I am enrolled in a wonderful Adult Ed class in the stake center adjacent the Seattle temple. Each Monday I attend this marvelous class and drink in the scriptural knowledge offered by Str. Cherry. I share this with my readers this Christmas week as my gift. Please read and enjoy.
December 2, 2013
By Lynda Cherry, instructor
There is a pattern repeated throughout scripture that is valuable when considering our own lives and experiences. It is this: that often, when the Lord calls and separates an individual or a people unto Himself, He removes them from their current environment and sends them into the wilderness, where through their extremities, they learn to rely upon Him and come to understand what a covenant relationship with the Lord really is. It is only after their trials and resultant life-lessons that they are enabled to enter into their respective promised lands. While this experience is true for all who leave the Premortal presence of our Heavenly Father to enter into mortality, it is also true within the mortal experience itself, a “play within the play” that reinforces the message.
We can see the repetition of the pattern of being sent into the wilderness, where one comes to know God, enters into or strengthens covenants, and then makes their way to a promised land in the following examples:
Joseph in Egypt Lehi’s People Pioneer Experiences
Moses/Children of Israel Scattered Israel Alma’s People
“The Church” [Christian] Jaredites Abraham and Sarah
Most of us have, or will, experience wilderness periods in our lives, even if we don’t physically leave the place of our abode. There are times when we feel lost and confused; removed from the comfort of knowing with certainty where we are and where we are going. Events may change the course we had planned; loved ones may die or leave us. We may wonder if God is still aware of us; does He know what is happening to us, and can this empty desert of the heart really be a part of His plan? How can we find understanding or peace when we have planted good seed, but have reaped emptiness and sorrow? Aren’t we promised that if we are obedient and righteous that we will prosper?
Doesn’t prosperity mean that we will walk in a land flowing with milk and honey? If, instead, we are experiencing hardship and grief, does it mean that we have failed, or that we are in some way being chastised or punished?
Nephi tried urgently to teach his people that they were not “cast off” as they found themselves cut off from all that they had known and found comfortable. This is a truth that we should also remember despite our feelings of loss and despair when we likewise wander through our own individual wildernesses (2 Ne. 10:20-22).
Rather, the Lord has prepared a wilderness precisely so that we can come to know Him! This truth is illustrated by the story in the book of Revelation of the “woman clothed with the sun” against whom Satan, the “great dragon” made war. The revelation records that “the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there . . . [and] where she is nourished” (see JST Rev. 12:5,14, italics added).
Father Abraham was called to leave Ur and Haran, and spent most of his life dwelling in the wilderness, where by his obedience, he earned the title of “the friend of God” (James 2:23). The book of Hebrews tells us that Abraham and his wife, Sarah, “sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God . . . These died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb 11:8-13).
The “Promised Land” did not then have cities and temples, and was in fact a wilderness, but Abraham and Sarah embraced the promises of the future as if they had already received them. No wonder Abraham is called the “Father of the Faithful” (D&C 138:41), and the Lord instructs us to look to Abraham and Sarah as our examples of covenant-making and covenant-keeping (Isa. 51:2). Rather than feeling cheated over the fact that they were not living in Melchizedek’s Salem, or agonizing over the fact that they did not see the multitudes promised to them as posterity, they flourished in the wilderness, and became rich in spiritual understanding and commitment.
Initially, we may view our times in the wilderness as times of bleakness, for invariably, they represent a departure from the path we thought we wanted to travel, but scripturally, they are times of spiritual learning and preparation. Yes, the wilderness is often a place of sorrow and pain, but the Lord promises us that through these “furnaces of affliction” we become “refined and chosen” (1 Ne. 20:10; Isa. 48:10).
The Children of Israel accused Moses of having brought them into the wilderness to kill them (Ex.16:3), but Moses urged them to remember that the Lord had nourished them and provided for them in miraculous ways (Deut 2:7). Moses also gave the reason for the wilderness experience: “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deut 8:2).
It is the wilderness experiences that reveal who we really are; most of Moses’ people died in unbelief, but some of them experienced great revelatory experiences. Not only did they come to understand who they were, and what it meant to be of the family of Israel, but they also were able to see the Lord and enter into covenant with Him (Ex. 24:9-10). This
is the great wilderness test: which way will we respond when we encounter our own wilderness trial?
