Mosiah 29

Mosiah 29 is where a lot of the transformations we’ve been talking about in previous chapters come to a head, and the Nephite government, under the urging of its last king, Mosiah, changes from a Monarchy to a system of Judges.

I comment on some of the political issues in this chapter in my article “The Daughters of the Lamanites and the Daughters of Shiloh“. However, to recap some of the overall big issues here, it’s worth pointing out and bearing in mind that the debate – particularly as Mosiah lays it out – isn’t a straightforward one between democracy and monarchy. Rather, Mosiah’s criticisms of monarchy focus on the degree to which it follows the commandments of God:

Therefore I will be your king the remainder of my days; nevertheless, let us appoint judges, to judge this people according to our law; and we will newly arrange the affairs of this people, for we will appoint wise men to be judges, that will judge this people according to the commandments of God.

Now it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgments of God are always just, but the judgments of man are not always just.

(Mosiah 29:11-12)

Indeed, if a king could always be trusted to implement and follow God’s laws, it would be preferable to have a king:

Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.

(Mosiah 29:13)

However, the problem is is that they can’t, as their recent example of King Noah demonstrates. And a wicked king can rewrite the laws to his heart’s content and impose them on the people:

For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;

And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.

(Mosiah 29:22-23)

And fixing such a situation usually cannot be achieved by any steps short of civil war:

And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.

(Mosiah 29:21)

Thus Mosiah proposes a system of judges instead, chosen “by the voice of this people” (v. 25). The term judges is significant: it calls back to the pre-monarchical government of Israel (and indeed, I believe episodes like Mosiah 20 are meant to do likewise), but it also points to the principal duty of these new governors. Mosiah isn’t proposing outright democracy, where the laws are to be made by the people. Rather, the judges are to judge “according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.” (v. 25); that is according to the laws of God that have been handed down, not to make and implement new laws.

Of course, Mosiah is proposing that the people have significant say in selecting the judges, though this isn’t necessarily a new feature (notice that – much like previous Nephite monarchs – he consults the people as to their choice for a king at the beginning of the chapter, vv. 1-2. This appears to be in keeping with Northern Israelite traditions of kingship, which included popular acclamation & prophetic endorsement, as compared to Judah’s stricter following of a hereditary principle). However, Mosiah’s justification for this is interesting, as he argues that it is less likely for the majority of the people to “go bad” than for a minority (or presumably, an individual), in what seems to be an early argument for the wisdom of crowds:

Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

(Mosiah 29:26)

However, it should be noted that while it may be less likely for them to go wrong, the majority is not infallible, and when they do the consequences are correspondingly more severe than if simply misled by an iniquitous leader:

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

(Mosiah 29:27)

I’ve long found that last point quite thought-provoking. On one hand, this may be part of the reason that the consequences for the Nephites going astray (namely, extermination), were far more severe than for their old world counterparts. But I also think of its application to us. On which side of Mosiah’s scale does our system principally fall, and if so, what level of consequences are we likely to incur as we choose iniquity?

There’s several other things this chapter that stuck out to me upon reading this time around. One was the fortuitousness that Mosiah’s sons had both been converted and then left on a mission to the Lamanites prior to this point being reached. Could Mosiah even have proposed the judges otherwise (one also wonders why Mosiah asked first, knowing his sons were unavailable. Perhaps he wanted to make sure there wasn’t another – more available – leading candidate before proposing his alternative)?

Secondly, it’s interesting that a lot of the justification for the new system, versus the old, also centres on the issue of moral accountability. Mosiah argues, in verses 30-32 (my emphasis):

And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.

For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.

And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land.

And indeed when the people accept his proposal (v. 38, my emphasis):

Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.

I find it interesting that both equality and liberty are considered to be so closely tied to this sense of moral accountability: that in order to be equal and free we need to be responsible, and suffer the consequences for, our own sins and iniquities. It’s interesting to think of the ways in which this moral accountability is seen not just as a duty or responsibility, but as part of ones “rights and privileges” as well.

Finally, the chapter closes with the selection of the first chief judge, namely Alma the younger (again, events two chapters previously seem very fortuitous!). Last chapter he was also chosen by Mosiah to look after the records, and in this chapter he also becomes high priest over the Church (v. 42). It’s thus interesting that even though we’ve had a stage in which church and state have developed as separate institutions, that all three of these offices (record-keeper, high-priest and chief judge) are once again combined in one person. However, as we shall see in the next few chapters, the different needs of some of these institutions will mean that this isn’t viable for long.

