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Ancient Testaments: Chapter 45: Thy prayer is heard

Chapter 44: A Serpent and a Prince

Chapter 45 begins several months after the death of Jacob, which left his only child, Joseph, both motherless and fatherless. The time is now 16 months before the Birth. Our story now turns to the Nazareth synagogue, where Tova is telling of a prophet who lived many centuries before. Later in this chapter we will visit the temple in Jerusalem.

Chapter 45 — Thy Prayer is Heard

Tova waited in front of the synagogue with shining eyes. To her little audience, she seemed excited to begin this week's story. This gave them a good reason to feel the same way. When all were quiet, she reached into a basket next to the pulpit and held up a small, enclosed box. It was about two hands long, not very wide or tall.

Most of the children were leaning forward to train their eyes on it, and a few asked what it was. Instead of answering just yet, she walked around, holding it closer to each of them.

"This little box represents two important boxes in history," she began. "They were both shaped about like this one, and they both had a similar purpose. But," she added, "they weren't at all this size. One of them was quite a bit bigger, and the other was much, much bigger."

Even the adults standing at the back of the synagogue began to puzzle over this clue.

"We want more hints!" blurted a little child sitting up front.

Tova nodded. "All right. I'll tell you a story. It will give you a hint about one of these boxes. You can raise your hand if you have a guess."

Everyone seemed to like that idea, so Tova began.

A beautiful building of exquisite stonework was on a rounded hill, was deep in a great tall forest, not far from where Adam and Eve had once lived in generations past.

Inside, two men — one of them old and the other one very, very old — sat in silence a while, soaking in the calm of the room.

The younger one slowly scanned the part of the room he was facing, thinking back to many hours he had spent there. At last he spoke. "I've always known this was a place of peace, Father. But I appreciate it more all the time. I'm glad that the house of order is not only for ordinances. The Lord is kind to let us come here to put our thoughts in order, to think things out."

The father didn't respond at first. Finally, without looking up, he spoke quietly, "I know."

The son went on. "And for hope. I come here to find hope."

The older man, whose name was Lamech, raised his eyes and looked upon his son. "Ah, yes. Hope. That is your job, isn't it? To give us hope." His mind traveled back, as it had so many times, to that morning long ago when this boy was born. He remembered the strong impressions that attended the birth, the certainty that had led to the naming of his son.

"Noah," the old man said softly. He said it again, "Noah." It was the word for rest, relief, comfort, hope.

"And you have taught me well, Father," the son answered with a smile. "You've shown me the Lord's way to teach — to be of good cheer, to add a good dose of encouragement when we plea for repentance, to be genuine friends with our hearers...." Noah turned to the far wall, as if he were looking through it at the world outside.

"So," Lamech said, leaning forward a little, and slowly sweeping his thin arm toward that world outside, "how is it going of late — giving hope to them, this busy, unruly generation?"

"Oh, I think you know how it's going," Noah sighed. He looked at his father earnestly. "How do you give hope, Father, when people don't want it, when they don't think they have a problem?" He looked around the room, at the craftsmanship that had held it's beauty for generations now. "It is far easier to shape hardwood and tame stone."

"Yes, I know," Lamech smiled. "We have to keep coming here when we can, to be refreshed with the peace of the Great One. It takes mighty faith, at times, to accept his good cheer and to leave the anxious problems at his feet."

Noah looked at his father and nodded.

Lamech continued. "You are wise to come here to recapture that hope and to search for new ways to offer it to those mixed up people out there. You ask how to do it, but you already know: you are filled with a message, you decide on how to deliver it, and...." Lamech nodded at his son, inviting him to finish that thought.

With the hint of a smile on his own face, Noah looked at the floor, his mind picturing places and people in recent memory. He spoke quietly. "And go back out and try again, right?"

"Of course, always you go back out and try again," Lamech said. Then he shifted himself forward to the edge of his chair. "But we have to wonder," he said intently, "when God will take over completely?"

Noah looked into his father's eyes, tightened his jaw, and nodded slightly. He knew exactly what those words, "take over completely," meant. These men had discussed it often. They knew what had been clearly revealed to Lamech's grandfather, Enoch. And yet, the grim truth about what lay ahead always rushed upon the mind with a shock.

