The first of the wholly fresh chapter write ups! Reading this chapter several times this last couple of days, I’ve not been entirely sure what to write up. Obviously it concludes King Benjamin’s sermon, and is the moment of covenant-making and name giving that the whole sermon has been building up to. So there’s definitely profound things in this chapter. I’m just not sure at the beginning of this what sticks out.
One thing that I’m puzzled about to a degree is the response King Benjamin gets from the people:
And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them.
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.
And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things.
And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.
And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.
I don’t doubt that the people felt as described, but I have to confess it’s the mechanics of this that puzzle me a little. To recap, King Benjamin’s audience is very large, so large that parts can’t actually hear him, and so are having to have his words written and sent to them (Mosiah 2:8). This clearly hasn’t been forgotten, since rather than simply asking, King Benjamin here sends a message to find out if his people believe his words (v. 1). In response we get this very eloquent reply, speaking of the witness of the spirit the people have felt, the change of heart they have experienced, their feelings of joy, and their desire to make a covenant to keep the commandments of God. But its very unlikely that this response could have been dictated by all the people at once (they’re not the Borg). Nor is it likely that a committee of at least thousands could quickly compose such a thing. So I’m wondering where the actual words come from? Is it a composite, that someone has later put together of various sentiments that were sent back? Is it a later composition, but one which does reflect how the crowd actually felt (if maybe not quite so eloquently)? The latter practice was regarded as acceptable in classical writing (see the likes of Greek historians, or for that matter the conflux of Classical and Jewish writing that is Josephus), and I’d lean towards that, but I’m still curious.
It’s interesting that up until now the word “covenant” hasn’t been mentioned in King Benjamin’s sermon, although he’s clearly happy at this outcome. Thus he calls it a “righteous covenant”, and states that because of this covenant his people will now be called the children of Christ, but it’s interesting that he appears to have made no effort to dictate the form or wording of the covenant the people want to make. It’s rather a spontaneous promise by the people (albeit, one assumes, one guided by the Spirit). Which is interesting, because most of the covenants we make within the church have defined forms – we enter them, but we don’t set or propose the terms. Scripturally, of course, there’s plenty of individuals who propose individual covenants with God and with others. This seems to be a rather unique case, however, where it’s a collective covenant with God that the people have proposed.
King Benjamin then goes on to confer a name upon the people, which is the name of Christ. This name business is an interesting facet of the Book of Mormon’s theology: there’s plenty of passages that speak of the importance of having faith in his name (I discuss an example, and why that might be, when discussing Helaman 14), and likewise there’s significant importance attached to this concept of taking upon ourselves the name of Christ, something that is reflected in the Sacrament prayers we have today. I’ve discussed part of that in the post on Mosiah 1, that to take another’s name may be part of an effort to seek the attributes that go along with that name, so to take upon ourselves the name of Christ would represent our desire (and through his gospel, the goal) to acquire his character and attributes. But there’s surely other aspects too, some of which come out in this chapter.
One aspect is that of family. The most common way we share names (especially surnames) in Western society is of course by relation, and likewise, taking Christ’s name upon us also appears to indicate a family connection:
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
Another sense, perhaps linked to this, is one of belonging. To bear someone’s name is in some sense to belong to or with them (and belonging need not connote inanimate property – hopefully when we talk of our family and our friends and even our pets, we mean something a bit different from when we speak of our shoes). One image both the Book of Mormon and the Bible employ is that of a flock and its shepherd. It may not be as clear as in Alma 5, but I believe one can see it here too:
And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
And again, doth a man take an ass which belongeth to his neighbor, and keep him? I say unto you, Nay; he will not even suffer that he shall feed among his flocks, but will drive him away, and cast him out. I say unto you, that even so shall it be among you if ye know not the name by which ye are called.
If we are called by the name of Christ – and this image appears to play on the ambiguity of “call”, meaning both that we bear his name, and respond to that name when it is called – then we are part of his flock. But if we do not, then we do not belong to the Shepherd and are part of some other flock.
Another sense that I believe is discernible in this chapter comes in verses 12-13:
I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.
For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?
From my reading of these verses, I believe one idea is that in order to be called by Christ’s name, we need to know his voice and his name, and in order to know those we need to know them not just a label, but need to know him, our master. Master is an interesting word (albeit one modern culture tends to shy away from, in some cases for good reason). In this particular case, however, I believe it implies several possible relationships. One is of servant to master, and the emphasis in verse 13 on serving someone being required to knowing someone suggests this is definitely one intended meaning. By bearing his name, we claim to serve him. Of course, another possible relationship suggested by the word master – seen above all in the gospels – is that of disciple, or student. By taking his name upon us, we claim he is our teacher and exemplar, who we seek to learn from and pattern ourselves by. I believe this sense is also encompassed by the idea that we need to know him, and that he needs to be close to our thoughts and intentions.
I’ve always found the broader idea, in verse 13, that serving someone is closely connected to knowing someone, very interesting. I’m not convinced that we can really love someone we do not know, and yet Christ commands us to love everyone. How do we do that if we don’t know them? Verse 13 would appear to suggest one way.