Friday, July 16, 2010
3 Nephi 21: 10-11
"But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant."
This statement has caused endless conjecture. Who is the "servant?" Was this Joseph Smith? Wasn't it Joseph who was "given power to bring forth the words to the gentiles?" If Joseph was this "servant," then what does it mean he will be "marred," but the Lord will "heal him?" Is he coming back? Will Joseph be resurrected? Will he be born again?
Although Christ is speaking, this raises a matter worth addressing in connection with the statement. Therefore we'll take a bit of a detour and address it. First, the purpose of prophecy is not always to make a matter clear before it happens. Prophecy may not have a clear meaning before an event happens, but once it has happened it becomes apparent that the event was foretold. This keeps the prophecy from controlling the event, but allows those who have faith to see the Lord's hand in operation. Therefore, having some difficulty in attaching specific meaning to the prophecy is exactly in keeping with prophecy's traditional way of communicating an event.
Second, the words of prophecy are not always established in the same way. In fact, there are a variety of ways in which the language is fixed. Below are descriptions of the various ways the language of a prophecy comes about:
The Lord may give, announce or dictate the language and the prophet takes it down word for word. If this is the case, then the one who receives the language may not understand their meaning, even though they received the message. (In this case it is Christ who is speaking. We assume He would know fully the word's meaning. However, Christ has explained that His Father knows things that have been withheld from Him. See, e.g., Mark 13: 32. So, you cannot rule out that even in this case the language was given and the meaning withheld.)
Sometimes it is not the language or the words that are given to the prophet, but a vision is shown or opened and then the prophet is left to craft a description. In such cases the words are the prophet's, but the underlying meaning is the Lord's.
Sometimes a vision may be shown or opened, but when the prophet takes to write the description, the language is prescribed, or limited by inspiration. In this instance, the prophet's understanding may be greater than the words used, and the language will be designed to accomplish the Lord's purposes rather than to make what the prophet understands clear to the recipient.
With respect to when one or another form of language is in scripture, we may not always be able to tell. Section 76 is one example we know how the language came to us. There was a vision, opened to both Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon, and as the vision proceeded Joseph would dictate the words given to him by the Lord to describe what he and Sydney beheld. The words were the Lord's.The vision was greater or included more understanding for Joseph and Sydney than the words of the revelation. Hence Joseph's comment: "I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them." (TPJS p. 304.)
It is not important to fully understand the statement of Christ in this prophecy until AFTER it is fulfilled. Before it is fulfilled the following questions are interesting to contemplate as you think about its meaning:
Is the "servant" who will be "marred" and then "healed" a single individual, or a people with whom the Lord is working? If a people rather than an individual, then who is this servant?
If the ones who will cause the servant to be "marred" are plural, who are they? Are they a group, or groups? If groups, which are they? What is their affiliation with the "great and abominable church?"
What does it mean that the "servant" will not be "hurt" but will be "marred?" How can one be "marred" without being "hurt?"
Is the "servant" in verse 10 the same as the "him" in verse 11? Have the subjects changed? That is, can verse 10 be speaking about a people, but verse 11 be addressing a person whose work it was (or is) to bring forth Christ's words? If an individual, is Joseph Smith the only one who can qualify? Can others also bring forth words of Christ to the gentiles, and the gentiles given an opportunity to accept or reject the words at their peril?
If they risk being cut off by rejecting the words, then can more than Joseph Smith be qualified to be "(even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant." That is, when the latter-day prophets are sounding alarms and warning, is the message from Christ--no matter who speaks it-- something, if rejected, will cause people to be cut off from the covenant?
How does one cut themselves off from the covenant? If you will not listen to Christ's words, do you thereby cut yourself off by not listening? Would that be true if Joseph Smith is a prophet and you reject him? Would that be true if Brigham Young were a prophet and you rejected him? What about an angel sent to you? What about someone like Abinadi, or John the Baptist, or some other unexpected messenger? Would the same be true anytime someone decided to reject a message authorized or sent from the Lord?
Now go back and re-read verses 10 and 11 with these questions in mind and see if you get a different meaning from them.