Review of Matriarch, by Adam Wing

I just finished reading the delightful fantasy/horror/fairy-tale novella Matriarch, by Adam Wing. This independently published novella was a pleasant and very welcome surprise. I have come to expect that most indie novels will be poorly written and even more poorly edited, but Matriarch did not fit that expectation at all. It was very well written, fast paced, and had a wonderful plot with a great  twist at the end. Overall, it was an enthralling read.

Since Matriarch is a novella, it was an easy and quick read. I read it all in one sitting, with a short break for supper. When I reached the end, I wished it had been longer, but I’m not sure what more the author could have written. He got to the end and stopped. Can’t ask him to keep writing after the story is over, can we?

One of the things I liked best about Wing’s writing was his rich use of figurative language. Whether he was describing a silver bracelet with tarnish “painted on” by time and neglect, or a tree that lunged like a viper, every pageand nearly every paragraphwas brought to life by vivid images and unique metaphors that helped me see with new eyes.

The editing was pretty good. A few British spellings surprised me, but I couldn’t tell if that was consistent throughout the story or not. There were, however, a few missing punctuation marks and a few word-choice errors, such as bobbles instead of baubles, overwriting instead of overriding, and exaltation instead of exultation. But those errors were few and did not detract from the story.

There were several surprising twists in Matriarch that I did not really see coming. The final twist was a very good one, but I was delighted that once that twist was revealed, Wing let the story continue long enough to build a great deal of suspense. Nicely done.

Overall, Matriarch, by Adam Wing, was an exciting novella. I recommend it highly and give it a good solid four thumbs up.

Available on Amazon by clicking here.

Four Different “Ensigns to the Nations” in the Isaiah Chapters of the Book of Mormon

Back in February, I wrote an article that I called “Three Different Ensigns to the Nations.” Then I found a fourth ensign, so I rewrote that post. I may still find more. We’ll see.

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Four Different “Ensigns to the Nations”
in the Isaiah Chapters of the
Book of Mormon

by F. Allan Roth
© 2020

The Book of Mormon quotes extensively from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, including several chapters quoted more or less in their entirety. One phrase that is well-known, even though it appears only twice in those “Isaiah chapters” is the phrase “an ensign to the nations.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has named a magazine after that phrase. Early pioneers named a mountain after it, and at least one well-loved hymn was based on it (“High On A Mountain Top”).

However, even though the words “ensign to the nations” appear only twice in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 15:26 and 2 Nephi 21:12), at least four different “ensigns” are mentioned in the Isaiah chapters of the Book of Mormon. When we understand how each of those ensigns is different, and how each one presages a different event in both temporal history and in the spiritual growth of both ancient and modern Israel, we will better understand the Book of Mormon and the people whose record it is.

One problem that makes it difficult to recognize all four of the different ensigns is that the translators of the King James Version of the Holy Bible used different English words to translate the same Hebrew word. The Hebrew word nês which was translated as ensign in two verses was translated as banner in another verse and standard in still another. Since the Book of Mormon follows the language of the King James Version fairly closely, the difficulty in recognizing them

In Isaiah’s day (and in Nephi’s), an ensign was a battle flag. An ensign could be raised to gather soldiers to “rally ’round the flag,” or it could be raised to gather people for some other purpose. In the chapters of Isaiah that Nephi quoted, two of the ensigns are battle flags, calling people of the world to war. The other two are gathering flags, calling people of the world together.

These ensigns are found in the following chapters:

Ensign B. of M. Chapter Isaiah Chapter Purpose
First Battle Ensign 2 Nephi 15 Isaiah 5 Scattering of Israel and Judah
First Gathering Ensign 2 Nephi 21 Isaiah 11 Gathering of Israel and Judah
Second Gathering Ensign 1 Nephi 21 and 2 Nephi 6 Isaiah 49 Call the Gentiles to help gather Israel
Second Battle Ensign 2 Nephi 23 Isaiah 13 Final destruction of the wicked

 

The First Battle Ensign

The first battle ensign is described in 2 Nephi 15:24–30. This ensign is clearly a battle flag by the way it is described.

24     Therefore, as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, their root shall be rottenness, and their blossoms shall go up as dust; because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

25     Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them; and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.[Note 1]

26     And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth; and behold, they shall come with speed swiftly; none shall be weary nor stumble among them.

27     None shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken;

28     Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.

29     They shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver.

30     And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea; and if they look unto the land, behold, darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.

In order to understand the meaning of the ensign in this passage, it is first necessary to read the parable of the vineyard at the beginning of chapter 15. In that parable, Isaiah sings of his “wellbeloved” (the Lord) and His vineyard (Israel).

The parable says that the Lord has done much for His vineyard. He has built protective fences and hedges around it to keep out the animals that might eat the vines. He has picked the stones out of the soil (a mighty task, since the Holy Land is well blessed with stones). He has planted the choicest vines in this vineyard, built a tower so a watchman on the tower could keep out intruders, and then he built a winepress in anticipation of the coming harvest.

But instead of bringing forth fruit worthy of all the effort He had put into it, the Lord’s vineyard brought forth wild grapes (verse 2).

Beginning in verse 5, the Lord announces what He will do to His vineyard for being so unproductive. First, He will take away the protective hedge around it, so that animals can come in and eat the vines, and He will break down the wall around it that was built to keep out intruders. Then, He will lay it waste and neither prune nor cultivate it, allowing weeds to thrive where grape vines once grew.

And finally, after the wild animals have eaten the vines, and after briers and thorns have infested the ground, He will command the rain not to fall on His vineyard, so that even the roots will dry up and die.

Then verses 9 through 12 list additional afflictions that the Lord will impose upon Israel, and then verse 13 announces that His people are going to go into captivity.

That is the background for the prophecy of the first ensign to the nations.

Just as the parable of the vineyard described the Lord’s anger against His wayward people, verse 24 says that His apostate people will be burned like stubble. Verse 25 re-states that the Lord’s anger is directed against “his people,” and He has “stretched forth his hand against them.” The ensign lifted up in verse 26 is NOT lifted up to gather God’s people; it is lifted up to gather “the nations” to fight against God’s people. The Hebrew words used in this verse[Note 2] specifically refer to an ensign to the Gentile nations. (The Hebrew word, goyim, which today is still commonly used to refer to Gentiles, literally means “the nations.”)

God will “hiss” (i.e., whistle) to call the Gentile nations “from the end of the earth” the way a hunter might whistle to his dogs. And they shall come! They will come swiftly to God’s call. None of the invaders will be weary or sleepy. None will even stumble. And all will come ready to fight. Not one belt will be unbuckled nor one shoelace broken. Their arrows will be sharp, their bows will be strung and ready, and they will come prepared to capture and destroy the apostate people who were once God’s chosen.

This mighty Gentile army will come like lions, ready to grab their prey, and the prey will be the Jews. There will be nobody to protect the Jews, so the invaders will be able to capture their prey and safely march away with them. There will be no one to deliver the Jews from God’s righteous anger. The invaders will leave the land dark and sorrowful behind them.

When will this prophesied destruction occur? Because of the captivity mentioned in verse 13, it may have already occurred. The most likely interpretation of this prophecy is that it was predicting the destruction and captivity of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians (around 720 BC) and the capture of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians (around 590 BC). It might also be interpreted as a prophecy of the later destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (around 70 AD), when the Jewish nation was finally destroyed and scattered.

I think it is possible that the headnotes to 2 Nephi 15 might have confused this battle ensign with the first gathering ensign, described in 2 Nephi 21. The headnotes to chapter 15 say that “The Lord will lift an ensign and gather Israel.” It’s easy to see the phrase “ensign to the nations” and mistakenly think “gathering of Israel.” But to me, this chapter does not seem to prophesy the peaceful gathering of Israel; it seems to predict the violent scattering of Israel. It prophesies the gathering of a vast army of marauding Gentiles who would enslave and scatter a people ripened in iniquity. The war ensign described in this chapter ushered in a punishment of apostate Israel and seems to me to have served a totally different purpose than the gathering ensign, which will be raised to gather Israel to Zion.

However, since the prophecies of Isaiah apply to our time, as well as to Isaiah’s or Nephi’s times, there is an implicit warning in this prophecy. Just as God’s anger was kindled against His people when they went astray twenty-six hundred years ago, His anger could be kindled against His people again today if we become ripened in iniquity. We also could be scattered and destroyed if we were to fall away from our covenants with the Lord. God is the same today, yesterday, and forever.

How much more wicked will we need to become before God cuts down our hedge and allows the beasts of the field to eat us?

Who will be our Babylonians?

 

The First Gathering Ensign

The next ensign, which I call the first gathering ensign, is described in 2 Nephi 21:10–16 (Isaiah 11).

10     And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek; and his rest shall be glorious.

11     And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.

12     And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

13     The envy of Ephraim also shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.

14     But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines towards the west; they shall spoil them of the east together; they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them.

15     And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind he shall shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dry shod.

16     And there shall be a highway for the remnant of his people which shall be left, from Assyria, like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.

