Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 36: “On the Morrow Come I into the World” 3 Nephi 1–7

Book of Mormon Lesson 36: “On the Morrow Come I into the World”
3 Nephi 1–7

3 Nephi 1
Beginning in 3 Nephi, we see that the Nephites have chosen Lachoneus as their governor and chief judge of the people. He is righteous and will lead the people well.  Still, there was a great division among the people.

Six hundred years had passed since Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem.  Samuel the Lamanite’s and others’ prophecies are coming to pass.  The wicked see them caused by natural events, and disbelieve Samuel’s prophecies, as they are not natural or easily explained away.

While Lachoneus reigns in righteousness, those seeking to depose him are very powerful.  They are so powerful, they are able to threaten the Christians with destruction if the signs of Christ’s coming do not occur on a certain day.  Was Lachoneus’ support at the time too fragile to prevent such a threat by using arms beforehand to stop it?

...to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh (3 Ne 1:14)

Nephi appeals to the Lord to save the believers.  Christ answers, saying he will be born that very night.  His mortal purpose, as quoted above, is to do God’s will.  Here, Jesus notes he will do both his Father’s and his own will.  These are not two distinct wills, but one will.  Jesus submits his own to the Father, the two becoming one in doing so.  That Father’s will is done in sending his Son to save the world.  The Son’s will is to sacrifice his flesh for all mankind.

In chapter 1:17, we see that Mormon notes that all the people “on the face of the whole earth” fell to the ground, describing the four cardinal directions to note just how many were amazed by the event.  Yet, in verse 27, we find the Gadianton robbers still heavily infest the mountain wilderness.  They had not been converted.  Nor should we think that people on other continents saw the star and other signs and were converted, either.  It shows the importance of understanding what the text actually says, and not to read modern concepts into the words.  This concept shown here can also help us consider our reading of other events in the scriptures, such as the Flood.  Many believe it was a global event.  However, science disagrees.  It is possible that it only seemed to be global to those involved in the great destruction.  Regardless of how we believe, we need to recognize that an event that covers the “whole earth” may not technically mean the “whole earth.”

As to the cardinal directions mentioned, the 2012 FAIR Conference included a lecture by Brant Gardner, explaining that for the ancient Mayans, the cardinal directions were useful only from the place one was speaking or writing from.  North-South-East-West from Zarahemla would be different than NSEW from Bountiful, the land of Nephi, or the land of Desolation. It depended upon where one currently was to determine such directions.

Verse 28 states, “there were many dissenters of the Nephites who did flee unto” the Gadiantons.  Why would they have to flee?  It is possible that after the great signs, the righteous Nephites had the upper hand again, forcing those who would not follow Jesus to flee in order to escape either persecution or the strict laws of the Christian Nephites.  

Even among the Lamanites, their children were deceived and led away by lyings and flattering words by the Zoramites and other apostates.  The young were rejecting the teachings of their fathers, even though the signs of Jesus’ birth occurred only two years before.  Why?  Had the Zoramites come up with logical excuses for the signs in the heavens?  Did they use the belief in another god to create another narrative?  Or were promises of wealth, freedom from rules, and belief in the god of hedonism and materialism move them to defect?  And do we see it today?

“...thus were the Lamanites afflicted also, and began to decrease as to their faith and righteousness, because of the wickedness of the rising generation” (3 Nephi 1:30).

3 Nephi 2

“...people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen—
Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people; and thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing” (3 Ne 2:1-2).

Here we get some answers to the questions just asked about the Lamanite youth.  Signs do not convert people.  Disasters, wars, plagues, angelic visitations, and other events may compel a person to be humble for a time, but will not sustain a true testimony.  Eventually, the person will fall back to his/her old patterns and behaviors.  Justification sets in, as things are explained away and there is a return to sin.  Without a great significant emotional event to cause a sudden change in perception, one’s worldview tends to remain as it is.  This new perspective lasts as long as the person believes.  However, if the emotion of the event wears off, it can then be questioned and disbelieved.  The event is like Ebenezer Scrooge’s bit of undigested potato, which he insisted caused the apparition of his dead partner, Jacob Marley.

