Lesson Aids

Sunday School Lesson 42: Jeremiah 16, 23, 29, 31

November 8, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 42: Jeremiah 16, 23, 29, 31

As you read Jeremiah, you should do what the lesson materials for Isaiah suggested: ask how those to whom Jeremiah was speaking would have understood his prophecies, how those in the Book of Mormon (who had a record of part of his prophecies with them) would have understood them, how the members of the Church in New Testament times would have understood them, how we can understand them today, and how they may teach us of things yet to come. Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 41: Jeremiah 1-2, 15, 20, 26, 36-38

October 24, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 41: Jeremiah 1-2, 15, 20, 26, 36-38

Historical Background Like Isaiah, the book of Jeremiah is a collection of prophecies edited into a book after the fact rather than one, extended prophecy. It describes itself as a history rather than as a prophecy, though obviously it contains a number of prophecies. But the word history doesn’t mean the same for ancient Israel as it means today. It is closer to our word “story” or “account.” Much of the background for Jeremiah is covered in the last chapters of 2 Kings and the last chapters of 2 Chronicles. Understanding a rough outline of the history behind the... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 40: Isaiah 54-56, 63-65

October 16, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 40: Isaiah 54-56, 63-65

As was true of the preceding several chapters, such as chapters 52-53, it is easier in these chapters for us to see their symbolic meaning than it is to see it in many of the early chapters in Isaiah. Nevertheless, I think it helps, even in a case like this, to begin by understanding the literal meaning of the chapters—what the people of Jerusalem might have heard and understood. Doing so will often add depth to our understanding of the symbolism. Speaking of scripture study, Brigham Young asked, “Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 39: Isaiah 50-53

October 10, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 39: Isaiah 50-53

These chapters are among the most beautiful in the Bible; they are an important part of Western literary culture, even for non-believers. Many scholars see the chapters as part of larger dramatic structure, a larger dramatic script as it were. In contemporary scripts the various parts would be marked clearly: “Chorus,” “Yahweh,” “Earth,” “Heavens,” “Armies,” etc. The fact that we must infer these from what is said makes reading Isaiah more difficult. As I have done with the previous chapters of Isaiah, I’ll outline how the people of Jerusalem might have understood these prophecies. Doing that will help us... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 38: Isaiah 40-49

September 20, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 38: Isaiah 40-49

These chapters begin a new section of Isaiah. The first 39 chapters focused on Judah and Israel before the exile in Babylon: the sin and iniquity of Judah and Israel. This section, chapters 40-56, focuses on Judah and Israel during the exile: the promise of return. And the last chapters, 57-66, will focus on Judah and Israel after the exile: life after the return. If we think of these times in Israel’s history as shadows of eternal types, what might we see as their type? Are there other ways of reading the same material, ways of seeing other shadows... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 37: Isaiah 22, 23, 24-26, 27, 28-30

September 12, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 37: Isaiah 22, 23, 24-26, 27, 28-30

Chapters 23 and 27 are not assigned for the lesson. Nevertheless, I have included them because I will refer to them. This week, rather than giving a list of questions to answer, I will suggest some exercises in reading that seem to me to be particularly appropriate to reading Isaiah, exercises in understanding in terms of types and shadows. Before studying how these chapters can apply to us, consider a literal, historical interpretation of these chapters. You may need to consult the maps in your scriptures to understand the references to countries and kingdoms. Looking at a literal interpretation... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 36: Isaiah 1-6

September 7, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 36: Isaiah 1-6

Scriptural Background The Savior tells us, “great are the words of Isaiah” (3 Nephi 23:1), and he commands us to search them diligently. (Towards the end of Book of Mormon history, Mormon repeats that command: Mormon 8:23.) Nephi tells us that his soul delights in Isaiah (2 Nephi 11:2), but he also tells us that many of his people did not share his experience: “Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand” (2 Nephi 25:1). A good number of us have had the experience of Nephi’s people rather than of Nephi. Nephi explains... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 35: Amos 3, 7-9; Joel 2-3

September 4, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 35: Amos 3, 7-9; Joel 2-3

Note to newcomers: These are not lesson notes. They are notes–and questions–to help people study the lesson material. Of course, as such they may also be helpful for preparing lessons, but that isn’t their primary purpose. Amos Though Amos is a short book, it can be difficult to make sense of it. Amos seems to have done his prophetic work at about 765-750 B.C., though it may have been earlier. (We can give fairly accurate dates for him because he refers to an earthquake (1:1) that occurred during the reign of Uzziah (Zechariah 14:5) and to an eclipse of... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 34: Hosea 1-3; 11; 13-14

