Now that I have your attention, I would like to talk to you about getting people’s attention. Specifically, how God has historically gotten people’s attention.
When you read the Old Testament, it becomes very clear that Jehovah had a rather “aggressive” attitude towards getting his chosen people where he wanted them to be. The most famous of these are the 10 plagues that were unleashed on Egypt to convince Pharaoh to release the children of Israel from bondage:
- Water to Blood.
- Gnats or Lice.
- Diseased Livestock.
- Thunder and Hail.
- Death of the First-Born.
Nasty stuff, right? But it had the desired effect. Pharaoh’s heart softened just long enough for him to send the Children of Israel packing, with Moses leading the way. (For more detail on the plagues, read Exodus 7-10_)
There is another plague that happened a little later that has been one of my favorites since my high school days: The story of the Philistines stealing the Ark of the Covenant, found in the Book of Samuel. (4-6)
The short version of the story is that the Philistines and the Israelites were battling, when the Israelites thought it would be a good idea to bring their secret weapon, the Ark of the Covenant, out to the battle to help them win.
It wasn’t such a good idea. The Philistines weren’t impressed and came ready to fight. Not only did they win the battle, they took the Ark of the Covenant home with them as a trophy.
Anyone who has seen the historical documentary “The Raiders of the Lost Ark,” knows that stealing the Ark is not a very good idea.
So, the Philistines take the Ark home and put it next to statue of their god, Dagon. The next morning, Dagon was on the ground in front of the Ark. The second morning, Dagon’s head and hands were cut of, leaving only a stump. The Philistines started getting rightly nervous…
Then the rough stuff started:
But the hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods. (1 Samuel 5:6)
What are “emerods,” you might ask. Well, we know them today as hemorrhoids. Yes, hemorrhoids. But they were not your run-of -the-mill hemorrhoids – they were “biblical” hemorrhoids.
…the hand of the Lord was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts. (1 Samuel 5:9)
And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven. (1 Samuel 5:9)
And the cry went up to heaven. The Philistines realized that they had made a painful error and wanted to put it behind them (hehe). After shopping the Ark around to other Philistine towns, which didn’t go over well, they finally got together and decided that they needed to give the Ark back to the Israelites. They knew that the plagues of Egypt has softened Pharaoh’s heart, and figured they should give it a try.
They took the Ark back with the hope the Lord would lift the plague that they were suffering under. Sounds like it was pretty terrible.
Why do I think it is funny that they Lord smote them with hemorrhoids? Mostly because I am a dude, and my high school brain first learned the story in seminary. But the message is still valid: The Lord sends and/or allows plagues and other disasters to get people to change course. And it often works.
It worked on the Philistines, it worked on Pharaoh. Even smaller disasters, such as when Nephi was tied up on the ship, can have an impact on those who the Lord would like to see correct their course. What is the Lord hoping for when things go awry? We find the answer in the words of President Ezra Taft Benson:
God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble. Alma said, “Blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble.” (Alma 32:16.) (link)
Even in my lifetime I have watched where a disaster drove an entire country to its knees: the 9/11 terror attacks. I remember that day, and I remember the fear and the vulnerability we all experienced. Statistics show that the Sunday after the towers fell, national church attendance shot up over 20%. (link)
As a Nation, we were humbled and turned to the Lord. Sadly, it only lasted a few months before returning to normal.
Now we are in the middle of a pandemic, and I’m not sure “normal” is coming back. The Lord said that leading up to the Second Coming, “…plagues shall go forth, and they shall not be taken from the earth until I have completed my work, which shall be cut short in righteousness.” (D&C 84:97)
Right now, as we are still struggling with the COVID-19, I can’t help but wonder if the Lord is happy with the way the world is reacting to this plague, especially his saints. What do you think?
Granted, the coronavirus pandemic is not a plague of biblical proportions – it has yet to earn a spot in the Top 20 pandemics of all time (link) – but it is still dangerous enough that it should give us pause, and maybe some time for quiet reflection.
Are we a humble people? Am I a humble person? Has the pandemic heightened my humility? Or has it fortified my pride. Am I reacting to others with peace and understanding, or with contention, anger and self-righteous judgment?
I see so much anger, (which I blogged about several weeks ago.) So much hate. So much violence. Unfathomable hypocrisy. And it comes from the extremes at both ends of the political spectrum – even between brothers and sisters in the gospel. There is much finger-pointing, arguing, blame and unkindness. But precious little humility.
I think we are having a “Hello, McFly” moment, and many, so many of us, are missing the point. As Biff would say, “Hello, hello, anybody home? Think McFly, think!”
Recently, President Nelson released a statement condemning both racism and violence. I think the crux of both of those issues lie in his following statement:
“Any nation can only be as great as its people. That requires citizens to cultivate a moral compass that helps them distinguish between right and wrong.”
And I think that is where we are in trouble. The moral compass of our nation and much of the world is no longer pointing the right direction. It has become a spinning top of squishy morality, clearly lacking the underpinnings of God’s morality.
Pride is lauded as sacrosanct, humility is never mentioned. Anger is justified, charity is absent. Chaos is embraced, peace is ignored. Forgiveness is passé. It is truly as Isaiah said, “Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (2 Nephi 15:20).
Paul got it right (again) when he counseled, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
Things are topsy-turvy. So what do we do?
Back to President Benson: Let us choose to be humble.
We can choose to humble ourselves by rendering selfless service (see Mosiah 2:16–17).
We can choose to humble ourselves by getting to the temple more frequently.
Let us choose to be humble. We can do it. I know we can.“
It is surely a strange and different time with the social upheaval and the pandemic still raging. What are we hoping for and working towards?
Perhaps we should worry less about what people are tweeting, posting, saying and doing, and follow President Nelson and President Benson’s counsel and cultivate our own moral compass, starting with our own humility.
And count your blessings that the same plague that befell the Philistines didn’t befall us when there was a T.P. shortage.
Bonus: Great talk by President Oaks given to BYU-H grads in 2017: “Push Back Against the World.“
And I made it through this entire post without mentioning once that “I am proud of my humility”…. almost.