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New Harmony: When studying the prophets, look beyond the labels

Published: Wednesday, March 19 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

I am a Sunday School teacher. And as the old hymn says, that means I try to “labor with care.” Right now, we teachers are laboring through the Old Testament. I’ve noticed how often we associate each Old Testament figure with one event.

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I am a Sunday School teacher. And as the old hymn says, that means I try to “labor with care.

Right now, we teachers are laboring through the Old Testament. We’re just polishing off the patriarchs and are headed full steam ahead toward the prophets.

And as we’ve ticked through the lives and times of early leaders, I’ve noticed how often we associate each Old Testament figure with one particular event.

Noah and the flood.

Enoch and the risen city.

Daniel and the lion’s den.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints even do that with modern-day prophets.

President Ezra Taft Benson and the Book of Mormon.

President Joseph Fielding Smith and gospel scholarship.

President Gordon B. Hinckley and building temples.

It makes for a quick, shorthand way to remember signature moments in the lives of leaders. But it also glosses over many other aspects of their ministries that are just as important.

Many examples come to mind. But let me choose Ammon in the Book of Mormon.

Ammon will forever be known as the “limb lopper.” He chopped of the arms off bandits and took them to the king.

But that was just a small corner of the man’s legacy.

For instance, I think he may have been the most compelling preacher in the Book of Mormon, maybe even ahead of King Benjamin.

Ammon’s speech in Alma 26 is heartfelt, surging and filled with surprises.

He begins by talking about the great blessings that have come his way because of missionary work.

And what are those great blessings? Good health? Land? A large posterity?

No, the great blessings are seeing God’s influence in the lives of so many others.

A great blessing for Ammon would be for God to give him more souls to teach.

Imagine if we home teachers were told that our faithfulness qualified us for a great blessing. And that blessing turned out to be 10 more families to home teach.

It puts our attitude in perspective rather quickly.

When Ammon’s brother Aaron accuses him of boasting, he doesn’t deny it. Which is a surprise. Instead, he boasts about being boastful, then explains he only boasts about the goodness of God.

Ammon’s speech in Alma 26 comes at us in a waterfall of words, filled with passion and high rhetoric. It is a script for a classical actor. Of course, we don’t read it that way today. Yet even when we speak his sermon in our slow, Western way, you can still hear the underground river rushing beneath the words.

That speech, in my book, is Ammon’s crowning glory, not his nifty bladework.

But then Ammon wouldn’t see either as his crowning glory, but instead as more glory for God.

In the Book of Mormon, Ammon is the prince of perspective.

He is a master of deferring credit to God.

So it is with most prophets, ancient and modern. They are like jewels with many facets. Perhaps we associate their ministries with just one thing as a memory device, which has its place. But it is also true that hidden riches loom behind those easy labels.

And I believe part of our role as Sunday School teachers is to call into high relief aspects of a prophet’s life that are often overshadowed by the obvious.

I hope that’s the case when we tackle Isaiah, anyway.

For as everyone knows, Isaiah wears one big label: Seemingly impenetrable.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com

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