Scripture Study: The Joy of My Countenance

Hawkgrrrl Asides, christ, christianity, church, curiosity, doubt, faith, God, Jesus, LDS, Logic, love, mercy, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, parables, questioning, religion, scripture, service, spirituality, symbols, testimony, theology, thought 16 Comments

 There is a strange parable in D&C 88 about workers digging in a field and their boss giving them the joy of his countenance for an hour during their shift.  Read on to weigh in what you think this means.

Here’s the parable:

51 Behold, I will liken these kingdoms unto a man having a field, and he sent forth his servants into the field to dig in the field.  (What exactly are they digging for?)

52 And he said unto the first: Go ye and labor in the field, and in the first hour I will come unto you, and ye shall behold the joy of my countenance.  (So, rather than a team huddle and off they go, he talks to them one at a time.)

53 And he said unto the second: Go ye also into the field, and in the second hour I will visit you with the joy of my countenance.  (What if the guy is skylarking?  I don’t think he’s going to get “the joy of his master’s countenance” in that case.)
54 And also unto the third, saying: I will visit you;
55 And unto the fourth, and so on unto the twelfth.  (So, is this about the twelve apostles specifically and seeing the face of the Savior?  Otherwise, why 12?)
56 And the lord of the field went unto the first in the first hour, and tarried with him all that hour, and he was made glad with the light of the countenance of his lord.  (Light and joy seem to be synonymous here.)
57 And then he withdrew from the first that he might visit the second also, and the third, and the fourth, and so on unto the twelfth.  (So, he withdraws from the first.  He can’t visit everyone all at once.  Only one at a time.)
58 And thus they all received the light of the countenance of their lord, every man in his hour, and in his time, and in his season— (They received it, but it was time bound when it was “expedient”?)
59 Beginning at the first, and so on unto the alast, and from the last unto the first, and from the first unto the last;  (This only showed from the first to the last, but then it goes on to add from the last to the first and the first to the last.  Does he do this 3 times in reverse order in between?)
60 Every man in his own aorder, until his hour was finished, even according as his lord had commanded him, that his lord might be glorified in him, and he in his lord, that they all might be glorified.  (So, they got a full hour with the lord in which they and the lord were both glorified.)
61 Therefore, unto this parable I will liken all these akingdoms, and the binhabitants thereof—every kingdom in its hour, and in its time, and in its season, even according to the decree which God hath made.  (Earthly kingdoms or 3 degrees of glory?  Are these planets?)
62 And again, verily I say unto you, my afriends, I leave these bsayings with you to cponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall dcall upon me while I am near— (So, the Lord is not always near?  Does that mean sometimes he won’t hear us?)
So, this is about the most confusing parable I’ve seen to date, but it’s not one we discuss much.  What do you think it’s talking about?
  • Who are the servants?  Everyone?  The 12 apostles?  Prophets through time?  Those that are called or who seek the Lord’s face?  Only those who have received the second comforter?
  • Why are the workers sent out one at a time, each in his season?  Are the workers all working alone like the kids in “Holes”?  Does this mean it refers to our time on earth?
  • What is the significance of the workers digging in a field, but with no other specified purpose?  Is the digging symbolic of something (e.g. seeking for treasure, preparing the ground for planting), or is it meant to signify a meaningless and mundane yet difficult and dirty task?
  • What is the “joy of my countenance”?  Seeing the face of God literally (the second comforter)?  Receiving inspiration?  Obtaining a testimony or other spritual experience?  This is a phrase unique to this passage of scripture (“light of thy countenance” is also in Psalms; “full of joy with thy countenance” is found in Acts.)

Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 16

  1. every man in his hour, and in his time, and in his season and in his dispensation or calling.

    We should call upon the Lord when we are close to him, taking advantage of those times rather than not.

    I’ll leave the rest up to other comments.

  2. I think this is an interesting parable on how the Lord works with his servants and blesses them.

    The parable doesn’t present a Lord standing over the whole field surveying all things at all times, but a more personal involvement with some while leaving other workers alone to work for a period of time.

