An Old Testament KnoWhy
for Gospel Doctrine Lesson 5:
“If Thou Doest Well, Thou Shalt Be Accepted” (Moses 5-7) (JBOTL05B)
[See the link to video supplements for this lesson at the end of this article under “Further Study.”]
Question: Some people believe that the basic teachings and covenants available today in LDS temple ordinances were not revealed to Joseph Smith until he got to Nauvoo. Others say he knew a great deal about temple matters long before that time. What could the Prophet have learned about temple covenants as he translated Moses 5-8 in 1830-31?
Summary: Because the book of Moses tells the story of the Creation and the Fall of Adam and Eve, it is obvious to endowed members of the Church that the book of Moses is a temple text, containing a pattern that interleaves sacred history with covenant-making themes. What may be new to many Latter-day Saints, however, is that the temple themes in the book of Moses extend beyond the first part of this story that contains the fall of Adam and Eve — their “downward road.” There is a part two of the temple story given in the book of Moses that describes an “upward road” that is to be climbed by making and keeping an ordered sequence of temple covenants. Significantly, Moses 5-8 appears to have been structured so as to present the consequences of both keeping and breaking specific temple covenants one by one.
Temple themes throughout the book of Moses. As we saw in a previous article, Moses 1 serves as a prologue to the book of Moses as a whole. It epitomizes both the downward road and the subsequent upward road that was to be followed by Adam and Eve and their descendants. The sequence of events in Moses 1 is similar in many respects to temple ritual, but different in the fact that it depicts an actual ascent to the heavenly temple rather than the sort of figurative ascent that is enacted in the ordinances of earthly temples.
Continuing the sequence of temple teachings that appear in the book of Moses, chapters 2 and 3 describe the symbolic layout of the universe and the Garden of Eden in a way that allows perceptive readers to discern parallels with the architecture and furnishings of ancient Israelite temples. Keeping the temple layout of the Garden of Eden in mind, careful readers will have no trouble recognizing relevant temple symbolism in Moses 4’s description of the downward road of the Fall.
In this article, we will examine the stories of the upward road that are found in the second half of the book of Moses. Only a brief summary can be given here; more extensive discussions of the relevance of these stories to temple covenants can be found elsewhere.
Discussing LDS temple ordinances is a sensitive matter, since endowed Church members agree to keep certain things they learn in the temple confidential. However, the general topic of the temple covenants is not subject to this restriction. For example, in 1977, Elder Ezra Taft Benson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, outlined these covenants to a general audience at a BYU Devotional as including “the law of obedience and sacrifice, the law of the gospel, the law of chastity, and the law of consecration.”
Mark Johnson has argued that temple covenant-making themes in former times influenced both the structure and the content of the material included in the book of Moses. He observed that the author frequently “stops the historic portions of the story and weaves into the narrative framework ritual acts such as sacrifice, … ordinances such as baptism, washings, and the gift of the Holy Ghost; and oaths and covenants, such as obedience to marital obligations and oaths of property consecration.” Johnson goes on to suggest that while, for example, the account of Enoch and his city of Zion was being read anciently, members of the attending congregation might have been “put under oath to be a chosen, covenant people and to keep all things in common, with all their property belonging to the Lord.”
Structuring scripture according to a pattern of temple-related covenant-making is not unique to the book of Moses. For example, in LDS scholar John W. Welch’s analysis of the Sermon on the Mount (given in the Bible) and the Sermon at the Temple (given in the Book of Mormon), he found that the commandments given by Jesus Christ “are not only the same as the main commandments always issued at the temple, but they appear largely in the same order.” In a similar vein, Bible scholar David Noel Freedman highlighted an opposite pattern of covenant-breaking in the “Primary History” of the Old Testament. He concluded that the biblical record was deliberately structured to reveal a sequence where each of the commandments was broken in specific order one by one.
The separation of the “two ways.” The figure above illustrates the progressive separation of the “two ways” due to analogous sequences of covenant-keeping and covenant-breaking documented in the book of Moses. An interesting aspect of looking at the history of Adam through Enoch as a temple text is that — like Christ’s great sermon in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, and the “Primary History” in the Old Testament — the series of covenant-related themes unfolds in what appears to be a definite order of progression.
