Call for Questions

During 2019, I’ve decided to organize my study around questions. Please help me by submitting one or more questions which I can study and write about next year. These questions can range from very specific (the meaning of a specific verse or phrase) to the very general (how to be a better parent, for example). See a list of some of the questions on my list so far, and submit your own by visiting my questions page.
Thanks for your help!

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My Strength…My Song…My Salvation – 2 Nephi 22:2

2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.
(2 Nephi 22:2, Isaiah 12:2)

Isaiah promised the children of Israel that they would one day be delivered from captivity and return home. They would be gathered “from the four corners of the earth.” Their enemies would no longer have power over them. The Lord would provide “a highway…from Assyria,” the nation that had conquered, enslaved, and scattered them (2 Nephi 21:12-16).

He then shares some of the words they will shout as they experience the joy of their deliverance. They will use some of the same words their ancestors declared after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 15:2), declaring that the Lord is their strength, their song, and their salvation.

  • Strength – God can help us do things which we would not be able to do on our own. Therefore, we can with confidence face challenges which seem impossible to overcome.
  • Song – God can fill our souls with joy, which we then want to share with others.
  • Salvation – God can deliver us from bondage, including the bondage of our own weaknesses and bad habits.

Last Saturday, Elder Gerrit W. Gong promised that we can receive power, joy, and deliverance as we draw near to God:

When righteous patterns and spiritual yearnings join, time and eternity come together. Spiritual light and life come when regular religious observance draws us closer to our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we love the spirit and letter of the law, the things of eternity can distill upon our souls like the dews from heaven. With daily obedience and refreshing living water, we find answers, faith, and strength to meet everyday challenges and opportunities with gospel patience, perspective, and joy (“Our Campfire of Faith,” General Conference, October 2018).

Today, I will thank and praise God for His influence in my life. I will be grateful for the power, the joy, and the deliverance I experience as I invite Him into my life.

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The Earth Shall Be Full of the Knowledge of the Lord – 2 Nephi 21:6-9

6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
(2 Nephi 21:6-9, Isaiah 11:6-9)

Spiritual knowledge leads to peace.

In this passage, Isaiah paints a vivid picture of a time when natural enemies in the animal world will live in harmony. What could be more astonishing than a wolf living peacefully with a lamb, or a lion with a calf? Of course these pairs of animals are not equals. In each case, one is the aggressor and the other the expected victim. But in the world prophesied by Isaiah, the aggressors are no longer a threat. Even a human child can play near poisonous snakes with no fear.

Isaiah’s imagery may refer to a literal change in the nature of animal species. However, today I’m pondering this passage as a metaphor for human peace. There will be a time when people can trust each other, when we won’t need to fear that people will abuse, harass, deceive, or take advantage of us. What will cause this transformation? Knowledge. Isaiah tells us that violence will disappear because “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord.”

The prophet Alma chose to teach a dangerous group of people instead of attacking them because, in his experience, “the preaching of the word…had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them” (Alma 31:5). And after the Savior visited the American continent and taught His gospel following His death and resurrection, there was no contention among the people for many years (4 Nephi 1:15-18).

Elder Boyd K. Packer taught:

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior (“Little Children,” General Conference, October 1986).

Today, I will remember that knowledge leads to peace. I will remember that the word of God can have a powerful effect on the minds of people. I will remember that an understanding of the doctrine of Christ can positively influence behavior. I will strive to help fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord, so that the people can live together in peace and harmony.

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The Remnant of Israel…Shall Stay upon the Lord…in Truth – 2 Nephi 20:20

20 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them, but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
(2 Nephi 20:20, Isaiah 10:20)

stay – To rest; to rely; to confide in; to trust (Webster’s Dictionary 1828, 6th definition)

In chapter 48 of his book, the prophet Isaiah laments those who “swear by the name of the Lord,… yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.” Even though these people claim to be followers of God, “they do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel” (1 Nephi 20:1-2). (Nephi’s rendering of this passage is clearer than the corresponding passage in the King James Version of the Bible–Isaiah 48:1-2–which is missing an important “not” in the second verse.)

