Archive for March, 2010


At what point does a church lose “authority,” per se?  Authority as recognized by heaven, and not man.  Though the “message” is what carries the ultimate authority, nevertheless we’re told that the LDS Church maintains authority to administer the ordinances.  We’re told that because the ordinances are there, that it was at one point established, restored, etc., that because it was so at one point it will remain so indefinitely into the future.  This entry was partially inspired by this blog post, though I have been in no small number of discussions on this very topic.

However, for the sake of discussion, at what point do the teachings and authority become so degenerate that it’s no longer recognized in heaven.  Is that even possible?  Or, are we assured of never apostatizing?  Are we assured of “never be[ing] led astray?”  The link in that “never be[ing] led astray” is by far the best write-up I have seen on the topic and would highly recommend it to anybody looking into the idea the topic.

For example, there’s a compelling story in Mosiah between Zeniff, King Noah, Alma, and Alma the Younger.  Clearly, the story is much longer than I could relate here, but I will attempt to make it brief.  I attempted to discuss this at length once, and would encourage anyone interested to read that write-up as well.

Suffice it to say, and I’d be interested in your thoughts, Zeniff was a “prophet” (especially in today’s terms), leading the then “true” Church.  Indeed, the Lord had referred to them as “my people” when calling on Abinadi to go and preach to them.  Though he was a great, righteous leader, Zeniff yet lacked one thing, it would seem.  That one thing would appear to be discernment.  Discernment because of his dealings with the Lamanites, but most importantly with his selection of King Noah as his replacement.  Of all the people he could have called to fill his position as the presiding High Priest, he calls Noah (now King Noah), who is merely labeled as “one of his sons,” but who turns out to be one of the most wicked people in the BoM.  Noah then replaces his father’s priests with his buddies, calling his friends to the key church callings.  By doing this, he knew he’d have the support to do what he wanted to.  The church under Noah’s reign transitions from one of spiritual guidance and growth to one of physical growth; physical manifestations to blind the eyes of the members as to the veracity and prosperity of the church.  Temples were built, flat taxes/tithings were levied, and Noah and his priests lived lavishly on the proceeds.  As Denver Snuffer mentioned in one of his books, the high priests convinced Noah that all was well, that things were good because they were “prospering.” (See Mosiah 12:15.) To them, physical prosperity was a sign that they were the “authorized” spiritual body of the “true” church.  Have we seen this today, or are we immune to “natural man” tendencies of equating physical structures with spiritual prosperity?

Certainly, it’s something we should ever be mindful and watchful of.  From home teaching reports, to sacrament meeting attendance, to population counts, baptismal counts and on and on.  Denver Snuffer opined, along these same lines:

“How easy it is for those who handle tithes and property to lose sight of the Lord and His house, and come to value only the property.  Measurable things – numbers, growth charts, revenues collected, statistics on attendance, numbers of buildings built – everything which could evidence prosperity, overwhelms those who think succeeding in their stewardship depends on increasing that which can be measured.  Nephi warned that we would also succumb to this number-crunching mentality.  And as we do, we will conclude, just like the scribes and Pharisees, that all is well (see 2 Nephi 28:21).  Magnifying a calling has never been statistics-driven.” (Come, Let Us Adore Him.  Page 205.)

Continuing with the story of Noah and Alma, eventually Abinadi appears on the scene.  There he preaches and the people try to capture him (no one likes being told to repent).  He escapes and stays away for 2 years, only to return once again in disguise (imagine that, a prophet “in disguise“), but no one notices him.  By this point Alma had become convinced of what Abinadi had said, and “knew concerning the iniquity” of the people.  Alma’s conscience gets the better of him and he’s forced to flee and establishes his own church, knowing how far the “official” religion had strayed from the original teachings and the truth.

The majority of the people at this time fully believed that Noah’s leadership and organization was the “true” church, convinced of their “chosen” status.  It had the established hierarchy, history, and faithful stories from the past.  It had the structure, the high priests, the temples, buildings, and all the physical proof of the “true” church.  The people, and the leadership, had both become blinded by prosperity and temporal proof as a replacement for spiritual manifestations, though clearly angels no longer visited this “true” church.

Though the people, and the official hierarchy of the formerly “true” church maintained their belief in their chosen status, the Lord nevertheless had a different idea of whose church was His.  They were once “[his] people,” but had somewhere along the lines lost that status.  The people were following Noah’s lead, assuming the church he was leading was the Lord’s church, but the Lord sends an astounding statement in Mosiah 27:13.  At this point Alma the Younger was railing against his father’s upstart church, the renegade “apostate” religion which was an offshoot of the official, “recognized” church.  Alma the Younger was risking his own personal salvation doing his personal preachings, but likely did so because he, too, was convinced that Noah’s church was the “true” one and his father’s an “apostate.”  This verse reads:

“Nevertheless [the angel] cried again, saying: Alma, arise … for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people.”

So, very long story cut very short, Alma the Younger learns his father’s upstart religion was Christ’s church, the “church of God.”  It had the recognized, by heaven, authority.  Though we have no official declaration of when it happened, this angel confirms what we already knew in reading the account in Mosiah.  What we typically gloss over, though, is that somehow Noah’s church had lost that authority years before.  We’re not told when, how, or what the straw was that broke the back of the spiritually thirsty camel, but this account makes it official.  The renegade, offshoot, “apostate” religion was the “church of God,” while the church that everyone viewed as the “official,” recognized hierarchy was merely a shell, an impostor.

So my question is:  at what point does the authority become lost?  At what point is it removed?  At what point does another church, likely viewed as an “apostate” religion by the main body of the formerly “true” church, receive that authority to be “Christ’s”?  Though we, today, have that recognized status from decades previous when the authority was present, here we have a stark example in the scriptures of a “true” church losing its status and authority to administer.  Where there is a lack of a connection with heaven, the power to administer the ordinances thereof is missing. It was this renegade, apostate religion of Alma the Elder’s which had that power, while the official, recognized institution lacked it.

Perhaps, though, I’m wrong in the above assessments.  If that’s the case, I welcome the correction and would implore it, given the nature of the discussion.


I had to write a paper this week for my IT class.  We’ve been dealing with computer crimes and privacy issues inside the workplace.  The following is a paper I had to write, which I thought I’d throw up here.  I’m not typically prone to write and discuss politics or political activities.  I used to be interested in that area, but no longer.  I’m an impartial observer mostly.  I prefer to sit back and observe.  Though I may have strong opinions one way or the other, I typically keep them to myself.  That being said, I think this might be a good read for some out there:

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Ethics, of all sorts, are and will be problematic in the years to come as men and women across all boundaries labor to delineate where personal privacy begins and ends.  Sadly, though, these lines have already been drawn and yet most do not even know they have been drawn.  One such statement, from the module, seems to echo this issue:

“Although most organizations use data files for legitimate and/or justifiable purposes, opportunities for invasion of privacy abound. Legislation such as The Children’s Internet Protection Act has been enacted to protect minors using the Internet. Other laws have been enacted also, such as the Privacy Act of 1974, the USA Patriot Act, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.”[1]

I must preface my comments on this particular paragraph of the module before continuing.  Within this paragraph exists some ambiguity, something which is less than desirable for someone, like myself, who is trying to write an unambiguous response to the question at hand.  Nevertheless, in looking at this paragraph, I am compelled to draw a few conclusions.  Chief among these conclusions is that the Privacy Act, the USA Patriot Act and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act are believed to have been enacted to “protect” individuals from an “invasion of privacy.”  I wholeheartedly acknowledge that I may err in this assessment and, if so, so be it.  However, based off the current construction of the paragraph I am compelled to believe that the writer of this paragraph is of the frame of mind that they were largely written and passed as a way to protect individuals throughout America.

