Most of the books in the Book of Mormon begin with a colophon, an introduction by the author. So, we get “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents....” (1 Ne 1:1) as a colophon. However the Book of Mosiah does not have one. Why?
LDS scholars believe that it has to do with the 116 lost manuscript pages story. While translating the first portions of the plates, Martin Harris asked Joseph Smith if he could take the manuscript to show to his wife and a few others. Joseph was told “no” by the Lord on a few occasions, but then was allowed to do so with strict requirements. Martin Harris became complacent, and allowed the 116 pages of manuscript to be stolen. The lost manuscript would begin with the writings of Lehi, and it seems, end with the first chapter or two of Mosiah. So, where we have Mosiah chapter 1, was probably chapter 2 or 3 in the original. The small plates of Nephi, appended to the back of Mormon’s abridgement, would then become the first portion of our modern scripture, possibly with some missing information, such as the first portion of Mosiah.
According to Don Bradley in his great book, "The Lost 116 Pages" he shows that the 116 pages were probably closer to 300-400 pages. One of the stories suggested from his research is that when King Mosiah 1 led his people away from the land of Nephi, they still were using the Liahona. Along the way, they encountered the Interpreters. At that point, the Liahona stopped working and so Mosiah began using the Interpreters as his key method of revelation.
In the Book of Mosiah, we see the aged King Benjamin preparing for what would possibly be his last great sermon to the Nephite and Mulekite peoples. The gathering equates to the ancient Middle Eastern Year Rite. In the Year Rite, the king proclaims the wonderful things he has done for the people in the previous year, protecting them from enemies and crop failure, among other things. Often, the Year Rite would contain a symbolic crowning or anointing of the King. The king would either symbolize God (the King of Heaven) or as with the Egyptians, the Pharaoh-King would be god! In this instance, Benjamin would proclaim Mosiah as his successor in the divine right of Nephite kings, but as we shall see, will teach the people to focus not on Benjamin or Mosiah, but on the real King.
This Yearly Rite would also be a Festival of Booths/Tabernacles, where the followers would set up tents facing the temple. In the Mosaic tradition, the Festival of Booths represented Moses coming down from Sinai (the temple) with the plans for the Tabernacle, a mobile temple. Israel recognized that their little tents symbolized the Tabernacle of Moses, wherein was the Presence of the Lord. This was symbolic also, because each man was Lord of his own Tent, bringing his family to be in the presence of the king, who represented God.
As mentioned, the Year Rite was a time to present the king to the people, so he could show all the wonderful things he has done for them. But Benjamin changes the Year Rite to remove himself out of the center of the picture.
“I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man” (Mosiah 2:10).
He quickly explained that he is just as frail and weak as the rest of them, even though he has sought to serve them all his days. Interestingly, most ancient Middle Eastern kings did not see themselves as servants of the people, but as divine sons of the gods, with the expectation that the people serve and worship them!
The people clearly loved Benjamin for his service. Yet, Benjamin does not want their praise.
“And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!” (Mos 2:19).
Where many kings saw themselves as divine mediators between heaven and earth, Benjamin only sees himself as a messenger boy. He is not mediating anything. At most, he has sought to be an example for the people of service and humility. But the thanks and glory will go to God the king, and not to a mortal man acting as a king. This must have especially been a significant concept for the Mulekites, given their people had spent centuries under the Jaredite yoke of oppressive kings and their wars, before escaping south to the place they named Zarahemla.
The Grace of God
And here is where Benjamin’s teachings get very interesting:
“I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants” (Mos 2:20-21).
Benjamin gives us a reason for worshiping God, but also how useless we are in trying to do so. Here is the first part of what God has done for mankind. God has given us life, protected us, given us moments of happiness and peace. He has given us air and agency, supporting us from moment to moment. After all, it only would take a moment for the Sun to erupt and eliminate the earth, for something to occur to destroy our atmosphere and have all oxygen sucked away, or to have a world of continual death and destruction in all places, with no place to escape.
The king notes that even if we spent our whole lives thanking and praising God, we still would be “unprofitable servants.”
“And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?
And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you” (Mos 2:22-25).
He asks for obedience, and in so doing we will prosper in the land. Scriptures suggest that righteous people tend to have fewer wars, pestilence, or other tragedies. To “prosper in the land” goes back to the promises made to Lehi by the Lord. If the Nephites were obedient, they would prosper. Wickedness would bring destruction. That Lehi and Nephi symbolically equated the Promised Land as being in the “Presence of the Lord” is an important concept here.