The Book of Mormon introduces us immediately to the wilderness principle. Lehi’s vision begins in the wilderness, which was “dark and dreary” (1 Ne. 8:2). Immediately, an angel-messenger appears before Lehi, and bids him to follow him. After many hours in the darkness, Lehi began to pray that the Lord would have mercy on him, and as soon as he does so, he sees the beautiful tree of life that represents the love of God and the Atonement of the Savior (1 Ne. 8:5-12). This account of the wilderness and its purpose in our life is typical of the Book of Mormon method of teaching us truth directly and with great clarity. Our personal wilderness experiences are an invitation to come to know the Lord; do we wait “many hours” before we pray for His mercy, or do we seek for the rays of light that will direct us to partake of the Atonement, and the mercy that will lighten our burden? . . . Or, do we stumble and fall, and cry out against the dark wasteland in which we find ourselves?
To those who seek it, spiritual relief and nourishment can be found in the wilderness. Once we stop looking back at what we have left behind, or what we perceive as having been taken from us, we, like the Children of Israel, can begin to see the tender mercies and the miracles that await us. The Children of Israel were led by the Lord’s presence, and he provided manna from heaven for their sustenance. Later, Jesus identified Himself as the “Bread of Life” or the fulfilment of the promise that the manna represented (John 6). He also called Himself “the Living Water” (John 4,7), again reminding His people of the miraculous water that sustained them during their wilderness journeys (see Isa. 43:20).
Just as in Lehi’s dream of the fruit of the tree of life, Jesus is the Giver of the nourishment, and He is also the nourishment itself.
When we surrender our hearts to the Savior, the wilderness can become a veritable temple, a mount of revelation, not dissimilar from the Garden of Eden or the temple prison of Liberty Jail. In the wilderness quiet, we can hear the voice of the Lord. No wonder Alma encourages us to “pour out [our] souls . . . in the wilderness” (Alma 34:26), and Isaiah exclaims: “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (Isa. 51:3).
Wilderness experiences can be sacred and tender, as in the case of the angel providing food and comfort to Elijah in the wilderness after his contest with the priests of Baal (1 Kings 19:4-7). The voice of the Lord spoke to and directed the Jaredites in the wilderness (Ether 2:5), and Christ revealed himself to the brother of Jared there (Ether 3:19). The sons of Mosiah fasted and prayed in the wilderness in preparation for their mission to the Lamanites (Alma 17:9) and John the Baptist prepared himself and others for the coming of the Messiah in the wilderness. Even the Savior, Himself, was “driven by the Spirit into the wilderness” to prepare for His mission (Mark 1:12), and withdrew to pray there throughout His life (Luke 5:16).
As an essential part of our wilderness sojourns, we can be reborn as new creatures in Christ, as we partake of the Atonement with new understanding, and honor and cling to our covenants made with whole-hearted dedication. Alma’s people exemplify this principle, as they flee to the wilderness and establish the Church of God (Mosiah 18). The Lamanites also establish the truth of the principle as they are converted unto Christ and His Church in the wilderness (Alma 25:6).
The principle of wilderness-teaching is even repeated in the latter-day gathering of Israel, as proclaimed by the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel: “And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord God. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (Ezek. 20:34-37).
Note the similar emphasis on entering into a covenant relationship in this touchingly intimate portrayal of the wilderness experience for re-gathered Israel as recorded by Hosea: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope, and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth . . . and I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the Lord” (Hosea 2:14-15,19-20).
Latter-day scripture continues the pattern. Modern revelation explains that the Lord is still calling to us from the wilderness, with the promise that if we join Him there, we can come to know Him and enter into covenant with Him:
“Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness – in the wilderness, because you cannot see him – my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound. And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will” (D&C 88:66-68).
According to modern-day revelation, once the “woman clothed with the sun” (who is the Church of God, Rev. 12:7) is properly sheltered, nourished and prepared during her wilderness sojourn, she is called forth in glory (D&C 33:5). Joseph Smith remembered this prophecy and prayed for its fulfillment during the Kirtland Temple dedication: “Remember all thy church, O Lord . . . That thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (D&C 109:72-73).
We are not lost when we find ourselves in the wilderness of life; the eye of the Shepherd is upon us. Nephi echoed Isaiah’s prophecy of reassurance to those who felt that they were hidden from the Lord in a wasteland far from His habitation: “But, behold, Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me – but he will show that he hath not. For, can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me” (1 Nephi 21:14-16; Isaiah 49). We, as did the pioneers of the early Church, may become “acquainted with the Lord through our extremities” even as He has known us through His (see the Refiner’s Fire, James E Faust, April 1979 Conference).
The wilderness days will come, they always do to those who wish to enter into the promised land. Before we may do so, we must come to know the Lord for ourselves, and enter into covenant with Him. May we remember the promise of the Lord, as revealed by Nephi when we next encounter a wilderness before us: “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led” (1 Ne. 17:3, emphasis added).