BMGD #35: Helaman 13-16

September 3, 2012 | 9 comments
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The prophecy of Samuel, the Lamanite, to the Nephites. Comprising chapters 13 to 15 inclusive.

I’ll explore the parallels between Nephi and Samuel as we go, but note at this point that the headers heighten the parallelism since Nephi’s time in the sun was called “the prophecy of Nephi.”

Note that the emphasis in this section (at least according to Mormon) is on the prophecies of Samuel.

CHAPTER 13

1 And now it came to pass in the *eighty and sixth year, the Nephites did still remain in wickedness, yea, in great wickedness, while the Lamanites did observe strictly to keep the commandments of God, according to the law of Moses.

Again, note how much the BoM invites us to compare the Nephites and Lamanites and see the Lamanites as superior.

 2 And it came to pass that in this year there was one Samuel, a Lamanite, came into the land of Zarahemla, and began to preach unto the people. And it came to pass that he did preach, many days, repentance unto the people, and they did cast him out, and he was about to return to his own land.

Remember that we’ve had Lamanite preachers go into Nephite lands before, but we just got a summary statement about them–not names and not sermons.

“Many days” feels awkward in its current placement.  Does it reflect a bit of sloppy writing or is there something else going on here?

Any ideas as to why they would have permitted him at first and then kicked him out?

 3 But behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people whatsoever things should come into his heart.

Note that this is precisely what just happened to Nephi:  everyone left, so he was going to go home, but on his way, a voice stopped him.  The theme of Lamanite and Nephite equality is emphasized by the similar stories.

Does “come into his heart” mean that he gets to pick, or that he’ll be given revelation as needed?  Is this different from Nephi’s recent experience, where he was told to tell them to repent or be smitten?

I like this humanizing incident:  Samuel was going to head home, discouraged, but the voice of the Lord buoyed him up and so he returned to his task.

 4 And it came to pass that they would not suffer that he should enter into the city; therefore he went and got upon the wall thereof, and stretched forth his hand and cried with a loud voice, and prophesied unto the people whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart.

Note that the Lord told him to go back, but they still wouldn’t let him in.  Two thoughts:  (1) Shades of Abinadi in reverse? and (2) note that the Lord didn’t necessarily make everything immediately easy for him just because he agreed to obey.

Does stretching forth the hand have ritual significance?

 5 And he said unto them: Behold, I, Samuel, a Lamanite, do speak the words of the Lord which he doth put into my heart; and behold he hath put it into my heart to say unto this people that the sword of justice hangeth over this people; and four hundred years pass not away save the sword of justice falleth upon this people.

Why is a sword a good symbol for justice?  Why is there no mention of mercy here?  (Perhaps the next verse answers that?)

If someone told me that I had 400 more years in which I could sin before there were any consequences, this would not motivate me to repent quickly.  Why do you think Samuel was told to present the message in these terms?

Brant Gardner on the differences between Nephi and Samuel’s messages:

Nephi has prophesied the destruction of this people. Now Samuel also predicts destruction. In Samuel’s destruction, however, there is a specific time, and it appears to relate to a different destruction that did Nephi. Nephi’s prophecy of destruction as the element of immediacy. Samuel’s prophecy is one of finality. Both the near and the distant destructions will destroy the government of the Nephites, but the Nephites as a people will survive the first. The second destruction will be complete. Citation

If that is the best way to read this verse, then is the Lamanite/Nephite nature of the speaker of each prophecy relevant to the content of the prophecy?

 6 Yea, heavy destruction awaiteth this people, and it surely cometh unto this people, and nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely shall come into the world, and shall suffer many things and shall be slain for his people.

Is there a difference between regular destruction and heavy destruction?

What do you make of the repeated use of “surely” in this verse?  Does it imply a link between the destruction and the coming of Jesus Christ?

Note the interesting balance in this verse:  the only way that people will be saved from destruction is because of the “destruction” of Jesus Christ.

 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord hath declared it unto me, and he did bring glad tidings to my soul. And behold, I was sent unto you to declare it unto you also, that ye might have glad tidings; but behold ye would not receive me.

To what does “it” refer in this verse?  The destruction?  The coming of Jesus?  Both?

How does the angel mesh with the idea from v3 that he should preach what came into his heart?  (Maybe what came into his heart was to preach about his previous angelic visitation!)

To the extent that they have refused him access twice, does this constitute casting pearls before swine?

Note that angelic visitation isn’t pictured here as something exclusive; the point of the visitation was so that he could share this message with others.

 8 Therefore, thus saith the Lord: Because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of the Nephites, except they repent I will take away my word from them, and I will withdraw my Spirit from them, and I will suffer them no longer, and I will turn the hearts of their brethren against them.

Who are the “brethren” here?  (Remember that the Lamanites are righteous right now.)

What does it mean for the Lord to take his word away?  Does this mean they will lose access to the record?  To angelic visitation?  To prophets?

Notice that the loss of the word and of the Spirit are mentioned as two separate things.

suffer = permit  (But permit to do what?  To have the Spirit and the word?)

Does this verse mean that every time their brethren (which would be who, exactly:  Lamanites?  potential Nephite dissenters?) have been turned against them it has been because of iniquity?

 9 And four hundred years shall not pass away before I will cause that they shall be smitten; yea, I will visit them with the sword and with famine and with pestilence.

Remember that this is a people that has had nearly continuous warfare over the last several decades, with a recent short break.  Why would prophecies of what would happen 400 years into the future even matter to them?  (I can imagine even very righteous people–which they are not–thinking,  hey, there’s nothing I can do now to stop an apostasy 400 years into the future.)

 10 Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger, and there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction; and this shall surely come except ye repent, saith the Lord; and those of the fourth generation shall visit your destruction.

What does this verse teach you about anger?

Does this verse imply that, when Sam is preaching, 400 years = four generations? (Because I think we usually think of a generation as less than 100 years, no?)

 11 But if ye will repent and return unto the Lord your God I will turn away mine anger, saith the Lord; yea, thus saith the Lord, blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me, but wo unto him that repenteth not.

So is this really anything new?  Hasn’t this always been the deal?

 12 Yea, wo unto this great city of Zarahemla; for behold, it is because of those who are righteous that it is saved; yea, wo unto this great city, for I perceive, saith the Lord, that there are many, yea, even the more part of this great city, that will harden their hearts against me, saith the Lord.

I’m intrigued by the idea of a righteous minority preventing the destruction of a larger group.  What’s the cut-off line?   (Does v14 answer that question?) (Abraham bargained with God about this.)  Is it true today?

Does “I perceive” seem like weird language for the Lord?  (Doesn’t he “know”?  And, if he knows, then how is any of this any longer conditional on their repentance?)

To what extent do you read this literally, specifically about Zarahemla and to what extent is it speaking more metaphorically of Zarahemla as the seat of Nephite power?

 13 But blessed are they who will repent, for them will I spare. But behold, if it were not for the righteous who are in this great city, behold, I would cause that fire should come down out of heaven and destroy it.

Notice how repetitive this section is–he spends a half dozen verses making one point.  (=Repent or be destroyed.) Why?

