Monday, August 20, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 35: “Repent and Return unto the Lord” Helaman 13–16

Book of Mormon Lesson 35: “Repent and Return unto the Lord”  
Helaman 13–16

Samuel the Lamanite foresees destruction

Again, the Nephites have fallen into great sin: pride, secret combinations, etc.  Many prophets are sent to them, and here we will see that a Lamanite, Samuel, is in particular sent to Zarahemla to preach from its walls.

“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” (Helaman 13:8).

Here we see four things that the people will lose because of the hardness of their hearts.  In this, it includes the Lord taking his word from them.  We can imagine this would mean losing continual revelation through living prophets, but also the written and perhaps oral records, as well. They will lose the Spirit, meaning they will no longer have a member of the Godhead to direct them.  In rejecting the Spirit, God will no longer suffer them - they are no longer in his presence, under his divine protection.  Therefore, their brethren will turn against them, becoming their enemies.

Amazingly, the Nephites just do not get it.  They have recently been stricken with war and famine, and yet continue in the ways of disbelief and ruin.

So, does Samuel tell them to repent or be destroyed within the next year?

“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” (Hel 13:9).

Why would a threat of destruction 400 years from now cause people to repent of their sins now? The righteous may be concerned with posterity, but the wicked often think only of the here and now.  They are not focused on how today’s actions may impact the prosperity and happiness of future generations.  Why would they be concerned with a distant future of possible destruction?

“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.
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” (Hel 13:12-13).

Samuel shows that while the fourth generation will end in utter destruction for the Nephites, it will be a symbol of what can happen even sooner.  Zarahemla is implicitly compared to Sodom and Gomorrah.  When the Lord promised Abraham that he would not destroy Sodom if there were but 10 good people within it (Genesis 18-19), Abraham did not understand that Lot and the handful of other righteous would soon be escorted out, leaving the cities without any righteous people within. They were ripe for destruction, and fire came down from heaven to destroy them.

Sodom and Gomorrah were very wealthy places, probably built upon trade in the area.  In Genesis 14, we read where several kings in the area gathered and ransacked the place, taking treasure and people (as slaves).  Only intercession by Abraham prevented the destruction of the cities.

Yet, Sodom and Gomorrah did not learn from their wicked ways.  They focused on becoming wealthy and using their power in whatever ways needed to get what they wanted.  Harold Bloom suggests they were inhospitable. The Lord destroyed the cities not because there were homosexuals abiding there, but because the wicked chose to forcibly impose their will on the righteous.  When mobs collected demanding to see the two men/angels at Lot’s house, they had crossed the line with the Lord. Instead of destroying their own souls in sin, they now sought to destroy others’ souls by force.  Their secret combination had reached its climax.  They were ripened completely in iniquity.

For the future generation of Nephites that would invade Lamanite territory in search of revenge, and who raped girls and then cannibalized their bodies, their ripening in iniquity would also be complete for a total destruction.  Samuel wanted his listeners to be clear that complete destruction could only be a few generations away, and perhaps sooner if they did not repent of their sins before it was everlastingly too late.

As long as the righteous were not cast out of the cities, the Nephites would be spared a mortal destruction.  

So, what is their main crime, worthy of destruction?

“And behold, a curse shall come upon the land, saith the Lord of Hosts, because of the people’s sake who are upon the land, yea, because of their wickedness and their abominations....
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” (Hel 13:17-20).

Again, it is not a sin to be rich.  It is a sin to set one’s heart upon riches.  Such wealth turns people away from God and good works, and into selfish, greedy, proud monsters.  Instead of using wealth to bless others, they use their wealth to keep themselves higher than others, to push down those who oppose them, and to have others treat them as royalty.  Who can afford the best lawyers, tax attorneys, accountants, etc., to ensure they have the upper hand?  If a city condemns a neighborhood and forces its sale to a corporation, simply because the company will pay higher taxes, is that legitimate use of government?  If large banks are given a bail out, but then turn around and quickly foreclose on those struggling to stay in those homes, are we guilty of preserving the wealth of the very rich at the expense of poorer peoples?  This is not to say all companies or rich people act in such a manner.  But it is a warning to all not to behave in such a manner.  

