The prophecy of Samuel, the Lamanite, to the Nephites. Comprising chapters 13 to 15 inclusive.
Textual: This header is included in the original text. The original edition has the entire prophecy of Samuel as a single chapter, so the note on the pertaining chapters is an addition required by the subsequent change in the chapters. Note the parallel to the header of our current Helaman 7 where we find “the Prophecy of Nephi, the son of Helaman.” As Mormon is closing out his recording of the events of the book of Helaman, he does so by inserting two sections that he specifically labels. This is not a typical practice for Mormon, and has been used to mark a variation in sources (such as the record of Zeniff, Mosiah 9, and the account of Alma the Elder: Mosiah 23). In this case, it marks two prophecies. Mormon is highlighting both of these events, and marking them specifically for their distinction as prophecies. In both cases, they are fulfilled prophecies. Mormon is using these prophecies as extra witness to the coming of the Messiah, even while he also uses them as part of the chronological progression towards that even.
From a textual standpoint, our difficulty with the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite is where it was written. In the original state of the record of Helaman, it was apparently not written at all. When the Savior does appear in the New World, he calls for the records of the people and we have the following information about Samuel the Lamanite:
3 Nephi 23:7-13
7 And it came to pass that he said unto Nephi: Bring forth the record which ye have kept.
8 And when Nephi had brought forth the records, and laid them before him, he cast his eyes upon them and said:
9 Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?
10 And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.
11 And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?
12 And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written.
13 And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded.
At issue at this point in our discussion is the textual transmission of the message of Samuel the Lamanite. One interpretation of the above passages is that the part that was not written was limited to the fulfillment of prophecy, implying that the rest of Samuel’s ministry was accurately recorded:
“Noting by his omniscient grasp of every circumstance that some elements of past manifestations might not have been fully or accurately recorded, Christ called for Nephi to bring forth the records that had been kept. With the records open before him, the Savior inquired why a significant fulfillment of the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite had not been recorded. Samuel had prophesied that in the days of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection in the Old World, many Saints in the New World would arise from the dead, appearing and ministering unto many. The Savior asked if, in fact, Samuel did declare this. Nephi readily acknowledged that Samuel did so. However, when pressed on the matter by Jesus, Nephi remembered that the fulfillment of that prophecy had not been written. "How be it," the Savior asked, "that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them? And . . . Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written." At the Savior's direction, it was added to the record immediately, and he continued to expound "all the scriptures in one" from the records they had written, commanding them to teach the things he had given them.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 292 - 293.)
Certainly this is the most literal reading of 3 Nephi 23:11, but it is probably too limited. Why was not that fulfillment mentioned? It is quite probable that nothing of Samuel the Lamanite was mentioned. The large plates of Nephi have been discussed as a lineage record, and they have a very narrow focus. As a Lamanite, Samuel was foreign to the Nephite lineage, and therefore might not have found his way into the text. The implication of the Savior’s statement in verse 9 and the answer in 10 is suggestive that nothing of the labor of Samuel had been recorded. It was remembered, but the Savior noticed it in its absence. The notation about the fulfillment in verse 10 merely picks up on the verification in 10 by the Nephites that they had indeed been fulfilled.
What becomes most interesting, then is this inserted sermon of Samuel the Lamanite where we have the prophecies, but we do not have the record of the fulfillment specifically mentioned by the Savior. In Mormon’s editorializing, there are numerous fulfillments. His interest is in the prophecies as he is moving towards the event. To reach that event, we have Samuel the Lamanite in correct chronological order. How does it get here?
The record of the correction of the records is given in the book of 3 Nephi, that Nephi being the son of the Nephi in our current record. Not only is it a different generation, but a different book. There is a division between the books as well as persons writing in them. The command to correct the record is given to Nephi the son of Nephi.
If none of the record of Samuel had been included in the official records, it must have been written somewhere, because we have a fairly accurate record of this prophecy. It is probable that it was recorded in a different location, and then added in to the record later. Mormon either has it from the alternate source, or it was added into the record of Helaman at a later time. That later addition suggests that it would have to be entered after the events that Mormon lists in our chapter Helaman 16, so it is most probable that Mormon has moved the text to its correct chronological order in his work. It therefore appears precisely where it should because Mormon makes certain that it fits into the historical time.