 

Mosiah 28

I don’t know that I have anything particularly profound to say about this chapter at this time, although there’s two important events in it: namely the setting off of the Sons of Mosiah on their mission to the Lamanites, and Mosiah’s translation of the Jaredite plates. I think that happens sometimes in our scriptural reading (at least it does for me): it’s not a continuous stream of learning and inspiration, but ebbs and flows. That shouldn’t be taken as a reflection on the chapter; indeed on other read-throughs, the feelings of the Sons of Mosiah, their anxiousness because of their prior sins and their desire to do right has struck a deep cord with more:

And thus did the Spirit of the Lord work upon them, for they were the very vilest of sinners. And the Lord saw fit in his infinite mercy to spare them; nevertheless they suffered much anguish of soul because of their iniquities, suffering much and fearing that they should be cast off forever.

(Mosiah 28:4)

But not so much today. On some days, and in some chapters, nearly every verse will appear to burst with possibilities. On others, a chapter (even the same chapter) may be good and worthy and say important things, but nothing will particularly stick out. And while sometimes that may be due to one’s own state or frame of mind, sometimes it just seems different. I think sometimes there’s simply a natural ebb and flow, and perhaps we shouldn’t expect it to be always “on”. I’ve referred to study of the scriptures as a “discipline” before, and I think it’s at such times that the discipline aspect becomes particularly important: to keep on reading and studying, even when nothing is particularly leaping out or appearing to address anything in our own life at the time. To keep looking so that when the time comes we are in a position to receive inspiration through the scriptures once again.

It is perhaps interesting from a literary perspective as to how there’s a “book within a book” dynamic going on. Mosiah, through the inspiration of God, has the task of translating the Jaredite plates. Mormon, our narrator, has read from his sources the account of Mosiah doing this, and is using his earlier sources to write his own work on metallic plates. And Joseph Smith relives the role of Mosiah, translating the plates of Mormon through inspiration, including this very account of Mosiah doing the same to these earlier plates. Aside from reminding one of Inception, it makes me wonder what those later in the chain (Mormon and Joseph Smith) thought as they came across these accounts and wrote or translated them. The Book of Mormon is very self-conscious about the process of writing, compilation, and translation – about literary activity – and I think much of that is because those involved in the writing it have the opportunity to reflect upon that because they in turn are reading and transmitting accounts of others doing the same.

I think verse 19 is worth noting:

And this account shall be written hereafter; for behold, it is expedient that all people should know the things which are written in this account.

Why? Well because Mormon isn’t actually the one to end up including an account of the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon. It’s his son Moroni who does, in the Book of Ether, after the (spoilers!!) destruction of the Nephites. But while it’s Moroni who adds this account, this verse suggests that Moroni is following Mormon’s plan. Perhaps they discussed it? Or perhaps Moroni was inspired so that Mormon’s statement here doesn’t fall through.

Mosiah 27

Featuring the angelic visit to, and the conversion of, those rebellious youngsters, Alma “the younger” and the sons of Mosiah. Their campaign against the Church must have particularly challenging, considering it featured the son of the high priest of the Church in conspiracy with what were effectively royal princes and heirs of the king. That Alma senior rejoices when he finds out he son has been struck down by the power of God (v. 20) suggests their relationship had become somewhat fraught.

First things first, however. There’s a very interesting sentence in verse 1 (my emphasis):

And now it came to pass that the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers became so great that the church began to murmur, and complain to their leaders concerning the matter; and they did complain to Alma. And Alma laid the case before their king, Mosiah. And Mosiah consulted with his priests.

It’s just a small reference, so blink and you’ll miss it, and indeed it seems most people do; I’ve not come across any commentary on the line “[a]nd Mosiah consulted with his priests”. And it’s a really interesting line, a mention of an otherwise unmentioned group of priests associated with the king who are not so as part of the organization of the Church that Alma established.