I may come across as being mildly cynical in class and on the forums where we post responses to weekly questions and topics, though I do not consider myself to be of the cynical variety.  I prefer to think that I look at things from an objective standpoint.  Yes, if you’re thinking, I subjectively think that I am objective.  The ultimate dichotomy.  Nevertheless, I prefer to sit back in as impartial a manner as possible and assess things as they come.  Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed.  The joy is in neither the success nor the failure, but in the personal improvement that comes from not accepting everything at face value and truly learning for myself.

I would like to say that I am surprised that people view legislation such as the USA Patriot Act as a way of “protecting” individuals.  It’s seemingly championed as protecting individuals from individual harm.  However, to me, it’s incontrovertible that the Patriot Act has done more to destroy individual freedoms and privacy than any other piece of legislation that I can think of.

Even taking some items at face value, it’s hard not to notice the language at the Thomas.loc.gov website which can be accessed by following the above hyperlink on the Patriot Act.  Following that link will lead the reader to a statement which reads:

H.R.3162Title: To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes[2]. (emphasis added.)

A cursory reading of the title must lead the reader to assume that “investigatory tools” have been “enhanced.”  Disregarding the fact that the Patriot Act was passed merely one month after 9/11 when the public and elected officials were so shell shocked at what had happened, as that would necessitate a whole book to discuss the ramifications, a simple internet search of the far reaching tentacles of the Patriot Act should lead some to question the party line that the Patriot Act was for our “protection.”

Benjamin Franklin once stated that, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  This statement is perhaps best juxtaposed against the following graphic:

On one hand, we have the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine decrying the idea of giving up our individual freedoms for some peace, and on the other we have the likes of George Bush, the President at the time of the passage of the Patriot Act, being paraphrased in the above graphic saying, “Give up your liberty, or we’re all gonna die!”  The alarmism is all too palpable in this discussion on the Patriot Act.  Today, most have bought – hook, line and sinker – into the latter philosophy, as witnessed by President Obama’s recent extension of the so-called “Patriot” Act, which was “necessary” to protect us from “terrorism.”[3] Some fail to see the irony in this statement, though it is quite thick.

According to an article by TaFoya Court, the extension allows the government to continue with “court approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones, court approved seizure of records and property … and surveillance of … non-U.S. citizen suspected of terrorist activities.”[4] Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, states that the Patriot Act has resulted in nothing more than “the gagging of our nation’s librarians under the national security letter statute [and] the gutting of time-honored surveillance laws, the Patriot Act has been disastrous for Americans’ rights.”[5]

Included within the Patriot Act is the ability of federal authorities to perform “sneak and peek” warrants.  A “sneak and peak” warrant enables these federal authorities to search a person’s home, office or other personal property without the person’s knowledge.  Librarians, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, as well as bookstores, are currently required through the Patriot Act to provide the records of books read by their patrons.  As Representative Ron Paul opined some years ago:

“[t]he Patriot Act waters down the Fourth amendment by expanding the federal government’s ability to use wiretaps without judicial oversight. The requirement of a search warrant and probable cause strikes a balance between effective law enforcement and civil liberties. Any attempt to dilute the warrant requirement threatens innocent citizens with a loss of their liberty. This is particularly true of provisions that allow for issuance of nationwide search warrants that are not specific to any given location, nor subject to any local judicial oversight.

The Act makes it far easier for the government to monitor your internet usage by adopting a lower standard than probable cause for intercepting e-mails and internet communications. I wonder how my congressional colleagues would feel if all of their e-mail headings and the names of the web sites they visited were available to law enforcement upon a showing of mere “relevance.”[6]

Later that same year, Representative Paul stated:

“Recent revelations that the National Security Agency has conducted broad surveillance of American citizens’ emails and phone calls raise serious questions about the proper role of government in a free society. …

“…most governments, including our own, cannot resist the temptation to spy on their citizens when it suits government purposes. …We have a mechanism called the Constitution that is supposed to place limits on the power of the federal government. Why does the Constitution have an enumerated powers clause, if the government can do things wildly beyond those powers – such as establish a domestic spying program? Why have a 4th Amendment, if it does not prohibit government from eavesdropping on phone calls without telling anyone? … The rule of law is worthless if we ignore it whenever crises occur.”[7]

Why indeed.

The Patriot Act, a misnomer if there ever were one, is only one example of individual “protection” getting thrown out the window in the name of safety.  Truth be told, the extraordinary power granted to the government through the Patriot Act, and other acts promising individual “protection,” enables this same government to look into our private lives and be used for far too many purposes wholly unrelated to terrorism.

As we have seen in the course forum on BlackBoard, most of my classmates are all too eager to implement far-reaching surveillance measures to justify protection of corporate assets and intellectual property.  Most argue that since the “law” dictates that employees are not entitled to personal privacy rights while at work, then there’s no reason to afford them any.  It would seem the rational is that a salary is sufficient collateral to buy off the privacy of the individual.

In truth, I’m surprised that so many put the “corporate” needs above the “individual” needs.  Even though this is a very complex and nuanced problem, there is simply no reason, as Franklin stated, to give up “essential liberty” to purchase “temporary safety.”  Though the Supreme Court recently granted corporations all the privileges of citizenship,[8] a decision which is buttressed by a “125 year-old precedent in the case of Santa Clara v. Santa Fe, where the Court first developed the legal doctrine of corporate personhood,”[9] we must never forget that employees are individuals with rights that do not end the moment an employee enters the doors of his or her place of employment.  Similarly, we should not presume that the “Patriot” Act is a valid “protection” of individuals when it does so much that undermines and tears away the very foundations of individual liberties we seem to believe in.  I say “seem” because while we profess the belief in individual liberties and privacies on the one hand, all too frequently we support, uphold and vote for legislation like the Patriot Act which goes against all our personal beliefs and the subject, all because we buy into the “official” story sold to us by main stream media outlets and paid representatives.