Sadly, mankind loves to live in a lie.  We believe it gives us protection and safety from the unknown or unwanted.  We toss people in prison to modify behavior.  Once released, most will be on their best behavior.  For a time.  They marvel at being outside the fences and outside the view of prison guards.  They happily greet their first steak dinner in years, and sleeping on a soft mattress.  They want to make good on their lives, and begin working towards it.  Unfortunately, after a while they become comfortable with their new found freedom and become complacent. Then, with the first snag or letdown, many will retreat to their former selves, which the lie tells them will protect them.  It is a cycle that some never break out of in a lifetime of returning to prison.

Only in facing the lies in our lives, can we meet face to face with the reality and truth.  A person who can hear the word of God and humble herself is more likely to succeed in being righteous throughout her entire life.

Gadiantons return to power

The Gadiantons have attempted to gain power through religious preachings (Korihor), assassination (Kishkumen), war (Amalickiah), secret combinations (Gadianton), and overthrowing the government.  Now they try another tactic: building their own nation into a power so great they threaten the Nephite and Lamanite nations.

The Gadiantons did not immediately attack army against army, but used a hit and run terrorist strategy.  They destroyed small towns on the borders and elsewhere that were not well defended. They probably carried off the women and children.  Their efforts brought chaos and instability, until the Nephites and Lamanites were forced to take up arms against them.

The war was so difficult that it threatened the destruction of the Nephite and Lamanite nations.

The Lamanites join the Nephites.  Some read 3 Nephi 2:14-16 as stating the Lamanites’ skin color changed from black to white.  However, many LDS believe that this is a metaphor.  Brant Gardner has an interesting article on the concept of the “skin of blackness” (2 Ne 5:21), and how it should really be viewed.  He shows that there is a curse placed on the Lamanites, and then a separate change (skin of blackness).  In regards to our Lamanites here turning white, he explains,

“This reversal of the curse (not repeated here but “skin of blackness”) implies its opposite (articulated here): “skin became white.” The Lamanites have crossed the insider/outsider boundary, becoming those who were “united with the Nephites” and “numbered among” them. Because they have become Nephites, they therefore “became white like unto the Nephites.” This shift in skin of blackness to skin became white on the basis of a change from outsider to insider explains why the first appearance of the idea of the curse on the Lamanites has a different inception than this mention in 2 Nephi 5:21. In 1 Nephi 12:23, Nephi prophesies: “And I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people.” This is a reference to the Lamanites who survive the wars that destroy the Nephites (1 Ne. 12:19-20). In prophecy, Nephi places the darkness of the Lamanites over 1,000 years later than we find it in 2 Nephi 5:21. Why the discrepancy in time? There is no discrepancy. The condition of darkness comes with dwindling in unbelief. When that occurs, darkness falls—on their hearts and metaphorically on their skins. It is not a physical change and therefore does not have a specific point of inception. It is as accurate when described in 2 Nephi as it is prophetically at the end of Nephite culture.”

So, their skin metaphorically became white when they again returned to God, becoming Nephites.

3 Nephi 3-4

Giddianhi and Lachoneus

The Book of Mormon often compares and contrasts people: Lehi as Abraham, Nephi as Moses, Jacob versus Sherem, Alma versus Korihor, Moroni versus Amalickiah.

Here we see a major contrast between the two leaders.  Giddianhi wrote a letter to Lachoneus, demanding the Nephite surrender.  Included are some interesting concepts believed by the Gadianton nation, concepts that are lies they believed in.

“...knowing of their (his army) everlasting hatred towards you (the Nephites) because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them....” (3 Ne 3:4).

This is the story line given by Laman and Lemuel and their descendants.  Nephi robbed them of their right to rule, along with the national treasures (Laban’s sword, Liahona, Brass Plates of Laban).  Anyone could see that the Gadiantons did not have a claim on these things, as they were neither Nephite nor Lamanite.  There was no wrong caused to them, but such is the big lie.

“...yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us—not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance” (3 Ne 3:7).

A moment before, Giddianhi noted the “everlasting hatred” his men had towards the Nephites, and yet are now ready to become brethren?  As for the Gadiantons’ substance, their nation was based upon conquest and getting gain.  There would be no substance, except new enemies arose from within, causing a deadly civil war, such as destroyed the Jaredites.

