This week in the Book of Mormon we’ll review Helaman chapters 5 to 12. Many readers of this week’s reading get drawn-in by the account of “secret combinations” that threaten freedom, but the real story that should catch your attention is the process of ascension that we see with Helaman’s son, Nephi. Nephi’s ascension to God is an excellent example of an ascension sequence that we see in Isaiah’s Ladder to Heaven. Nephi eventually receives God’s power to seal or bind actions with Heaven– the same as Peter the Apostle, Matt. 16:19, but what did Nephi do to achieve this blessed state. Since this is such a great example of ascension, we’ll cover this week’s reading in multiple posts. This week we’ll review the Ladder to Heaven that Dr. Gileadi sets out in his book Isaiah Decoded. Next, we’ll cover an overview of the levels of blessedness that Nephi ascends. And, finally, we’ll look at what Nephi did to ascend the first spiritual level of blessedness on the Ladder to Heaven.
In the person of Nephi the son of Helaman we have a singular account in the scriptures of how a person attains the “sealing power,” also called the “spirit and power of Elijah” and the “fulness of the Priesthood”. Other accounts exist in the scriptures of individuals who attained this power, such as Enoch, Moses, Elijah, John the Revelator, and the Three Nephites; but none is so explicit as to their background. How did they get to the point where the Lord endowed them with this extraordinary power? What were the struggles they endured, the tests of their faith they had to pass, that qualified them for this highest of all callings?
God’s Ladder to Heaven Reviewed
In order for Nephi to receive the sealing power, he had to ascend the three levels of blessedness on God’s Ladder to Heaven or what the prophet Isaiah has set out as the spiritual levels or categories of Humanity.
The Book of Isaiah portrays many kinds of people who performed various political and religious roles in antiquity. From the lives of these biblical personalities – from recognizing what law they kept – we learn how to ascend the ladder. Isaiah describes people in his book for the very purpose of illustrating higher and lower spiritual categories. Seeing what they do gives us an idea of what people on each level do. Even the worse ones have something to teach us: how to avoid making the mistakes they made – what not to do. Isaiah’s ladder accommodates every class of character, from the noblest to the basest. (Isaiah Decoded, p. 22)
Before we analyze how Nephi actually accomplished his ascension, let’s review the ladder to Heaven or the spiritual categories that we see in the writings of Isaiah.
By and large, most Believers in the God of the Bible begin at what Isaiah labels as the Jacob/Israel spiritual category. From there Believers will either ascend to be like God or descend into sin and death by the choices they make. Each level of descent is characterized by an increasing degree of wickedness. On the Babylon level, we see man sin by succumbing to his natural carnal nature. Then on the Sodom/Gomorrah level they sin by doing that which is unnatural. Mahan murders for gain, which we see here with these secret combinations in chapter 6. And, finally, there is Perdition who rejects the Father and Son.
On the ascent side of the ladder, we see Jacob/Israel begin their ascent by first overcoming Universal Sin by accepting Yeshua/Jesus as the Redeemer of all Humanity. Then Zion/Jerusalem, who overcome Personal Sin and are sanctified. Next, we see Sons/Daughters/Servamts – the Elect – who perfect their lives and serve and suffer as proxy-saviors for a community of Believers or family organizations. Then, Seraphim/Angelic Emissaries who suffer unto death for the Gospel and obtains God’s power including the sealing power. And, finally, the God of Israel who dies for the sins of a world and a Most High God who obtains the power of the resurrection. So our summary looks like this.
What we see in these chapters in Helaman is Nephi ascending the three levels of blessedness – Zion/Jerusalem, Sons/Daughters/Servants and Seraphim/Angels.
The first ascension that Nephi needs to achieve is the Zion/Jerusalem level of blessedness.
People who repent of transgression and keep the law and word of Israel’s God—the terms of his covenant—qualify to ascend spiritually from the Jacob/Israel category to Zion/Jerusalem. After experiencing a descent phase, a time of trial in which God tests their loyalties, they receive a remission of their sins and the constant companionship of his holy Spirit. Committed to loving God and neighbor, they are re-created or reborn on the first ascending spiritual level.
Our analysis of the scriptures reveals the following process to achieve Zion/Jerusalem.
Nephi and Achieving Zion/Jerusalem
Nephi, son of Helaman, begins his mortal experience being born into a family who is living the Torah, are believers in Yeshua/Jesus as the Redeemer of Humanity, and who have the Melchizedek priesthood. So, Nephi has a head start on his ascent to God by being born into a family who are already on the Zion/Jerusalem level of blessedness. We’ll now take our model of Zion/Jerusalem and apply it to the life of Nephi.
