A Godly Seed and a Peculiar People

Picking up any random Church publication, I glance over the pictures of individuals chosen to represent faithful Latter-day Saints. To me they look like clean, cheerful, thoughtful individuals who read the scriptures, take time to pray, and who are devoted to family life. I wholeheartedly accept that representation of my citizenship. Latter-day Saints really do appear much like our Christian neighbors and friends, and that is part of our appeal. But I wish the cameras could go even deeper inside of us to capture the complicated workings of a striving Latter-day Saint. We have the pre-mortal, Biblical and post-Apostasy/Restorationist past as well as the future eternities to make sense of in our crammed crucible of the now. We, somehow, must try and integrate everything we've been given that we may secure some peace, understanding and joy here as well as for the times to come. 

We have a mandate to fill, being called out of the world to be "a peculiar people" and "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). And who doubts that we make up a portion of those who are spoken of by Isaiah when he prophesied of Christ's Atonement "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed?" (Isaiah 53:10) Who qualifies as the Lord's seed? I WONDER.

Jacob teaching at the Nephite temple

Jacob teaching at the Nephite temple

When we bring up Jacob 2 in our discussions centered around the LDS theology of plural marriage, and we note that the Nephites, since at least the times of Lehi, were forbidden by the Lord from practicing the law of plural marriage, we often make mention of the Lord's exception: "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people." By this statement, we garner a glimpse into one of the answers to that all-important question: "WHY POLYGAMY?" But this particular answer may not be as simple as we always hear it explained. 

The easy and natural conclusion to make is that the Lord commands the righteous to practice polygamy because it will yield up more children into righteousness faster and more effectively than monogamy. This is definitely part of the answer contained in Jacob 2:30. Brigham Young does say that plural marriage was instituted so "that the noble spirits which are waiting for tabernacles might be brought forth." (Journal of Discourses 4:56). But this is not the whole and complete answer. Take Joseph Smith, for example, who had 34 wives (by some accounts). He had 9 children by Emma, some of which died very young, and it is thought that he had maybe 2 or 3 additional children by his plural wives. If the most important impetus for instituting the law of plural marriage was to have lots more children Joseph Smith would have missed the mark in a big way. It just so happens that there is another solid meaning to the phrase "raise up seed unto me" that implies more than just having an abundance of children, and is hinted at in the footnotes of the Book of Mormon.

"raise up seed unto me" ---refers us to Malachi 2:15

And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
— Malachi 2:15

So we're going from one scripture talking about raising up children to one about marital harmony, right? I don't believe so. I believe we are really going from one scripture talking about the seed of Christ to another about the seed of Christ. Malachi 2 gives us one of the BIGGEST clues about a key reason for the law of plural marriage in our theology. Let's take a closer look at Malachi 2.

Even from the very beginning, this chapter is rife with talk of "seed," the "covenant" and the idea of "one" (one father, one God). When we hit Malachi 2:11 something interesting happens: the Lord reverses His usual analogy of Himself as the Bridegroom and makes Judah the bridegroom instead, with He, the Lord, as the bride or wife of the covenant. 

Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.
— Malachi 2:11

Instead of cleaving to the Lord, the wife he had covenanted with and the wife of his youth, Judah has been "treacherous," better translated "faithless" to the Lord. And why is the Lord compared with the wife instead of the bridegroom here? Perhaps because of the image that Isaiah 53:11 conjures up where we are told of Christ's "travail" associated with the Atonement, just as a woman travails in childbirth, and how He is said to "bear" our iniquities which give Him pain, much like a woman "bears" a child which naturally is accompanied by physical pain. And, as in Isaiah 53:10 where "he shall see his seed," a wife and mother will also see her seed at the tail end of her travail. 

The Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.
— Malachi 2:14

The Lord IS the wife of Israel's youth (since as early as the world's foundation) and the wife of the covenant in this analogy, an idea which is made more plain in the next verses...

Malachi 2:15-16 "And did he not make one? [through the At-one-ment] Yet hath he the residue of the spirit [Israel wasn't pulling her weight in the relationship; The Lord was left picking up all the slack]. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously [faithlessly] against the wife of his youth [the Lord]. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away [spiritual divorce between Him and His people]: for one [the At-one-ment] covereth violence [the soul-violence of sin and separation] with his garment [again...through the Atonement, a symbol for which was how the Lord created a covering of skins for Adam & Eve after their transgression in the Garden of Eden], saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously [like an unfaithful spouse]."

It is reasonable to conclude that a cross-comparison of Jacob 2 and Malachi 2 leads one to believe that each one of us is the godly seed, or seed unto the Lord. And what qualifies us to be His seed? Obedience to the principles and ordinances of the Gospel and honoring our covenants. And so, when Heber C. Kimball explained to the Saints of his day why Joseph Smith received the revelation given by Jesus Christ to live the principle requiring a plurality of wives he said it was "to raise up for himself a pure seed who will keep His law and walk in His statutes." The pure seed was just as much the men and women who lived the law as much as it was the children that would be had by the law.

Additional comfort and clarity comes from Brigham Young, who said, "God never introduced the Patriarchal order of marriage with a view to please man in his carnal desires, nor to punish females for anything which they had done; but he introduced it for the express purpose of raising up to His name a royal Priesthood, a peculiar people."

We, the Latter-day Saints of today, if we zoom the lens of the camara deep into our cores I would hope it would find, to focus on, that peculiar faith that we have that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. I would hope we would be obedient in the socially acceptable things, such as reading the scriptures and finding time for prayer and family. But I would also hope we would be reverent toward the things that make us peculiar, such as the things from our past that are less understood. Brigham Young gave some salient advice that would certainly be useful for us today, regarding things about the restored Gospel we may not fully comprehend. This must be our thinking in regards to plural marriage or anything else we are struggling with along these lines; we must say within ourselves, "I pray that [the Lord] will save and preserve me from denying anything which proceedeth from Him, and give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself." When we can do this, and learn to submit to Him as obediently as Abraham did, we will be the Lord's seed as is Abraham. We will truly be peculiar and set apart from the world when that is our attitude.

In this light, "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people" becomes much broader than the Lord commanding plural marriage to have children born into righteousness more efficiently. It is an invitation to His children to be like Him. 

What say ye?

Listen to our discussion of this topic here