God has given us everything. If we were to keep the commandments, he blesses us more. In being paid or blessed for our obedience, we still remain in debt. Benjamin notes we are not “even as much as the dust of the earth”, referencing back to Adam and Eve (“to dust shalt thou return” Gene 3:19). While Latter-day Saints do not believe in “Original Sin”, we do believe we are in a fallen state. No matter what we think we could possibly do, we could never achieve a higher form of living without God’s help. Without God, we really are nothing but “dust in the wind”.
Adam and Eve fell because they partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree teaches that life is full of tangible, material things. We can and will all experience birth and death, happiness and sickness, light and darkness, pleasure and pain. The Tree of Knowledge only offers us what this world can offer, and no more. We literally are not worth more than the dust, as we shall all return to it someday, taking nothing with us. In such a miserable concept, Benjamin will offer us something better, something that makes the Tree of Knowledge bearable and useful to us.
Benjamin notes that mankind must learn to follow God and not “out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples” (Mos 2:37).
The problem with the Tree of Knowledge, is that we know we fall very short of obedience to God. Each time we disobey, we are in “open rebellion against God” and are obeying the evil spirit that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden. As with Adam and Eve, when we partake of the Tree of Knowledge, we fall from God’s presence, there is no place for God within us, nor our unholy selves within God’s holy temple. We are cast off, just as dust is swept out the door.
To stay in this awful state of sin, causes mankind to “shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever” (Mos 2:38). There is no mercy for those who remain at the foot of the Tree of Knowledge.
Jesus Christ - the Tree of Life and Mercy
So, how do we escape the fact that we will all suffer and die, both physically and spiritually? We cannot find the answer with the Tree of Knowledge. Its reach is only to this material world, and no further. It requires only those things we can commonly experience. The Tree of Knowledge is not evil, but it is the source of knowledge of good and evil things.
It offers no way out. We will die. Period. Man has not found a way through his science, math, literature, history, nor any other accomplishment to permanently bring men back from the dead. From before the days of Nimrod with the Tower of Babel, mankind has sought its own methods and purposes to acquire heaven and eternal life, but have always failed.
Only the fruit from the Tree of Life can bring mankind back to life and into the Presence of God.
Benjamin is awakened by an angel, a messenger who is to lead him through a vision of things to come.
“For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.
For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay...” (Mos 3:4-5).
The king has told the people they were no more than the dust under their feet. But now, there is a new reality, one of hope in the future. The Lord would come down among men and lift them from dust. God would change frail mortal men into children of God.
“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary....
also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Mos 3:7-12).
Suddenly, those who died without knowing God have or who have sinned out of ignorance have a way out. Even little children are saved through Christ (Mos 3:15).They do not have to be under the pain of original sin and death, but are rescued by the Savior. Imagine the billions of people who lived and died having never heard of Jesus Christ or the Bible, but sought to live decent lives, and now being rescued from eternal death and hell!
“...whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them” (Mos 3:13).
Here we see what activates the Tree of Life in our lives. Alma taught that planting and nourishing the seed of faith in our hearts causes the Tree of Life to grow until it bears fruit (Alma 32). Where the Tree of Knowledge gave mankind information and experience, including that given through the Law of Moses (see Mos 3:14-15), the Tree of Life rescues us through faith in Christ and repentance. This belief also required hope of future things, the resurrection and atonement, which will save all mankind who will but partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life.
“...men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mos 3:18-19).
The natural man is the man who only believes the experiences before him. He has never seen a person resurrect, and so refuses to believe. He sees no need to believe or repent, because for him there is no merit in doing so. Only in yielding, or repenting and believing, can he receive the Spirit into his heart, and allow the great change from natural to spiritual man to occur. As with Lehi, one must walk to the Tree of Life and then partake. Otherwise, as in his vision, mankind will find itself forever lost in mists of darkness.
The day will come when all people will be judged according to their faith and faithfulness to Christ and God.
“...if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.
Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.
And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen” (Mosi 3:25-27).
In the resurrection, all will be brought back into God’s presence for the judgment. Those who refused to believe and repent will shrink from God’s presence. They will receive another kingdom, simply because they refuse to repent. Joy is only found in the light and joy of Christ. If one refuses that light and joy, what else is there but the darkness and damnation?
Adam was forbidden to partake of the Tree of Life while in the Garden. He needed time to learn the gospel, believe and repent. But he did not have forever to choose to symbolically partake by believing God and his Christ. We also must partake of the living fruit of Jesus Christ and live.
Festival of Tabernacles/Booths: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/04/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-15.html
Don Bradley, 116 Lost Pages