1 And now, it came to pass that there were many who heard the words of Samuel, the Lamanite, which he spake upon the walls of the city. And as many as believed on his word went forth and sought for Nephi; and when they had come forth and found him they confessed unto him their sins and denied not, desiring that they might be baptized unto the Lord.
Samuel’s message of repentance was not completely rejected. There were those who did hear, and repent. Those people sought Nephi to be accepted into the gospel and be baptized. This indicates that Nephi was well enough known that he would be the logical one to go to. Such renown further highlights the desperation of the Gadianton leaders who had intended to kill Nephi. They were dealing with a man who was well-known, and then became even more well known through the miraculous discovery of the murderer of the chief judge.
Textual: The current chapter break did not exist in the plates, but there is a division here in the type of material we have. At the end of our chapter 15 we have the conclusion of the inserted record of the preaching of Samuel the Lamanite. Mormon now returns to his own concluding narrative. This is a point at which he has made a chapter break in other chapters. In this chapter his intent is not simply the entry of Samuel’s words, but the aftermath of the speech. Since these events are just as important as the words, Mormon combines them without creating the chapter break.
2 But as many as there were who did not believe in the words of Samuel were angry with him; and they cast stones at him upon the wall, and also many shot arrows at him as he stood upon the wall; but the Spirit of the Lord was with him, insomuch that they could not hit him with their stones neither with their arrows.
When Samuel originally attempted to preach to the Nephites he was rejected, and was returning home when the Lord required him to return (Helaman 13:2-3). Those who rejected his message before were in no different frame of mind now, and indeed had become murderous. Just as the Gadiantons had attempted to kill Nephi to remove him as an influence among the people, so these Nephites are now attempting to kill Samuel. This would also remove Samuel from the minds of the people. The attempt backfires, however, as noted in the next verse.
Cultural: The fact that arrows were shot at Samuel suggests a planned murder. Arrows were either hunting weapons or weapons of war. They were not the kind of thing that one would be carrying around on one’s person on the way to market. To have shot arrows at Samuel, either there was a standing army (and the evidence is against this possibility) or there were many who began to listen to Samuel, and consciously went to some location where they could retrieve their arrows and bring them to the spot where Samuel stood. This need to leave and come back also indicates the reason that Samuel had time to give the sermon. Had the people already had their arrows with them, they might not have allowed him to speak at all, or certainly not get nearly as much information out before they attempted to kill him.
3 Now when they saw that they could not hit him, there were many more who did believe on his words, insomuch that they went away unto Nephi to be baptized.
Cultural: When the text tells us that they “shot arrows” this might have been from a bow, because a bow was known, but the more common method in Mesoamerica was more technically “throwing” the arrows from an atlatl a device into which an arrow is placed and which provides a more powerful throw to the arrow.
This verse indicates two important facts. The first is that the people could not hit Samuel, and the second is that they took this inability to hit Samuel as miraculous. This is a situation that should receive at least a little attention. We are a society grown up on Western movies and Police shows where modern guns are fired at all kinds of people and no one seems to be hit. For the sake of the story, people in these movies have remarkably poor aim. In this case, there might be a possibility of poor aim. There might also be a possibility that Samuel’s location on the wall made the shot more difficult.
Neither of these possibilities fits the statement, for then the missing would be natural, not supernatural. In this case, it is important to note that there was every reason to expect that they would have been successful. It is this contrast between what should have happened and what did happen that became the miracle that caused even more people to believe and to seek out Nephi.
Interestingly, the inability to be shot with arrows when the target should easily have been killed became part of the Mesoamerican definition of a supernatural being. The jaguar was considered a sacred and supernatural being in Mesoamerica, and this difficulty of killing it with arrows became part of its legend:
“When it sees one, when it meets, when it comes upon a huntsman, a hunter, it does not run, it does not flee. It just settles down to face him. It places itself well; it hides itself not at all, this [jaguar]. Then it begins to hiss, so that by its breath it may make faint, may terrify the hunter. And when the hunter begins to shoot arrows at it. The first reed, the arrow, which he shoots, the [jaguar] just catches with its paws; it shatters it with its teeth. It seats itself upon it growling, snarling, rumbling in its throat. When [the hunter] shoots more, it is just the same; howsowever many he shoots at it, to all [the jaguar] does the same.” (Bernardino de Sahagun. Florentine Codex. School of American Research and University of Utah, 1963, 11:2).
