With this lesson, we add a new group of people to the Nephite story: the people of Zeniff. There are many interesting questions that arise, regarding Zeniff and his people.
Zeniff tells us:
“ I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers’ first inheritance, and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them—but when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed” (Mosiah 9:1).
Zeniff was “taught in all the language of the Nephites.” Was he a Nephite taught by his fathers in “all the language” or was he a Mulekite (or from other Native American group/Mayan) that was absorbed into the Nephites and was taught their language much as today: modern immigrants often do not learn the whole language, but their children raised here do.
Why did they travel back to the Land of Nephi? Was there not room elsewhere in the Nephite nation for them to settle themselves? A few generations later, Captain Moroni will establish cities in the disputed wilderness territory between the Nephites and Lamanites. Would it not have been safer to clear out the few Lamanites in the area, and establish their settlements? Or was the Land of Nephi considered part of the wilderness?
It is very possible that they saw the Land of Nephi as the Land of Promise, or first inheritance. There would have been many desiring to reclaim it from the Lamanites. We'll see later in the story of Abinadi how the priests of Noah saw this reclamation of the Land of Nephi as a fulfillment of prophecy.
Why did King Mosiah I allow an army be sent against the Lamanites in the first place? Or was this an independent militia group? Did not the Nephites have a belief in defensive wars, rather than offensive ones? Their history generally shows this, and if so, then why an offensive army? Was this considered a legitimate effort to regain and possess anew the land that originally belonged to Nephi, and therefore, them? If so, would it be considered an offensive or defensive war? Both or neither?
Zeniff saw these people as good, so as not to want to destroy them. As a spy, what did he see among the Lamanites that softened his heart towards them? If a soldier refuses to follow the orders of the captain, is it not lawful to slay him for treason or dereliction of duty? In this instance, Zeniff went on the journey with the understanding they were going to fight the Lamanites and drive them from the area. What caused him to change his mind to the point that it led to insurrection? Why did “fathers rise up against fathers and brothers against brothers” in order to rescue a traitorous spy? Was refusing to destroy the Lamanites in that area worth the great battle that killed all but 50 of the Nephite army? How do the words of a spy cause such a major division in an entire army?
Given that Zeniff will later find that the Lamanites actually entered into the treaty with the intent to later enslave the Nephites, was Zeniff correct in his initial assessment of the Lamanites, or would they have been better off to drive the Lamanites off instead? Given Zeniff told us the Lamanites were good and that his commanding officer was a “bloodthirsty” man, and he will later give the kingdom to his evil son Noah, just how far should we trust Zeniff’s judgment in the story he relates to us? It seems that on the three most important issues relevant to the story, Zeniff may have been wrong on all three decisions. Zeniff does admit years later when he wrote his account that he was “over-zealous” and that his people were “slow to remember the Lord our God” (Mosiah 9:3).
“...they were a lazy and an idolatrous people; therefore they were desirous to bring us into bondage, that they might glut themselves with the labors of our hands; yea, that they might feast themselves upon the flocks of our fields” (Mosiah 9:12).
Why did Zeniff initially believe there was good among the Lamanites, and now seriously changes his tune regarding them?
In asking these questions, I hope to bring out the concept that our perceptions concerning the world around us are not always that good. Also, just because a leader seems to be good, does not mean he’s a good leader, nor that he has sound judgment. We find that Zeniff made many choices, several of which turned out to be totally wrong. He thought himself smarter than his military leader, using subjective and inflammatory words to belittle him (who knows if they are actually true?), and to gain power for himself. It may be that Zeniff was a very poor king, perhaps almost as bad as his son, Noah, but in writing his own history made himself look good.
We learn here that taking one’s own counsel is not always the good thing. Also, our perceptions of the world around us may not be the best understanding of that world. Finally, those who are not close to the Lord do not receive his guidance and direction in the decisions they make. The choices Zeniff made in leading a people into a new land are very different than Lehi’s and Nephi’s humble walk with the Lord.
King Limhi’s people went in search of Zarahemla. In their search, they came to the lands of the Jaredites and found an ancient record. Limhi wished it to be deciphered. Ammon explained that King Mosiah II was able to translate the record, because he was a seer.
“Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.
And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.
And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.
But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.
Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings” (Mosiah 8:13-18).
When we combine this description of seers and the Urim and Thummim/Interpreters with the description in D&C 130, we get a better understanding of what is going on:
“Then the white stone...will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word” (D&C 130:10-11).
The Urim and Thummim can take a variety of shapes (glasses, white stone, etc). Its purpose is to reveal “things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms”, as well as “know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed”.
This device is accessed by using the new name, which is “the key word”. In essence, the new name is a password to gain access. The individual who uses such a device must use caution on what he seeks for, “lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish.”
To me, the scripture is describing computer devices that are hooked up to a spiritual Internet. It requires a key word/password, and we understand the power for good and evil that the Internet has. A person can use it to gain much knowledge and wisdom, or can skulk around looking at pornography and other evil things. Such a person spiritually perishes by misusing such a powerful tool.
Yet, ask any scholar how great computers and the Internet are for research and development, and one can see that when man uses them properly, they “becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings”.
The Book of Mormon, translated in 1829, describes celestial computer and Internet capability. Given that Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine was designed in 1822, and it did not have Internet access nor a password, we can see that God revealed to Joseph some incredible things back at the time when simple computational machines were just being dreamed of.
Three Men, Three Worlds
A key concept here is we can learn from studying the differences between the men Zeniff, Noah and Mosiah I. Noah was definitely an evil man, seeking to thrive through being lazy by taking from others. His excesses are noted, but we do not see the direct impact on the people. Women were treated as lesser beings. High taxes were hard to bear for the people. Instead of working with his own hands, as did King Benjamin, he enriched himself on the backs of others. The only thing given back was permission to also engage in sin and excess, as women were treated as whores, rather than as the daughters of God.
Zeniff was not a close follower of God, and his choices and perceptions of the world around him displayed his serious lack of judgment regarding his enemies, his people, and even his own son. While not evil, his mediocre attention to spiritual things seriously affected his ability to protect and defend his people. He walked into a trap, and brought all his people with him.
King Mosiah I was a holy man. As his father, he worked the land with his own hands, to keep from burdening the people. We do not hear of great taxes being placed on the people. Nor are there huge buildings and constructions built all over the Nephite lands, as a sign of the “greatness” of the king and/or government. Instead, Mosiah has been a prophet-king, leading the people in charity and faith. He is the seer. Because he has access to God and the higher order of things via the Interpreters, he is able to greatly bless the people.
We must all decide just what kind of person we wish to be: Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial. Shall we follow God with all our heart, be lukewarm in our testimonies, or reject God in revel in our laziness?
Urim and Thummim as ancient computer: http://rameumptom.weebly.com/urim.html