Friday, October 14, 2011

Book of Mormon painting three.

Around 160-150 BC, there was a terribly wicked king.

King Noah ruled in wickedness, surrounding himself with women, wealth, and (I venture to say) smut.  Pretty sure that’s the way of it.  He taxed his people one fifth of all they possessed.  He “put down” all the good priests his father had consecrated and chose prideful Noah-loving lazy priests instead.  It was pretty bad.

Noah was so wicked, that later in 92 BC, King Mosiah used Noah as the primary reason for the people to eliminate a government of kings.  He said:  How much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction! Yea, remember king Noah.  (Mosiah 29:17-18)

And so, God rose up a prophet to cry repentance – a standard practice of God.  The prophet’s named was Abinadi.  He cried to the people to repent from their ways, but more importantly for the King to repent from his unpleasant ways.  And he prophesied that the people would be taken into bondage.  Oh, and that King Noah would die even as a garment in a hot furnace.  Good, to-the-point messages.

As you can imagine, King Noah wasn’t thrilled with the message Abinadi was shouting about, and wanted him gone.  Abinadi is eventually imprisoned for his prophesies, and he sees just how bad the false priests really are.  While in prison, he tries to teach them about the Ten Commandments, and how to really keep the Law of Moses.

Again, King Noah isn’t too pleased with Abinadi.  He wants him dead.  Away with this fellow, and slay him … (totally reminds me of the Queen of Hearts here)

And you know what Abinadi said to him?

Abinadi Delivers His Message to King Noah by Arnold Friberg

Abinadi Delivers His Message to King Noah
Arnold Friberg

[Abinadi] said unto them: “Touch me not, for God shall smite you if ye lay your hands upon me. …

After Abinadi had spoken these words … the people of king Noah durst not lay their hands on him, for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; and his face shone with exceeding luster. (Mosiah 13:2–3, 5)

Boo yah!  Take that, you slimy king!

Abinadi had such a powerful message.  The guards couldn't touch him.  And I’m not talking about the call to repentance or the prophesy of their destruction as a consequence from turning away from God.  Abinadi taught quite profoundly about the Saviour’s divinity and the great sacrifice this Saviour would make.  He also taught about the unity between this Saviour and the Father.  What a privilege to know of this great, fearless prophet, and to read of his words regarding the Saviour, Jesus Christ.  By reading the account in the Book of Mormon, we can gain a deeper appreciation of the Saviour and His Atonement for us.

What courage he had.  This painting clearly captures that courage – look at what this old faithful man is facing: a powerful corrupt leader, a court of wealthy, proud priests, all that luxury … and those friendly looking jaguars.

On the composition of the scene, Friberg said he did “the opposite of the well- known principle in art, the ‘principle of the Jewel.’ ...It is like a jewel setting - the central figure is the most interesting part.  You use the strongest color and the strongest and most vibrant contrast around the center of interest, and then it goes into surrounding neutrals.  I reversed it here for the purposes of this picture.  Against the simplicity of Abinadi in his grey prison garb was the opulence of the court.  The richness of the colors set off this simple, humble man.

“And the jaguars - I spent days studying them at the zoo.  There were several reasons for putting them in.  One thing, it gives a royal touch to have the animals chained to the throne.  They are not leopards; they are jaguars, which are more compact animals than leopards.  Jaguars are found only in Central and South America, so they sort of help define the geographical setting.  Animals are very sensitive to supernatural power. ...The jaguars are snarling because they sense the awesome power that is surrounding Abinadi.

“Then there are the priests of King Noah.  I had somewhat in mind the man back here at the right might be young Alma.  He was mightily impressed by the courageous testimony of Abinadi, so much so that he became a prophet.” [1]

Out of the entire set, this painting is Arnold Friberg’s favourite, perhaps because the figure of Abinadi held a special meaning for Friberg.

Friberg’s family was converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1921, while living in Arizona, through the missionary efforts of a Brother Altop.  Friberg was seven years old.  He was baptized the next year, and remembers fondly the missionary teaching his family received from Brother Altop.

While Friberg worked on this very painting, Brother Altop visited him in Salt Lake City.  He was lean and muscular from years of working as a carpenter, so the revered friend was immediately put to work posing as Abinadi. [2]

Continuing our read in the Book of Mormon, we find out Abinadi’s fate.  He was put to death by fire.  He continued to show great courage, even in death.  We also read of the fate of King Noah and his people – read on here, here and then here – and how one of Noah’s priests did listen.  See the man Friberg was talking about off to the right, looking like he is actually listening and considering the message of the prophet?

Abinadi’s testimony led to the conversion of a future prophet-leader, Alma.

As a missionary, I found great solace in this account.  Abinadi was essentially a missionary who did not see any fruits of his labour.  He obeyed God, he preached and prophesied, he taught and tried his hardest – but he saw none of the results.  It can be hard, as a missionary, or even as a follower of Christ, to see the results of our efforts or example.

But consider the influence that this one righteous man had on future generations.  The next several generations of prophets, who prepared the people for the coming of Jesus Christ, came through his one known convert, Alma.

Perhaps we can profoundly affect our family and friends by testifying of truth and by living righteously – even when we don’t see the results.

What a great hero for your family to have.

The Book of Mormon Forum

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[1] Vern Swanson, ‘The Book of Mormon Art of Arnold Friberg, “Painter of Scripture”, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol 10, 1, 26-35, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2011
[2] Ibid

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