We now take up the Joseph Smith Translation (italics added to show changes):
1 And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tables of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou breakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them; for my presence shall not go up in their midst, lest I destroy them.
2 But I will give unto them the law as at the first, but it shall be after the law of a carnal commandment; for I have sworn in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my presence, into my rest, in the days of their pilgrimage. Therefore do as I have commanded thee, and be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me, in the top of the mount (cf. Joseph Smith Translation Deuteronomy 10:2: the words of the everlasting covenant of the holy priesthood).
Is the Joseph Smith Translation of Exodus 34:1-2 authentic? The New Translation of Exodus 34 does consist of phrases found elsewhere in the King James Version of Exodus thus lending it an authentic flavor: "take away"; "out of their midst"; "go up in thy midst"; "the days of their pilgrimage" (biymey meygureyhem), and so forth. The phrase about the "holy order," on the other hand, recalls Psalms 110:4.
Striking and unique is the migration imagery of "my holy order, and the ordinances thereof" going before the camp of Israel. We think of standards, "an ensign for the people," leading the way, or of the dipper pointing to the polar star, as depicted on the center west tower of the Salt Lake Temple, "that through the priesthood of God, the lost might find their way."
And, then, there is Deseret. "The bee," says Hugh Nibley, "is before all creatures the sponsor, inspiration, and guide of the Great Trek" (Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, Chapter 12, "The Deseret Connection," 612). To get to the root of the thing, we must turn the pertinent verses back into Hebrew, for what the Prophet Joseph restores in Exodus 34:1-2 is, after all, a lost portion of scripture.
For I will take away the priesthood out of their midst;
va-hasiroti et-ha-kehonet miq-qirbam
therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them;
ve-al-divrat (or divrat or al-divrati) qadoshti ve-hukotav lo yelkhu lefaneychem
for my presence shall not go up in their midst,
ki panay lo ya'alu beqirbam
lest I destroy them
These tightly-woven verses, with their repeated reference to faces and forward movement and to the idea of the center (their "midst"), flow beautifully together in Hebrew. The weave is chiastic: the Lord tells Moses that as a result of His taking the priesthood out of their midst, His holy order shall not go before them (lit. to their faces) for His presence (His faces) shall not go up in their midst.
The phrase "shall not go before thee" elsewhere occurs in Exodus when the Lord tells Moses that His presence shall not go before his people into the promised land. Because of their rebellion, his angel shall go before him, but not his presence (Exodus 33:2-3).
According to the Joseph Smith Translation, His presence cannot go before them, because with the fullness of the priesthood, the holy order, taken away, and its attendant sacred ordinances thus also taken away, there can be no access to the face of God.
The phrase "my holy order," rendered back into Hebrew, yields: divrat or divarti qadoshti, "the order of my holiness." Though not attested anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, the phrase does reflect, as every reader knows, Psalm 110:4: "Thou art a priest after the order of Melchisedek" ('al-divrati Malki-Tzedek).
What al-devrati means in Hebrew may be endlessly debated, but striking is how the common Hebrew word for the honey bee, dvrh (divorah), matches the word KJV Psalms 110:4 translates as order, dvrh, as if to say: "The bee shall not go before thee." The relation between bees and word and speech and order, all from the verbal root d-b-r, is beyond all of us--buzzing philology has pursued it in vain. Yet any reader of Hugh Nibley will now recall his essay dealing with such themes as "The Bees and the Migrations" and "The Bee and the Rites of Resurrection" (Abraham in Egypt, Chapter 12, "The Deseret Connection," 608-649). The bees lead the way, as in the case of the Jaredites and Deseret. Here is a touch not of the authentic alone but of the genuine, of the peculiar and the specific.
"Joseph Smith puts us right into the picture," Nibley insists. "For he has told us not of one but of two separate migrations taking place shortly after the flood, starting from about the same place, from the Tower, but moving in opposite directions. Both parties toiled through the deserts of a blighted earth under dark and violent skies, moving toward promised lands. And the intimate and peculiar link between the two migrations is the friendly bee. The account of the Jaredite trek makes the bee explicitly a significant item in the baggage of the host: 'And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honeybee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees' (Ether 2:3). Why the odd name, why used in the singular, if they took swarms? Here the bee is representative and symbolic as well as real and recalls the bee leaders and migrating swarms of the Maya migrations in the book of Chumayel" (Abraham in Egypt, "The Deseret Connection," 629-630).
"A midrash on the very first line of Deuteronomy," says Rabbi Natan Slifkin, "plays on the words devarim and devorim: "The fifth book of the Torah, Sefer Devarim, begins with the words 'Eileh hadevarim... These are the words that Moshe spoke.' However, the Midrash homiletically reads the second word not as devarim, which means 'words,' but rather as devorim, which means 'bees.'
'These are the devarim'--Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman said: The Holy One said, my sons were conducted in this world like bees with the righteous and with the prophets." (Midrash Devarim Rabbah 1:5)
Again: 'These are the devarim'--Just as with the bee, its children are led after it, so too Israel is led by the righteous and the prophets." (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni 1:795)
Prophets, yes. But what of the everlasting covenant of the Holy Priesthood?
The midrashic view of Israel leaving Egypt recalls how, once, in a reversal of events, "The bees led the migration to Egypt in a time of cosmic upheaval" (Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 612-13). Here Israel marches bereft of the bee, though a hornet may yet lead them (Natan Slifkin, "Being Beeish," Rationalist Judaism Web site, 4 August 2012).
What clinches the association of the bee with Joseph Smith Translation Exodus 34:1-2 is another place from the same book of scripture. Hugh Nibley marvelously cites Exodus 23:28 in footnote 156 of "The Deseret Connection," and, indeed, much of Exodus 23 pertains to our theme:
20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.