A 15-year-old young lady named Mary, standing in the back of the synagogue, now knew what "box" in history Tova was hinting at. But she was not one of the children anymore, so she kept the solemn thought to herself. It happened to be her little brother who raised his hand first among the children.

"Do you have a guess, Boaz?" Tova asked.

"Sure," he said, "I think the big, big box is the ark of Noah. Lamech and Noah know that there will be a great flood, right?"

"You're right."

One of the other children now asked, "So, what is the other box?"

"We'll get to that," Tova replied. "But keep in mind, the other box I'm thinking of has a purpose a lot like Noah's ark."

That caused a few wrinkled brows.

"How about a lion cage?" asked a little boy. "Is there a lion cage in the scriptures somewhere?"

And someone else said, "Hey, I know. Could the other box be a lion's den ... like an ark full of animals?"

"Good try," Tova laughed, "but no. The other box doesn't have anything to do with the story of Daniel. No, the other box is like Noah's ark in a different way."

That hint didn't seem to help. So Tova suggested that she finish telling about those two men talking together in a temple long ago.

Noah turned his gaze to the floor before him. In his mind, he pictured the carefully laid stonework as the world outside. He thought of the countless times he and his wife had come to clean the temple. After everything else was clean, they would scrub the floor. And then came his favorite part, when they would rinse the floor with a flow of clean water, rub it dry, and lightly polish the stones with olive oil.

As with the floor of the temple, so with the earth, he thought. Someday, it will be anointed — filled with the glory of God. It will then be fit for the Lord to freely visit. But Noah knew that before the anointing must come the washing. It must be first be cleaned and rinsed, as one is baptized in water to prepare for the Holy Ghost.

Lamech broke the silence. "I understand you have to start over again...."

Without looking up from the stark scene of a flooded earth he was picturing on the floor, Noah spoke a whispered "Yes. The ship was burnt again. This time, not just part. The whole thing was destroyed."

At that, Lamech's head lowered in near disbelief. "Burnt by the same people?" he asked.

Noah looked up at his father and braced himself to give some unwanted details. "This time it was the 'mighty ones,' as they call themselves."

Lamech's head came up quickly. "The giants? But they live so far to the east.."

"Yes, but it was them. They were seen in the area. It was their arrows that we found the dogs."

"They killed your fine wolves?"

Noah nodded. After a long moment, he added, "And they left a note. It said, 'If you continue, you shall become as your wolves. They could not protect these timbers of wood, and they cannot protect you.'"

"But why?" Lamech said in frustration. "Why do they care whether you build a ship?"

"It isn't the ship, Father. It is my teaching. They demand that I stop teaching the people."

Lamech nodded slowly. "So, my son the messenger has come to the temple to discern the next part of his path, to know what to do now."

"Not so much what, as where."

Lamech understood. "So, you will start the ship again. And you will keep teaching the people."

"That is my mission," Noah said.

"But not here?"

"I don't think so, Father. I will have to find another place for myself and my family, a place where we can still have timber nearby, but where it will be easier to protect, perhaps to keep it hidden until the time comes to use it."

Both men were staring at the floor now, soberly, silently considering that coming day when there must be a ship.

Lamech once again sat forward. "Before then," he said with renewed energy, "the messenger has two audiences, doesn't he?"

"Two audiences?" Noah responded.

"Those who hearken to you, and those who don't."

Noah waited to see what his father meant by this.

"I'm just saying," said Lamech, "that those who do not hearken to you."

"Who will suddenly find themselves in the spirit world when the destruction comes upon them," Noah supplied.

"Exactly," Lamech nodded, sitting back again. "Your voice, your message, must be echoing in their hearts when they go there."

"I see what you mean, Father. I should make sure that those who don't hearken now can recall something important from it later, in the other world."

"Yes. The destruction will humble them," Lamech said firmly, "it will prepare them to reconsider. And when they reconsider, they will hunger ... hunger for what?"

"For a Savior," Noah answered quickly. And then he added, "For hope that he can soften their fate, that they can at sometime be forgiven."

Lamech got up from his chair, came near to his son's side and laid a hand on his shoulder. "While the messenger is getting that ship built," he said, "and while he is crying repentance, hope must radiate from him, so that no one forgets."

