BMGD #34: Helaman 6-12

August 27, 2012 | 2 comments
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CHAPTER 6

1 And it came to pass that when the sixty and second year of the reign of the judges *had ended, all these things had happened and the Lamanites had become, the more part of them, a righteous people, insomuch that their righteousness did exceed that of the Nephites, because of their firmness and their steadiness in the faith.

Does this just refer to the Lamanites who were converted, or are there Lamanites outside of the church who have become righteous?  Either way, the implications are pretty big:  if the former, we need to assume that most Lamanites were converted to the gospel.  (The irony of this happening at a time when the Nephites are falling away is pretty huge.  What would this teach you about societies?  About God?)  If the latter, what does that imply about righteousness?  About the church?

I think it is fair to say that the beginning of the BoM works hard to establish a Nephite = good, Lamanite = bad idea, but the second half of the BoM works even harder to demolish that idea.  What do you learn from that?  How does it contrast with the biblical narrative, especially the idea of a “chosen people”?

Note the implicit link in this verse between faith and righteousness.  How might that be relevant to your life?

It is kind of a big deal to think of Mormon writing this, given the role that the Lamanites were playing in the genocide of his own people.

2 For behold, there were many of the Nephites who had become hardened and impenitent and grossly wicked, insomuch that they did reject the word of God and all the preaching and prophesying which did come among them.

Why did this happen?  (Seriously.)  They have a church structure, they have decent leaders.  What went wrong?  (The cynic would say:  this points to the inability of baptismal covenants and/or church leadership to sustain the righteousness of a community.  How would you respond to that idea?)

3 Nevertheless, the people of the church did have great joy because of the conversion of the Lamanites, yea, because of the church of God, which had been established among them. And they did fellowship one with another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy.

What does it say about this group of Nephites that they could see their own civilization crumbling but still took joy in the conversion of their political/cultural enemy?  (My thought:  I get a little sick of LDS whining about how wicked the world is becoming when they could be focused on how awesome the world is becoming [by other measures].)

Robert D. Hales used this verse as an example of how we need to be treating new converts (see GC Apr 1997).

Does “because of the church of God” tell you why the Lamanites converted, or does it tell you why the people had joy?

Are “the people of the church” treated as a third group, in contrast to the “Nephites” and “Lamanites” of the previous verses?  Or is there a better way to read this?

What work is the “nevertheless” at the beginning of this verse doing?  What is the contrast that it is meant to highlight?

What is the relationship between the phrases “people of the church” and “the church of God” in this verse?

Ironic that the establishment of a church among the Lamanites is a cause for joy when the previous verses have told us that a church among the Nephites was not saving their bacon.

Does the final sentence of this verse mean that the Nephites and Lamanites fellowshipped?  If so (and I think that is probably the best way to read this verse), that is a pretty big deal since they’ve spent the last 30 chapters killing each other.  The extreme understatement of this total turn-around is also remarkable.

Note that this is the only time that the word “fellowship” is used in the BoM.

I’m not entirely sure what “fellowship” means, but note that it is in a sentence with three ideas and both the second and the third idea are, basically, “they were joyful.”  What can you learn from the structure of this sentence?

Note the 4x repetition of “joy” in this verse–even at a time of terrible circumstances for the Nephites.  (So stop whining about your First World Problems.)

Brant Gardner points out that what is being described in these verses is the transition of righteous Nephites from the majority to the minority of all Nephites.  All of the changes in the government and the rise of the Gadianton robbers can be traced to this numerical shift.  If we read these verses this way, what are we to learn?  That it is all just a numbers game?  What does this imply about the idea of a “righteous remnant”?  What, if anything, does it suggest to us about the kinds of protections that minority groups should have?  Is there any statement here about whether it is possible for a society to survive if only a minority is righteous?  (This is actually a very interesting question.  On the one hand, I see LDS as treating decreased morality as a harbinger of societal doom.  On the other hand, it seems rather hard to argue that, say 1910 America was righteous enough to prevent God’s wrath, what with the lynchings and toleration of domestic violence and demonization of ethnic minorities.)

4 And it came to pass that many of the Lamanites did come down into the land of Zarahemla, and did declare unto the people of the Nephites the manner of their conversion, and did exhort them to faith and repentance.

I hope the irony isn’t lost on you, dude (<- that’s one of my favorite Simpsons’ quotes ever), that this verse describes LAMANITES ACTING AS MISSIONARIES TO THE NEPHITES.  This is just huge!

The incredible righteousness of the Lamanites at this part of the narrative–unprecedented in BoM history to this point–makes the missionary labor of Nephi and Lehi look even more important in retrospect.  It also might nuance our interpretation of the whole prison/fire/earthquake/cloud/voice incident that was instrumental in the conversion of all of these Lamanites.

Brant Gardner points out that, in the past, when people have dissented, they have become Lamanites and when they have converted, they  have become Nephites.  He says that that doesn’t seem to happen here, as these righteous Lamanites are still called Lamanites.  That may be true and we might be witnessing a shift to a new alignment of identifying labels, but it might also be true that the monikor “Lamanite” is only used here to clarify who did what to whom and that these people were considered Nephites.

5 Yea, and many did preach with exceedingly great power and authority, unto the bringing down many of them into the depths of humility, to be the humble followers of God and the Lamb.

Remember that Nephi and Lehi (this iteration, not the ones from 1 Nephi) were described multiple times as having power and authority.  So there is a subtle but important point made here that that power and authority was shared with their converts and in fact equipped their converts for the same task that Lehi and Nephi had been doing.

We don’t always include the idea of humility in the (re)conversion process (the scriptures don’t, either) but it is mentioned here as a key ingredient.  Why?

Brant Gardner suggests that the reason humility is a key concept here is that it would have required a lot of humility on the part of Nephites to listen to Lamanite missionaries.  My thought:  it is interesting to think about humility as including the idea of getting past cultural/ethnic/socio-political/etc. barriers that make it hard for us to treat other people as equal to us.

Does this verse treat humility as something someone can trigger in someone else?

How might this verse nuance our typical understanding of the relationship between power and humility?

I think there is a bit of a twist in this verse:  given that it was the missionaries’ power that led to the converts’ humility, we might have expected that the result was for the converts to become “humble followers” of the missionaries.  But that isn’t what happens, obviously:  they becomes humble followers of God.  There is an entire sermon on the proper use of power (which is:  to lead others to follow God, not you) in this verse.

“Lamb” is a fairly unusual title in the BoM once we get past Nephi’s vision.   Why do you think it was used here?  Is there any tie to the repeated references to humility in this verse?

6 And it came to pass that many of the Lamanites did go into the land northward; and also Nephi and Lehi went into the land northward, to preach unto the people. And thus ended the sixty and third year.

In this verse, Nephi and Lehi are treated as sort of also-rans.  I think there is something significant about this, as it is “their” Lamanite converts who are the stars of the show now.  That feeds in to the commentary on the proper uses of power in the last verse:  we aren’t setting up a pyramid scheme here where Nephi and Lehi get credit for the Lamanite converts and the Lamanites then get credit for the Nephite re-activations (if you will).  The power is with God, and so it is perfectly appropriate to show Nephi and Lehi in a smaller role in this verse.  (In fact, Lehi is about to drop out of the narrative entirely, interestingly enough.)

7 And behold, there was peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites.

This is a state of affairs that hasn’t existed since the original Nephi-Laman/Lemuel splits.  It is ironic (or maybe not) that it happens when righteous Nephites become a minority.  Is there a link between these two events?  (I don’t want to argue that societies are better off when religious people are in a minority, but maybe you could argue that societies are better off when the lines of their traditional animosities are re-drawn, or maybe not.)

Brant Gardner decouples the new openness between the two societies from the religious sentiment of the Lamanites.   (If you do that, it has big implications as to how you read the next section of the text.)  I think he is just taking it as coincidental.

So the theory developed in the war chapters was that the Lamanites were never the real problem; the Nephites were always their own problem.  Here, we have lots of wicked Nephites, but instead of the Lamanites scourging them, they are all righteous and trading with them.  Can these two situations be squared?  In other words, given how wicked the Nephites are in this chapter, shouldn’t the Lamanites be attacking them?  Maybe the wealth is a form of attack!  It would be pretty easy to make the case that the wealth encouraged the rise of the G. robbers, who will play the role usually assigned to the Lamanites of attacking the wicked Nephites. If this is correct, is there something to be learned from the shift from an outside agent of attack (=Lamanites) to an internal one (=Gadianton robbers), from one that is another state to one that is not a land-based group?

8 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire.

After 500+ years of separation, this is a big deal.

9 And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites; and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north.

Article on metals in the BoM.

I like economics as much as the next guy, but I have to admit that I see a train of thought in these verses that I don’t really like.  It goes something like this:  everyone repented, therefore they could travel freely, therefore they could trade freely, therefore they got rich.  I like $$, but I don’t like the idea that the real end goal of all that religion was to pacify the people enough that free trade could happen, as if the main purpose of conversion was to help the economy.  Maybe things look different in a subsistence economy.  Maybe the point is not that they all got rich but that their peaceful circumstances presented them with a new challenge to their new-found humility:  the temptation to pride that comes along with wealth.  (As in:  this is just the next level of difficulty, folks.  I’m not saying wealth is good; I’m just saying it creates a different bundle of challenges than poverty and warfare do.)  (See v17 for support of this idea.)

One twist to the economics angle:  if we follow the verses above, the majority of the Nephites are now wicked.  So the fact that they are now economically prosperous is an entirely different kind of commentary–not a good one.

10 Now the land south was called Lehi, and the land north was called Mulek, which was after the son of Zedekiah; for the Lord did bring Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south.

What is the point of this verse?  Why are we getting a geography lesson here?  Is the reference to Mulek significant beyond the geography issue?  What of the comparison between Mulek and Lehi?

Note that this verse is bounded by references to wealth.  Does that nuance your reading of it?

11 And behold, there was all manner of gold in both these lands, and of silver, and of precious ore of every kind; and there were also curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it; and thus they did become rich.

12 They did raise grain in abundance, both in the north and in the south; and they did flourish exceedingly, both in the north and in the south. And they did multiply and wax exceedingly strong in the land. And they did raise many flocks and herds, yea, many fatlings.

Maybe the refrain of north and south (not to mention the reference to women in the next verse and various trades in the previous verse) is to make the point that this isn’t about wealth per se as it is about wealth that is broadly spread throughout various groups.  In other words, there may be a small group profiting from war while everyone else suffers (I bet those arrow contractors made out like bandit!), but in a time of humility and repentance, the gains are shared by people in a variety of demographics.

13 Behold their women did toil and spin, and did make all manner of cloth, of fine-twined linen and cloth of every kind, to clothe their nakedness. And thus the sixty and fourth year did pass away in peace.

Given the rarity of references to women in the BoM, why was this mention made?

Article about a possible chiasmus.

14 And in the *sixty and fifth year they did also have great joy and peace, yea, much preaching and many prophecies concerning that which was to come. And thus passed away the sixty and fifth year.

In general, the BoM tells us very little about when things are going well.  (It is really a “this is what you should not do” or “learn from our [poor] example” kind of a book.)  Why do you think this is the case?

Are you surprised to see their society humming along so well when the Nephites were so wicked?  (Or is the point made that righteousness and financial success/peace are decoupled?)

15 And it came to pass that in the *sixty and sixth year of the reign of the judges, behold, Cezoram was murdered by an unknown hand as he sat upon the judgment-seat. And it came to pass that in the same year, that his son, who had been appointed by the people in his stead, was also murdered. And thus ended the sixty and sixth year.

This verse is pretty jarring after the lovely picture of peace and righteousness in the last verse.  What effect does that have on the reader?  (My thought is that we aren’t supposed to take the unicorns-and-rainbows view of the prosperity described in the previous verses.  Remember that we learned earlier that there are G. robbers in them thar hills and that the Nephites are more wicked than the Lamanites.  I think the reader is supposed to think, hey, they might be getting a little wealthy and have some peace, but there is no way this is going to end well.  The last time a chief judge was murdered, it was the G. robbers at work.  So that is probably what the reader would suspect this time.)

16 And in the *commencement of the sixty and seventh year the people began to grow exceedingly wicked again.

Is the implication that the two murders caused the rise of wickedness?  (Or were they a symptom of it.)

In the BoM, it often feels as if the righteousness/wickedness of entire societies can turn on a dime.  Why might that have been the case?  What can we learn from it?

17 For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain.

In v9, I kvetched about the impression I was getting that the real end goal of conversion was to make people wealthy.  I then speculated that seeing the wealth as a positive outcome might be a modern bias; an ancient author (who, at least in the Old World, often worked from the assumption that wealth was a zero-sum game) might have presented a society increasing in wealth as a society dealing with a harbinger of doom.  I think this verse supports that reading.  What would it mean if we really and seriously viewed wealth not as a reward for good, clean living but as a constant challenge to our righteousness?

I think the first part of this verse is implying that poverty stirs people up to anger and wars.  Is that a legitimate reading of this verse?  (Who is the social scientist who pointed out that no two countries with McDonald’s have ever gone to war against each other?)  If so, how might that apply to our lives?

What does it actually mean to set your heart upon your riches?  (In the OT, heart usually means “mind.”)  What might that look like?