    If I can ask a little off the specific parable meaning but that this parable posted struck a chord with me, this is something I have been trying to study recently, and is the precise reason I stumbled across mormonmatters.org – I have been seeking answers that I have not been able to find simply by reading the scriptures on my own and have not been able to find answers from church sunday school or priesthood classes.

    Does God always hear our prayers? Is God always involved in my life, or are there times I am left alone because He is busy elsewhere in the field, like sometimes for long periods?

    I have just gone through a crisis at home where my marriage was hanging by a thread, something after more than 15 years of marriage I never imagined could have happened. I had a sense of security that “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our active family life in church seemed to be a testament to this, until the crisis 6 months ago that almost destroyed my family.

    During this time of trial for me, I strived to pray, read, stay active and hold family councils and family home evenings to keep the family grounded and together. I don’t know, perhaps those efforts did help, we are still together as a family today.

    However, it didn’t forge our family closer or smooth the rough spots in our character to help us feel closer to God by getting through it. It proved a test of my faith, and one I am a bit surprised at how I actually am now left doubting much about things I used to never imagine wavering on. The Church didn’t really help me through the situation. They did some, they brought me some dinners, babysat kids from time to time, and for the service given I am grateful. But this was an issue to be dealt with personally and no one else could really help us, we had to work it out on our own.

    I have felt my prayers go unanswered, and I keep telling myself to keep the faith and seek for answers in the Lord’s time, not mine.

    However, I still cannot help but struggle with feeling alone. Perhaps the Lord isn’t as involved in my life as I built up in my mind my whole life. Perhaps times in the past when I thought I was directed by the Spirit or had answers to prayers were times I just figured things out on my own.

    Without going on and on with all my personal situation, I guess I just thought along the lines of this parable, to ask the group if this parable suggests that as workers in the field, we are left alone many times, and should work hard and stay faithful looking forward to the time when we are blessed with the light of His countenance in that hour. Unitl those times, we are on our own.

    One thing I know is that when life seems to get “easy” and cruise along, a new set of challenges are given to us so we can learn and grow.

    I believe I will learn from this, and think that as I ask questions and sincerely seek answers, I will learn some things of my simple child-like testimony may need to be enhanced to an adult-like knowledge and understanding in my path of progression.

    Sorry to bring such a personal note to this discussion, I hope that is not out of place but would welcome any comments on the matter as I search for answers.

  3. Hawkgrrrl,

    I love these questions you pose, but I really struggle with parables and their meaning, which is why I (and I suspect others) generally avoid talking about them. But I do enjoy hearing different perspectives on them, as I think the primary purpose of parables is to struggle to find the meaning, and often they are designed to have multiple meanings.

  4. Hawkgrrrl: This is the first time I have seen this parable so these are some first impressions. First, it sounds like the parable found in Matthew 20.1-16 but with a few twists. The Matthean passage is about a landowner who sends people to work in his vineyard at different times during the day and then pays them all the same. The point of that story is that God has the right to do as he pleases, especially when it comes to showing generosity. The little aphorism about the last being first and the first, last, is also attached.

    In the D&C parable, the men (servants, not people waiting to work) are told to dig in the dirt, not work in a vineyard; there are twelve of them, each sent at a different hour, not an unspecified number brought in at four different times; and it is countenance, joy, and presence that they receive, not a day’s wage.

    There are also overtones of John’s Gospel here. Vs. 60 sounds a bit like Jesus’ prayer in John 17 with the twist that in John the glorifying relationship is between the Father and the Son, while here it is between the Lord and the servants.

    Then, as you have noted, the light of God’s countenance shows up in the Psalms, though its most famous use is in the Aaronic (Priestly) Benediction (The Lord bless thee and keep thee…) where God is said to lift up the light of his countenance upon the people of Israel.