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That is where my paper ended.  In a spiritual sense, I would add that these measures are far reaching.  While many people champion and promote the idea that the War in Heaven was fought over Lucifer trying to “force” us into obedience, I more closely align with the idea that Lucifer was trying to “destroy the agency of man”[10] by removing the consequences of sin.  Greg Wright, in his book Satan’s War on Free Agency, argues persuasively towards this end.  I think it may have been a combination of the two.  In order to convince a “third part”[11] (note, a “third part” does not mean “one third” no matter who says it does) of the hosts of heaven, he must have been very persuasive.  In order to persuade someone to accept an alternative plan, it would have to have been appealing.  Greg Wright argues that, in today’s world, the far more persuasive plan is one where everyone can do whatever they want without punishment.  Trying to sell the “force” plan, as he calls it, would be much, much harder, if only because the “third part” that followed him had to be convinced that an omniscient God’s plan was somehow inferior to Lucifer’s.

In the end we must be mindful of the increasing encroachments on our individual liberties.  As we give more and more of our liberties away to employers who would monitor us at all times, agencies which do monitor us at all times, and others, we lose a bit of ourselves and the agency with which we were endowed eons ago.  It is one of the many ways by which we “receive not the light.”

D&C 93:30-32 summarizes this perfectly:

30 All truth is independent in that asphere in which God has placed it, to bact for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

31 Behold, here is the aagency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is bplainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.

32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the alight is under condemnation. (Emphasis Added.)


[1] IT-500, Module 9.

[2] Website, retrieved 03/06/2010:  http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:H.R.3162:

[3] Cort, TaFoya.  “Obama, Congress extend Bush’s PATRIOT Act.”  03/04/2010.  http://www.dailytitan.com/2010/03/obama-congress-extend-bush%E2%80%99s-patriot-act/.  Retrieved 03/06/2010.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Paul, Ron.  “Reconsidering the Patriot Act.”  05/03/2005.  http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/paul247.html.  Retrieved 03/06/2010.

[7] Paul, Ron.  “Domestic Surveillnace and the Patriot Act.”  12/27/2005.  http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/paul295.html.  Retrieved 03/06/2010.

[8] Klinger, Scott.  “The Bush-Packed Supreme Court Thinks Corporations Are People Too.”  01/22/2010.  http://www.alternet.org/rights/145323/the_bush-packed_supreme_court_thinks_corporations_are_people_too?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=alternet.  Retrieved 03/06/2010.

[9] Id.

[10] Moses 4:3: “Wherefore, because that aSatan brebelled against me, and sought to destroy the cagency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be dcast down…”

[11] D&C 29:36:  “And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the adevil—for, behold, the bdevil was before Adam, for he crebelled against me, saying, Give me thine dhonor, which is my epower; and also a fthird part of the ghosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their hagency…”


Here’s the last part of the Small Miracles series.  The first entry focused on the Liahona and how Alma spoke of the slothfulness Lehi and his family showed towards the Liahona.  Part II was an excellent article by Hugh Nibley which speaks about the Liahona and a potential predecessor, arrow divination.  We live in a world where the “casting of lots” and “arrow divinations” are very much frowned upon as either being superstitious or being too “new age-y.”  Whatever the reasons, we should get back to the gospel and do away with the shackles that bind us down, shackles which increase our reliance on the “Arm of Flesh.”

Though I frequently quote from only a few authors, this should only be seen as one thing:  it’s what I’m currently reading.  And, perhaps a second: they are some of the few who speak and write on topics that interest me and inspire me to turn to Christ.  This brief preface paves the way for the following essay, taken from Nephi’s Isaiah.  From it, I will copy and paste a portion of Chapter 18 on Finding Truths.  This book was written by Denver Snuffer and all credit should be given to him.  As he may likely say in return, if you find any truth in it, all credit should be given to Christ.

Here are his words:

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Finding Truths – Chapter 18, Nephi’s Isaiah, Denver Snuffer

As we saw earlier in this book, Nephi took the four final chapters at the end of his record to address a final summary warning to us.  In it he told us all that was weighing on his mind about our day.  These warnings are the product of the visions in which he saw our day and beyond.  We have already looked at these summaries in the opening chapters of this book.  In this chapter, we are going to look at how you, too, can gather truth through the same revelatory process as Nephi.

Though Nephi was not permitted to share the visions in his own words, he was able to describe them using Isaiah’s words.  As we have seen in our interpretation of the Isaiah text, Nephi’s use of Isaiah tells the story of Christ’s mission, our day, the Second Coming, and the Millennium.

As Nephi summarized his final warnings, he was troubled about our struggles in latter-day Zion.  Although the ultimate outcome of this season will vindicate those who follow the Lord, there are going to be challenges in our day which vex and perplex the Saints.  In particular, he cites our tendency to rely upon the “arm of flesh” instead of the “Spirit.”  Unfortunately, there are Latter-day Saint authors advocating the Spirit is an unreliable guide to truth.  Grant Palmer writes in An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Signature Books, 2002), on page 130-131; 133:  “When faced with this evidence, our first impulse is often to resort to personal inspiration as our defense of the Book of Mormon.  This is a higher means of substantiating the book’s antiquity, we assume. … Most of us have felt this spiritual feeling when reading the Book of Mormon or hearing about Joseph Smith’s epiphanies.  What we interpret this to mean is that we have therefore encountered the truth, and we then base subsequent religious commitments on these feelings.  The question I will pose is whether this is an unfailing guide to truth?  … The evangelical position of identifying and verifying truth by emotional feelings, which the Book of Mormon advocates, is therefore not always dependable … abundant evidence also demonstrates that is an unreliable means of proving truth.  Those who advocate the witness of the Holy Spirit as the foundation for determining the truthfulness of a given religious text need to honestly deal with these epistemological contradictions. … When a person experiences the Spirit at a Protestant revival meeting or when reading the Book of Mormon, it is not my belief that this feeling proves the truthfulness of the doctrines taught, or read.”  (Emphasis added.)  In this criticism, Palmer presumes “emotional feelings” are the same thing as being enlightened by the Spirit.  Of course, they are not.  However, it is understandable how he makes this error, for many people do associate emotional feelings as the sine qua non[1] of the Holy Ghost and fail to realize what is before us in scripture.

The scriptures do not either advocate reliance on emotions or give us examples of any prophetic figures doing so.  They tell a much different story.  They tell us of people who have faith sufficient to receive “the word of the Lord” and then seek for and obtain some confirmation of the veracity of that word.  They seek for a witness, not through emotions, but from objectively observable, demonstrable signs confirming the truth of the words they have been given.  Faith is required to receive the word in the first instance.  And faith is required to obtain objective confirmation.  They do this repeatedly in scripture, in a pattern which is commended to us to follow.

For those who have been raised as Latter-day Saints, the process of becoming acquainted with the Sprit can be a difficult one.[2] Palmer’s struggle and failure here is not atypical of some lifelong members’ frustrations in this area.  We are now going to consider the process described in scriptures for receiving an answer from the Holy Ghost and confirming it through faith.  Though it would require an entire book in its own right,[3] this subject will be addressed briefly here, because this book would be incomplete without it.