Theory:  righteous societies provide everyone with opportunities to create their own wealth.  (I think the previous verses showing a variety of crafts, geographical locations, etc., prospering supports this reading.)  The trick comes when individuals decide that the real issue isn’t wealth (or even having “enough”), but having more than other people (“might be lifted up one above another”).  I read a study once that basically showed that people would prefer (1) earning 60K in a community where everyone else earned 50K to (2) earning 75K in a community where everyone else earned 100K (I just made those numbers up; I don’t remember them.)  It seems that the crux of the problem in the BoM isn’t wanting wealth; it is wanting more than other people have.  I sense this is an enormously important concept that we might apply in a variety of situations.

18 And now behold, those murderers and plunderers were a band who had been formed by Kishkumen and Gadianton. And now it had come to pass that there were many, even among the Nephites, of Gadianton’s band. But behold, they were more numerous among the more wicked part of the Lamanites. And they were called Gadianton’s robbers and murderers.

Remember that we have had radio silence on these guys while the society had a period of righteousness, but as soon as the Nephites and Lamanites begin to be wicked, they swoop in and play a role again.  I think this is an important idea; as long as we are righteous, we don’t really need to worry about what Satan is up to.  But as soon as we create an opening for wickedness in our own lives–BAM!  He jumps in.

Is it fair to say that the Nephite vs. Lamanite division of previous BoM history has been replaced with a Nephite vs. Gadianton robber division?  If so, what are the implications of this idea?

Note that Kishkumen and Gadianton are given joint credit here.

Why were the G. robbers more prevalent among the Lamanites?

Are you surprised to see greedy people join a formal organization?  (In other words, if your goal was to get more than other people, wouldn’t it make sense to do that on your own?)  Does this happen today?  Note:  if you teach Gospel Doctrine, do not ask a question like this in class.  It turns out that one man’s political party is another man’s secret combination.  Ask me how I know this.

Dallin H. Oaks:

The Book of Mormon teaches that secret combinations engaged in crime present a serious challenge, not just to individuals and families but to entire civilizations. Among today’s secret combinations are gangs, drug cartels, and organized crime families. The secret combinations of our day function much like the Gadianton robbers of the Book of Mormon times. They have secret signs and code words. They participate in secret rites and initiation ceremonies. Among their purposes are to “murder, and plunder, and steal, and commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness, contrary to the laws of their country and also the laws of their God.” If we are not careful, today’s secret combinations can obtain power and influence just as quickly and just as completely as they did in Book of Mormon times. Do you remember the pattern? The secret combinations began among the “more wicked part” of society, but eventually “seduced the more part of the righteous” until the whole society was polluted. Today’s young people, just as those “of the rising generation” in Book of Mormon times, are the most susceptible to the influence of gangs. Our young men and young women see it all around them. There is an entire subculture that celebrates contemporary gangs and their criminal conduct with music, clothing styles, language, attitudes, and behaviors. Many of you have watched as trendy friends have embraced the style as something that was “fashionable” and “cool,” only to be dragged into the subculture because of their identification with gangs. We’ve all heard the tragic stories of unsuspecting wanna-bes who have been victimized by gangs simply because they were wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood. Oct 97 GC

19 And it was they who did murder the chief judge Cezoram, and his son, while in the judgment-seat; and behold, they were not found.

What effect does it have on the reader to get this information now, instead of when the murder was first announced?  (My thought:  you kind of felt like the murder came out of nowhere.  But now we see the link between the murder and the greed in the society.)

20 And now it came to pass that when the Lamanites found that there were robbers among them they were exceedingly sorrowful; and they did use every means in their power to destroy them off the face of the earth.

Is sorrow the reaction that you would have expected here?

21 But behold, Satan did stir up the hearts of the more part of the Nephites, insomuch that they did unite with those bands of robbers, and did enter into their covenants and their oaths, that they would protect and preserve one another in whatsoever difficult circumstances they should be placed, that they should not suffer for their murders, and their plunderings, and their stealings.

Ouch!  Note how different the response to the Gadianton robbers is by the Nephites and the Lamanites.  What factors might explain this difference?  Note that the verse sees a role for Satan.  That prompts the question:  why didn’t Satan stir up the Lamanites’ hearts?  Does the idea of “sorrow” in v20 answer that question?  Brant Gardner suggests that the G. robbers were foreign to the Lamanites and therefore easier to see as a threat, compared with the Nephites, from whom the G. robbers came.  If this is right, what are the implications of it for how we think about evil?

What does this verse teach you about covenants?

Note how “preserve and protect one another in whatsoever difficult circumstances they should be placed” sounds like such a nice, nice thing out of context.  One suspects that we could find lots of modern parallels to this . . .

So this idea isn’t original to me, but I am intrigued by the idea that Satan’s plan in the pre-mortal life was NOT the traditional LDS reading of “you wouldn’t be allowed to sin, so everyone would return to God’s presence” but rather was “you could sin all you want but you wouldn’t be held responsible for any of it, so everyone would return to God’s presence.”  I think verses like this one support that latter, alternative reading:  note the logic of this verse is that Satan got them to make a deal where people could do all sorts of evil things but then avoid the consequences of their evil acts.

22 And it came to pass that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant, that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant.

What do you make of the use of signs and covenants in such an evil context?

I think the subtext of this verse is that if someone did NOT belong to this band and they did evil, the band might punish them for it.  (Otherwise, I can’t see any sense in them deciding to have an agreement that band members would NOT be  “injured.”)  If this is the case, then we might need to nuance our view of the Gadianton robbers as being a para-military or para-police or vigilante justice group or something like that.  (Personally, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to see the lynch mobs and KKK in the southern US a century ago as very closely fitting this profile.)

23 And thus they might murder, and plunder, and steal, and commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness, contrary to the laws of their country and also the laws of their God.

How is it that their membership in the band protected them from the law?  Is the implication that Gadianton robbers were in control of the Nephite and Lamanite legal systems?

24 And whosoever of those who belonged to their band should reveal unto the world of their wickedness and their abominations, should be tried, not according to the laws of their country, but according to the laws of their wickedness, which had been given by Gadianton and Kishkumen.

Do you think they had actual trials?  Do you think Gadianton and Kishkumen wrote an actual law code?  (Are we supposed to be reading this as a shadow legal system?  If there is a law and covenants, we might even read it as a perfect inversion of the law of Moses.)

25 Now behold, it is these secret oaths and covenants which Alma commanded his son should not go forth unto the world, lest they should be a means of bringing down the people unto destruction.

Does this verse make a commentary on some kinds of knowledge that it is legitimate to restrict?  If so, is that the case today?

What do you make of “lest they should . . .”, given that that is precisely what happened anyway?  Does it mean that Alma was wrong?  (I think the next verse implies that his efforts were, at the very least, futile.)

26 Now behold, those secret oaths and covenants did not come forth unto Gadianton from the records which were delivered unto Helaman; but behold, they were put into the heart of Gadianton by that  same being who did entice our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit—

Note that Satan is not named in this verse, but rather is described.  That’s going to continue for a half-dozen more verses.  What effect does it have on the reader to have Satan described but not named?

Does this verse imply a link between partaking of the fruit and entering into the secret, evil covenants?  While I find that a somewhat unsavory idea, it is worth noting that both acts involved gaining knowledge . . .

Note the unwrapping of causality in reverse order in these verses:  we get the murder, which was caused by the G. robbers, who were inspired by Satan.  A more typical way to tell a story is to start with the first event and move forward.  Why do you think this one is told “backwards”?  What effect does it have on the reader to see the story unfold that way?

27 Yea, that same being who did plot with Cain, that if he would murder his brother Abel it should not be known unto the world. And he did plot with Cain and his followers from that time forth.

How does “from that time forth” nuance how you understand the story of the Fall?

Why was Cain the story to reference here?  What lesson is in it for us?

28 And also it is that same being who put it into the hearts of the people to build a tower sufficiently high that they might get to heaven. And it was that same being who led on the people who came from that tower into this land; who spread the works of darkness and abominations over all the face of the land, until he dragged the people down to an entire destruction, and to an everlasting hell.

Is this verse referring to the Jaredites?  What group was led by Satan to the new world after the tower?

It is very easy to see the thematic link between Cain murdering Abel for gain and what the G. robbers do.  It is a little harder to see the link between the G. robbers and people building a tower to heaven.  What does the tower of Babel story teach us about the G. robbers?

29 Yea, it is that same being who put it into the heart of Gadianton to still carry on the work of darkness, and of secret murder; and he has brought it forth from the beginning of man even down to this time.

This passage goes to great lengths to situate Gadianton in a long tradition of people under Satan’s control.  Why?

30 And behold, it is he who is the author of all sin. And behold, he doth carry on his works of darkness and secret murder, and doth hand down their plots, and their oaths, and their covenants, and their plans of awful wickedness, from generation to generation according as he can get hold upon the hearts of the children of men.

What does the word “author” convey to you about sin?

What difference does it make to think of all sin as having its root in Satan?

General thought:  where’s the line between Satan being responsible for evil and us being responsible for our evil?  (It seems to me that blaming everything on Satan is counterproductive but, on the other hand, pretending like he is not a factor is equally unproductive.)

31 And now behold, he had got great hold upon the hearts of the Nephites; yea, insomuch that they had become exceedingly wicked; yea, the more part of them had turned out of the way of righteousness, and did trample under their feet the commandments of God, and did turn unto their own ways, and did build up unto themselves idols of their gold and their silver.

What does the image of trampling commandments under your feet suggest to you?

Note the three things mentioned in this verse:  trampled commandments, turning to own ways, and building idols.  How do these three ideas relate?  (Or, are they three ways of saying the same thing?)

Do you read the thing about idols literally, or is it a more metaphorical idea of treating their gold and their silver as if they were idols?

Why do you think there isn’t more about idol worship in the BoM when it is such a huge theme in the OT?

32 And it came to pass that all these iniquities did come unto them in the space of not many years, insomuch that a more part of it had come unto them in the sixty and seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

33 And they did grow in their iniquities in the *sixty and eighth year also, to the great sorrow and lamentation of the righteous.

Note the reaction of the righteous to wickedness.  (I think our more typical reaction is disgust, self-righteousness, and maybe a little glee, with some vindication.)

34 And thus we see that the Nephites did begin to dwindle in unbelief, and grow in wickedness and abominations, while the Lamanites began to grow exceedingly in the knowledge of their God; yea, they did begin to keep his statutes and commandments, and to walk in truth and uprightness before him.

Why do you think Mormon (presumably) thought we needed a “thus we see” here?  (Was it not obvious?)

The author (or editor) is working really hard in this chapter to get us to compare the Nephites and the Lamanites and to realize that the Nephites are in way worse shape.  What are the implications of this?

Does “begin to” in this verse surprise you?

I think of “dwindle” as a slow process, but the last two verses imply a pretty quick process.  What’s going on here?

35 And thus we see that the Spirit of the Lord began to withdraw from the Nephites, because of the wickedness and the hardness of their hearts.

Does “began to” in this verse surprise you?

Here’s me being difficult for a minute:  why does the Spirit withdraw from the wicked?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Spirit to be closer to the wicked, to try to get them to repent?  (I think most parents of +1 children are familiar with the concept of devoting more energy to the child who is struggling.)

36 And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words.

Note again that we are encouraged to compare the Nephites and the Lamanites and see the Lamanites as superior.

Note the parallelism between v35’s reasons (wickedness and hardness) and v36’s (easiness and willingness).  The verses are virtually identical save the key words.

37 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.

Remember that in the last lesson, we learned that the Nephites weren’t able to hunt the Gadianton robbers because they blended in, or disappeared into the wilderness, or whatever.  So why are the Lamanites able to have more success?

Jim F.:  “This verse contains a surprise. It begins by saying that the Lamanites hunted down the Gadianton robbers, so we expect then to read about how the Lamanites killed them. Instead, however, we read that ‘they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed.’ They destroyed them by preaching to them! Are the situations in our own experience where this might also work?”

What does the word “hunt” suggest to you? (Note that the goal of their hunt appears to be preaching, not poaching!)

Just stop and think for a minute about what a huge deal it is for Lamanites (of all people!) to preach (!) to the Gadianton robbers.

If you wanted to read the story of the Gadianton robbers somewhat allegorically, what would you learn from this verse?

38 And it came to pass on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.

Notice again the lengths to which our author/editor is going to show a strong contrast between the Nephite and the Lamanite approach to the G. robbers.  What should you learn from this?  (My thought is that it highlights the fact that the G. robbers are not some unstoppable force, but that which response you make to them is a choice.)

General thought:  If you were going to write scripture and invent “bad guys,” I think you’d come up with something like the anti-Christs earlier in the BoM.  That is, people who are specifically focused on destroying the religious faith of the people through direct preaching.  I don’t think you’d come up with the G. robbers, who seem more focused on financial gain and do not have an explicitly religious motive.  So what should we learn from the presence of the G. robbers in the BoM?

What does the word “seduced” in this verse suggest to you?

Article on what secret combinations meant in the 19th century.

Think for a minute about G. robbers “seducing” a majority of Nephites.  What might that have looked like?  What would they have done?  What should you learn from this?

The Nephites are seduced into “believ[ing] in their works.”  What does this mean?