Also remarkable is that both the ultimate consequences of covenant-keeping as well as those of covenant-breaking are fully illustrated at the conclusion of the account: in the final two chapters of the book of Moses, Enoch and his people receive the blessing of an endless life as they are translated and taken up to the bosom of God while the wicked experience untimely death in the destruction of the great Flood.
Obedience vs. defiance. LDS scripture recounts that God gave Adam and Eve a set of “second commandments” after the Fall. These second commandments included a covenant of obedience. This idea recalls a Christian tradition that God made a covenant with Adam — “ere he came out of the garden, [when he was by the tree] whereof Eve took the fruit and gave it him to eat.” It seems reasonable to suppose that the law of sacrifice, a companion to the law of obedience, was also given to Adam and Eve at this time, before they came to live in the mortal world.
Moses 5:1-6 highlights the subsequent obedience of Adam and Eve by enumerating their faithfulness to each of the commandments they had been given. Adam began to “till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow.” Likewise Eve fulfilled the commission she had received in the Garden of Eden and “bare… sons and daughters, and they began to replenish the earth.”
Later, in defiant counterpoint, Satan also came among the children of Adam and Eve demanding their obedience, “and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not.” From that point on, many of them openly demonstrated that they “loved Satan more than God,” becoming “carnal, sensual, and devilish.”
Sacrifice vs. Perversion of Sacrifice. Once Adam and Eve had passed their initial test of obedience to the laws they had been given in the Garden of Eden, God, seeing that it was “expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them … sent angels to converse with them … and made known unto them the plan of redemption.” To Adam was explained that the law of sacrifice that he had been previously given in the Garden of Eden was “a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.”
Abel followed the pattern of his father in perfect obedience to God and offered a lamb in sacrifice. By way of contrast, Cain, at the command of Satan, “offered the fruit of the ground as a sacrifice, which was not symbolic of Christ’s great act of redemption. … Instead of purchasing a lamb or another animal that would serve as an appropriate sacrifice, he offered what he produced.” Speaking of the reason Cain’s sacrifice was rejected, the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that “ordinances must be kept in the very way God has appointed” — in this case by “the shedding of blood… [as] a type, by which man was to discern the great Sacrifice which God had prepared.”
The Gospel vs. Works of Darkness. Although in a general sense, “the law of the Gospel embraces all laws, principles, and ordinances necessary for our exaltation,” the interpretive context of the temple specifically brings to mind pointed instructions relating to Christlike behavior toward one’s fellow man.
Such instructions parallel some of the items prohibited in the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, “such as laughing too loudly, gossiping, and immodest dress.” D&C 20:54, also bearing on this theme, instructs teachers in the Church that they should watch over members, assuring that there is “neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking.” Likewise, members of the Kirtland School of the Prophets were told: “cease from all your light speeches, from all laughter, from all your lustful desires, from all your pride and light-mindedness, and from all your wicked doings.”
Conforming to the sequence of revealed laws found in other temple texts, the term “Gospel” occurs in the book of Moses only twice—and in neither case does its order of appearance defy our expectation of consistency with the sequence of temple covenants. Moses 5:58 tells of how through Adam’s effort “the Gospel began to be preached from the beginning.” Adam and Eve were tutored by holy messengers, and he and Eve in turn “made all things known unto their sons and daughters.” The mention of the Holy Ghost falling upon Adam carries with it the implication that he had at that point already received the ordinance of baptism, something that might have logically occurred soon after the angel’s explanation of the meaning of the law of sacrifice.
The ordinance of baptism was followed by additional instruction concerning the plan of salvation given “by holy angels,… and by [God’s] own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Bestowals of divine knowledge, the making of additional covenants, and the conferral of priesthood power must have surely accompanied these teachings. “And thus all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance, and the Gospel [was] preached, and a decree [was] sent forth, that it should be in the world, until the end thereof.”