This combination of sources, or recutting of sources, is no surprise in Mormon’s editiorial method. He has used multiple sources before, particularly including the holographic account of Zeniff beginning in Mosiah 9. The overall book structure forms the framework for Mormon’s narrative, but he inserts his own homilies in that structure as well as other texts that might be pertinent, regardless of whether they were or were not specifically included in the plate text. This tells us that we do Mormon a disservice when we call him an abridger of the Nephite record. Mormon was a much more active editor than a simple abridger. His intent was not to give a simplified account of the larger collection of Nephite records, but to use those records to tell a particular story, with a particular message.
1 And now it came to pass in the eighty and sixth year, the Nephites did still remain in wickedness, yea, in great wickedness, while the Lamanites did observe strictly to keep the commandments of God, according to the law of Moses.
Chronological: The eighty-sixth year of the reign of the judges would be approximately 10BC. In addition to this chronological countdown, it should be noted that this commentary is using 4BC and the date of Jesus’ birth. Thus we are only six years away from that most important event. With only six years before the miraculous birth, the Nephites are not improving in their observance of the gospel. Mormon contrasts this with the faithfulness of the Lamanites. Again, we must remember that while there are righteous Lamanites, not all Lamanites are righteous. Mormon does not chose to make this distinction because it suits his purposes better to provide a direct contrast between the reversal of expectations. The formerly righteous Nephites are growing in wickedness. The formerly wicked Lamanites are strictly observing the commandments of God.
2 And it came to pass that in this year there was one Samuel, a Lamanite, came into the land of Zarahemla, and began to preach unto the people. And it came to pass that he did preach, many days, repentance unto the people, and they did cast him out, and he was about to return to his own land.
The introduction of Samuel the Lamanite comes directly after the statement that the Lamanites are faithful. This is an essential backdrop to Samuel. In previous times it would be unthinkable that a Lamanite would preach the gospel. However, the righteousness of the Lamanites is so much greater than that of the Nephites that Samuel comes to the Nephites to preach. The reversal is complete. Rather than sending missionaries to the Lamanites, the Lamanites have sent a missionary to the Nephites.
When Samuel comes, it is not surprising that he is rejected. The Nephites have Nephi in their midst, and Nephi has performed two miracles that had only a temporary effect on Nephite repentance. If they were able to harden their hearts after all that Nephi showed them, how much less would they listen to Samuel. As a Lamanite, the Nephites were predisposed to dismiss him.
3 But behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people whatsoever things should come into his heart.
4 And it came to pass that they would not suffer that he should enter into the city; therefore he went and got upon the wall thereof, and stretched forth his hand and cried with a loud voice, and prophesied unto the people whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart.
Literary: Mormon makes certain that the story of Samuel has a parallel to the story of Nephi’s call. Nephi was returning home when the call came to return to call the people to repentance, and Nephi returned immediately. Samuel heads for home, and hears the call to return, and Samuel returns immediately. Regardless of the historical nature of the events, the importance of this parallel is that Mormon chooses to note it. Mormon as editor and large numbers of options available to him when he records events. In this case, he elects to make the story of Samuel parallel to that of Nephi. The effect is to equate Samuel with Nephi. Nephi is a known prophet, and Mormon is telling us that Samuel is no less called of God than was Nephi. To God, both Nephi and Samuel are worthy tools to call the Nephites to repentance.
When Samuel returns, he is not allowed into the city. The people have heard him preach, and they have rejected him. When he returns they reject him physically by denying him entrance. Samuel has a commission from the Lord, however, and he finds a way to fulfill that commission. He climbs to the top of the wall and preaches from the wall.
5 And he said unto them: Behold, I, Samuel, a Lamanite, do speak the words of the Lord which he doth put into my heart; and behold he hath put it into my heart to say unto this people that the sword of justice hangeth over this people; and four hundred years pass not away save the sword of justice falleth upon this people.
