Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Little Maid



2 Kings 5: 2-4

Background: 9 Century BC

Naaman was the captain of the host of Syria, and he had recently returned victorious in war against Israel. Upon his return he brought back many Israelite riches and captives, including a little maid whom he gave to his wife. Naaman was a "mighty man of valor" but was stricken with leprosy. Despite being a very rich and powerful man he had found no one who could cure him of his leprosy.

Facts about her:
  • She was an Israelite who had been captured by Syria during war (2 Kings 5:2);
  • She was living in Syria as the servant of Naaman's wife (2 Kings 5:2);
  • She was young (2 Kings 5:2);
  • She told her mistress that there was a prophet in Israel that could heal Naaman of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:3) ;
  • Someone told Naaman about what she had said about a prophet who could heal (2 Kings 5:4);
  • Naaman believed her ;
  • As a result of her testimony Naaman traveled to Israel and was healed by the prophet Elisha by bathing in the Jordan river seven times. Because of this event, Naaman and many of his household gained a testimony of the one true God ( 2 King 5:5-15).
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Speculations about her:
  • She was probably all alone, having been separated from her family during the war and her captivity;
  • She must have exemplified great honesty and integrity at other times during her captivity or else Naaman's wife, the other servants and Naaman himself wouldn't have believed her enough to travel all the way to Israel;
  • Maybe she had forgiven Naaman and the Syrians for taking her away from her home and family, and that was why she was able to have faith and hope that the prophet could heal him;
  • Perhaps her faith contributed to Naaman's healing.
"The Seed of Faith" by Elspeth Young
My Thoughts:

This little girl's faith humbles me. I don't know if I would personally have had the faith to open my mouth and bear testimony in a strange country, among people who didn't believe like I did, and especially not to the people who had torn me away from my home and taken me captive. She is an example to me of forgiveness, of compassion, of faith and great courage. Think about the great risk she took in opening her mouth and bearing testimony of the prophet. What if no one listened to her? What if they laughed at her? What if the prophet hadn't been able to heal Naaman? But she did open her mouth, she didn't let her fear keep her silent, and God took her little seed of faith and worked mighty miracles with it.

I hope that I can become more like this faithful little girl, and learn not to be afraid of the truth. To have the faith to bear testimony even in hard and scary situations. Also, her story makes me realize how important it is to teach our children to gain testimonies of the truth. We never know where life is going to take them and when those little seeds of truth will blossom in their hearts.

What we can learn from her:
  • Even when we are in difficult situations we need to have the faith and the courage to open our mouths and bear testimony of what we know is true;
  • God can work great miracles with just a little bit of faith;
  • Children remember the simple truths that they are taught when they are young, and we never know when those testimonies will blossom and work miracles;
  • Adults need to listen to children;
  • God is aware of the needs of little girls and he listens to them.
Questions:
  • What do you suppose she was doing while Naaman was in Israel being healed?
  • What do you think happened to her when Naaman came back completely healed by the prophet?
  • Who taught her about the gospel?
  • Do you think she bore testimony of the gospel often?
  • Do you have courage like this young woman and are willing to open your mouth and bear testimony of the truth?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Athaliah



2 Kings 8:18, 26
2 Kings 11:1-3, 13-16

2 Chronicles 21:6
2 Chronicles 22:2-4, 10-12
2 Chronicles 23:12-15,21
2 Chronicles 24:7

Background: Around 842 – 837 BC

Jehosaphat, king of Judah, worked most of his life to make peace between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab the king of Israel was married to Jehosaphat's son Jehoram as a poltical alliance. Jehosaphat was a righteous king who walked in the ways of the Lord, but he didn't cleanse his land of idolatry and false worship (1 Kings 22:43). Nevertheless, his kingdom still enjoyed much much peace and prosperity. Jehoshaphat reigned for twenty-five years and died at the age of sixty (1 Kings 22:50). His son Jehoram reigned after him, but did not walk in the ways of the Lord (1 Kings 22:53).