I think we see the reason for the success of the G. robbers in this verse:  if you join them, you get to share their spoils!  That also makes it all the more impressive that the Lamanites gave them the boot because it would have been against their own financial self-interest.

39 And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.

*cough* Citizens United *cough*

This is a huge turn of events narrated in a very laconic style.  What effect does that have on the reader?  (My thought:  Despite the fact that I have taught BoM in GD and Institute, this year is the first time I have done a super-close reading of the text and the thing that has impressed me the most is that this book looked very different under a magnifying glass.  There is much more here if you read closely that isn’t at all obvious if you are trying to digest huge chunks of text at a time in a class.  This extreme understatement of what amounts to the fall of the Nephite government is a monumental event.)

Note the narrated effect of the G. robber take-over of the government is oppression of the poor.  This is sort of interesting, because almost all of the time when we have talked about threats to the Nephite government in the past, the issue was framed as one of losing liberty.  Are we seeing a different outcome here (because it is the G. robbers and not the Lamanites or kingmen who end up taking over the government)?  Or are “loss of liberty” and “harming the poor” the same thing in the BoM?

The G. robber (now Nephite government) treatment of the poor is described in four ways:  trample under feet, smite, rend, and turn backs.  Are those four ways of saying the same thing or four different things?  Do they happen in chronological order and/or stem from the item before and/or build on each other? What do we learn from this list?  Why four descriptions?

Are there two (poor, followers) or three (poor, meek, followers) in this verse?

It would be fun to speculate as to what exactly the G. robbers did.  In other words, what Nephite policies existed before this time that benefited the poor and how did the G. robbers change those policies?

I think we could draw a connection to Alma 32 here, where the poor Zoramites are cast out of the synagogue, and see some parallel treatment of the poor.  That chapter might be a helpful way to better understand the interplay between physical poverty and spiritual poverty that this verse hints at.

How do the G. robbers compare to the kingmen?

Remember that the G. robbers have been around for a reasonably long time.  I wonder if it would be fair to say that all of that Lamanite war business was a distraction from the main threat, the G. robbers.  (I think we may draw a parallel to times in US history, including the present, where the US has become obsessed with phantom enemies and ignored its real problems.)

Why do you think our editor/author gave us a summary statement here instead of saying “and then the G. robbers eliminated Pell Grants, food stamps, Head Start, and Medicaid”?  (In other words, why aren’t we told specifically what they did?)

40 And thus we see that they were in an awful state, and ripening for an everlasting destruction.

Was this editorial insertion really necessary?  What effect does it have on the reader?

What does the word “ripening” suggest to you?  (Is this the inverse of the swelling seed in Alma 32?  I don’t have time for this right now, but I wonder if you could read this entire story as the reversal of events of Alma’s mission to the Zoramites.)

41 And it came to pass that thus ended the sixty and eighth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

The Prophecy of Nephi, the son of Helaman—God threatens the people of Nephi that he will visit them in his anger, to their utter destruction except they repent of their wickedness. God smiteth the people of Nephi with pestilence; they repent and turn unto him. Samuel, a Lamanite, prophesies unto the Nephites. Comprising chapters 7 to 16 inclusive.

Pretty interesting that our editor thought the focus on the next chapters was the prophecy of Helaman.  Presumably, this refers to his prophecies about the murder of the chief judge and the reaction of the murderer.

CHAPTER 7

1 Behold, now it came to pass in the *sixty and ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of the Nephites, that Nephi, the son of Helaman, returned to the land of Zarahemla from the land northward.

Is it still “the reign of the judges” now that the G. robbers are in charge?  Or are they just calling it that since that is how they reckon time?  (Are you surprised that they are not reckoning time from either when Lehi left Jerusalem or from the Nephite-Lamanite split?  Note that reckoning time this way turns the establishment of the reign of the judges into the most important event in their history.)

What happened to Lehi?  Weren’t they off being missionaries together?

2 For he had been forth among the people who were in the land northward, and did preach the word of God unto them, and did prophesy many things unto them;

3 And they did reject all his words, insomuch that he could not stay among them, but returned again unto the land of his nativity.

What I find interesting about this is that I think the natural assumption of the first-time reader would be that he heard about the G. take-over and hustled home to set things right.  But then we find out that that is not the case.  (We find out in v6 that, apparently, he didn’t know about the G. take-over until he got home.)

Why the unusual phrase “land of his nativity”?  (The only other BoM use of “nativity” is in Alma 21:1, where we learn that the Lamanites called the land Jerusalem after the name of the land of their fathers’ nativity.)

Since when is being rejected a reason to return home?  (This actually may be a hugely important point hiding in this verse:  Remember that Nephi is the same guy who spent time in prison and had a pretty impressive experience there.  But, apparently, this time when he was rejected, he had to leave, presumably under the inspiration of the Spirit.  That makes for an interesting contrast.)

4 And seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment-seats—having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God, and not in the least aright before him; doing no justice unto the children of men;

Compare how G. leadership is described here with how it was described in 6:39.  What do you conclude?  Note that that verse focused on treatment of the poor and church members; this one focuses on violating commandments and not being just.

5 Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills—

What should you learn from this verse?

Is this just a laundry list of sins, or is there some inherent link between adultery and the greed/power sins?

Brant Gardner:

Mormon indicates that this is because of their “money.” This is certainly a translation error because money was not the medium of exchange anywhere in the New World. Nevertheless, the intent is correct. The deciding factor was certainly economic position, something that is defined by “money” in modern society, but by the visible accumulation of elite goods in Mesoamerica.  Citation

6 Now this great iniquity had come upon the Nephites, in the space of not many years; and when Nephi saw it, his heart was swollen with sorrow within his breast; and he did exclaim in the agony of his soul:

Once again, note how frequently the BoM makes a point of telling us of a person’s emotional reaction to events.  (And then think about how rarely this happens in the Bible.)  Why were these emotional responses included so frequently in the BoM?

Once again, is sorrow and agony our response to unrighteousness?  Should it be?

After the speech, we’ll get info about its setting, but at this point in the narrative, we don’t know if this is public or private speech.

7 Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; then were his people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord—

BWAHAHA!  This may be the funniest line in the entire BoM!  This is the single worst bit of revisionist history I have ever read!  The idea that Laman and Lemuel were “easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments, etc.” is positively laughable!

OK, now that I am done laughing, what do you think led Nephi to his error in historical interpretation?  How might we do the same thing today?  (My thought:  under the influence of an entire generation of baby boomers, we think that a child’s perspective on events of 1958 [peace! security!  everyone went to church!  moral wholesomeness!  married people in twin beds on TV!] is the norm and everything else in the world represents a fall.  Obviously, their parents were protecting them from the horrors of the world in 1958 [segregation, cold war, etc.], which, in any case, was not a ‘normal’ year as the peak of the baby boom and post-war prosperity. )

We learned before why Nephi is named Nephi.  What does this verse intimate about Nephi’s own understanding of his name?

Is it weird that he says that Nephi came out of Jerusalem and not Lehi?  (Is this its own bit of revisionist history?)

To be fair, the fact that he says Nephi and not Lehi may mean that he doesn’t have Laman and Lemuel in mind, but the “his people” in this verse might only refer to those who chose to follow Nephi.  But it is also true that, except for their choice to follow Nephi, we learn virtually nothing of these people–there is no evidence in our record (again, except for the single decision to follow Nephi) that these were good people and, as soon as Jacob takes over, we find out that many of the men were in deep trouble re polygamy.  So, at best, the claims here seem unsubstantiated.  At worst, they are comically false.

8 Yea, if my days could have been in those days, then would my soul have had joy in the righteousness of my brethren.

Hm, this doesn’t seem like a noble sentiment to me.  It feels more like the kind of murmuring/complaining that you are not supposed to do.

Is this verse the perverse fulfillment of Helaman’s wish for his sons to be like their namesakes?  (In other words, I am wondering if Helaman hit that “be like Nephi!” note a little too hard and set his son up to wish that he were Nephi.)

9 But behold, I am consigned that these are my days, and that my soul shall be filled with sorrow because of this the wickedness of my brethren.

This lament of Nephi’s feels very psalm-like to me.

What was the purpose of including this lament in the record? (I’m struck by the fact that the fall of the Nephite government is recounted so laconically, but then we get a heartfelt poem about it.)

You read v8-9 and you kind of want to tell Nephi that his joy or sorrow really should not be contingent on the righteousness of people around him, right?

10 And behold, now it came to pass that it was upon a tower, which was in the garden of Nephi, which was by the highway which led to the chief market, which was in the city of Zarahemla; therefore, Nephi had bowed himself upon the tower which was in his garden, which tower was also near unto the garden gate by which led the highway.

How does this tower relate to King Ben’s speaking tower and the Rameumptom?

Why do we get all of this detail about where Nephi was, and why do we get it after we get his words?

Bowing on a tower is interesting–on the one hand you have elevation and on the other hand you have lowering.

This is the only BoM use of “market.”  It seems like a weird (irrelevant) detail to include.  This article explores the possible reasons for including the reference.  This article also looks at the garden and the market.

11 And it came to pass that there were certain men passing by and saw Nephi as he was pouring out his soul unto God upon the tower; and they ran and told the people what they had seen, and the people came together in multitudes that they might know the cause of so great mourning for the wickedness of the people.

Why would this be considered a sight worth gathering to see?

Don’t they answer their own question at the end?  In other words, isn’t it obvious that he is mourning for wickedness?

Are the people right in their interpretation of Nephi’s motives?  (Note that in the NT, people often mess up when they assume that Jesus was thinking.)

Would you have interpreted Nephi’s lament as “mourning for wickedness”?  Frankly, I thought it was a little too self-focused, woe-is-me, etc.

Is it right to interpret this lament as a prayer?  (Note that soon we will have Nephi saying that he was pouring out his soul to God with that lament.)  If it was a prayer, note that it was apparently out loud.  This was standard OT practice until Hannah innovated with a silent prayer.  (Which is why Eli thought that she was drunk.)  Do you think Nephi planned this as a public performance (hence the tower), or was it meant to be private, or what?

12 And now, when Nephi arose he beheld the multitudes of people who had gathered together.

Was gathering multitudes his intention?  If it wasn’t, how does that influence how you interpret what God is doing in this story?

13 And it came to pass that he opened his mouth and said unto them: Behold, why have ye gathered yourselves together? That I may tell you of your iniquities?

What work is “opened his mouth” doing in this verse?

How do you read Nephi’s tone?  Is he cynical?  Sarcastic?  Bemused?  Confused?  Genuine?  Surprised?  Something else?

14 Yea, because I have got upon my tower that I might pour out my soul unto my God, because of the exceeding sorrow of my heart, which is because of your iniquities!

15 And because of my mourning and lamentation ye have gathered yourselves together, and do marvel; yea, and ye have great need to marvel; yea, ye ought to marvel because ye are given away that the devil has got so great hold upon your hearts.

Is Nephi’s interpretation of their attitude as one of marveling a correct interpretation?  If so, why would these people marvel?  (Is the point that they are so far gone spiritually that they are amazed that anyone would think their behavior was unrighteous?)

How does the grammar work after the semicolon?  That is, did they give themselves away to the devil or did the devil give them away after getting hold on their hearts, or something else?  (Does v16 clarify?)

So maybe Nephi was engaged in typical mourning rituals and the crowd gathers because they want to know who died and Nephi says, in effect, “I am mourning YOU!”  (Note the “why will ye die?” in v17.) It’s a nice little piece of street theater.

16 Yea, how could you have given way to the enticing of him who is seeking to hurl away your souls down to everlasting misery and endless wo?

What does “enticings” imply?

What effect does the word “hurl” have on the reader?  (Note that this is the only BoM use of hurl.)

17 O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die? Turn ye, turn ye unto the Lord your God. Why has he forsaken you?

What do you make of the fact that Nephi has a hostile audience delivered to him to preach to?  (This is pretty unusual.)

What does Nephi mean by “die”?

Do “repent” and “turn” mean the same thing in this verse?

Who forsaked whom?

18 It is because you have hardened your hearts; yea, ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd; yea, ye have provoked him to anger against you.

What does it actually mean to harden your heart?  Does it mean not being receptive to spiritual input?

Why was the shepherd imagery appropriate here?  (My thought:  these people have been rather sheep-like in not only following Satan but in following the random person who led them to Nephi.  Nephi now wants them to turn to the good shepherd.)

What do you learn about anger from this verse?

19 And behold, instead of gathering you, except ye will repent, behold, he shall scatter you forth that ye shall become meat for dogs and wild beasts.

Why was this graphic metaphor appropriate here?

Does the idea of gathering in this verse relate to the fact that these people have gathered to listen to Nephi?

Maybe this is the prophecy of Nephi that the section heading before chapter 7 had in mind when referring to this section of text as, primarily, the prophecies of Nephi.

20 O, how could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you?

How metaphorically do you read this?

To what act of deliverance was Nephi referring?

Once again, note that we usually think of remembering/forgetting as a process that we can’t really control, but the BoM seems to use it differently.  (My thought:  we can’t control whether our brains remember or forget where we put our car keys or that we have a dentist’s appointment, but we can make preparations that avoid the weaknesses of our brains:  we can always put our car keys in the same place and we can set our phone to remind us 30 minutes before the appointment time.