21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.
22 But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.
23 For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.
* * * * *
25 And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. [Note the wording!]
* * * * *
27 I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.
28 And I will send hornets [ha-tsir'ah, the hornet] before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.
29 I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.
30 By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.
One great purpose of Joseph Smith's translations is to restore the doctrine of the Holy Priesthood. As we read the restored narrative of the dealings of God with the ancients, we come to understand not the essential history alone but also the purposes and powers of the Priesthood. We further come to appreciate how delicate the link between the principles of righteousness and the powers of heaven (see Doctrine and Covenants 121). We learn from the chastening historical narrative, as in no other way, to treasure the restoration of Priesthood ordinances and covenants.
Consider the theme of reversal, of the blessing "taken away," as we now read the King James Version of Exodus in light of the New Translation.
Exodus 33 repeats the idea of the Angel, the Fear, the Hornet going before the Camp of Israel:
2 And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite:
3 Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.
4 And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.
Moses pleaded with the Lord to relent and received hope:
14 And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.
Yet, by Deuteronomy 1:42-46, we see that hope rescinded in total reversal of the promised protection and guidance:
42 And the Lord said unto me, Say unto them, Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest ye be smitten before your enemies.
43 So I spake unto you; and ye would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, and went presumptuously up into the hill.
44 And the Amorites, which dwelt in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Seir, even unto Hormah.
45 And ye returned and wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you.
46 So ye abode [no further migration or guidance] in Kadesh many days, according unto the days that ye abode there.
We must turn to Psalm 118, with its Messianic promises, to quench the encompassing bees.
As Elder Ballard reminds us:
"The beehive symbol is found in both the interiors and exteriors of many of our temples," even gracing the door panes of sealing rooms, where families are organized after the pattern of the Priesthood.
The symbol is a fitting one, for "mine house is a house of order" (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8).
Bees connote the ordered society, an ideal which in its fullest sense signifies a society under the direction and order of the Priesthood. Hugh Nibley refers to "the authority and order(!) by which [the Saints] were ruled":
"The Latter-day Saints, ever settling and ever on the move, adopted the bee symbol from the beginning. It caught their imagination, and they saw in it exactly what the ancients did, the example of a society in which 'men lived together like bees,' of the authority and order by which they were ruled, and of the industry and organization with which they gathered the sweets of the field and enhanced their growth: in the State of Deseret, 'our lovely Deseret,' the beehive symbol was everywhere" (Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, "The Deseret Connection," 630, italic added).
Yet it is particularly in the holy temple where "we may find the symbols by which power might be generated that will save this nation [or this Deseret community] from destruction. Therein may be found the fulness of the blessings of the Priesthood. The spires on the eastern towers of the temple are to represent the presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood; the spires to the west, the presidency of the Aaronic Priesthood" (Elder Harold B. Lee, April Conference, 1942).
"Look to the east," says President Lee, "just underneath the west towers of the great Salt Lake Temple, and see a depiction of the dipper pointing toward the North Star, which Truman O. Angell said in an article in the Millennial Star was to symbolize to the Church "that through the priesthood of God, the lost might find their way" (October Conference, 1964). The bee, leading the way, is also a pointer, a director (so Natan Slotkin notes), a Liahona. The ordinances of the Priesthood point homeward to God.
As already noted, one great purpose of Joseph Smith's translations is to restore the doctrine of the Holy Priesthood--yet there is more.
The vital truths about the Holy Priesthood, its ordinances and covenants, come to us couched in revelations and translations narrating the dealings of God with Abraham, Moses, Enoch, Melchizedek, and others. Doctrine does not descend to us in abstract packaging. The reason for favoring narrative, and for ever intertwining story and symbol, for didactic purposes is clear. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught these vital truths precisely as they once came to Moses and Abraham; thus we also receive them as if from the very mouths of the ancients, and, in so receiving, become, as priesthood holders, "the sons of Moses and of Aaron, and the seed of Abraham." In restoring the doctrine of the Holy Priesthood, the Lord, at once, also binds in a direct line of descent the hearts of the fathers to their children.
8 "Therefore, thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers—
9 For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God—
10 Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began" (Doctrine and Covenants 86:8-10).
"Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet" (Doctrine and Covenants 2:2; 110:13-16; Malachi 4:4-6). Another engraving on temple walls reads: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. The "holy order, and the ordinances thereof" go before the Camp of Israel today. The symbol of the bees, that is to say, "the words of the everlasting covenant of the holy priesthood," the promised and restored sealing power, are written in our hearts. "But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people"(Jeremiah 31:33).
President Harold B. Lee (and compare Exodus 23:25):
We talk of security in this day, and yet we fail to understand that here on this Temple Block we have standing the holy temple wherein we may find the symbols by which power might be generated that will save this nation from destruction. Therein may be found the fulness of the blessings of the Priesthood. . . ; the gilded figure of the angel Moroni symbolizes the preaching of the gospel to the world. The gospel must be preached as a witness (Matt. 24:14) under the direction of the holy Priesthood: "Fear God and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come" (Rev. 14:7).
Look to the east, just underneath the west towers of the great Salt Lake Temple, and see a depiction of the dipper pointing toward the North Star, which Truman O. Angell said in an article in the Millennial Star was to symbolize to the Church "that through the priesthood of God, the lost might find their way."
Rabbi Natan Slifkin, "Being Beeish" (also titled: "Consider the Bee"), on his blog, Rationalist Judaism, 4 August 2012
Copyright 2013 by Val H. Sederholm