Ok. Many of you have written or called us and asked why the podcast is so late this week. We’ll talk about that in just a minute.
We’ve been studying the Old Testament all year and now we are coming upon prophets that we know little about. These three prophets: Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, likely contemporaries with our friend Lehi, may be deemed by some as only prophets of doom, but, as the Lord always does, before there is imminent destruction of a people who have rejected His commandments, He sends His servants the prophets to warn them and invite them to come to the only One Who can keep them safe: Jesus Christ Himself. Let’s look together today at the Lord’s everlasting ways and explore some thoughts about justice and mercy.
Welcome dear friends to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me Podcast. We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and we are delighted to be with you again this week. We love studying with you and thinking about you in your homes and out walking and driving in your cars—you have become very dear to us. Before we begin, I have to remind you about Scot’s Come Follow Me New Testament Calendar for 2023. He has been doing these beautiful calendars each year for four years now and this one is my favorite. It is just so rich with stunning images of the Holy Land and a series of Christ-centered messages—I know you’ll love it. These calendars make great gifts for anyone, even your friends of other faiths. Come and see them and order them, while supplies last at Latterdaysaintmag.com/2023. That’s latterdaysaintmag.com/2023.
Now, a quick note on why the podcast is late—and it’s very personal. We’ll be quick. We returned from Israel 21 days ago. That very next day, Maurine got a severe sinus infection and a touch of bronchitis. We’ve seen that before so we just dealt with it. But then 18 days ago, Maurine has a severe pain in her head, in the left side and in her left eye. She never gets headaches so this was a great concern. The pain level started at a 10 and did not let up for 9 days in a row. We went to the emergency room, did all the routine, did scans on her brain, looked at the symptoms and nobody could figure it out. We went through four levels of pain management and nothing touched the pain—even morphine. So, they sent us home and told us to talk to our primary care doctor. No change in the pain. That was a Saturday night.
That next Monday night, at 10:35, I looked at Maurine’s face and she had broken out in a rash in a perfect line (like the mask of the Phantom of the Opera) and all over her left eye. She had shingles.
Scot had graciously picked up my sinus infection and that had now moved into his chest. We were quite the duo. But our doctor, that very night, changed all our meds to the correct treatment of what I needed and that began really going after the problem. Yes, we had both had the shingles vaccines. I just happened to fall into the 3% group that get the virus anyway. With all the babies I have given birth to and with my shattered arm from my bike accident, I have never experienced this kind of pain. It was a level 10 for those first 9 days and it never relented. I could not talk coherently. I could not see. My balance was lost. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t even watch Hallmark Christmas movies. In those early days, I felt a little whiff of self-pity start to enter my soul, but I stopped that immediately. I said to the Lord, because I could pray from the innermost depths of my soul, “I am in the worst pain I have ever experienced, but I will never leave you. I will never move away from you. I trust you with all my soul and I know you are near and will stand with my in this my greatest pain.” This filled my soul with peace—but the pain continued. The peace was greater than the pain.
So, we live in Utah and have been to the Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City many times these past few days and because of their tenacious and aggressive care, it appears that Maurine will not have any permanent vision loss. That is great news. But with my being sick and taking care of Maurine 24/7 these past 18 days, well, we got a little behind. Please forgive us. We truly love our time with you so let’s jump right in.
So how many of you know much about Habakkuk, or have named a child Habakkuk? It’s not a name that just falls off the tongue, is it? The name appears to mean basil (like the herb) and was used in his day as a repellent for insects. The name is only mentioned twice in his book and in no other place in the Bible. It may well have been a pseudonym. The Book of Habakkuk was produced in a time when the Assyrians dominated the world, and they would have recognized his work as an act of high treason.
I guess most of the prophets’ words in all ages, when seen by the world, could be looked upon in their eyes as an act of high treason.
That’s so true. Perhaps then the first line in the book, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.” These prophets SEERS and revelators do carry a burden. We raised our family in the adjoining neighborhood to where Boyd and Donna Packer lived. We were in their stake and so, occasionally we would learn interesting things about President Packer. He was known among the brethren, according to a number of reports we heard, as “the seer,” and he called it a great burden. He could see things coming—his masterful talks, 90 of which we have from General Conference—and 20 from devotionals and firesides at BYU–are full of seeric vision. Lehi was shown things in the future, much of which was not pleasant to talk about. His contemporary, Habakkuk, was burdened with the same kinds of visions. “For, lo,” he said, “I raise up the Chaldeans (that’s the Babylonians), that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful: their judgement and their dignity shall proceed of themselves…They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.” (Habakkuk 1: 6,7,9)
You know that phrase “as the east wind” is always a code phrase in the scriptures for imminent destruction—for so it was. Just as Habakkuk was prophesying around 605 B.C. and Lehi around 600 B.C.—the Babylonians did come and they did sack and destroy Jerusalem and her temple just fourteen years later and they carried away many captives to Babylon. This brings up something we’d like to talk about—the view that many have of the vengeful God of the Old Testament vs. the merciful Jesus of the New Testament.