The matter is, the majority of Americans have a nicer lifestyle than most people living in Europe and the rest of the world. The average square feet in a house in the United States built since 2003 is 2300 sq/ft.  The average European home size is on the rise, but generally is still below 1000 sq/ft.  

Disposable income for the United States averages $40,550. The median for European nations is $27,500.  Fifteen percent of Americans were living in poverty in 2010, according to our national poverty level.  Compare this to the approximately 100 nations that have large percentages of people earning less than $2 per day.

Clearly there is a need for the wealthy, which includes most Americans (even many of our “poor” have cars, cable tv, cell phones, computers, and homes larger than most Europeans), to take a hard look at ourselves and determine what are we actually doing with the wealth we have.  Focusing too much on leisure, entertainment, and comfort can create a nation that is heading down the path to destruction.

“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.
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.
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” (Helaman 13:21-23).

Clearly, all nations, but especially the United States, needs to refocus ourselves. Instead of focusing on getting richer, we need to remember God and his blessings.  Then we need to share those blessings with others.  Otherwise, the land will be cursed, as will our riches.

We are warned about ignoring such things.  The Nephites, as with the Jews in Lehi’s day, rejected the prophets’ warnings.  Instead, they heaped to themselves those that would flatter them.  They would say they were rich because God had blessed them.  Samuel is teaching us that God may bless us with riches, but we can tell by the humility of the person.  Does the person give thanks for his wealth? Does he use it to move forth God’s will, or does he use it for selfish purposes. Is he angered by the teachings of his Church leaders regarding wealth, modest dress, and modest living?

“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.
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:
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” (Hel 13:31-33).

Samuel now shows a partial fulfillment of this will occur in the destructions just prior to the Lord’s resurrection (3 Ne 7-10).  We will see that the people will cry in their poverty, especially in the three days of darkness, but also in the time that follows.

Here is where symbolism in the scriptures is important to understand.  And Samuel shows it quite plainly.  There is a complete fulfillment of the prophecy scheduled 400 years from his day.  But there will be similar events even sooner that will cause the people to mourn and reflect.  The only difference is that many of these will repent when utter destruction stares them in the face.  In the end time for the Nephites, none will repent.

Samuel foresees the coming Messiah

He tells them that in a day of iniquity, the signs of Jesus’ birth would come forth.  They would be amazed and fall to the earth.  In this moment, Samuel tells them,

“And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall believe on the Son of God, the same shall have everlasting life.
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....
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.” (Hel 14:8-9, 13).

Faith and repentance are declared.  Only in embracing the atonement of Christ may anyone be saved.  Note that it is through Christ’s merits, and not ours, that we receive a remission of sins and are saved.

Samuel explains the death of Christ and its importance:

“ 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.
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.
But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord” (Hel 14:15-17).

Without the death of Christ, there is no salvation.  While Latter-day Saints tend to separate out the resurrection and the atonement, the Book of Mormon generally keeps them as one redemption.  In this instance, resurrection brings us back into the Lord’s presence.  It redeems us from spiritual death, not just physical death.  Note that ALL mankind are redeemed and brought back into God’s presence.

Herein lies the near universal salvation that Mormons believe in.  All are resurrected. All are brought back into God’s presence.  These are absolutely free gifts of Christ.  The only question is whether we wish to remain in God’s presence.  In Alma 12, we see that many will wish they could be hidden from God’s presence.  Mormon 9:4 tells us that the wicked would be happier in hell than in the presence of God.  

“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” (Hel 14:18).

The very wicked do not wish to be in God’s presence, and are cast out.  These are they who refuse to ever repent of their sins.  These are the sons of perdition.  They will die a second time, as they refuse to remain in God’s presence.