Noah nodded, and reached up to grasp his father's arm. "I see that, Father. With all my heart, I pray that somehow, someday, there may be a flood of hope."

"It will be so," Lamech said with fervor. "The words that came to me at your birth — 'He shall yet comfort us concerning our work' — were the words of the Great One. He is never wrong. The world and all we have done shall not be wasted. There is darkness now. But in another day," he testified, "there will be a glad message. And you will declare it."

A hand went up, a hand that often goes up in these gatherings. "Yes, Boaz?"

"What other day?" the boy asked. "When will Noah give a glad message?"

"Well, he has been busy doing that in the world of spirits for over 2,000 years."

Boaz paused and absorbed this obvious truth. But then another question came to mind: "But the people on earth, has Noah spoken to them?"

Tova nodded. "He came to the Prophet Daniel."

"He did? To Daniel?"

"You remember," said Tova, "foretelling the coming of 'Messiah, the Prince.'"

When Tova said those words, "the Prince," she momentarily thought of the royal line of David, through which the Messiah would come into the world. And to her mind came the image of Joseph, the young man whose father had died some six months before. Even now, the boy was filling the role of a man. He was away from Nazareth on a building project in a nearby village.

"Oh, ... Gabriel!" said Boaz. "Was that Noah?"

"Certainly. The great grandfather of all mankind — all who have lived since the flood reduced mankind to Noah's family alone. This is Gabriel. So you see, it was the privilege of this grandfather to make an announcement to mankind about the Messiah's coming."

The quiet, beautiful maiden in the back of the synagogue could not refrain from raising her hand.

"Mary," Tova said with pleasure and surprise, "what is on your mind?"

"Tova," she said, "do you think grandfather Noah will again bring news of the Messiah?"

"Perhaps," Tova smiled. "Remember what his father said: 'This son shall comfort us."

But the other box was still a mystery. There was a call for more hints.

"Remember," said Tova, "it had a purpose like the ark of Noah."

"To do what?" asked several.

"To hold what is precious, things that must not be lost," she answered, "and save them for another day."

Silence — a good kind of silence, a thinking silence. More than one adult in the back had a hunch, but the children still seemed baffled.

"Alright, another clue," Tova finally said. "Think not of Noah. Think of Moses."

While a delay of silence again followed, there was whisper among the adults as hunches were confirmed.

"Moses didn't have a boat," said a little girl.

"But, ..." said Boaz, "he did have ... that's it! An ark!"

Then came several exclamations, "The Ark of the Covenant!"

In the temple at Jerusalem, a man named Zacharias approached the great veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.

At one time in history, the Ark of the Covenant had rested beyond that heavy, multi-layered curtain. The contents of the Ark were undeniable proofs that the covenant, renewed in the days of Moses, could truly connect God with his people. But like the ark of Noah, the Ark of the Covenant was now gone, and the priests knew not where.

Though that precious, gold-covered, box-shaped furnishing was missing, the room known as the Holy of Holies was, of all earthly places Zacharias knew anything about, the holiest place of all. And here he was. The great barrier was there before his very eyes. He was only a pace or two from the divine presence. It seemed too wondrous to be true.

It was a miracle that he would be here.

Though Zacharias was born to preside over all temple matters, King Herod had no interest in birthrights. He saw to it that other persons — people of wealth and political influence — were in charge.

Most of the temple workers were aware of the priesthood privileges that fell to Zacharias by lineage. A few of these secretly wished that he were their priesthood leader. But there seemed no hope of this under the crude thumb of Herod and the proud intentions of Herod's priestly puppets.

So Zacharias did what little was possible. He could be on hand. He could exert what influence was permitted him in these dark, distorted, errant times. This man, whose right it was to preside, could accept whatever tasks the corrupt leaders reluctantly gave to him.

Some temple assignments came independent of human influence, by the drawing of lots. This privilege which came twice a day — to enter the temple and approach the veil — was one of these. It was Zacharias who drew that lot. The priests in senior positions were not pleased that the man they held in jealous disdain was the one. But nothing could be done to overturn his privilege.

The miracle humbled Zacharias to the dust. He and Elizabeth were now in their mid-fifties. The years had presented not one evidence that they could have children. Yet, they continued to plead for a son even now, day after day, as they had from the time their marriage began.