    I would then add a few other things. First, parables are meant to provoke reflection as much, if not more than, make a specific point. This doesn’t mean they’re “pointless”; it means they take a more indirect route into people’s hearts and minds. This in turn gives them considerable flexibility, thereby allowing them to speak to a variety of life situations. It does, however, make it a bit difficult to pin down one definitive meaning and/or application.

    Second, the number twelve is one of those numbers that has been given quite a bit of symbolic weight. There are 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles, 12 signs of the zodiac, two sets of 12 hours in a day, 12 months in a year, 12 powers of man (in certain esoteric teachings), 12 Knights of the Round Table (in some versions of the Arthurian legend) and so on.

    Third, as to digging, the hunt for a treasure in a field is a good biblical metaphor for seeking the kingdom. The command to seek the Lord while he can be found is from Isaiah 55 and is in the context of a call to repentance. The idea is that one should respond to God’s mercy and invitation before it’s too late.

    With the above observations in mind, I offer the following personal interpretation. I think the basic point is that God desires fellowship with all of the “tribes” of humankind on a personal basis in order to bless, glorify and be glorified, and give joy to people. I think the twelve servants refer to the totality of humanity, living in different places and times.* The individual visits indicate the intimate, personal nature of God’s work and the multiplicity of the visits shows that this visitation is not to be a “one time only” experience. I also think the story speaks of a certain order/plan in God’s salvific work. (If I recall correctly, someone made a reference to this ongoing planned work with different peoples in this week’s post on how exclusive or not Mormon claims are.) So, when Jesus invites us to seek the kingdom, he does so with some specific plan in mind, a plan that results in ongoing personal fellowship.

    This teaching thereby calls us to seek, knowing that even if it seems to take a while, God will come and spend intimate, personal time with us, listening to our hurts, joys, and desires in such a way as to give us the assurance that we are indeed loved and known by name. Such fellowship gives us joy and the light of his countenance, i.e., the life that we were meant to have by living in God’s presence and walking in his ways.

    *Alternatively, the 12 servants could be seen as representing apostolic (and therefore missionary, since “apostle” means one who is sent) work among the peoples. Or it could refer to 12 ages or epochs of God’s unfolding plan (How about: NT times, post apostolic, Constantinian, Early Middle Ages (aka, the Dark Ages), Late (High) Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Early Modernity, Enlightenment, Restoration, Globalization/Post Modernity?) In any case, the direction of thought is on totality, plan, and God’s mission.

  5. I was composing a response as I read the post, and now the essence of what I was going to say can be summed up nicely by:

    What David said. 🙂

    KG McB, I feel for you. All I can say is that there are a LOT of members who have experienced what you describe in one way or another, and I think some form of your struggle is necessary to create a “personal” faith. I know that might not be a comfort in the moment, but it is what it is.

  6. Post
    Author

    David Stout – I love your analysis, although I admit to being partial to the parable in Matthew 20 over this one. Funny how employees never find that parable very comforting ;). But your view renders this one more meaningful.

    “it is countenance, joy, and presence that they receive, not a day’s wage.” This bit reminds me of the new-age boss played by Steve Martin in Baby Mama who rewards Tina Fey with ‘5 mins of uninterrupted eye contact.’

  7. [quote]So, this is about the most confusing parable I’ve seen to date, but it’s not one we discuss much. What do you think it’s talking about?[/quote]

    I think the D&C isn’t “scripture” because how could any loving, respectable god also hate women (see the end of D&C 132)?

    So, it’s all a crock of $#!& and not worth reading.

  8. FWIW, I checked 25 or so LDS commentaries. Several simply cite or quote from Moses 1 and/or a discourse by Orson Pratt (JD 17:331-32).

