dispensation, descendants of Shem have had access to the priesthood in all dispensations of time since the days of Noah's ark.

Ham is the youngest son of Noah mentioned in the scriptures. His descendants, the people of Africa, were unable to hold the priesthood until the modern age because of two curses pronounced upon and preserved by Ham.

The first curse upon the seed of Ham was initially pronounced upon Adam's son, Cain (Genesis 4:11-15). This curse was not pronounced upon Ham, but it was passed to the descendants of Ham when he married Egytus, a decendant of Cain. Abraham later commented that "thus, from Ham, sprang the race which preserved the curse in the land" (Abraham 1:21-24).

A second curse was pronounced upon Ham's descendants after a curious incident in Genesis 9:20-27. In these verses, the Bible outlines a drunken Noah passed out in his tent. Ham sees the nakedness of his father and reports it to his brothers, who cover their father's nakedness without looking. When Noah awakes, he curses his youngest son's posterity while blessing the posterity of the older two.

Hugh Nibley provided the following insight into those verses about Noah's nakedness: "Incidentally the story of the stolen garment as told by the rabbis, including the great Eleazer, calls for an entirely different rendering of the strange story in Genesis [9] from the version in our King James Bible. They seemed to think that the 'erwath of Genesis [9:22] did not mean 'nakedness' at all, but should be given its primary root meaning of 'skin covering.' Read thus, we are to understand that Ham took the garment of his father while he was sleeping and showed it to his brethren, Shem and Japheth, who took a pattern or copy of it or else a woven garment like it which they put upon their own shoulders, returning the skin garment to their father. Upon awaking, Noah recognized the priesthood of the two sons but cursed the son who tried to rob him of his garment" (Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites, p. 162; see also Old Testament Student Manual, p. 57).

We subsequently read of two of Ham's descendants going on to prominent leadership positions in their respective societies. Nimrod, the mighty hunter, claimed to have the priesthood by virtue of the fact that he owned the garment of Adam stolen from Noah. Nimrod conquered many people and eventually founded a place called Babel, where the people built a tower to reach the heavens. Most of us know how that turned out, but suffice it to say the priesthood was not among the people of Nimrod.

Ham also had a righteous grandson named Pharaoh. "Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations... and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood" (Abraham 1:26).

Ham's descendants were allowed to hold the priesthood for the first time beginning in 1978. The First Presidency of the Church announced at that time that "the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom... without regard for race or color" (Declaration II, September 30, 1978).

Noah's three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, each fathered large nations which covered the Earth. To each people was also given a time to hold the priesthood: Shem's descendants held it throughout scripture; Japheth's descendants received the priesthood again after the resurrection of Christ; the descendants of Ham received the priesthood just 32 years ago. Each time the priesthood has been extended, it has been done so at the Lord's direction. He knows the timing and directs all things.

To some degree, however, the priesthood has been extended or withheld based upon the choices of Shem, Ham and Japheth. Their legacy has clearly affected hundreds of generations. As we see the profound variation in blessings based upon the actions of these three brothers, it is worthwhile to also consider our own legacy. What are we doing today that will affect future generations? Will our legacy be a blessing or a curse to those who follow us? If our legacy is not what we would want it to be, what can we do today to bring our lives and teachings more in line with the teachings and gospel of Jesus Christ?

If we do all we can to bring our lives in line with the will of Christ, the legacy we leave to our children will surely be one of testimony and righteousness. Then we will find that we have more that just the authority of the priesthood, but the power of the priesthood as well. May that be our goal.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Noah's Ark Testifies of the Book of Mormon

When most of us think about Noah's ark, we imagine something like the picture below. In our minds eye, we envision the world's largest houseboat with a deck that a cruise ship would envy and a cosy cabin on top for Noah and his family. When we read the account more carefully however, we may find Noah's ark to be more like a massive Jaredite barge than an ancient cruise ship.

Before Noah's death, God scattered the people across the earth for building a tower to get to heaven in Babel. Among those scattered were Jared and his brother, along with their friends and family. In preparation for their evacuation to the American continent they didn't know existed, the family that would become the mighty Jaredite civilization built eight barges. God directed the people to make their barges like two dishes clasped together-- watertight with peaked ends and holes on the top and the bottom of the barges for air. As with Noah, God also instructed the Jaredites to take seeds and animals for their new land.

The Jaredites were commanded not to put windows in their barges. "For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces," the Lord says, "For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you" (Ether 2:23-24). Instead, the brother of Jared arranged for the Lord to make 16 glowing stones for the barges.

A footnote in the LDS Version of the Bible suggests Noah's vessel may not have been so different. The footnote for Genesis 6:16 explains that the Hebrew word tsohar translated as 'window' in the King James Version is believed by some rabbis to reference a precious stone that shone in the ark.

This explanation of Noah's 'window' also provides some insight into how the brother of Jared had that same idea for his eight barges. Noah was still alive, after all, and even if the brother of Jared didn't speak to him in person, the story of Noah's ark was recent and many details would have been more readily available. But the glowing stone reference alone doesn't mean Noah's ark was a larger version of Jared's windowless barges.

Consider what happened to Noah after the rains had ceased, however. Noah sent a dove "out of the ark" to find dry land. Had Noah been able to stand out on the deck of his houseboat, such a gesture may have been unnecessary. When the dove returned, Noah "put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him in the ark" (Genesis 8:9-10). The verbiage of sending forth a dove out of the ark and pulling it back in unto him in the ark contributes to the idea that Noah's ark may have been a deckless, windowless, closed-top barge.

Finally, when the dove discovered dry earth, Noah, "removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry." Noah emerged from the belly of a closed, cave-like ark to see the dry ground for himself for the first time since the rains began. His initial reaction is reflected in the expression, "behold," not inaccurately repeated, "Behold! The face of the ground was dry."

The exact shape and form of Noah's ark is wonderfully irrelevant to our individual salvation. Understanding its ties to the Book of Mormon, however, may be inspiring to a degree. The Jaredite barges found in Ether mirror the shape and planning of the ark on a smaller scale. Details of the ark not known to scholars of the day and still not commonly perceived by Christians are unlikely to have been noticed and recreated by a young, uneducated Joseph Smith.

Like so many other Book of Mormon evidences now confirmed, Noah's ark and the subsequent descriptions of the Jaredite barges testify the Book of Mormon is true. The Jaredite people really did leave Babel thousands of years ago to settle on the American continent. The historical account of this people in the Book of Mormon is valid, just as the recorded teachings of their prophets are inspired of God. And if the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a true prophet whose teachings were also inspired of God. It is then only a few small steps to find the truthfulness of the church he founded and the revelation that continues today.