Facts about her:
  • She was the daughter of the wicked Israelite king Ahab and queen Jezebel (2 Chr. 21:6);
  • Like her mother Jezebel she was a devoted follower of Baal and introduced his worship into the Southern kingdom, much like her mother had done in the Northern Kingdom (2 Chr. 24:7) ;
  • After taking the throne Jehoram killed his 6 younger brothers and other princes of Israel (2 Chr. 21:4);
  • She was widowed after 8 years of being queen when her husband was cursed with an incurable disease that after two years made his bowels fall out (2 Chr. 21:18-19);
  • Her son Ahaziah became the next king of Judah(2 Chr. 22:2-4);
  • She was her son's counselor and caused him to do evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Chr. 22:2-4) ;
  • Her son reigned for one year and then was killed by Jehu (2 Chr. 22: 7-9);
  • After her son died she killed all the seed royal of the house of Judah, including her sons and grandsons (2 Kgs. 11:1-3; 2 Chr. 22:10-12) ;
  • One grandson, Joash, was saved by his aunt (the daughter of Athaliah) Jehoshabeath who hid him for seven years in the temple (her husband was Jehoiada the priest) ( 2 Chr. 22:10-12) ;
  • She was the only woman, before and after, to ever sit upon the throne of David, and she reigned for six years;
  • After seven years Jehoiada, without the knowledge of Athaliah, crowned and anointed eight-year-old Joash as king of Judah in front of the people (2 Kgs. 11: 4-12 , 2 Chr. 23:1-11);
  • Athaliah heard the noise and ran from her palace to see what was happening. When she got to the temple and saw her grandson she rent her clothes and cried "treason, treason" ( 2 Kg 11:13-16; 2 Chr. 23:12-15);
  • She was forced out the temple, because Jehoiada didn't want her to defile the temple by being killed in it ( 2 Kg 11:13-16, 2 Chr. 23:12-15);
  • She was pursued by soldiers and "she went by the
    way by the which the horses came into the king’s house: and there was she slain"( 2 Kg 11:13-16, 2 Chr. 23:12-15);
  • The people rejoiced after she was killed (2 Chr. 23:21);
  • After her death they tore down all worship of Baal throughout the country (2 Chr. 23:17-20).


Speculations about her:

  • Some bible scholars think she might have been Ahab's sister instead of his daughter;
  • She probably married Jehoram as a political alliance between Israel and Judah;
  • She, like her mother Jezebel, was thought to have an incredibly strong and demanding personality and greatly influenced her husband's decisions;
  • She probably influenced her husband to kill his 6 younger brothers after assuming the throne, seeing as she had no qualms about killing her grandchildren when she took the throne;
  • In 2 Chronicles 24:7 it sounds like she had parts of the holy temple pulled down and used to build a temple for Baal;
  • Josephus (Ant., IX, vii, 3) mentions that her guards had somehow been prevented from following her to the temple when Jehoash was made king. This shows that there was probably great collaboration among the people to see her killed.


My thoughts:

Amidst all the blood and gloom of this story, one woman sticks out to me like a shining star-- Jehosheba, Athaliah's daughter who rescued baby Joash and hid him for seven years. I am really impressed by her (I think she will get her own post, some day) because she has such a horrible mother and yet exhibits so much compassion and love. Not only did she rescue the infant Joash from amidst the bodies of his slain brothers (who knows maybe he was half dead himself) but she took care of the boy like her own for seven years. Also, she was married to the priest of the temple, obviously indicating that despite her mother's worship of Baal she had the insight and the faith to follow the true and living God.

I just can't help but wonder what her life must have been like. Athaliah's life was just a hideous repeat of her mother Jezebel's life, filled with idol worship, death, blood, hatred and deception. Yet, Jehosheba was somehow able to break out of her family's dysfunctional patterns and become a remarkable woman of faith. She gives me hope. To know that with the guidance of the holy spirit, women don't have to repeat the mistakes of their mothers or grandmothers made and can forage new lives for them and their families.

