Come Follow Me: Helaman 7-12
In the Book of Helaman, we see the dark works of the Jaredites that were brought into Nephite society through the Mulekites (who dwelt with the Jaredites for 3 centuries before the Jaredite destruction), would develop into several different and dangerous methods to infiltrate the religion and government.
In the last lesson, we see how Gadianton created his band of robbers, who threatened to destabilize the government through assassination. We will now continue the development of such secret societies as some take control of the Nephite government, while others will build their own nation.
Nephites = Bad, Lamanites = Good
The world turns upside down, as the Nephites grow wicked and many of the Lamanites join the Church. Here, we see the first time when righteous Lamanites will have to serve missions to the Nephite nation. Many of these Lamanite missionaries, along with Nephi and Lehi, also go into the north to preach the gospel.
Because there was no longer enmity between the Nephite and Lamanite nations, free trade opened between the two lands. People quickly became rich through trade. Not only food was traded, but gold, silver and other materials spread forth. This changed the nations from agricultural economies into trade economies. As we have seen in the 21st century, free trade can open up many new markets for goods developed in many areas. It raises the general economic status of many people.
Such development of wealth is a two-edged sword. In the last 20 years (1992-2012), China has moved from a hard communist economy to a more capitalist economy. In that time, they have developed a middle class of about 300 million people, about ¼ of their population. Twenty years ago, almost no one had a car. Now there are millions of cars on the roadways in China. Because of international trade, China can now not only feed its people, but give many of them a comfortable lifestyle.
In many other older developed economies, however, we see that corruption has set in. People have sought to gain wealth not only from their own hard work, but by obtaining it from illegal and illicit methods. We will discuss this more in a moment.
Gadiantons at Large
The rightful chief judge, Cesoram, is murdered. His son was appointed by the people to replace him, but was also killed that same year. Such intrigue and murder by the Gadianton robbers achieved its purpose, because the majority of the Nephite people supported them.
“ But behold, Satan did stir up the hearts of the more part of the Nephites, insomuch that they did unite with those bands of robbers, and did enter into their covenants and their oaths, that they would protect and preserve one another in whatsoever difficult circumstances they should be placed, that they should not suffer for their murders, and their plunderings, and their stealings” (Helaman 6:21).
In establishing the reign of the judges, King Mosiah II noted that when the people are good, they will always pick good leaders to guide them. Now we see that they prepared themselves for destruction, as they actually supported the secret groups.
We must ask ourselves, why? What was so wonderful about the secret groups that the majority of the Nephites would protect and support them? The outlaw and bank robber, Jesse James, was considered a hero in Missouri, where he was from. He would go out of state to northern states to rob, and bring the wealth back to his home state, benefiting the people who helped protect and hide him. Drug dealers provide jobs, schools and health services to the people in the areas they live in. In the United States and parts of Europe, bad people sometimes are kept in office because they promise to spend taxpayer money on people’s favorite things. Being promised a very comfortable retirement at 55 years of age in Greece is a very enticing thing. To suddenly be told that the economy is crashing and so Greece can no longer afford such luxurious bribes to the voters often enrages them into riotous mobs, who think protests will change the reality.
Mormon explains that these secret combinations were placed in Gadianton’s heart from Satan, who placed the same secret in Cain’s heart. Gadianton was raised by the code of his ancestors, which would include the Jaredite secret combinations. Satan often finds a way to pass his teachings down from one generation to the next.
“...he doth carry on his works of darkness and secret murder, and doth hand down their plots, and their oaths, and their covenants, and their plans of awful wickedness, from generation to generation according as he can get hold upon the hearts of the children of men” (Hel 6:30).
The god Mammon
When the people become exceedingly wicked, we can see a pattern to that wickedness. The Nephites
“did trample under their feet the commandments of God, and did turn unto their own ways, and did build up unto themselves idols of their gold and their silver” (Hel 6:31).