Not everyone has the same spiritual “gifts” given them.  However, spiritual gifts can be increased, and can be sought after.[4] Each person has some gift which comes naturally as a part of their makeup.  God has gone to great lengths to make everything in His creation unique.  Every person who has ever lived is one-of-a-kind.  Even identical twins are dissimilar.  No tree is alike, no flower is alike, no snowflake is alike; all to help remind us that we are unique.[5] In all time and eternity, there has never been another you.  Nor will there ever be a duplicate of you, science and cloning notwithstanding.  You can “hear” God’s voice, but how it comes to you may be different from how it comes to anyone else.  Frequently the description we get in scripture is merely “the word of the Lord came” to the prophets.[6] It comes to the mind, or it is “heard” in the mind, or it is sensed in the impressions, or it is dreamt; or it is a conviction which comes with palpable certitude.  However it comes, and in any individual case it may do so in an altogether unique way, it comes from a source outside of you.  Often it is surprising, not at all what was expected.  It can be inconvenient, requiring from you what you would not voluntarily seek.  These are not just “emotions” or “feelings” as Palmer would put it.  Rather there is an intelligence to it, which originates from outside of you, and which delivers a message to you; not feelings, but a message.

After receiving the “word,” confirmation follows.  The confirmation allows a person of faith to see evidence or support for their belief and trust in God.[7] Again, when it comes to the confirming sign which follows faith,[8] the variety of forms is unique to the person.  In a moment, we will look at a few examples to show the pattern.

First, however, remember you are unique, and will have unique experiences in relating to God.  Given the care with which you have been organized as an individual creation, how can you expect communication with the Lord to be standardized?  Why would the way in which He speaks with you be identical to the way in which He speaks to all others?  Why wouldn’t He carry on a conversation with each of His children in ways adapted to the individual child?  Do not expect your experience to be like that of another.  You are not, and never will be, a duplication of any other person.

We turn then to scriptural examples illustrating confirming proofs God has given to His people:  His confirming appearance in the “burning bush” to Moses was singular.[9] In all of history, no one else recounts such an appearance.  So, ask yourself why God employed such a matchless form of introduction to the person many believe to be history’s greatest single Prophet.  Was it driven by something unique in Moses?  Was this how God could reach into Moses’ perceptions, and therefore was the method chosen?  Here, a physical object, commonly seen, has an unusual aspect which appeals directly to Moses.  It is not “emotional” or a “feeling” but is a visible, physical event, observed by Moses and from which he encounters God.  Moses sees this thing, but then must “hear” the Lord’s voice in the same way in which all others “hear” Him.  It is recorded:  “And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, ‘Moses, Moses.’  And he said, ‘Here am I.’ “ (Exo. 3:4.)

This encounter was not so unequivocal that Moses did not require faith.  This “voice” which he encountered from the “burning bush” was not audible.[10] Moses sensed it, and had to develop the faith then to “hear” it.  His faith was assisted somewhat by the sign he was witnessing.  But there was nothing automatic here.  There was nothing without effort.  It comes to every man, woman and child the same way, and requires effort and faith to understand.  Throughout Moses’ struggles to liberate a captive people, the words often came easy into his mind because of his faith.  That was a result of a growing capacity.  But even then, the signs which followed required great faith on his part as well.  He had to reach out in faith, in the court of Pharaoh, to speak the words given to him, and then trust he heard the Lord and was speaking on His behalf.  This was a difficult, trying ordeal for him.  Over time it resulted in him, Pharaoh, Israel and Egypt all knowing Moses had spoken with and was speaking to mankind for the only living and true God.  But as it was happening with him, Moses exerted effort and faith.

Gideon was another prophet with a unique method for receiving confirmation he could hear the voice of God.  In an unremarkable encounter, Gideon is met by a man whom he does not immediately recognize for his true identity.  The account states:

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord[11], if the Lord[12] be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his amiracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy amight, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” (Judges 6:12-14).  A perfectly ordinary event, non-miraculous in any way, begins the process for Gideon.  He views this conversation in hindsight as something more than what it was at the first.  He finally sees this as an encounter with the Lord.  It is the beginning of the prophet’s call.  This man who spoke to him may have been a friend, neighbor or even Levite whom Gideon respected.  He was referred to by a term of respect, so Gideon must have respected the man.  It is only through hindsight however, the Divine nature of the communication is recognized by Gideon.[13]

You, too, may be able to see in hindsight how advice from someone else was really the “voice” of God to you.  God speaks to individuals sometimes through the voices in General Conference.  His voice is heard in the words of your Patriarchal Blessing.  Sometimes His words come from an inspirational song, or poem, or from literature.  But as you see His “voice” through the eyes of faith, you begin to realize it comes from Him.  The ordinary contains the extraordinary.  You must see the extraordinary in the ordinary before the truly extraordinary opens up to you.[14] You must have faith before you are shown signs.  “But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow them that believe.” (D&C 63:9; emphasis added.)

Gideon through faith has “heard” the voice of God in this ordinary conversation.  As he realizes it is from God, he asks for a sign:  “And he said unto him, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.” (Judges 6:17.)  A sign is given which confirms momentarily, Gideon’s faith that this is a message from God to him.  However, he is being asked to organize an army, and then lead them into battle.  As his faith in this divine commission is budding, Gideon receives another message from God in a dream, that same night.[15]

For this kind of an undertaking, Gideon would like greater certitude from God to give him the confidence to lead an army into battle against a superior host.  He would like to see confirming evidence from the Lord sufficient to make certain this is no mere flight of imagination, and he as the faith to believe God will provide that to him.  In this respect, he has faith like Joseph Smith, as he awaited Moroni’s visit to answer his inquiry about his standing before God.[16] Gideon was certain in his faith the Lord would provide him a confirming sign.  The sign was not to produce faith, but was to confirm already existing faith.

He used the morning dew, and a sheepskin to confirm God’s will for him.  “And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine aanger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me bprove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.” (Judges 6:36-40.)  Perfectly ordinary objects (sheepskin, ground, morning dew), get arranged in a way which allows Gideon to confirm the accuracy of his understanding God’s communication with him.  This is not “emotion” or a “feeling.”  It is drawing God’s communication into the physical world and seeing Him speaking there.

To Elijah, as he watched the unfolding physical signs of wind, earthquake and fire, these signs were not where he found God’s will.[17] These were physical events, observable by anyone who would have been present.  They were not “emotional” or “feeling,” but were outward events.  They were used to confirm the truthfulness of the inner “voice” which spoke to him.  That inner voice, speaking intelligence to the mind, was the voice of God; to him and to you as well.

Nebuchadnezzar[18] heard God speak to Him through a dream.  Likewise, Joseph of Egypt[19] heard God speak many times in dreams containing symbols from which God’s “voice” was “heard.”  Joseph, Christ’s earthly foster-father, was also warned repeatedly through dreams.[20] It is more likely the lack of faith than the absence of communication which accounts for the apparent “silence” of God in most lives.  We just do not believe or trust in Him enough to experience what is available to us all.  The great difference between prophets and others is not in God’s willingness to speak, but in the refusal to listen.  Some listen; and they are prophets.  Others do not; and struggle to believe the prophets.  God, however, has and does speak to us all.