What we can learn from her:
  • Women can be every bit as power crazy, tyrannical, and cruel as men... maybe even more so;
  • Women have great influence over their husbands and sons and can use that influence for great good or great evil;
  • Daughters often follow after the examples of their mothers, and without the guidance of the Holy Spirit often make the same tragic mistakes;
  • Even daughters with horrible, awful, wicked mothers can make good decisions, live righteous lives, have good marriages, and bring much good to the world;
  • When God is involved, dysfunctional families don't always result in dysfunctional children.
Questions:
  • What could possibly bring a woman to murder her children and grandchildren?
  • How do you think her daughter, Jehosheba, managed to become a righteous woman?
  • How do you think idol worship influenced Athaliah's actions?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Daughters of Onitah


Facimile #1 from the Book of Abraham. Click here for an explanation of the figures.

Abraham 1:11- 12

Background: 20th century BC

In the the land of Chaldeans (see map at bottom) the people had been turned from righteousness to idolatry because of the false teachings of the Egyptians. Many of the people had begun worshiping the gods of Ekenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korah and Pharaoh of Egypt (all depicted in Facsimile #1). They were offering up sacrifices, men, women and children, to these gods. Abraham tried to stop them but they would not listen to him and tried to kill him (Abr. 1:5-8). The priest of Pharaoh, also called the Priest of Elkenah, had prepared an altar in the land of Chaldea and was making sacrifices to the sun god, Shagreel (Abr. 1:9).



Facts about them:
  • They were sacrificed on the altar on Potiphar's Hill (the same one as in Facsimile #1) at the head of the plain of Olishem as an offering to the sun god Shagreel (Abr. 1:9-10);
  • They were the three daughters of Onitah, a royal descent of Ham and a rightful heir of the priesthood authority;
  • A child was sacrificed on the altar right before they were (Abr. 1:10);
  • They were virgins ;
  • They would not bow down and worship the false gods "Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and also a god like unto that of Pharaoh" ;
  • They were sacrificed after the manner of the Egyptians because of their great virtue ;
  • All three of them were killed at the same time;
  • Abraham was to be sacrificed in the same manner and same altar as these young women (Abr. 1:12);
  • The Pharaoh was of the lineage that did not have the right to the Priesthood. Even so, he tried to claim it from Noah through Ham, and led away many, including Abraham's father, into idolatry (Abr. 1:27) .


Facsimile #2 from the Book of Abraham. Click here for an explanation of the figures.

Speculations about them:
  • They may have been from a rich and prominent family. Egypt was founded by descendants of Ham and the first Pharaoh was a direct decedent of Ham (Abr. 1:20-27);
  • Perhaps some of the rituals involving the false Gods would have forced them to lose their virtue;
  • Maybe they, like Abraham, had spoken out against what was being done and had tried to stop the sacrifices and get people to repent.

Facsimile #3 from the Book of Abraham. Click here for an explanation of the figures.

My Thoughts:

"Matching these three men [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego] are three young women whose names we do not have. They appear in the Book of Abraham, remarkable young women about whom I am anxious to know more. They were sacrificed upon the altar because "they would not bow down to worship [an idol] of wood or stone." Some day the faithful will get to meet them." (Neal A. Maxwell, BYU Devotional, 2 Dec 1984, 8)

The story of these three young women closely parallels the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego of the Old Testament who told King Nebuchadnezzar that,".. our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace... But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." They knew that God had the power to save them, but even if he did not save them their faith would be the same.

These young women had the same trial of faith, they were asked to worship false Gods and they refused at the risk of their lives. They showed the same great faith and virtue, knowing that God had the power to save them but that even if he didn't their testimony would be unchanged. Dennis E. Simmons of the Seventy explained this type of faith in the Lord in his 2004 Conference talk when he said:

Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not … . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.

Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.

Yet, unlike Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego the lives of the daughters of Onitah weren't saved and they sealed their testimonies with their blood. I can't help but feel that God must have stood beside them much like he did with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in fiery furnace, comforting them and strengthening them in the hour of trial.