And yet it makes sense. As I’ve mentioned before, we tend to picture the Church as this monolithic, all-encompassing organization as it has been in this dispensation, but that’s not always been the case in previous dispensations. Thus the early Christian church continued to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, and as we’ve seen, many of those who’d entered into a covenant with God under King Benjamin’s urging also felt to unite with Alma and his church. I remember thinking about this when I came across this verse, because there’s some interesting possibilities here. For example, it’s mentioned repeatedly in the Book of Mormon that the Nephites – up until the visit of the risen Christ – kept the law of Moses, which would include its sacrifices and offerings. And yet the principal duties of priests in the Church, as laid out for instance in Mosiah 19, don’t really cover sacrifices and offerings. Furthermore, since King Benjamin’s people kept the law, someone there must have been performing these ordinances too. My suggestion is that it is these priests who are mentioned here. It’s also possible that they continued co-exist with the Church and perform these offerings after this point, which would account for the fact that such must have been happening, but no one – not even the Church leaders that are mentioned – is ever mentioned as performing them. The existence of an otherwise unmentioned group performing these ordinances (possibly for most of the Nephite populace, in the same way that the priests at the temple in Jerusalem did for Sadducee, Pharisee and Christian alike) would explain this, and the fact that the record is silent about them entirely fits with the fact that it’s a very selective account that’s entirely silent about a lot of matters that must have existed (Nephites with XX chromosomes, for example).

Moving from the interesting to the important. The experience of Alma and the sons of Mosiah is of course dramatic: an angel appears, declaring with a voice of thunder a warning not to fight against the Church of God. It’s been compared to the conversion experience of Paul on the road to Damascus, and I think there’s a lot of a parallels, although also a few crucial differences (Paul, at least, thought he was doing God’s work). It may seem unfair – I’ve certainly been privy to discussions in this vein – that Alma and his crew would have this sort of experience, that it made it “easy” for them. However, I think there’s some things to bear in mind:

  1. Divine intervention can often appear unfair. I remember pondering this at a time I was experiencing a significant degree of poverty, but was also blessed that God inspired some people to help me. I was aware that not everyone got that, and that it wasn’t because I “deserved” it. Likewise there have been many faced with the threat of death by fire for the gospel. Some, like Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego are delivered by miraculous means. Others, like Abinadi as we’ve recently read, or the people in Ammonihah as we will read, burn to death. This is obviously not due to the righteousness of the people involved, or any other factor that we can see. But God sees more than we do, indeed sees all, and so his reasons for intervening in one case, and not another, encompass far more than we can comprehend. A key challenge of this life, after all, is not that God have to justify his moral reasoning to us, but that we have enough faith in him to trust him, to trust that he knows best even if we’re not in a position to see why.
  2. While Alma and the sons of Mosiah do indeed convert at this point, there’s ample scriptural evidence, especially in the Book of Mormon, that such experiences are not sufficient. Laman and Lemuel’s progress in the wrong direction was barely slowed by an angelic visit, for instance. That Alma, Ammon and so on responded in this way and turned their entirely lives round at this point is down to them and their decisions. Furthermore, while certainly swift, Alma’s repentance does not appear to have been easy (“wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death”, v. 28), and he elsewhere talks of “fast[ing] and pray[ing] many days” to know the truth of the Gospel (Alma 5:26).
  3. Finally, and this may seem obvious but it only really stuck out to me on this reading, the point of the angelic appearance (at least for the humans involved; God knowing all things I’m sure considered every factor) was not so much to convert Alma and his party (although that appears to have been a factor, since Alma the elder had prayed that his son “be brought to a knowledge of the truth”, Mosiah 27:14), but to to stop them going about to destroy the Church in answer to “the prayers of his people”. Thus the angel declares: “And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off” (v. 16; interestingly this very instruction seems to have played a crucial role in Alma’s conversion according to his own account, Alma 36:9-11). The divine intervention was as much on behalf of everyone else to protect the people of the Church from Alma and the sons of Mosiah as it was to save them. That it also resulted in the latter is a happy side effect.

Finally, there’s Alma’s great statement when he rises from his stricken state. It’s a wonderful passage, beautiful and powerful, that speaks directly to the point that we all need to change, to be reborn, not just symbolically through baptism but inwardly also. Frankly I like it so much I’m just going to quote it in full:

For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.

And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off.

Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.

My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.

I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.

Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God; then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye.