In choosing a replacement Apostle for the deceased and apostate Judas, the method employed by the surviving Apostles was to “cast lots.”  It is written:  “And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all mean, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.  And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:24-26.)  The same method is used here by Apostles as had been used by the Lord’s crucifiers to divide up His clothing, as He was ganging on the cross in the last throes of dying.[21] When we think of the Roman guards using it to divide Christ’s clothing, it becomes less inspired-looking and more homely.  It looks more like expediency than revelation as a tool for choosing an Apostle.  Yet, at the same time, this same process is built into the scriptures for the Church today, and is used in every disciplinary council to assign roles to the High Council.[22] Without regard to feeling, emotion or desire, the lots are drawn and the assignments are made.  These physical objects contain within them the Lord’s mind for organizing a council before whom the hearing takes place.

From Nephi’s casting lots to decide who would go to address Laban,[23] to choosing a scapegoat,[24] to choosing an Apostle, to choosing roles in a disciplinary court, casting of lots has been the way people of faith have determined God’s will for millennia.  Through it God “speaks.”  But it requires faith to see it in that light.  For these are ordinary, even commonplace ways of making a decision.  Only through faith does it acquire the “voice of God” in it.

We are unique, and God’s ways of speaking to each of us is as unique as each of us.  We do ourselves a great disservice when we attempt to fit ourselves into a singular, stereotypical persona seeking only a singular way for God to talk with and to us.  We make ourselves into something we aren’t, in the search to find what cannot be found that way.  If we demand only the extraordinary before we will recognize His voice, we run the risk of looking in the wrong way for Him.  His voice is there.  He speaks to all of us.  But we can miss it if we are not attuned to listen.

You may never be able to hear God speak to you in the way in which others hear Him.  If you determine He must speak to you in a specific way, you can go a lifetime without ever having a conversation with Him.  He longs to speak with each of us.  Within each of us there is something uniquely attuned to Him.  How He reaches out to you may be as singular and unique as you are and you can be assured He is reaching out.  In fact, God is rather noisy, if you will allow Him to be.  We were never intended to live without a direct connection to Him.  Instead, we should hear His voice, and in time discover He is our “friend.”[25]

Christ’s use of the example of a living “vine”[26] or “branch”[27] or description of His Father as a “husbandman”[28] suggests you should have a living connection to God.  A living connection implies you are in contact with Him.  You hear from and listen to Him.  He is a part of you and an active part of your life and growth.  His Holy Spirit should nourish you.

Don’t try to mimic what you think others are.  Don’t make yourself a caricature instead of the unique Child of God, which you truly are.  The viciousness with which we seek to be the same stereotypic “Mormon” is no less offensive nor slavish than the way in which modern fashion-seekers make themselves silly replicas of rock-stars, movie stars, and ‘gangsta’s.”  Wearing gang colors to show you “belong” is very akin to our own efforts to dress alike, talk alike, sound alike, and think alike.  One has to wonder how either can contain any virtue as an end.  We should all feel comfortable being ourselves.  As Brigham Young once remarked:  “There is too much of a sameness among our people.  … I do not like stereotyped Mormons – away with stereotyped Mormons!” (JD 8:185; quoted by Vaughn J. Featherstone in The Incomparable Christ:  Our Master and Model, page 119.)

How each of us receives contact with God, how we hear His voice, and what gifts we possess are unique.  There is no single universal way for one to “hear [His] voice and know that [He] is.” (D&C 50:45.)  And so it is a mistake to ignore your own unique talent of “hearing” your Father in Heaven.  He did not send you here powerless to hear Him.  But it will require you to develop the capacity.  Relying merely upon your “feeling” or “emotions” alone is insufficient; you must learn to hear His voice.  All of the prophets referred to above, from Moses, to Gideon, to Elijah, received contact form God.  They were certain Who it was that spoke to them.  They obtained intelligence, heard His voice, and learned from Him.  None of them relied upon mere “feeling,” but instead “heard” words from Him.  He spoke with them just as He did with Nephi.[29]

There is no permanency to men’s lives, nor to the work of men’s hands.  There are only two things which will endure here with any permanency:  posterity and our words.  Buildings do not endure, as history has proven.  Today there is only one building from the Roman Empire still in use.  The rest are gone, except a few remaining relics which are in ruins.  But the words of Cato, Cicero, Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, Livy, Sallust, Virgil, Caesar, Terrance, Polybius, Suetonius, and Seneca, to name only a few, endure.  Even more importantly, the words of Paul, Origen, Tertullian, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and the other ante-Nicean fathers are timely even today.  These writers’ words dealt with the struggle to maintain the truth delivered to the Saints through Christ and His Apostles.  So important do these words remain even now that the recent work of Barry Robert Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church, Joseph Smith and Early Christianity, (Ben Lomond:  Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research; 1999), continues the repeated study of their works.  Words endure; buildings, even temples, do not.  The closer the words are to the will of God, the more likely they are to endure.  Revelations are the most enduring of all.  But all expressions of faith and hope endure long beyond words of opposition, faithlessness and anger.  For the most part, the great critics of Christianity have been preserved only through the words of the apologists who oppose them.  History settles into patterns which repeat themselves, and so we should expect the critics of the Lord’s great latter-day work will also fade into neglect, as the works of faith and hope endure.

Get yourself in harmony with God, call upon Him and record His voice to you and you will leave something eternal behind for your posterity.  The record of your own testimony, and your posterity, will alone endure.  It is one of the reasons for the inspired instruction to us through the Latter-day Prophets to ‘keep a journal’ of our lives.  After all, “angels may quote from” your journal.[30]

We need to forget conforming to an imaginary pattern, and allow the unique gifts each of us have been given to mature.  Becoming “one” does not require us to become the “same.”  There is a great difference between the “oneness” God asks us to acquire, on the one hand, and uniformity on the other.

That having been said, there is nothing wrong with the development of a separate style, as the Saints have done.  This style is intended to distinguish us form the world.  It serves that purpose, and it reminds us we ought to behave differently than the world.  However, accepting such style is not the end in itself.  It does not confer any superiority upon us.  Its only function is to remind us we are different form the world.  But to receive revelation and “hear” God’s voice is a different challenge.  That challenge is not met through slavish conformity to what you think someone else thinks you should be.  Find out what God wants you to be.  Be that.  It is “one of a kind.”  It will make you free.[31]


[1] This Latin phrase is common among lawyers.  It means the “single best proof” of something.

[2] If converts have any advantage, it is here.  The process of converting requires some contact with the Spirit, and after baptism the conferral of the Holy Ghost is a distinct experience, usually gained in adulthood.  The contrast this brings allows any convert to know, with clarity, they have encountered the Spirit.  It is therefore easier to use this to build upon.

[3] See, e.g., Matthew B. Brown, Receiving the Gifts of the Spirit, (Covenant Communications, Inc., American Fork; 2005); as just one recent example.

