The left hand shall not say to the right, I have no need of thee

September 6, 2021    By: Matt W. @ 10:36 am   Category: Apologetics

A Trowel is a small handheld tool with a flat pointed blade, used to apply and spread mortar or plaster.

A Musket is an infantryman’s light gun with a long barrel, typically smooth-bored, muzzle-loading, and fired from the shoulder.

Both are very difficult, if not impossible, to use one-handed.

The musket requires one hand to pull the trigger and the other to aim. If you were to try and fire it one-handed, you would invariably miss your intended target and could possibly create injuries to others you did not intend, including possibly injuring yourself from the backfire.

A trowel is used in building to spread mortar and plaster, and would be difficult to use one-handed. The second hand must hold the Hawk, a board which holds the plaster, so that the user can repeatedly, quickly, and easily get the plaster onto the trowel so it can be applied to the surface being built. Without the hawk, the builder would need to move farther to get the plaster and so would not be able to focus as well on the work being done, leading to a more unfinished look to the product and possibly structural integrity issues. It could also lead to personal injury from back strain due to having to bend one’s self repeatedly.

If you were to decide to hold both a musket and a trowel, you would either be unable to use either, or you would need to choose which to drop and which to use. Ultimately, we can either build for someone, or destroy them, but we can not do both. No one we’ve shot with a musket will ever let us build for them again. No one we’ve built temples for wants us to shoot the same.

So if you must choose between the musket in the left, or the trowel in the right, choose wisely. A bullet fired can never be returned to the barrel. Bad mortar can lead to serious foundation and structural problems that will cost you down the line. I beg you to build.


  1. Heh. Like all analogies, this one breaks down under too much scrutiny or with the wrong assumptions. But I think it’s safe to assume that the builders of the Kirtland or Nauvoo temple (I can’t remember which) were not literally using the two tools at the same time. They just had weapons available to defend themselves if/when they were ambushed or attacked.

    I applaud your point about building rather than hunting down enemies. But I think that is already built into the analogy. They were there to build a temple. The muskets were to defend themselves (if necessary) as they did so.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 6, 2021 @ 1:26 pm

  2. The Saints then and now are more than eager to peacefully build. As long as those that oppose what is being built leave the Saints to build as they wish, no muskets would be necessary.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 6, 2021 @ 2:20 pm

  3. Eric and Geoff, thanks for your comments. I wasn’t thinking of the builders in Nauvoo, but the teachers at BYU and in other church settings as I wrote this. The quote I had seen was counsel to have a trowel in one hand and a musket in the other for those teachers. My oldest heads to BYU I this week, and my hope is she is built up and not shot at.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 6, 2021 @ 2:57 pm

  4. Well if we follow the analogy the idea is to defend the church against those who are attacking it. So with that in mind, students are not going to BYU to attack the church. They’re going to get a good education and to make good memories and friends.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 6, 2021 @ 3:59 pm

  5. Hopefully recent study of Jeff Holland’s metaphor has led many to read anew chapter 4 of Nehemiah.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 7, 2021 @ 7:48 am

  6. John, even better that it has scriptural precedent. It establishes the analogy further by saying in one verse to have a weapon in one hand and to build with the other, but then in the next verse note notes the sword was strapped to their side, because it requires two hands to build.

    Geoff: I think it is vital and important the point you are making. I worry that we forget who is friend and who is foe. We call the thoughts and opinions of our friends “attacks of friendly fire” and not simply differences of thought.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 7, 2021 @ 12:11 pm

  7. Matt,

    Seems to me that the disconnect here is I think Elder Holland was talking about members of the church and faculty members at BYU who have been taking tons of mean-spirited potshots at BYU and the church. I assume he meant the kind of vicious criticisms we’d expect to see from angry exmos or full on antis. That’s a small group of folks IMO. Seems like you’re worried he’s talking about way more people than that. I just don’t think that’s true.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 7, 2021 @ 12:34 pm

  8. I would love you to be right here. To me it could be interpreted that someone who drew a gay rainbow or mentioned they were gay in their valedictorian speech is herein on the level of being mean spirited and taking pot shots at the church. I don’t think that is true and again hope you are right here.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 8, 2021 @ 4:23 pm

  9. When I was reading the post I didn’t have BYU or Nauvoo in mind at all. I was reading it as a general-purpose analogy and it resonated with me. We are often confronted with people who are different in some way, or who are at odds with us in some way, or who are doing something we disapprove of. We know people who are leaving the church, or we know people getting divorced, or we know people heading down the path of drug abuse, or we know people blowing all their money instead of saving it, or whatever. We have a chance to approach them with a musket or a trowel, but not both. It seems human nature to pick up a musket: to judge, advise, criticize, persuade, express our disapproval in big or even small ways.

    But you really can’t do both. You can’t judge and show love at the same time. Or, more precisely, the person will not be able to receive both judgment and love at the same time, they will only feel the judgment. So in interactions day-in and day-out, we have to decide if it is more important to judge someone or to love them. There are a few situations where it really is our responsibility to use a musket, but it seems to be an astonishingly rare situation. In almost every situation, I am convinced that it is more important to love and to show love.

    I have pondered quite frequently why it is our inclination to judge instead of love, I have some ideas about that, but it is astonishing how natural it is to do the wrong thing. I have been trying to train myself to abandon my misguided sense of responsibility for other people’s actions so that I can just love without the burden of judging. It is quite liberating when I can do it. Using a trowel is really much more pleasant than using a musket.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 9, 2021 @ 1:29 pm

  10. Jacob, thanks for the kind thoughts. I think you get where I am coming from.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 10, 2021 @ 2:34 pm