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21 February 2015

Mormon Bible Study: Psalm 2 (part 3)

I'm still going through and looking at all the places that quote Psalm 2. So far, I've been reading a lot of Paul. The next one on my list is Hebrews 1:5, which quotes Psalm 2:7, or at least a portion of it. Here are the two verses:

For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?
Hebrews 1:5

And the second one:

I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Psalm 2:7

I was reading the whole chapter, there in Hebrews 1, trying to make sense of Paul. He reminds me a bit of Victor Hugo: there is a majesty in his writing that is truly inspiring, but he's frequently not really in a hurry to get to a sharply defined point. Figuring that out is nice; I really like Hugo. When I started reading an unabridged version of Les Miserables, I was amazed to discover that the priest who rescues Val Jean has a massive hundred page introduction to his big moment in Val Jean's life. I loved reading it, because the priest is so incredibly good, and so inspiring, that reading about him made me want to be a better person, myself. With all that introduction, the reader knows that, as amazingly merciful as he was with Val Jean, it was just business as usual for him; nothing to see here, just a humble follower of Christ, doing what disciples do. This first chapter of Hebrews reminds me of that passage from Hugo, where the author shows, rather than tells, the majesty of his subject. It's very encouraging. Maybe at some point I will feel like Paul is an old friend of mine, familiar and relied upon. I would like that. In this chapter, I feel like he's painting one of those pieces where you need to step back a little, and take it all in, more than hone in on a single verse, because if I let the focus become too sharp in a single place, I loose the thread of what he's driving at. Perhaps that's because I'm still making friends with Paul. In any case, I do better with looking at the whole chapter.

Hebrews 1 is a sort of introduction to the majesty of Christ, and toward the end of the chapter, Paul starts talking about how Christ is much more excellent than the angels that minister in heaven, and I got to thinking about the word minister. Its meaning is somewhat fuzzy in my head, which left the passage a little out of focus. So I looked it up. Just dictionary.com, not anything cool like a concordance or Webster's 1828 (yet), since that's what I had available at the time. But it was enlightening, just the same.

Minister: (verb)
to give service, care, or aid; attend, as to wants or necessities.: to minister to the needs of the hungry. to contribute, as to comfort or happiness.

And that is what the Lord does for us. In fact, as I continued to read this chapter, I realized that Hebrews 1 has some fantastic teachings about the nature of the Lord. Here is a partial list of the attributes that I noticed:
  • Christ speaks in a variety of ways and times. (vs. 1)
  • He made all things. (vs. 2)
  • He is the brightness of the Father's glory, and in His express image. (vs. 3)
  • Christ upholds all things with the word of His power. (vs. 3)
  • He purged our sins. (vs. 3)
  • He is exalted with the Father. (vs. 3)
  • He is better than the angels. (vs. 4)
  • He is the Only Begotten (vs. 5 - and this is the link to Psalms 2)

And it goes on through the whole chapter like that. I don't think that it's an accident, or just pleasant meanderings, that Paul spent the whole opening of his letter to the Hebrews talking about the nature of God. (Incidentally, I don't think it's an accident that Hugo spends so much effort on the character of his priest, either, but that's another discussion, entirely.) There was purpose to the way he opened his letter; knowing the character of God is of paramount importance! Brother Andrew Skinner summed it up beautifully in a BYU devotional  at which he spoke a number of years ago:

The Prophet Joseph Smith said: "It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God." In other words, one of the foundation stones of the restored gospel  is a knowledge of what kind of being God actually is. But not only do we need to understand what kind of being God is, we must come to know God. In the same sermon from which we just quoted, the Prophet Joseph further stated, "If any man does not know God... he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle." In His great high-priestly or Intercessory Prayer, the Savior confirmed that life eternal was to "know... the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [the Father] hast sent. (John 17:3)." (emphasis original)

It's interesting, too, that Brother Skinner references Christ's role as our Great High Priest, because Paul delves into that in the next several chapters of Hebrews, including chapter 5, where he references Psalm 2 again. I have long loved the passage in the Book of Mormon that describes what a high priest looks like, but this section of Hebrews draws a clear parallel between the "garden variety" high priest, and Christ as the Great High Priest. Really, though, there is no (or should no be) "garden variety" high priest. As I understand it, in Old Testament times under the Law of Moses there was ... one. One high priest, in charge of the temple. That's all. It's kind of mind-boggling, really, when we consider that from the perspective of a time when we are blessed to have a high priests' group in every ward. One. In all of Israel.

The loss, when you look at what they really lost in the golden calf episode, when they lost the fullness of the Gospel, is staggering. Catastrophic. Most likely, when Mary went into labor, Joseph was not able to give her a blessing to comfort and protect her; they were not Levites, so he would not have had the priesthood, and even if he had, it would probably not have been the Melchizedek priesthood. For generations -millennia- under the old law, there was no priesthood in the homes of the Lord's people; the members of His church were without the priesthood powers most LDS fathers bear. 

Now, the passage in Alma talks quite a bit about the personal attributes of the man who makes himself eligible for becoming a high priest. The passage in Hebrews 5 starts out with some comments on what a high priest is supposed to be doing. With the ending of the Mosaic Law, some of these duties have changed - high priests no longer conduct animal sacrifices - but most remain, including having compassion on the ignorant, teaching, and calling people to repentance. John Taylor said that the "Melchizedek Priesthood holds the mysteries of the revelations of God (JD13:231)."

This idea of Christ as the Great High Priest was new to me, but it fits so beautifully. Everything that the character ought to be, He exemplifies. He is the most compassionate, the best teacher. He calls us to repentance unendingly. He is the source of revelation, and He stands at the head of the church.

"With regard to the Priesthood. We have been found fault with sometimes because we profess to have the Priesthood. Let me say to this congregation that our Heavenly Father performs all His works—the creation of worlds, the redemption of worlds—by the power of the Eternal Priesthood. And no man on the earth, from the days of Father Adam to the present time, has ever had power to administer in any of the ordinances of life and salvation only by the power of the Holy Priesthood. You will find this to be the case in the whole history of the Prophets of God. When Aaron was given the Priesthood he was called by revelation. “No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” Jesus Christ himself had to be called of God. He was a High Priest. He left the Priesthood on the earth with his Apostles. They officiated in it until they were put to death. It is by that power that we administer in this day and generation. The Church and kingdom of God has continued to grow from its first organization. It is true we have been called to pass through many afflictions in our day and time. Nevertheless, the Lord has preserved His people..."
-Wilford Woodruff

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