Nephi has prophesied the destruction of this people. Now Samuel also predicts destruction. In Samuel’s destruction, however, there is a specific time, and it appears to relate to a different destruction that did Nephi. Nephi’s prophecy of destruction as the element of immediacy. Samuel’s prophecy is one of finality. Both the near and the distant destructions will destroy the government of the Nephites, but the Nephites as a people will survive the first. The second destruction will be complete. They will be gone, not only as a government, but as a people. This final destruction will come in four hundred years. In the Mesoamerican context, the number 400 would be considered to be a sacred number. The Maya used a calendrical system built around the number 20. Using a 360 day year (called a tun) the accumulated years into the conceptual equivalent of our centuries and millennia, though the time period was shorter. A century is an important marker of years because it hits an important number in a decimal system. The presence of the double zeros is rare (occurring only every 100 years) and therefore significant.
In a similar way the Maya accumulated their years. Twenty “tuns” was a katun. Twenty “katuns” was a baktun or four hundred years. In the calendrical system that would have been prevalent in the area of the Nephites, Samuel’s prophecy could easily have been that the end would come in a baktun. It might be equivalent to the modern fears that were associated with the year 2000, not because of anything other than the symbolic and rare nature of the number. In the Chilam Balam of Chumayel there is a statement that the entire life of the Maya people would be “four four-hundreds of years and fifteen score.” (Ralph L. Roys. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1967, p. 83) The number 4 was considered a number symbolic of completion, and therefore the life of the Maya was “complete” after a set of baktuns, plus fifteen katuns. Samuel’s prophecy would have been in such a powerfully symbolic number that the people would doubtless have considered the entire prophecy merely symbolic. It was terribly prescient.
6 Yea, heavy destruction awaiteth this people, and it surely cometh unto this people, and nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely shall come into the world, and shall suffer many things and shall be slain for his people.
One of the aspects of the common Nephite apostasy has been the denial of the mission of Jesus Christ, the Atoning Messiah. Samuel’s concentration on the position of the Atoning Messiah as the one who might save them from destruction highlights that the current Nephite wickedness also includes a denial of the Savior’s mission. The Nephites are again succumbing to the worldly notions that have long tempted them.
7 And behold, an angel of the Lord hath declared it unto me, and he did bring glad tidings to my soul. And behold, I was sent unto you to declare it unto you also, that ye might have glad tidings; but behold ye would not receive me.
Samuel states his authority. He speaks as commissioned by an angel of the Lord. That is the power through which he addresses the Nephites, but they are not willing to recognize that authority. Samuel came with glad tidings, and the Nephites did not receive him or his message.
8 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.
9 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.
Samuel pronounces upon them the same curse as has Nephi. The Nephites are no longer under the protection of the foundational promise. That promise of protection held only as long as they were righteous. Since they will not repent, the Lord withdraws him Spirit (symbolic of his protection) and they are now subject to the curse. Their total destruction will come within 400 years.
10 Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger, and there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction; and this shall surely come except ye repent, saith the Lord; and those of the fourth generation shall visit your destruction.
The destruction will be of the Nephites, but their enemies will remain. The Lord’s anger is visited upon the people who should have known better, not those who had never accepted the gospel. This principle that relates the severity of the punishment to the opportunity to do better was taught by the Savior himself during his ministry:
47 And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
The Nephites will become the collective examples of the Savior’s parable of the servants.
11 But if ye will repent and return unto the Lord your God I will turn away mine anger, saith the Lord; yea, thus saith the Lord, blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me, but wo unto him that repenteth not.
The cursing of the Nephites was terrible, but it was not done without hope. They were given opportunity to repent and mend their ways. The Lord does not apply the curse without first giving us ample opportunity to avoid it. We have only our own pride standing in the way of a change of heart, and a welcome return to the Lord’s ways.
12 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.
13 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.
14 But behold, it is for the righteous' sake that it is spared. But behold, the time cometh, saith the Lord, that when ye shall cast out the righteous from among you, then shall ye be ripe for destruction; yea, wo be unto this great city, because of the wickedness and abominations which are in her.
Samuel specifically speaks of the city of Zarahemla. As the seat of the Nephites, it represents the heart of the Nephite nation both symbolically and literally. It is from the rulers of Zarahemla that the nature of life extends. Since there is little separation between politics and religion, when the political rulers turn away from God, it represents that people who have also turned away such that the voice of the people will not desire evil.