In one of the stories of the birth of Quetzalcoatl, his father, Mixcoatl the hunter-deity sees the woman Chimalman. He shoots arrows at her, but is unable to hit her. This becomes the sign of her supernatural nature, and he weds her to produce their son Quetzalcoatl in a miraculous (and culturally significant) four days. (History and Mythology of the Aztecs: The Copdex Chimalpopoca. Tr. John Bierhorst. University of Arizona Press, Tucson and London, 1992, p. 153. Interestingly, one of the arrows shot at Chimalman she also catches in her hand, as does the jaguar in the Florentine Codex text).
When the people saw that Samuel could not be killed with arrows, and that he should have been, then they saw that this was a miracle. Whether that event alone, or some other Mesoamerican conditioning to see the inability of killing something with arrows as a marker of divinity, the people did recognize the miracle, and through that miracle the presence of the protection of the Lord with Samuel. This miracle was what turned even more to repentance.
4 For behold, Nephi was baptizing, and prophesying, and preaching, crying repentance unto the people, showing signs and wonders, working miracles among the people, that they might know that the Christ must shortly come—
Of course Nephi was not idle while Samuel was doing all of the Lord’s work. Nephi was also preaching. This situation of more than one prophet calling a people to repentance recalls the commission to Lehi to preach in Jerusalem at the same time as other prophets were delivering the same message (1 Nephi 1:4).
5 Telling them of things which must shortly come, that they might know and remember at the time of their coming that they had been made known unto them beforehand, to the intent that they might believe; therefore as many as believed on the words of Samuel went forth unto him to be baptized, for they came repenting and confessing their sins.
The function of the coming signs would not be the convincing of the unbelievers, buth the strengthening of the believers. They are given so that they might “know and remember.” They will not cause a general conversion. Agency will still be exercised, and unfortunately exercised to disbelief.
6 But the more part of them did not believe in the words of Samuel; therefore when they saw that they could not hit him with their stones and their arrows, they cried unto their captains, saying: Take this fellow and bind him, for behold he hath a devil; and because of the power of the devil which is in him we cannot hit him with our stones and our arrows; therefore take him and bind him, and away with him.
Even those who did not believe recognized that there was something of the supernatural in Samuel. For them, however, it was “a devil.” There was something there, they simply could not see the true source. Since they were already attempting to kill him, and failing, they turn to the next possibility, which was capture. The presence of captains suggests that there were some military/police available in the crowd. Perhaps this indicates that a quick call-up of a defensive militia was made from the men in the city.
7 And as they went forth to lay their hands on him, behold, he did cast himself down from the wall, and did flee out of their lands, yea, even unto his own country, and began to preach and to prophesy among his own people.
8 And behold, he was never heard of more among the Nephites; and thus were the affairs of the people.
9 And thus ended the eighty and sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
Of course if the Lord would not allow Samuel to be killed, he would not allow him to be captured. Samuel escapes and returns to his own people.
Chronology: The end of the eighty-sixth year of the reign of the judges translates to approximately 9 BC. This makes it Samuel’s five years to the time of Christ’s birth, listed as 4 BC in this commentary.
10 And thus ended also the eighty and seventh year of the reign of the judges, the more part of the people remaining in their pride and wickedness, and the lesser part walking more circumspectly before God.
In spite of all of the miraculous signs, in spite of Nephi’s preaching, in spite of Samuel’s preaching, still the majority of the people continue in “their pride and wickedness.” The social revolution that allowed the Gadiantons to gain power is still prominent in Nephite society, even though those particular leaders were exiled. The shift in the social consciousness that allowed them to come to power remained part of the Nephite culture, and will remain antithetical to the gospel.
11 And these were the conditions also, in the eighty and eighth year of the reign of the judges.
12 And there was but little alteration in the affairs of the people, save it were the people began to be more hardened in iniquity, and do more and more of that which was contrary to the commandments of God, in the eighty and ninth year of the reign of the judges.
As the great event of the Messiah’s birth approaches, two things happen. The first is that there is a continuation of the hardening of the hearts of the people. Mormon traces this tendency in the rapid year counts and the terse explanation of the wickedness of the people. The contrasting event begins in the next verses.
13 But it came to pass in the ninetieth year of the reign of the judges, there were great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled.