Is the fire significant?  (Note that it is likely that Sam’s conversion experience is linked, even if indirectly, to the fire that didn’t consume Nephi and Lehi in prison.  So the destruction of the city by fire would be the inverse of that.)

14 But behold, it is for the righteous’ sake that it is spared. But behold, the time cometh, saith the Lord, that when ye shall cast out the righteous from among you, then shall ye be ripe for destruction; yea, wo be unto this great city, because of the wickedness and abominations which are in her.

Haven’t they already done this with Sam?  Since that apparently wasn’t enough to trigger the destruction of Zarahemla, I’m thinking that casting out the righteous must mean something else.  (Or maybe they are just being given one more chance?)

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

 15 Yea, and wo be unto the city of Gideon, for the wickedness and abominations which are in her.

Remember that he is speaking from the wall of Zarahemla here . . .

Brant Gardner:

The extent of the Nephite apostasy from the gospel must have been extensive indeed if Gideon should fall under condemnation for “wickedness and abominations.” During Alma’s missionary journey to the land of Zarahemla, Gideon was praised for its faithfulness (see Alma 7:3-5). Later when Korihor attempts to spread his version of the worldly religion (and the denial of the Atoning Messiah), he is banished from Gideon. (Alma 30:21-29). Citation

 16 Yea, and wo be unto all the cities which are in the land round about, which are possessed by the Nephites, because of the wickedness and abominations which are in them.

 17 And behold, a curse shall come upon the land, saith the Lord of Hosts, because of the peoples’ sake who are upon the land, yea, because of their wickedness and their abominations.

Is there any relationship between this verse and the land being cursed for Adam’s sake after the Fall?

 18 And it shall come to pass, saith the Lord of Hosts, yea, our great and true God, that whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth shall find them again no more, because of the great curse of the land, save he be a righteous man and shall hide it up unto the Lord.

Note that this is the same theme from Nephi’s preaching.

Note also that, despite the different methods of getting the info to preach (Nephi had it told to him by a voice beforehand; Sam had it put in his heart in the moment), that they both have precisely the same message:  repent or be destroyed.

Why did they get Sam when they already had Nephi?  (If anything, I would think that Sam, being a Lamanite, would be harder for them to “hear.”)

Note how merciful the Lord is:  these people have rejected Nephi multiple times, they’ve rejected Sam multiple times, but the Lord is still trying to reach the people in any way possible–even if a prophet has to climb a wall.

Why did Sam feel the need to define the Lord of Hosts (and why the military imagery at this moment anyway?) as our great and true God in this verse?

Why was the idea of hiding treasures in the earth such a big deal to preach to the Nephites at this moment in history?  Is the idea related to the G. robbers? (Brant Gardner says that the root of all of their sins at this point in their history is their desire to have more wealth than others, so there is a certain poetic justice in the curse affecting them this way.)

I wonder if there is a link between not remembering where your treasure is and not remembering God.

I wonder how literally to take the lost buried treasure idea.  Is it a metaphorical way of saying that their treasure will be dead?  Or a literal way of saying that they won’t be able to hold on to their wealth, so all of their labor will be for nothing?  Or maybe something else?

Does this verse assume that uncursed land means that you can re-claim buried treasure?  (Can the righteous man still find his treasure in cursed land)?

What does it mean to bury your treasure up to the Lord?  (See v19 for more on this idea.)

 19 For I will, saith the Lord, that they shall hide up their treasures unto me; and cursed be they who hide not up their treasures unto me; for none hideth up their treasures unto me save it be the righteous; and he that hideth not up his treasures unto me, cursed is he, and also the treasure, and none shall redeem it because of the curse of the land.

 20 And the day shall come that they shall hide up their treasures, because they have set their hearts upon riches; and because they have set their hearts upon their riches, and will hide up their treasures when they shall flee before their enemies; because they will not hide them up unto me, cursed be they and also their treasures; and in that day shall they be smitten, saith the Lord.

 21 Behold ye, the people of this great city, and hearken unto my words; yea, hearken unto the words which the Lord saith; for behold, he saith that ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them, and have not hearkened unto the words of him who gave them unto you.

After lots of verses of repetition, we get a new idea here:  they are cursed because of their riches.  Note that this is independent of being cursed for setting their hearts upon riches.  This verse seems to say that the riches themselves are a problem.  (Perhaps because in a world ruled by G. robbers, they are ill-gotten?)

Why are the riches cursed?  (They didn’t do anything wrong!)

 22 Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord your God for them; yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities.

Again I am almost wishing that the BoM used a word other than “remembering” here:  this isn’t describing the mechanical, not-under-our-control process by which we forget where we put our car keys.  It is more like making a choice as to what we will prioritize or deem the most valuable.

Note that the result of remembering God is that your heart is drawn out to God, but the result of remembering riches is great pride.

 23 For this cause hath the Lord God caused that a curse should come upon the land, and also upon your riches, and this because of your iniquities.

 24 Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.

 25 And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.

This is so interesting, because I think we think of the Nephites at this moment as being like a caricature of a frat party in Las Vegas or something, but these people say that they would not have stoned the prophets.  They make claims to personal righteousness, and they think they are living righteously.

Thinking more generally about v24-25, it suggests something about failure to accurately apply to lessons of sacred history.  That is, it shows how easy it is to look at the scriptures and feel superior to, say, the whiny children of Israel or the unseeing people in Jesus’ day, while evidencing the very same sins in our own lives.

 26 Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.

Who is the “they” in this verse, given that the last several verses have been about the Nephites?  It seems logical to say the “they” is the Lamanites, but there hasn’t been a reference to the Lamanites.  Maybe it is a reference to the people in the days of “our fathers of old” who stoned the prophets?

Why are they “worse than” they (whoever “they” are)–aren’t they just the same as “they”?  (Does v27 answer this question?  Is the point that they were more than willing to believe a false prophet, and so this makes them worse than others?)

Why “as the Lord liveth”?  (A lot of people read that as covenant or oath-making language; is that the best way to read it here?)

Irony alert:  Sam is doing, and the audience is doing, just exactly what is described in this verse.

Brant Gardner:

Samuel may or may not have known the story behind the trial of Nephi, but that incident stands as proof that Samuel’s statement is not only about what they would do but what they have done. Citation

27 But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.

I’m still contemplating that theory that “do this, and there is no iniquity” is Satan’s original plan.

Not much of a stretch to see people doing this today . . .

28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.

How does this lavishing of wealth on a false prophet relate to them having their hearts set on riches?  You’d think that they wouldn’t want to fund a false prophet.  Are they buying emotional peace here?  What’s the lesson for us?

I think we should be super-suspicious any time we get an “all is well” message.  (And this might give you some indication as to why some LDS feminists haven’t been real thrilled with the “you’re doing great!” message that was frequently directed at LDS women in the pre-Julie Beck era.)

Jim F. asks us to think about who we as a culture honor with riches . . .

29 O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?

Brant Gardner suggests that false prophets (after the order of Nehors) were common in Nephite society at this point; we don’t hear of them specifically, but this kind of preaching implies their existence.

Why would anyone choose darkness over light?  (Seriously.)