Their god is money. Mammon. While they may still believe in the God in heaven, their focus is in building up their treasures on earth. Fine clothing is one of the first signs of this pestilence. People become proud, and it shows in how they use their wealth. They no longer care for the poor and needy. Where they once had integrity on how they worked and lived, any method to get gain becomes acceptable. If one can get a politician to bribe him or his company with taxpayer money, then it is even better. If a big bank is careless in taking extremely risky chances, and loses everything, only to be bailed out by government, then we have corruption going on. There are secrets being passed in the corridors and deals going on in back rooms to make the rich richer.
Gadiantons in our day
Doesn’t it amaze us anymore that we have huge government programs, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, corporate welfare, etc., that keep growing at ever faster rates? When people are asked about it, they agree that government is too big, and it should be cut, but do not touch their entitlements! And so government continues to grow ever bigger. Since 2002, we have seen the federal deficit grow by more than $12 Trillion! There is clearly a co-dependency between politicians who need to be re-elected and constituents who need their entitlements. An honest politician or constituent would recognize that we are bankrupting America and so are glad to sacrifice to save the nation from collapse.
They do not recall the teachings of Jacob, King Benjamin and others, who taught that having wealth is not a sin, but is expected to be used to bless the poor. They do not seek the kingdom of God first, but instead seek to have the wealth without worrying about the kingdom of God. Amazingly, as with the baron robbers of the 19th century, many of these people think that God gives them their wealth to spend upon themselves, and justify the evil methods used to get that wealth.
Hugh Nibley noted that many people seek to have a foot in Zion and in Babylon at the same time. It may work for a time, but eventually we must choose. Often, we wait until imminent destruction is upon us to finally repent and choose God. This is what we see happens with the Nephites in the book of Helaman, several times.
Nephites began protecting the Gadiantons, while the Lamanites sought them out to preach to them or destroy them. The Spirit withdrew from the Nephites, while the Lamanites basked in its light.
Perhaps we can see a similar thing happening in the world as happened with the Nephites and Lamanites.
The world was amazed 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall fell. For decades, the Iron and Bamboo curtains held its people captive to the wicked traditions of Marx, Lenin and Mao. Within a period of just a few years, the Soviet Empire collapsed, with millions of people who were once enslaved, given the opportunity to be free. Where atheism attempted to snuff out religion, faith now finds a foothold. There are LDS temples in the Ukraine and the former East Germany. Meanwhile, we see religion dying in western Europe, and in parts of the United States. Atheism, humanism, and materialism are the new religions replacing the Judeo-Christian faiths.
Economically, China and Russia are moving up, while Europe and the United States dangle their toes over the precipice of bankruptcy and collapse. The United States is ranked among the lowest of developed nations in math and science scores for students. More big technologies are being developed in Asia, as America loses manufacturing and technology battles with other nations. Some believe that the 21st century will be China’s century of power, as the USA risks becoming another third world nation.
Gadiantons in government
In “An Other Testament”, Joe Spencer discusses the decline in Nephite government, from Nephite kings to Nephite chief judges to Gadianton robbers as chief judges. In the Book of Helaman, we see the final change.
“And it came to pass on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.
And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God” (Hel 6:38-39).
Integrity vs Lies
In my day job, I am a hearing officer/judge in a state prison system. I see offenders on charges ranging from disobeying an order to escapes to assaults to trafficking. In the years I’ve done this, I’ve begun to see patterns in the way people think.
“I’m not a bad person”, is a common statement made by someone defending himself. My thought process then assesses such a statement. Compared to Hitler, most of these offenders are not bad people. However, compared to Mother Teresa, they are bad.
Each of us has lies we tell ourselves to defend and protect our world view. Whether we are discussing politics, religion, wealth, etc, we all have some views that are downright lies. Yet, we defend the lie so much that we believe it as truth.
“Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills—” (Hel 7:5).
In politics and religion, some will teach the lie so often that others will also believe it is true, even though a good look at the facts may show otherwise. Until we are ready to humble ourselves and look at the lies we hold as truths, we cannot let go of our worldly gods. These gods teach us that we deserve things we haven’t earned. They teach us that our methods are okay, because they are a means to an end. They teach us that Christ will forgive us, perhaps hitting us with a few stripes and then saving us afterward.
“And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Ne 28:8).