(Mosiah 27:24-31)

Mosiah 26

This chapter records another stage in the dramatic changes that are happening in Nephite society at this time, as a sizeable proportion of the younger generation, who were not in a position to understand King Benjamin’s sermon from first hand experience, reject his teachings and (presumably) the associated covenant, and also reject the Church. Thus you have the definite emergence of a degree of religious pluralism at this time, some (indeed it seems virtually all who accepted King Benjamin’s teachings) joining the Church, but a significant part of the population (though still a minority, v. 5) remaining separate.

The part of this chapter that particularly stood out to me today, however, was the statement in verse 3:

And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.

There’s plenty of scriptures that emphasise the importance of belief, and that understanding the word of God is not simply a matter of intellectual comprehension (I think, for instance of 1 Corinthians 2:11-14, but there are many more). But I think this verse is the one that most starkly connects belief with understanding, in a way that really stood out to me today.

I think on some level that continues to surprise me. For instance, I find it relatively easy to understand why people might not believe the Gospel, but find it much harder to comprehend why people might find it, or particular scriptures,  hard to understand. So much of it seems clear and simple. And when it comes to other topics, I think we generally work on the assumption that we don’t need to believe a concept to understand a concept; I’d have hardly got a masters in Islamic studies if I’d thought otherwise, for instance. Likewise, in many scientific fields there’s a variety of competing hypotheses, and again it is presumed that those participating in those fields can understand the hypotheses without believing in them all first (especially since competing theories generally can’t all be true at the same time).

And yet here it is outright stated, and heavily supported elsewhere, that the gospel and the word of God is not like this. When it comes to the gospel, belief and understanding are intimately connected; some part of the gospel that might seem easy to comprehend to us, according to this verse, may appear bewildering to someone who does not believe. And I have seen this; indeed I know several people who’s understanding of the gospel appears to have gone backwards, so that they now know less than they once did, and are baffled by what they once easily understood. And yet it still seems a strange phenomenon to me, even though on some level I know it’s true and seen it happen. How can people find such clear things confusing? Especially when they once understood them?

I guess the key thing to recognise is that our understanding of the gospel is not simply a matter of study and the workings of our own mind, but also of faith and illumination by the spirit. Things that may appear clear to someone who believes and has the Holy Ghost to assist them may not be so to someone working solely with their own unaided and unbelieving mind. As 1st Corinthians 2:14 states: “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”. At the same time, it’s interesting to think of faith and belief as not opposed to knowledge, as some occasionally make out, but as a faculty that can peer through, that can perceive otherwise unseen things and which can lead to knowledge.

Mosiah 25

And so in this chapter we’re all finally caught back up into the same time frame, with Limhi and his people and Alma and the Church all now at Zarahemla with King Mosiah.

Firstly, something of a demographic note:

Now there were not so many of the children of Nephi, or so many of those who were descendants of Nephi, as there were of the people of Zarahemla, who was a descendant of Mulek, and those who came with him into the wilderness.

And there were not so many of the people of Nephi and of the people of Zarahemla as there were of the Lamanites; yea, they were not half so numerous.

While leadership amongst the Nephites has remained amongst the Nephites proper (v. 13), we find here that they are actually outnumbered by those who are ethnically descendants of Mulek. Furthermore (and this will be of particular relevance in the book of Alma), both groups together are significantly outnumbered by those grouped under the term Lamanites.

I was struck by verses 5 & 6:

And it came to pass that Mosiah did read, and caused to be read, the records of Zeniff to his people; yea, he read the records of the people of Zeniff, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until they returned again.

And he also read the account of Alma and his brethren, and all their afflictions, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until the time they returned again.

I guess what dawned on me is what would have happened if Zeniff and his people, and Alma and so on, hadn’t kept any records? Obviously Mosiah wouldn’t be able to read anything. This who communal experience they’re about to have wouldn’t happen. The knowledge, the teachings, the experiences and the wisdom gained from them contained in those records would be lost. I guess it underlined to me – as a number of passages in the book of Mosiah have, the importance of record keeping..

And now, when Mosiah had made an end of reading the records, his people who tarried in the land were struck with wonder and amazement.

For they knew not what to think; for when they beheld those that had been delivered out of bondage they were filled with exceedingly great joy.

And again, when they thought of their brethren who had been slain by the Lamanites they were filled with sorrow, and even shed many tears of sorrow.