Even though we don’t use the word “stay” this way any more, the meaning is reasonably clear from the context. To “stay upon” the Lord is to trust Him, to depend upon Him, and to be emotionally settled because that trust is genuine.

Why would anyone “stay upon” their oppressors? Sounds ridiculous, yet we all do it sometimes. When we fear our antagonists, we give them power to disrupt our internal peace. When we bow to their demands and seek to appease them, are we not depending on them for our emotional stability?

Last Saturday, Elder Ronald A. Rasband reminded us that faith can overcome fear:

If we actively trust in the Lord and His ways, if we are engaged in His work, we will not fear the trends of the world or be troubled by them. I plead with you to set aside worldly influences and pressures and seek spirituality in your daily life. Love what the Lord loves—which includes His commandments, His holy houses, our sacred covenants with Him, the sacrament each Sabbath day, our communication through prayer—and you will not be troubled (“Be Not Troubled,” General Conference, October 2018).

Today, I will seek to “stay upon the Lord…in truth.” I will trust Him and allow that trust to carry me through the difficulties I face. I will not allow other people or situations to intimidate me, but will overcome negative emotions by my faith in Jesus Christ.

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His Hand Is Stretched Out Still – 2 Nephi 19:12, 17, 21; 20:4

…For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
(2 Nephi 19:12, 17, 21; 20:4; Isaiah 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4)

As he describes the rebelliousness of the kingdom of Israel, Isaiah repeatedly uses the phrase quoted above. Four times in two chapters (and once in an earlier chapter—2 Nephi 15:25Isaiah 5:25), he concludes his reprimand with the same statement: “For all this his anger is not turned away,” he says, “but his hand is stretched out still.”

What is the meaning of the stretched-out hand? The most obvious interpretation, from the context, is that it represents God’s justice. Most translations of the Bible adopt this interpretation. For example:

Nephi interprets this passage differently. When he comments on these chapters, he reassures us that God’s arm of mercy is perpetually extended towards us, even when we are rebellious and unresponsive to His invitation:

Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts (2 Nephi 28:32).

After Nephi’s death, his brother Jacob shares the allegory of the olive trees, which emphasizes God’s patience and longsuffering. Jacob then provides a similar reassurance:

How merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long (Jacob 6:4)

Last Sunday, Elder Brian K. Ashton taught us the importance of a correct understanding of the character of God. He shared his wife’s experience of growing in confidence as she better understood God’s love:

For her entire life, my wife, Melinda, has tried with all her heart to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Yet, beginning in her youth, she felt unworthy of Heavenly Father’s love and blessings because she misunderstood His nature. Fortunately, Melinda continued to keep the commandments in spite of the sadness she felt. A few years ago, she had a series of experiences that helped her better understand God’s nature, including His love for His children and His gratitude for our even-imperfect efforts to do His work.
She explains how this has influenced her: “I now feel sure that the Father’s plan works, that He is personally invested in our success, and that He provides us with the lessons and experiences we need to return to His presence. I see myself and others more as God sees us. I am able to parent, teach, and serve with more love and less fear. I feel peace and confidence rather than anxiety and insecurity. Instead of feeling judged, I feel supported. My faith is more certain. I feel my Father’s love more often and more deeply.” (“The Father,” General Conference, October 2018).

Today, I will remember that God’s “hand is stretched out still.” I will remember that He is focused on helping me be successful. I will surely experience consequences for my unwise choices. But even when I do wrong, I can always trust that His arm of mercy is extended, ready to help me as soon as I’m ready to receive His help.

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I Will Wait upon the Lord – 2 Nephi 18:17

17 And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.
(2 Nephi 18:17, Isaiah 8:17)

Sometimes it’s hard to see God’s hand in our lives. We may feel abandoned and forgotten when things aren’t going well, and especially when there are dark clouds on the horizon and no help in sight. Sometimes, the threat of future suffering produces more distress than the suffering itself.

Such was the case with the people in the kingdom of Judah when Isaiah wrote these words. They faced a daunting threat: two of their neighbors–Syria and Israel–had combined forces and were preparing to attack. Many of the people were panicking. Isaiah told them not to be afraid but to trust the Lord.