21 But behold, it is to get gain, to be praised of men, yea, and that ye might get gold and silver. And ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world, for the which ye do murder, and plunder, and steal, and bear false witness against your neighbor, and do all manner of iniquity.

Given the juxtaposition of this verse with v20, I suspect that “forgotten” in v20 actually means something like “gave a lower priority to.”  Note that Nephi is here explained why/how they forgot God:  to get money and praise.

Note the three items in the first sentence:  gain/praise/gold.  How do those items relate?  Was the sandwiching of praise by references to gain deliberate?  What should you learn from this?

22 And for this cause wo shall come unto you except ye shall repent. For if ye will not repent, behold, this great city, and also all those great cities which are round about, which are in the land of our possession, shall be taken away that ye shall have no place in them; for behold, the Lord will not grant unto you strength, as he has hitherto done, to withstand against your enemies.

Nephi has gone from being psalm-like in his personal prayer to being Isaiah-like in his preaching to a wicked people.

23 For behold, thus saith the Lord: I will not show unto the wicked of my strength, to one more than the other, save it be unto those who repent of their sins, and hearken unto my words. Now therefore, I would that ye should behold, my brethren, that it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent.

Is it universally true that the wicked don’t see the strength of the Lord?  (Or is this a more metaphorical meaning of “show” to mean that the wicked don’t benefit from the strength of the Lord?)

Once again, note how frequently explicit comparisons between the Nephites and the Lamanites are made, with the Nephites getting the short end of the stick.

24 For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent.

Note that this verse implies that sin is not a matter of an act committed, but that sin exists in the distance between what they sinner did and what she knew she should do (“that greater light and knowledge”).  It positions sin as the giving away of light.  It suggests that two people could commit the very same act with different eternal consequences, based on their different levels of light.  (This might, it occurs to me, be an interesting insight to import into our thinking about the parable of the talents.)

Do long days and increased seed define mercy in this verse?

I love how every single time Nephi mentions the possibility of terrible outcomes, he also mentions the possibility of repentance.

25 Yea, wo be unto you because of that great abomination which has come among you; and ye have united yourselves unto it, yea, to that secret band which was established by Gadianton!

Again, I am struck by the mixing of secular and spiritual in the G. robbers and their impact on Nephite society.

26 Yea, wo shall come unto you because of that pride which ye have suffered to enter your hearts, which has lifted you up beyond that which is good because of your exceedingly great riches!

Is this verse implying that a certain amount of pride is good?

Can you be prideful without riches?  Can you be rich without being prideful?

What is the relationship between v25 and v26?  (Which is another way of saying:  What is the relationship between pride and following the G. robbers?)

27 Yea, wo be unto you because of your wickedness and abominations!

28 And except ye repent ye shall perish; yea, even your lands shall be taken from you, and ye shall be destroyed from off the face of the earth.

Is this verse describing three different things or one thing in three ways?

Today, we talk about the consequences of sin as estrangement from God in the afterlife and the Spirit in this life.  Is that the same or different as what is described here?

Shades of Cain here?

29 Behold now, I do not say that these things shall be, of myself, because it is not of myself that I know these things; but behold, I know that these things are true because the Lord God has made them known unto me, therefore I testify that they shall be.

Why do you think that Nephi felt to add this thought to his preaching?  What might you learn from it?

CHAPTER 8

1 And now it came to pass that when Nephi had said these words, behold, there were men who were judges, who also belonged to the secret band of Gadianton, and they were angry, and they cried out against him, saying unto the people: Why do ye not seize upon this man and bring him forth, that he may be condemned according to the crime which he has done?

Is anger the reaction that you would have expected?  (Compare the ignoring more common in, say, OT Noah’s day.)

Interesting that the G. robbers see this kind of speech as a crime, whereas, under the reign of the judges, the Nephites allowed even anti-Christs to speak (sort of).  Brant Gardner says that they probably saw this as treason, since he was speaking against the government.

Note that there was originally no chapter division here and that this statement is a direct result of what Nephi said at the end of chapter 7.

2 Why seest thou this man, and hearest him revile against this people and against our law?

I think there is a lesson hiding in this verse about jingoism.  In other words, notice that the tack the G. robbers take is to say that Nephi has spoken against the people and their government, as if those things should not be criticized under any circumstances.  They are here making the very case for why the free speech (which they denied in the previous verse) is necessary.

3 For behold, Nephi had spoken unto them concerning the corruptness of their law; yea, many things did Nephi speak which cannot be written; and nothing did he speak which was contrary to the commandments of God.

Do we assume that these things can’t be written just because of space considerations?  (Presumably, he wouldn’t have been sharing anything too sacred to write in the previous verse. V4 may imply that he said some things about their secret combinations that should not have been included in the record.)

This verse strikes me as evidence of an “oops” moment on the writer/editor’s part:  note that this ex post facto justification has to be presented to make it clear that Nephi said nothing wrong.  A more careful writer might have made that clear from Nephi’s speech in the first place and wouldn’t have left open the possibility that Nephi’s accusers might have been on to something.

Note that our editor here is making clear that it is possible to speak against a government without speaking against God. (That might be obvious to you, but some Christians read the NT to say that you shouldn’t ever speak against your government.)

4 And those judges were angry with him because he spake plainly unto them concerning their secret works of darkness; nevertheless, they durst not lay their own hands upon him, for they feared the people lest they should cry out against them.

This is a similar sentiment to Mark 14:1-2 (“The chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.”)  But I wonder what people they feared–aren’t the majority of the Nephites–especially the ones in power–on the side of the G. robbers?

5 Therefore they did cry unto the people, saying: Why do you suffer this man to revile against us? For behold he doth condemn all this people, even unto destruction; yea, and also that these our great cities shall be taken from us, that we shall have no place in them.

Note what is going on here:  we’ve been told in v4 that the chief judges didn’t want to do their own dirty work so the clear goal of this verse is to persuade and manipulate the crowd.

Note that they are leveraging and manipulating the strong reaction to Nephi’s message:  the problem, according to them, isn’t with the curses in the message, the problem is the messenger.  I think there is a lesson in this for us:  it is really easy to dismiss the bearer of bad news.

General thought:  This probably happens to every single BoM reader, but I think we all see our own political “enemies” in the depiction of the G. robbers–whoever they may be depending on our historical moment and personal inclinations.  I suspect this is a bad thing.

6 And now we know that this is impossible, for behold, we are powerful, and our cities great, therefore our enemies can have no power over us.

As mentioned above, this was also a problem in Jerusalem as some people thought that God’s promises meant it wouldn’t be possible to destroy the city/temple.  Perhaps the difference here is that the G. robbers cite their source of strength in themselves and not in God.

What does this verse teach you about the interplay of national defense and national righteousness?  Is it true today that we should or should not rely on a strong national defense to protect our nations?

They are quite wealthy and, from a purely physical perspective, probably have better defenses than they used to because of their wealth.  So this might be another way that their wealth was a challenge to them–not that the G. robbers here don’t mention any of the God stuff but just look at the other part of the equation–the curse about losing land.  They think that is impossible, ultimately because of their wealth.  This would be a concrete example of how riches lull people into ignoring God.

7 And it came to pass that thus they did stir up the people to anger against Nephi, and raised contentions among them; for there were some who did cry out: Let this man alone, for he is a good man, and those things which he saith will surely come to pass except we repent;

This verse makes it sound as if these Nephites were all pro-Nephi until the G. robbers swayed them, but that doesn’t seem to mesh with the way that Nephi addressed them as wicked themselves.  How do you understand what is going on here?  (I think what is weird that the narrative gives us the attempt to squish the pro-Nephi people before the narrative introduces us to the pro-Nephi people.  Is this just a bit of sloppiness, or might it have been deliberate for some reason?)

8 Yea, behold, all the judgments will come upon us which he has testified unto us; for we know that he has testified aright unto us concerning our iniquities. And behold they are many, and he knoweth as well all things which shall befall us as he knoweth of our iniquities;

Note that they have their own testimony at this point.

These people are incredibly brave to stand up for what they (newly) believe at this moment.

Note the link the people make between Nephi’s ability to know their hearts and to know their futures.  (The conclusion and implications of this are found in the next verse.)

9 Yea, and behold, if he had not been a prophet he could not have testified concerning those things.

Note that in the last few verses it has been “some” who were speaking.

This faith is very interesting, since nothing that he has said has come to pass yet!  (Get ready for a contrast, as Nephi is about to make two more prophecies and, despite the fact that they quickly and decisively come to pass, some people will not believe them.)

10 And it came to pass that those people who sought to destroy Nephi were compelled because of their fear, that they did not lay their hands on him; therefore he began again to speak unto them, seeing that he had gained favor in the eyes of some, insomuch that the remainder of them did fear.

What does this verse teach you about fear?

Is this verse suggesting that he spoke more because some people believed him?

Is this verse suggesting that the fear was caused not by what Nephi said but by the response of some people to him?

11 Therefore he was constrained to speak more unto them saying: Behold, my brethren, have ye not read that God gave power unto one man, even Moses, to smite upon the waters of the Red Sea, and they parted hither and thither, insomuch that the Israelites, who were our fathers, came through upon dry ground, and the waters closed upon the armies of the Egyptians and swallowed them up?

Skousen reads “departed hither.”  Interesting, because it makes the statement about the children of Israel, not the Red Sea.

Note the “therefore.”  How does this verse relate to the one before it?

Who constrained him?  The Spirit?  (If so, how does that mesh with the very human motivation for his continued speaking that we got in the previous verse?)

Does this verse teach us anything about Nephite literacy?

Why did Nephi use the word “smite” here?

What effect should “who were our fathers” have on the reader?

Why did Nephi point to this event and not, say, Lehi’s escape from Jerusalem?

Note what a perfect example this is, because it answers the issue of how a weaker military force (not that the children of Israel even merited the title military force) can prevail over a much better one (the Egyptians and potentially the wicked Nephites) if God is on their side.  In what other ways might Pharoah be compared with the G. robbers?  Note that you also have the element of mooching off of a humble people’s labor . . .

12 And now behold, if God gave unto this man such power, then why should ye dispute among yourselves, and say that he hath given unto me no power whereby I may know concerning the judgments that shall come upon you except ye repent?

Note how Nephi’s response is focused on the issue of God giving power to a prophet.  But now re-read the accusations made by the G. robbers.  How does Nephi’s response address their accusations?  Or does it?  (My thought is that he is trying to counter the “we’re safe because we’re strong” line with “the children of Israel were safe because the Lord had their backs.”)

Did they specifically say that Nephi had no power?

If you wanted to read Nephi’s lament as Nephi not entirely getting the idea behind his name (that is, that he thought his life should have been perfect as Nephi’s life was–haha for historical revisionism), then I think this verse shows him growing in his understanding–he isn’t just Nephi redux, but he’s also Moses, with the power of a prophet.

In what ways is Nephi’s prophecy here of destruction similar to Moses’ ability to part the Red Sea?  (That is, I know I said it was the perfect cross-reference, but there is a little distance in the way Nephi uses it as an indication of power, since the powers that they exercised were so very different.)

13 But, behold, ye not only deny my words, but ye also deny all the words which have been spoken by our fathers, and also the words which were spoken by this man, Moses, who had such great power given unto him, yea, the words which he hath spoken concerning the coming of the Messiah.

Is it true that if you deny one prophet, you’ve denied them all?

Note how Nephi is pivoting here from a discussion about his power to one about Moses’ prophecies and the Messiah.  What do you make of this leap in logic?

14 Yea, did he not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.

Why do you think Nephi phrased this in the form of a question?

Is Nephi saying that the brazen serpent story *was* a way that Moses bore record that the Savior should come?  Or is this just a connection that Nephi is making after the fact?

What has always interested me about this story is that the serpent is a symbol for Christ.  Do we want to read that back in to the story of the Fall?  Why or why not?

The purpose of lifting up the brazen serpent was that if people physically looked at it, they would be healed.  What is the “lifting up” of Christ?  Is it the crucifixion?  If it is, in what sense does looking on Christ heal people?  How does the next verse help explain this?

15 And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.

What is Nephi teaching us here about how we should interpret the OT?  Note that he’s mentioned two stories:  the parting of the Red Sea and the brazen serpent.  Does he advocate the same type of interpretation for both stories?

Why is Nephi telling OT stories at this point?  (Note that he didn’t do that the first time he spoke.)

What does it mean to “look upon” the Son of God?  How does that compare with looking at the brazen serpent?  (One point:  looking at the brazen serpent seems, well, stupid and scary.  Stupid because everyone knows that looking at something isn’t going to heal a snake bite.  Scary because if I had just been bitten by a snake, the LAST thing that I would want to do is ever look at another snake!  I think there may be a commentary here that, to a strictly logical way of thinking, the promises of the Son of God are going to look stupid and scary.  But that isn’t true.)

Compare John 3:14-15:  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  How does this compare?  How is it different?  (Brant Gardner suggests that Jesus in John focuses on the lifting up but Nephi here focuses on the looking.)  How might we best account for Jesus’ words being on Nephi’s lips three decades before Jesus was born?

16 And now behold, Moses did not only testify of these things, but also all the holy prophets, from his days even to the days of Abraham.