And again, when they thought of the immediate goodness of God, and his power in delivering Alma and his brethren out of the hands of the Lamanites and of bondage, they did raise their voices and give thanks to God.

And again, when they thought upon the Lamanites, who were their brethren, of their sinful and polluted state, they were filled with pain and anguish for the welfare of their souls.

(Mosiah 25:7-11)

This passage reminds me a bit about some discussions I’ve had with people about the synchronised response to King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah 5. There’s no reported speech here, so there’s no issue with that, and we have a range of feelings described. While the passage is speaking of all the people, the way these feelings are juxtaposed together leads me to think they can be mixed in multiple ways. One is as a sequential series of feelings; King Mosiah is, after all, sharing the records, and different parts of that story are likely to provoke a different response (and some of these responses are to specific events in the narrative being told). But I also think that – just as is true for us – it is likely that different people in the audience responded differently, that different parts of the account leapt out at them and made an impact. Some people may have been moved more to sorrow, while for others such feelings may have been dwarfed at their joy at seeing those delivered. I think the way this passage is narrated really communicates that mix of feelings amongst the audience. I don’t know of any particularly profound point that can be drawn from that, other than that as individuals, we’re likely to have different emotional responses, or find different things personally resonating, to anything we come across (including the scriptures themselves, which is presumably why a key aim with the “Come Follow Me” programme is that we not only study, but then share what we’ve learned with others.

The final passage that I’d like to comment on is in verses 19-21:

And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church.

Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly;

Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.

This is an important transition step, amongst a bunch that will be happening over the next few chapters. For much of the immediate preceding history, the political and religious leadership has been the same: King Benjamin and Mosiah were both the political and religious leaders of their people, in much the same way that Moses, Joshua or even Nephi were. Zeniff too consecrated priests, as for that matter so did Noah, though obviously that didn’t go so well (Mosiah 11:5). Abinadi seems a bit of an exception, since he seems to come from outside the hierarchy and opposing the king, in a manner akin to Elijah or Elisha, and like them he did so alone. Alma then established the Church, but it was for a while a separate society and entirely self-governing. Here, however, we have a clear step to the Church being a distinct institution, with a distinct earthly leadership (namely Alma) from the state in the form of the monarchy, but co-existing alongside it at the same time. It’s interesting that this actually happens at a point when both the high priest of the Church and the king are inspired individuals; perhaps that’s what made this step possible (it’s undoubtedly part of the reason that the co-existence, at this point, is so smooth). As we’ll see over the next few chapters, this is part of a range of changes that are occurring in Nephite society at this time.

Mosiah 24

There’s a lot of parallels between the situation of Alma and his people in this and the previous chapter, and that of the people of Limhi in the preceding chapters. They’re both kept prisoners in their own lands, both are faced with a particularly arduous trial that they are then able to bear, both faced with the task of escaping, and then both successfully elude the forces guarding them to escape to the land of Zarahemla.

However, it’s also worth noting how the situations are subtly different too: the stories act as type scenes by which small variations in the recurring pattern can convey meaning. And there’s a consistent difference in how events pan out here and how they do for the people of Limhi (I’m not the only one to have spotted this by the way – I’m pretty sure Grant Hardy makes a similar or the same observation in Understanding the Book of Mormon).

Thus take the period in which both groups are described as suffering particularly heavy burdens (upon their backs, no less). The people of Limhi, upon being increasing treated as pack animals, make three attempts to fight for their freedom (Mosiah 21:3-12). This doesn’t work, however, so that the people are humbled, and begin crying to God for deliverance, and in time – though he is “slow to hear their cry” – the hearts of their oppressors are softened and the burdens ease (21:13-15).

In contrast, Alma and the church are similarly burdened can’t even call out loud to God, as Amulon (who appears to hold a grudge towards Alma), forbids prayer and stations guards to kill any who offend (24:9-11). However, the people continue to pray in their heart, and actually have God reassure them that he will ease their burdens and will eventually deliver them, and he strengthens them so they are able to bear those burdens (24:12-15).

Similarly, as we have seen, Limhi and his people eventually escaped through Gideon’s cunning plan in which they got their guards very very drunk, and made off while the guards were incapacitated. In contrast here, however, God again communicates with the people, and then miraculously causes the guards to be comatose, letting the people escape (24:16-19). And while the army that pursued the people of Limhi got lost (and so blundered into Alma and his colony, Mosiah 22:15-16, 23:30-36), here the people are warned by revelation that their pursuers are after them, and told that God will stop them (24:23).

