Context and General Information
- Lehi, before his death, preaches to Jacob a final time.
- People are instructed sufficiently to know good from evil.
- We have the law.
- The law justifies no one. In fact, because of the law and because we are fallen mortals we are cut off – from God physically.
- We are also cut off from God spiritually and will be miserable forever.
- BUT, redemption comes through the Holy Messiah
- Christ offers Himself as a sacrifice for sin to answer the ends of the law.
- If we will come unto Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit, then His sacrifice will answer the ends of the law – and we will not be subject to misery or death.
- It is important that everyone on this earth knows this message. No one can dwell in the presence of God, save it is through Christ – His merits, mercy, and grace. He laid down His life and took it again to bring pass the resurrection of the dead.
- He will also stand an intercessor between us and God – saving us.
Redemption Comes through Christ: Part One – the Law
This is where it really gets good. This is what the gospel is all about. This is it.
As I begin to read and think about this, I realize that there is no way I’m going to write or study what I want to write and study in one single blog post. This is the gospel. This is amazing. So, we’ll take it a part or two at a time…we’ll see.
The first thing to understand is this. Lehi explains:
“And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.” – 2 Nephi 2:5
Today, we will study this scripture a bit. It lays the groundwork for the reason we even need a Savior.
We Know Good from Evil
I spent a little bit of time pondering this in the last post. It was a more personal application of the concept of knowing good and evil. For now, we will study the more general application of knowing good and evil and what it has to do with the law and why we need to be redeemed.
This might give you an insight on my personality, but I often wonder how I can describe the truths of the gospel in a way that people will think of them as applying universally. As I am convinced that the truths and laws of the gospel indeed are universal truths and laws.
So I wonder, if I was speaking to a person not of my faith – or any faith at all, what would they say if I said, “People are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil.” What would they say? Is this true? Do we really know good from evil. As a person of faith and experience my answer is YES.
Lehi doesn’t really philosophize much here. Lehi is speaking to Jacob who, as we know from verse 4, has beheld the glory of Christ. His faith in the Savior is not a budding faith. It is knowledge. So, Lehi can simply state these truths with Jacob as a common shared understanding of the way that this universe works because they are both on the same page.
How did they get there? I suppose it starts in the Garden of Eden. We read:
“And he said unto the woman: Yea, hath God said—Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (And he spake by the mouth of the serpent.)
And the woman said unto the serpent: We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
But of the fruit of the tree which thou beholdest in the midst of the garden, God hath said—Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die;
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” – Moses 4:7-12
The fact that we are all given to know good from evil began when the mother of all living partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
In fact, God said to His Son:
“Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil; and now lest he put forth his hand and partake also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever,” – Moses 4:28
God the Father, Himself, states that the mankind (both Adam and Eve – men and women) had become as God—in that they knew good from evil. Prior to consuming the fruit, they didn’t know. They lived in a state of ignorance.
Subsequently, they knew good from evil and God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence they were made. Additionally, the Lord protected the tree of life with cherubim and flaming sword – so that Adam and Eve wouldn’t yet partake of it. If they did, then they would live forever in their sins – forever banished from God, forever miserable and cut off. The tree of life was protected and man was granted both an Atonement and a time period of mortal life on earth so that we could be redeemed and then prepare to one day meet God again.
Okay, I’m starting to get ahead of myself here. The point is: we know good from evil because of the choice that Adam and Eve made in Eden. We will learn as we continue to study 2 Nephi 2 that this was a righteous choice. Eve was beguiled. She knew that she yearned for more instruction from God. She desired knowledge and progression.
This was why she partook. She saw that the fruit could give her knowledge. Satan beguiled her – with a partial truth and partial lie. The lie: that she wouldn’t die. Partaking of the fruit would expose her to mortality and all of the opposing forces of this world: death, misery, carnality, sensuality – because really, what knowledge do we have without understanding opposition?