[4] D&C 46:8: “Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given.”

[5] Moses 6:63: “all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, … all things bear record of me.”  The unique identity of everything in nature testifies to our own unique lives.

[6] See, e.g., Jacob 2:11; Alma 43:24; Ether 13:20; Gen. 15:4; 1 Sam. 15:10; 2 Sam. 24:11; and Jer. 1:11, among many others.

[7] “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon.” (TPJS, p. 151).

[8] D&C 63:9: “But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.” (Emphasis added.)

[9] Exodus 3:1-5:  “Now Moses kept the flock of aJethro his father in law, the bpriest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the cmountain of God, even to dHoreb.   And the aangel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of bfire out of the midst of a cbush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.  And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God acalled unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy ashoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is bholy ground.”

[10] “Hearing” God’s voice is not just automatic or easy.  Even when He is speaking directly to an audience, they must first attune their ears, through faith, before they know it is He and what He is speaking.  We see this in 3 Ne. 11:3-5: “And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a avoice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a bsmall voice it did cpierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn. And it came to pass that again they heard the voice, and they aunderstood it not. And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did aopen their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.”

[11] The word here denotes a respectful address for a man, not God.

[12] The word here denotes God.

[13] Margaret Barker’s work The Great High Priest (T&T Clark; London, New York; 2003) gives a scholar’s view of how mere humans became “angels” as they communicated God’s words to men.  One passage is quoted here:  “The belief that human beings, as a result of their mystical vision, were transformed into angels, was neither new nor the teaching of an unrepresented minority.  … The Gnostic believer changes from unbelief to faith, then from faith to knowledge and love, and then ‘such an one has already attained the condition of being equal to the angels.” (Id., p. 6.)  The theme of ancient Israel accepting men as angels appears throughout her book.

[14] This was the subject of my earlier work, The Second Comforter.

[15] Judges 6:25:  “And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him …”

[16] JS-H 1:29: “In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to aprayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full bconfidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.”

[17] 1 Kings 19:11-14:  “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a astill small bvoice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very ajealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am bleft; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

[18] See Daniel, Chapter 2.

[19] See Genesis, Chapter 41.

[20] See Matthew, Chapter 2.

[21] Matt. 27:33-36:  “And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of aa skull, They gave him avinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they acrucified him, and bparted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my cgarments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there;

[22] See D&C 102:12-17:  “Whenever a high council of the church of Christ is regularly organized, according to the foregoing pattern, it shall be the duty of the twelve councilors to cast lots by numbers, and thereby ascertain who of the twelve shall speak first, commencing with number one and so in succession to number twelve. Whenever this council convenes to act upon any case, the twelve councilors shall consider whether it is a difficult one or not; if it is not, two only of the councilors shall speak upon it, according to the form above written. But if it is thought to be difficult, four shall be appointed; and if more difficult, six; but in no case shall more than six be appointed to speak. The accused, in all cases, has a right to one-half of the council, to prevent insult or ainjustice.  And the councilors appointed to speak before the council are to present the case, after the evidence is examined, in its true light before the council; and every man is to speak according to equity and ajustice. Those councilors who adraw even numbers, that is, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12, are the individuals who are to stand up in behalf of the accused, and prevent insult and binjustice.”

[23] 1 Nephi 3:11.

[24] Leviticus 16:8: “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.”

[25] See, e.g., D&C 84:77:  “And again I say unto you, my friends, for from henceforth I shall call you friends,” among other places.

[26] John 15:4-5:  “aAbide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the avine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without bme ye can do nothing.”

[27] Id., see also John 15:6: “If a man aabide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”

[28] John 15:1: “I am the true avine, and my Father is the husbandman.”

[29] Three chapters were devoted to discussing Nephi’s progression in communicating with God in my earlier work, The Second Comforter.  Here we only make reference to it.

[30] Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball, p. 351:  “Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity.  Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies.  Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events.”

[31] John 8:36:  “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”


In researching this topic, I felt that the best way to continue the discussion on “small miracles” was to share a lengthy essay/article Hugh Nibley wrote some years ago, which can be found in Since Cumorah.  That being said, it is a very interesting topic and one which very much relates to this topic of small miracles.  Regardless of your thoughts, it opens the world to our view and peels back our eyelids a little to ponder just exactly how God works.

Without further ado, here it is:

===========================

The Liahona. 51

We have in the Book of Mormon a most interesting apparatus called the Liahona. Now the chances of finding a genuine Liahona are, to say the least, remote; but what if something just like it showed up in the hands of Lehi’s relatives? That should certainly come as a surprise, and even provoke some thought. The Liahona has given rise to endless merriment and mockery among critics of the Book of Mormon only the shining stones of the Jaredites can equal it as a laugh-getter. Even the present writer, for all his curiosity about Book of Mormon oddities, has always passed it by in an abashed silence—it was like nothing he ever heard or read of—until the year 1959. For it was in that year that an Arabic scholar by the name of T. Fahd published the hitherto scattered, scanty, and inaccessible evidence that makes it possible for the first time to say something significant about the Liahona. But before we consider his report, let us see what the Book of Mormon has to say on the subject. This is what the first edition tells about the Liahona:

251“And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment, he beheld upon the ground a round ball, of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness” (p. 39, 1 Nephi 16:10).

252“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith, and diligence, and heed, which we did give unto them. And there was also written upon them, a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it: And thus we see, that by small means, the Lord can bring about great things.

252 “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the directions which were given upon the ball. And it came to pass that I did slay wild beasts, insomuch, that I did obtain food for our families” (pp. 40-41, 1 Nephi 16:28-31).

252“And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning . . . the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord, that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him. Therefore, as they were unfaithful, they did not prosper nor progress in their journey” (p. 155, Mosiah 1:16-17).

252“And now my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director; or our fathers called it liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it. And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to shew unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness; and it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day; nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means, nevertheless it did shew unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence, and then those marvellous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey; therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions.

253 “And now my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass, (now these things were temporal,) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual. For behold, 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, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. And now I say, Is there not a type in this thing? . . .

253 “O my son, do not let us be slothful, because of the easiness of the way; for so it was with our fathers; for so it was 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” (pp. 329-30, Alma 37:38-46).

253“And it came to pass that after they had bound me, insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work; wherefore, they knew not whither they should steer the ship. . . . And it came to pass that after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it” (pp. 48-49, 1 Nephi 18:12-13, 21).

253 Listing the salient features of the report we get the following:

253 1. The Liahona was a gift of God, the manner of its delivery causing great astonishment.

253 2. It was neither mechanical nor self-operating, but worked solely by the power of God.

254 3. It functioned only in response to the faith, diligence, and heed of those who followed it.

254 4. And yet there was something ordinary and familiar about it. The thing itself was the “small means” through which God worked; it was not a mysterious or untouchable object but strictly a “temporal thing.” It was so ordinary that the constant tendency of Lehi’s people was to take it for granted—in fact, they spent most of their time ignoring it: hence, according to Alma their needless, years-long wanderings in the desert.