In the passage above, Isaiah models appropriate behavior for such a situation. He tells the people that he is intentionally taking two actions as a result of the lack of visible support from God: he is waiting upon the Lord and he is looking for Him.

Waiting is hard. It requires two kinds of discipline: trust and deferred gratification. Elder Robert D. Hales said:

The purpose of our life on earth is to grow, develop, and be strengthened through our own experiences. How do we do this? The scriptures give us an answer in one simple phrase: we “wait upon the Lord” (“Waiting upon the Lord: Thy Will Be Done,” General Conference, October 2011).

Elder Hales listed some actions that we can take as we wait:

  • Hope, anticipate and trust the Lord
  • Plant and nourish our faith
  • Pray as the Savior did: “Thy will be done.”
  • Ponder and receive the Holy Ghost to know what we should do.
  • Be diligent and faithful in keeping God’s commandments

Elder Hales pointed out that we may not be ready to receive the answers and blessings we seek:

In my life I have learned that sometimes I do not receive an answer to a prayer because the Lord knows I am not ready. When He does answer, it is often “here a little and there a little” because that is all that I can bear or all I am willing to do.

Today, I will “wait upon the Lord.” When I don’t immediately see His help with the problems I face, I will continue to trust that He is there and that He has not forgotten me. I will continue to move forward, believing that His help will come when it is needed and when I am ready to receive it.

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Immanuel – 2 Nephi 17:14-16

14 Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign—Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and to choose the good.
16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
(2 Nephi 17:14-16, Isaiah 7:14-16)

Before quoting thirteen consecutive chapters from the book of Isaiah, Nephi explained why he chose to include these chapters in his book: “My soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ,” he wrote. “And now I write some of the words of Isaiah, that whoso of my people shall see these words may lift up their hearts and rejoice for all men” (2 Nephi 11:4, 8).

If Nephi’s purpose in quoting these chapters was to prove that Jesus is the Christ so that we can be filled with joy, then we ought to ask ourselves while we read, “How do these words increase my faith in Jesus Christ.

In the passage above, Isaiah introduced a name for the Savior which has great significance. Like many of Isaiah’s prophecies, this one has multiple meanings. The immediate purpose of the prophecy was to calm the fears of King Ahaz and his people (the kingdom of Judah), by reassuring them that God was with them, and within a few short years, the two kingdoms that currently threatened them—Israel and Syria—would no longer be a threat to them. The name of the child in the prophecy, “Immanuel,” means “God with us” in Hebrew (Guide to the Scriptures, “Immanuel“).

For Christians, this prophecy has a deeper significance, pointing to the birth of the Son of God 700 years later. We know Him by many names, each of which emphasizes an aspect of His mission:

  • Christ and Messiah (“The Anointed One“) emphasize the fact that He was chosen by His Father to make salvation possible for us. (See Russell M. Nelson, “Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” General Conference, April 2017, footnote 3).
  • Jehovah (“I Am”) emphasizes His eternal existence, and reminds us that He is the God referred to most frequently in the Old Testament.
  • Immanuel (“God with us”) reminds us that He is intimately aware of each of us and is willing and able to heal us and help us overcome the challenges we face.

In 2017, after studying everything Jesus said and did that is recorded in the standard works, President Russell M. Nelson taught us three things we can do to invite the power of the Savior into our lives:

  1. Learn about Him. “The more we know about the Savior’s ministry and mission—the more we understand His doctrine and what He did for us—the more we know that He can provide the power that we need for our lives.”
  2. Have confidence in Him. “True disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to stand out, speak up, and be different from the people of the world. They are undaunted, devoted, and courageous.”
  3. Reach up to Him. “When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours…. When you spiritually stretch beyond anything you have ever done before, then His power will flow into you” (“Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” General Conference, April 2017)

Today, I will remember the significance of the name “Immanuel.” I will remember that Jesus Christ is not only the Creator of the Universe but is also aware of my needs and willing to help and heal me as soon as I choose to reach out to Him and receive His power.

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