30 Yea, behold, the anger of the Lord is already kindled against you; behold, he hath cursed the land because of your iniquity.

How does this relate to v17, where they were told that a curse would come on the land in the future?

How does this curse relate to the post-fall curse of the ground for Adam’s sake?

31 And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them.

What does “slippery” suggest to you?  (We are familiar with “slippery” because we have showers and soap.  But I wonder what it would have meant to them.)

Why would the land be cursed (v30) before the riches are cursed (this verse)?

Aren’t riches always “slippery”?

32 And in the days of your poverty ye shall cry unto the Lord; and in vain shall ye cry, for your desolation is already come upon you, and your destruction is made sure; and then shall ye weep and howl in that day, saith the Lord of Hosts. And then shall ye lament, and say:

Is this verse implying that there is a point at which repentance is too late?

33 O that I had repented, and had not killed the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out. Yea, in that day ye shall say: O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us.

What do you make of the killed/stones/cast out sequence, or is this just poetic?

Is this verse implying that faithful people will not lose their riches?

34 Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle.

Interestingly, this situation is not a “natural”  (=God-caused) disaster like an earthquake, but rather the natural consequence of living in a society full of people just like them:  a lot of theft.

35 Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land.

Does this verse (when read with v34) imply that “treasures” has meant “tools and swords” during this entire sermon?  Or has it meant something else, but perhaps these remorseful people have misunderstood what a true treasure is?

36 O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them.

I’m still curious about the curse of the land–it seems that the curse on the person and the curse on the treasure would be enough to ensure slipperiness–so why does the land need to be cursed as well?

37 Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us? And this shall be your language in those days.

Are they really surrounded by demons?  Or do they just think they are?  Is this an effort to blame their problems on other entities, or are demons part of the curse?

38 But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.

How does this verse mesh with the idea of post-mortal repentance?  (Perhaps the setting here is the post-mortal world?)

Excellent question for personal reflection:  in what ways am I seeking for happiness in iniquity?

Why do you think “Eternal Head” was the name/title that Sam chose here?

Compare v11–is it too late for them to repent or not?

Something kind of weird to me about this section:  even in their lament, they are still very focused on their wealth and not on the Lord.  One senses that they just see the Lord as the key to maintaining their wealth.

39 O ye people of the land, that ye would hear my words! And I pray that the anger of the Lord be turned away from you, and that ye would repent and be saved.

Is “of the land” significant here?  Is it perhaps related to the idea of a curse on the land?  (Were the Nephites related to their land in a special way?  Do we–should we–have a similar relationship today?)

The order in this verse makes it sound as if the removal of the Lord’s anger would cause them to repent, but that seems to point the arrow in the wrong direction.

General thought on this chapter:  Is it useful to think about a curse on the land in terms of our obligation

CHAPTER 14

1 And now it came to pass that Samuel, the Lamanite, did prophesy a great many more things which cannot be written.

Why can’t they be written?  Space?  Presumably, he isn’t telling a crowd like that things that are too sacred to be written, right?

Note that “the Lamanite” is unnecessary.  (It seems particularly ironic in the middle of a verse where we are told that many things could not be written, presumably because of space considerations.)  I think the reason it was included is to further emphasize one of the main themes of the Book of Helaman:  that at this point in history the Lamanites were more righteous than the Nephites.

2 And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.

Think about the juxtaposition of v1 with v2:  What effect on the reader does it have to see v1 in the middle of his prophecies?  (I suspect that the best way to read v1 is as the equivalent of ” . . . ” by Mormon.)

What does this verse teach us about signs?  Why does Helaman offer such a wicked group this sign?  If they repent, will their repentance be less meaningful if it is done as the result of seeing a sign?  How does it relate to the signs that Nephi offered in the last few chapters?  (Crazy thought:  remember that it was five guys who ran to see the chief judge murdered and five years here.  I wonder if we are meant to see a parallel between the details of these two revelations.)

Note the unstated backstory:  Helaman has received a revelation.

Note that in the last chapter, he gave them a 400 year time frame (which seemed way too long to me), and here, it is a 5 year time frame.

Brant Gardner:

The specificity of this prophecy is absolutely unique in the canon of scripture. Even when there have been other time-specific prophecies, such as the 600 years time from the departure from Jerusalem to the time of the Atoning Messiah, and the 400 year prophecy that Samuel just pronounced, they have been such long time frames that no one in the sound of the prophets voice would have been witness to their fulfillment.  Citation

3 And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.

Note that these signs are not inherent to his coming (meaning, his coming did not necessarily require these signs).

How will this sign compare with the angel that the shepherds would see or the star that the magi would see?

Is the meaning of the sign limited to simply verifying Sam’s prophecy, or is the sign symbolic?  (I think it would be easy to ascribe meaning to “increased light,” but that would fit a little better if the light were _after_ he was born, not before.

Presumably, no one in the Old World knows about this sign.  For some reason, I find that poignant.

Note the “as if” and “unto man” here–any significance in that?  (It sounds sort of careful to me.)  Any relation to the bit about the earth moving and not the sun from a few chapters ago?

You know, it seemed like a crazy idea at first, but I think we might get some leverage out of comparing Nephi and Sam.  Both are preaching to the Nephites, having come from Lamanite lands (Sam was really a Lamanite; Nephi had been on a mission there), both have divine manifestations, both preach from a height (tower, wall) to hostile crowds, both preach a message of repentance that involves a sign of its veracity that involves the number five.  What other similarities can we find, and what might we learn from them?

Hugh Nibley suggests the light here would be a supernova.  Brant Gardner speculates on volcanic activity.

4 Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born.

Who is the “they” in this verse, and why does the sentence switch from “ye” to “they” in the middle?

5 And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.

Is this the same star the magi saw?  (Note that their star isn’t “new.”)

6 And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven.

Jim F. wonders about the fairness of this to people who do not see signs.

7 And it shall come to pass that ye shall all be amazed, and wonder, insomuch that ye shall fall to the earth.

Falling to the earth seems to be characteristic Nephite/Lamanite behavior for being overcome by the Spirit.  (It would kind of be awesome if this happened today.  Particularly at Girls’ Camp.)

8 And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall believe on the Son of God, the same shall have everlasting life.

Does v8 feel like it comes out of nowhere?  (But note the link to v2.  But then that sort of makes the signs in v3-7 feel like a tangent.)

What does this verse teach us about belief v. works v. ordinances?

9 And behold, thus hath the Lord commanded me, by his angel, that I should come and tell this thing unto you; yea, he hath commanded that I should prophesy these things unto you; yea, he hath said unto me: Cry unto this people, repent and prepare the way of the Lord.

What does it mean to prepare the way of the Lord?  Who or what is prepared?  How is it prepared?  Do the rest of Samuel’s teachings here give us some insight as to what this phrase means?  How might it be relevant to us today?

10 And now, because I am a Lamanite, and have spoken unto you the words which the Lord hath commanded me, and because it was hard against you, ye are angry with me and do seek to destroy me, and have cast me out from among you.

What idea is being modified by “because I am a Lamanite”:  “I have spoken” or “ye are angry”?  In whichever case you find more persuasive, does this give you any indication as to why a Lamanite was sent for this preaching assignment?