Samuel tells the people that the sword of destruction hangs over the city. The Lord would have destroyed it already were it not for the righteous in it. The salvation of the city by a few righteous should recall to the Nephites the story of Abraham pleading for Sodom before the Lord (see Genesis 18:20-32). The people of Zarahemla have been trained in the scriptures even if they are turning from some of the teachings. This reference to a city saved by a few righteous should surely call Sodom to mind. What it should also do is call to mind the destruction of Sodom. Hence Samuel tells them that they too will cast out the righteous until not even the few remaining righteous will protect them. In that day, Zarahemla will be destroyed as was Sodom. Significantly, both Sodom and Zarahemla were destroyed in the same way, by purging fire (see Genesis 19:24 and 3 Nephi 8:8).
15 Yea, and wo be unto the city of Gideon, for the wickedness and abominations which are in her.
The next city specifically mentioned is Gideon. The extent of the Nephite apostasy from the gospel must have been extensive indeed if Gideon should fall under condemnation for “wickedness and abominations.” During Alma’s missionary journey to the land of Zarahemla, Gideon was praised for its faithfulness (see Alma 7:3-5). Later when Korihor attempts to spread his version of the worldly religion (and the denial of the Atoning Messiah), he is banished from Gideon. (Alma 30:21-29). The rejection of Korihor and his worldly religion was only around seventy years earlier than Samuel’s condemnation. In that generation, Gideon has fallen from very faithful and rejecting the influence of the worldly religion to a city that appears to have embraced it.
16 Yea, and wo be unto all the cities which are in the land round about, which are possessed by the Nephites, because of the wickedness and abominations which are in them.
17 And behold, a curse shall come upon the land, saith the Lord of Hosts, because of the peoples' sake who are upon the land, yea, because of their wickedness and their abominations.
Zarahemla and Gideon are singled out, but there is general apostasy. Samuel prophesies that because of those iniquities a curse “shall come upon the land.” Samuel specifically ties the blame for the curse on the people of the land. It is their iniquities that bring the curse.
18 And it shall come to pass, saith the Lord of Hosts, yea, our great and true God, that whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth shall find them again no more, because of the great curse of the land, save he be a righteous man and shall hide it up unto the Lord.
19 For I will, saith the Lord, that they shall hide up their treasures unto me; and cursed be they who hide not up their treasures unto me; for none hideth up their treasures unto me save it be the righteous; and he that hideth not up his treasures unto me, cursed is he, and also the treasure, and none shall redeem it because of the curse of the land.
20 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.
To understand the import of these verses we must approach them on two levels. The first, and most important, is the reason that this curse was given. The second is the particular nature of the curse itself.
One of the greatest iniquities of the people is the abandonment of the egalitarian ideal from the Nephite gospel. These are a people who have accepted not only wealth, but the social distinctions that have come from wealth. Their love of the display of wealth has led to the creation of ranks in society where people will esteem themselves better than others based on their ability to mount the wealth-displays. In this curse, the Lord deals with the heart of the matter. The problem is the wealth and their desire for it, and so the Lord declares that he will take it from them. Should they attempt to preserve it by burying it in the land, the land will take it away. This conceptually echoes Nephi’s statement about the superiority of the dust of the earth, which obeys God (Helaman 12:7-8). It is also a rather literal expression of the imagery with which we are familiar from the New Testament:
19 ¶ Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
Note how Helaman 13:19 does ask the people to lay up treasures unto the Lord, but the curse removes the worldly treasures that are hidden up for the purposes of stockpiling them.
The second aspect of these verses is the specific cursing of the earth so that it will swallow up the treasures. Verse 21 indicates that the time when the Nephites might bury these treasures is when they are fleeing an enemy. Why would they not simply take them? Of course they would be too many to carry, and when life is threatened it is more important to take the things that will sustain life. We must also remember that Mesoamerican was a barter economy. These treasures were objects, not money. They have great bulk, and so they would be left behind in such a flight. The cursing of the ground is that it would swallow them up and not return them.
Archaeologists are more than familiar with this particular cursing of the ground. The native of the climate in Mesoamerica is such that many of the treasures of the ancient world, those things that would be treasures to us even if they were ordinary to the ancients, have been swallowed by the earth. This cursing is rather literal.