14 And angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled.
There is a specific marker of the day of the birth, which is the night that is no night. However, there were other omens in the heavens and on earth that had been prophesied. These signs also came to prepare the world. It is most likely that when “angels did appear unto men, wise men,” that they were appearing to the believers. Those who understood and believed could see the signs and understand them. The disbelievers continued to ignore the signs, and continued to be reject the gospel.
Chronological: The ninetieth year of the reign of the judges is approximately 6 BC, or two years prior to the birth of the Messiah.
15 Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them, both of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites, and began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom, saying:
16 Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken.
Mormon gives us the perfect picture of rationalization. Humans are remarkably able to believe, but also remarkably able to support what we want to believe with a denial of the very things we can see. In this case, prophecies were being fulfilled, but the disbelievers were able to pass them off as lucky guesses.
17 And they began to reason and to contend among themselves, saying:
18 That it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come; if so, and he be the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, as it has been spoken, why will he not show himself unto us as well as unto them who shall be at Jerusalem?
The signs were the signs of the coming of the Atoning Messiah. The Nephites who had adopted the Nehorite religion and philosophy did not believe in the need for an Atoning Messiah, therefore these signs could not predict someone who did not exist. In this case, they attempt to use reason and philosophy to bolster their position. They are the humanists of the day, indicating that “it is not reasonable” that the Messiah should come. Their assumed cultural superiority shows in their question as to why this great Messiah should come to Jerusalem, but not to them, with the unstated conclusion “since we are more important than Jerusalem.”
19 Yea, why will he not show himself in this land as well as in the land of Jerusalem?
What an ironic statement! While it is true that the birth occurred in Jerusalem, and that these current signs point to the birth, nevertheless, the Messiah will come. The very argument these Nehorites use to deny the Savior will be dramatically fulfilled with the Messiah does appear to the New World less than forty years hence.
20 But behold, we know that this is a wicked tradition, which has been handed down unto us by our fathers, to cause us that we should believe in some great and marvelous thing which should come to pass, but not among us, but in a land which is far distant, a land which we know not; therefore they can keep us in ignorance, for we cannot witness with our own eyes that they are true.
In this verse we have more evidence that the apostasy of the Nephites has followed the previous traditions. In this case, we have the echo of Korihor, also a Nehorite, and specifically “anti-Christ:”
12 And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, (and the law could have no hold upon him) began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ. And after this manner did he preach, saying:
13 O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come.
14 Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers.
15 How do ye know of their surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.
The argument of the current Nephites is a virtual repetition of Korihor’s argument. There can be no Christ because we cannot know what we cannot see. The Nehorite heresy has long been with the Nephites. We saw it first in the court of Noah, and it appeared with a name in the person of Nehor. Korihor was a continuation of the same set of beliefs, and that set of beliefs has now become the majority religion among the Nephites.
21 And they will, by the cunning and the mysterious arts of the evil one, work some great mystery which we cannot understand, which will keep us down to be servants to their words, and also servants unto them, for we depend upon them to teach us the word; and thus will they keep us in ignorance if we will yield ourselves unto them, all the days of our lives.
The Nehorite philosophy attacks the people of God by declaring them to be a form of magician. They do “the cunning and the mysterious arts.” There are certainly things that look like miracles, but they cannot be true. They must be of the devil. In order to justify their own beliefs they must not only deny the gospel, but must assign all of the obvious good of the gospel to the devil rather than to God. To exalt themselves, they must denigrate the gospel. Unfortunatley, there are modern men who feel that they must do the same. To exalt their own beliefs they must attack the beliefs of others. That was a sign of wickedness among the Nephites. It is no less a sign of the lack of the spirit today.
22 And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come.
23 And notwithstanding the signs and the wonders which were wrought among the people of the Lord, and the many miracles which they did, Satan did get great hold upon the hearts of the people upon all the face of the land.
At the same time as angels were appearing to “wise men,” Satan stirred up the rest to all kinds of justifications of their actions. As the time of the Messiah’s birth approaches, the two paths of the Nephite people are both well defined, and well-divergent. The righteous believe and anxiously await. The unrighteous disbelieve, and condemn the believers. The differences are brewing a heady tension in the society.
24 And thus ended the ninetieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
25 And thus ended the book of Helaman, according to the record of Helaman and his sons.
The countdown continues. We are two years away. Mormon has painted the picture of a society deeply divided, and in deep conflict among its factions. At this point, the record of the book of Helaman ends.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002