If they were mad because a Lamanite was telling them these things, then why do you think the Lord sent a Lamanite and not a Nephite (presumably Nephi or Lehi could have given this talk, no?) to them?

11 And ye shall hear my words, for, for this intent have I come up upon the walls of this city, that ye might hear and know of the judgments of God which do await you because of your iniquities, and also that ye might know the conditions of repentance;

12 And also that ye might know of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and that ye might know of the signs of his coming, to the intent that ye might believe on his name.

Why do you think Sam chose a multiplicity of titles in this verse?

Does this verse teach that signs can cause belief?  Is that true?

This verse seems to quote King Ben from Mosiah 3:8.

Brant Gardner:

Just as in the earlier texts from 1 Nephi, we should understand that the use of Jesus Christ and name and title is anachronistic in this context, and almost assuredly an artifact of translation. That was surely the meaning of the text on the plates, but just as assuredly, would not have been the literal words on the plates. The Nephites could easily have had the name Jesus, just as they did Mary. However, the Christ is a title, and comes to us through the Greek. The more direct translation of the same meaning in the Old Testament context is Messiah. While the meaning (“the anointed one”) is the same, the cultural context of the Nephites argues that we would be more accurate using the Messiah designation rather than the term we inherit through the Greek New Testament. Citation

13 And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits.

This verse might help us better understand the relationship between faith and works:  if you believe, you will do certain things.

What does the word “merits” convey to you that “atonement” or “death” or “suffering” or “choices” or “actions” might not?

Jim F. calls our attention to the word “will”:  does this mean that if you aren’t repenting, you don’t believe in Christ?  And the word “on”:  is there a difference between believing in him and on him?

14 And behold, again, another sign I give unto you, yea, a sign of his death.

This seems like an odd place to mention another sign–I thought he sounded as if he was wrapping things up.  Why does this happen here?

This raises the question:  Why did they get a sign of his birth, when his birth didn’t directly affect them?  Why don’t they get a sign of his resurrection?

Note that the information about Jesus and his relationship to their destruction or repentance comes in between the signs of his birth and death.  How does this affect how you read the signs and how you read the information about Jesus in these verses?

15 For behold, he surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord.

Brant Gardner points out that the description of Jesus’ power alongside the idea that he will die would likely have created some cognitive dissonance in the audience.  (The fact that what they kvetch about is not this but is about how unfair it is that Jesus’ isn’t going to visit them might tell us something about the audience.)

16 Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual.

If all mankind is redeemed from the first death (=spiritual death), then wouldn’t “all mankind” then be able to enter the presence of God without doing anything else?  (In other words, I would have expected him to say that the resurrection redeems all people from physical death.)  (Note v17, which seems to own this idea.  Not what I think we would have expected to find.)

Think more on the idea of being cut off from the presence of the Lord as “death.”

What does Helaman mean by “Lord” in this verse?  (I ask because we usually talk of being cut off from the presence of God, not Jesus.)

It is easy to see how being cut off from the presence of the Lord would make you spiritually dead, but how does it make you dead as to things temporal?

When he says “death” does he mean “atonement”?  If not, then in what sense is it true that Jesus’ death brings about the resurrection?

17 But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.

18 Yea, and it bringeth to pass the condition of repentance, that whosoever repenteth the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire; but whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire; and there cometh upon them again a spiritual death, yea, a second death, for they are cut off again as to things pertaining to righteousness.

Why is being cut down and put in the fire (I think the image is of weeds or unwanted trees or dead stalks or something) a good image for what happens to those who will not repent?

Does Helaman think that there are two spiritual deaths, one at the fall and one here?  Or is there a better way to interpret this?

I think this verse is teaching that repentance is conditional on an atonement.  (I think the language here is a little less than completely clear.)

19 Therefore repent ye, repent ye, lest by knowing these things and not doing them ye shall suffer yourselves to come under condemnation, and ye are brought down unto this second death.

Note the “therefore.”  Our understanding of the afterlife isn’t angels-on-the-head of a pin stuff, but is supposed to inspire us to make changes in our lives here and now.

The cynic says:  The less we know about the gospel the better, because then the less knowledge we are accountable for.  The best-positioned people were the ones at home, not the ones who listened to Sam at the wall.

20 But behold, as I said unto you concerning another sign, a sign of his death, behold, in that day that he shall suffer death the sun shall be darkened and refuse to give his light unto you; and also the moon and the stars; and there shall be no light upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death, for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the dead.

Note how references to the sign about the death bracket this whole discussion of human death, physical and temporal.  I suspect that there are some very interesting things to be learned by looking at the interplay of what Sam teaches the audience about the plan and the signs.  That is, I think they are tightly integrated and expand on each other.

Notice the anthropomorphism behind “refuse to give light.”  Is this just poetic?

When Nephi was given the sealing power, we got a little correction of a potential misunderstanding:  the earth moves, not the sun.  This verse also contains a potential misunderstanding:  the moon doesn’t give light; it reflects light.  This one is not corrected.  Is this significant, or am I thinking too woodenly here?

The symbolism of “extra light at birth” and “extra dark at death” seems pretty obvious, but note two nuances:  the light isn’t at his birth, it is right before his birth.  And the darkness at his death is complicated by the fact that we might have expected a sign at his resurrection and not his death.  (Although the sign of the death continues until the resurrection.) What’s going on here?  Also note that the time of darkness is longer than the time of light (I think).

21 Yea, at the time that he shall yield up the ghost there shall be thunderings and lightnings for the space of many hours, and the earth shall shake and tremble; and the rocks which are upon the face of this earth, which are both above the earth and beneath, which ye know at this time are solid, or the more part of it is one solid mass, shall be broken up;

Is “yield up the ghost” just poetic and/or KJV NT borrowings, or is that phrase significant?

What does Sam mean when he says that the rocks are “solid”?  How does “or the more part of it is . . .” help explain what he meant?

22 Yea, they shall be rent in twain, and shall ever after be found in seams and in cracks, and in broken fragments upon the face of the whole earth, yea, both above the earth and beneath.

What does “they” refer to here–the solid rocks?  Something else?

How literally do you read these signs?  Do they have a symbolic element as well?

23 And behold, there shall be great tempests, and there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great.

Is he pointing to the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:4 here?

This verse pictures a reversal.  (We could probably read solid rocks breaking the same way.)  I think the symbolism here is that Christ’s death turns everything–everything!–upside down.  This is an idea all over the OT:  see Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2, for example, or Mary’s Magnificat in the NT, for the idea that the coming of the Messiah meant that everything would become its opposite.

24 And many highways shall be broken up, and many cities shall become desolate.

25 And many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many.

Mt 27:52-53 is very similar.

If you were reading woodenly, you might think that the opening of the graves was a natural result of all of the geographic upheaval.  I wonder if there is a symbolic connection within these signs?

Why the word “saints” in this verse?

26 And behold, thus hath the angel spoken unto me; for he said unto me that there should be thunderings and lightnings for the space of many hours.

