“Come to the House of the Lord”

2 Chronicles 29–30; 32; 34

LDS manual: here


This lesson focuses on temple worship, and just as it’s hard to see the point of the very repetitive endowment ceremony, so it is with this week’s reading. Basically, it’s still Jehovah / Jesus being okay with all kinds of murder and warfare, but punishing people for the relatively trivial act of not being sufficiently worshipful to him.

He kills king Jehoram by what must have been an agonising illness.

21:14 Behold, with a great plague will the LORD smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods:
21:15 And thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day.

21:19 And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years, his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him, like the burning of his fathers.

He gives up on his followers.

24:20 And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you.

Here’s an illustrative example. King Amaziah is considered one of the good kings.

25:1 Amaziah was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem.
25:2 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, but not with a perfect heart.

He kills ten thousand people. Then he throws ten thousand more over a cliff, and Jehovah doesn’t bat an eye.

25:11 And Amaziah strengthened himself, and led forth his people, and went to the valley of salt, and smote of the children of Seir ten thousand.
25:12 And other ten thousand left alive did the children of Judah carry away captive, and brought them unto the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they all were broken in pieces.

Wait — if it’s not the murders, what is it that gets Jehovah’s dander up? Burning incense to another god. Now God’s all like: whoa, whoa!

25:14 Now it came to pass, after that Amaziah was come from the slaughter of the Edomites, that he brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense unto them.
25:15 Wherefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Amaziah, and he sent unto him a prophet, which said unto him, Why hast thou sought after the gods of the people, which could not deliver their own people out of thine hand?
25:16 And it came to pass, as he talked with him, that the king said unto him, Art thou made of the king’s counsel? forbear; why shouldest thou be smitten? Then the prophet forbare, and said, I know that God hath determined to destroy thee, because thou hast done this, and hast not hearkened unto my counsel.

Could we please please please remember this when Christians say that God is all about love love love, and how he loves everybody? According to the Bible, he’s really all about self-preservation, humans be damned.

Uzziah in chapter 26:3–21 is really the same story. He kills loads of people, and God helps him do it.

26:3 Sixteen years old was Uzziah when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Jecoliah of Jerusalem.
26:4 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah did.
26:5 And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him to prosper.
26:6 And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities about Ashdod, and among the Philistines.
26:7 And God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians that dwelt in Gurbaal, and the Mehunims.

But then he burns incense — and this time it’s to the right god, but in the wrong way! — and God gives him leprosy.

26:16 But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense.
26:17 And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men:
26:18 And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God.
26:19 Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar.
26:20 And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the LORD had smitten him.
26:21 And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD: and Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land.

It seems like nothing good happens to people who fall in with this god. Best advised to stay away.

But the real story for this lesson is the rebuilding of the temple by king Hezekiah. He repairs the place…

29:1 Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah.
29:2 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done.
29:3 He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them.

and restarts temple worship. Sounds like everyone’s really stoked about it.

30:25 And all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and the strangers that came out of the land of Israel, and that dwelt in Judah, rejoiced.
30:26 So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem.

So stoked that they engage in the destruction of the religious traditions of their neighbours, which seems to be the inevitable consequence of religious zeal.

31:1 Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities.

Later, Josiah does the same thing, but he engages in human sacrifice. (Wait — do competing priests count as ‘human’?) Rather chillingly, the Bible refers to this as an act of ‘cleansing’.

34:1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years.
34:2 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left.
34:3 For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.
34:4 And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them.
34:5 And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem.

Main points from this lesson

“A credit card with the Lord”

The real lesson manual contains an excerpt of a Gordon B. Hinckley in which he compares a credit card and a temple recommend.

“I hold before you two credit cards. Most of you are familiar with cards such as these.

“The first is a bank credit card. It permits me to secure merchandise on credit and then pay for my purchases at one time. It is a valuable thing and something to be safeguarded. If stolen and dishonestly used, it could cause me great loss and perhaps considerable embarrassment. In accepting it from my bank, I enter into a contract and become bound by obligations and agreements. In accepting the card, I agree to meet the conditions under which it was issued.