So it is with Gadiantons. The hard question for each of us is: are we supporting modern day Gadiantons in our lives? Are we, in essence, Latter-day Gadiantons? Can we support today’s robbers and still be Saints? The scriptures clearly say, ‘no.’ Each us then, must take a long hard look at our beliefs and behaviors and determine whether we truly are following Christ’s path, or a path of sin leading us to destruction.
“...except ye repent ye shall perish; yea, even your lands shall be taken from you, and ye shall be destroyed from off the face of the earth” (Hel 7:28).
Do we not see right now that many people in America are losing their lands, their homes, their jobs, etc., because of the wickedness of those in power in government and business? Isaiah also warned of such things in his day:
“Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!” (Isa 5:8)
“The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients (elders) of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts” (Isa 3:14-15).
Solution to all things
In speaking with the people, Nephi tells them of their wickedness and impending destruction. He explains that the only recourse for protection in mortality and into the eternities, is faith on Jesus Christ and repentance.
“And now behold, Moses did not only testify of these things, but also all the holy prophets, from his days even to the days of Abraham.
Yea, and behold, Abraham saw of his coming, and was filled with gladness and did rejoice.
Yea, and behold I say unto you, that Abraham not only knew of these things, but there were many before the days of Abraham who were called by the order of God; yea, even after the order of his Son; and this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them” (Hel 8:16-18).
The answers to all the questions on the test of life are: faith in Jesus Christ.
Too many of us are spending our lives enriching or entertaining ourselves. These are our gods. We believe believe that Jesus is the Christ, but we do not believe IN Jesus Christ to the point that it moves us to action.
Nephi’s acceptance into the Divine Council
After being released from prison, Nephi ponders on how wicked the people have become. The voice of the Lord came to Nephi. The Word of God spake to him of his faithfulness.
“Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels” (Hel 10:6).
God not only testifies of himself, but also of Nephi. God brings Nephi into the divine council, “the presence of mine angels.” As with Isaiah (Isa 6), Nephi speaks with the Lord and receives his divine commission. He is empowered with the power of the divine council. God knows that Nephi will not say anything contrary to the Lord’s will, and therefore is now a trusted member of that exclusive club.
“...ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.
Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.
And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done.
And if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done.
And behold, if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass: (Hel 10:6-10).
Here is the true power promised by God. It is not from riches, fine clothing, worldly power, etc. It comes from becoming one with God and his divine council.
The Nephite Destruction
Satan is the father of lies and contention. That is his doctrine. While he gives his followers a lot of power, eventually they are so far from the Spirit of God that they are ripened for destruction, and Satan opens the door for that, as well.
Lies and contention breed chaos. Eventually, chaos causes the collapse of society. People get pushy for their piece of the pie. The one Gadianton band separated into several, who fought amongst themselves until war broke out.
One of the problems of war is that it does not always humble people. Instead, they grasp tighter onto the big lie that holds them down, and keeps them from repentance. It emboldens them to fight for their lie. Nations destroy nations over defending the national lie.
For Nephi, his goal was not to see the Nephites destroy themselves, even though he clearly had warned them. His goal was to get them to repent. War was increasing their hatred and love of sin.
Nephi used his divine power to call down a famine. He knew it was the only thing to stop the war. If people are too hungry to fight, they will stop fighting and seek for a way to survive. Eventually, they realize that survival and success only comes through humble repentance and faith in Christ. Some must be humiliated and brought down to the depths of despair before they will repent.
We find that the wars began in the 72nd year of the judges. After the famine and the people repented, there were a few years of righteousness, but by the 80th year, people returned to wickedness. How could they forget so quickly and so often? It doesn’t seem possible, until we consider our own day.
In the 1990s, America was awash in wealth and greed. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 shocked the nation, and what was a very contentious nation (remember the Bush-Gore Florida election?), suddenly became a nation united in humility. People prayed together. Many people returned to church. Democrats and Republicans actually got along.
Then, after just a couple years of peace and a prosperity that was again growing, the contentions began returning. War became an obsession with many Americans, as they sought not only to defend the nation, but to obliterate the enemy. Some viewed all Muslims as the enemy. Recently (2012), a Sikh church in Wisconsin was attacked, with several killed, by a man who hated Muslims (Sikhs are not Muslim).
