Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Abinadi vs. Noah's Priests: Why the Interest in Beautiful Feet?

In the Book of Mosiah, there is a dramatic scene where the renegade prophet Abinadi takes on King Noah and his corrupt court of priests. His condemnation of their evil ways gets him condemned to a painful death in fire. When the confrontation begins in Mosiah 12, I have long been puzzled by the strange question the priests through out at Abinadi. They ask about the meaning of Isaiah's discourse on beautiful feet:
19 And they began to question him, that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him; but he answered them boldly, and withstood all their questions, yea, to their astonishment; for he did withstand them in all their questions, and did confound them in all their words.
20 And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying:
21 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;
22 Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;
23 Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;
24 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?
25 And now Abinadi said unto them: Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?
Why pick this passage to challenge Abinadi?

When we read this as a family recently, the meaning of the challenge suddenly seemed more logical when we considered the context - particularly the agenda that the priests must have been pushing. Their message had been one of living it up and enjoying life, of preaching salvation without repentance and without standards or covenant keeping. It was a "feel good" religion: they were a chosen people and should be rejoicing about the good news of their election rather than fretting over archaic definitions of sin. Rather than believing Abinadi's message of gloom and doom and destruction, their message was about peace, prosperity, salvation, assurance, and comfort from God. In their hands, the cited passage from Isaiah was an ideal prooftext to refute Abinadi's credibility and push their own comfortable doctrine. They weren't asking a sincere question, but, like the critics of Christ in the NEw Testament, were seeking to trip up Abinadi.

Abinadi seems to depart from the topic right after he responds with a question of his own about why they don't understand those things. He swiftly returns to his condemnation of sin, then inquires about the law of Moses and whether salvation comes by it. He recites the Ten Commandments, but explains that while they need to obey, that salvation does not come by keeping the law of Moses, but through the Atonement of Christ. He explains the purpose of the law as a symbol to teach us of Christ, and then launches into a lengthy discourse about the Messiah and prophecies about Christ, citing all of Isaiah 53.

He then continues teaching about the Atonement and its power. He points out that the holy prophets of the past testified of these things, and that they are of the seed of the Messiah and shall be saved. And finally, at the end of Chapter 15, many verses after the question about "beautiful feet" was first raised, Abinadi returns to the topic in the following majestic passage, completely turning the tables on the priests to show that their selected excerpt does not support their cause at all, but leaves them utterly condemned:
14 And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!
15 And O how beautiful upon the mountains were their feet!
16 And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that are still publishing peace!
17 And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!
18 And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people;
19 For were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, I say unto you, were it not for this, all mankind must have perished.
20 But behold, the bands of death shall be broken, and the Son reigneth, and hath power over the dead; therefore, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead.
21 And there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection; yea, even a resurrection of those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ—for so shall he be called.
22 And now, the resurrection of all the prophets, and all those that have believed in their words, or all those that have kept the commandments of God, shall come forth in the first resurrection; therefore, they are the first resurrection.
23 They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death.
24 And these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord.
25 And little children also have eternal life.
26 But behold, and fear, and tremble before God, for ye ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins; yea, even all those that have perished in their sins ever since the world began, that have wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God, and would not keep them; these are they that have no part in the first resurrection.
27 Therefore ought ye not to tremble? For salvation cometh to none such; for the Lord hath redeemed none such; yea, neither can the Lord redeem such; for he cannot deny himself; for he cannot deny justice when it has its claim.
28 And now I say unto you that the time shall come that the salvation of the Lord shall be declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
29 Yea, Lord, thy watchmen shall lift up their voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.
30 Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.
31 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
The priests of Noah think they have found a powerful prooftext for their "feel good" religion, but Abinadi takes it perfectly in stride, lays a foundation to help them understand what it really means, and then turns the tables on them. The messages of salvation, of rejoicing, and of beautiful feet upon the mountains (evoking images of Sinai, of covenants, and the temple) are linked to those who teach and follow the ways of the Messiah, not to those who reject the Messiah and violate the commandments of God. The passage, so powerfully interpreted and taught by Abinadi, leaves the priests exposed and condemned. Unable to deal with his reasoning, they respond in the traditional manner by killing Abinadi.

I used to wonder why the priests of Noah picked some random passage from Isaiah that they didn't seem to understand to seek an interpretation from Abinadi. It was always so awkward and strange when I read it superficially. I now find this section of Mosiah to be profound and brilliant literature. The choice of the Isaiah passage by the priests makes a lot of sense in the context of who they were and what they must have been teaching, and Abinadi's seeming departure and return to the passage is all part of a truly inspired response. The entire episode is great drama and great ancient literature, in my opinion, with much more to it that might meet the eye upon first reading it - or first dictating it.

12 comments:

JayFlow22 said...