So – Satan lied to Eve. She partook of the fruit. Her eyes were opened (knowledge!), she explained why Adam needed to partake of the fruit (so they could truly keep the commandments!), and Adam partook of the fruit as well.
They both had knowledge.
They both understood, after partaking of the fruit, that they were naked.
Indeed it was given to man to know good from evil. And we are still – many thousands and thousands of years later – blessed with an inheritance of knowledge.
The Law is Given unto Men
Again, it is good for us to remember that Lehi is speaking to his son Jacob, who is faithful and who has a basic knowledge of the gospel and the history of the gospel.
Though many people may not be aware of God’s law, this isn’t because He hasn’t given it to us. We have God’s law. We have the ten commandments. The ten commandments are a fundamental part of three world religions. We have the law of God.
One more thing: I think that it is critical for us to realize that this law not only governs us but it governs this earth, maybe this universe. I wonder if we sometimes understand what laws are. Maybe we think that they are arbitrary rules. But they aren’t. Think of them like the law of gravity – a law that governs how this world works. Now, I might be mistaken, so just take what I say with a grain of salt. But I’m trying to understand.
Often, we think of laws as these rules or commandments that are, essentially, customary. In fact, in the dictionary, the first definition of the word law is:
1 a (1) : a binding custom or practice of community: a rule of conduct or of action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority
(2) : the whole body of such customs, practices, or rules
// The courts exist to uphold, interpret, and apply the law
(3) : Common Law
b (1) : the control brought about by the existence or enforcement of such law
// preserved law and order in the town
(2) : the action of laws considered as a means of redressing wrongs
also : Litigation
// developed the habit of going to law over the slightest provocation
(3) : the agency or an agent of established law
// When he saw that the fighting was escalating, he called in the law.
c : a rule or order that it is advisable or obligatory to observe
d : something compatible with or enforceable by established law
e : control, authority” – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: Law
Okay, so when you read this, there is wiggle room. Laws are things that are customary practices of a community. I suppose that if you took it to the extreme, you could then (mistakenly) think that God just made up these rules. But I really don’t believe that.
So – it helps to think of a law in the same terms as a scientific law.
“law: a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions
// a law of thermodynamics
// Boyle’s law” – Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary: Law
Now we’re talking. The law that Lehi is talking about in 2 Nephi 5 isn’t just some community custom. It is an invariable order under the given circumstances. And the commandments that God gives us – help us to keep these laws.
What are some of the laws: the law of sacrifice, the law of obedience, the law of the gospel, the law of chastity, the law of consecration, etc. There were laws governing spiritual and physical life and death. And these laws have been given to us.
Which leads us to the next point…
By the Law no flesh is justified
Or, by the law men are cut off.
Because of the law, and our mortal unclean natures, we are cut off from God – His presence, His life, His light, His hope. We read:
“And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.” – Alma 42:7
After Adam and Eve had partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they were cut off from God’s presence. This was why they were banished from the Garden of Eden. No unclean thing could dwell with God, and they had become unclean. They were sent to live in the lone and dreary world.
They had no way of salvation. They couldn’t do the work themselves necessary to return to God again. They had no purpose on this earth. Even if they multiplied and replenished the earth, as God had commanded, what would be the purpose if it was all temporary and would die anyway? They had no hope. God, their father, their creator, was also susceptible to the laws He had given, so they couldn’t inherit eternal life, joy, or the ability to enter into His presence – on their own merits.
It would be a super sad story if that was the end.
Of course, it isn’t the end!
In fact, the end – that Christ came to redeem us was laid out and planned from the beginning – even before Adam and Eve made the choice that would alienate them from God! Always this has been the plan – we will continue to learn this plan and the reasons for it as we study the Book of Mormon.
What is important now is to understand the miserable and hopeless state of all man – imagine, to know good from evil, but to also know that because of the law, we were cut off – to be dead and miserable forever…This is the groundwork we must truly contemplate in order to then savor the joy that the Redeemer brings.
(Pictured above: joy!)