In each case, the difference appears to be that the events Alma and the church experienced were more overtly miraculous , more explicit demonstrations of God’s power and will. In one case the people begin crying to God, but he takes his time to respond and then softens the hearts of their enemies; in the other he reveals that he’s going to help them, and miraculously strengthens them. In one case, escape requires a cunning plan, bad navigation and lots of alcohol; in the other it is purely an act of divine intervention. Even the same event is described a bit differently: the initial flight of Alma and his people from Noah is earlier described as being due to them being “apprised of the coming of the king’s army” (Mosiah 18:34), something that could easily describe human informants. It’s only when we read the later account that we find it’s because Alma was “warned of the Lord” (23:1).

I believe the deliverance of the people of Limhi is still meant to be seen as God working on their behalf. However, due to their earlier wickedness, and the time it takes for them to humble themselves and call upon him, he is “slow to hear their cry”, his intervention is more subtle, and they are left unsure of their deliverance until it actually happens. But for the people of Alma and his church, while they face many of the same trials, their faithfulness means that God’s intervention on their behalf is more direct, and also that they are reassured through revelation along the way that God will help them and will ultimately liberate them. In both cases, God’s willingness to aid and deliver his people is shown; but for the people who had faith and who were swift to repent, that divine power manifested all the more easily and readily.

Mosiah 23

We now leap back once again to cover the story of Alma and his congregation, after they fled Noah’s armies.

Several things really stood out to me this chapter. The first is in verse 7, which is Alma’s response when his people seek to choose him as their king:

But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.

I suspect such lines are sometimes read as relating purely to monarchy (as opposed to a republic). Of course – as I touch upon in “The daughters of the Lamanites and the daughters of Shiloh” – the political systems don’t seem as straightforward as we’d imagine with those titles. The Nephite kings appear to be chosen by a combination of hereditary right and election… and so do the Nephite judges. Indeed there seems very little difference between how they are chosen, and the distinction is on other grounds. Certainly there’s any number of presidents of nominal republics today that I suspect the Book of Mormon authors would describe as kings.

But what seemed most pertinent when reading this today was how all encompassing those middle words are: “Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another”. This seems to go far beyond politics, because it’s not just in politics that we seem to pay all too much attention to position and prestige. In all our personal and social relations – and even within the Church – I think we can sometimes pay too much attention to status and titles, and find ourselves treating people differently when we shouldn’t as a result. I don’t know what the solution to that is: my thought is that these chapters, and indeed much of the Book of Mormon, suggest that this is a perennial tendency amongst human beings that we must wrestle with in every generation.

On a somewhat adjacent note I was also struck by the line in verse 13: “trust no man to be a king over you”. Which again I take to mean anyone who would exert the powers of a king over us, whatever the title might be (and this too may be something that is applicable in personal, and not just political spheres).

The second thing to really catch my thoughts reading today, however, is encompassed by verse 21:

Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.

These were the people that had repented at Alma’s teaching, unlike the people of Limhi. The people of Limhi had suffered, as prophesied by Abinadi, because of their failure to repent. And yet Alma and the Church, as we find in this chapter and the next, are not spared trial either; indeed, they end up facing very similar problems to those of Limhi and his people. Being righteous did not mean they did not have affliction; conversely such trials did not mean they were wicked. Such experiences – ultimately attributed to God in this verse – came not as a punishment, but as a test.

However, while God may have placed such adversity in their path, he also took responsibility for delivering them from it:

Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.

For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob.

And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.

(Mosiah 23:22-24)

Mosiah 22

And so – concluding there is now way to free themselves by force of arms – the people of Limhi ultimately escape, following a plan proposed by none other – you guessed it – Gideon!

Now it came to pass that Gideon went forth and stood before the king, and said unto him: Now O king, thou hast hitherto hearkened unto my words many times when we have been contending with our brethren, the Lamanites.

And now O king, if thou hast not found me to be an unprofitable servant, or if thou hast hitherto listened to my words in any degree, and they have been of service to thee, even so I desire that thou wouldst listen to my words at this time, and I will be thy servant and deliver this people out of bondage.