Their sacrifice also reminds me of the sacrifices made by the Lamanite women and children in the Book of Mormon, when Alma and Amulek watched their believers being burned in fire. Alma told Amulek "...The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day." (Alma 14:10-11)

I don't know why God didn't save these young women like he did Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego, Daniel, Abraham, and other prophets. Or why he has let so many innocent women and children die by the hands of the wicked. But I do know that God receives all of them into heaven, that they inherit a kingdom of glory, and that their blood will stand as a witness against the wicked at the last days. The sacrifice that these young women made makes them worthy to receive the greatest blessings God has for his children, and who knows perhaps they sit with Abraham and other great prophets at the right hand of the Savior.

Questions to think about:
  • Why did God not save them like he saved Abraham?
  • Who taught them to protect their virtue and to worship the one true God?
  • How do you imagine that their example impacted Abraham's life?
  • What would you like to know about these young women if you were able to meet them?
  • How old do you picture them being?
  • Would you sacrifice your life for your beliefs?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The First Sorrow of Mary



There are some women who are going to require multiple posts because there is just so much to say about them, Mary is one of these women. This post is about the first of the many sacrifices Mary made throughout the life of her divine son, when she took her lamb as a sacrifice to the temple.

Luke 2: 21-35

Facts about her:
  • According to the law of Moses she was unclean after the birth of her son for 7 days. This meant she was separated from others and anyone who touched her or things that she had sat upon also became unclean and could only become clean again by bathing (Lev. 15:19-24);
  • On the eighth day after the birth of her son, she had Jesus circumcised as commanded by the law of Moses (Lev. 12:3);
  • After the initial 7 day period of uncleanness, she was ritually unclean for 33 days (Lev. 12:4). This type of uncleanness was different from the 7 day uncleanness in which a woman was separated and not touched. This uncleanness just meant that she was unable to enter the temple (or tabernacle) or touch holy things until she had made the offering of a lamb and a young pigeon or turtledove to atone for her. If the family was too poor for a lamb they could bring two turtledoves (Lev. 12: 6-8) ;
  • After her 40 days of purification were over she went with Joseph to present Jesus to the Lord (Luke 2:22-23) and to offer a sacrifice to make her purification complete (Luke 2:24);
  • In accordance with the law of Moses she brought two turtledoves and knowingly or unknowingly she brought the lamb of God as her offering to the Lord;
  • It was revealed to Simeon by the Holy Ghost that Jesus was the Christ child and he prophesied of his divine mission (Luke 2: 25-35). He also told Mary that "a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:35);
  • She and Joseph marveled at the things which Simeon prophesied about their young son (Luke 2:33).

Speculations about her:
  • Some think that the bringing of only two turtledoves shows that the Holy Family must have been poor because they could not afford to bring a lamb. In reality, they were the most wealthy of families, spiritually, and brought a lamb of infinite worth.
My Thoughts:

As I've studied this story there has been one question that has bothered me above all others--- why was a woman considered unclean physically and spiritually after giving life to a child-- 40 days if it was a boy and twice that long, 80 days, if it was a girl (Lev. 12)? And why was it necessary for a woman to make a sin offering as an atonement after giving life?

These questions have been weighing upon my soul for sometime. I can't understand how something as amazing and beautiful as creating life could be punished by a separation from God and from others. It is hard for me to believe that God would punish women for doing what he created them to do, or that God could look upon childbirth as anything other than divine and sacred. It seemed even more strange to me Mary would be considered unclean and impure after giving birth to the Son of God himself. I just can't understand how something so good as giving life could be considered a sin.