Even the 2008 collapse of the economy did not humble the nation. Instead of returning to prayer and repentance, many Americans demanded the government take care of their problems, approving of the deficit spending of trillions of dollars so they could continue living their high lifestyles. We must ask if the United States may be on a collision course with its own destiny, simply because the majority of the people and its government will not repent and return to modest lifestyles and righteousness?
Alma taught that we are blessed when compelled to be humble, but more blessed if we humble ourselves (Alma 32). It seems that many who are compelled to be humble have short memories. They are humbled and repent, but only until they get rich again, wherein they return to the secret combinations of Gadianton that have made them rich before.
The Gadiantons build their own nation
Once the Nephites have become humbled enough to return to righteousness, the Gadiantons realize they must try a new tactic to gain power. This time, they form their own nation of terrorists in the mountains.
With America’s technology and military prowess today, it has been near impossible to root out Al Qaeda from its mountain strongholds in the wilderness of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nations. Imagine the struggle for the righteous Nephites and Lamanites in trying to destroy them without such a technological advantage. When America first invaded Afghanistan in 2002, no one could imagine it would take almost 10 years to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. However, we see that with the assistance of a large network of friendly nations and tribal leaders, Al Qaeda has been difficult to root out.
We see this same problem with the drug lords in Mexico. The Mexican government has struggled for decades to end the drug trade with little results. Today, the Mexican-American border is a place of great violence. Thousands are killed yearly. Some Americans have died in the crossfire. Towns along the border have emptied for fear of attacks from rival gangs. Some drug gangs are better armed than the Mexican army!
In the United States, we have a plague of Gadianton robbers in a numerous assortment of gangs. Chicago has at least 68 thousand gang members. When we consider that America had under 100 thousand troops in all of Afghanistan, we can see the size of such a number. Gangs rule many neighborhoods in many cities. Some neighborhoods are so dangerous, the police do not travel through them at night, unless they must. Some gangs started out as peaceful groups, but fell into the hands of violent robbers. They promote and are involved in drugs, prostitution, theft, robberies, and other violent crimes. They have their sworn oaths, just as the Gadianton robbers of old did. And, as the Gadianton robbers had signs to show who were their members, American gangs today each have their signs and symbols.
Sadly, our own kids often flash gang signs, listen to gangsta rap music, and get gang tattoos, sometimes not realizing that these signs and symbols and music are connected to a specific gang. Today, it becomes the first step to becoming an official member of a Gadianton robber club.
People are Foolish
“O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!
Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!
Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth” (Hel 12:4-7).
We must see the lie that is in each of us. As Mormon and King Benjamin note, we are nothing. Only in Christ can we find true joy and worth. Yet, we are too quick to set the counsels of God at nought, thinking that the Gadianton ways are easier or better. Our Self Pride requires we do not humble ourselves to the dust.
“...if the Lord shall say—Because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence—he will cause that it shall be so.
And wo unto him to whom he shall say this, for it shall be unto him that will do iniquity, and he cannot be saved; therefore, for this cause, that men might be saved, hath repentance been declared.
Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved.
And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works” (Hel 12:21-24).
We cannot both be in God’s presence and out of it. We can be as Nephi and join the Divine Council club, or we can be as the wicked Nephites and join the Gadianton club. God’s club is easy to join. We just humble ourselves and repent of all our sins.
The final cost of joining the Gadianton club is just too expensive. Time to see the wickedness around us and repent now.
Chinese middle class growth, 2012 article in CNN Money (note that the Chinese middle class is now approaching 600 million): http://money.cnn.com/2012/04/25/news/economy/china-middle-class/index.htm
“An Other Testament”, Joseph Spencer: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/mi/8/
“Approaching Zion”, Hugh Nibley: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/mi/13/
“Why are there so many Gang Members in Chicago?”, Chicago Magazine: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/The-312/January-2012/Why-Are-There-So-Many-Gang-Members-in-Chicago/
The Mulekites dwelt with the Jaredites for centuries: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2012/03/book-of-mormon-lesson-14-for-wise.html