    According to Moses (see Moses 1:27–29) and to the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 76:21, 24 and Commentary), there are countless inhabited worlds like this one among the creations of God. As these worlds go through the process of creation, cleansing, sanctification, and so forth that leads to their becoming celestial spheres (while they are still “under construction,” so to speak), there is a time when each will enjoy the actual, physical presence of its Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. In our case, the Lord will personally visit this earth during the Millennium, though he will likely not dwell here, and during that time all those raised in the first resurrection (that is, with celestial or terrestrial glory; see D&C 45:54; 76:17, 50 and Commentary) will at some time enjoy his personal presence. However, when our millennial day is over, the Lord will leave this earth to visit yet other worlds in their proper turn as they approach completion of their celestial natures. Thus, one by one the Lord personally visits each of his created worlds and all of his righteous servants.

    In addition to this, according to Elder Orson Pratt, as each world passes through its terrestrial millennium to be recreated a glorious, celestial sphere, “then, from that time henceforth and for ever, there will be no intervening veil between God and his people who are sanctified and glorified, and he will not be under the necessity of withdrawing from one to go and visit another, because they will all be in his presence.” Thus, it would seem that regardless of where the Savior might be located physically in the universe as he travels from one kingdom to another, all celestial beings will enjoy a relationship with him as close as if they were physically present with him, and, indeed, can be said to be “in his presence.”

    Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, Vol. 3 (SLC: Deseret Book, 2004).

    This parable, given in the context of a discussion about the endless expanses of eternity, is one of the plainest assertions in scripture that there are other inhabited worlds, each of which will be visited by Christ. In each instance the pattern is the same: Christ chooses his servant, appoints to him his labor, and gives the attendant promise that he will, at the appropriate time and season, visit him, which he does. The parable does not suggest that Christ made appearances to anyone other than his appointed servant in each of these worlds. That the resurrected Christ appeared to great multitudes on the various planets following the pattern of his appearance among the Nephites and among various groups of the lost tribes seems a reasonable assumption. It is not, however, the purpose of this parable to make that point. See commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 76:23-24.

    Craig J. Ostler and Joseph Fielding McConkie, Revelations of the Restoration (SLC: Deseret Book, 2000).

  9. If you look at this article: http://articles.mormonfundamentalism.org/64/jesus-savior-of-other-worlds/
    And look at note 17, you will see this:

    “Perhaps referring to this George Q. Cannon taught that “under certain unknown conditions the benefits of the Saviour’s atonement extend to our entire solar system.” (Abraham H. Cannon, 23 June 1889) Benjamin F. Johnson said that “[Joseph Smith] gave us to understand that there were twelve kingdoms, or planets, revolving around our solar system, to which the Lord gave equal division of His time or ministry;” (Autobiography of Benjamin F. Johnson) and John Taylor in 1845 wrote of “successive visits of the Lord to twelve different kingdoms.” ”

    A more full quote from the Benjamin F. Johnson document says:

    “he gave us to understand that there were twelve kingdoms, or planets, revolving around our solar system, to which the Lord gave an equal division of His time or ministry and that now was His time to again visit the earth. He taught that all systems of worlds were in revolution, the lesser around the greater.”

  10. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, it also mentions these: “Jah-oh-eh The earth under the governing power of oliblish, Enish go on dosh, and Kai e van rash, which are grand Key or in other words, the governing power, which governs the fifteen fixed stars (twelve [unclear words]) that belong governs the earth, sun & moon, (which have their power in one) with the other twelve moving planets of this system.” (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Grammar_&_Alphabet_of_the_Egyptian_Language)