Again, was the brazen serpent story the testifying, or is Nephi referring to something else here?

Remember that Moses lived after Abraham.  That makes the end of this verse a little weird:  we wouldn’t say “all the modern prophets, from President Kimball to Brigham Young.”  Why is Nephi going backwards here?  And why does he stop at Abraham and not go back even more?

17 Yea, and behold, Abraham saw of his coming, and was filled with gladness and did rejoice.

Note that joy again.  (Is joy our primary response to Christ?  Should it be?)

As we read Nephi’s repeated attempts here to link himself to various other prophets, I think it nuances our understanding of his statement of testimony at the end of the last chapter.

18 Yea, and behold I say unto you, that Abraham not only knew of these things, but there were many before the days of Abraham who were called by the order of God; yea, even after the order of his Son; and this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them.

The OT that we have does not contain specifically messianic prophecies by Moses or Abraham or perhaps these other unnamed prophets.  Which of the following do you think happened:  (1) those prophecies were not included and/or taken out of the record?  (2) those prophecies are there, but we aren’t seeing them [such as:  the brazen serpent story, and that’s why Nephi explains its messianic significance here]? (3) something else?

Who is Nephi talking about in this verse?  It almost sounds like an allusion to Melchizedek, but he isn’t really “before” Abraham.  Why not name the prophets in this verse, as he has above?

19 And now I would that ye should know, that even since the days of Abraham there have been many prophets that have testified these things; yea, behold, the prophet Zenos did testify boldly; for the which he was slain.

Skousen reads “ever since” instead of “even since” here.

Why is the time of Abraham the demarcation point here?

Zenos shows up in Jacob and Alma, but not the Bible.

20 And behold, also Zenock, and also Ezias, and also Isaiah, and Jeremiah, (Jeremiah being that same prophet who testified of the destruction of Jerusalem) and now we know that Jerusalem was destroyed according to the words of Jeremiah. O then why not the Son of God come, according to his prophecy?

Why did Nephi (or the editor?) decide to give a bio of Jeremiah but not any other prophets?  My guess would be that Nephi wants them to think about the destruction of Jrsm as a template for their own destruction.

Is he saying that they knew Jrsm was destroyed because Jeremiah said it would be, or do they have some confirmation that Jrsm was, in fact, destroyed? (See also v21.)  Maybe they did accept the destruction of Jrsm as common knowledge, and so Nephi is pointing out that they believe in that only on the basis of prophecy and not personal knowledge.

What is Nephi teaching about prophecies in this verse?

21 And now will you dispute that Jerusalem was destroyed? Will ye say that the sons of Zedekiah were not slain, all except it were Mulek? Yea, and do ye not behold that the seed of Zedekiah are with us, and they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem? But behold, this is not all—

Skousen reads “was not destroyed” here.

This makes it sound as if the destruction of Jrsm were common knowledge to them.  Was it?  (Is the point that they know it from the seed of Z?)

22 Our father Lehi was driven out of Jerusalem because he testified of these things. Nephi also testified of these things, and also almost all of our fathers, even down to this time; yea, they have testified of the coming of Christ, and have looked forward, and have rejoiced in his day which is to come.

Why the “almost” in this verse?

I think we can now really read Nephi as growing into his name, per his father’s hopes.  Perhaps this is going too far, but I wonder if the story began with his lament, which showed him sort of misunderstanding the meaning/function of his name, but as he is forced into and then grows into a prophetic role (dealing with other people, including difficult people, and not just alone in his ivory [I made that part up] tower), he lives up to his name.  Or at least that is the moral that an introvert might worry about getting from this story.

23 And behold, he is God, and he is with them, and he did manifest himself unto them, that they were redeemed by him; and they gave unto him glory, because of that which is to come.

Did Nephi have the same understanding of the Godhead as modern LDS thought?

Who is the “them” in this verse–the aforementioned prophets?  If so, does this mean that, during Nephi’s time, the prophets were already “redeemed”?  (Is this how we usually think of it?) If so, that creates an interesting tension with the reference to “that which is to come” in the next line.

24 And now, seeing ye know these things and cannot deny them except ye shall lie, therefore in this ye have sinned, for ye have rejected all these things, notwithstanding so many evidences which ye have received; yea, even ye have received all things, both things in heaven, and all things which are in the earth, as a witness that they are true.

Has everyone in his audience rejected these things?  (I thought some of them were on his side.)  Or is he speaking hyperbolically here?

In what sense had they received “all things”?

Brant Gardner points out that for this argument to make sense, these people must have believed in these former prophets.  I think it is important to realize that these G. robbers probably thought of themselves as religious and appeared to others as religious.

What do you think the word “evidence” meant to Nephi?

Dallin H. Oaks:

While there are some “evidences” for gospel truths (for example, see Psalm 19:1Helaman 8:24), scientific methods will not yield spiritual knowledge.  Apr 08 GC

25 But behold, ye have rejected the truth, and rebelled against your holy God; and even at this time, instead of laying up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where nothing doth corrupt, and where nothing can come which is unclean, ye are heaping up for yourselves wrath against the day of judgment.

Again, what do you make of Nephi using words very similar to Jesus’ words here?  Mt 6:19-20:  “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:” (Do you think the similarity might be just an artifact of translation?  Or perhaps an indication that Jesus’ words and Nephi’s words share an underlying and otherwise unknown source?)

Notice that this verse puts “treasure” and “wrath” into opposition.  What do you make of that comparison?

26 Yea, even at this time ye are ripening, because of your murders and your fornication and wickedness, for everlasting destruction; yea, and except ye repent it will come unto you soon.

27 Yea, behold it is now even at your doors; yea, go ye in unto the judgment-seat, and search; and behold, your judge is murdered, and he lieth in his blood; and he hath been murdered by his brother, who seeketh to sit in the judgment-seat.

This is not only an unexpected event, but quite a shift in his preaching.

Notice how this verse positions the murder as a part of their destruction.  (Given how wicked their leadership was, is that what you would have expected?)  Brant Gardner points out that there is a certain poetic justice, or maybe I should say natural consequences here, as agreeing with the G. robbers means that you should expect that blood will be shed to further people’s desire for riches and glory.

You know, given that Nephi has just told them that they already had a billion prophecies and “all things” as evidence, I am feeling pretty surprised that he would then immediately make this (easily verified) prophecy.  It feels ironic.

One of the main ideas of the G. robbers is that they will be able to avoid the consequences for their sins because of their protection and secrecy oaths.  Through his prophecy here (and the next one, where he outs the murderer), Nephi effectively undoes all the promises of the G. robbers–no more secrecy for them!  I think part of the lesson here is that even if you were seriously considering the way of the G. robbers as a lifestyle choice, you should be aware that they will not be able to enforce their covenants because prophetic power trumps their oaths.

We usually read the next incident, with the outing of the brother because of the blood on his clothes, as the making known of the murderer.  But note that in this verse, Nephi does say that the ruler’s brother committed the murder.

28 And behold, they both belong to your secret band, whose author is Gadianton and the evil one who seeketh to destroy the souls of men.

Should he have said “whose authors are” (note the tense)?  What effect does it have on the audience to treat Gadianton and the evil one as one person?  (And why did Kishkumen drop out?)

Interesting article– speculation as to whether Nephi’s speech on the tower was a piece of, we might say, performance art, of a fake funeral sermon.  I think there is a lot to commend this reading.

CHAPTER 9

1 Behold, now it came to pass that when Nephi had spoken these words, certain men who were among them ran to the judgment-seat; yea, even there were five who went, and they said among themselves, as they went:

Is it significant that five people went?

Are you kind of surprised that everyone didn’t go?

Are you sensing some echoes to the Abish story, what with the running, preaching, dying, prophecies, etc.?

2 Behold, now we will know of a surety whether this man be a prophet and God hath commanded him to prophesy such marvelous things unto us. Behold, we do not believe that he hath; yea, we do not believe that he is a prophet; nevertheless, if this thing which he has said concerning the chief judge be true, that he be dead, then will we believe that the other words which he has spoken are true.

So these people are not exactly paragons of faith . . .

Why do you think their internal (or chattered) musings ended up in the record?  (Brant Gardner thinks Mormon pretty much made up this dialogue.)

What do you make of their thought process here?

3 And it came to pass that they ran in their might, and came in unto the judgment-seat; and behold, the chief judge had fallen to the earth, and did lie in his blood.

Why is so much made of their haste?  (Presumably a dead guy isn’t going to go anywhere.)

4 And now behold, when they saw this they were astonished exceedingly, insomuch that they fell to the earth; for they had not believed the words which Nephi had spoken concerning the chief judge.

5 But now, when they saw they believed, and fear came upon them lest all the judgments which Nephi had spoken should come upon the people; therefore they did quake, and had fallen to the earth.

V2 set us up to think that there was no way these punks would really believe–they didn’t believe Nephi–but here they do believe.  But to me it feels as if there is something off about this–something like a “forced” conversion on the grounds of spectacular events (an immediately and obviously fulfilled prophecy that required no faith–they didn’t even have any faith in the interval when they were running to verify it–) that doesn’t really reflect any faith.

6 Now, immediately when the judge had been murdered—he being stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy, and he fled, and the servants ran and told the people, raising the cry of murder among them;

I’m having a hard time parsing the order of events here:  what happened immediately after what?

7 And behold the people did gather themselves together unto the place of the judgment-seat—and behold, to their astonishment they saw those five men who had fallen to the earth.

8 And now behold, the people knew nothing concerning the multitude who had gathered together at the garden of Nephi; therefore they said among themselves: These men are they who have murdered the judge, and God has smitten them that they could not flee from us.

God has a really good sense of humor.  (Or just likes to frame innocent people.)

I think there is a lesson hiding in this verse about making unwarranted assumptions just because some evidence is pointing in a certain direction.  Note how grossly they misunderstand God’s role in all of this.

9 And it came to pass that they laid hold on them, and bound them and cast them into prison. And there was a proclamation sent abroad that the judge was slain, and that the murderers had been taken and were cast into prison.

10 And it came to pass that on the morrow the people did assemble themselves together to mourn and to fast, at the burial of the great chief judge who had been slain.

Remember that he was a G. robber judge . . .

11 And thus also those judges who were at the garden of Nephi, and heard his words, were also gathered together at the burial.

12 And it came to pass that they inquired among the people, saying: Where are the five who were sent to inquire concerning the chief judge whether he was dead? And they answered and said: Concerning this five whom ye say ye have sent, we know not; but there are five who are the murderers, whom we have cast into prison.

This has a whiff of “who’s on first?” to it, no?  Is it just here for comic relief in an otherwise dark narrative, or are we supposed to be learning something from it?

Why was this their first concern?  Wouldn’t their first issue have been a response to Nephi’s prophecy?

13 And it came to pass that the judges desired that they should be brought; and they were brought, and behold they were the five who were sent; and behold the judges inquired of them to know concerning the matter, and they told them all that they had done, saying:

14 We ran and came to the place of the judgment-seat, and when we saw all things even as Nephi had testified, we were astonished insomuch that we fell to the earth; and when we were recovered from our astonishment, behold they cast us into prison.

15 Now, as for the murder of this man, we know not who has done it; and only this much we know, we ran and came according as ye desired, and behold he was dead, according to the words of Nephi.

Notice what weasels they are being:  they said before that they would believe that Nephi was a prophet if the guy was dead.  Well, they find him dead, but they don’t necessarily believe what Nephi said, which was that he had been murdered by his brother.  Interestingly enough, Brant Gardner reads this in just the opposite way, by focusing on the last line “according to the words of Nephi” as showing that they did believe.  And maybe v18 supports this.

16 And now it came to pass that the judges did expound the matter unto the people, and did cry out against Nephi, saying: Behold, we know that this Nephi must have agreed with some one to slay the judge, and then he might declare it unto us, that he might convert us unto his faith, that he might raise himself to be a great man, chosen of God, and a prophet.

Why do you think the “runners” decided that Nephi was a prophet but the judges, faced with exactly the same evidence, decided that Nephi was a murderer? Perhaps my comments above about the “obviousness” of the fulfillment of the prophecy were wrong–perhaps I have even fallen into a trap carefully laid by the narrative; perhaps Nephi’s words were anything but obvious and that is the point of the story.  Maybe even “obviously completely obvious” prophecies can be disputed if one’s motives are strong enough and maybe that relates to Nephi’s second sermon here, where he was pointing out that all prophets have testified of Christ.  Maybe the preaching and the narrative work together to make the same point (you can read Matthew’s gospel like this if you want to).

17 And now behold, we will detect this man, and he shall confess his fault and make known unto us the true murderer of this judge.

18 And it came to pass that the five were liberated on the day of the burial. Nevertheless, they did rebuke the judges in the words which they had spoken against Nephi, and did contend with them one by one, insomuch that they did confound them.

19 Nevertheless, they caused that Nephi should be taken and bound and brought before the multitude, and they began to question him in divers ways that they might cross him, that they might accuse him to death—

Are we supposed to be reading Nephi as a type of Christ here?

How does the confounding in the previous verse square with the capture in this verse?  How does the “nevertheless” at the beginning of this verse explain what is going on?