27 And he said unto me that while the thunder and the lightning lasted, and the tempest, that these things should be, and that darkness should cover the face of the whole earth for the space of three days.

Notice the reiteration of the signs.  Samuel seems to speak with a lot more repetition than the usual BoM speaker.  I wonder if this was a Lamanite thing.

28 And the angel said unto me that many shall see greater things than these, to the intent that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men—

Note the repetition in the last several verses of “said/spoken unto me.”  Sam seems to be emphasizing that these words are not his.

General thought:  Why is an unrepentant audience that was recently told about how much trouble they are in learning of these prophesies?

Again “to the intent that they might believe” makes me a little nervous–I don’t think belief should be based on signs.  That never ends well.  The line “to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief” is also somewhat problematic:  what happened to agency?  (Do the references to being free in v30 address this issue?)

29 And this to the intent that whosoever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them; and also if they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation.

30 And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

What does “perisheth unto himself” mean?  Does it just mean (per v29) that they have brought condemnation on themselves?  What about the idea of doing iniquity “unto himself”?  (I wonder if that is related to the previous instance where Sam gave us the remorseful words of people who saw their tools and swords disappear–maybe the idea is that they are the victims of the same kinds of iniquity that their poor examples permitted to flourish.

What relationship does this verse posit between knowledge and freedom?

31 He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you.

Notice how this verse shows the knowledge gained from the Fall re-occurring in each generation.

Does “or have that . . .” indicate a correction or clarification of the previous idea?  If so, what change does it make?  If not, what is the best way to understand the presence of that phrase?

Notice echoes of language from the story of the Fall here.  We also had a lot about the earth being cursed.  In what other ways is Samuel echoing the Fall story here?

CHAPTER 15

1 And now, my beloved brethren, behold, I declare unto you that except ye shall repent your houses shall be left unto you desolate.

How literally do you take the idea of desolate houses?

Note that there was not a chapter break here originally, so this should be read in conjunction with ch14.

Note the “beloved” here.  If I had to speak from a wall because people wouldn’t let me in, I probably would not be gracious enough to call them “beloved.”

2 Yea, except ye repent, your women shall have great cause to mourn in the day that they shall give suck; for ye shall attempt to flee and there shall be no place for refuge; yea, and wo unto them which are with child, for they shall be heavy and cannot flee; therefore, they shall be trodden down and shall be left to perish.

Wah–I hate verses like this.  Before this point, I thought Sam might have been speaking to women.  Here, we find out that he was only speaking to the men, and any female reader of the BoM is, in effect, eavesdropping.  Also, it is no longer entirely clear that any of the teachings and promises actually apply to women.  Mm, now that I have calmed down a little, I suppose it is possible to see him speaking to a mixed-gender audience, but then in this verse just referring to the women.

. . . And notice that the idea of women mourning and the condition of women is as important to Sam as a desolate house.  This verse implies that women matter.

Notice the links to Mark 13 here.

This verse kind of makes it sound like the consequences of sin are worse for lactating women and pregnant women.  Is that true?  Why are these groups singled out here?

I suppose we have to decide whether women are part of the audience before we can deal with this question, but if we assume the audience is all-male, how/why would they end up mourning if the men don’t repent?

Reading v1-2 together, is the point that their houses will be desolate because the women and children will leave to try to live somewhere safer?

3 Yea, wo unto this people who are called the people of Nephi except they shall repent, when they shall see all these signs and wonders which shall be showed unto them; for behold, they have been a chosen people of the Lord; yea, the people of Nephi hath he loved, and also hath he chastened them; yea, in the days of their iniquities hath he chastened them because he loveth them.

This verse almost makes it sound as if they’ll be A-OK if they don’t repent until they see the signs.  Is there a better way to read this?

What does it mean to be a chosen people?  Note the irony of a Lamanite saying that to the Nephites–and a righteous Lamanite saying it to wicked Nephites!

How does the recent BoM shift from “Nephites = good, Lamanites = bad” to “Lamanites = good, Nephites = bad” nuance your understanding of what it means to be chosen?

Is it correct to read this verse as saying that the Lord loved the Nephites more than he loved other people?  How else can it be interpreted?

Note what this verse is teaching about the relationship between love and chastening.  How is that relevant to your life?

How does this verse relate to the verse before it?

What does this verse teach you about parenting?

4 But behold my brethren, the Lamanites hath he hated because their deeds have been evil continually, and this because of the iniquity of the tradition of their fathers. But behold, salvation hath come unto them through the preaching of the Nephites; and for this intent hath the Lord prolonged their days.

Article on the love/hate thing here.  The idea is that that word does not mean what you think it means; it is just the reaction to (not) honoring the covenant relationship.

I think by this verse we see why Sam is giving this talk and not Nephi or Lehi:  “the Lamanites hath he hated” would have sounded a lot different coming out of the mouth of a Nephite than it does out of the mouth of a Lamanite.

Again, we are told that the Lamanites are only wicked because of what their parents taught them.  This should, I think, be a warning to us about what we are teaching our own children.  I also wonder if it means we need to re-consider our usual cultural critique of the “victim mentality,” since apparently the Lamanites really were victims and were judged accordingly.

Whose days is the Lord prolonging–the Nephites who preached or the Lamanites who repented?

Didn’t salvation come to the Lamanites through Jesus Christ? Is “salvation . . . through the preaching” just a slightly sloppy shorthand?

Hey–I just noticed that with Sam, Nephi, and Lehi on the scene, we have re-creating the names of the righteous members of the founding family!  (Or maybe a better way to put that would be:  we are impressed even more by the brotherhood of Sam and Nephi.  Calling attention to this relationship might explain why Lehi has fallen out of the text, despite assurances that he was just as righteous as Nephi.) That makes Sam’s Lamanite-ishness even more interesting.

Look, it just isn’t correct to say that the deeds of the Lamanites have been evil continually.  Abish?  King Lamoni?  Queen Lamoni?  The ANLs? The thousands who repented after the Nephi/Lehi prison scene?  SAMUEL THE SPEAKER HIMSELF?  We clearly are not meant to take this in the strictly scientifically accurate way that is socially appropriate in our culture.

5 And I would that ye should behold that the more part of them are in the path of their duty, and they do walk circumspectly before God, and they do observe to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments according to the law of Moses.

Again, we are encouraged to compare the Nephites and Lamanites and see the Lamanites doing better.  This would have been bitter medicine for this Nephite audience to swallow, especially coming from a Lamanite.

So, given this state of affairs, what do you conclude about being chosen, loved by God, hated by God, and/or chastised?  (In other words, how do we make sense of things working out better for the Lamanites than the Nephites, given that the Nephites were chosen, loved, and chastened?)

6 Yea, I say unto you, that the more part of them are doing this, and they are striving with unwearied diligence that they may bring the remainder of their brethren to the knowledge of the truth; therefore there are many who do add to their numbers daily.

7 And behold, ye do know of yourselves, for ye have witnessed it, that as many of them as are brought to the knowledge of the truth, and to know of the wicked and abominable traditions of their fathers, and are led to believe the holy scriptures, yea, the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written, which leadeth them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart unto them—

What work is “which are written” doing in this verse?