And the king granted unto him that he might speak. And Gideon said unto him:

Behold the back pass, through the back wall, on the back side of the city. The Lamanites, or the guards of the Lamanites, by night are drunken; therefore let us send a proclamation among all this people that they gather together their flocks and herds, that they may drive them into the wilderness by night.

And I will go according to thy command and pay the last tribute of wine to the Lamanites, and they will be drunken; and we will pass through the secret pass on the left of their camp when they are drunken and asleep.

Thus we will depart with our women and our children, our flocks, and our herds into the wilderness; and we will travel around the land of Shilom.

(Mosiah 22:3-8)

Just to be extra sure, Limhi sends lots of wine, and it appears that the Lamanites lack a certain degree of suspicion, since they completely fall for it (perhaps because – as recounted in the previous chapter – the people of Limhi had made multiple efforts to free themselves but failed so completely that they ultimately “humble[d] themselves even to the dust” (Mosiah 21:13):

And king Limhi caused that his people should gather their flocks together; and he sent the tribute of wine to the Lamanites; and he also sent more wine, as a present unto them; and they did drink freely of the wine which king Limhi did send unto them.

(Mosiah 22:10).

Why does this episode attract my comment today. I think it’s because we’ve already seen Gideon as a man of action, prepared to do what is necessary, even kill, and we’ve seen him as someone who has the capacity to forebear from violence and choose the road of patience. Here, however, we see cunning. And I think we can learn from that. Sometimes problems are too big to be met head on, but are too arduous to simply be endured and so must be dealt with. And it is not wrong to use cleverness to solve such problems. As is noted of a later Nephite general, knowing his cause was just “he thought it no sin that he should defend them by strategem” (Alma 43:30). And as Christ himself teaches:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

(Matthew 10:16)

Just because we must be as “harmless as doves” doesn’t mean we need to have the mind of a dove. We should be good, but we can be smart in such goodness.

Mosiah 21

And now we catch back up to the “present” after the flashback scene (just before we embark on another flashback scene with Alma!). There’s a few things in this chapter that caught my eye today.

The first is in verses 24-26:

But when he found that they were not, but that they were his brethren, and had come from the land of Zarahemla, he was filled with exceedingly great joy.

Now king Limhi had sent, previous to the coming of Ammon, a small number of men to search for the land of Zarahemla; but they could not find it, and they were lost in the wilderness.

Nevertheless, they did find a land which had been peopled; yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed; and they, having supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla, returned to the land of Nephi, having arrived in the borders of the land not many days before the coming of Ammon.

We could have perhaps inferred this before, but this seems to be the first time it is clearly stated: those who’d set off to obtain help from Zarahemla and found the destroyed cities of the Jaredites instead thought they actually had reached Zarahemla. But rather than being their last source for help, they found nothing but ruins and evidence of an extinct people. It must have seemed truly hopeless (it’s like that scene in Battlestar Galactica – the “new” one – where they find “Earth” only to find it a nuked out wasteland). So when Ammon and party announced that they actually were from Zarahemla, there must have been some (good) emotional whiplash.

Next is perhaps a more minor note, but verse 28 reads:

And now Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.

However, in the 1830, the line (the 1830 edition doesn’t have verses) reads a little differently:

And now Limhi was again filled with joy, on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.

IMG_20200515_134836257

See!

What’s going on here? Is this a mistake? Well that’s possible (the Book of Mormon, after all, disclaims inerrancy on its very title page). That’s probably why it got changed to Mosiah in the 1837 edition, although Benjamin is also on the printer’s manuscript (see Royal Skousen’s Analysis of Textual Variations part 3, in which he goes into this verse in some detail in pp. 1418-1421. As he notes, Ether 4:1 similarly originally read Benjamin and not Mosiah). It could of course be an error on Mormon’s part. However, it’s possibly not an error at all and should read Benjamin. Note that in Mosiah 6 it is recorded that after abdicating (becoming King Emiritus?), “king Benjamin lived three years and he died” (Mosiah 6:5). And Ammon’s party were sent to find the colonists after the people started nagging the king “after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years” (Mosiah 7:1). In other words, it’s possible that Benjamin was still alive when Ammon and his party set off, although the time frame is tight (especially for Ether 4:1, which also requires Benjamin to still be alive, if only for a short time, when Ammon returns; but again, that might actually be possible). Of course, the correct reading here matters little in terms of the principles that are being taught, but it’s interesting to think about.

