Talk given by Melissa Richardson in church sacrament meeting, Huntington Beach, CA., 1/22/23
The Book of Mormon tells the story of a righteous King Benjamin who is about to die and calls the people of his kingdom (Zarahemla) to gather at their religious center or temple to hear him speak and to confer his Kingdom to his son (Mosiah 2:1). As they arrive, each family sets up a tent with the door open towards the temple, and the families remain inside throughout King Benjamin's speech (Mosiah 2:5–6).
As the crowd grew, King Benjamin constructed a tower so that his voice could reach more people (Mosiah 2:7). Perhaps you have asked, “with such a crowd, why didn’t the families just set their tents up somewhere else and gather close to the temple without tents? Why did they have to remain in their tents?” It would seem that the tents and the direction they were facing were obviously ceremonially significant.
LDS scholars have argued that King Benjamin’s speech parallels the ancient Israelite Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot in Hebrew) in multiple ways. If King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah 2–6 took place as part of a Nephite celebration of the ancient Israelite Feast of Tabernacles, we have a deeper understanding of what was happening.
First of all, both experiences require families to take a journey to the temple. The plan is about families, we are saved as individuals but exalted as families. We learn that truth in the temple as we go to do the work for our dead ancestors and strengthen our own families as we go together. The fact that it takes place in the temple also emphasizes to us today to pay attention to what’s recorded in the scriptures, because what is being taught applies in both ancient and modern temples.
Second, these families are in tents. As part of the Feast of the Tabernacles, the ancient Israelites built temporary shelters or tents (Leviticus 23:40), as a reminder of the tents they lived in when they were brought out of Egypt, while they were being protected and led by God. Lehi and his family also “dwelt in a tent” (1 Nephi 10:16) when the Lord brought them out of Jerusalem (Mosiah 1:11). When writing his own history, Nephi wanted his own descendants to see the parallels between Moses’ Exodus and the Nephite Exodus. King Benjamin speaks of “remembering” fifteen times in his speech, which emphasizes that the idea of remembering is important in covenant renewal as it turns our thoughts and actions to Him. In both cases, the Lord wanted his people to remember what their forefathers had gone through and how their God had provided shelter and delivered them from bondage. Our Modern day temples help us to remember our history as we help deliver ourselves and our ancestors from a different kind of bondage by making covenants.
In paralleling both Sukkot and King Benjamin’s speech we see other similarities including that someone acts as a mouthpiece as God renews covenants with his people and outlines his laws. With these laws, there are promised blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience. There are ritual sacrifices performed. And finally, an agreement in the end by righteous followers as they have their names recorded.
As an aside, Joseph Smith showed a surprising understanding of ancient Israelite traditions and temple pilgrimage festivals. A testament yet again of the divinity the Book of Mormon and its inspired writing.
The Book of Mormon was written for us. We are meant to learn as these ancient people did. So with this context in mind, how do we become modern-day Zarahemlites and draw our families together in our tents, having our “tent door towards the temple”? Or simply put, how can we make our homes temple-centered?
The first most obvious is that we can’t be facing two directions at once. In contrast to King Benjamin’s people at the temple, we have the family of Lot in the Old Testament who “pitched his tent toward Sodom” (Genesis 13:12). As we turn towards the temple, we turn our back on worldliness. And vice versa in Lot’s case.
What direction is our own tent facing? Are there things in our lives or homes drawing us to face the temple or the world? The Bible Dictionary says that repentance means, “a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined (Bible Dictionary, page 760).” Repentance literally turns us away from the world. Some other things that turn us toward the temple are sincere personal and family prayer, scripture study, service, obedience and clearing the garbage out of our lives. Elder David A. Bednar said in April 2006 General Conference, "If something we think, see, hear, or do distances us from the Holy Ghost, then we should stop thinking, seeing, hearing, or doing that thing.” Have the courage to stop participating in things that harm us spiritually.
Next, do you have a temple recommend? If your answer is no, why not? In his first General Conference as President of the Church, Howard W. Hunter said,
“It would please the Lord if every adult member would be worthy of – and carry – a current temple recommend. The things that we must do and not do to be worthy of a temple recommend are the very things that ensure we will be happy as individuals and families.”
President Hunter promised that the things we must do to have a temple recommend are those things that “ensure happiness”. I want to be happy. You want to be happy. In order to enter the temple you must have faith in God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. You must believe that Christ is Our Savior, that He Restored his church and has inspired leaders that lead it. And you must follow His commandments, be morally clean, honest, and wanting to be good. If you think you can answer these questions positively, go meet with Bishop Blake and get that piece of paper and be happy. As President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “live worthy to hold a temple recommend, secure one and guard it as precious asset” (Ensign, November 1995, page 51)
Third, go to the temple! While living a life worthy of a temple recommend will bring you happiness, GOING to the temple will bring you innumerable blessings. The temple is a place to feel God’s love and learn of God’s plan. The temple endowment is literally God granting us a gift of increased spiritual knowledge. Making temple covenants protect us, purify us and qualify us for future blessings.
Our lives on earth are our own kind of wilderness. We are strangers in a strange land, wandering in a lone and dreary world, trying to return to God’s presence. The
temple is literally designed to give us direction, it is the place where Heaven and Earth meet, where God can commune with his people. It provides perspective.
In closing I will share my experience over the past year. In General Conference October 2021, President Nelson gave his oft-quoted talk entitled, “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation” in which he cautioned, “If you and I are to withstand the forthcoming perils and pressures [of the last days], it is imperative that we each have a firm spiritual foundation built upon the rock of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ ...The temple lies at the center of strengthening our faith and spiritual fortitude because the Savior and His doctrine are the very heart of the temple...And oh, how we will need His power in the days ahead.”
As Mal and I reflected on this council, we decided we needed His power in our lives and our children’s lives. We needed to get ourselves to the temple more often. As a family, we decided our goal for 2022 was to do 365 ordinances, one a day on average. For us, it meant weekly temple attendance for Mal and I, and monthly for those of our children with recommends. I recognize that there are others who do more than this, but for us, this was a huge commitment. We made a picture of the Newport Beach Temple that we kept up and filled out with each name as we performed an ordinance. By the end of the year, we had surpassed our goal. A few of the blessings that I have felt over this past year because of this are:
I have learned to not just love the temple, but to crave it. I testify that President Nelson’s direction “If you don’t yet love to attend the temple, go more often—not less” is valid. That it really has become “a place of safety, solace, and revelation.”
My understanding of temple teachings and covenants has increased. I learn something new everytime I go to the temple either because I have a question answered or I leave with a new question.
I have felt God’s angels attend me. I have been blessed with the help of others in my life and my children’s life over the past year, both those on this side of the veil and on the other.
There is peace in my home and my kids have recognized where to find peace.
My children have been blessed.
I testify that the promises of President Nelson in regards to temple attendance are real. My spiritual foundation is stronger and I feel the safety of living inside my temple covenants. Go to the temple. Get a temple recommend. Become Temple-facing people. Whatever is keeping you from having this blessing in your life, fix it. Fix it now! God wants you to be happy and being worthy of going to the temple will make you happy.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Terrence L. Szink and John W. Welch, “An Ancient Israelite Festival Context,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 148-223.
John A. Tvedtnes, “King Benjamin and the Feast of Tabernacles,” in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 2:197-237.
Book of Mormon Central, “Did Jacob Refer to Ancient Israelite Autumn Festivals?” KnoWhy 32 (February 12, 2016).