I’m curious about the order of events in this verse, because I think we usually think of a change of heart leading to repentance leading to faith, but this verse seems to put the concepts in reverse order.  What might we learn from this?

What does the phrase “led to believe” in this verse teach you about missionary work?

8 Therefore, as many as have come to this, ye know of yourselves are firm and steadfast in the faith, and in the thing wherewith they have been made free.

What is “this” in this verse?

Previously, Sam said that they were free; here he talks about people being made free.  How do these ideas relate?

I like the idea of people being made free by belief; note what a paradox this is when read alongside v5.

9 And ye know also that they have buried their weapons of war, and they fear to take them up lest by any means they should sin; yea, ye can see that they fear to sin—for behold they will suffer themselves that they be trodden down and slain by their enemies, and will not lift their swords against them, and this because of their faith in Christ.

Interesting that they almost blew if before Helaman stopped them . . .

This verse strikes me as kind of weird because I think the natural assumption before this point is that he is talking about Lamanites in general,  or at least the huge wave of Lamanite converts after the prison/fire situation, but this verse, with no obvious transition, jumps right in to talking about just the ANLs.  Unless (as Brant Gardner suggests) all Lamanite converts  buried their weapons?  I don’t think that we can know for sure.

10 And now, because of their steadfastness when they do believe in that thing which they do believe, for because of their firmness when they are once enlightened, behold, the Lord shall bless them and prolong their days, notwithstanding their iniquity—

What does “notwithstanding” mean in this verse?  (Does v11 answer this question?)

Does this mean that steadfastness makes it possible for God to overlook some of your iniquity? How can they be steadfast and iniquitous at the same time?

11 Yea, even if they should dwindle in unbelief the Lord shall prolong their days, until the time shall come which hath been spoken of by our fathers, and also by the prophet Zenos, and many other prophets, concerning the restoration of our brethren, the Lamanites, again to the knowledge of the truth—

Really?  The Lord will still bless them if they become unbelievers?  That seems a little weird.

Why would the Lord preserve the unbelieving Lamanites but not the unbelieving Nephites?  So much for the benefits of being the chosen people!

12 Yea, I say unto you, that in the latter times the promises of the Lord have been extended to our brethren, the Lamanites; and notwithstanding the many afflictions which they shall have, and notwithstanding they shall be driven to and fro upon the face of the earth, and be hunted, and shall be smitten and scattered abroad, having no place for refuge, the Lord shall be merciful unto them.

Remember that this chapter began with the lactating women and pregnant women finding no refuge.  How is that related to what happens in this verse?  (Maybe it is an indication that we shouldn’t have been reading strictly literally?)

Why is the Lord merciful to them if they have dwindled in unbelief?

13 And this is according to the prophecy, that they shall again be brought to the true knowledge, which is the knowledge of their Redeemer, and their great and true shepherd, and be numbered among his sheep.

Why would they get these blessings if they have dwindled in unbelief?  Why don’t the similarly unbelieving Nephites get the same blessings?

Brant Gardner:

This verse shows certain signs that the English text is influenced by the New Testament vocabulary rather than being a direct translation of the plate text. The imagery of the Messiah as a shepherd, and his people as his sheep is an Israelite metaphor coming from the occupation of sheepherding in that land. In the New World there were no sheep, and there was no model profession of sheepherding to provide the imagery of the watchful master. The sentiment of the watchful and loving Lord was certainly part of Samuel’s discourse, but the imagery is dependent upon the New Testament’s description of the Lord as the “Good Shepherd.” Citation

14 Therefore I say unto you, it shall be better for them than for you except ye repent.

So does this mean that the Nephites don’t get the same deal as the Lamanites?  Why not?  Shouldn’t they also have their days prolonged until they return to the faith?

15 For behold, had the mighty works been shown unto them which have been shown unto you, yea, unto them who have dwindled in unbelief because of the traditions of their fathers, ye can see of yourselves that they never would again have dwindled in unbelief.

But the Lamanites *have* seen mighty works–they saw the Lamoni court play dead and they saw the fire not consume Nephi and Lehi.  In fact, I think the Lamanites see more mighty works than the Nephites do overall.

What does “ye can see of yourselves” mean?  How could they see this (future hypothetical) for themselves?

Is this verse saying that people who see mighty works don’t become unbelievers?

16 Therefore, saith the Lord: I will not utterly destroy them, but I will cause that in the day of my wisdom they shall return again unto me, saith the Lord.

Can the Lord cause people to return to him?  What happened to agency?

17 And now behold, saith the Lord, concerning the people of the Nephites: If they will not repent, and observe to do my will, I will utterly destroy them, saith the Lord, because of their unbelief notwithstanding the many mighty works which I have done among them; and as surely as the Lord liveth shall these things be, saith the Lord.

Again:  How come unbelieving Lamanites get preserved but unbelieving Nephites get destroyed?  (And why did a Lamanite deliver this particular message to a Nephite audience?  Had I been in the bishopric, I would have assigned Nephi to give this talk.)

CHAPTER 16

1 And now, it came to pass that there were many who heard the words of Samuel, the Lamanite, which he spake upon the walls of the city. And as many as believed on his word went forth and sought for Nephi; and when they had come forth and found him they confessed unto him their sins and denied not, desiring that they might be baptized unto the Lord.

There was not a chapter break here originally.

Why did they seek Nephi and not Sam?

Note that Sam never mentioned confession of sins.  Why is that the first thing these people do after finding Nephi?

What does “denied not” mean?  That they didn’t deny having committed sins?

Must have been a great day for Nephi.  :)  I bet Sam was ticked that Nephi got credit for these baptisms.

2 But as many as there were who did not believe in the words of Samuel were angry with him; and they cast stones at him upon the wall, and also many shot arrows at him as he stood upon the wall; but the Spirit of the Lord was with him, insomuch that they could not hit him with their stones neither with their arrows.

I always find it interesting that the disbelieving response is anger.  I think that today, many more people are disinterested than angry.

Interesting contrast to Abinadi.

3 Now when they saw that they could not hit him, there were many more who did believe on his words, insomuch that they went away unto Nephi to be baptized.

Once again, I am made nervous by people who believe only because of something like this and not because of the preaching of the word.  (And this story makes it very clear that they didn’t find Sam’s words at all persuasive–it was only his divine Kevlar that had any effect on them.)

4 For behold, Nephi was baptizing, and prophesying, and preaching, crying repentance unto the people, showing signs and wonders, working miracles among the people, that they might know that the Christ must shortly come—

Notice the “that they might . . .” In what ways would the listed actions (baptizing, showing signs, etc.) help them know that Christ would come?

Note that Nephi is doing exactly the same thing that Sam is doing (although Sam doesn’t baptize, that we know of).  Interestingly, Nephi and Sam are never shown interacting.

5 Telling them of things which must shortly come, that they might know and remember at the time of their coming that they had been made known unto them beforehand, to the intent that they might believe; therefore as many as believed on the words of Samuel went forth unto him to be baptized, for they came repenting and confessing their sins.

Again, I wonder why they went to Nephi and not Sam.  Does Sam lack authority to baptize?  If so, why?