“It is issued for one year only and must be reissued each year if I am to enjoy the privileges afforded by it. It is not really mine. The bank retains ownership. If I fail in my required performance, then the bank may shut off the credit and repossess the card.

“The other card which I have is what we call a temple recommend. It represents a credit card with the Lord, making available to me many of His greatest gifts. The bank card is concerned with things of the world, the recommend with things of God.”

If it was his own credit card, it was probably one of those black ones that comes with a concierge. Bonus points to GBH for using an attention-holding prop, but this is a comparison he should have avoided. For one thing, the explicit money/temple link is very appropriate and very unflattering. For another, credit cards are way better.

Top ten ways a credit card is better than a temple recommend

10. Credit cards can be used to purchase goods and services. A temple recommend can only be used to get into a long and boring religious service, or in Utah County, to get out of a speeding ticket (see You know you were born in Utah County… #10).

9. Both charge high rates of interest. But at least you can avoid paying credit card fees if you pay in time. Tithing is not as easy to avoid.

8. A credit card can put you in debt to a multi-national corporation that will keep you paying all you have for the rest of your life — but only if you use it very foolishly. With a temple recommend, this is its normal and intended purpose.

7. Some credit cards include frequent flyer points. Temple recommends just include creepy old guys touching you (but at least now you’re not naked).

6. Credit cards: rugged plastic with a cool hologram. Temple recommends: flimsy paper with a barcode.

5. Banks are required to let you know the rules surrounding the use of your credit cards. Members of the church do not have access to the Church Handbook of Instructions (leaked copies: Scan Text).

4. You can use credit cards to see more than one movie.

3. When they change the terms of your credit card, they have to send you a notice. When they change the temple ceremony, they do it quietly, and never speak a word about it. Then people claim that the earlier terms never existed.

2. Credit cards renew pretty much automatically. Temple recommends require you to have a tedious interview every year with some guy about your beliefs, associations, and actions.

1. If you cut up your credit card, no one comes to repossess your family for eternity.

That last one is the sticking point. Some people would pay anything to be with their family for eternity. And if you think the church has the authority to keep you together — and, more importantly, keep you apart — and this is conditional on temple attendance, AND you have to pay the church to go to the temple… well, it’s pretty clear that this is financial coercion. This isn’t a covenant freely entered into. This is a hostage situation. What the LDS Church does is something close to racketeering. “Nice family; shame if something was to happen to it.” It’s why I say that ‘eternal families’ is the most evil doctrine of the entire LDS Church. Once you think they have your family, there’s nothing you won’t do for them.

What the temple was like for me

I went to the temple for the first time in September 1987, before the 1990 changes. (New name: Titus.) That means I still remember the penalties. It was an odd experience to be there with my Mom and Dad and several other family members, all pantomiming our murders, with our throats slit, and our bowels disemboweled if we were to reveal the tokens and signs. (The penalties used to be even more graphic.) And then walking around in the Celestial Room wearing those odd outfits with my family. I imagine that if I’d gone through on my own, I would have NOPED out of there. However, seeing my family doing the ritual, and them feeling so happy that I’d done it too, went a long way towards reassuring me. As intended, I’m sure.

One thing about my brain that I’ve learned to live with is that I always have a song in my mind. I always have, for as long as I can remember. And the odd thing is that as I go through my day, I’ll find that the song might have lyrics that are somehow fitting to the situation. I can’t help it; I guess my brain is always free-associating. I’ll think: why this song? And then I’ll sort through the lyrics and find a phrase that someone just said or that seems appropriate to what’s happening. For example, when my dear Uncle Richard told me he was going deaf, and how painful this was for him, I noticed that the song on my iBrain during the whole conversation was Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”. The iBrain can be cruel that way.

This musical tendency made for some interesting musical accompaniments during temple ceremonies. Imagine me, a TBM, believing and trying to have a good temple experience, and this is the song for the entire endowment.

Or this one — a real blast from the 80s.

