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Come, Follow Me (Judges 2-4; 6-8; 13-16)

This is one in a series of reviews of the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To link to all of the 2022 teachings, click here. Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence written in the curriculum is being reviewed.)

May 30-June 5, 2022

Judges 2-4; 6-8; 13-16

We all know what it’s like to make a mistake, feel bad about it, and then repent and resolve to change our ways. But in some cases we forget our earlier resolve, and, when we face temptation, we may find ourselves making the mistake again. This tragic pattern is typical of the Israelites’ experiences described in the book of Judges.

In Mormonism, there is no freedom to make the same mistake again and again. True repentance means that the sin is forsaken. Consider D&C 58:42-43:

42 Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. 43 By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them. 44 And now, verily, I say concerning the residue of the elders of my church, the time has not yet come, for many years, for them to receive their inheritance in this land, except they desire it through the prayer of faith, only as it shall be appointed unto them of the Lord.

A church manual interprets this passage to mean that true repentance is fully forsaking that sin.

D&C 58:42–43. The Lord Promises Complete Forgiveness to Those Who Truly Repent. The Lord forgives those who truly repent of their sins. This blessing comes through the Atonement of Christ, who “suffered . . . for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent” (D&C 19:16). The Lord promises that He will no more remember the sins of those who repent (see Ezekiel 18:21–22). Repentance, however, requires that we forsake and turn completely from our sins and confess them (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 2001, 120. Bold and ellipsis in original).

Notice, the person must “forsake and turn completely from [their] sins and confess them.” If not, a barrier will separate man and God, as another manual teaches:

Abandonment of Sin. Although confession is an essential element of repentance, it is not enough. The Lord has said, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). Maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve that you will never repeat the transgression. When you keep this commitment, you will never experience the pain of that sin again (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, 134-135).

“Abandonment of sins”? “Never repeat the transgression”? Wow! Still another manual says,

Our sincere sorrow should lead us to forsake (stop) our sins. If we have stolen something, we will steal no more. If we have lied, we will lie no more. If we have committed adultery, we will stop. The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43) (Gospel Principles, 2009, 110. Parentheses in original).

Another hard-to-fathom verse is D&C 82:7, which states:

And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.

In what should be considered as offering no hope to those who struggle with sin (like all of us), 11th President Harold B. Lee wrote,

The miracle of forgiveness is available to all of those who turn from their evil doings and return no more, because the Lord has said in a revelation to us in our day: “Go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth [meaning again] shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God” (D&C 82:7). Have that in mind, all of you who may be troubled with a burden of sin (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 120. Brackets in original).

He also said,

REPENTANCE MEANS TO TURN FROM SIN. Repentance, in one sentence, means turning from the things that have been wrong and never returning back to them. It isn’t to say, “I’m sorry,” and then go back and do it and again say, “I’m sorry.” That’s not it—it is to go about our way and sin no more. But if they sin again it is as though they haven’t been forgiven in the first instance, to use the Lord’s own language (see D&C 82:7) (Address at Priesthood Board Meeting, March 1, 1972. Cited in The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 114).

An LDS tract cites 12th President Spencer W. Kimball with an additional warning:

The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again . . . The Lord said: “Go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return.” (D&C 82:7) (Repentance Brings Forgiveness, an unnumbered tract).

A church manual also cites Kimball:

But President Kimball warned: “Even though forgiveness is so abundantly promised there is no promise nor indication of forgiveness to any soul who does not totally repent. . . .  We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect repeated forgiveness” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 353, 360). Those who receive forgiveness and then repeat the sin are held accountable for their former sins (see D&C 82:7; Ether 2:15) (Gospel Principles, 2009, 231).

With verses such as D&C 58:43 and D&C 82:7 contained in the church’s canon, it does not seem that this lesson is strong enough in its admonition to keep God’s commandments!

Ideas for Personal Scripture Study

Judges 2:1–19; 4:1–16

The Lord offers deliverance when I stray. The book of Judges can serve as a warning to us: even after we experience the Lord’s power in our lives, it is always possible to fall away. The book can also provide encouragement to those who do fall away, for the Lord offers a way back. For instance, as you read Judges 2:1–19, look for actions that led the Israelites away from the Lord and how the Lord delivered them. What do these verses teach you about the Lord? What can you do to remain more consistently faithful to Him?

The Christian walk is full of pitfalls, there is no doubt. The Bible teaches that, as long as the believer sticks close to God and His Word, there is safety. In Mormonism, though, it depends on what is meant by “falling away.” As D&C 82:7 states above, former sins return when a person returns to them. It has been likened to falling down a ladder and having to begin all over again from the very bottom. Christians don’t teach that salvation (justification) can be lost, as Christ’s forgiveness is a surety. A faithful and just God won’t go back on His word, an assurance that the Christian can take to the bank.

Judges 2:13

Who were Baal and Ashtaroth?

Baal was the Canaanite storm god, and Ashtaroth was the Canaanite fertility goddess. The worship of these two gods indicates how important the fertility of the land and of the people was to the Canaanites. The ways the people worshipped these and other false gods—including, at times, sexual immorality and the sacrifice of children—were especially offensive to the Lord.

Agreed. We see many occasions where God’s judgment came down on the Israelites for forsaking the true God of Israel.