September 3, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 34: Hosea 1-3; 11; 13-14

The book of Hosea is an excellent example of a book that we often find difficult because we don’t understand “the manner of prophesying among the Jews” (2 Nephi 25.1). One of the most important of those ways of prophesying was the use of types and shadows. (See Romans 5:14; Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5, 9:9 and 24, and 10:1; and Mosiah 3:15, 13:10, and 16:14.) The key to understanding Hosea is to recognize that the relation of Israel to the Lord is typified by the marriage relation and that Israel in apostasy is typified by an unfaithful wife. That... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 33: Jonah 1-4: Micah 2, 4-7

August 26, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 33: Jonah 1-4: Micah 2, 4-7

This is another long set of study notes. I have adapted parts of them from a set of notes that Arthur Bassett made several years ago—but don’t hold Art responsible for any mistakes you see here. They are probably mine. I will provide study notes for both sets of readings, that from Jonah and that from Micah, but I will concentrate my notes on the book of Jonah. With this lesson we begin to study a group of writings called the Minor Prophets. Jews divide the Hebrew Bible (what we call “the Old Testament,” but what is probably more... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 32: Job

August 21, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 32: Job

Word Biblical Commentary quotes this very nice poem from W. H. Auden, “Thomas Epilogises”:   Where Job squats awkwardly upon his ashpit, Alone on his denuded battlefield, Scraping himself with blunted Occam Razors He sharpened once to shave the Absolute . . . Eliphaz, Zophar, Bildad rise together, Begin to creak a wooden sarabande; “Glory to God,” they cry, and praise his Name In epigrams that trail off in a stammer. Suave Death comes, final as a Händel cadence, And snaps their limbs like twigs across his knees, Silenus nods, his finger to his nose. One lesson on Job... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 31: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes

August 5, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 31: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes

I laughed when I saw what this lesson covers, “only” slightly less than 16,000 words in Proverbs and slightly more than 23,000 words in Ecclesiastes. If we have the full 40 minutes, that means we should try to cover the content of about 1,000 words per minute (assuming that we don’t have opening or closing prayers and that we don’t do any introductions or visiting—and that Sacrament meeting ends as scheduled). Obviously we cannot look at everything in these books in Sunday School class. Equally obvious is that if we spend fifteen minutes to an hour a day studying... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 30: 2 Chronicles 29-30; 32; 34

July 28, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 30: 2 Chronicles 29-30; 32; 34

As the Old Testament tells the history, Hezekiah was the 13th king after David and the 11th king of Judah: David, then Solomon, then Rehoboam (who was king at the time of the split between Judah and Israel, and became the first king of Judah), then Abijah, then Asa, then Jehoshaphat, Joram, Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and finally Hezekiah. Hezekiah reigned from 715 B.C. to 687 B.C. King Uzziah was a successful king, but at the end of his career he came into conflict with the temple priests. Whether the description of the conflict that we see... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 29: 2 Kngs 2, 5-6

July 18, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 29: 2 Kngs 2, 5-6

A reminder: these are not notes for preparing a Sunday School lesson—though they may help a person do that. They are notes for studying the chapters assigned for reading. Arthur Bassett has pointed out these parallels between Elisha, on the one hand, and Moses and Christ, on the other. (All scripture references are to 2 Kings). Elisha parts the water (as Moses parted the sea and Joshua and Elijah parted the Jordan)—Jesus parts the heavens at the time of his baptism in the same Jordan. He supplies water (as had Moses)—Christ presents himself as the living water.... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 28:1 Kings 17-19

July 12, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 28:1 Kings 17-19

Elijah We know from passages in the New Testament and, especially, from Latter-day revelation, that Elijah is one of the most important prophets to have lived. (In the Jewish tradition, he is second only to Moses.) Yet we know almost nothing about him. Why do you think that is? In addition to the story of his life, in these and the next few chapters of scripture, we have Malachi’s prophecy that Elijah would come to bind the hearts of the fathers and the children (Malachi 4:5), as well as the repetition of that prophecy in several places, notably in... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 27: 1 Kings 12-14; 2 Chronicles 17, 20

July 12, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 27: 1 Kings 12-14; 2 Chronicles 17, 20

The material of this lesson, especially that of chapters 12-13, is important to understanding the rest of Old Testament, for the eighty years that it covers details the split that occurred between the ten tribes of Israel in the north and the tribe of Judah/Benjamin in the south. Since these accounts, like the rest of the Old Testament, were edited many years later (for example, after the return from Babylon) by descendants of those in the southern kingdom, you should think about what their point of view would have been and how that might have shaped their version of... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 26: 1 Kings 3; 5-11