There are two ensigns in this passage Verse 10 states that a root of Jesse will stand as one “ensign of the people” (nês lə ‘am·mîm).[Note 3] The Gentiles will seek (and presumably find) this ensign. Nephi says that the Lord will actually set the Gentiles “up for a standard” (1 Nephi 22:6).

Verse 11 makes it clear that “in that day” (i.e., at the same time the Gentiles begin to gather with Israel), the Lord will set his hand “the second time” to recover the remnant of God’s people from wherever they have been scattered across the earth.

The Hebrew phrase nês lag·gō·w·yim that Isaiah used in verse 12 of this chapter is precisely the same phrase that was translated as “an ensign to the nations” in chapter 15. Both the “outcasts of Israel” and the “dispersed of Judah”[Note 4] will gather to this ensign from whatsoever Gentile nations in which they have been outcast, scattered, or dispersed. From all over the earth they will come. The “ten Lost Tribes” will come from the north; I assume the descendants of Lehi will come from the Americas; those who followed Hagoth will come from the isles of the sea (Alma 63:5–10); and all other branches of Israel that the Lord has broken off will come from their respective corners of the Lord’s vineyard, whether near or far. Together, the tribes of Israel will gather with the faithful Gentiles who have joined Israel to be adopted in with God’s chosen people.

However, this ensign is not necessarily signaling to the Gentiles of those nations, but to the dispersed Hebrews who live among the Gentile nations. Verse 11 says that the Lord is going to recover “the remnant of his people which shall be left,” and verse 12 states that both Israel and Judah will be gathered out from all parts of the earth. In the latter days, when the children of Jacob are gathered, the two ancient kingdoms, which had been traditional enemies for hundreds of years, will be reunited once again. This unification will eliminate the ancient enmity that previously existed between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Ephraim (the lead tribe of the kingdom of Israel) will no longer envy Judah, and Judah will no longer vex Ephraim (verse 13).

Then, after the once-scattered kingdoms of Israel and Judah have again been reunited and are joined to the righteous Gentiles, verses 14 and 15 prophesy that God’s gathered army will destroy all of the wicked nations and peoples who have rejected God’s word and have fought against His people.

The ensign described in verse 12 is the scarf that was waved from Ensign Peak in July of 1847. It ushered in a period of gathering, in which all twelve tribes of Israel will eventually be reunited, together with the faithful Gentiles who accept the gospel and are adopted in.

Even though this gathering ensign initially was raised for the peaceful purpose of gathering Israel, Judah, and the faithful Gentiles, this gathering will end up leading to warfare again. This, however, will be a totally different war than the war that scattered Israel, as heralded by the first battle ensign described in 2 Nephi 15, but it might be the same war that will be led by the second battle ensign described in 2 Nephi 23.

The Second Gathering Ensign

The second gathering ensign is found in two verses that are quoted in two different chapters in the Book of Mormon. Those two verses are first quoted in 1 Nephi 21:22-23. The same two verses are found in 2 Nephi 6:6-7, and they are discussed in 2 Nephi 10:9. Those verses come from Isaiah with only a single letter of difference (toward became towards). In both chapters, they read as follows:

22     Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

23     And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers; they shall bow down to thee with their face towards the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.

This passage is slightly different that the two previous chapters, since the word translated “my standard” is nis·sî, rather than nês. The difference between is nis·sî and nês is a personal possessive pronoun. In this verse the Lord calls it “my standard,” rather than simply “a standard.” This passage clearly specifies that the Lord’s standard is being raised to the Gentiles.

These verses, quoted by both Nephi and his brother Jacob, were also interpreted by both prophets.

In 1 Nephi 22, Nephi was asked by his brothers “What meaneth these things which ye have read?” Nephi responded by discussing the scattering and subsequent gathering of Israel. In verse 3 of that chapter, he said, “it appears that the house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations.” In verse 4, he said that “the more part of all the tribes” (i.e., the ten “lost tribes”) had already been led away and scattered.

After Israel was scattered and vilified, he said that they would be “nursed by the Gentiles” (verse 6), and said that this “is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders” (verse 8). So according to these verses, references to carrying and nourishing were references to the Gentiles bringing the restored gospel to the remnants of Lehi’s people (nourishing) and helping the remnants of Lehi’s people be gathered with the rest of Israel (carrying).

Similarly, when Jacob quoted the same two verses, he also interpreted them somewhat. In 2 Nephi 6:8, he said he would “speak somewhat concerning these words.” He pointed out that Jerusalem had been destroyed, and the people had been slain and carried away captive. And in verse 9 of that chapter he said that the Lord had shown him “that they should return again.” He mentioned the conversion of the Gentiles (verse 12) and mentioned that the Lord would “set himself again the second time” to recover his chosen people.

 

The Second Battle Ensign

The final ensign is another battle flag, described in 2 Nephi 23, but in this chapter it is called a banner, rather than an ensign.

2       Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them, shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles.

3       I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones, for mine anger is not upon them that rejoice in my highness.

4       The noise of the multitude in the mountains like as of a great people, a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together, the Lord of Hosts mustereth the hosts of the battle.

5       They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, yea, the Lord, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.

6       Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.

7       Therefore shall all hands be faint, every man’s heart shall melt;

8       And they shall be afraid; pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.

9       Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.

10     For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.

11     And I will punish the world for evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay down the haughtiness of the terrible.

12     I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.

13     Therefore, I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.

14     And it shall be as the chased roe, and as a sheep that no man taketh up; and they shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land.

15     Every one that is proud shall be thrust through; yea, and every one that is joined to the wicked shall fall by the sword.

16     Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled and their wives ravished.

17     Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver and gold, nor shall they delight in it.

18     Their bows shall also dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children.

19     And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

20     It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.

21     But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

22     And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces; and her time is near to come, and her day shall not be prolonged. For I will destroy her speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish.

In this chapter, the phrase “ensign to the nations” does not appear in the language of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. The KJV, as well as the Book of Mormon, uses the word banner rather than ensign, even though the original Hebrew in this chapter of Isaiah used the word nês: precisely the same word that was translated as ensign in the other chapters.

This time, the banner is not raised “to the nations.” This banner is raised upon God’s holy mountain. This time, God is not calling the Gentile nations to fight against Israel. This time, He is commanding His “sanctified ones” and “mighty ones” that He has already gathered. His anger this time is not directed against his chosen people or against those who rejoice in His highness. The great people who were gathered from all nations to the gathering ensign will now become a vast multitude “in the mountains,” and they will be the Lord’s “hosts of the battle” (verse 4).

God’s chosen people will be the weapons of His indignation (verse 5) to destroy the wicked. So many sinners will be destroyed that the land will be left empty and desolate (verse 9). The wicked will howl and faint and their hearts shall melt. This battle will be God’s righteous punishment of the world, the wicked, the proud, and the terrible (verse 11).

Babylon (the wickedness of the world) will be finally overthrown and made desolate, and shall never be inhabited again, representing the final triumph of good over evil.

Verse 22 makes it clear that even though the wicked will be destroyed, God will have mercy on His own people, who will survive.

Since Babylon was destroyed by the Medes more than two thousand years ago, many people have assumed that this refers to some battle fought in antiquity. However, that battle was not led by God’s righteous followers. Therefore, this prophecy must also refer to a battle yet to take place in the final days of this earth.

In those final days, God’s people will be gathered to His ensign. They will do battle with the wicked, and God’s people will emerge triumphant.

Conclusion

The four different ensigns to the nations described in the “Isaiah chapters” of the Book of Mormon usher in four totally different events. The first battle ensign ushered in the scattering of Israel. The first gathering ensign ushered in the gathering of Israel that began in the Sacred Grove, on the Hill Cumorah, and on Ensign Peak, and which continues today. The second gathering standard called righteous Gentiles to help with the gathering of scattered Israel. The second battle ensign will usher in the final cleansing battle between the forces of Good and Evil in the final days.

Four very different ensigns for four very different earth-changing events. And all four of them could apply to us today. Will we be ready?

But why did Nephi and Jacob want to focus on these symbolic ensigns?

Jacob gave part of the answer when he told the Nephites that Isaiah’s words “may be likened unto you, for ye are of the house of Israel” (2 Nephi 8:5). Nephi suggested the same thing when he asked his brothers, “Are we not broken off from the house of Israel, and are we not a branch of the house of Israel?” (1 Nephi 15:12).

The Nephites were part of scattered Israel, so Nephi and Jacob quoted some of the prophecies of Isaiah that pertained directly to them. They and all the Israelites and Jews they had once known had been scattered. Someday, they would be gathered in with all of the combined house of Israel once again. And eventually, they would be called upon to fight in the ultimate battle, when good would finally triumph over evil.

And what of us? Do these prophecies apply only to the ancient descendants of Lehi, who died long ago?

No. They apply to us as much as to them, although perhaps in a different way.

We probably won’t be enslaved by Assyrians or Babylonians and taken to the land between the rivers or to the lands of the north. But if we are faithless — as the ancient people of Israel were — we can be “scattered” or separated from the body of the Church. And we can be made slave to sin or to drugs or to pornography or other addictions. If we are thus scattered or enslaved, it will be righteous punishment for our sins.