  11. KG McB, I remember sitting in a HPG when I was 44, and listening to people say that it is inevitable that we would be tried and tested and really find life hard. I thought at the time that I must be unworthy because I had never really had these types of trials, and I must have said something about it, because I remember two or three men suggesting to me that I was a great strength to them, and perhaps I was blessed for living such a righteous life. It was true that I was blessed. Within a year, though, I was living in a far off country and had a terrible relation with my boss. I was completely demoralized. The more I tried to pray and live the commandments, the more it seemed that things went wrong at work. My family worked to keep my spirits up, but I fell into strong depression. It seemed (to me) that God had abandoned me. I am sure that I didn’t feel like Christ, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” but I sure felt bad. Going to church on Sunday, FHE, and scripture study didn’t seem to make me feel better. As I was miserable, it had a deleterious effect on my family, even though I retired to my bed each day when I returned from work so that I would not yell or otherwise convey my poor spirit to my children. Somehow, this year passed. A new boss came. I went to the psychiatrist, and took drugs. That was in 2000. Eventually things got better. We transferred to a different place. I have had good years since 2001. This year again I had a boss with whom I couldn’t get along – he is severely ethically challenged, even dishonest. The more I tried to get along, the worse things seemed to get. And at home, my wife got breast cancer. Two trials the same year. But, the trials weren’t as difficult as ten years ago, although the problems were worse. I found great brotherhood at church, and enjoyed my callings immensely. Sacrament services have seemed the best time of the week, and I have worked hard to feel the power of the atonement throughout the week. I have felt the strength of the Lord. I don’t know what the difference has been in the two sets of trials nine years apart, but I have felt the differences. Perhaps nine year ago trials prepared me for this set.

    Relating trials to this thread, David said “The individual visits indicate the intimate, personal nature of God’s work and the multiplicity of the visits shows that this visitation is not to be a “one time only” experience. … So, when Jesus invites us to seek the kingdom, he does so with some specific plan in mind, a plan that results in ongoing personal fellowship.
    This teaching thereby calls us to seek, knowing that even if it seems to take a while, God will come and spend intimate, personal time with us, listening to our hurts, joys, and desires in such a way as to give us the assurance that we are indeed loved and known by name. Such fellowship gives us joy and the light of his countenance, i.e., the life that we were meant to have by living in God’s presence and walking in his ways.”

    Because of my trials, and the fact that in spite of the current trials I face, I feel closer to God than I have for several years, I can really relate to David’s ideas here. And, this parable, with the reward being intimate time with the Lord of the field (vineyard?) rather than an honest day’s wages no matter what time we started in the field, reflects what I am looking for (and enjoying) more in life as I get older and seek more than material succor for my daily efforts.

    Enduring to the end isn’t meant to be all trials and difficulties, though they do come. Many joys, comforts, and intimate times with God and with our families are normal on the pathway to eternal life.

  12. Roten. All I can say is… Thank you. Sharing your experience has touched me, and actually brought tears. There is so much I could respond to give you an idea of how much I needed to hear that. Interesting how total strangers posting messages on an internet board can create a strong sense of “someone knows what I’m going through” and more importantly, there is hope. I have prayed for hope for months. I will now pray for strength to keep moving forward and use this trial to ask questions and learn more about my deep beliefs, since I am being shown I need a deeper level of testimony than what I had settled with up until now.

    Thank you for taking time to post your thoughts. I applaud you for your strength. God Bless You!

  13. This reminds me of a favorite hymn not found in our hymnal

    I Come To The Garden Alone

    I come to the garden alone
    while the dew is still on the roses
    And the voice I hear,
    falling on my ear,
    The Son of God discloses,
    And He walks with me,
    and He talks with me,
    And He tells me I am His own,
    and the Joy we share
    as we tarry there,
    None other has ever known.

    He speaks, and the sound of His voice
    Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
    And the melody that He gave to me
    Within my heart is ringing,
    And He walks with me,
    and He talks with me,
    And He tells me I am His own,
    and the Joy we share
    as we tarry there,
    None other has ever known.

    I’d stay in the garden with Him
    Though the night around me be falling,
    But He bids me go;
    through the voice of woe,
    His voice to me is calling.
    And He walks with me,
    And He talks with me,
    And He tells me I am His own,
    And the Joy we share
    as we tarry there,
    None other has ever known.

    Other than the implication that this is a special relationship that no one else has, I like the message of this song.

  14. Hawkgrrrl, thanks for bringing this parable up. I mentioned it this morning in Sunday School while we were discussing the parable of the laborers and the law of consecration. I love to bring up things that bewilder those who think they are gospel scholars and think they know where every parable or story is. D&C 88? Is this in with the discussions of the different kingdoms of glory?

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