Lastly, we should note that this burial of the treasures would come when the people flee (verse 21). These conditions will come in the next great Gadianton confrontation where the people of the southern Nephite lands which are the specific ones Samuel mentions, will gather up what they can and flee to the north for common protection (see 3 Nephi 3:21-23). The curse tells them that when they do, there will be no riches to come back to.
21 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.
The emphasis is on the riches. It is not the riches themselves, however, but the social segregation that comes with them. This theme will be developed in Samuel’s discourse.
22 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.
Literary: Samuel paints a terrible and ironic picture of the people of Zarahemla through parallel phrases:
Ye do not remember the Lord your god
Ye do always remember your riches
The process of remembering is the process of focus. When we remember we are focused on that which we remember. The Nephites have lost their focus on their God, and have replaced it with an inappropriate focus on the accumulation and display of wealth. The result of this focus on wealth is that their ethical base for society has also changed. Rather than adhere to the principles of the gospel, their social desires are for the support of wealth, and this leads to “great pride.”
When we see pride in the Book of Mormon, it is most often associated with the social hierarchies supported by the visual displays of wealth. When the Nephites were wealthy and righteous, there was no pride precisely because they did not esteem one man above another. When pride arose, it was marked by the assertion that some were better than others. Of course, the proud where they who saw themselves as a higher status.
Most of the specific catalogue of their sins deal with the relationship of one person to another: “boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strives, malice, persecutions.” All of these are separators. They happen only when we are attempting to create a division between ourselves and some other person. All of these were part of the sin of social segregations and hierarchies.
The specific mention of murders raises the possibility that the Gadiantons are not as far extinct as Nephi indicated they were. The concept of murder within the social system of accumulating wealth was a trait of the Gadiantons. The presence of that condemnation may indicate that not all of the popular sentiment that supported the Gadiantons was extinguished when the Gadianton rulers were removed.
23 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.
The curse is reiterated. Riches cause their iniquity, and the riches will be taken away from them.
24 Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.
25 And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.
Social: These verses highlight an important aspect of human behavior. The people of the Nephites have become transformed in their worldview and their religion. Samuel sees them as iniquitous, and rejected prophets of God. The people themselves, however, would see themselves as righteous and following the “right” way. Social change does not happen because people decide to reject all they have known and become wicked. Social change happens when we gradually accept certain ideas and practices that carry with then the seeds of our rejection of the gospel. After time, the foundational ideas that underlie the trappings we desire come along with the trappings and reshape our understandings. We fall away from God not only without realizing, but while we continue to maintain that we believe.
These Nephites clearly have done this. Samuel notes that they currently reject prophets, but they would compare themselves favorably against those “of old time.” In verse 25 Samuel notes that this people would assume that they are righteous, and they would never do as the wicked of old had done. The irony is that they are doing it, but their self-justification prevents them from seeing it. They believe they are righteous still.
26 Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
Samuel may or may not have known the story behind the trial of Nephi, but that incident stands as proof that Samuel’s statement is not only about what they would do but what they have done.
27 But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.
These verses are meant to stand in contrast to the people’s reaction to a prophet telling them to repent. The true prophet crying repentance (verse 26) they will attempt to kill, but to a false prophet flattering them, to that person they will listen.
Social: Samuel’s condemnation of their treatment of true prophets had already happened. On the strength of that, we may assume that verses 27 and 28 also reflect the reality of the current beliefs. The way Samuel catalogues this particular sin is sufficient that we can identify the return of an old nemesis of the Nephite gospel. These people have embraced the order of Nehor.
The first description of current Nephite belief is that they believe the man who preaches: “walk after the pride of your own hearts…. And do whatsoever your heart desireth.” Compare this with the record of the preaching of Nehor:
4 And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.
Even though there is a difference in presentation, the concept is the same. Nehor taught that “all mankind should be saved at the last day.” Because of this universal salvation, there was no cause for worry in this life, no need to “fear nor tremble.” There was no need to repent because their salvation was already assured. This is a direct conceptual ancestor to Samuel’s description of this people as those who believe that they can do whatever their heart desires. Certainly they have adopted the Nehorite philosophy of universal salvation.
