3 Nephi 9
3 Nephi 9:1
1 And it came to pass that there was a voice heard among all the inhabitants of the earth, upon all the face of this land, crying:
Textual: Mormon’s original divisions in his work do not include a chapter break at this point. Indeed, the dramatic effect of the experience is somewhat diminished by the division into smaller sections. Following Nephi’s account, Mormon builds the tension of the time by noting the terrible destructions, and then the response of the people. The inserted lament at the end of chapter 8 not only describes the grief of the people, it describes them in a repentant state. That condition of repentance is an important precursor to the events that begin in this chapter. Humility and repentance precede the great blessing of the presence of the Lord.
3 Nephi 9:2
2 Wo, wo, wo unto this people; wo unto the inhabitants of the whole earth except they shall repent; for the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain of the fair sons and daughters of my people; and it is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen!
The first words of the Savior to these people is that they should repent. Literarily, Nephi has placed the lamentation immediately prior to this requirement to show that the people were ready to head the call to repentance (3 Nephi 8:24-25). The Savior links the iniquity of the people to their deaths, a theme that is prevalent in the lamentation. It is very likely that the lamentation was written with these words as the impetus.
3 Nephi 9:3
3 Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof.
The Lord will now list a catalogue of destruction. The list contains some cities with which we are familiar, and some which have only this single mention in the Book of Mormon. What appears to tie them together is some ability to be distinguished as “wicked.” The theme is the destruction of the wicked.
In addition to the description of physical reality, we must remember that this is also a typological reference to the destruction of the wicked in the last days. This is, after all, the Messiah who is come. This Messiah brings with him the essence of who he is, and he is the same Messiah who will come at the end of the world. It is therefore fitting that his coming should be presaged by the violence of nature, and the destruction, event he burning, of the wicked.
The first location that is listed is Zarahemla. Zarahemla has been the chief city of the Nephite hegemony since their arrival over two hundred years before this date. In spite of the centrality to Nephite government, it has recently been the location of great wickedness. Not too long ago the Gadiantons were in charge of the government. Even after their expulsion and a brief return to faithfulness, we may be certain that the major disruptions of the new secret combination among the judges that brought down the government did their deed in Zarahemla. The destruction of the government is our evidence that there were insufficient numbers of righteous people in Zarahemla to rescue the governmental process, as they had from earlier threats that we saw in the book of Alma.
The government of the Nephites was destroyed, and now the seat of that former government is also destroyed. The presentation of Zarahemla first comes because it symbolically represents the purging of the entire Nephite nation.
We will find that the city of Zarahemla is rebuilt, most likely at least twenty-five years from this point (see 4 Nephi 1: 6, 8), but it never seems to return to its former status as the central point of the Nephite polity. The geographic shift northward begins in earnest after this point, it appears that Bountiful becomes the chief city of the Nephites, even though Zarahemla was rebuilt.
3 Nephi 9:4
4 And behold, that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof to be drowned.
3 Nephi 9:5
5 And behold, that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth, and the inhabitants thereof, to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come any more unto me against them.
Moroni and Moronihah are paired here just as we saw them in 3 Nephi 8:9-10. Once again we have the reverse parallelism of the sinking into water and rising up of the earth. Since this voice from heaven would have come before the writing of 3 Nephi 8, we may be certain that this symbolic linking happened first here, and was then repeated in Nephi’s account. It would appear that it was this imagery that Nephi was preserving, as he does not follow with any of the rest of the catalogue that is given here.
3 Nephi 9:6
6 And behold, the city of Gilgal have I caused to be sunk, and the inhabitants thereof to be buried up in the depths of the earth;
3 Nephi 9:7
7 Yea, and the city of Onihah and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Mocum and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof; and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come up any more unto me against them.
3 Nephi 9:8
8 And behold, the city of Gadiandi, and the city of Gadiomnah, and the city of Jacob, and the city of Gimgimno, all these have I caused to be sunk, and made hills and valleys in the places thereof; and the inhabitants thereof have I buried up in the depths of the earth, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up any more unto me against them.
The theme of paralleled opposing destructions that was set in verses four and five is now repeated for a larger number of cities. The basic parallel is a city going down into water, and of a land coming up to bury a city. Both of these directional actions are unusual and unexpected. Water might rise up in flood, but we do not expect cities to go down into water. We might go dig down into earth to bury something, but the earth does not rise up to bury anything. The emphasis on these two unexpected “directions” tells us that these examples are representative of a larger purpose. That larger purpose lies in the very incongruity of the directions. This is not “natural,” and therefore it must come at the hand of an “unnatural” being – or from God. The message is that God is behind these destructions.
Of course we also reference the inhabitants, and when they are referenced it is to their “wickedness and abominations.” Thus God is doing the destroying, and is destroying more than cities, He is destroying the wicked. This is precisely what is supposed to happen when the Messiah comes. These events become declarative proof that it is indeed the Messiah who is here.