6 But the more part of them did not believe in the words of Samuel; therefore when they saw that they could not hit him with their stones and their arrows, they cried unto their captains, saying: Take this fellow and bind him, for behold he hath a devil; and because of the power of the devil which is in him we cannot hit him with our stones and our arrows; therefore take him and bind him, and away with him.

Once again, note how the very same data (Sam can’t be hit) is interpreted in different ways (he’s a prophet, he’s got a demon) by people.  It almost depresses you re the ability of evidence to change people’s mind.  It also really complicates the idea that I have been chewing on regarding people only believing because they saw signs.  Maybe the point is that they aren’t just believing because they have seen a sign, but because they have made a conscious choice, based in faith, as to how they will interpret that sign.  Maybe the sign is just an opportunity that could go either way and not the irrefutable proof that we think it is.

Note that this is the same reaction that we saw to Nephi:  some people believed his signs and others didn’t.  (How does the sign of revealing a murder relate to the sign of being arrow-proof?)

7 And as they went forth to lay their hands on him, behold, he did cast himself down from the wall, and did flee out of their lands, yea, even unto his own country, and began to preach and to prophesy among his own people.

Woohoo!  Go Sam!

8 And behold, he was never heard of more among the Nephites; and thus were the affairs of the people.

Interesting–usually the prophet who leaves gets sent back by an angel . . .

9 And thus ended the eighty and sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

10 And thus ended also the *eighty and seventh year of the reign of the judges, the more part of the people remaining in their pride and wickedness, and the lesser part walking more circumspectly before God.

11 And these were the conditions also, in the eighty and eighth year of the reign of the judges.

Skousen reads “thus” instead of “these” here.

12 And there was but little alteration in the affairs of the people, save it were the people began to be more hardened in iniquity, and do more and more of that which was contrary to the commandments of God, in the eighty and ninth year of the reign of the judges.

13 But it came to pass in the *ninetieth year of the reign of the judges, there were great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled.

14 And angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled.

Is this supposed to mean that the NT story of wise men played out in the New World as well?  To what end?

In the NT, angels appear to shepherds and wise men see a star.  Why are those motifs joined here?

In what sense did “the scriptures” begin to be fulfilled–wouldn’t it have been more natural to say that the words of Samuel began to be fulfilled?

15 Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them, both of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites, and began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom, saying:

Note that this is against the backdrop of signs being fulfilled. . .

Contrast the references to wise/wisdom in v14 and in v15–what do you conclude?

16 Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken.

What does this teach us about the interpretation of signs?

So . . . what’s the point of having signs if they don’t work to bring most people to faith?

In what ways do you see this attitude today?

What is the basis for what “we know” in this verse?

17 And they began to reason and to contend among themselves, saying:

Note the words “reason” and “contend” in this verse.  Considering the next verse (which shows us the reasoning and the contending), what do you learn about these concepts?

18 That it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come; if so, and he be the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, as it has been spoken, why will he not show himself unto us as well as unto them who shall be at Jerusalem?

Are they making two separate arguments here?  (1–it is not reasonable for Christ to come and 2–if he does, why won’t he come here?)

What does “it is not reasonable” mean?  What do you think they meant by it?  It is very easy to dismiss their argument as obviously wrong, but I think we need to take a minute to try to understand it first, so that we can be sure that we aren’t making similar arguments today.

19 Yea, why will he not show himself in this land as well as in the land of Jerusalem?

Notice how this privileges the BoM reader with a leg up to see the foolishness of their position.

So, I take this verse to mean that neither Sam nor anyone else had told them that Christ would visit them.  Which is fascinating in so many ways.

Brant Gardner writes:

Their assumed cultural superiority shows in their question as to why this great Messiah should come to Jerusalem, but not to them, with the unstated conclusion “since we are more important than Jerusalem.” Citation

20 But behold, we know that this is a wicked tradition, which has been handed down unto us by our fathers, to cause us that we should believe in some great and marvelous thing which should come to pass, but not among us, but in a land which is far distant, a land which we know not; therefore they can keep us in ignorance, for we cannot witness with our own eyes that they are true.

Note the co-opting of their opponents’ rhetoric (wicked tradition, handed down by fathers, false beliefs).

But don’t the signs apply to them?  Why wasn’t that enough?

How do they know what they know here?  And what lesson is there for us in this?

21 And they will, by the cunning and the mysterious arts of the evil one, work some great mystery which we cannot understand, which will keep us down to be servants to their words, and also servants unto them, for we depend upon them to teach us the word; and thus will they keep us in ignorance if we will yield ourselves unto them, all the days of our lives.

Notice how they focus on motives here.

Thinking about v20-21, what is the best way for us to respond when we find this kind of thinking?

My thought:  I think the BoM is a big fan of inoculation.  Notice how often we get anti-Christs (either actual people or at least their arguments).  I think we are supposed to chew on these ideas in advance of encountering them in the wild so that we will not be surprised when we find them.

22 And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come.

Notice how Satan is actually doing what the people have just accused the prophets of doing.

23 And notwithstanding the signs and the wonders which were wrought among the people of the Lord, and the many miracles which they did, Satan did get great hold upon the hearts of the people upon all the face of the land.

Note that the signs and miracles aren’t enough to tip the scales here.

24 And thus *ended the ninetieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

25 And thus ended the book of Helaman, according to the record of Helaman and his sons.

Well, that’s sure a downer of a conclusion.

General thoughts:

(1) Remember 3 Nephi 23: 7-19:

7 And it came to pass that he said unto Nephi: Bring forth the record which ye have kept. 8 And when Nephi had brought forth the records, and laid them before him, he cast his eyes upon them and said: 9 Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so? 10 And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled. 11 And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them? 12 And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written. 13 And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded.

Does this incident change how you interpret Samuel’s words?  If I am reading Elder Holland correctly (here quoted from Brant Gardner), he seems to be saying that what was missing from the record was not Samuel’s prophecies, but their fulfillment:

Noting by his omniscient grasp of every circumstance that some elements of past manifestations might not have been fully or accurately recorded, Christ called for Nephi to bring forth the records that had been kept. With the records open before him, the Savior inquired why a significant fulfillment of the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite had not been recorded. Samuel had prophesied that in the days of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in the Old World, many Saints in the New World would arise from the dead, appearing and ministering unto many. The Savior asked if, in fact, Samuel did declare this. Nephi readily acknowledged that Samuel did so. However, when pressed on the matter by Jesus, Nephi remembered that the fulfillment of that prophecy had not been written. “How be it,” the Savior asked, “that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them? And . . . Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written.” At the Savior’s direction, it was added to the record immediately, and he continued to expound “all the scriptures in one” from the records they had written, commanding them to teach the things he had given them.  (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 292 – 293.)