“And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton; which society and the works thereof I know to be good; and they are of ancient date and they have been handed down unto us” (3 Ne 3:9).

The continued lie that secret combinations are good.  Even today, we see many who believe if they say the same lie enough times, people will believe it and it becomes the truth.  Whether from historians, politicians, theologians, philosophers, or economists, a lie is a lie.  Some would teach us today that a lot more deficit spending will bring us back to prosperity. $16 Trillion deficit is nothing to worry about, as deficits do not mean anything.  It is like the Gadiantons saying that a life of conquest and getting gain will provide them with ever increasing substance!  Both ignore the fact that if you kill the golden goose, there will be no more golden eggs.  Yet, repeating the lie enough times until most people believe it seems to be the solution the wicked keep going back to. Modern prophets clearly speak the truth when they tell us to get out of debt and stay out of debt.

In October 1998 General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley gave the priesthood a lesson in economics.  He began by quoting Pharaoh’s dreams he spake to Joseph (Genesis 41).  

“Now, brethren, I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.
So many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings.
We have witnessed in recent weeks wide and fearsome swings in the markets of the world. The economy is a fragile thing. A stumble in the economy in Jakarta or Moscow can immediately affect the entire world. It can eventually reach down to each of us as individuals. There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed.
I hope with all my heart that we shall never slip into a depression. I am a child of the Great Depression of the thirties. I finished the university in 1932, when unemployment in this area exceeded 33 percent....I repeat, I hope we will never again see such a depression. But I am troubled by the huge consumer installment debt which hangs over the people of the nation, including our own people....We are beguiled by seductive advertising. Television carries the enticing invitation to borrow up to 125 percent of the value of one’s home. But no mention is made of interest.....We are carrying a message of self-reliance throughout the Church. Self-reliance cannot obtain when there is serious debt hanging over a household. One has neither independence nor freedom from bondage when he is obligated to others.
In managing the affairs of the Church, we have tried to set an example. We have, as a matter of policy, stringently followed the practice of setting aside each year a percentage of the income of the Church against a possible day of need.....I urge you, brethren, to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.
This is a part of the temporal gospel in which we believe. May the Lord bless you, my beloved brethren, to set your houses in order. If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wives and children and peace in your hearts. That’s all I have to say about it, but I wish to say it with all the emphasis of which I am capable.”

Those who paid attention to this warning were among those able to weather the crash of the housing and banking markets in 2008.  They purchased modest homes and paid them off quickly. They saved.  They built up their food storage.  They did not allow the world to entice them into making unwise purchases.  They did not buy into the big lie.

In contrast to Giddianhi and his lies, we see that Lachoneus was wise and righteous.  Gathering the people together, he determined they had seven years of supplies, including food.  Smaller towns were being wiped out by the Gadiantons.  Now they would have to deal with the full force of a unified body of Nephites.

Lachoneus prepared the people.  They gathered supplies.  They built up fortifications. They left nothing in the de-occupied areas that the Gadiantons could use in their own favor.

When Giddianhi’s army approached a month later, the Nephites were ready temporally and spiritually.  They withstood the army, driving them off.  In returning to battle later, the marauders found they could not sustain a siege.  They were unprepared.  Their lie was breaking down.  The Nephites began dismantling them, piece by piece, until all the Gadiantons were destroyed.  Only those robbers who would repent and believe in Christ were spared.

Gidgiddoni

Note that the righteous depend upon their prophets, even having them lead them into battle.

“Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands.
But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands” (3 Ne 3:20-21).

Many Nephites wished to return to their farms.  They did not want their lands trampled and laid waste by the Gadiantons.  Their request to invade was not in seeking revenge, but in destroying those who had attacked many times before. Gidgiddoni taught them patience and faith on God. Here we have an interesting concept: the righteous should not invade their enemy’s lands. This can open up interesting discussion.  Does Gidgiddoni’s statement apply in all cases, or just to the Nephites in this one instance?  Did America have the right (re: God’s permission) to invade Germany, which had invaded the rest of Europe?  Did America have the right to invade Iraq or Afghanistan?  In which instances does Gidgiddoni’s statement apply, and will it apply in the future?