Abinadi was a type for Christ in so many cool ways such as that one.
You know, this is my favorite part about the Book of Mormon...the more you read it, the luckier Joseph Smith gets for "making" all this stuff up.

Darion Alexander said...

The story of Abinadi is a powerful example of how the Atonement is the central pillar of the Plan of Salvation. There's all the if's that go with it too. What if Christ hadn't done this? What if He just wanted to say no? What if, what if. The great thing about this, is there's no reason for the if's. Abinadi preached to them the importance of the Ten Commandments. Which seems to be a hot topic today. If these are works of the adversary, why bother with this beautiful story of Abinadi and King Noah? Why tell such a story as this that touches many and leads them to do better with their lives and to follow Christ with much more zeal and effort than before? A good tree does not produce bad fruit. As well as a bad tree does not produce good fruit. The adversary may be subtle and deceptive, he may mix truth with philosophies and sophistries, but he doesn't want to us believe in the Saviour nor follow Him.
Besides...the priests of Noah were probably wondering why feet were of any importance at all or they just a foot fetish.

Anonymous said...

The Book of Mosiah is so Christ-centered, and uses such powerful elements of literature to teach the central role of the Messiah Jesus Christ, that anyone who reads it sincerely must recognize that it truly serves as a witness for Jesus Christ in a way that harmonizes beautifully with the Bible.

It is complex and rich, but single in its purpose of bringing souls to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Kurt said...

In addition to what you have pointed out in the original post, there may have been an implicit personal attack against Abinadi of him failing to preach glad tidings by condemning them. They could be faulting him for being critical of them, similar to the argument in Alma 21:6.

Joseph Antley said...

Abinadi was a baller, no doubt. His message of of both following the law of Moses and the future Messiah is a perfect bridge for how we read the Old Testament and New Testament, and perhaps more revealing of the teachings of the Old Testament prophets from which Abinadi undoubtably drew.

Bookslinger said...

Joseph hit the nail on the head, and beat me to the punch.

The Book of Mormon does much to "reconcile" the Old and New Testament. So much so, that it reinforces the fact that so much has been removed from the OT and NT to create the illusion of the OT and the NT being at odds with one another.

That illusion of the OT and the NT being at odds with each other has been a stumbling block for most of mainstream Christendom.

Mormanity said...

Great points! The Dead Sea Scrolls have done much to shed light on the connections between the OT and NT.

dave d said...

I read somewhere a while ago (I think it might have been Terryl Givens) that a Jew has a synthesized theology/worldview/concept of God that is perfectly supported by his reading of the Torah/Old Testament alone. A Christian also has a synthesized theology/worldview/concept of God that is perfectly supported by his reading of both the Old and New Testaments together. However, these theologies can often be at odds with each other. The Christian would say that he took the additional information given in the New Testament to better understand the God of the Old Testament.

By extension of this concept, Mormons have a synthesized theology/worldview/concept of God based on the Old and New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the teachings of modern prophets. Where other Christians may disagree with their theology, Mormons would say the same thing to them that the other Christians would to the Jews - we are just taking the additional information we have been given to better understand God.

One danger for Mormons, who claim to believe in an open cannon, is that they build a cultural or interpretative theology around what they have been given and when new truths are revealed that are at odds with their interpretations, they reject revealed truth - much like Jews reject the New Testament or most Christians reject the Book of Mormon. When Spencer Kimball received the revelation on the Priesthood, I'm sure there were those that left the Church because the new revelation didn't agree with their interpretation or the revelation didn't come in the way they expected.

Darion Alexander said...

Good point Dave D. I bet their is a PhD in there somewhere, about how many and why members fell away/fall away after a new revelation is given. Let's not forget that many fell away after the Manifesto too.

Lars said...

Thank you! I have been bouncing that very idea about these passages around in my head for several months now, and now I see it in print!

Priests of Noah: "So, Abinadi, the scriptures say we should be preaching good news. Where's your good news, preacher-boy?"

Abinadi: "Um, what exactly have you been teaching these poor people?"

Anonymous said...

so why do you want to continue to 'slam' those people who are writing in other posts supporting the notion that you return to the original understanding observance of the 10 commandments ? Maybe you all in nature are the condemning priests that eventually kill abinadi by not heeding the warnings...... is it possible that you feel you want to do that to those authors?

Mormanity said...

Isn't that a bit of an over-reaction? No, Mr. T. (is that you again?), I have no desire to burn anybody at the stake. No murderous intent at all, even if I did get annoyed and deleted some off-topic or offensive comments. Just a little grilling is all I ever do - but only for those who throw themselves on the grill and light the kerosene.

Sorry, I guess I missed how this post was slamming sensitive authors who use the 10 commandments as a monotonous club to condemn others in truly inappropriate ways. I didn't see the slamming at all.