These were “false gods,” but in reality, all other gods are false, including the gods of Mormonism. After all, the religion teaches that God the Father once had a god in a previous world and that faithful members can become gods as well. Yet the Bible is very clear that other gods–Baal, Asherah, or gods that would be considered our grandfather or great-grandfather gods–are not true gods. Isaiah 43:10 says, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” Isaiah 44:6,8 says,

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and the last; besides me there is no god. . . . Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Isaiah 45:5 adds,

I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me.

Whether the gods are Canaanite or are created by a 19th century American “prophet” named Joseph Smith, it doesn’t matter. There is only one true God and any belief in additional gods is simply not acceptable.

Judges 13–16

Strength comes from faithfulness to my covenants with God.

Samson lost both his physical strength and his spiritual strength because he violated his covenants with God, including those that applied specifically to Nazarites (for information about the Nazarites, see Numbers 6:1–6; Judges 13:7). As you read Samson’s story in Judges 13–16, ponder each covenant you have made. 

The authors add an interpretation that is not found in the original text. The covenant made with God in this passage was by the parents, not Sampson himself. (In Mormonism, the parents do not make the covenant but rather the individual does this.) The Nazarite vow was not a requirement for all the Jewish believers in God, whereas in Mormonism the promise to keep all the commandments of God is required for every follower. What’s even more fascinating is that the one who made the covenant with the parents was “the angel of the LORD,” which most commentators suggest was a Christophany, or the preincarnate Jesus!

I’m not sure how this illustration is equal (or even similar) to what the Latter-day Saint is supposed to do.

How have you been blessed with strength because you have kept those covenants? What do you learn from Samson’s story that inspires you to stay true to your covenants with God?

The Latter-day Saint is blessed only when he or she is able to keep the covenants that were made by the individual. I’m curious, do any Latter-day Saints who are reading this review believe they are capable of keeping all the covenants they make?

Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening

Judges 2:10.

After Joshua died, the next generation of Israelites “knew not the Lord.” Talk with your family about how they know the Lord and “the works which he [has] done” for them. How will you ensure that this knowledge will be preserved for future generations?

If a generation thinks they know the Lord and teaches their children to believe. . . but it turns out that the wrong “Lord” was believed, this is a problem.

When children find out that the God they were taught for all their lives in their LDS families is not true, it causes many problems. Unfortunately, many families are broken up because of this discovery. It is even more unfortunate when people end up leaving Mormonism atheism / agnosticism or nothing at all, as close to half of the departing Latter-day Saints do.

Judges 3:7–10.

These verses summarize a pattern that occurs often throughout the book of Judges. As your family members read these verses, they could identify what Israel did to stray from the Lord and what the Lord did to deliver them. What might lead us to forget the Lord? How can He deliver us? How can we be more consistently faithful to Him?

We can be more faithful by studying the Bible and making sure the faith we have is placed on the God and Jesus of the Bible, not on our own obedience (discussed in the previous review). Believing in a religion merely because “mommy and daddy” are followers is not a good enough reason to hold to any particular religious faith. We should believe only because it is based on the truth.

Judges 13:5.

Samson’s covenants with the Lord gave him strength, just as our covenants give us strength. Your family might enjoy doing some physical exercises and discussing how those exercises can help make us strong. What can we do to help us become spiritually stronger? For some ideas, family members could read Mosiah 18:8–10; Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79. How does keeping our covenants give us spiritual strength?

Again, we see that the authors are trying to make Samson’s Nazarite vows equal with the covenants Mormons make. These were not the same.

Mormons are supposed to promise that they will keep all the commandments all the time. As twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball put it,

Akin to many of the other sins is that of the covenant-breaker. The person baptized promises to keep all the laws and commandments of God. He has partaken of the sacrament and re-pledged his allegiance and his fidelity, promising and covenanting that he will keep all God’s laws. Numerous folks have gone to the temples and have re-covenanted that they would live all the commandments of God, keep their lives clean, devoted, worthy, and serviceable. Yet many there are who forget their covenants and break the commandments, sometimes deliberately tempting the faithful away with them (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 57).

Kimball’s successor, Ezra Taft Benson, said God’s mercy must be “merited”:

We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. We thereby promise to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and keep all His commandments. Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God. Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 442).

A church manual agrees, again emphasizing the keeping of all covenants that are made:

Receiving ordinances and keeping covenants are essential to Heavenly Father’s plan. The scriptures often refer to His people as a “covenant people.” The Lord’s blessings exceed our mortal expectations. To live in the presence of our Heavenly Father, we must receive all of the necessary ordinances and keep all of the required covenants (The Gospel and the Productive Life Student Manual Religion 150, 2004, 98).

As I’ve talked about in another review, I ask the Latter-day Saint who is reading this review two questions:

  • How are you doing at this?
  • If you are not keeping all the commandments, when do you plan to start?

Spiritual strength only comes from the Holy Spirit and cannot be self-manufactured. As Romans 8 puts it:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Verses 16 and 17 add,

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Later in Romans, Paul writes in chapter 10:

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Verse 13 concludes that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Done deal. Good works follow a true profession of faith, but one does not have to come to a place where all the commandments are being kept in order to be considered a saved individual who has the Spirit of God. If this were true, what a scary proposition when nobody can do all they can do!

Conclusion

Taking passages out of context, this lesson stresses the obedience of the individual Latter-day Saint through promises (covenants) that are not possible to be kept. It seems to be a theme with many of these lessons. No Latter-day Saint can live up to the standards required by this church. True spiritual freedom, however, is found in Christ.

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