Let’s make sure we all understand first: the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same person. Jehovah or Yahweh is Jesus Christ. He is the God who met with Moses on Mt. Sinai. He is the God who walked and talked with Enoch. He is the God who met with Abraham when he was 99 years old and made a covenant with him that He would remember to a thousand generations.
So, why so much vengeance in the Old Testament and this view of mercy in the New, people ask? It really has nothing to do with God, and everything to do with His children.
Let’s look at this in our day and time and try to make sense of some things. People’s idea of God’s love for them has been greatly altered, and in this society, it is often believed, if there is any belief at all, that Christ loves them no matter what they are doing. Yes, He loves them, but the “no matter what they are doing part” He cannot abide, because he knows it will hurt them.
There are Commandments, and these are eternal and part of the foundation of the universe. God Himself obeys all the commandments and that is why He is the epitome, the pinnacle, the eternal example of pure happiness. There is a healthy flourishing way to live, and the Lord wants us to learn that and wants us to teach that to our children, our posterity and others and to imbibe it clear into the deepest part of our soul. The Sermon on the Mount is a great example of that because everything He tells us there such as blessed are the meek and blessed are the pure in heart or blessed are the peacemakers all comes back to the condition of our hearts. A better translation is “Oh! the happiness of the meek,” and “Oh! The happiness of the peacemakers.” “If you do these things I tell you, which are indeed difficult, like love your neighbor and love your enemies, you will be happy you will have the happy life. You will have the flourishing life.
This does not mean you will have the easy life, but you will find great joy in things and most importantly you will find Him. But those who in ancient times or today recast Christ by saying he loves everyone no matter what they do, and in their sins, means he loves those sins as well. And that is not true. He loves the person but He wants them to turn away from and shun the sins because they will hurt themselves if they disobey these basic rules of eternity. He wants them to abandon their sins and come unto Him and be healed and whole. And it is only through Him and through Him alone that wholeness can come.
People in our day pretend there’s no objective reality and that whatever comes to their mind is authentic. That is who and what they are, they say. Then with this mistaken reality, one can’t do that very long before you run right into a wall.
I remember so well, years ago our dear relief society teacher, Lorraine Day, was giving a lesson. She brought in two blocks that looked just like the 10 Commandments. They were made of stone and had Hebrew writing on them. It was really fun to see them and she said that these were a representation of the 10 Commandments and people think that they break the Commandments and then she threw an egg at it and she said you can see that it’s not the 10 Commandments that get broken. They never change. It’s the people who break themselves against the 10 commandments by refusing to acknowledge them and they pretend that God doesn’t care. But He does care because He loves His people and He knows that the only way they can come back again into the presence of God the Father is by keeping the commandments He has given them. He will force no man to heaven, but He also cannot break immutable, eternal laws to get the disobedient into the presence of the Father. Thank you, Lorraine, for that lesson that has stuck with me for more than 25 years.
I don’t think we have ever seen, in our lifetime, more people who are desperately looking for happiness. Of course, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of Christ are the way to eternal happiness—but there are billions of people on the earth right now who have never heard of this Gospel and there are certainly many stepping stones to help people find it. “For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:12)
When whole nations turn away from the commandments (as we see all through the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon) the natural consequences of defiance and disobedience of God’s laws will naturally bring upon them the judgements and justice of God. Even our own country, from whence this podcast originates, the United States of America, has become a very violent nation. Our youth and young adults are subjected to extreme violence in video games, literature, film and television and this does not go on for years and years without consequence. This is like the egg being thrown at the stone tablets—the egg will break.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently recounted:
“Given our current times, it is understandable if the idealism of the young is waning a little. Dr. Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale University, recently created a class titled Psychology and the Good Life. “The first year the class was offered, nearly [one-quarter] of the [entire] undergraduate student body enrolled.” Over 64 million people then visited her podcast. Writing about this phenomenon, one journalist noted how painful it is to see so many bright, young students—and adults—desperately “looking for something they’ve lost” or, worse yet, longing for something they never had.