254 5. The working parts of the device were two spindles or pointers.

254 6. On these a special writing would appear from time to time, clarifying and amplifying the message of the pointers.

254 7. The specific purpose of the traversing indicators was “to point the way they should go.”

254 8. The two pointers were mounted in a brass or bronze sphere whose marvelous workmanship excited great wonder and admiration. Special instructions sometimes appeared on this ball.

254 9. The device was referred to descriptively as a ball, functionally as a director, and in both senses as a “compass,” or Liahona.

254 10. On occasion, it saved Lehi’s people from perishing by land and sea—”if they would look they might live” (Alma 37:46).

254 11. It was preserved “for a wise purpose” (Alma 37:2, 14, 18) long after it had ceased to function, having been prepared specifically to guide Lehi’s party to the promised land. It was a “type and shadow” of man’s relationship to God during his earthly journey.

254 We should not pass by Alma’s description without noting a most remarkable peculiarity of verses 40 and 41 (chap. 37). Let us read these verses without punctuation, as the ancients did; and as the Book of Mormon manuscript is written:

255 “Therefore they had this miracle and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God day by day nevertheless because those miracles were worked by small means nevertheless it did shew unto them marvellous works they were slothful and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvellous works ceased.”

255 The meaning is perfectly clear: though Lehi’s people enjoyed daily demonstrations of God’s power, the device by which that power operated seemed so ordinary (Alma included it among “small and simple things . . . very small means” Alma 37:6-7) that in spite of the “marvellous works” it showed them they tended to neglect it. We could punctuate the passage accordingly:

255 “Therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles, wrought by the power of God day by day. Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means (albeit it did show unto them marvellous works), they were slothful and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence.”

255 A comparison of various editions of the Book of Mormon will show that others have tried their hand at punctuating these phrases. 52

255 But it is time to turn to Mr. Fahd’s study of belomancy in the ancient Near East. Belomancy is the practice of divination by shooting, tossing, shaking, or otherwise manipulating rods, darts, pointers, or other sticks, all originally derived from arrows. Over ten years ago the present writer made a fairly exhaustive study of ancient arrow-divination, and some years later presented in the pages of the Era a long discourse on the ritual use of sticks and rods, especially in ancient Israel. 53 Yet it was not until he saw Fahd’s study, the first full-length treatment of old Semitic arrow-divination, that it dawned upon him that these old practices might have some connection with the Liahona. For the most common use of divination arrows, and probably their original purpose, was, according to the forgotten evidence unearthed by the diligent Fahd, the direction of travelers in the desert.

256Fahd begins by pointing out that the “arrows” used in divination, called qidh or zalam, were devoid of heads and feathers, being mere shafts or pointers. 54 Since Lane has given a fuller description of these objects from the sources, we can do no better than quote his quotations:

256“Zalam, plural azlam [divining—] arrows by means of which the Arabs in the Time of Ignorance [i.e, before Islam] sought to know what was allotted to them: they were arrows upon which the Arabs in the Time of Ignorance wrote ‘Command’ and ‘Prohibition’; or upon some of which was written ‘My Lord hath commanded me’; and upon some, ‘My Lord hath forbidden me’; or they were three arrows; upon one of which was written ‘My Lord hath commanded me’; [etc.] . . . and the third was blank; and they put them in a receptacle, and took forth an arrow; and if the arrow upon which was ‘Command’ came forth, he went to accomplish the purpose; but if that upon which was ‘Prohibition’ came forth, he refrained; and if the blank came forth, they shuffled them a second time. . . . The azlam [were arrows that] belonged to Kureysh, in the Time of Ignorance, upon which were written ‘He hath commanded,’ and ‘He hath forbidden,’ and ‘Do thou’ and ‘Do thou not’; they had been well shaped and made even, and placed in the Kaabeh [the holy shrine of Meccah] . . . and when a man desired to go on a journey, or to marry, he came to the minister, and said, ‘Take thou forth for me a zalam‘; and thereupon he would take it forth and look at it. . . . There were seven of the arrows thus called with the minister of the Kaabeh, having marks upon them, and used for this purpose: and sometimes there were with the man two such arrows, which he put into his sword-case; and when he desired to seek the knowledge of what was allotted to him, he took forth one of them.” 55

257But why arrows? Because, as we have shown elsewhere, the shooting of arrows is a universal form of divination, “as is evident in the prayers that the legendary heroes of the steppe—Finnish, Norse, Russian, Kazakh, Turkish, and Yakut—address to their three enchanted arrows before releasing them, and for instance, in the arrow-prayers of the Indian and Beduin, all eloquently expressing the humility of men about to entrust their lives and their fate to a power beyond their control.” 56 The consultation of the arrows by one about to marry was, according to Gaster, also an old Jewish custom; the parties concerned would throw rods into the air, “reading their message by the manner of their fall; this, Gaster observes, is ‘tantamount’ to the shooting of arrows.” 57 Other substitutes for shooting were shaking or drawing from a bag or quiver, “balancing on the finger, or spinning on a pivot.” 58

257 In the New World “the antetype . . . possibly of all the Indian dice games” is one in which the “arrows or darts are tossed . . . or shot . . . at an arrow tossed or shot to the ground so that they fall one across the other.” More often than not, the arrows in question were mere sticks or pointers. 59 In Arabic, sahamahu means both to shoot arrows with another and to draw lots or practice sortilege with one. There was no more popular form of divination among the magic-minded Babylonians than arrow-lottery, and Meissner suggest that “casting lots” in Babylonian (salú sha puni) refers to an original shaking or shooting of arrows. 60

257 All this shaking, tossing, and shooting emphasizes the divinatory office of arrows as pointers, 61 but along with that they also conveyed their message, as the passages from Lane demonstrate, by the writing that was upon them. Fahd notes that “on the arrows words were inscribed determining the object of the cleromantic consultation.” 62 Whenever divination arrows are described, they are invariably found to have writing on them, like the Zuni “word-painted arrows of destiny.” 63 The Arabic proverb for “Know thyself!” is absir wasma qidhika, literally, “Examine the mark on thy divination-arrow!” 64 It has even been maintained that writing originated with the marking of arrows, 65 but whether this be so or not, it is certain that men from the earliest times have sought guidance by consulting the pointings and the inscriptions of headless and tailless arrows.

258 The word for “divination-arrow” in the above proverb was qidh, defined in Lane as one of the “two arrows used in sortilege.” The original and natural number of arrows used in divination seems to have been two. Even when the “magic three” were used, the third was a dud, the manih, which is a blank “to which no lot is assigned.”