(2) Spencer W. Kimball (from a real humdinger of a talk, I might add):

Has the world ever seen a more classic example of indomitable will, of faith and courage than that displayed by Samuel the Prophet: “One of the Lamanites who did observe strictly to keep the commandments of God” (Hel. 13:1). Visualize, if you can, this despised Lamanite standing on the walls of Zarahemla and while arrows and stones were shot at him, crying out to his white accusers that the sword of justice hung over them. So righteous was he that God sent an angel to visit him. His predictions were fulfilled in due time relating to the early coming of Christ, his ministry, death and resurrection, and the eventual destruction of these Nephite people. So great faith had he that the multitudes could not harm him until his message was delivered and so important was his message that subsequently the Savior required a revision of the records to include his prophecies concerning the resurrection of the Saints. Apr 1949 GC

(3) Weird side note:  I was surprised at how rarely Samuel’s words have been mentioned in General Conference.

(4) Samuel is the only BoM prophet who was a Lamanite (that we know of).  Do you see anything in his speaking style that is different from what we have come to expect from Nephites?

(5) Interesting article reading some of Samuel’s words as laments here.

(6)  Interesting article about different forms of prophetic address in Samuel’s speech here.

(7) Some good insights into the text here.  I particularly liked the idea of Samuel’s wall as a symbolic representation of the barrier that the people wanted to put between themselves and Samuel and his efforts to overcome that barrier.  He also suggests that the story might be told out of order, so that Nephi is baptizing as Samuel is speaking.  (That’s an interesting data point for our comparison of the two men.)

(8) Grant Hardy points out that, while Samuel mentions signs accompanying Jesus’ birth and death, he never mentions that Christ will visit these people.  I think the assumption that the audience made was that he would not–that’s the only way to make sense of 16:18-19.  I wonder if Samuel himself knew that Jesus would come to the New World. (3 Ne 11:8-12 does imply that _someone_ had prophesied that Jesus would come to the New World.)

(9) Link to chart showing Samuel’s prophecies and their fulfillment.

(10) Can we learn anything from comparing Samuel the Lamanite to the OT Samuel, Hannah’s son?

9 Responses to BMGD #35: Helaman 13-16

  1. J Town on September 4, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    The cynic says: The less we know about the gospel the better, because then the less knowledge we are accountable for. The best-positioned people were the ones at home, not the ones who listened to Sam at the wall.

    See, I’ve always had an issue with this attitude (and I understand that you’re not saying that it’s your attitude, necessarily, so please don’t take this as directed at you personally.)

    First off, The best positioned people were the ones who were already living righteously, followed by the ones who heard Samuel and obeyed, followed by the ones who did not hear, followed by the ones who heard and didn’t obey.

    Second, and more importantly, just not being accountable isn’t everything. You also miss out on all the blessings received by living the gospel. I think there’s this cynical (and wrong!) train of thought out there that everyone who isn’t living the gospel gets to do whatever they want and have “fun”. Then they can hear the gospel later in life (or after), repent, and be somehow “better off”, as if living a large portion of one’s life without the gospel is somehow a good thing. A very insidious idea that most converts will tell you is simply false. I’m glad you mentioned it here, because it helped me to more clearly identify an issue that’s been bugging me for some time. Thanks, Julie!

  2. Julie M. Smith on September 4, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    “I’m glad you mentioned it here, because it helped me to more clearly identify an issue that’s been bugging me for some time.”

    Glad to see this–I hope readers understand that that is the point of my “difficult” questions. I don’t agree with much of what I write. ;)

  3. Cameron N on September 4, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Thanks again Julie. I feel like I need to take notes on your notes to make a deserving reply, which is why I suspect you don’t get tons of replies here, but rest assured, you are being a great example and doing much good.

  4. C. on September 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Julie, amazing thoughts as always!

    Note #8: it seems that Alma and Amulek preached it in Alma 16, and Helaman is taught in Alma 45, but it doesn’t seem to have been widespread knowledge for most of Nephite history. Which is interesting.

    We had a fabulous discussion in the Alma 45 lesson that the destruction prophecies seem to have been largely “secret” prophecies known to a select few (usually the record keepers). The mission was to call and to warn, but always under the shadow of the idea that the people were probably not going to ultimately stick with the message. I’ve been looking, but this seems to be either the first or among the first times that the people are warned specifically (instead of vaguely) about their self-destructive fate. Got any info/insights to back that up or crush the theory?

  5. Stephen R. Marsh on September 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Seconded C.

    I have to note that if you read Samuel out loud, and compare him to reading some of the others out loud, he is not poetic in the same way. Much more like hammer blows than anything else.

    I suspect that the reason that his words were not completely recorded, and the reason that they gave no good answer to Christ when challenged on that point, was a point of esthetics.

    One that obviously fell short.

    Thanks again, as always.

  6. DRG on September 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Thank you for your careful attention to detail and insightful commentary.

    It does seem strange that the Nephites are reported to have made the comment about Christ going to Jerusalem and not to their land (Hel 16:19). Of course, from their earliest writings, they would have viewed themselves as better than those at Jerusalem because (1) Jerusalem was destroyed due to wickedness, and (2) they were spared because of their ancestor’s righteousness. Like “C” mentions above, it is somewhat odd that the Nephites are unaware of the prophecies of Alma that Christ would come to their land as taught to the people of Ammonihah (Alma 16:20), but it seems most odd to me that they are unaware of the prophecies of their namesake and progenitor Nephi(1) (1 Ne 12:6 and 2 Ne. 26:1,9) on this subject. On a related note, it also is interesting to me that the testimony of Nephite destruction is “introduced” to the populous by Samuel, the Lamanite, notwithstanding Alma(2)’s instruction to his son Helaman(2) not to make it known, and that it “shall not be made known, even until the prophecy is fulfilled” (Alma 45:9). (This goes to show that some policies under one prophet may dispensed with by a future prophet.) Yet, this prophecy too was written by Nephi onto his “small” plates (1 Nephi 12:12-15, 20). So, the fact that the people are unaware of these prophecies suggests that the “small” plates of Nephi may have truly been ignored by his posterity for centuries until his descendant Mormon “found” them (as proposed by some BoM enthusiasts).

    As to your comments about Hel. 16:13-14, could it be that Mormon specifically chose to distinguish between the fulfillment of the words of current prophets in the appearance of “signs” and “wonders” as described in verse 13, and the fulfillment of the words of former prophets (“scriptures”) in the appearance of “angels” as described in verse 14, both witnessing to the coming of Christ — thus showing the importance of both current and former prophets as Samuel had attempted to show them (see Hel 13:25)? Of course, it would be great to know if teh heralding of CHrist’s birth by angelic messengers was in the “plates of brass” or among the plates Nephi.

    THX, again!

  7. Julie M. Smith on September 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Some very interesting thoughts, thank you C and DRG.

  8. DRG on September 13, 2012 at 9:16 am

    I wonder if Samuel’s statement in Hel. 13:13 is considered fulfilled (or partially fulfilled) by the destruction announced in 3 Ne. 9:3? We don’t get that cite in our footnotes; however, the footnote we do have refers us to 3 Ne. 9:11, which could apply to Zarahemla even tho’ it seems to apply solely to the cities of Jacobugath, Laman, Josh, Gad, and Kishkumen.

  9. Kevin Barney on September 13, 2012 at 10:08 am

    On the “slippery treasures” passages, people might find this little research note I did of interest:

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/insights/?vol=20&num=6&id=140

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