Like the ancient Israelites, if we are scattered or enslaved, we can come back. Some of us might be strong enough to come back on our own. Others will need to be carried or nurtured by “nursing fathers” or “nursing mothers.” And those who carry or nurture us will be as kings and queens.

The prophecies apply to us today, for we also are Israel.

 

END NOTES

[1]  Today, when we hear that somebody’s hand is “stretched out,” we often think of a hand stretched out in friendship, generosity, or welcome. That connotation is not what Isaiah had in mind when he said the Lord’s hand was “stretched out still.” Isaiah intended to describe a hand stretched out in anger, perhaps clenched in a fist or grasping a sword. Note that the anger of the Lord is kindled against His people, and He has stretched forth his hand against them. This is not a friendly or welcoming hand. It is an angry hand.

[2]  In this verse, the Hebrew words translated as “ensign to the nations” were nês lag·gō·w·yim, with nês meaning a flag, banner, or ensign, with lag serving as the preposition to, and with gō·w·yim meaning “the goyim” or “the Gentile nations.”

For translations from the Hebrew, I used Bible Hub at this Internet address: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/. Bible Hub provides extremely useful verse-by-verse translations, including the original Hebrew characters and a transliteration into Roman characters, plus the way each verse has been translated into various editions of the Holy Bible, in English, Latin, or Greek.

[3]  According to D&C 113:6, the root of Jesse mentioned in verse 10 is “a descendant of Jesse, as well as of Joseph, unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days.” If this descendant comes from both Jesse and Joseph, then he is of both the tribe of Judah and (most likely) the tribe of Ephraim. This descendant, who serves as an ensign for the gathering of the people, could be the binding link that helps unify Judah and Ephraim as described in verses 12 and 13. See also note [4], below.

[4]  In these verses, the words Israel and Judah are used very precisely and are not synonymous. Those terms refer very specifically to the northern and southern kingdoms that were created after the death of King Solomon. Ten of the original twelve tribes, led by the tribe of Ephraim, established the northern kingdom, which was called Israel. Judah and half the tribe of Benjamin (plus the majority of the Levites) formed the southern kingdom, which was called Judah. For centuries, these kingdoms were hated enemies.

Another Isaiah chapter, 2 Nephi 17, describes one instance of the animosity between the two kingdoms, as Pekah (son of the king of Israel) and combined forces with Syria to try to overthrow the kingdom of Judah. The hostility between the two kingdoms was central to Isaiah’s world, and was still extremely important when Lehi and his family (who came from the northern tribes) left Jerusalem.

The animosity between the kingdoms of the Lamanites and the Nephites must have been a poignant reminder to the Nephites of the ancient animosity between Israel and Judah.

 

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If you enjoyed this discussion of the Book of Mormon, perhaps you will also enjoy A Missionary’s Musings on the Book of Mormon, by F. Allan Roth.

It is available in paperback or e-book exclusively from Amazon.

Review of Songbird at Midnight

John McDonough’s debut novel, Songbird at Midnight (Charming Dragon Press, 2020), absolutely blew me away.

I was just a bit skeptical when I saw that this was an independently published novel. I’ve read some very poorly written and edited indie novels lately, and I approached this one with gritted teeth. But from the first page, Songbird at Midnight dispelled my skepticism. It is an astonishingly good read. The writing is professional and clean, the plot is satisfying, the pace is fast, and the characters are believable and alive.

McDonough’s love of music and his intimate knowledge of Austin, Texas, are interwoven with his understanding of history, mythology, government corruption, and the deep state. His realism smoothly metamorphoses into fantasy so seamlessly that the fantasy elements seem real and believable.

In the story, Austin musician Lochlan Nohr and his band Trip the Shark are rapidly becoming successful in the Austin club scene. When two attractive strangers offer the band an extremely generous recording contract, their good fortune almost seems too good to be true. But then Loch’s triumph is quenched when his unrequited college love goes missing. Loch immediately shifts into amateur detective mode and begins searching for his lost friend.

This cross-cutting detective/adventure/urban fantasy/mystery story kept me reading breathlessly until eleven-thirty at night. If it had been longer, I would have read all night.

I had only one (very minor) complaint about the story. In most stories like this, there is one spectacularly beautiful female character, and none of the other women in the story can compare to her. In Songbird at Midnight, it seems that every woman is more beautiful than the last. Now don’t get me wrong—I don’t mind living in a world where every woman is eye-poppingly beautiful. But by the end, the fact that all of the women are dazzling beauties means than none of them really stands out.

I was glad to see that the cover proclaims Songbird at Midnight to be “the first Lochlan Nohr novel.” I can’t wait for the second.

I can recommend Songbird at Midnight without hesitation. It’s an exciting story and a great read.

Five Thumbs-Up!

 

The Contents and Nature of the Brass Plates of Laban

by F. Allan Roth
© 2020

This morning, I was reading in 1 Nephi 5 about what Lehi found when he read the plates of Laban “from the beginning.” Verses 11 through 15 of that chapter describe the contents as comprising the following:

  • The five books of Moses (verse 11)
  • A record of the Jews down to the reign of Zedekiah (verse 12)
  • The prophecies of the prophets, including many prophecies of Jeremiah (verse 13), who was a contemporary of Lehi.

Then, verse 14 says that Lehi “also found” a genealogy of his fathers on the plates, and he devotes three verses to describing that genealogy.

I’ve read those few verses dozens of times, and I’ve always just glossed over them, thinking that the plates must have contained the scriptures, or the Old Testament, but I’ve never really thought about it more than that. This morning, I thought about it more than that.

It’s a bit inaccurate to say that the brass plates of Laban contained the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible, since the Jews did not have a Bible yet at the time of Lehi. The selection of books that would eventually become the Hebrew Bible had not been agreed upon at that time. They certainly had not been bound together in a single volume yet, and many of them had not even been written yet.

Like the brass plates, the Hebrew Bible as it exists today, also contains three main divisions, the Torah (five books of Moses), the Nevi’im (writings of the prophets), and the Ketuvim (other holy writings). In fact, the most common name among Jews for their Bible is “Tanakh,” which is an acronym for these three divisions, Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim: TaNaKh.

Nephi’s description of the contents of the brass plates is similar, but not identical, to the contents of the Hebrew Bible as it exists today. I believe that a study of what may have been on the brass plates can give us a good idea of the development of the Hebrew Bible as it existed then, in Nephi’s day, six hundred years before Christ.

Five Books of Moses

The first section of the brass plates that Nephi mentioned was the Torah: the five books of Moses. In any discussion of Jewish holy writings, these books always come first, as they are universally regarded as the foundation of Jewish thought, theology, and history. They come first in our Christian Bible, they come first in the Tanakh, and they came first in the brass plates. This is as it should be.

Writings of the Prophets

The third section Nephi mentioned (I’ll skip over his second section, the historical record, for a moment) was the writings of the prophets. This would seem on the surface to correspond fairly well to the Nevi’im in the Hebrew Bible, as long as we realize that many of the prophets we know today had not lived yet at Nephi’s time.

But which prophets would have been included in this section of the brass plates? Actually, not very many. The brass plates contained all or most of Isaiah and some of the writings of Jeremiah, since those prophets are both mentioned by name, and Isaiah is quoted extensively. It is possible that the brass plates could have included some of the so-called minor prophets (Hosea to possibly Zephaniah), but none of those prophets are directly mentioned anywhere in the Book of Mormon. There is a single passage in the Book of Mormon that seems reminiscent of Hosea (2 Ne. 8:16. Compare to Hosea 1:10 and 2:23), but that is the only passage I’ve found so far that seems reminiscent of any of the thoughts of any of the minor prophets.

Other than Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the prophets mentioned in the five books of Moses (Adam, Abraham, Isaac, etc.), not one of the other Old Testament prophets—not even the mighty prophet Elijah—is mentioned by any Book of Mormon prophet. Elijah was mentioned once by Jesus (3 Nephi 25:5, when He gave the Nephites the record of Malachi), but that would not have come from the brass plates.

Since the names of some Old Testament prophets were known among the Nephites (such as Samuel, Joshua, and Gideon) their stories might have been included, but the Hebrew prophets known by those names are never mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The Old Testament prophet Samuel was mentioned (by Jesus) in 3 Nephi 20:24, but like Jesus’s mention of the prophet Samuel, that did not come from the brass plates.

Two other prophets (Zenos and Zenock) who lived during the Old Testament period are mentioned extensively, so their writings must also have been included on the brass plates. Unfortunately, their names and writings are unknown in any other source.

Nephi said that the brass plates contained “the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah.” Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zenos, and Zenock seem to me like a fairly small group of prophets to fit this description.

There might have been other writings on the brass plates that Nephi was considering “prophecies,” though. Some books we today consider historical (such as Joshua, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings) are considered prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible, and Nephi might have been including them among the “prophecies of the prophets.” A few stories (but very few) from those books also seem to have been known by Book of Mormon people.

For example, in 1 Nephi 17:32-33, Nephi reminds Laman and Lemuel of how the Israelites had crossed the Jordan and scattered the children of Canaan. This crossing of Jordan is found in Joshua 3 and subsequent chapters, not in the five books of Moses. Jacob also recounts the story of David and Solomon, and their many wives and concubines (Jacob 2:23-24). This story, which comes from 1 Kings 11 and 2 Samuel 5, probably also was found on the brass plates of Laban.