20 Saying unto him: Thou art confederate; who is this man that hath done this murder? Now tell us, and acknowledge thy fault; saying, Behold here is money; and also we will grant unto thee thy life if thou wilt tell us, and acknowledge the agreement which thou hast made with him.

Here, it looks as if they are trying to put him into the role of Judas . . .

Interesting that one of the defining characteristics of the G. robbers is that they are “confederate” for murder and gain, and so perhaps it is natural for them to accuse Nephi of the same thing.  Notice that they offer him money to do this, as if it should be obvious that money would motivate someone.

21 But Nephi said unto them: O ye fools, ye uncircumcised of heart, ye blind, and ye stiffnecked people, do ye know how long the Lord your God will suffer you that ye shall go on in this your way of sin?

22 O ye ought to begin to howl and mourn, because of the great destruction which at this time doth await you, except ye shall repent.

I love how he turns his murder trial into a first discussion . . .

23 Behold ye say that I have agreed with a man that he should murder Seezoram, our chief judge. But behold, I say unto you, that this is because I have testified unto you that ye might know concerning this thing; yea, even for a witness unto you, that I did know of the wickedness and abominations which are among you.

(Is this the first time we learn the judge’s name? Why so late in the story?)

Here Nephi gives his motive for the prophecy as being to let them know that he has the prophetic ability to detect their wickedness.  Above, I interpreted the prophecy as being to let them know that he has the prophetic ability to predict the future (as Abraham and others did with the coming of the Messiah).  (Or, technically, to predict the present, since the murder was happening at the same time as he was speaking, to predict things happening that he can’t know of through other than divine intervention.)

24 And because I have done this, ye say that I have agreed with a man that he should do this thing; yea, because I showed unto you this sign ye are angry with me, and seek to destroy my life.

Why does Nephi repeat their accusations back to them here?

25 And now behold, I will show unto you another sign, and see if ye will in this thing seek to destroy me.

Are you surprised by his willingness to show them another sign when they refused to believe the first sign?  Does this seem like the best thing to do?  (Note that if they had asked for a sign, I’m almost sure he would have told them no.)

Why does he think that they will believe this sign if they didn’t believe that last one?  Won’t they just think “you just planned all this!” again?

26 Behold I say unto you: Go to the house of Seantum, who is the brother of Seezoram, and say unto him—

27 Has Nephi, the pretended prophet, who doth prophesy so much evil concerning this people, agreed with thee, in the which ye have murdered Seezoram, who is your brother?

28 And behold, he shall say unto you, Nay.

Brant Gardner points out that Mormon has no interest in politics here, but is telling this story to show that Nephi is a prophet.  The subject is just a vehicle.  This is an important point to import into our thinking about the war chapters, where the point is often to show us the character of the participants and the facts of the military situation are only necessary background.

29 And ye shall say unto him: Have ye murdered your brother?

30 And he shall stand with fear, and wist not what to say. And behold, he shall deny unto you; and he shall make as if he were astonished; nevertheless, he shall declare unto you that he is innocent.

31 But behold, ye shall examine him, and ye shall find blood upon the skirts of his cloak.

32 And when ye have seen this, ye shall say: From whence cometh this blood? Do we not know that it is the blood of your brother?

In reading this, I almost get the sense that Nephi has had (or:  is having) a vision of this event that he is relaying to the people.  (You could say the same thing about his previous prophecy about the murder itself.)

33 And then shall he tremble, and shall look pale, even as if death had come upon him.

34 And then shall ye say: Because of this fear and this paleness which has come upon your face, behold, we know that thou art guilty.

35 And then shall greater fear come upon him; and then shall he confess unto you, and deny no more that he has done this murder.

Doesn’t this whole sequence kind of seem like what would happen to pretty much anyone in this situation?  In other words, isn’t it entirely possible that they’ll just judge Nephi a really good judge of human behavior and not a prophet?

I realize this is kind of the inverse of the question that I just asked, but . . . isn’t this a remarkably, unusually detailed prophecy?  Why does this rather unusual thing happen?

Once again, even if they were to believe Nephi after these events play out, isn’t the strength of this prophecy such that it is an unfair impingement on their faith and agency?

Nephi just gave a long speech about all the prophets who testified of Christ.  But here, he is testifying of a true crime.  What do you make of the difference?

36 And then shall he say unto you, that I, Nephi, know nothing concerning the matter save it were given unto me by the power of God. And then shall ye know that I am an honest man, and that I am sent unto you from God.

37 And it came to pass that they went and did, even according as Nephi had said unto them. And behold, the words which he had said were true; for according to the words he did deny; and also according to the words he did confess.

I realize that this is a simply fulfillment verse, but it is also very interesting that “according to [Nephi’s] words,” he both denies AND confesses.

38 And he was brought to prove that he himself was the very murderer, insomuch that the five were set at liberty, and also was Nephi.

I thought the five were liberated in v18?  (Or is this the day of the burial now, and the note in v18 was a preview of coming attractions?)

This article explores the OT background to murder laws.

Why did they believe Nephi this time when they didn’t last time?

39 And there were some of the Nephites who believed on the words of Nephi; and there were some also, who believed because of the testimony of the five, for they had been converted while they were in prison.

40 And now there were some among the people, who said that Nephi was a prophet.

Are these the same people who were described in v39 or a different group?  If they are different, does it mean that the v39 people didn’t believe that Nephi was a prophet, or what?

41 And there were others who said: Behold, he is a god, for except he was a god he could not know of all things. For behold, he has told us the thoughts of our hearts, and also has told us things; and even he has brought unto our knowledge the true murderer of our chief judge.

D’oh!

So what do you make of the fact that the people jumped from false prophet to god?  (Is it because the prophecies were so spectacular?  Is that maybe why we don’t usually get these impressive divine manifestations, because they’d be more confusing than helpful in helping people understand who God is?)

What error do they make in the “for except . . .” line?  (My thought:  Nephi has totally prepared them for this by explaining that prophets do have all things told to them, so there is really no basis for them to believe that Nephi would have to be a god.)

What “thoughts of their hearts” did Nephi tell them?

Are you surprised that they didn’t have the same reaction that they had the first time, namely, that they assumed that Nephi was in cahoots with the murdered and had planned out this little script to make him look like a prophet? (Because if they show up thinking Nephi is a god, then certainly he would have the authority to tell them to let the murderer go, right?)

CHAPTER 10

1 And it came to pass that there arose a division among the people, insomuch that they divided hither and thither and went their ways, leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them.

What’s going on here?  Is the division between those who thought that Nephi was a prophet and those who thought that he was a god?  And why do they leave Nephi–you’d think that whether they were in the prophet faction or the god faction that, either way, they would have wanted to stick around!

Are you surprised that Nephi doesn’t answer those who thought he was a god?  (Now, maybe he did in real life, but it is still kind of weird that that attitude is presented in the narrative and then left unchallenged.)

2 And it came to pass that Nephi went his way towards his own house, pondering upon the things which the Lord had shown unto him.

What are the “things” here–the murder of the judge?  The scene with the confession by the murderer?  The real prophecy in the last chapter about the destruction of the Nephites if they don’t repent? Something else?  (Does v3 help answer this question?)

3 And it came to pass as he was thus pondering—being much cast down because of the wickedness of the people of the Nephites, their secret works of darkness, and their murderings, and their plunderings, and all manner of iniquities—and it came to pass as he was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him saying:

Given his emotions (and, again, note the frequent references to people’s emotional responses to events in the BoM), do you read v2 differently?  That is, if thinking about these things has led him to sorrow, then maybe was he thinking about something more sorrowful in v2?

Shouldn’t he have focused more on the converts that he did make or the murder that he just solved instead of dwelling on the negative?

Note “pondering” 3x in v2-3.  Why?

Does this verse return us to the moment of his lament on his tower before the crowd showed up? If so, then do you read the whole murder story differently if it is bounded by references to Nephi being bummed about Nephite wickedness?

So what’s interesting about this, I think, is that he doesn’t reflect on recent events and think, “I’m the man!  I solved a murder AND proved that I was a prophet on the same day!  Go me!” but instead removes himself from the situation and sees it as evidence of the fall of the Nephites.  In this there is quite a contrast to his lament, where I got the impression that it was all about him.  (“Why do *I* have to live in such a wicked time? whinewhinewhine”)

Does this verse teach you anything about depression?  About pondering?

Note that the verse ends with a voice from heaven.  But we weren’t told that Nephi was praying, but rather that he was pondering.  Did he invite this voice?

4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.

What does it mean to seek your own life?

Notice that this verse puts Nephi’s “own life” and God’s will in opposition.

Note how the voice changes the focus from the wicked Nephites to Nephi.

5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

Does the first line of this verse sound like retroactive covenant language?

Shouldn’t it be “mightier”?  Which is to say, he was already pretty mighty in word, no?  Or is it better to think that his abilities will be magnified in some way?

Notice the repetition of the word “unwearyingness.”  What do you make of this?  Why was this a key theme?

What is the relationship of words, deeds, faith, and works in this verse?

Does the “all things” language here have any relationship to when those same words were used to mean that “all things” had been given to them as evidence of God?

Do you read “for thou shalt not . . .” as a commandment or a prophecy?

“Forever” is not a common modifier for announcements of the Lord’s blessings; why might it have been used here?

Remember the context here:  Nephi is bummed about Nephite wickedness.  The Lord responds by blessing him with power.  Why was this the right response?  Is there a tight relationship between Nephi’s power and Nephite wickedness?  (V6 would seem to suggest that there could be, but to the extent that there is, we might be running into problems related to agency, no?) Note also that he was not seeking power.  (I don’t think anyone who ever seeks power gets it.  Spiritual power, anyway.)

Compare D & C 88:64-65:  “Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you; And if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation.”  How is it similar?  How is it different?

6 Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.

Presumably they both know who they are, so what function does you “you are Nephi, I am God” play here?

Are the angels witnesses to these words?  Otherwise, what is the purpose of mentioning them?

Remember that power was the theme of Nephi’s second speech to the people.  Is that relevant to the promise made here?

It is easy to see famine, etc., as negatives, but remember that this is the umpteenth chance that the Lord is giving them to repent, so it perhaps a little more merciful than all that.

Is “power over this people” the same thing as having the power to cause famines, etc.?

7 Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.

Is the sealing power the same thing described in the last verse (and the next verses, or is it something different)?

Is it possible to have the power to seal something on earth that isn’t sealed in heaven?

Pretty much the only time we talk about sealing and loosing is in the context of joining families.  That is obviously not the context here.  How do you understand the difference?

What does it mean to “loose” in this context?

How do the sealing and loosing powers relate to having power “over” people?

It seems to me that one way that you could summarize the sealing power when it is described this way is to say that it decreases the distances between heaven and earth.

Note that the references to having power over the people in v6-7 surround the references to famine, etc. and sealing and loosing.  What can you conclude from this structure?

Henry B. Eyring:

An instance from the Book of Mormon will help you see how one man made that preparation. There was a priesthood holder named Nephi who received a hard assignment from the Lord. He was sent by God to call wicked people to repentance before it was too late for them. In their wickedness and hatred, they were killing each other. Even their sorrow had not humbled them enough to repent and obey God. Because of Nephi’s preparation, God blessed him with power to fulfill his assignment. In His loving and empowering words to Nephi, there is a guide for us [he quotes v4-7 here]. As the account from the Book of Mormon tells us, the people did not repent. So Nephi asked God to change the seasons. He asked for a miracle to help the people choose to repent because of famine. The famine came. The people repented, and then they begged Nephi to have God send rain. He did ask God, and God honored his unshakable faith. That faith did not come in the moment when Nephi needed it, nor did God’s trust in Nephi. He earned that great faith and God’s confidence by courageous and sustained labor in the Lord’s service. Oct 09 GC

8 And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done.

How metaphorically do you read this?

This seems like something of an odd example to give.  Why do you think it was chosen?  Would it be an example of a righteous choice?

Is there any relationship between this example and what Nephi recently preaching about Moses rending the Red Sea?

Thinking about the “thus” that begins this verse, how does it relate v8 to v7?  That is, it doesn’t seem to me that there is anything in this verse that has to do with an act on earth having weight in heaven.  Another way to say that:  how does cleaving a temple or leveling a mountain have anything to do with anything being sealed or loosed in heaven?

9 And if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done.

10 And behold, if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass.

Does it seem weird to you that Nephi has, in a certain sense, power over God?

Brant Gardner:

What is important in this impressive ability to manipulate the real world is that he was still powerless to manipulate men’s hearts. Nephi might command a mountain to move, and it would, but he could not command a man to repent and have him do it. Nephi might be able to call a famine to the land, but he could not so much as change the heart of a single person. Agency is so powerful a requirement of our existence that it stands above even the manipulation of the elements. Citation

To me, that Gardner quote raises interesting questions, because the goal of messing with physical elements is to have an effect on people’s agency, but without compromising that agency.  There’s a whole lot to think about there, everything from how we parent (“I’m going to starve this kid to soften her heart” would get you a call from CPS) to at what point manipulation of the natural world does impinge on agency to an unacceptable degree:  to what extent can someone in a famine really be a steward of her choices?  (Surely we would judge a person who steals a loaf of bread to feed her family differently from a person who steals lip gloss.  That would require us to judge a conversion-under-famine conditions differently than a conversion-under-normal conditions, no?)