Sadly, scripture records that, despite Adam and Eve’s efforts to spread “light and truth,” “works of darkness began to prevail among the sons of men.” Rejecting the covenants, the ordinances, and the universal nature of the brotherhood enjoined by the Gospel, they reveled in the exclusive nature of their “secret combination” by whose dark arts “they knew every man his brother.” “Seeking for power,” they engaged in “wars and bloodshed.”
Chastity vs. Licentiousness. The law of chastity is not mentioned explicitly in the book of Moses. However, it teaches the value of orderly family lines in contrast to problems engendered by marrying outside the covenant. Moses 6:5–23 describes the ideal family relationships established established by the righteous descendants of Adam and Eve. A celestial marriage order is also implied in Moses 8:13, where Noah and his righteous sons are mentioned. The patriarchal order of the priesthood “which was in the beginning” and “shall be in the end of the world also” is depicted as presiding over a worthy succession of generations in the likeness and image of Adam, just as Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God.
However, in contrast to these “preachers of righteousness,” several histories not included in the Bible speak of “fornication… spread from the sons of Cain” which, “flamed up” and tell how “in the fashion of beasts they would perform sodomy indiscriminately.”
Both the disregard of God’s law by the granddaughters of Noah who “sold themselves” in marriage outside the covenant and the subversion of the established marriage selection process by the “children of men” are summed up by the term “licentiousness” (from Latin licentia = “freedom”—in the negative sense of the word). As for the mismatched wives, Nibley explained that the “daughters who had been initiated into a spiritual order, departed from it and broke their vows, mingling with those who observed only a carnal law.” Additionally, the so-called “sons of God” (a self-designation made in sarcasm by way of counterpoint to Noah’s description of them as the “children of men” in the preceding verse) were under condemnation.
Though the Hebrew expression that equates to “took them wives” is the normal one for legal marriage, the words “even as they chose” (or, in Westermann’s translation, “just as their fancy chose”) would not have been as innocuous to ancient readers as they seem to modern ones. The choice of a mate is portrayed as a process of eyeing the “many beauties who take [one’s] fancy” rather than “discovery of a counterpart, which leads to living as one in marriage.” The Hebrew expression underlying the phrase “the sons of men saw that those daughters were fair” deliberately parallels the temptation in Eden: “the woman saw that the tree … became pleasant to the eyes.” The words describe a strong intensity of desire fueled by appetite — which Alter renders in his translation as “lust to the eyes.” In both cases, God’s law is subordinated to the appeal of the senses.
Draper et al. observe that the words “eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage” “convey a sense of both normalcy and prosperity,” conditions of the mindset of the worldly in the time of Noah that Jesus said would recur in the last days. The wining, dining, courtships, and weddings will continue right up to the great cataclysm of the Flood “while superficially all seems well. To the unobservant, it’s party time.”
Consecration vs. Corruption and Violence. President Ezra Taft Benson described the law of consecration as being “that we consecrate our time, talents, strength, property, and money for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God on this earth and the establishment of Zion.” He noted that all the covenants made up to this point are preparatory, explaining that: “Until one abides by the laws of obedience, sacrifice, the gospel, and chastity, he cannot abide the law of consecration, which is the law pertaining to the celestial kingdom.”
Moses 7 describes how Enoch succeeded in bringing a whole people to be sufficiently “pure in heart” to fully live the law of consecration. In Zion, the “City of Holiness,” the people “were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”
Just as the life of Enoch can be regarded as a type of the spirit of consecration, so Lamech, who also lived — significantly — in the seventh generation from Adam, serves as a scriptural example of its antitype. While Enoch and his people covenanted with the Lord to form an order of righteousness to ensure that there would be “no poor among them,” Lamech, along with others members of his “secret combination,” “entered into a covenant with Satan” to enable the unchecked growth of his predatory order. Lamech’s “secret works” contributed to the rapid erosion of the unity of the human family, culminating in a terrifying chaos where “a man’s hand was against his own brother, in administering death” and “seeking for power.”
