2019 Study Summary 2: “Be It Unto Me According to Thy Word”Levitical Cities
Zacharias, a worthy priest in the temple, his wife Elisabeth, and John the Baptist initially lived in a city of “Judah.” Being priests, they likely lived in a town that was disciplined by priestly rules of cleanliness. “. . . there were 48 Levitical cities which were traditionally set apart, usually four from every tribe, for the exclusive residence of the Levites. Included in these were the six cities of refuge.” (Encyclopedia Judaica Jr.) Cities of refuge are like Temple cities.Yatta – Judah – Utah
Ein Kerem in the fertile watershed hills just outside Jerusalem is the traditional birthplace of John. However, another small Arab town named Yatta, just outside the hills of Hebron may be a more likely location for their residence. That town’s name, Yatta, may be a derivation of the word Judah. It also has an archaeological ruin of an ancient “Levite” synagogue. It is tempting to give archaeology, plus a written account of “City of Juda,” a little more credence than just tradition. With a linguistic twist we could say that John came from Utah! Utah means “tops of the mountains” and Judah is in the tops of the mountains of Israel. John from Judah preceded the era of the Savior’s first coming. Prophets from Utah are preceding the era of the Savior’s second coming.The Forerunner
John knew who he was and surely knew who the Savior was. Like all prophets, he bore witness of the Lord and desired to bring people to Him. Joseph Smith gave three reasons why John was considered one of the greatest prophets. First, he was entrusted with a divine mission of preparing the way . . . Secondly, he was entrusted with the important mission . . . to baptize the Son of Man. Thirdly, John, at that time was the only legal administrator in the affairs of the kingdom there was then on earth. . . . and these three reasons constitute him the greatest prophet born of woman. (Teachings, pp. 275-276.)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol.1, p.262 – p.263)Repent, Return, the Same Word
In this lesson, the word “turn” is emphasized (Luke 1:16-17). In Hebrew the word “turn” is the same word as repent, hence “men turn to God” and sometimes the term is used that “God repents.” Actually, it is His turning to man as man turns to Him, giving a great symbolism to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers.”
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Wise Men or Magi
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Middle Eastern Christians have a tradition of three wise men or Magi that come from the East bearing gifts for a newborn King. Even scriptures tell us of Herod the Great receiving those visitors, seeking the child “King of The Jews.” Conniving Herod told them to let him know when they found him, so he could reverence the “child-to-be-king.” When they did not return, Herod ordered all the children killed in the Bethlehem who were two-years old and under, (Matthew 2:1-16). Many nativity sets show the wise men at the birth even though the scriptures indicate a time frame of about two years later. Nativity scenes often depict the wise men as two light-skinned, and one dark-skinned person. “Matthew’s account of ‘wise men from the east’ coming to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in search of the Christ Child is sometimes recited as a visit of three Magi . . . it is much more probable that they were devout men who knew of our Lord’s coming advent, including the promise that a new star would arise, and that they came as prophets of any age would have done to worship their King. It is clear, that they were in tune with the Lord and were receiving revelation from him, for they were ‘warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod.’ (Matt. 2:12.)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p.462). There are three Book of Mormon prophets in this particular time frame who prophesied the Lord’s imminent coming. These three also seemed to “disappear,” or, “were not heard of again,” an Alma, Samuel the Lamanite, and a Nephi. Alma and Nephi had light skin and Samuel the Lamanite, likely, a darker skin. (Alma 45:18, Helaman 16:7-8, 3 Nephi 1:3, 3 Nephi 2:9)New Star
“Our Lord’s birth into mortality was accompanied by the appearance of a new star in the heavens. One of Samuel the Lamanite’s Messianic prophecies foretold this heavenly sign (Helaman 14:5), and the Nephites knew of the promised birth because they saw the new star that arose according to Samuel’s word. (3 Ne. 1:21.)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p.765)
There’s a “Made-in-Bethlehem” nativity scene in my home, with wise men, yet, I’ve placed them across the room!