Bowen provides examples in the Book of Mormon that evoke the concept of a divine embrace, reflecting similar examples in the Old Testament and reinforcing Christ’s power to encircle us in his love via the Atonement.
The In this article, Matthew L. Bowen examines some of the language used in the Book of Mormon to express God’s encompassing love in connection with the Atonement. This love, through the imagery of a divine embrace (i.e., being encircled in outstretched arms or wings) is characterized as personal and relational, meant to mend a rift in a broken or torn connection, to the point of implying a fusion of one’s identity with God. In contrast, those who reject the divine embrace are instead encircled by Satan’s power. This imagery is common in ancient and biblical texts, particularly the temple-based hymns of Psalms (that’s right, each letter of Psalms has its own link). Book of Mormon authors often make use of Psalmic language, suggesting that a form of the book was present on the brass plates, and that Nephi and Lehi were familiar with Jerusalem temple worship.
The connection of this imagery to the temple is strengthened by Lehi’s son Jacob, who appears to have been consecrated for temple and priestly service. He alludes often to Psalms, and refers to the divine embrace in the allegory of the olive tree (e.g., “I have stretched forth mind hand”; “his arm of mercy is extended”). The allegory includes an injunction to “cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you”, which may be a further allusion to Psalms—one only apparent when examining the underlying Hebrew.
Bowen also sees divine-embrace imagery elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, including in Enos’ wrestle before God (with “wrestle” and “embrace” using similar Hebrew verbs), Abinadi’s references to Isaiah (i.e., “to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed”), and Alma the Younger recalling God’s “merciful arm”, in contrast to being encircled “with Satan’s] chains”, as well as Alma and Amulek’s assurance that the righteous Zoramites could be encircled in the arms of safety. Christ’s invitation to “come unto me” also references a divine embrace, with the arm of his mercy extended to receive those who were spared from the destruction of 3 Nephi.
Bowen dwells on the iconography of angelic wings, which are a symbol not only of power but of divine protection. The relational nature of this protection is emphasized by passages in Ruth, where Ruth asks Boaz, her future husband, to cover her in the “wings” (or hem) of his robe. Nephi uses similar language, in a plea to have God encircle him with the robe of his righteousness. The imagery of wings most often takes the form of a bird spreading its wings over its young, with Israel being gathered as a hen gathering her chicks. The Book of Mormon often references these wings as wings of healing, connecting them directly to Christ and his healing power.
As a kid, I remember having a bit of trouble churning my way through certain chapters of the Old Testament, places where my eyes passed over the words, but where the meaning escaped me. But whenever Psalms started talking about taking refuge under God’s wings, I was always on board. There are few metaphors more powerful or instinctive than a mother hen reaching out to protect her young, or a father yearning to embrace a wayward son. I love that the Book of Mormon makes good use of the wings metaphors, and I’m glad that Bowen could highlight them so effectively.
I also hope that my children can view my own imperfect attempts to love and shepherd them in a similar light, and that they can see my weak and threadbare wings as wings of healing and protection. Ultimately, my best hope in that is to try to emulate the Savior whose wings I can watch being wrapped around me, and to point them to the God who is reaching out, in patience and love, to embrace them.