258 66 It is the other two that do the work. On the same day on which the king of Persia shook out the divining-sticks (the baresma), the Jews would draw three boxwood lots to choose the scapegoat; but the Talmud says there were only two lots and they were of boxwood or gold. 67

258 The reason for the two basic staves is apparent from their normal designation as “Command” and “Prohibition.” To this the priests at some shrines added a third arrow called the “Expectative”—”Wait and see!” 68 But the original arrangement was that two arrows designated the advisability or inadvisability of a journey; they were designated as “the safr [Go ahead!] and the khadr [Stay where you are!]” 69 From passages in Lane it is clear that the regular consultants of the arrows were those faced with travel-problems—all others are secondary. The patron of the caravans of the Hejaz from time immemorial was the archer-god Abgal, “the lord of omens,” in his capacity of the master of the arrows of divination. 70 The inscriptions on the arrows themselves give top priority to travel: typical examples from the various systems, which employ from two all the way to ten arrows, are “Go slow!” (bata’), “Speed Up!” (sari;kc), “Water!” “Stay where you are!” “Get moving!” “You are in the clear,” etc. 71

259 It would be an obtuse reader indeed who needed one to spell out for him the resemblance between ancient arrow-divination and the Liahona: two “spindles or pointers” bearing written instructions provide superhuman guidance for travelers in the desert. What more could you want? But what is the relationship between them? On this the Book of Mormon is remarkably specific. Both Nephi and Alma go out of their way to insist that the Liahona did not work itself, i.e., was not a magic thing, but worked only by the power of God and only for appointed persons who had faith in that power.

259 Moreover, while both men marvel at the wonderful workmanship of the brass ball in which the pointers were mounted, they refer to the operation of those pointers as “a very small thing,” so familiar to Lehi’s people that they hardly gave it a second glance. So contemptuous were they of the “small means” by which “those miracles were worked” for their guidance and preservation that they constantly “forgot to exercise their faith,” so that the compass would work. This suggests that aside from the workmanship of the mounting, there was nothing particularly strange or mystifying about the apparatus, which Alma specifies as a “temporal” thing.

259 Here we have an instructive parallel in the ship and the bow that Nephi made. Without divine intervention those indispensable aids to survival would never have come to the rescue of Lehi’s company—their possession was a miracle. Yet what were they after all? An ordinary ship and an ordinary bow. Just so, the Liahona was “a very small thing” for all its marvelous provenience, having much the same relationship to other directing arrows that the ship and the bow did to other ships and bows. We must not forget that the ancients looked upon even ordinary azlam as a means of communication with the divine: “In view of the importance of religious sentiment in every aspect of the activity of the ancient Arab and of the Semite in general,” writes Fahd, “I do not believe that one can separate these practices [i.e., of arrow-divination] from their character as a consultation of divinity. . . . They always believed, however vaguely, in a direct and constant intervention in human affairs.” 72

260 Like the wonderful staff of Moses in Jewish history, these things suggest remote times and occasions when, according to popular belief, God communicates more directly with men than he does now. Tha’labi knows of a Hebrew tradition that Moses led the children of Israel through the wilderness with the aid of a double arrow mounted on the end of his staff. 73 Such a device seems to be represented as a very ancient cult object in Egypt, going back to the earliest migrations. 74 This is certainly implied in the status of the ritual arrows or marked sticks among the American Indians, regarding which Culin writes: “Behind both ceremonies and games there existed some widespread myth from which both derived their impulse,” though what this mysterious tradition is he does not know. 75 Consistent with their holiness, “the consulting of the mantic arrows,” according to one Ibn Ishaq, “seems to have been reserved to questions of general public concern and to solemn occasions of life” and death. 76 Which again reminds us of the Liahona, “that if they would look, they might live” (Alma 37:46).

260 Was the Liahona, then, just old magic? No, it is precisely here that Nephi and Alma are most emphatic—unlike magic things, these pointers worked solely by the power of God, and then, too, for only those designated to use them. Anybody about to make a journey could consult the mantic arrows at the shrines, and to this day throughout the world mantic arrows are still being consulted. But it is clear from Alma’s words that in his day the Liahona had been out of operation for centuries, having functioned only for a true man of God and only for one special journey.

261 Another man of God, Lehi’s great contemporary, Ezekiel showed a remarkable interest in divinatory sticks and rods, as we have pointed out elsewhere, and he describes how the fate of certain wicked cities is sealed as God “shakes out the arrows,” each one being marked with the name of a condemned city. 77

261 Where, then, does one draw the line between the sacred and the profane? Religion becomes magic when the power by which things operate is transferred from God to the things themselves. As Fahd notes, the Arabs were extremely vague about the powers with which they dealt, as “primitive” people are everywhere. When men lack revelation they commonly come to think of power as residing in things. Did the staff of Moses make water come from the rock or cause the Red Sea to part? Of course not; yet in time the miraculous powers which were displayed through its agency came to be attributed by men to the staff itself. It became a magic thing, like Solomon’s seal, which possessed in itself the wonder-working powers which gave Solomon his ascendancy over men and beasts.

261 In time the Bible became a magic book in men’s eyes, conveying all knowledge by its own power, without the aid of revelation. So also after a fierce controversy on the matter, priesthood itself acquired the status of a thing that automatically bestows power and grace, regardless of the spiritual or moral qualifications of its possessor—it became a magic thing. Strangest of all, science has consistently supplanted religion by magic when dealing with final causes. When Sir Charles Sherrington, for example, after describing the incredibly complex and perfect workings of the body, insists that it is the cells themselves that agree to cooperate in following an indescribably complex plan of development, he is simply appealing to the old doctrine of the magicians, that things in themselves possess wondrous powers of performance: “It is as if an immanent principle inspired each cell with knowledge for the carrying out of a design.” 78

262Hunters and medicine men throughout the world who use arrows to bring them luck pray to their arrows, blow on them, and talk to them, as gamblers do to dice and cards—for at an early date “the use of the divination arrows drifted down into the vulgarisation of gaming cards,” i.e., the practice quickly degenerated to magic. 79 That is why it is so important to understand, and why the Book of Mormon is at such pains to make perfectly clear, that the Liahona was not magic. It did not work itself, like other divination arrows, in any sense or to any degree.

262 And yet it seems to have been an ordinary and familiar object, a “temporal thing,” which could also serve as “a type and a shadow,” teaching us how God uses “small things” to bring about great purposes. Here we have an implement which, far from being the invention of a brainsick imagination, was not without its ancient counterparts.

262 If we were to stop here, this would probably be the only article ever written about the Liahona that did not attempt to explain the meaning of the name. Fortunately the Book of Mormon has already given us the answer: “Our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass” (Alma 37:38). Liahona is here clearly designated as an Old World word from the forgotten language of the fathers, which must be interpreted to present readers. But what is a compass? According to the Oxford Dictionary, the derivation of the word remains a mystery; it has two basic meanings, but which has priority nobody knows: the one is “to pass or step together,” referring always to a pair of things in motion; the other refers to the nature of that motion in a circle, “to pass or step completely,” to complete a “circumference, circle, round,” to embrace or enclose completely. Thus whether it refers to the ball or the arrows, “compass” is the best possible word to describe the device, though generations of Book of Mormon critics have laughed their heads off at the occurrence of the modern word in what purports to be an ancient book.