11 And now behold, I command you, that ye shall go and declare unto this people, that thus saith the Lord God, who is the Almighty: Except ye repent ye shall be smitten, even unto destruction.

Interesting that Nephi was not told to tell the people of the power that he held; he was told to tell them to repent.

Take a look at the Webster 1828 definitions for “smite.”  If I were translating this verse into modern English, I’d be tempted to go with something like, “If you don’t repent, God’s gonna smack you.” or “God’s gonna kill you.”

12 And behold, now it came to pass that when the Lord had spoken these words unto Nephi, he did stop and did not go unto his own house, but did return unto the multitudes who were scattered about upon the face of the land, and began to declare unto them the word of the Lord which had been spoken unto him, concerning their destruction if they did not repent.

This not-going-home-business is interesting; why do you think it was included in the record?

Rex D. Pinegar:

We could follow the example of Nephi, a son of Helaman, who after laboring diligently to teach and live righteously, had decided to give up and return home because the people refused to accept his counsel and to repent. As he approached his home, the voice of the Lord came to him. The Lord reminded Nephi of the blessings that would result from the unwearyingness with which he had labored and taught the people and with which he had kept the commandments of God. With renewed vigor and determination, Nephi turned from his home and returned to his labors to continue as he had commenced. Oct 74 GC

This kind of reminds me of when Ammon and Co. got depressed on the way to their mission and were going to turn back until they were encouraged.

Remember that Nephi just endured being bound and a sham trial.  He was on his way home from this when the voice came to him.  Gardner points out that it would be understandable if he wanted to go home and “freshen up” before beginning this preaching tour, but he heads straight out.  It is reminiscent of the apostles leaving their nets and the Samaritan woman leaving her water pot to rush out and tell people about Jesus.

13 Now behold, notwithstanding that great miracle which Nephi had done in telling them concerning the death of the chief judge, they did harden their hearts and did not hearken unto the words of the Lord.

 

What do you learn about miracles from this verse?

How does this verse encourage you to interpret the previous chapters differently?

Does this mean that Nephi’s plan to give them a second sign (=the whole dialogue-known-in-advance about the murderer) was a bad idea?  (Or, at least, that it didn’t work.)

14 Therefore Nephi did declare unto them the word of the Lord, saying: Except ye repent, thus saith the Lord, ye shall be smitten even unto destruction.

Note the “therefore.”  How is this verse related to the one before it?  (Remember that before his voice from heaven, Nephi was going to go home because no one wanted to listen to him.  Now, instead, he preaches even though no one wants to listen to him.)

15 And it came to pass that when Nephi had declared unto them the word, behold, they did still harden their hearts and would not hearken unto his words; therefore they did revile against him, and did seek to lay their hands upon him that they might cast him into prison.

It’s easy to see these people as hopeless idiots, but we can choose to focus on the fact that the Lord is giving them multiple chances–giving them every possible opportunity–to repent.

16 But behold, the power of God was with him, and they could not take him to cast him into prison, for he was taken by the Spirit and conveyed away out of the midst of them.

How does this incident compare with the time that Nephi and Lehi ended up in a Lamanite prison?

What do you make of the similarities between this incident and Luke 4:29-30 (“And [they] rose up, and thrust [Jesus] out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way.”)

17 And it came to pass that thus he did go forth in the Spirit, from multitude to multitude, declaring the word of God, even until he had declared it unto them all, or sent it forth among all the people.

What is the “or” doing in this verse?  Does it mean that was came before it was unclear?  Does it mean that Nephi had other people helping him reach everyone by preaching on his behalf?  Or something else?

What does “in the Spirit” mean in this verse? How does it relate to “by the Spirit” in the previous verse?

18 And it came to pass that they would not hearken unto his words; and there began to be contentions, insomuch that they were divided against themselves and began to slay one another with the sword.

The cynic would blame Nephi for starting this contention.  I think this verse needs to nuance our view of contention:  it would be wrong to draw the conclusion from the BoM that contention always means that someone has done something wrong to instigate it.

19 And thus ended the seventy and first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

CHAPTER 11

1 And now it came to pass in the *seventy and second year of the reign of the judges that the contentions did increase, insomuch that there were wars throughout all the land among all the people of Nephi.

Note that, according to the last verse of the last chapter, Nephi is technically the cause of these wars!

2 And it was this secret band of robbers who did carry on this work of destruction and wickedness. And this war did last all that year; and in the *seventy and third year it did also last.

You know, for all of the complaining that we do about the war chapters, it might be worth noting all of the times that we could have faced down five more chapters of battles but were spared.  Like here.

3 And it came to pass that in this year Nephi did cry unto the Lord, saying:

4 O Lord, do not suffer that this people shall be destroyed by the sword; but O Lord, rather let there be a famine in the land, to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God, and perhaps they will repent and turn unto thee.

So interesting–why did Nephi think that a famine would lead them to remember the Lord, but a war wouldn’t?  Why would a famine work when his prophecies about the murdered chief judge didn’t work? Was he right about this?  (See v7.) Is there a lesson for us in this?  Should modern missionaries be praying for famine in the lands that they teach in?

It is interesting that the way that the text is set up makes it so that Nephi doesn’t say “I’d like to order one famine, please” but rather “Can we swap out this war for a famine?”

What kind of weight do you put on the “perhaps” in this sentence?  Is it just a recognition of agency, or is he doubtful that his plan will work.

5 And so it was done, according to the words of Nephi. And there was a great famine upon the land, among all the people of Nephi. And thus in the *seventy and fourth year the famine did continue, and the work of destruction did cease by the sword but became sore by famine.

It is somewhat amazing to think of a prophet “causing” a famine.  Is it ever appropriate for us to increase the suffering in the lives of other people to encourage them to turn to God?

It is, I think, safe to assume that innocent children and others starved to death in this famine.  Obviously, people who are poor are going to suffer more than people who are wealthy in any disaster. How, then, could the famine have been just for Nephi to request and for God to cause?  (Perhaps the story of Elijah and the widow gives us a way to think about a famine that allows for God to protect the righteous few during circumstances like this.)

(So do you think President Monson is causing the drought?)

6 And this work of destruction did also continue in the *seventy and fifth year. For the earth was smitten that it was dry, and did not yield forth grain in the season of grain; and the whole earth was smitten, even among the Lamanites as well as among the Nephites, so that they were smitten that they did perish by thousands in the more wicked parts of the land.

Why do the Lamanites get a famine–I thought they were pretty righteous at this point?  Does the final part of the verse explain that only people in wicked parts of the land were starving?

Is it significant that Nephi asked for a famine and not a drought, but he got a drought?  (Or am I making something out of nothing?)

7 And it came to pass that the people saw that they were about to perish by famine, and they began to remember the Lord their God; and they began to remember the words of Nephi.

Again, why didn’t  the wars have this effect on them?  Is there anything we can learn from the difference?  (My thought is that war makes it easy to focus on a human enemy as the cause of your suffering and that isn’t the case with a famine.)  Gardner suggests that their previous belief that their superior military capability would protect them in a war is, obviously, missing in a famine and so it is easier for them to see God in control of the elements.

8 And the people began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders, that they would say unto Nephi: Behold, we know that thou art a man of God, and therefore cry unto the Lord our God that he turn away from us this famine, lest all the words which thou hast spoken concerning our destruction be fulfilled.

Does this mean that Nephi told the people that he had requested the famine?  Or do the people (without that knowledge) assume that he will be able to stop it?

Why do the people want the judges to talk to Nephi?  Why don’t they just talk to him themselves?

How does the “lest” work in this verse?  Do they see the famine as the harbinger of the destructions that were prophesied, or is there a better way to read this?

9 And it came to pass that the judges did say unto Nephi, according to the words which had been desired. And it came to pass that when Nephi saw that the people had repented and did humble themselves in sackcloth, he cried again unto the Lord, saying:

Interesting to see these evil judges listening to “the voice of the people.”  What does this tell you about the G. robbers? (But see v1o.)

I wonder if they actually were following OT ritual by repenting in sackcloth, or if the reference to sackcloth is just an artifact of translation.

10 O Lord, behold this people repenteth; and they have swept away the band of Gadianton from amongst them insomuch that they have become extinct, and they have concealed their secret plans in the earth.

Is it ironic that we are reading a text that was concealed in the earth?

It must have been a huge undertaking for them to get rid of the Gadianton robbers if they had control of the government.  There is a lot of action hiding underneath this verse.  (Should we assume that the judges they tried to get to talk to Nephi in v8-9 were not G. robbers?)

I wonder if the famine made it easier or harder to get rid of a group that was motivated by a desire for financial gain.

Was it the G. robbers or the people who got rid of them who concealed the plans in the earth?

11 Now, O Lord, because of this their humility wilt thou turn away thine anger, and let thine anger be appeased in the destruction of those wicked men whom thou hast already destroyed.

What do you learn about the Lord from this verse?

How literally do you take this verse?  (I’m thinking particularly the idea of the Lord’s anger needing appeasement.)

What is the relationship between anger and humility that this verse suggests?

12 O Lord, wilt thou turn away thine anger, yea, thy fierce anger, and cause that this famine may cease in this land.

Does this verse imply that the Lord’s anger was the cause of the famine?

Remember all those references to Moroni’s anger?  Are they relevant here?

13 O Lord, wilt thou hearken unto me, and cause that it may be done according to my words, and send forth rain upon the face of the earth, that she may bring forth her fruit, and her grain in the season of grain.

Note that even if Nephi gets what he wants, it will be at least one growing season until the famine really ends.  (Makes me wonder:  Should he have asked for manna?)

Note that Nephi has already been granted power to do all of this.  So what do you learn from his beseeching of the Lord here?

Do you put any weight on the use of “she” in reference to the earth?

14 O Lord, thou didst hearken unto my words when I said, Let there be a famine, that the pestilence of the sword might cease; and I know that thou wilt, even at this time, hearken unto my words, for thou saidst that: If this people repent I will spare them.

15 Yea, O Lord, and thou seest that they have repented, because of the famine and the pestilence and destruction which has come unto them.

Was the pestilence a separate thing?  If so, why are we just hearing about it now?

16 And now, O Lord, wilt thou turn away thine anger, and try again if they will serve thee? And if so, O Lord, thou canst bless them according to thy words which thou hast said.

What do you make of the “O Lord” refrain in the last half dozen or so verses?  (I think it makes this sounds psalm-like.)

Do you learn anything from Nephi’s prayer here that you can apply to your own prayers?

Doesn’t Nephi have the power to stop this famine on his own?  Why is he asking the Lord to do it (as if he might even be turned down) here?

17 And it came to pass that in the *seventy and sixth year the Lord did turn away his anger from the people, and caused that rain should fall upon the earth, insomuch that it did bring forth her fruit in the season of her fruit. And it came to pass that it did bring forth her grain in the season of her grain.

18 And behold, the people did rejoice and glorify God, and the whole face of the land was filled with rejoicing; and they did no more seek to destroy Nephi, but they did esteem him as a great prophet, and a man of God, having great power and authority given unto him from God.

Remember that after previous miracles, while some people believed him, many others either wanted to kill him or thought that he was a god.  But this time, it looks like everyone is on the same (correct) page.  What should we learn from this?  Is there something of a critique in this part of the BoM of the power of miracles such as the outing of the death of the chief judge and his murderer, that those kinds of miracles don’t lead to faith but a famine does?  What is the lesson for us here?  (One thing:  It seems to me that it would have been just as easy for people to say “Nephi didn’t cause or end the famine–he was just in the right place at the right time” as it was for them to say “Nephi didn’t prophecy of the judge’s death–he’s just in cahoots with the murderer!”  But they don’t.  Why?)

Remember that, in a previous mission, Nephi (and Lehi) converted thousands of Lamanites through the whole prison/cloud/fire/voice scene.  How does this story compare with that one?

19 And behold, Lehi, his brother, was not a whit behind him as to things pertaining to righteousness.

This is so fascinating–Lehi had completely dropped out of the story since their prison escapade and here he is again!  Where was he and what was he doing during all of the chief judge killing, famine, etc.?  Why does he return to the story now?

Given what Nephi has done–prophesied of murder, caused a famine–it is fairly stunning to be told that his brother was just as righteous but we don’t hear a lick about it.

We got a similar “But Helaman was awesome, too!” after the big praise of Moroni.  Can we usefully compare these stories?

20 And thus it did come to pass that the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to build up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did cover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east.

21 And it came to pass that the seventy and sixth year did end in peace. And the seventy and seventh year began in peace; and the church did spread throughout the face of all the land; and the more part of the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, did belong to the church; and they did have exceedingly great peace in the land; and thus ended the seventy and seventh year.

22 And also they had peace in the seventy and eighth year, save it were a few contentions concerning the points of doctrine which had been laid down by the prophets.

Normally, contention begins in pride.  Here, it begins in doctrinal disputes.

23 And in the *seventy and ninth year there began to be much strife. But it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi, and many of their brethren who knew concerning the true points of doctrine, having many revelations daily, therefore they did preach unto the people, insomuch that they did put an end to their strife in that same year.

Would have been awesome to have details about this . . .

Many revelations daily?  Really?  Is that normal?

Does it require many daily revelations to know what is true doctrine?