“My plea today to our youth, and to you parents and adults who advise them, is to begin your search for happiness by embracing the bounty we have already received from the giver of every good gift. At precisely the moment many in the world are asking deep questions of the soul, we ought to be answering with the “good news” of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which holds aloft the mission and message of the Savior of the world, offers the most eternally significant way to both find good and do good at such a needful time.” (Holland, Jeffrey R. Fear Not: Believe Only!, General Conference, April 2022)
And this reminds us again that the re-casting of Christ into the God who loves us not matter what we are doing is going to bring people to misery. God does love us right where we are but He loves us too much to leave us there. He is going to invite and cajole and plead and entice us to come and follow Him and He will make it clear that He doesn’t just want our obedience or our love or our loyalty or our ears to hear Him—He wants our whole souls. He wants everything—and He alone can make us whole.
He has all knowledge and all power and all wisdom and all vision and all love and an all-encompassing joy and He is willing to give all of that to each of us, and that only can come by obedience to His laws, commandments and ordinances. (See Doctrine and Covenants 84:35-39) We don’t become like Him by doing whatever we want. We become like Him by doing whatever He wants!
There are so many things God says in the Old Testament that sound really harsh, but He does this to wake up His children to let them see that the way they’re living does not work, and it’s when they create a whole society going away from His laws, and then new generations come in and adopt that same idea there is nothing He can do, but let them face His justice. I loved what Kerry Muhlestein said about this once. He said the Lord gives them a time out by bringing them to the Spirit World. Justice is so important in our world. If there weren’t justice, all of us could be hurt all the time. If there were no justice, we would not have things that were predictable, that we could count on. If there were no justice from the Lord, we would have no reason to strive so hard to be like him. We might think it was just fun to be authentic, to be whatever we want to be and that it’s just us that makes us safe. We would be sadly mistaken.
We all love mercy and we think, “Oh, I’d love to live in the world with only mercy,” but if we lived in the world with only mercy, it would be absolute chaos on every side. Justice makes our lives clear, and predictable and safe and secure. We know also because of God’s justice, someone who does something terribly wrong to us; for example, I think of all the women who have been assaulted in this life example and carry that burden forever, we know that the Lord will take care of this problem and can lift that weight from us as we are willing to let Him.
And this other person, the perpetrator, will meet the Lord and they have to be cleansed of that sin so that means that we can forgive them. It’s in the Lord’s hands now, so justice is just beautiful. We don’t have to be afraid of the Lord’s justice because all the time we’re making mistakes, the Lord reaches out to us and gives us a second chance and a third chance. This is a gospel of many, many chances for those who really strive. And even if we’ve gone to the very depth, the Lord will reach out to us and give us another chance. This is His mercy.
One of our wonderful writers on Meridian, Lynne Perry Christofferson, recently shared this story:
“My foster brother Mark has experienced both the torturous struggle to escape sin and addiction, and the liberating process of turning to Jesus Christ and finding deliverance from bondage. His painful journey led through fourteen total years in prison, until he finally reconnected with God and cried out, “I don’t know how to stay clean and sober!” He had learned that “there’s not enough self-help in the universe to fix certain things.” Finally, Mark felt inspired to give the 12-step recovery program another try and discovered that it was about faith and repentance. He began to understand that God had never stopped loving him.”
“Mark has now been sober for more than two decades and spends many hours each week as a service missionary with the Church’s addiction recovery program. I share the following brief story [about Mark] with Mark’s permission. To me, it is living proof that when we give ourselves over to the Lord, we can literally become new creatures. He is fully able to deliver us from addiction or any other form of bondage.
“When my son Ammon was in the third grade, he invited me to a school assembly for fathers, called Watchdog Dads. They had brief motivational talks about coming in and volunteering to help the kids in the classrooms, on the playground, being hallway monitors, etc. They were playing Rocky themed music in the background–Eye of the Tiger. Of course, they bribed us with pizza and coke, and after a couple of cokes and some pizza I was ready to sign up for almost anything, so I started filling out the application to become a Watchdog Dad.
“As I got to the bottom line, it said, “Background check required, $20, felons need not apply.” I had to look at my son and tell him, “Ammon, you know I’ve been in prison before, and I can’t do this, that’s what this means.” He was really disappointed and asked me several times to apply, but he finally let it go and we went home. Of course, that didn’t feel very good.
“Well, the next year fourth grade came around and the same assembly came up and Ammon said, “Dad, I really want you to do it this time.” And I said, “Ammon, you remember it’s still the same situation and they just won’t let me, even though I really want to.” He had a funny look in his eye, but he let it go. About a week later I received a phone call from his principal, Mrs. Bellitti, and she said, “Ammon was in my office this morning.” I responded, “Uh oh, what did he do?” She replied, “No, you don’t understand, Mr. Miner. Ammon came in and said, “Mrs. Bellitti, I want my dad to be a Watchdog Dad.” I told him, “Sure, it’s not too late, just fill out this paper and bring it back with $20.” Ammon responded, “You don’t understand, Mrs. Bellitti, my dad has been in prison before, but he’s not that man anymore.”