They knew they were asking much of God, and yet the stirring to ask only grew stronger, as if time were running out. Recently, their urgent prayers had been mingled with more fasting than usual. Their faith that God would hear them grew not weaker, but more sure.

A sacrifice had been offered and burned upon the altar, and the remaining embers from that offering had been put into a cup. Upon those hot embers of sacrifice were sprinkled bits of sweet-smelling incense. Zacharias knew that the smoke, rising toward the tall ceiling in the Holy Place, represented the prayers of Israel, prayers made sweet to the Lord because of sacrifice in their lives.

As he slowly carried the cup in the direction of the veil, the posture of arms and body complying with strict priestly instructions, he thought of the prayers of Elizabeth and himself all these years. Everything in the Holy Place was symbolic of something vital enabling us to approach the Holy One and make our requests of him. Zacharias reverently glanced at the seven bright candles of the menorah on his left, which illuminated the twelve loaves of bread on a table at his right.

Now, placing the cup upon the altar, Zacharias knelt before it. His did not notice the unyielding hardness of the marble floor against his old knees. His mind was not shifting and losing focus as it had been doing more and more in recent years. Instead, he was unusually able to think of his role, representing his people. For them and their leaders he earnestly begged for mercy. He knew it would be proper to pray for a son to at last be sent into the priestly line which was embodied in Zacharias himself, and so for this he pled with all his heart. And last of all did the humble priest call upon the Great One to send the Messiah.

"O Father! In the judgment of this thy servant, the day for his coming seems to be at hand. Hosanna, O God! Send the Prince, the great Healer, the Branch of David, among thy people. If thou art waiting until sufficient prayers ascend to thee before thou wilt send the Holy One, count the prayer of this thy servant. Like the smoke that rises from this altar, let his petition ascend to thee, and in thy mercy consider it sweet unto thee!"

Zacharias was just uttering the sacred word "Messiah" one last time, in closing the prayer, when something or someone suddenly joined him in this place. He felt it at first, for until now his eyes were closed tight in reverence and concentration.

Alarmed, Zacharias opened his eyes, rocked backward somewhat, and turned his shoulders and face to the right. There he saw a blazing, fiery pillar reaching down from the ceiling almost to the floor, near the altar of incense. The column of smoke, and everything else in the Holy Place, was illuminated beyond anything Zacharias had know in all his years under the glaring sunshine of Palestine.

Within the light stood a tall, finely formed man whose visage was even brighter than the fire that surrounded him. On the man's face was an expression both solemn and kind, attended by the hint of a smile.

However, Zacharias could not help but fear for his life. It seemed that the power of this being, and the blaze that filled the Holy Place, would surely sear every surface and consume every thing, even as the sacrifices upon the altar outside were so quickly consumed by the raging fire under the altar grating.

The man in the light spoke. "Fear not, Zacharias," he said.

Instantly, every fear left the heart of Zacharias, replaced by indescribable peace. And at that moment it was clear to him that a messenger from God was sent, ignoring the hierarchy devised by men, instead visiting Israel's proper ambassador, the rightful high priest of Aaron's line.

And now the messenger spoke words almost too wondrous to believe: "Thy prayer is heard."

Notes to Chapter 45

** Regarding Noah: Genesis 5:28-31; 6:5; Moses 7:34,36-38,42-43; 8:15-17,20,28-30.

** From the LDS Bible Dictionary: "Noah. Rest. . . . We learn from latter-day revelation that Noah is also the angel Gabriel. . . . Noah . . . holds the keys of a dispensation and stands next to Adam in authority." (Bible Dictionary, "Noah," pp. 738-339; see also History of the Church, 3:386.)

It is the view of the author that ancient Jews knew of many things that have since been lost in the shuffle of apostasy. Among these could well be the mortal identity of such postmortal beings as Gabriel.

** "And in those days there were giants on the earth, and they sought Noah to take away his life; but the Lord was with Noah, and the power of the Lord was upon him" (Moses 8:18).

** Concerning the symbolism of incense smoke rising heavenward: "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141:2).— "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand" (Revelations 8:3-4; see also Revelation 5:8).

** The revelation to Zacharias in the temple: Luke 1:5-22.

See Chapter 46 in next week's Mormon TImes.