It is impossible to tell whether those stories were considered by Nephi to be part of the “prophecies of the holy prophets” or whether Nephi would have included them in the section he called the record of the Jews.

But in any case, the prophecies of the prophets found on the brass plates of Laban were not as extensive as we have today.

Record of the Jews

The second section Nephi mentioned was a historical record of the Jews “from the beginning” down to his time. This sounds like a history, but it does not seem to correspond very well to the holy writings from the Hebrew Bible as they are known today.

The only books from the holy writings, or Ketuvim, in the Hebrew Bible that could have existed at Lehi’s day would have been Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, and possibly part of Chronicles. All the other books included in this section of the Hebrew Bible were written after Lehi left Jerusalem.

Surprisingly, there is almost no clear reference in the Book of Mormon to any of these writings. Even the beloved Psalms do not seem to be quoted by any of the Book of Mormon writers, as far as I have found. I can only assume that they were not included on the brass plates.

I have found a single reference to Proverbs in 2 Nephi 4:5, where Lehi told the children of Laman, “I know that if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it.” Here, Lehi seems to have been paraphrasing Proverbs 22:6, but this does not necessarily mean that the book of Proverbs was included on the brass plates of Laban. Lehi was obviously well educated in the scriptures, and he may well have been speaking from memory.

In my opinion, the poetic books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Song of Solomon, as well as the book of Ruth were probably not found on the brass plates. This would explain why Book of Mormon prophets never quote from any of those books.

So what was the “record of the Jews” on the brass plates, and why did Nephi distinguish the record of the Jews as a separate section of the brass plates, distinct from the other sacred writings?

The books we call 1 and 2 Chronicles are a single book in today’s Hebrew Bible, and that book is included among the Ketuvim, rather than among the prophets. Surprisingly, Chronicles begins with Adam and Eve and describes the chronology of the patriarchs and kings of Israel from the Garden of Eden down to Lehi’s day (and beyond, of course).

It could be possible that those portions of the book we now call Chronicles that predated Zechariah’s reign were included on the brass plates. This would correspond perfectly to Nephi’s description of “a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah.”

It is also possible that Nephi was considering the books of Joshua, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings to be part of this “record of the Jews,” rather than part of the prophecies.

A Genealogy of my Fathers

So what of Lehi’s genealogy, which also was on the plates?

The scriptures do not contain a genealogy of Joseph that extends as far as Lehi’s day. The fact that such a genealogy was not part of the scriptures is why Nephi says that Lehi “also found” it on the plates. Nephi had been thoroughly taught in all the “learning of the Jews” (1 Nephi 1:2), so he would have been familiar with all the scriptures and would have recognized that this genealogy did not really belong with the other writings. This may also be why he devoted three verses to describing the genealogy and only a single verse to each of the other three main divisions of the brass plates. Perhaps he thought that since this genealogy was unfamiliar, it needed more explanation. In 1 Nephi 5:16, Nephi mentioned that Laban was also descended of Joseph, as were Lehi and Nephi, explaining why he and his family had kept the brass plates.

Nephi carefully excluded the genealogy from the other portions of the plates that he recognized as scripture. He knew what was scriptural and what was not and kept them separate in his own mind, as well as in his record.

This separation is reiterated in 1 Nephi 6:1-3, where he says that he will not include the genealogy on “these plates which I am writing . . . for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.” In Nephi’s mind, the “also included” genealogy was clearly not the same kind of material as the other scriptural material on the brass plates.

Conclusion

So what? Why does it matter to us today what was on the brass plates?

It seems to me that Nephi’s brief description of the contents of the plates, as found in these few verses, reflects a sophisticated understanding of the thinking of the Jews and reflects a sophisticated understanding of how they viewed their own sacred writings, as well as the level of development of their own canon of scripture. Even though the Jews would not consolidate their writings into a “Bible” for several hundred years after Lehi’s time, even at that early date, they obviously (1) recognized the primacy of the five books of Moses and (2) distinguished between the writings of the prophets and other sacred but historical records. Nephi, being educated in all the learning of the Jews knew this.

Nephi also recognized that the genealogy of Joseph, even though it dealt with a figure from the Torah, was not in the same category of writing as the other works that would become canonized as scripture. It was something else, so he describes it by saying it was “also found” on the brass plates of Laban.

This also explains the limited references to Old Testament stories and scriptures in the Book of Mormon. Many Old Testament stories that are widely known and loved today are completely ignored by the Book of Mormon writers. That’s probably because those stories were not included on the brass plates.

These limitations are followed consistently throughout the Book of Mormon.

 

So if the Book of Mormon was a blatant forgery, a work of fiction, written by an uneducated farm boy from an insignificant farming village in upstate New York (as is so often claimed), how on earth did Joseph Smith manage to describe Jewish theology, literature, and history so accurately in these few spare verses? And how did he manage to get every one of the Biblical references from the other 500-plus pages of the Book of Mormon to conform perfectly with this one-page summary that we pay so little attention to today? Was the twenty-four year old farmer a secret scholar of Jewish lore, more learned than all the professors and ministers of his day? Or was he just lucky?

The answer, of course, is that the Book of Mormon is exactly what it purports to be: a sacred history, written by Israelites who escaped Jerusalem before it was destroyed by the Babylonians, translated by the gift and power of God.

No other explanation really will do.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you enjoyed this discussion of the Book of Mormon, perhaps you will also enjoy A Missionary’s Musings on the Book of Mormon, also by F. Allan Roth.

It is available in paperback or e-book exclusively from Amazon.

 

Three Different “Ensigns to the Nations” in the Isaiah Chapters of the Book of Mormon

by F. Allan Roth
© 2020

I love the Book of Mormoneven the so-called “Isaiah chapters.” About nineteen chapters of the Old Testament book of Isaiah are quoted in the Book of Mormon more or less in their entirety, along with parts of a few other chapters.

At least three of these “Isaiah chapters” describe something called an “ensign to the nations.” Many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hear that phrase and think “the gathering of Israel.” Or maybe they think of Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff climbing Ensign Peak in 1847. But the scarf Wilford Woodruff waved on that peak represented only one of the three ensigns mentioned in the Isaiah chapters of the Book of Mormon. In this post, I intend to show that there are three ensigns and all three are different. All three ensigns ushered in different events, and when all three ensigns are accurately distinguished from the others, our understanding and testimony of the Book of Mormon will be strengthened.

But what’s an ensign? In Nephi’s day, an ensign was a battle flag. You waved an ensign to gather your soldiers together so they could fight as a unit. The enemy had an ensign, too. If a soldier went to the wrong ensign, he could find himself in trouble very quickly.

The first ensign to the nations, mentioned in 2 Nephi 15 (see Isaiah 5) is most definitely a battle-flag. The second ensign, mentioned in 2 Nephi 21 (Isaiah 11), is the scarf that waved from Ensign Peak, calling people to gather to Zion; and the third, mentioned in 2 Nephi 23 (Isaiah 13) is a second battle-flag, but this ensign will usher in a totally different battle than the first one.

The First Battle Ensign

The first ensign is described in 2 Nephi 15:24–30. This ensign is clearly a battle flag by the way it is described.

24        Therefore, as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, their root shall be rottenness, and their blossoms shall go up as dust; because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25        Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them; and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.[Note 1]
26        And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth; and behold, they shall come with speed swiftly; none shall be weary nor stumble among them.
27        None shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken;
28        Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.
29        They shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver.
30        And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea; and if they look unto the land, behold, darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.

In order to understand the meaning of the ensign in this passage, it is first necessary to read the parable of the vineyard at the beginning of this chapter. In that parable, Isaiah sings of his “wellbeloved” (the Lord) and His vineyard (Israel).

In the parable, the Lord has done much for His vineyard. He has built protective fences and hedges around it to keep out the animals that might eat the vines. He has picked the stones out of the soil (a mighty task, since the Holy Land is well blessed with stones). He has planted the choicest vines in this vineyard, built a tower so a watchman on the tower could keep out intruders, and then he built a winepress in anticipation of the coming harvest.

But instead of bringing forth fruit worthy of all the effort He had put into it, the Lord’s vineyard brought forth wild grapes (verse 2).

Beginning in verse 5, the Lord announces what He will do to the vineyard for being so unproductive. First, He will take away the protective hedge around it, so that animals can come in and eat the vines. The animals probably represent other nations (such as Babylon or the Gadianton robbers) that will conquer God’s wayward people. He will break down the wall around it that was built to keep out intruders. Then, He will lay it waste and neither prune nor cultivate it, allowing weeds to thrive where grape vines once grew. The weeds probably represent foreign nonbelievers who will move into the promised land and crowd out God’s people.

And finally, after the wild animals have eaten the vines, and after briers and thorns have infested the ground, He will command the rain not to fall on His vineyard, so that even the roots will dry up and die. The drought when the rain stops is probably a drought of hearing the word of the Lord.