24 And it came to pass that in the *eightieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, there were a certain number of the dissenters from the people of Nephi, who had some years before gone over unto the Lamanites, and taken upon themselves the name of Lamanites, and also a certain number who were real descendants of the Lamanites, being stirred up to anger by them, or by those dissenters, therefore they commenced a war with their brethren.

This is like the 900th time this has happened.  The BoM seems very interested in us recognizing the pattern that it is Nephite dissenters who lead “real” Lamanites to war against the Nephites.  (So in teaching the war stories to my 14-18 yo Sunday School class, I brought in a bunch of wooden blocks and army dudes [you know the little green ones you get in a bag at the dollar store?  those.] and set up a battle scene with green guys on one side and grey guys on the other before class.  I didn’t really use it, just talked about the reasons the war chapters were in the BoM.  But when I was making this point that the Lamanites are always led to war by dissident Nephites, I moved a Nephite soldier over to the Lamanite side and put him in front.  I don’t know what the kids thought about it, but it was a powerful visual image for me.

This verse simultaneously legitimates (“real Lamanites”) and undermines (“took upon themselves the name of Lamanite”) the view that Lamanite is a an ethnic designation.  That’s pretty trippy.

25 And they did commit murder and plunder; and then they would retreat back into the mountains, and into the wilderness and secret places, hiding themselves that they could not be discovered, receiving daily an addition to their numbers, inasmuch as there were dissenters that went forth unto them.

26 And thus in time, yea, even in the space of not many years, they became an exceedingly great band of robbers; and they did search out all the secret plans of Gadianton; and thus they became robbers of Gadianton.

This is interesting–I think this is the first time that we get the Nephite-dissenter-who-joins-Lamanites type teaming up with the G. robbers.

Is the presumption that they found the buried records and used those?

27 Now behold, these robbers did make great havoc, yea, even great destruction among the people of Nephi, and also among the people of the Lamanites.

Why didn’t the Lamanites chase them out like they did last time?

28 And it came to pass that it was expedient that there should be a stop put to this work of destruction; therefore they sent an army of strong men into the wilderness and upon the mountains to search out this band of robbers, and to destroy them.

Who is the “they”:  Nephites, Lamanites, or both?

29 But behold, it came to pass that in that same year they were driven back even into their own lands. And thus ended the eightieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

30 And it came to pass in the *commencement of the eighty and first year they did go forth again against this band of robbers, and did destroy many; and they were also visited with much destruction.

31 And they were again obliged to return out of the wilderness and out of the mountains unto their own lands, because of the exceeding greatness of the numbers of those robbers who infested the mountains and the wilderness.

Why are they unable to conquer the G. robbers?  (Note that the Lamanites have previously been successful in doing this but the Nephites–not so much.)

32 And it came to pass that thus ended this year. And the robbers did still increase and wax strong, insomuch that they did defy the whole armies of the Nephites, and also of the Lamanites; and they did cause great fear to come unto the people upon all the face of the land.

33 Yea, for they did visit many parts of the land, and did do great destruction unto them; yea, did kill many, and did carry away others captive into the wilderness, yea, and more especially their women and their children.

What does this (rare) reference to women and children signify?

Did the G. robbers target women and children, or did they just get the brunt of it because of their increased vulnerability?

34 Now this great evil, which came unto the people because of their iniquity, did stir them up again in remembrance of the Lord their God.

How does this compare with when they were stirred up by famine?  When they were not stirred up by war (and hence Nephi ordered a famine)?

35 And thus ended the eighty and first year of the reign of the judges.

36 And in the eighty and second year they began again to forget the Lord their God. And in the eighty and third year they began to wax strong in iniquity. And in the eighty and fourth year they did not mend their ways.

37 And it came to pass in the *eighty and fifth year they did wax stronger and stronger in their pride, and in their wickedness; and thus they were ripening again for destruction.

38 And thus ended the eighty and fifth year.

General thought:  What are you supposed to learn from the back-and-forth nature of their (un)righteousness?  From the fact that it shifts so quickly? (I think 12:1 addresses this very question.)

CHAPTER 12

1 And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.

What do you learn from the comparison of the Lord and the people in this verse?

I think it would be possible to read this verse as a criticism of God’s greatest creation.  (See also v4.) How might you respond to that interpretation?

Thinking about this summary statement:  it seems that what is highlighted is the up-and-down nature of Nephite spirituality, as if the point of the previous chapters was to show us the rollercoaster.  What might we learn from that?

2 Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.

The cynic says:  Therefore, we should make other people’s lives as difficult as possible so they will remember the Lord.

What warnings does this verse have for us?

Joseph B. Wirthlin:

There is something about prosperity that brings out the worst in some people. In the book of Helaman, we learn of one group of Nephites who experienced great loss and slaughter. Of them we read, “And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, [and] denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation.” This sorrow would not have afflicted them “had it not been for their wickedness.” If only they had heeded the words of the prophets of their day and journeyed to higher ground, their lives would have been dramatically different. The natural consequence that comes to those who depart from the way of the Lord is that they are left to their own strength. While in the heat of our success we might assume that our own strength is sufficient, those who rely upon the arm of the flesh soon discover how weak and unreliable it truly is. Oct 05 HC

Joseph B. Wirthlin:

As people heed the words of the prophets, the Lord blesses them. When they disregard His word, however, distress and suffering often follow. Over and over, the Book of Mormon teaches this great lesson. In its pages we read of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent who, because of their righteousness, were blessed of the Lord and became prosperous. Yet often this prosperity turned into a curse in that it caused them to “harden their hearts, and … forget the Lord their God. Oct 05 GC

3 And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.

Is this statement generally true?  (Don’t you know faithful people who haven’t had anything enormously bad happen to them recently?)

Does this verse explain why bad things happen to good people?

Is this verse an effort to justify the morality of sending a famine?

Neal A. Maxwell:

Along this pathway leading to consecration, stern and unsought challenges sometimes hasten this jettisoning, which is needed to achieve increased consecration (see Hel. 12:3). If we have grown soft, hard times may be necessary. If we are too contented, a dose of divine discontent may come. A relevant insight may be contained in reproof. A new calling beckons us away from comfortable routines wherein the needed competencies have already been developed. One may be stripped of accustomed luxury so that the malignant mole of materialism may be removed. One may be scorched by humiliation so pride can be melted away. Whatever we lack will get attention, one way or another. Oct 95 GC

Robert D. Hales:

It is a sobering thought that the purpose of having opposition in all things, trials and tribulations in our lives, commands a concern for the needy in order to humble us and draw us closer to the Lord our God and nearer to perfection. Apr 1986 GC

Boyd K. Packer:

Have you noticed that word terror in that prophetic Book of Mormon warning? Apr 04 GC

4 O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!

5 Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!

What effect does the repetition of the word “quick” have on the reader in these verses?

Three positive things are mentioned here:  remember, give ear, and walk.  Are these three different things or three ways of saying the same thing?  How do they relate?  Is there a progression?

Three negative things are mentioned here:  quick to pride, quick to boast, and quick to iniquity.  Are these three different things or three ways of saying the same thing?  How do they relate?  Is there a progression?  How do they relate to the three positive things?  Do they form pairs?

6 Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.

The previous verse mentioned wisdom; this one seems to allude to Mosiah 8:20 (“for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them.”) except that the Lord is substituted for wisdom.

Think about the famine as an example of goodness and mercy.

Henry B. Eyring:

From those three short verses of scripture [Hel 12:4-6], we see three causes for the sad drift away from humble prayer. First, while God implores us to pray, the enemy of our souls belittles and then derides it. The warning from 2 Nephi is true: “And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.” Second, God is forgotten out of vanity. A little prosperity and peace, or even a turn slightly for the better, can bring us feelings of self-sufficiency. We can feel quickly that we are in control of our lives, that the change for the better is our own doing, not that of a God who communicates to us through the still, small voice of the Spirit. Pride creates a noise within us which makes the quiet voice of the Spirit hard to hear. And soon, in our vanity, we no longer even listen for it. We can come quickly to think we don’t need it. The third cause is rooted deeply within us. We are spirit children of a loving Heavenly Father who placed us in mortality to see if we would choose—freely choose—to keep His commandments and come unto His Beloved Son. They do not compel us. They cannot, for that would interfere with the plan of happiness. And so there is in us a God-given desire to be responsible for our own choices. Oct 01 GC

7 O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth.

Is there any relation between this verse and the idea of Adam being created from the dust of the earth?

How can you read this as not being an insult to the creator?

8 For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.

The point of the comparison in v7 seems to be that dust is superior to humans because it always obeys.  But it seems that, by that logic, it is our agency that makes us less than the dust of the earth.  So does that mean that agency is bad?

9 Yea, behold at his voice do the hills and the mountains tremble and quake.

10 And by the power of his voice they are broken up, and become smooth, yea, even like unto a valley.

Is this verse related to the recent incident where the Lord used the image of smoothed mountains as an example of Nephi’s power?

11 Yea, by the power of his voice doth the whole earth shake;

12 Yea, by the power of his voice, do the foundations rock, even to the very center.

13 Yea, and if he say unto the earth—Move—it is moved.

Interesting article regarding the original text of the BoM and Hebrew conditionals.

Notice the expansion from a very small thing (dust) to the entire earth.

14 Yea, if he say unto the earth—Thou shalt go back, that it lengthen out the day for many hours—it is done;

15 And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun.

Do you read this as an editorial insertion by Joseph Smith or as a surprising indication of the advanced state of Nephite science?  Either way, what are the implications of your position?  (The first makes me wonder what else in the BoM might be glosses from Joseph Smith; the second makes me wonder about a lot of things!)  Or perhaps is it a revelation that our author/editor received about how the earth works?

Thoughts on the earth moving here.

Compare Alma 30:44 on earth motion.

16 And behold, also, if he say unto the waters of the great deep—Be thou dried up—it is done.

17 Behold, if he say unto this mountain—Be thou raised up, and come over and fall upon that city, that it be buried up—behold it is done.

Are we meant to be seeing a relationship between the power that Nephi was given and the 

18 And behold, if a man hide up a treasure in the earth, and the Lord shall say—Let it be accursed, because of the iniquity of him who hath hid it up—behold, it shall be accursed.

What do you make of the shift from “natural” actions (mountains, waters) to human ones (treasures)?

The mountains were innocent of any wrongdoing, right?  But here, the human is guilty of iniquity.  What do you make of that shift?  (To me, it highlights the innocence of the mountains.  After that, I’m not sure where to go with this.)

19 And if the Lord shall say—Be thou accursed, that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever—behold, no man getteth it henceforth and forever.

What do you make of the shift from “natural” phenomena to the cursing of a treasure here?

20 And behold, if the Lord shall say unto a man—Because of thine iniquities, thou shalt be accursed forever—it shall be done.

Note that in v18, the treasure was cursed but here, the person is cursed.  What’s the relationship between the two?  Why was it ever appropriate to curse the innocent treasure and not just curse the man?

21 And if the Lord shall say—Because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence—he will cause that it shall be so.

Is there a difference between being accursed forever (v20) and being cut off from the presence of the Lord (this verse)? How does the cursed man compare with the cursed treasure?

22 And wo unto him to whom he shall say this, for it shall be unto him that will do iniquity, and he cannot be saved; therefore, for this cause, that men might be saved, hath repentance been declared.

23 Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved.

How does repentance/salvation relate to the idea of God cursing a person?  (That is, can a person who is cursed per v20 or v21 repent and then be saved?)  How do these sections of the text relate?

24 And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works.

Where does human agency fit in this verse?

25 And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord;

Wait–wasn’t wanting everyone to be saved Satan’s plan?

26 Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen.

Does the lack of emphasis on the atonement in this verse surprise you?  (Maybe if we read v25 and v26 together that would provide the balance that each verse individually seems to lack.)

This article looks at what this chapter tells us about Mormon as a historian.

General:

(1) This article asks whether the text is hinting that Nephi’s calling and election were made sure.

(2) There’s a lot about this article that I don’t like, but it does provide a good summary of the biblical references in the Book of Helaman.

(3) Interesting article about the Book of Helaman.

(4) It is easy to get whiplash from the constant up-and-down of Nephite (un)righteousness.  I wonder if part of the point here is that they can’t sustain a righteous society until after Christ visits–then they are able to keep the ball in the air for 400 years!

(5) Article about Gadianton wars that I didn’t have time to read.

(6) Some random person at the FEAST wiki wondered what happened to the stripling warriors.  Is it safe to assume from the lack of reference to them combined with the wide-spread wickedness that they caved in to evil?  Or what?

 

2 Responses to BMGD #34: Helaman 6-12

  1. Stephen R. Marsh on August 27, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    Really, really well done.

    I do think that Nephi was (a) recording poetry and (b) being ritualistic.

    I did not when I was younger.

    As to the stripling warriors, in battle, if you have high moral troops who are heavy (i.e. armored and armed) and they hit light troops (unarmored) from behind, they often slaughter the enemy without casualties to themselves.

    Oh, you meant in more recent times? Perhaps they joined political parties. I think that the combinations are well seen in terms of political parties — and the church in terms of a cultural elite.

  2. J Town on August 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I look forward to this post each week. I’m so thankful for the work you put, Julie. It really elevates my scripture study.