I noticed the other day that the end of Ether 11 tells us that Ether was actually a prince born to one of those many Jaredite kings-in-captivity. How fascinating then, that it is Ether that God calls as a prophet. Rather than gathering up an army to go retake the kingdom, he goes out preaching and trying to gather up some who are righteous. First of all, what a good example/message for us and for the people: power, position, money, etc. should always be so easily given up, and/or, none of that matters one bit! The gospel message is what matters. Second, I wonder how this heritage affected the way that people heard his message? Where there some who were suspicious of him because he was “that guys’ son”? Did it make it easy or harder to find an audience to teach to? Did they drive them out of town in part because of who he was and not just because of his message? Often, I think, people reject prophets in the Book of Mormon (and throughout history) because of political/ideological reasons (on the surface at least). (To choose political or ideological loyalties over a prophet is always a bad sign, of course, but I think in many cases in history (where there wasn’t a hierarchical church structure like we have that tells us who the prophet is), it would have been hard for many to even recognize a prophet as a prophet when he was speaking against something that they were already committed to. For example, if they already believed that they had to side with a certain country in a war or they would be destroyed and a prophet came telling them to do something differently, how did they know it was a prophet and not a spy from another side of the war? Was he to be listened to or executed as a threat to the country during a state of emergency? That kind of thing sounds so drastic to us because we have the scriptures telling us who was a prophet and who wasn’t. But if you put yourself in their times, and remember that they had to decide if the person coming to them was a prophet or not, you can see the confusion. Politics play a huge role in what we think is “right” or “wrong” and without sincerely praying and listening to the Spirit, how would you know who was a prophet and who wasn’t?
So, imagine now Ether beginning to preach to the people. How would the people have known to trust him as a prophet, w/o listening to the Spirit? He isn’t the the head of the Church – I don’t think the Jaredites had a Church institution as such. He wasn’t of some prophetic line, like Nephi, Jacob, Enos, etc. He came telling them not only to repent, but explaining about a people chosen on the other side of the world who built a city named Jerusalem and had a covenant, etc. How could he convince them to care about all that? They are in the middle of all-out war. Imagine if your country was completely divided and at war, and you were concerned about your side of things being exterminated and/or worried about your children or father dying tomorrow. Then Ether comes along. Are you going to be ready to take time out of your worry and very important plans to hear about a “New Jerusalem” and try to make sense of what all Ether is teaching? Not likely. It’s not likely for the average family to think that is important, and much less so if people are caught up in anger/shedding blood/etc. and don’t have the Spirit with them.
It’s an interesting promise that God has Ether give to the King in chapter 13. Repent, and your household, and you get to keep your kingdom. Here is an automatic guarantee that you’ll win the war, or perhaps won’t even need to have the war. But of course he didn’t. Maybe he liked his lifestyle, he didn’t believe Ether was a prophet, or just wanted to do it his own way through war. But what an interesting offer: what do you want? Power, position, etc? You can have it! Just repent! We don’t usually get offers like that. Usually repenting is undercutting our desire for things like that. Maybe the idea was if they repented the whole people could be saved and that was certainly worth letting him stay in as King. Or, perhaps the idea was that if he repented then it would be great to have him as king still. Obviously these are all guesses, but I thought it was interesting.
A few final rambling thoughts this morning:
The Jaredites have such a unique and obscure relationship with the Abrahamic Covenant. Or at least it’s obscure to me. I was rereading the Tower of Babel story and it seems that it was just the children of Shem who were building the tower. Does that change how we think of Jared and the brother of Jared? Did some sort of Covenant pass through Noah to Shem – was he the “chosen seed“? I thought he was but now I’m not sure. If he was, then it would appear to me that the Jaredites weren’t the ones to whom the covenant passed, since Abraham would receive it generations later in the Old World. Also, and most significant to me, the covenant seed can’t die out (it needs to exist until the second coming) but the Jaredites do die out. But what then do we make of the Jaredites? They do have some sort of covenant, don’t they? Aren’t they some sort of chosen people? How do they relate to the covenant given to Adam down through Abraham and then to all Israel?
I’ve speculated before that perhaps God was hoping the Jaredites would last long enough to be taught by the Nephites and receive the Abrahamic Covenant too. There isn’t any direct mention of such a hope in Ether’s teaching, but why else is he explaining so much about Israel, the remnant of Joseph, etc? Maybe just to help them appreciate the land they are living on? Or to explain why God will choose those newcomers over them if they don’t repent? I’d love to think of other reasons to open up my thinking more. But I have to admit in the past I’ve really liked and held on to that reading, that Ether is teaching them about Israel in hopes they will repent and meet them, and receive their ordinances and become adopted into Israel.
Anyway, there’s a few random thoughts on Ether for the morning.