Verses 9 through 12 list additional afflictions that the Lord will impose upon Israel, and then verse 13 announces that His people will go into captivity.

That is the background for the prophecy of the first ensign to the nations.

Just as the parable of the vineyard described the Lord’s anger against His wayward people, verse 24 says that His apostate people will be burned like stubble. Verse 25 re-states that the Lord’s anger is directed against “his people,” and He has “stretched forth his hand against them.” The ensign lifted up in verse 26 is NOT lifted up to gather God’s people; it is lifted up to gather “the nations” to fight against God’s people. The Hebrew words used in this verse[Note 2] specifically refer to an ensign to the Gentile nations. (The Hebrew word, goyim, which is still commonly used to refer to the Gentiles, literally means “the nations.”)

God will “hiss” (i.e., whistle) to call the Gentile nations “from the end of the earth,” and they shall come! They will come swiftly to God’s call. None of the invaders will be weary or sleepy. None will even stumble. And all will come ready to fight. Not one belt will be unbuckled nor one shoelace broken. Their arrows will be sharp, their bows will be strung and ready, and they will come prepared to capture and destroy the apostate people who were once God’s chosen.

This mighty Gentile army will come like lions, ready to grab their prey, and the prey will be the Jews. There will be nobody to protect the Jews, so the invaders can capture their prey and safely march away with them. There will be no one to deliver the Jews. The invaders will leave the land dark and sorrowful behind them.

When will this prophesied destruction occur? Because of the captivity mentioned in verse 13, it has probably already occurred. The most likely interpretation of this prophecy is that it was predicting the destruction and captivity of God’s people by the Assyrians (around 720 BC) and later by the Babylonians (around 590 BC). It might also be interpreted as a prophecy of the later destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (around 70 AD), when the Jewish nation was finally destroyed and scattered.

I think it is possible that the headnotes to chapter 15 might have confused this battle banner with the peaceful gathering banner described in 2 Nephi 21. The headnotes to this chapter say that “The Lord will lift an ensign and gather Israel.” It’s easy to see the phrase “ensign to the nations” and think “gathering of Israel.” But to me, this chapter does not seem to predict the peaceful gathering of Israel; it seems to predict the scattering of Israel. It prophesies the gathering of a vast army of marauding Gentiles who will enslave and scatter a fallen people. The war ensign described in this chapter ushered in a punishment of apostate Israel and seems to me to have served a totally different purpose than the gathering ensign, which will be raised to gather Israel to Zion.

However, since the prophecies of Isaiah apply to our time, as well as to Isaiah’s or Nephi’s times, there is an implicit warning in this prophecy. Just as God’s anger was kindled against His people when they went astray twenty-six hundred years ago, His anger could be kindled against His people again today if we become ripened in iniquity. God is the same today, yesterday, and forever.

How much more wicked will we need to become before God cuts down our hedge and allows the beasts of the field to eat us?

Who will be our Babylonians?

The Gathering Ensign

The second ensign, which I call the gathering ensign, is described in 2 Nephi 21:10–16.

10        And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek; and his rest shall be glorious.
11        And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
12        And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
13        The envy of Ephraim also shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.
14        But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines towards the west; they shall spoil them of the east together; they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them.
15        And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind he shall shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dry shod.
16        And there shall be a highway for the remnant of his people which shall be left, from Assyria, like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.

Verse 10 states that a “root of Jesse” will stand as an ensign of the people.[Note 3] The Gentiles will seek (and presumably find) this ensign. Verse 11 makes it clear that “in that day” (in other words, at the same time the Gentiles begin to gather with Israel), the Lord will set his hand “the second time” to recover the remnant of God’s people from wherever they have been scattered across the earth.

The Hebrew phrase nês lag·gō·w·yim that Isaiah used in verse 12 of this chapter is precisely the same phrase that was translated as “an ensign to the nations” in chapter 15. The “outcasts of Israel” and the “dispersed of Judah”[Note 4] will gather to this ensign from whatsoever Gentile nations in which they have been outcast, scattered, or dispersed. From all over the earth they will come. The “ten Lost Tribes” will come from the north; I assume the descendants of Lehi will come from the Americas; those who followed Hagoth will come from the isles of the sea (Alma 63:5–10); and all other branches of Israel that the Lord has broken off will come from their respective corners of the Lord’s vineyard, whether near or far. Together, the tribes of Israel will gather with the faithful Gentiles who have joined Israel to be adopted in with God’s chosen people.

However, this ensign is not signaling to the Gentiles of those nations, but to the dispersed Hebrews who live among the Gentile nations. Verse 12 states that both Israel and Judah will be gathered out from all parts of the earth. In the latter days, when the children of Jacob are gathered, the two ancient kingdoms, which had been traditional enemies for hundreds of years, will be reunited once again. This unification will eliminate the ancient enmity that previously existed between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Ephraim (the lead tribe of the kingdom of Israel) will no longer envy Judah, and Judah will no longer vex Ephraim (verse 13).

Then, when the gathered kingdoms of Israel and Judah are once again reunited and joined to the righteous Gentiles, verses 14 and 15 prophesy that God’s gathered army will destroy all of the wicked nations and peoples who have rejected God’s word and have fought against His people.

This ensign to the nations described in verse 12 is the scarf that was waved from Ensign Peak in July of 1847. It ushered in a period of gathering, in which all twelve tribes of Israel will eventually be reunited, together with the faithful Gentiles who accept the gospel and are adopted in.

Even though this gathering ensign initially was raised for the peaceful purpose of gathering Israel, Judah, and the faithful Gentiles, this gathering will end up leading to warfare again. This, however, will be a totally different war than the war that scattered Israel, as heralded by the first battle ensign described in 2 Nephi 15, but it might be the same war that will be led by the second battle ensign described in 2 Nephi 23.

The Second Battle Ensign

The final ensign is described in 2 Nephi 23, but in this chapter it is called a banner, rather than an ensign.

2          Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them, shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles.
3          I have commanded my sanctified ones, I have also called my mighty ones, for mine anger is not upon them that rejoice in my highness.
4          The noise of the multitude in the mountains like as of a great people, a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together, the Lord of Hosts mustereth the hosts of the battle.
5          They come from a far country, from the end of heaven, yea, the Lord, and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.
6          Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
7          Therefore shall all hands be faint, every man’s heart shall melt;
8          And they shall be afraid; pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.
9          Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.
10        For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
11        And I will punish the world for evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay down the haughtiness of the terrible.
12        I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.
13        Therefore, I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.
14        And it shall be as the chased roe, and as a sheep that no man taketh up; and they shall every man turn to his own people, and flee every one into his own land.
15        Every one that is proud shall be thrust through; yea, and every one that is joined to the wicked shall fall by the sword.
16        Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled and their wives ravished.
17        Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver and gold, nor shall they delight in it.
18        Their bows shall also dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children.
19        And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
20        It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.
21        But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.
22        And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces; and her time is near to come, and her day shall not be prolonged. For I will destroy her speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish.

In this chapter, the phrase “ensign to the nations” does not appear in the language of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. The KJV, as well as the Book of Mormon, uses the word banner rather than ensign, even though the original Hebrew in this chapter of Isaiah used the word nês: precisely the same word that was translated as ensign in the other two chapters. I do not know why the translators of the KJV chose a different word for this verse, but the meaning is the same.

This banner is not raised “to the nations.” This banner is raised upon God’s holy mountain. This time, God is not calling the Gentile nations to fight against Israel. This time, He is commanding the “sanctified ones” and “mighty ones” that He has already gathered. His anger this time is not directed against his chosen people or against those who rejoice in His highness. The great people who were gathered from all nations to the gathering ensign will now be a vast multitude “in the mountains,” and they will be the Lord’s “hosts of the battle” (verse 4).

God’s chosen people will be the weapons of His indignation (verse 5) to destroy the wicked. So many sinners will be destroyed that the land will be left empty and desolate (verse 9). The wicked will howl and faint and their hearts shall melt. This battle will be God’s righteous punishment of the world, the wicked, the proud, and the terrible (verse 11).

Babylon (the wickedness of the world) will be finally overthrown and made desolate, and shall never be inhabited again, representing the final triumph of good over evil.

Verse 22 makes it clear that even though the wicked will be destroyed, God will have mercy on His own people, who will survive.

Since Babylon was destroyed by the Medes more than two thousand years ago, many people have assumed that this refers to some battle fought in antiquity. However, that battle was not led by God’s righteous followers. Therefore, this prophecy must also refer to a battle yet to take place in the final days of this earth.

In those final days, God’s people will be gathered to His ensign. They will do battle with the wicked, and God’s people will emerge triumphant.

 

The three different “ensigns to the nations” described in the “Isaiah chapters” of the Book of Mormon usher in three totally different events. The first battle ensign ushered in the scattering of Israel. The gathering ensign ushered in the gathering of Israel that began in the Sacred Grove and upon the Hill Cumorah, and which continues today. The second battle ensign will usher in the final cleansing battle between the forces of Good and Evil in the final days.

Isaiah prophesied of three very different ensigns for three very different earth-changing events. And all three of them could apply to us today.

Will we be ready?