Even more important, however, is the response of the people to the person doing the preaching. Samuel specifically notes that: “…ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel.” Compare that to Nehor’s teaching:
3 And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.
The conceptual antecedents are clear. Nehor taught that a priest should be supported by the people. While this text does not specifically mention wealth, we do find Nehor being “lifted up in the pride of his heart, and to wear very costly apparel.” (Alma 1:6). Nehor is the very model of the flattering priest who receives wealth and status from the people.
The order of the Nehors was a factor in Nephite society in the days of Alma the Younger. Samuel is speaking less than a hundred years later, and in the hundred years that passed, the doctrine that had been rejected was being embraced.
29 O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?
The option to repent is before them, but they see no reason to repent. They feel free to continue as they are because they have been able to convince themselves that there is nothing wrong with their course of action. It is these men claiming to be prophets that are the problem. Samuel understands that they are not about to repent in and of themselves, and expresses his frustration at their obstinacy.
30 Yea, behold, the anger of the Lord is already kindled against you; behold, he hath cursed the land because of your iniquity.
31 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.
They have already gone too long in their procrastination. The Lord has already cursed them. The curse hits them directly where they have sinned. Their pride in possessions that make them feel superior has led to their iniquities, so the Lord has cursed the ground so that it will swallow those riches. Their punishment is to lose the very thing they have sought after.
Mormon uses this prophecy as part of his connection between the events of his own day and those immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah to the New World:
18 And these Gadianton robbers, who were among the Lamanites, did infest the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again.
19 And it came to pass that there were sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics; and the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land, even unto the fulfilling of all the words of Abinadi, and also Samuel the Lamanite.
There are three aspects of these verses that are interest. First is, of course, the fact that the “slippery earth” curse is presented at the time of Mormon. Second is that Mormon explicitly links that “slippery earth” curse to this prophecy of Samuel. The last fascinating point is that once again we see the hand of the Gadiantions in the downfall of the Nephites. For Mormon these are not coincidences, but overall patterns that declare the purposes of God.
32 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:
The result of the cursing of the ground is that the riches will be gone. They will cache them in the ground to keep them safe, but the very earth will take them away. The things they value most will disappear, and the thing they most fear – poverty- will return in place of those objects of wealth.
33 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.
As with other times in the history of the Nephites, the reduction to poverty will create the conditions of dependence upon the Lord, and a return to the gospel. They will eventually be forced to see that it was their own pride that cause their downfall, and then they will become repentant. Ironically, it will still be their riches that are the focus of their attention.
34 Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle.
35 Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land.
Are these verses to be taken literally or figuratively? There is no way to know. The figurative meaning is completely within the framework of the cursing and the absolute impossibility of the accumulation of wealth. In the day something is set down, it disappears. As a metaphor for the slippery wealth that has no real value this is an ample image.
For the image to be literal we must suppose other possibilities that might cause their wealth to so easily slip away. The clue is that the tool or sword is laid down, and then they are gone later. There is no indication of burial, but the tool or weapon disappears. What may be described is rampant theft. In a time of poverty, anything of value might be traded for food or other necessities. The conditions described could be fulfilled by thieves. There is no known way for the earth to so rapidly swallow these goods without earthquakes, which do not appear to be part of the curse.
36 O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them.
37 Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us? And this shall be your language in those days.
Samuel’s words in verse 37 recall Nephi’s lament for his people:
15 And because of my mourning and lamentation ye have gathered yourselves together, and do marvel; yea, and ye have great need to marvel; yea, ye ought to marvel because ye are given away that the devil has got so great hold upon your hearts.
16 Yea, how could you have given way to the enticing of him who is seeking to hurl away your souls down to everlasting misery and endless wo?
Nephi laments that his people are being enticed by Satan, and Samuel has the people surrounded by the hosts of Satan. In both cases, the people have entered their situation willingly. For Samuel, there will be great pain when they discover what they have done to themselves.
38 But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.
39 O ye people of the land, that ye would hear my words! And I pray that the anger of the Lord be turned away from you, and that ye would repent and be saved.
The contrast between 38 and 29 is instructive. Samuel tells them Nephites that is a point at which they will have gone too far. There is a point where their “destruction is made sure.” Fortunately, verse 39 tells them that there is still a chance to repent, so that dire time is not yet. It approaches rapidly, however.
Textual: There is no chapter break in the 1830 edition. All of the preaching of Samuel is contained in one chapter.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002