I still like this song in particular; it’s a good way of looking at groups that stress mental conformity. But at the time, these songs were unwelcome. And I couldn’t seem to stop them. What was it about the temple — or about me — that made these songs come up, and not something more happy and inspiring? Looking back, I think my brain knew more than I did.

As a believer, I always approached the temple in kind of a Zen way: yes, it was repetitive, but maybe there was something to be gained by going through the ritual. And I felt certain that there were deeper things in the temple that could only be understood by going through the ritual over and over. I remember hearing Spencer W. Kimball’s statement (also related by a visitor to this page) that he had only just started to understand the temple. Surely if I just continued and “endured to the end”, I would grasp the great truths at the heart of the endowment.

And then after more years of activity in the church, after years of conference talks, recycling through the same Sunday School lessons a few times, and above all temple sessions, I began to realise that there really wasn’t anything more. The whole process of church activity seemed characterised by a kind of intellectual vapidity that wasn’t just me. It was endemic to a process in which questions had no good way of being answered, and in fact could never really be answered.

By contrast, I was at this time learning about science and skepticism, and I was amazed that there was so much that could be learned about this vast universe through natural means. While the people who used supernatural means were getting it more and more obviously wrong, people doing science were getting it right. Valuing the scientific method was important to my process of rejecting supernaturalism, religion, and mysticism. Without that, I might still be stuck in the same old rituals. The temple might have become my cage.

The real manual asks:

Once we have made these covenants, why is it important that we return to the temple as often as possible?

Ask: Why would the church say it’s important to keep doing session after session?
My answer today is that

  • it’s an investment in time that members will be less willing to dump the more time is invested
  • it’s a way of making the church seem normal and the real world seem less normal, and the longer you do it, the more normal it seems

Got any other ideas? Why would this sleepy ritual become the focal point of Mormon worship? Leave your ideas in comments.

Additional teaching ideas

The return of really old people

We haven’t seen any absurdly superannuated people for a while, but here’s one.

24:15 But Jehoiada waxed old, and was full of days when he died; an hundred and thirty years old was he when he died.

I think attributing great age to someone is just how people say that the person was a great hero. So take a guess whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. Yup, he’s a good guy. If he’d done anything morally questionable, Jehovah / Jesus would have killed him. The Old Testament is kind of like a horror movie in that way.

Joseph Smith taught that animal sacrifice would happen again

Animal sacrifice was a part of temple worship for ancient Judah.

29:32 And the number of the burnt offerings, which the congregation brought, was threescore and ten bullocks, an hundred rams, and two hundred lambs: all these were for a burnt offering to the LORD.
29:33 And the consecrated things were six hundred oxen and three thousand sheep.

That’s a lot of animals.

Unsurprisingly, the real lesson manual says that animals are no longer sacrificed in temples:

Explain that although some of the practices in the temple of ancient Israel were different from what we do in latter-day temples (for example, we do not sacrifice animals or burn candles and incense in latter-day temples), the purposes of ancient temples and latter-day temples are the same: to prepare us to come into the presence of the Lord and be like him.

However, rather surprisingly, Joseph Smith taught that animal sacrifice would return as part of the restitution of all things.

Words of Oliver B. Huntington: I heard the Prophet reply to the question: “Will there ever be any more offering of sheep and heifers and bullocks upon altars, as used to be required of Israel?”
He said: “Yes, there will; for there were never any rites, ordinances of laws in the priesthood of any gospel dispensation upon this earth but what will have to be finished and perfected in this last dispensation of time — the dispensation of all dispensations.”

Now that would be interesting! No one would be sleeping through an endowment, I assure you. But what about all that carpet?

It shouldn’t need to be said that putting your sins onto animals and killing them instead is an evasion of responsibility. And killing an animal or a person to show a god that you really really like him or that you’re very grateful is unnecessary, if he’s all-knowing.

* * *

Sorry there aren’t any funny memes or video for this lesson; Kings and Chronicles are tough chapters. But we’re getting into some good stuff. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are next! And then it’s all the psycho minor prophets. You’re going to love ’em. See you next week!