 

END NOTES

[1]  Today, when we hear that somebody’s hand is “stretched out,” we often think of a hand stretched out in friendship, generosity, or welcome. That connotation is not what Isaiah had in mind when he said the Lord’s hand was “stretched out still.” Isaiah intended to describe a hand stretched out in anger, perhaps clenched in a fist or grasping a sword. Note that the anger of the Lord is kindled against His people, and He has stretched forth his hand against them. This is not a friendly or welcoming hand. It is an angry hand.

[2]  In this verse, the Hebrew words translated as “ensign to the nations” were nês lag·gō·w·yim., with nês meaning a flag, banner, or ensign, with lag serving as the preposition, and with gō·w·yim meaning “the goyim” or “the Gentile nations.”
For translations from the Hebrew, I used Bible Hub at this Internet address: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/. Bible Hub provides extremely useful verse-by-verse translations, including the original Hebrew characters and a transliteration into Roman characters, plus the way each verse has been translated into various editions of the Holy Bible.

[3]  According to D&C 113:6, the root of Jesse mentioned in verse 10 is “a descendant of Jesse, as well as of Joseph, unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days.” If this descendant comes from both Jesse and Joseph, then he is of both the tribe of Judah and (most likely) the tribe of Ephraim. This descendant, who serves as an ensign for the gathering of the people, could be the binding link that helps unify Judah and Ephraim as described in verses 12 and 13. See also note iii, below.

[4]  In these verses, the words Israel and Judah are used very precisely and are not synonymous. Those terms refer very specifically to the northern and southern kingdoms that were created after the death of King Solomon. Ten of the original twelve tribes, led by the tribe of Ephraim, established the northern kingdom, which was called Israel. Judah and half the tribe of Benjamin (plus the majority of the Levites) formed the southern kingdom, which was called Judah. For centuries, these kingdoms were hated enemies.
Another Isaiah chapter, 2 Nephi 17, describes one instance of the animosity between the two kingdoms, as Pekah (son of the king of Israel) and combined forces with Syria to try to overthrow the kingdom of Judah. The hostility between the two kingdoms was central to Isaiah’s world, and was still extremely important when Lehi and his family (who came from the northern tribes) left Jerusalem.
The animosity between the kingdoms of the Lamanites and the Nephites must have been a poignant reminder to the Nephites of the ancient animosity between Israel and Judah.

 

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If you enjoyed this discussion of the Book of Mormon, perhaps you will also enjoy A Missionary’s Musings on the Book of Mormon, also by F. Allan Roth.

It is available in paperback or e-book exclusively from Amazon.

Fishing Scenes

I just realized that I have written at least one fishing scene into every book I write. I just finished the first draft of a fishing scene for my current work in progress, The Song of Liffrea.

Here’s the fishing scene from Chapter 4 of Fighting the Promise, which I published on Amazon last year. This scene is set on the fictitious Basalt River, just downstream from the equally fictitious town of Athelston, Idaho, near the Wyoming border.

Chapter 4

“Back it up into the eddy, Mandy.” Jimmy Eleutherios had shaggy hair that hung down to his eyebrows. His scruffy gray whiskers were of such a length that it was difficult to tell whether he was bearded or merely unshaven. At this particular moment he was in the front of a small wooden boat, crouching by the left side of a young man who was trying to learn how to cast an artificial fly.

With three smooth strokes of the oars, Miranda pulled the boat out of the current and rotated it toward the bush Jimmy was pointing at. The hole under that bush was a good spot. They had caught lots of trout there. The morning was starting to warm up as the sun got higher, and Miranda had taken off the sweat pants and flannel shirt she had been wearing earlier. Now she wore a blue sleeveless blouse and jeans that had been cut off short enough that her father disapproved of them. Her legs were long and tan, and her shoulders were well muscled. She wore felt-soled wading sandals and a large straw hat that flopped down over her neck in the back. She was grateful that the schools were closed, since otherwise she would not have been able to work for Jimmy today. Miranda had rowed Jimmy’s boat so often that she was almost unaware of the tiny strokes that she made with the oars to keep the boat nearly motionless in the calm, rotating water of the eddy.

“Now drop your fly about three feet up from that bush and as close to the bank as you can get,” Jimmy explained to the young man beside him. “Let it drift down toward the bush and then give it about a six-inch twitch.”

The novice fly fisherman began a series of false casts and then cast his fly. It landed about five feet away from the bank. “Closer,” Jimmy said. “Try to drop it within a foot of the bank. Keep your line up so it doesn’t drag in the current.” The young man picked up his line and began false casting again. This time, his fly landed much closer to the bank. Miranda nodded in approval. That wasn’t a bad cast for a beginner.

“Okay, that’s good,” Jimmy urged. “Now give it just a little bit of a twitch. Wait until you see him actually take it down before you set the hook.” Just then, a large green shadow moved slowly up out of the depths. It held still for a moment and then rushed up at the foam hopper. Just as the fish’s white mouth opened to engulf the fly, the young man eagerly heaved back on his rod to set the hook. Too soon. The fly pulled out of the fish’s still-open mouth, and the line flew back to wrap itself in a tangle around both of the men in the bow of the boat.

“Crap!” said Jimmy. “Crap, crap, double crap. I think you might have set the hook just a little bit too quick.”

Miranda grinned. It had been more than just a little bit too quick.

“Pull back up onto that island, Mandy, while I straighten out this mess. We’ll give that fish a few minutes to calm down, and then we’ll try him again with something else. At least he didn’t feel the hook.”

Miranda rowed the boat out of the eddy, across the fast water of the channel behind her, and just as the stern of the boat touched a gravel bar along the edge of the island, she stepped on the anchor release and held it down. The anchor dropped onto the gravel bar, and the boat swung gently around and came to rest against the bank. Miranda jumped out, and tied the bow line to one of the larger cottonwood saplings on the island, pulling the boat up firmly against the shore. Finally, she picked up the large, pyramid anchor and moved it far enough up on the bank that it couldn’t slide loose with the current.

Jimmy and his young client got out of the boat. “Ready for a cold one, Dave?”

“Yeah, that sounds good.” David Peterson leaned over backwards, stretching his back. He wore a new pair of brown neoprene chest waders, but he had folded them down to his waist to let his chest cool off. “These things are hot,” he said.

“I’ll get it,” Miranda said. She reached into the cooler in the back of the boat and took out two cans of beer. She handed one to Dave and then popped open the other one for herself.

Jimmy stepped over and smoothly plucked it out of her hand. “Why, thank you, Mandy. How did you know I wanted a beer?” He took a long drink of it. “I think there’s some soda in that cooler if you’re thirsty.”

“Jimmy!” she protested. “It’s hot out here.”

“If you’re hot, then why don’t you grab a nice cold can of soda? There’s plenty in there.”

“But Jimmy, everybody my age drinks beer in the summer.”

“Not in my boat, they don’t. I don’t want your father to think that I allow his daughter to drink my beer in my boat. You want a soda, then get a soda. If not, there’s water. Otherwise, why don’t you sit down in the shade and wait for me to untangle this line.”

With a loud sigh of disappointment, Miranda stomped over and sat down on the bank. Idly she plucked stems of dry grass and threw them like spears into the current.

“Is she always this . . . feisty?” Dave asked in little more than a whisper.

“No, it’s more like ‘Is she always this big a pain in the butt.’ And the answer’s yes.” Jimmy looked up at Miranda and winked.

“I heard that!” Miranda said as she got up to get a can of pop. “But you forgot to say I row a boat so good that you can’t get along without me.”

Jimmy looked up and smiled. “I guess there is that. And if you’re really good, maybe we’ll let you get back in the boat with us and row us the rest of the way down.”

“Yeah, right. Put either one of you at the oars and pretty quick you’ll be begging me to row again.” She sat down on the bank again to drink her pop. A movement in the trees downstream caught her eye, and she looked up. An eagle flapped ponderously out of a cottonwood tree and three starlings immediately started to chase it. The smaller birds darted around the eagle, swooping in rapidly to peck at its back and head. One of them must have gotten in a particularly good peck, because a small feather floated loose from the eagle and floated in large slow spirals toward the ground. Ignoring its tormentors, the eagle stoically continued its course until it disappeared out of sight.

“Okay, this is ready,” Jimmy said. “Let’s go try him again. He’s not going to look at another dry fly today, so I’ve got a couple of nymphs on there.”

They got back into the boat. Miranda rowed upstream in the calm water next to the island, and then angled across the current and back into the eddy.

“Okay,” said Jimmy, holding up the end of the line, “This is a brown rubberlegs up here, and this beadhead on the dropper is what I call a pheasant’s ear. This yarn is a strike indicator. It’ll float, but the flies will sink. I want you to cast six or eight feet upstream from the bush to give it time to sink. Watch the strike indicator. If it moves or jerks or sinks, set the hook.”

Dave tried to false-cast the heavy flies, but they buzzed angrily past Miranda’s ear and smacked Dave in the back of the head. “Hey, I’m back here, guys,” Miranda complained.

“You can’t cast these weighted flies like you cast a dry, Dave,” Jimmy said. “Just pull out some line and flop it up into the current. Try not to let the flies get tangled and then watch your strike indicator.”