3 Nephi 9:9
9 And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.
The king Jacob was the leader of the secret combination that was the downfall of the Nephites. We have the brief notation of his story in 3 Nephi 7:12. As the causes of the downfall of the Nephites, it is altogether fitting that they should be destroyed, and their destruction reported to the surviving Nephites.
3 Nephi 9:10
10 And behold, the city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof, because of their wickedness in casting out the prophets, and stoning those whom I did send to declare unto them concerning their wickedness and their abominations.
3 Nephi 9:11
11 And because they did cast them all out, that there were none righteous among them, I did send down fire and destroy them, that their wickedness and abominations might be hid from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints whom I sent among them might not cry unto me from the ground against them.
3 Nephi 9:12
12 And many great destructions have I caused to come upon this land, and upon this people, because of their wickedness and their abominations.
Those cities that are listed as particularly wicked, beginning with Jacobugath, are burned. This places the opening disclosure of the burning of Zarahemla in a more symbolic context. These cities are specifically noted as those who cast out and stoned prophets. Thus these are cities that particularly rejected the gospel and the message from God. Their destruction by fire should be seen in the context of scriptural fulfillment for the events that occur with the Messiah comes. Note the reference from Psalms:
6 Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.
This verse must have been particularly significant for those who knew it and lived through these events.
3 Nephi 9:13
13 O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?
At the end of the catalogue of destruction, the voice now turns to those who are obviously alive to hear this message. While the wicked have been destroyed, those who remain are not perfect, only “more righteous than they.” These people are still in a position where they require a conversion. This opportunity is offered to them. In the midst of terrible destruction and widespread death, God who came in his fury speaks with compassion and pleads “that I may heal you.”
3 Nephi 9:14
14 Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.
These people have survived the destruction. They are alive. How is it that they need to be healed? The life that they need is eternal life, so that is the message, and that is the offered gift. They have temporal life, but they will have learned how ephemeral that can be. To have this greater give, they must now repent, and perform another important actions. They must “come unto me.” The offer is to all. It is not selective; it is not discriminatory. The Savior comes with open arms, and comes willing bless all those who come.
3 Nephi 9:15
15 Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.
It was obvious to all who heard this voice that it was a god. Now the voice declares himself to be the God, and in particular, the God of the Nephite prophets. This is the God who is the creator. This is the God who is the Son. This is the God who was with, and is “in the Father, and the Father in me.”
Christology: This declaration of identity by the Messiah provides a turning point in the Nephite understanding of deity. It parallels a similar alteration in theological conception that happened after Christ’s ministry in the Old World.
In the New World we have noted that the Nephites understood their God to be Jehovah, and they had a particular emphasis on the coming of the Atoning Messiah who was understood to be Jehovah. This emphasis on the oneness of God is paralleled in the Old Testament by the theological understanding of the one God. In both the Old World and the New, the people of God believed in one God.
With the arrival of the Messiah in the New World, there is a clarification and delineation in the theological conception of God. The presence of the Savior on the earth raised the critical question of the unity of God, and in both the Old World and the New the Savior made certain to honor his Father even as he accepted his own magnificent role. In the New World, there will no longer be the confusion between Father and Son as God that we have seen to this point. From this point on, the distinction is clear and obvious, a clarity that comes from the Atoning Messiah himself who declares himself creator, but Son of God. Where the 1 Nephi saw the later addition of the clarification of “son of” which gives us the current “Mary the mother of the son of God,” rather than “Mary the mother of God,” in this passage there is no confusion. The designation as Son of God is not a later addition, but part of the original record.
Polemic: One of the discussions of the process of the translation of the plates has dealt with the order of translation after the loss of the 116 manuscript pages from the book of Lehi. There are two possibilities. The first is that Joseph started over again with the small plates. The second is that he picked up where he left off, and then translated the small plates later. In this second scenario, Mosiah is the earliest result of the translation process.
Brent Metcalfe used this argument to develop a criticism of the Book of Mormon. As he introduces that information, he notes:
“From the Lehites’ harrowing escape from Jerusalem to Moroni’s valedictory, the Nephite storyline is relatively fuid but not without exception. Occasionally the middle section of the book (Mosiah nad Alma) displays concepts which are less well developed than in the initial section (1 Nephi-Omni). These earlier portions are more congruent with later sections.” (Brent Lee Metcalfe. “The Priority of Mosiah: A Prelude to Book of Mormon Exegesis.” New Approaches to the Book of Mormon. Signature
Books, Salt Lake City, 1993, p. 414.)
As he develops this idea of a continuity in the development of ideas, he suggests that the Book of Mormon understanding of Jesus Christ developed after 3 Nephi, and it is that “developed” idea of Christ that shows in the 1 Nephi-Omni material. He supposes that since 1 Nephi-Omni was earlier, it should demonstrate the “earlier” idea.
