Helaman 13

It’s been a long while since I’ve written one of these, and I feel that I’d like to do better at it. To recap, this is part of a series generated by my personal reading of the Book of Mormon, in which I happen to comment on one or two (or occasionally more) things that leapt out at me during my reading. It doesn’t aim to be an exhaustive or comprehensive examination of the chapter (the former I’d argue would likely be impossible), but simply commenting on something that struck me during my reading.

While reading Helaman 13 this morning, several points of varying importance came to mind:

  1. Firstly, I was curious about the fact that Samuel the Lamanite mentions several times (Alma 13:5, 9) that the Nephites face destruction in under “four hundred years”. Alma the younger has already mentioned the figure in Alma 45:10, although that is privately to his son Helaman. I am curious as to whether Samuel’s audience dismissed his remarks because it all sounds so far away. Of course, Samuel is also discussing more imminent events (and gives more imminent dates for those in the next chapter), but I guess many people’s natural response is to not worry about what will happen in four hundred years.
  2. One line that struck: “nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Helaman 13:6). I think this is true (and think it is being used here) both individually and collectively. But, individually and collectively, we often have a tendency to look towards different sources of salvation, whether it be the “right” political leaders, wealth, our own powers or intellect or whatever. In an ultimate sense, however, we all need to depend upon those two principles.
  3. Overall the chapter spends a lot of time talking about wealth, and it becoming “slippery”, so that the people are unable to find or keep it. I was wondering about why the focus on this, and think that part of the reason is the relationship people have with their riches here is emblematic of several serious sins. On one hand, one major sin is that the people do not remember and thank God for their material blessings, instead becoming prideful (Helaman 13:22); ingratitude may be a far more serious sin then we realise (see D&C 59, in which thanking God is specifically listed amongst the commandments given in vv. 5-13, and “confess[ing] not his hand in all things” is described as invoking God’s wrath in v. 21). On the other hand, the people trust in their riches (rather than God) and depend on them to preserve them from their poverty (Helaman 13:31-32), or to work or defend themselves (the mention of tools and weapons in particular in v. 34). The treasures becoming slippery teaches both that He who gave them can take them away, and that such material things are not dependable and to be trusted in.
  4. One to tag onto the list of “scary passages”, Helaman 13:37-38 is a particularly imposing passage:

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.
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.

 

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2 Nephi 15

This chapter includes one of the few places where the KJV reading of Isaiah is undoubtedly superior to what we find in the Book of Mormon; most of the time the textual differences serve to make the text more understandable, or emphasise some particular element or interpretation. In 2 Nephi 15:8, however, we find the following:

Wo unto them that join house to house, till there can be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

(2 Nephi 15:8)

The correct meaning of this can be inferred, but it is plainer when we turn to the KJV. A textual comparison of the two shows the following:

Wo unto them that join house to house <that lay field to field>, till there can be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

(2 Nephi 15:8//Isaiah 5:8, where bold indicates text found only in the BoM, and <triangular brackets> text found only in the KJV)

Thus the KJV reads:

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

(Isaiah 5:8)

That crucial line “that lay field to field” makes clear that we’re not talking here of some specific condemnation of buying the neighbouring property and knocking it through, but rather the accumulation of property, especially at the expense and displacing of others (“that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth”). That’s something we definitely see in the Bible – perhaps the most gratuitous example being the murder of Naboth so that Ahab could seize his ancestral inheritance (1 Kings 21) – and in our time too. I confess my first thought was “eminent domain!”, but setting my animus against Trump aside, this is not just a danger for the rich and powerful. Covetousness and heaping up of possessions are a spiritual danger, especially when they come by means of diminishing others.

Of course, possessions are not the only thing that can be a danger – we can also be distracted by our pleasures, our entertainments and the vain things of the world:

Wo unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink, that continue until night, and wine inflame them!

And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.

Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.

Therefore, hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure; and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.

(2 Nephi 15:11-14//Isaiah 5:11-14)

While it’s drink and music and feasting that are mentioned here it can surely apply to any pleasure or luxury that can consume our time and our mental attention. I guess I’d better cut back on Magic: The Gathering