July 4, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 26: 1 Kings 3; 5-11

The Story This week’s lesson focuses on the construction of the first temple. Previously there had been many places for offering sacrifices and several buildings that we would call temples. But this is the first one built on the site traditionally associated with Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. As this temple came to prominence, it overshadowed the others and, by the time of the return from Babylon, it became the only one recognized. The first two chapters of 1 Kings are the background for that temple-building. Chapters 1-2 deal with the final days of David, when his son, Adonijah, aided... Read more »

How to write a revelation

July 1, 2010 | 31 comments
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How to write a revelation

I have been working on a paper looking at the Doctrine and Covenants, and my research has me thinking about how the texts of modern revelation were produced.  I think that there are a lot of Mormons who assume that the words of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were dictated word for word to Joseph.  On this model, the Doctrine and Covenants is rather like the Qua’ran, which also consists of a series of revelations given to a prophet over a period of years in response to concrete historial circumstances.  Pious Muslims affirm that the Qua’ran was... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 25: Psalms

June 27, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 25: Psalms

I’m going to skip my usual whine about how much material is covered in the reading for this lesson (unless announcing that I won’t whine counts as a whine). Overview One traditional division of the book of Psalms—often called “the psalter”—divides it into five sections, on analogy with the five books of Moses: Psalms 1-41, Psalms 42-72, Psalms 73-89, Psalms 90-106; and Psalms 107-150, with Psalm 150 being the closing doxology for the whole collection. Those who accept this division understand the first and second psalms to be an introduction to the psalter as a whole, so some manuscripts... Read more »

Sunday School Lesson 24: 2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51

June 27, 2010 | no comments
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Sunday School Lesson 24: 2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51

2 Samuel 11 Verse 1: What do you make of the fact that the story is set at the time of the year when “kings go forth to battle,” but David sent his army to battle and stayed behind himself? What is the writer telling us about David when he says “But David tarried still at Jerusalem”? (Note: presumably the time when battles could once again commence was at the end of the rainy season, approximately the beginning of May.) Verses 2-5: How do you suppose that David could see Bathsheba bathing? Where do you think people would usually... Read more »

Old Testament Lesson 23 Study Notes: 1 Samuel 18-20, 23-24

June 17, 2010 | no comments
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Old Testament Lesson 23 Study Notes: 1 Samuel 18-20, 23-24

I apologize for the rough status of these study notes. They are not yet finished, but they are as good as they are going to get this week. As you read these chapters, ask yourself why they are included in scripture. Do they testify of Christ? If so, how? Do they serve some other purpose? History is important in its own right, but it isn’t clear why this particular history is important as scripture. How would you explain its importance? Perhaps the answer is “Ultimately this isn’t an important story,” but that ought to be our last conclusion rather... Read more »

June 5, 2010 | no comments
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Though the lesson doesn’t include chapters 12 and 14, the manual recommends them as supplemental reading and I agree. We need to read them to see the full story. There is quite a bit in this section, from the choice of Saul as King, to his usurpation of Samuel’s authority and consequent loss of authority, to the choice of David to replace him, to Saul’s madness, to the story of David slaying Goliath. Rather than try to cover all of that material, these study questions will focus on chapters 9-10, 13, and 16: Saul’s selection and downfall; David’s election.... Read more »

Old Testament Lesson 21 Study Notes: 1 Samuel 2-3; 8

May 29, 2010 | no comments
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Old Testament Lesson 21 Study Notes: 1 Samuel 2-3; 8

One can reasonably argue that the book of Judges shows us the decline of Israel to a situation in which they have to have a king to lead them, and that the treatment of women that we see in Judges is a sign of that decline. One can also argue that Ruth is a response to that theme in Judges. How does the story of Hannah fit into that theme? Chapter 2 Verses 1-10: These verses are a song, perhaps not one that Hannah composed, but one she knew already and applied to herself, much as we might choose... Read more »

May 17, 2010 | no comments
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The story of Ruth occurs “in the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). It is not, strictly speaking, in chronological order. Indeed, from here on out, you may wish to consult the Old Testament chronology in the Bible Dictionary if you wish to see the historical connectedness of the various stories. What do Naomi, Ruth, and Hannah have in common? Why is it appropriate that this lesson is about these three women? The story of Ruth is completely different than any of the stories we have read so far. God is only mentioned obliquely and plays no intervening... Read more »