This is an interesting argument, but one that fails completely on two fronts. The first is that the development idea is dependent upon the assumption that the 1 Nephi-Omni material would have been readily available to the “middle” writers, and therefore “should” have influenced them with this more developed theology. That assumption is indirect contradiction to the evidence of the text, which is that the 1 Nephi-Omni material was not only a separate tradition, but one that was not particularly well known. Mormon was unaware of that alternate tradition, and indicates that he found them while looking among the records (1:3). There are not obvious citations of this material in the later sections, and the references that parallel the material (such as the foundational promise) appear to have come from the large plate tradition rather than the paralleled statements in the small plate tradition.
Above this, however, is the fact that the assumption of the developmental Christology comes directly into conflict with the Book of Mormon’s understanding of the Messiah. We have from 1 Nephi to 3 Nephi the very consistent equation of the Messiah with God, including the 1 Nephi statements that Mary was the “mother of God.” This was a fundamental understanding of the Nephites, up to the time that the Messiah appeared. After that appearance, and the obvious distinction between Father and Son that was apparent at that time, the Book of Mormon shifts to an understanding of the Messiah that creates a greater distinction between Father and Son. This is a fundamental difference, and one that is consistent in time – but absolutely inconsistent with Metcalfe’s presumption of a developing Christology. It would require that the “developed” Christology carry over some parts to the later-written record, but collapse one of the most important theological issues into the earlier context. Given the nature of Metcalfe’s argument, this critical fact negates the argument based upon the very logic with which he attempts to buttress it.
3 Nephi 9:16
16 I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures concerning my coming are fulfilled.
The phrase “I came unto my own,” refers to Christ’s mortal ministry in the Old World. The Nephite scriptures indicated that he should be born their, and his lineage, and therefore “his own,” were there. Christ declares that all scriptures that have predicted him have now been fulfilled. Of course these scriptures are those with reference to the first coming rather than the second, but even those scriptures that refer to the second coming have had a fulfillment in the destructions in the New World. In a very real sense, Christ appears in power in the New World, as the fulfillment of all of the predictions of the coming of the Messiah.
3 Nephi 9:17
17 And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled.
Christ tells the people that all that have received him have become sons of God. The past tense here indicates that this is a reference to a promise fulfilled in the believers in the Old World. However, it also comes as a remembrance of the foundational covenant of the people of Christ from the time of King Benjamin:
5 And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.
6 And now, these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them; and therefore he said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant.
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
The Nephite gospel was embodied in this covenant. While the covenant originally signified an entire people, it was preserved in the church, and was renewed in the baptismal covenant. Thus even these people in the New World can be fulfillment of the promise to become Sons of God.
3 Nephi 9:18
18 I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
The declaration of Christ as the light of the world is entirely appropriate, and particularly poignant as these people undergoe three days of suffocating darkness. Physically and symbolically, they are in need of the light of the world.
Translation: It is unclear what the original plate text behind “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” might have been. They certainly could not be directly translated by these words, as they depend upon the Greek alphabet. This is a New Testament phrase found in the book of Revelation (for example, Revelation 1:8,11). Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and omega the last. Thus the intent of the phrase is to be all encompassing. The intent would be to say that Christ was all that we needed, but this particular phrase is absolutely dependent upon the New Testament and its presence in our Book of Mormon is obviously dependent upon Joseph Smith’s familiarity with that phrase.
What seems to be happening in this case is that there is a meaning that is presented to Joseph, and he “translates” that meaning using words and phrases that communicate that message based on the worldview he has as he writes.
3 Nephi 9:19
19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
Perhaps the “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” statement belongs with this verse. If we recut the verses (remembering that the versification was arbitrarily created after the fact, as indeed were paragraphs) then we have:
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
Christ as the personification of beginning and end can be seen as the justification statement for the ending of Mosaic sacrifices. Christ is the creator and the ultimate giver of Law, and therefore he can end or fulfill the Law. This statement is remarkably direct. When Paul tries to explain how it is that the Savior has removed the necessity of the annual sacrifice for atonement, he requires nearly two chapters (see Hebrews 9 and 10:1-14).
3 Nephi 9:20
20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.
The Psalmist sang:
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
This is the message, but with a new emphasis. The sacrifice of the heart was always required of Israel, but they had the additional manifestation of the sacrifice of animals. The Lord declares that the emphasis is now on this internal sacrifice. The Lord God will continue to require the most important of the sacrifices that had been previously required. It was the continual need for redemptive sacrifice of animal blood that had been fulfilled (again see Hebrew 9,10).
The plea of the Lord is for repentance and conversion. The promise is access to an eternal salvation made possible through the infinite sacrifice of the Lord. The blessing is the presence of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. In the Book of Mormon this phrase denotes the gift of the Holy Ghost.
3 Nephi 9:21
21 Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin.
3 Nephi 9:22
22 Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved.
The Atoning Messiah specifically notes that he has fulfilled the two redemptive missions predicted for him by the Nephite prophets. He has redeemed men from sin, and he has redeemed men from death.
Textual: There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002