Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mormon as Moroni Saw Him

When I first saw this painting, I cried for several moments. It has since become my favorite photo of two of my favorite people of all time     
As we must with all paintings of the Nephite era and its people, see them with a spiritual eye, rather than a physical sense of location, clothing, and overall appearance. But in so doing, one can only wonder at the anguish on the one hand that Moroni felt, seeing his father killed by the very men they had struggled a lifetime to provide spiritual salvation toward, yet at the same time delighted at the life his father had led, achieving greatness in the eyes of the Lord and earning the respect and admiration of all men in every age.
    Their mutual approbation for one another is one of the great achievements that can be found between father and son that the gospel provides. When Moroni was a young man, full of the desire to preach the gospel as his father had done all his life, desirous to call to repentance the Nephites who had, themselves, fallen into apostasy, Moroni erroneously  preached the need for child baptism. Learning of this, Mormon  immediately sent his son an epistle of corrections.
    An epistle of my father Mormon, written to me, Moroni; and it was written unto me soon after my calling to the ministry. And on this wise did he write unto me, saying:
    Rather than take offense, as many sons do, Moroni copied the letter word-for-word onto the plates of his book near the end of his life, and obviously cherished the words of advice, counsel, and instruction, for it survived within his meager possessions through numerous battles, marches, and engagements where his very life hung in the balanced. As Mormon wrote:
My beloved son, Moroni, I rejoice exceedingly that your Lord Jesus Christ hath been mindful of you, and hath called you to his ministry, and to his holy work. I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end. And now, my son, I speak unto you concerning that which grieveth me exceedingly; for it grieveth me that there should disputations rise among you. For, if I have learned the truth, there have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children. And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle.”
    Mormon’s next few words are rather interesting under the circumstances, and a great teacher for all fathers. He did not continue on with his correction of his son at this point, but rather, he inquired of the Lord and the Lord told Mormon the correct principle regarding infant baptism. Whether or not Mormon already knew this, believed it, or understood it doctrinally is not known. But the point is he waited for the Lord’s confirmation before approaching his son in this writing. After receiving it, he told his son:
    And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying: Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me. And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children” (Mormon 8:1-9).
As was the custom in the Hebrew world, fathers often gave their children meaningful names to help them set their course in life. Helaman, son of Helaman and grandson of Alma, the younger, named his two sons (left): Nephi and Lehi (Helaman 3:21), telling them, “I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good” (Helaman 5:6).
    There was a time in human history when the following patterns was followed:
• First son was named after the father's father
• Second son was named after the mother's father
• Third son was named after the father
• Fourth son was named after the father's eldest brother.
    There was also a custom among Hebrews and Egyptians to name children after virtues they hoped the child would possess. Among the Hebrews these names often either involved past heroes or connection of God, while among the Egyptians their hero names were often synonymous with the gods, while the Romans and Greeks favored the gods and earlier political figures.
    In the time of Lehi, names followed three societal groups. The top level was that of the tribe (mateh or shebet) ruled by a patriarchal ancestor, (later a judge and later still an elected king) and the priesthood in matters that were in their pervue. Below that came the extended family or clan (Mishpacha or aloof) governed by the elders (zekenim) or leaders aloofim. This was made up of related families within the tribe. The third level was the group living within the same tent ohel) or house (bayit) - what we would call today the family unit.
    When Helaman named his two sons, he used both the tribe (mateh) and the clan (Mishpacha) to draw upon the names of two generations, the first two “elders” within the tribe and clan in the Land of Promise. In effect, Helaman was most desirous that his two sons would stand continually reminded of their erstwhile ancestors and draw upon their character in the course of their lives.
In the case of Mormon, he drew upon the greatest example in all of Nephite history, if not the history of man as he saw it. He said, “if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men” (Alma 48:17). Thus, he named his son Moroni, after the Chief Captain of the Nephite armies that stayed the course of the Lamanite invasions for another two generations and opened the door to the advent of the Savior and the Nephite Golden Age.
    Around 400 A.D., 15 years after his father’s death, Moroni laments: “For I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not” (Mormon 8:5). In his concluding remarks in his father’s record, he says, “After the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites until they were all destroyed. And my father also was killed by them, and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. But behold, they are gone, and I fulfill the commandment of my father” (Mormon 8:2-3).
    Twenty years later, in 421 A.D., Moroni adds, “And now I, Moroni, write a few of the words of my father Mormon, which he spake concerning faith, hope, and charity; for after this manner did he speak unto the people, as he taught them in the synagogue which they had built for the place of worship” (Moroni 7:1).
    And thus Moroni brings an end to the scriptural record, quoting from his father and teaching the doctrines of the gospel. What better example do we have than these two men, father and son, who relied on one another to carry out their responsibilities and fulfill all righteousness. Let us not forget that this is the same Mormon who gave us the many descriptions of the Land of Promise, its shape, directions, and distances. Let us not forget how we treat his words of which he labored diligently to leave us—a record of his people and a description of their Land of Promise.
   To try and alter those many descriptions, the intent and meaning of his words, is to do him and all those before who recorded their prophetic understanding regarding the Land of Promise is to them a disservice.

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