I still don't understand it completely but as I've pondered these questions I've come to a conclusion and this is it... That life is a two edged sword, because every woman who brings life to a child must also accept that she has ultimately brought death to that child. This is Eve's paradox-- that one can not know the sweet without tasting the bitter, that one can not know joy without the sorrow, and that there can not be life without death. To bring life is to bring death, and while giving life is not a sin being the cause of death is. During the law of Moses a woman was unclean after giving birth not because her body was dirty or because she had sinned in conceiving the child, but because with the new life she brought into the world she also brought death. Bringing a girl child into the world made a woman twice as unclean, not because girls are not as important or valuable to God, but because each new girl means more life and ultimately more death and sin. Under the law of Moses there was no redemption and a woman had to atone for her own sins, by being separated from the presence of God (the temple). Yet, in symbolism of the atonement that would one day be performed, she could be "redeemed" by sacrificing a lamb and a turtledove, but it was only symbolic. To bring life was still to bring death.

This is where Mary's story becomes SO beautiful and SO important to EVERY WOMAN who has ever lived on the earth. When Mary took Jesus to the temple she presented to God the "great and last sacrifice", one which would conquer the bands of death and sin and free all souls forever. Jesus Christ's atonement and resurrection broke the bonds of death, meaning that ALL men, regardless of the lives they led on earth, would live again both body and spirit. Christ's atonement meant that women no longer brought death with them when they gave life. Eve's paradox was broken-- there could now be life without death. After the atonement women were no longer considered unclean after menstruation or after childbirth, because Christ had over come all death and man would live again.

And it all began because Mary was faithful and strong enough to offer the ultimate sacrifice--- her Lamb of God. We often talk about how much God loves us because He was willing to sacrifice His son, but Jesus was Mary's son just as much as He was God's son. What great love Mary must have had for all human souls to be willing to offer her son as a sacrifice for all our sins. What a magnificent and amazing woman she must have been. One can only imagine how her soul must have rejoiced at what glorious blessings awaited the world, but how at the same time her heart must have broken into pieces knowing what she knew her son would have to suffer. My soul rejoices in her and I will be forever grateful to this magnificent and beautiful woman for all her sacrifices and the immensity of her love.



Questions to think about:
  • Do you think she realized she was presenting her son as a sacrifice?
  • Do you think she knew what her son was going to have to suffer? When do you think she comprehended the immensity of his mission and purpose?
  • Do you suppose she ever had a hard time believing in her son? Did she ever doubt who he was or what he was called to do?
  • Would you be willing to present your son or daughter as a sacrifice to the Lord?
  • What sustained her through her grief?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Back from Break

Hello again. I hope you all had a great Christmas, mine turned out to be wonderful-- if you want to read more about it click here. It was nice to spend so much time with family. Also, I think I did a good job at making Christmas more Christ centered this year. One thing that really helped was revamping our "Jesus Gift". Growing up my family always wrote a gift to Jesus on Christmas Eve. The gift could be anything you wanted it to be, usually I promised to be kinder, pray more and read my scriptures more. After writing them we put them into the box, which my mom wrapped like a fancy present, with out reading them to each other. Then on Christmas morning it was the first gift we opened (usually) and read them out loud to each other. The idea was that during the year we would strive to keep our gift to Jesus.

On our very first Christmas together my husband made me a little wood box for our Jesus box. We've carried on the tradition in our family, but the problem is that I often forget what I my gift to Jesus is not long after Christmas is over. This year we thought we would change it a bit. On the first Monday of December we got the Jesus box out and each wrote a gift of service that we would give Jesus before Christmas-- a personal one and a family one. They weren't anything big or grandiose, just small and simple things. We put them in the the box and stuck it under the tree-- right in the front so it would remind us-- and went to work. It was amazing. Focusing on service really transformed my Christmas. I found myself more interested what I was doing for others, rather than what others were doing for me. I found myself listening more and praying more and feeling more peace. I felt more connected to the people around me and I felt more love for them and more concern about how they were feeling. I truly felt more Christlike.



On Christmas Eve (actually a few days early) we read our gift to Jesus out loud and told about our experiences. Some of the service didn't get completely finished, but we've decided that as long as you get some of it done before Christmas you have till next year to get the rest of your Jesus gift done. I like this-- it means that I will be able to take this new found joy for service and spread it throughout the whole year! How was your Christmas?

Oh, and check back in next week as I'll be starting up Wednesday's Woman again and I have one that I am especially excited about.