Doctrine of Messiah/Christ
Believers who want to be God’s sanctified people who overcome personal sin but as yet are not, must demonstrate faith, repent and be baptized into the Gospel Laws and Covenants. Since Nephi has followed in the footsteps of his father, we can assume that Nephi made the conscious choice to enter into the Laws and Covenants of Gospel.
A Pure Heart
Nephi also walked in the ways of his grandfather, Alma, who taught that having charity was integral for doing good - Alma 7:24 - and is part of God's good set out in the Law.
The first thing we notice is that Helaman, Nephi’s father, is living Torah or the Law. We see that at 3:20, and, secondly, we see that Helaman raised his sons unto the Lord in v21. (Sinai Covenant)
20 Nevertheless Helaman did fill the judgment-seat with justice and equity; yea, he did observe to keep the statutes, and the judgments, and the commandments of God; and he did do that which was right in the sight of God continually; and he did walk after the ways of his father, insomuch that he did prosper in the land. 21 And it came to pass that he had two sons. He gave unto the eldest the name of Nephi, and unto the youngest, the name of Lehi. And they began to grow up unto the Lord.
We can also see that they are living the Torah by looking at a rhetorical analysis of the word “good” in the scriptures.
After Moses recites the Law to Israel, he declares to all Israel –
See, I have set before thee this day life and good…. Deu 30:15
Next, we see that Helaman names his sons, Nephi and Lehi, because he desires that his sons do good like the first parents –
6 Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good. 7 Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them. Helaman 5:6,7
Receiving a Fulness of the Law
Primarily what we see missing in the Torah is a knowledge and belief in a savior to redeem Humanity from the sin and fall of Adam and Eve. What is also missing from the Law is the Melchizedek priesthood commonly held by the fathers of families. But here with Helaman and Nephi we see both of these aspects present. We now have a fullness of the Law in our seven covenants – Torah(Abrahamic, Threshold (Passover), Sinai, Davidic Covenants), Messianic Covenant, Priesthood Covenant and Enochic Covenant (Sealing Power) – 10:7, 2 Nephi 33:15.
Believers that Yeshua is the Messiah
We see in chapter 3 is that Helaman and his people were believers in Yeshua(Jesus) as the Messiah(Christ) – 3:26-30. (Messianic Covenant)
26 And it came to pass that the work of the Lord did prosper unto the baptizing and uniting to the church of God, many souls, yea, even tens of thousands. 27 Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name. 28 Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. 29 Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked - 30 And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.
We have already established that Alma had the Melchizedek Priesthood – Alma chapter 13 – who would have passed this priesthood to his son Helaman who then would have passed it to Nephi. We can also assume that since they had a belief in Yeshua as the Messiah, that they had also some understanding of the Melchizedek Priesthood – Hebrews chapter 7. Moreover, for Nephi to receive the sealing power which some have called the fulness of the Priesthood, Nephi had to have had the Melchizedek Priesthood. (Priesthood Covenant)
Baptism of Fire
After striving to live the fulness of the Law with our best effort, God will test our loyalty to Him to see if we are faithful under distress. In the Scriptures this trial of faith is called a “Baptism of Fire”. We see that here with Nephi who is persecuted by the other members of his church – 3:33,34
33 And in the fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God— 34 And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction.
Baptism of Spirit
After a person has demonstrated their loyalty to God by passing the Baptism of Fire, they receive an outpouring or immersion of the Holy Spirit so they are purged of their carnal nature and only do good continually. We see that here with Helaman at 3:20, which Nephi would also do.
20 Nevertheless Helaman did fill the judgment-seat with justice and equity; yea, he did observe to keep the statutes, and the judgments, and the commandments of God; and he did do that which was right in the sight of God continually; and he did walk after the ways of his father, insomuch that he did prosper in the land.
Sealed by the Spirit
The culmination of the process of achieving Zion/Jerusalem is to overcome personal sin, make our covenants of redemption (Messianic) and sanctification (Abrahamic, Threshold, Priesthood, Sinai) with God unconditional and everlasting and to be sealed up to God through the Spirit. In so doing we receive a tangible spiritual confirmation, which we saw Yeshua experience when the Spirit descended on Him when He was baptized. Here we see a manifestation of the Spirit with Nephi at 5:43-45
43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire. 44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory. 45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.
Next week we'll look at the process to be God's Sons/Daughters/Servants that we see here with Nephi, son of Helaman.