As I study the Book of Mormon, I see that even the Telestial are in God’s presence, though perhaps at a great distance. They may not be able to enjoy his full glory from up close.  They do have the fulness of the Holy Spirit, a member of the Godhead with them.  As noted before, in Isaiah 6, the prophet stands immediately in God’s presence and is invited into the divine council.  For Lehi, who was an average Jew before his prophetic calling, in 1 Nephi 1, he sees God on his throne from a distance, and has the divine council descend to give him his calling.  For the wicked Alma, he sees them from a distance:

“Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there” (Alma 36:22).

Alma, who had barely repented, was in God’s presence, but at a great distance.  Only later after much repenting and good works would he be allowed to join the divine council, when the angel returned to him and told him he is now blessed, or worthy to be part of the divine council (Alma 8:14-15).

“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” (Hel 14:31).

Salvation is an issue of restoration.  We started with God and he seeks to restore us back to his presence.  However, we have agency to choose.  We can choose to return fully or partially back to God. Or we can choose to reject him totally.  We are restored to that which we desire.  If we truly desire good, then we will be restored to that same good we desire.  But if we love evil, it will be restored to us, instead.  We get the reward we desire most.

Samuel praises the Lamanites, condemns the Nephites

For me, one of the evidences that the Book of Mormon is true, is how it deals with the people within.  A novel tends to have one group as the good guys, and another as bad guys. The good guys almost always win.  Here we see again that the Book of Mormon is very complex in its relationships between God & man and man & man.  The Nephites began as a promised people of God, who worked well with one another.  Now, Samuel tells them that their contentions are tearing them apart, and that they will shortly be kicked out of the presence of the Lord, if they do not repent.

Meanwhile, the Lamanites, who had no special promise to speak of, have repented of their sins and become a people of the Lord.  They are at peace with one another, and with God.  For their faithfulness, the Lord will bless them that they are never destroyed as a people.   The Lord promises a restoration of the Lamanites.  He is ready to embrace them and bring them back into his presence, when they are ready to return.

It amazes me to see the mighty promises made to the Lamanites.  God has not cast them off forever.  The promises of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob await them as they learn of Christ, repent of their sins, and become true disciples of Jesus.

What will we choose?

The Nephites had a decision to make.  Were they to believe Samuel the Lamanite? Or reject his words?

Sadly, most of them rejected his words, and sought to slay him as they had done with other prophets.  Only a few were willing to humble themselves sufficiently enough to believe, repent, and then seek out Nephi and be baptized.

We live in a day very much like those in the book of Helaman.  We have prophets that call us to repentance and to prepare for the coming of the Lord, which is not far off.  We have much of the world mocking the prophets and missionaries.  The wicked seek wealth, and use it to make themselves more powerful.  They seek to get gain, joining secret organizations of murder and plunder.  They gain control of governments, hoping to impose their will and gain even greater power and wealth by using the power of their office.  Some hide in the mountains and wildernesses of the world, pushing drugs or religious violence upon the rest of humanity.  

The common factor is the search for wealth and power, getting gain.  Instead of humbly turning to Christ, they turn to themselves to deliver themselves and their own.  They do not realize that they shall destroy themselves and the world, even as the Nephites.

The only solution is for people to humble themselves and fully come unto Christ.  Believe in the words of the prophets.  Repent and believe.  Spend your wealth on blessing others.

No other worldly solution, whether from bankers, psychologists, doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians, etc., will bring to pass a world of peace, where poverty no longer exists.  Only in Christ can we learn to have charity and love, in order to heal the world and its inhabitants.  All other “solutions” are only plugging holes in the dike with our fingers.  It is time for all of us to look closely at our lives and determine where we stand with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Have we truly given ourselves to Him? Or do we just give lip service, and then return to worshiping Mammon, the god of money and gain?


Home sizes in Europe:

Median wages:

International poverty numbers:

"Book of J", Harold Bloom:

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