There are many LDS who believe the day will come in America, and perhaps elsewhere, when modern day Gadianton mobs will force the saints to gather with other righteous people together for a defense.  In that day, it is believed they will build Zion as a refuge from the storms.

“And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety” (D&C 45:68).

Will 3 Nephi 3-4 become a textbook for future Mormons to preserve their liberty, religion and families?  Will Zion and her stakes be established as places of safety for the righteous of the earth?

3 Nephi 5

Mormon testifies

Here we get an interlude.  Mormon explains that he patched together much of the information so far from various texts, but mostly from the complete record written by Nephi, son of Nephi.

"I am Mormon, and a pure descendant of Lehi. I have reason to bless my God and my Savior Jesus Christ, that he brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem,...and that he hath given me and my people so much knowledge unto the salvation of our souls” (3 Ne 5:20).

He testified of Christ, and the restoration of not only the Lamanites, but also of all the tribes of Israel.

3 Nephi 6-7

The rich, proud and greedy fall again.  For several years the Nephites and Lamanites lived in peace and harmony.  They returned to their homes and built new cities.  They became wealthy, and began to forget the blessings and promises of God.

“ But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;
For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.
And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Ne 6:10-12).

Note the common themes that again lead to destruction in the pride cycle: wealth, pride, boasting.  Business and government both become very big entities. Education separates the people into rich and poor.  Persecution of the poor occurs from all rich entities, including a big bureaucratic government with lots of lawyers and officers, who support the rich and condemn the poor.

“And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith....” (3 Ne 6:14).

So terrible is the search for riches and getting gain that it destroys the Church of Christ!  Christians today can see churches torn apart by pride and the search for wealth.  It may be that many will leave the Church of Christ because they think they are smarter than the prophets, richer than their bishop, or no longer need anyone to save them.  Again, the big lie occurs, and all it accomplishes is to separate people from their Savior.

So wicked are the people, that government officials and the wealthy secretly condemn the prophets to death.  Governor Lachoneus, son of Lachoneus, orders an investigation, which only leads to attempts on his own life.  

“Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law.
And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness.
Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.
And they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country; and they did covenant one with another to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto kings” (3 Ne 6:27-30).

Government officials, religious leaders, and others combine to create a new secret combination.  It seeks to defend their friends who slew the prophets, and to establish a new monarchy without the Christian God and his prophets.  Again, we see Gadiantons taking another tactic to establish themselves.  The lie is always the same: use whatever method to get gain, wealth and power.

The Collapse of Government

Chief judge Lachoneus is murdered on the judgment seat, as planned by the Gadiantons.  But then something happened they did not expect.  The government broke apart.  The Gadiantons were forced to flee to the north country, blamed for bringing collapse and bankruptcy upon everyone.  Great tribes of people gathered to form new nations, where the Nephite and Lamanite nations once stood.

The people have an uneasy peace, but few are righteous.  The sword of destruction hung over their heads.

Again, could our modern nations collapse in such a way?  We often think it impossible, but then give pause to how quickly the former Soviet bloc splintered into a variety of nations, some seeking freedom, others sinking back into religious extremism, and some putting new dictators in place.

Bankruptcy is just a moment away for the United States and Europe.  Will we see the modern Gadiantons in our governments, business, and even some of our churches, cause a collapse into chaos?  Again, we may someday use the Book of Mormon as a classic textbook of cause and effect.


Bibliography

“From the East to the West: The Problem of Directions in the BoM”, Brant Gardner, 2012 FAIR Conference:
http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2012-fair-conference/2012-from-the-east-to-the-west-the-problem-of-directions-in-the-book-of-mormon

“What does the BoM mean by Skin of Blackness?”, Brant Gardner, FAIR article: http://www.fairlds.org/authors/gardner-brant/what-does-the-book-of-mormon-mean-by-skin-of-blackness

“To the Boys and to the Men”, Gordon B Hinckley, Oct 1998 General Conference: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/1998/10/to-the-boys-and-to-the-men?lang=eng

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