Dave pulled several feet of line off the reel, raised his rod tip, and then flipped it forward in a clumsy approximation of a roll cast. The flies flipped up high into the air and then sailed forward to land with a noisy splash about ten feet above the bush. The line floated down stream, and suddenly the yellow strike indicator was pulled out of sight.

“Set the hook!” Jimmy yelled. “You’ve got him.”

Dave pulled back on his rod, and his line suddenly pulled straight down, bowing the rod and pulling the tip down toward the water. “Give him line,” Jimmy shouted. “Take your hand off the reel and let him run.” The fish ran upstream until backing was showing between the last few turns of line on the reel. Then it turned and came back downstream. Dave frantically stripped in slack, trying to keep his line tight. The fish ran down past the boat and started pulling line back out again. “Follow him, Mand,” Jimmy said, but she had already rowed the boat out into the fast current and had started downstream.

It was nearly ten minutes later and several hundred yards downstream when Dave brought the fish close enough to the boat that Jimmy was able to reach the long-handled boat net under it and swing it up into the boat. Dave whooped for joy as the large fish flopped once and then lay still with only its golden gill covers pulsing rhythmically open and closed. It had large red and brown spots on its sides and back, a yellowish belly, and a deeply hooked jaw.

“He’s a brown. About six pounds—maybe a little bigger. Are you going to let him fight another day,” asked Jimmy, “or take him home for dinner tonight?”

Dave thought about it for only a moment. “He’d look real good on the dinner table, and he’d probably taste even better. Think your wife would cook it for me?”

“I think she would. Hand me that hittin’ stick, Mandy.” The hitting stick was half an axe handle with a leather thong through one end. “You’re going to have to do the evil deed, Dave.” Jimmy picked up the fish and pointed to a spot above and just slightly behind the fish’s eye. “Smack him right here to kill him quick. And make sure you miss my fingers.”

Dave picked up the stick, hesitated just a moment, and then hit the fish smartly across the head. It shivered once and then was still. “Smack it one more time just to make sure.” He did.

They took some pictures, and then Jimmy cut through the fish’s gill arches to let it bleed. He held it in the stream while it bled. When Jimmy had wrapped the fish and put it in the cooler they got back into the boat and started downstream again. They put a foam hopper back on Dave’s line, but they went a mile or more without catching any more fish.

The trees along the river opened up to a sunny meadow with a hay field on the other side of the valley. Miranda looked across the field and noticed a caravan of green trucks moving slowly along the highway. They had red stars on the doors and red flags flying from the front fender. “What’s going on over there?” she asked, pointing at the trucks.

“Troop transports,” replied Dave, pointing to the bank. “Chinese. Pull up on this bank, would you, Mandy?” She rowed to shore, and Dave jumped out and ran over to the edge of the meadow. He reached down inside his waders and pulled out a compact pair of binoculars. Miranda was surprised at that. Fishermen usually didn’t carry binoculars. And they usually didn’t hide them inside their waders.

Dave watched the trucks for a few moments more and then he pulled out a small leather-bound notebook and wrote something before returning to the boat. “Six trucks,” he said to himself as he wrote, “traveling fairly slowly. Twelve to fifteen soldiers per truck, drivers, and gunners, comes to about a hundred. Probably two platoons.”

Jimmy and Miranda both looked at him silently for a moment before Jimmy said, “Sounds like you might have spent some time in the military, son.”

Dave smiled blandly. “I did a hitch in the Guard when I got out of high school. It still holds a bit of a fascination for me. Where do you think those trucks might be going?”

“Probably Athelston. That’s the only town on this road unless they’re going over the pass and into Wyoming. Doubt that, though.” Jimmy turned to Miranda. “Mandy, I want you to get my cell phone out of the tackle box and see if you can get through to your dad. Tell him there’s a hundred Chinese soldiers coming into town. They’re moving slowly, so they’ll probably be there in forty minutes to an hour. I’d just as soon this didn’t come as a surprise to him.”

“Who’s her dad?” Dave asked.

“He’s the mayor of Athelston, he’s the bishop of the local Mormon church, and he’s my friend. He doesn’t handle surprises all that good, so I thought I’d give him a few minutes to get used to the idea of having the Chinese come to visit.”

Miranda took the cell phone out into the middle of the meadow and called her home. When she came back to the boat Dave asked, “As long as we have the cell phone out and have a signal, would you mind if I used it to make a quick call? I’d like to check in with my office before they close for the afternoon.”

Jimmy looked at him a long time and then said, “I’ll make you a deal, Dave. I won’t ask you any questions, and you won’t have to tell me any lies. Fair enough?”

Miranda couldn’t tell whether Dave looked troubled or just a bit pleased as he said, “Fair enough.” Then he took the phone out into the meadow to make his call.

The Makings of a Cult Classic

Julia Benally’s novel “Pariahs” (Ilings, Book 1) is not for every reader. But in my opinion, this madcap adventure/fantasy/horror story has the makings of a cult classic. There are people in this world who will absolutely love it. Perhaps you are one of them. Of course, there are probably others who will hate it, and still others will stumble away from it dazed and bemused, wondering what just happened to them. But no one will read this book and walk away without some kind of powerful emotional reaction to it.

In “Pariahs,” Julia Benally has created an insanely complex world with fourteen sentient races (seven big ones and seven little ones) and an insanely complex system of magic, and she has created an insanely complex plot that races along at about a hundred miles per hour. Almost nothing in the world of Ilo bears the remotest resemblance to anything on earth. Sentient beings might have tails or scales or poison fangs or hair up to their knees or some combination of the above, but they all call themselves human beings. And then in the middle of all of it is one pretty little six-year-old girl in a cream-colored dress with short, puffy sleeves.

By the time I was a couple of chapters into “Pariahs,” I thought the whole book was meant to be a joke — a comedy. After a few more chapters, I realized that it wasn’t a joke, but I was not sure exactly what it was. A few more chapters in, and I was totally bewildered. Then I found the glossary (Hooray!), which explained a lot and helped me understand what was going on. Don’t wait as long as I did to find the glossary. By the time I got to the last chapter, I didn’t want the story to end.

The plot is extremely complex and travels at breakneck speed. There’s a new nightmarish horror around almost every corner, with monster bosses that won’t stay dead and just keep coming back. But in the middle of the horror and danger, the little “family” of Vijeren, N’Nar, Sibare, little Miranel, and Zhin are able to find courage in the face of danger, faith to keep on striving, love for their family, hope for their future, and even joy in the almost spiritual ties that bind them together.

Altogether, “Pariahs” was a unique and most remarkable work.

Bread and Circuses—That’s US

I wrote this piece back in December 2010 and published it on another web site. I ran across it again today, and decided it was still accurate enough to be recycled. Our political slogans have changed , but other than that rather minor change, things are about the same today as they were in 2010.

So here’s my review of the Hunger Games Trilogy—about nine years late.

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Review of the Hunger Games Trilogy

My daughter gave me the “Hunger Games” trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, for Christmas. And I just finished reading it. I read the first volume on Christmas day, the second book on Sunday, and finished the last one just a few minutes ago. It was good stuff.

I know—“Hunger Games” is young-adult fiction. The heroine is a fairly selfish teenaged girl living in a big-brother, government controlled, post-apocalyptic dystopia. Old farts like me aren’t supposed to like things like that. But I did anyway.

I think the books’ primary appeal to me was the depiction of a government and even a society that seemed all-too-familiar to me. In the world of the books, people live for a horrible version of reality TV. Society is divided into the pampered rich, who live in the Capital, and the masses who support them. And worst of all, nobody can believe any of the “information” they are fed, either from the government or from the government’s opponents. Every “news” story from either side is carefully scripted and choreographed to create the maximum emotional impact. People are at best props, and at worst disposable pawns, whose lives only carry value as they can advance the cause.

In this world, information is completely divorced from truth. Everything is given as much emotional spin as possible to create the maximum effect upon the populace. Everybody lies, and when the people can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction, they retreat into the ancient formula of bread and circuses. “In return for full bellies and entertainment, [the] people had given up their political responsibilities and therefore their power.”

Unfortunately, that’s about where our country is now. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re listening to the Republicans or the Democrats, to the Progressives or the Libertarians, you can’t tell if any of them are telling the truth anymore.

I’m not getting at the old joke about “How do you tell if a politician is lying?” This goes much deeper than that. I believe that there is no longer any relationship whatsoever between what a politician says and anything that the rest of us would recognize as truth. Is this particular politician lying today? Perhaps, if it suits his purposes. Is he telling the truth? Perhaps, if it suits his purposes. Is it real or not real? Who knows? Perhaps even the politicians don’t know whether they’re telling the truth any more.

What that means to America is that what our politicians say has become irrelevant. We can’t tell if they’re telling us the truth, so we base our decisions on how their words make us feel. Does “Hope and Change” make you feel good? Then that’s what you vote for. Does “Stay the Course” make you feel secure? Then that’s what you vote for. We don’t vote based on what they say—we vote based on how well their slogans manipulate our emotions.