“Suddenly, my eyes started to water, and a peculiar peace fell over me, and then Mrs. Bellitti gently said, “Something persuaded me to do my own background check on you, and you are the kind of dad we want in our school.”
“Mark concludes, “I am no longer the man I used to be.” [End of quote] (Christofferson, Lynne Perry, Meridian Magazine, November 15, 2022, https://latterdaysaintmag.com/i-carved-until-i-set-him-free/ )
Isn’t that what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about, that we can come to the point where each of us says, “I’m not the man I used to be,” or “I’m not the woman I used to be.” Thank goodness we are not!
These prophets we are studying this week carried these burdens of prophecy about the imminent destruction of Ninevah and of Jerusalem. This is quite personal when someone tells an entire city that if they continue in their ways and don’t turn their hearts to God, they will be destroyed. One of the leaders of the Assyrians, Sennacherib, who predates these prophets by a century, was one of the most brutal, self-centered, dastardly, violent, unrelenting military commanders in all of history. We’ve talked about him before. Everyone feared him. He would destroy cities, denude the land, destroy all the crops and livestock and pay bounties to his men for the heads they could collect of their enemies. He had sacked the Northern Kingdom of Israel and carried away the Ten Tribes. In fact, he basically spent his adult life sacking and destroying everyone he could. He is the one who laid siege to Jerusalem when it was under the reign of Hezekiah. It was then that we see this great miracle where 185,000 Assyrians are dead on the morning when the great battle would commence. But this man was trying to defy even God (in whom, obviously, he did not believe). He was trying to set himself up as a god. This all sounds so familiar.
This calls to mind a story that has stayed in my mind for many years. We were working on a project in Israel one spring with Dr. D. Kelly Ogden and our daughter Mariah and another assistant, Isaac Calvert. We were down in Jericho at the ruins of one of Herod’s pleasure palaces. It truly was in ruins—the archaeological dig has not come along very far but you can see the outlines of the palace and there was a large circular foundation in the midst of it. Kelly Ogden went out into the middle of that structure with the sparce remains of this great palace and he gave from memory, in a very wonderful and dramatic way, this poem from Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
(Poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley)
And so, it is for those great civilizations of the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, the empire created by Alexander the Great, and the Roman Empire. The list goes on and on: “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” But truly, “Nothing beside remains!” The only Kingdom that will stand through all time is the Kingdom of God on the earth. It is the stone that is cut out of the mountain without hands. It will roll forth and “it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” (See Daniel 2:44) I love that when all is said and done, the great Commander, the great Leader, the great General, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings is Jesus Christ. And every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that this indeed is the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, the Anointed One. That knowledge just brings us such joy!
It truly does. And I was moved as I read the first few verses of the first chapter of Habakkuk that even this prophet had to wait upon the Lord:
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!
3 Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.
4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.
This heartfelt cry of Habakkuk reminds us so much of the Prophet Joseph in the Liberty Jail through the winter of 1838 and 1839. His people had been brutally driven from Missouri. His wife and 4 small children had to make the 200-mile journey to Illinois on their own and cross the frozen Mississippi River without him. The people had lost their homes, and, in fact, a whole city—Far West. And there was nothing Joseph could do.
He cried out in agony:
1 O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
2 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
3 Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?
4 O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us.
Those verses move me so much. Do we ever get to that point where we have cried out to the Lord and have had to wait—even a long period of time—for an answer. One thing I have come to know in my own trials and testing, I can trust the Lord absolutely and if my prayers don’t seem to be answered in my time frame, I know they will be answered in His.
In fact we receive such reassurance from Zephaniah in chapter 3, starting in verse 14:
14 ¶ Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
15 The Lord hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.
16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. [of course this is in that Millennial day]
17 The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
18 I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.
19 Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.
20 At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord.
This is a perfect view of the Deliverer, the Redeemer, the Savior Jesus Christ. This is the God I trust. This is the God I worship. This is the God I count on.
That’s all for today. We love you and thank you for your patience with us and our own trials. May you be blessed during this amazing season of rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ and His birth. Next week we will be studying Haggai and Zechariah in a lesson entitled “Holiness unto the Lord.” We are so grateful to our friend, Paul Cardall, for the music he provides for this podcast and to our producer, our daughter, Michaela Proctor Hutchins. Have a wonderful week and see you next time.