The meanings of the terms “corruption” and “violence,” as used by God to describe the state of the earth in Moses 8:28, are instructive. The core idea of being “corrupt” (Hebrew sahath) in all its occurrences in the story of Noah is that of being “ruined” or “spoiled” — in other words completely beyond redemption. Like the recalcitrant clay in the hands of the potter described by Jeremiah, the people could no longer be formed to good use. The Hebrew term hamas (violence) corresponds to synonyms such as “‘falsehood,’ ‘deceit,’ or ‘bloodshed.’ It means, in general, the flagrant subversion of the ordered processes of law.” We are presented with a picture of humankind, unredeemable and lawless, generating an ever-increasing legacy of ruin and anarchy. This description is in stark contrast to the just conduct of Noah.
The five celestial laws are impressively laid out for us in the text of Moses 5-8. The stories interwoven with these laws make it absolutely clear what kind of consequences can be expected for individuals and societies as they keep or break divine covenants. Remarkably, these laws were described in revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1830, more than a decade before the Nauvoo endowment was administered by him to others.
Having witnessed the culmination of the bloody scenes of corruption and violence in the time of Noah, God concluded to “destroy all flesh from off the earth.” Like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, the wicked at last “were destroyed, because it was better for them to die, and thus be deprived of their agency, which they abused, than entail so much misery on their posterity, and bring ruin upon millions of unborn persons.” Thus, the successive breaking of each of the covenants triggered the same sort of three-strikes-and-you’re-out consequence that David Noel Freedman described in his analysis of the one-by-one breaking of each of the Ten Commandments in the Primary History of the Old Testament.
On the other hand, the promise of being “received… into [God’s] own bosom” like Enoch and his people is extended to all those who, through the cleansing power of the atonement “after all [they] can do,” prepare themselves to receive it. “For this is Zion—the pure in heart”—and we are specifically told that the reward of the pure in heart is that they shall “see God.”
As a video supplement to this lesson, see Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “The LDS story of Enoch As a Temple Text (http://www.templestudies.org/2013-enoch-and-the-temple-conference/conference-videos/). Several other excellent video presentations on Enoch and the temple are available at this same link.
For additional discussion of evidence that Joseph Smith knew much about temple matters early on in his ministry, see: “What Did Joseph Smith Know about Temple Ordinances by 1836?” (https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/2014-temple-on-mount-zion-conference/2014-temple-on-mount-zion-conference-videos/). To download the video, right-click within the video and select the “Save video as …” menu option to download it.
For a free download of J. M. Bradshaw, What Did Joseph Smith Know, a book chapter corresponding to an extended version of this presentation, go to TempleThemes.net. J. M. Bradshaw, et al., How Thankful presents what limited evidence is available that elements of the Nauvoo temple endowment were received by revelation in Kirtland.
For more extensive discussion of the relevance of the stories in Moses 5-8 to temple covenants, see J. M. Bradshaw, Moses Temple Themes (2014), pp. 203-216. The book is available for purchase in print at Amazon.com and as a free pdf download in English or Spanish at www.TempleThemes.net.
For a verse-by-verse commentary on Moses 5-6:12, see J. M. Bradshaw, God’s Image 1, pp. 322-508. For a corresponding detailed commentary on Moses 6:13-7, see J. M. Bradshaw, et al., God’s Image 2, pp. 32-196. The books are available for purchase in print at Amazon.com and as a free pdf download at www.TempleThemes.net.
For a scripture roundtable video from The Interpreter Foundation on the subject of Gospel Doctrine lesson 5, see https://interpreterfoundation.org/scripture-roundtable-55-old-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-5-if-thou-doest-well-thou-shalt-be-accepted/.
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This oft-cited triplet appears to be one of the many stock, fixed distinctive combinations of words “which belonged to the literary tradition of Israel and Canaan, and poets [and prophets], specially trained in their craft, drew on this stock to aid in the… composition of parallel lines.… [These combinations were, figuratively speaking, part of] the poets’ dictionary, as it has been called” (Berlin, cited in J. T. Duke, Pairs, p. 33. See also K. L. Barney, Poetic; J. A. Tvedtnes, Word Groups). Though its equivalent appears only once in the Bible (James 3:15), a combination of these terms in pairs or triplets occurs several times in LDS scripture (Mosiah 16:3; Alma 41:13, 42:10; D&C 20:20, 29:35; Moses 5:13, 6:49).