A final thing that stood out to me while reading today comes from Ammon and his party’s reaction to the events they’ve been told about:

….and they also did mourn for the death of Abinadi; and also for the departure of Alma and the people that went with him, who had formed a church of God through the strength and power of God, and faith on the words which had been spoken by Abinadi.

Yea, they did mourn for their departure, for they knew not whither they had fled. Now they would have gladly joined with them, for they themselves had entered into a covenant with God to serve him and keep his commandments.

It’s interesting that Ammon has a desire to unite with the church Alma organised, although he’s already made a covenant with God during King Benjamin’s sermon. There’s a couple of more examples coming up in the next few chapters, but what I feel this really illustrates is some important differences between what “the Church” meant here and what it tends to mean to us today. We think in terms of one, singular, formal organization, and perhaps have a very monolithic picture in which it encompasses all our religious endeavours (and maybe we go too far in that sometimes; it’s in modern scripture that we are told that we should not need to be “command[ed] in all things”, and should “do many thing of [our] own free will”, D&C 58:26-27). But that’s certainly not the case with the “Church” (which, it should be remembered, is generally translating words that can be rendered as “congregation” and “community”) in other dispensations. The early Christians, for instance, continued to worship at the temple (and thus recognised the authority of the priesthood there) after the resurrection of Christ. Likewise here: King Benjamin is a seer, and an inspired man who received specific revelation from an angel on what to teach people, and taught his people so they might enter into a covenant with God. But he didn’t organize a church like Alma did, and so one who has entered into a covenant under the instruction of King Benjamin sees no contradiction in wanting to join Alma’s church, and recognises the divine hand and authority behind both.

Mosiah 20

I’ve actually previously written a sizeable article that discusses some of the events of this chapter, called “The Daughters of the Lamanites and the Daughters of Shiloh”. This discusses not just the kidnapping itself, but also a number of events surrounding the event, including the deliberate parallels (and contrasts) with the similar event in Judges 21, and some of the lessons the account is intended to convey.

But of course, there’s always more that could be discussed, and so it is with this chapter. There’s a couple of things that caught my eye in reading again: the role of shame in propelling the priests of Noah further down the path of sin is one. But once again it is the figure of Gideon who grabs my attention.

He has several roles in this chapter. Being “the king’s captain”, he is doubtless involved in the fighting, including that which leaves the Lamanite king wounded and open to capture by the Nephites. But there’s no direct account of his fighting. Rather there are two principle contributions – closely linked to each other – that I feel are worth discussing.

The first comes after the captured Lamanite king discloses the reason for the attack: they felt Linhi’s people were responsible for the abductions (v. 15). Limhi promptly proposes to search his people and punish those responsible (v. 16), but at this point Gideon intervenes. Firstly, he defends the people’s innocence in the matter (while loyal to a good king like Limhi, it does seem like his principle loyalty is to the people they are both supposed to serve, and in so doing correctly identify the real culprits:

Now when Gideon had heard these things, he being the king’s captain, he went forth and said unto the king: I pray thee forbear, and do not search this people, and lay not this thing to their charge.

For do ye not remember the priests of thy father, whom this people sought to destroy? And are they not in the wilderness? And are not they the ones who have stolen the daughters of the Lamanites?

(Mosiah 20:17-18)

Gideon immediate follows this, however, with an appeal to tell the Lamanite king this, so that his people might be “pacified” towards the Nephites. He concludes by saying:

For are not the words of Abinadi fulfilled, which he prophesied against us—and all this because we would not hearken unto the words of the Lord, and turn from our iniquities?

And now let us pacify the king, and we fulfil the oath which we have made unto him; for it is better that we should be in bondage than that we should lose our lives; therefore, let us put a stop to the shedding of so much blood.

(Mosiah 20:21-22)

Perhaps due to a recognition that the present situation is due to their rejection of Abinadi’s words, he recognises the military situation is hopeless and counsels peace even if it comes at a heavy price. It’s an interesting contrast to the very first verse we met him in the last chapter, in which he boldly takes up the sword and takes on the king. And I think it’s both qualities together that make him the man he is: one ready to act swiftly, even violently, if the situation calls for it, but at the same time one who will not kill without reason or take life without cause.