We really want to believe that the will of the people is what decides an election, but really, we’re being manipulated. And the best manipulator—with the best script writers, the best choreographers, the best camera crew, the best make-up artists, and the best costume designers—wins. Our country has become an arena, and the gamemaster always wins.

So what can we do?

Well, one thing to do is to decide what you believe is true. Decide for yourself what you believe. Don’t base your decision on what the various sides tell you, because most of what they say is spinning so hard it’ll drill right through you. Do your own homework. Study history. Read what our Founding Fathers wrote. Then think about what you’ve read, ponder it, understanding that even the Founding Fathers had something to sell.

And then when you’ve studied it out to the best of your ability, when you have as much true knowledge as you can get, pray about it. Get down on your knees and beg whatever gods you believe in to give you wisdom. And then base your decision on whatever wisdom you get.

But always remember who your enemy is. If you love Truth, then your enemy is those who make and love a lie. If you become a liar, then your enemy is the truth.

And I’m still naïve enough to believe that is not a strong position to take.

The Song of Liffrea

At long last, I have started the first novel in my new fantasy trilogy. I only have a few thousand words written so far, but I have all three books fairly well outlined.

Here’s the first draft of the first half of my first chapter. Let me know what you think! (Please)

I’m still having trouble figuring out how to format my text. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

 

Chapter 1
Aunt Sophos

South of Duny is found the country called Holm. Holm does not produce any wizards. In fact, it is said that the people of Holm do not believe in wizards. The Holmish people are a dark-skinned people with smooth dark hair and brown eyes. They worship a god they call Liffrea, who is almost unknown to the rest of the world.

Holm is a mountainous land, with many lakes and with great rivers and small streams running into a sea speckled with green islands. In places, the mountains plunge directly into the sea, and rivers flowing from such mountains are more waterfall than river. In other places, broad rivers flow at a stately pace between the wooded hills. Large-eyed deer and other game frequent the hills. There are no true cities in Holm, but the hamlets and villages of Holm form only a narrow band along the shores of rivers and lakes and sea.

Of necessity, the people of Holm are well acquainted with the water. A common sight is their sleek wooden boats with slender masts and brown sails that dance lightly upon the waters. The children of Holm often learn to row and sail and cast a line even before they learn to write their letters or to sing the sacred stories of their outlandish god.

The sea is the hand that rocks Holmish cradles, and the murmur of the waves the voice that sings Holmish children to sleep. The sea is the road that runs from island to island and port to port, and rivers are the roads that run between the scattered villages and farms of the dry land. In one such village, named Ulas, is said to have lived a boy named Doron, the son of a sawyer. The natives claimed that this boy had the ability to talk with their god.

Doron is said to have lived during the reign of Aethelgar the True.

From “History of the Southern Lands,” by Theostor Ealdspraeca

 

Fa’s hands were rough. It still surprises me that such a mundane detail is the clearest memory I have of that day in my sixth year when I was taken from my home to live with my aunt. We must have climbed the hill from Ulas up to Aunt Sophos’s hut on the bluff, but I can no longer remember the climb. Perhaps Fa carried me. The sun beat down warmly on my head and shoulders, but I did not mind. I think Fa must have treated me gently, for I remember no unkindness from him, but his hands were rough and callused from his work in the saw pits, where he sliced trees into the planking that would eventually become boats.

Aunt Sophos’s hut was set on the edge of the bluff, overlooking the sea. A small clearing covered with wildflowers surrounded the hut, but beyond the clearing were the dark trees of the forest.

Fa stopped outside the leather door and rapped with his walking staff on one of the logs to announce his presence. I stood with one arm around his knee. Aunt Sophos pulled back the door and stood in the opening. She wore a leather jerkin that hung nearly to her knees over her linen tunic, which was yellowed with age. The leather had several dark stains and a large burned spot. She wore soft tan leather boots.

“I can’t keep him, Soph.”

Sophos’s gaze went from Fa’s face down to mine. Her hair was dark, with a slight streak of gray over her right eyebrow. Her eyes narrowed and then looked more kindly on me. “Do you think I can keep him any better?” she asked gently. Her hut smelled of smoke from the hearth, of course, but the smoke was mingled with the dark smells of herbs and a sharp, biting fragrance that burned my nose and tickled the back of my throat. I pinched my nose.

“You have to do better than I can,” Fa said. “I can’t leave him home alone all day, and you know the saw pits are no place for a boy.” The day Ma had died, people had made a fuss over me, but once they were gone, it was just Fa and me again. And so it had been in the intervening days. I had gone with Fa to the saw pits a couple of times, but it had been hard to sit still in the sun while Fa sawed the logs.

Aunt Sophos looked at me again, and her dark eyes bored into mine. “Can you do what I tell you, boy?”

I let go of my nose and nodded. When she didn’t respond, I said. “Yes, I can.” She seemed uncertain, so I added, “On my honor.”

She smiled then and nodded. “That will do,” she said.

“I will take him,” she said to Fa. “But you are still his father. When he needs the lessons that only a father can give, I will send him to you.” She smiled slightly. “And when I need the time to myself that a woman needs on occasion, I will also send him to you.”

Fa grinned at that. I didn’t know why. “I am grateful, Soph. Between the two of us, we can get him raised.”

My aunt put her hand on my shoulder and drew me inside. The interior of the hut was dimly lighted after I had come in from the bright sunlight, but light shone through the smoke hole in the roof and through two windows covered with some kind of skin, scraped thin and oiled. “You can live with me, and I will teach you what I know,” she said. “Some of it won’t smell very good, but you will grow accustomed to that.” She turned back to Fa. “I’ll take your boy, Goneos, but you have to promise to be there when we need you. Can you promise me that?”

Fa grinned again and bobbed his head. “I can promise, Soph. I do promise.” He kneeled down so he and I were of a height. “Be good to Sophos, Doron, and she will be good to you. Learn what she teaches, and she will keep teaching you. Make your fa proud, boy.” He stepped inside the leather door and embraced his sister briefly.

Then, without another word, my Fa turned and walked away.

Sophos turned from the door and sat on a stone shelf near the hearth. “Have you eaten anything today?” she asked.

Unsure what to say, I shook my head. “Breakfast,” I said. “A hearth cake and dried apples.” My eyes were becoming accustomed to the dimmer light, and I saw things that had been hidden to me before. A tall wooden table along one side of the room. Shelves with small pots, many of which appeared to be stoppered somehow. A curtain across from the table. The way it moved in the air currents made me think there might be a space behind it.

Sophos raised one eyebrow and shook her head. “My brother,” she said. “He doesn’t have the sense he was born with. Bring you clear up here on a hot day, and you with an empty stomach. I have some cheese and bread and there’s a jug of berry juice cooling in the well. Will that do until evening?”

I nodded my head. It sounded very good right then.

Sophos cut off a thick slice of bread and a slice of cheese that was only slightly smaller. She poured spiced oil for dipping onto a heavy plate and set the bread by it. “Don’t touch that until I get back with the juice,” she said.

When she returned, she poured dark red juice into two mugs. Then she raised her hands up toward the smoke hole in the roof and sang the dining song to Liffrea.

“Is this a real meal?” I asked when her song ended. I had never heard anybody but my mother sing the dining song, and she had sung it only for the evening meal. I hadn’t heard it sung for just a snack.

“Real enough,” she said. “Liffrea is the lord of life. I prefer to honor him whenever I have an opportunity. Perhaps then he will honor me whenever he has an opportunity.” She took a long drink of her juice. “You’ll find I sing quite often,” she said, and she reached over and mussed my hair. It felt good to have her touch me so familiarly, and I smiled.

As I ate my bread and cheese, Sophos went back to her herbs. She had something in a bowl that she was grinding with a long stone. “This is what you smelled when you first came to the door,” she said. “I’m grinding the roots of rabbit weed.”

I didn’t know why she needed the roots, but I watched silently. After working for a moment longer, she said, “When these roots are ground and dried, they make a good medicine. It tastes as strong as it smells, but it helps women . . . with . . . things.”

I thought about that for a while. “You mean baby things?”

Sophos nodded.

“Did you give any of that medicine to my mother?”

She looked up at me and stopped grinding. “No,” she said slowly. “This medicine wouldn’t have helped the kind of problem your mother had. I’m sorry.”

“Is there any medicine that would have helped my mother get better?” She had suffered for long hours after her last child had been born, gray and limp. I had hidden outside, trying to escape her cries. When I had gone back in, her blood had soaked through the pallet and run out across the floor, dark red across the hard-packed dirt. A short time later, she had breathed her last.

She shook her head slowly. “I’m sorry, Doron.” She came to me then and wrapped her arms around me. Her jerkin smelled of herbs, but it felt good to be held. I tried very hard to hold the unwanted tears back, but they trickled across my cheek, and I felt a choking in my chest like a heavy weight was pressing on me, keeping me from breathing. “I gave your mother every remedy I could think of to help her, but I was too late.”

By then, I was sobbing. “Why couldn’t you have come sooner?” I wailed. My aunt held me and rocked me and said nothing for a long time.

When my sobs finally wore themselves out, she put her hand under my chin and raised my face toward hers. “I will teach you everything I can, Doron.” She smiled sadly. “Maybe someday we can learn how to save another little boy’s mother.”