THE PROPHECY OF NEPHI, THE SON OF HELAMAN—God threatens the people of Nephi that he will visit them in his anger, to their utter destruction except they repent of their wickedness. God smiteth the people of Nephi with pestilence; they repent and turn unto him. Samuel, a Lamanite, prophesies unto the Nephites. Comprising chapters 7 to 16 inclusive.
The presence of this superscription inside the book of Helaman has led to speculation that it indicates a formal transition in the author of the original plates. Sidney B. Sperry suggested:
“Mormon did not write much of what was recorded by Helaman II, because in 3:37 we are informed of Helaman's death and of the accession of his eldest son, Nephi, to the judgeship. It may be assumed, therefore, that Nephi took over the sacred records from his father. This supposition is correct, as 3 Nephi 1:2 makes clear. Inasmuch as Nephi had the plates, it may be taken for granted that he did most of the writing, though is it not improbable that he instructed his brother Lehi to do part of it. That part of the text for which Lehi may have been responsible was not indicated by Mormon when he made his abridgment.
The second superscription, over Chapter 7, refers to the content of chapters 7 to 16 as the "prophecy of Nephi, the son of Helaman." If the reader will examine 3:37, he will find that the formal responsibility of Helaman's son, Nephi, begins at that point. That would probably include the keeping of records. For that reason one wonders why chapters 4 to 6 are not also included under the caption of Nephi's "prophecy." Perhaps Mormon may have used the writings of Nephi's brother Lehi in preparing these chapters. If he did, it would be the answer to our problem, but unfortunately he doesn't indicate the fact, as was pointed out in the previous paragraph.” (Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968], 372.)
Sperry has two speculations that appear to be related to this superscription. The first is that it marks the formal beginning of the record of Nephi. The second is that the gap between the record of Helaman and this formal record of Nephi leaves space for a putative authorship by Lehi, the brother of Nephi. While this is an interesting approach to dealing with the presence of this superscription, it cannot be the correct answer. First, there is no textual indication that Lehi wrote any of the text, and it would be foreign to Mormon’s mode of attribution to miss the shift in formal writers. The plates were given to Nephi, and we must assume that Nephi is the one who writes. We will see that Lehi was also an important spiritual figure, but it was not his responsibility to write on the plates.
This leaves us with the question of why we have this introductory superscription in the middle of the text written by Nephi. Sperry suggested that it was related to formal writing on the plates, but we have seen transitions of plate authors in Alma without the superscription. The answer to this question lies in the superscription itself. It specifically begins by noting that this is the prophecy of Nephi. This emphasis on the prophecy of Nephi suggests that the author of the superscription believed that the prophecy was the most important information communicated in the section following. What is this prophecy? It is the prophecy of the murderer of the sitting chief judge, an act that is laid at the feet of the Gadianton robbers. While this is one of the items discussed in this original chapter, it is not the only one, so the question should be asked why this stands out. This is not a spiritual prophecy, but a rather mundane one. What it does, however, is continue the emphasis on the role of the Gadianton robbers in murder and political upheaval. These are Mormon’s themes, and therefore we may be confident that it is Mormon who wrote the superscription, and did so to emphasize the issue of the Gadianton robbers, not to indicate a change in the original plate author.
Textual: This introduction is part of the 1830 edition, minus the information on the chapter numbers, which are part of the present edition. There are two original chapters in this section of the 1830 edition, comprising our 7-12 and 13-16.
1 Behold, now it came to pass in the sixty and ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of the Nephites, that Nephi, the son of Helaman, returned to the land of Zarahemla from the land northward.
Nephi has been in the land northward. After a successful mission in the lands to the south, he goes north. He now returns to the land of Zarahemla that was given back to the Nephites as part of the concession of the converted Lamanites.
Chronological: The sixty-ninth year of the reign of the judges would be approximately 26 BC in the correlation used in this commentary.
2 For he had been forth among the people who were in the land northward and did preach the word of God unto them, and did prophesy many things unto them;
3 And they did reject all his words, insomuch that he could not stay among them, but returned again unto the land of his nativity.
Narrative: Mormon makes certain that we know that Nephi went to the land northward, and that he was unsuccessful. Once again the historical accuracy of this information is not as compelling a reason for inclusion as is Mormon’s intent in writing his text. For Mormon, it is important to continue to place a focus on the land northward, and to continue to see that location as a place where there is no reception of the gospel. This northward connection to non-believers becomes important to Mormon when he describes the events of his own time.
When he returns, he returns to the “land of his nativity,” which is the land of Zarahemla.
4 And seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment-seats—having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God, and not in the least aright before him; doing no justice unto the children of men;
Mormon uses Nephi’s return as another opportunity to emphasize the Gadianton control over the government of the people. This is a group that has shifted the balance of power and taken over the government of the Nephites. Since the goals of the Gadiantons are antithetical to the gospel, and particularly the Nephite egalitarian ideal, Mormon notes that the Gadiantons have laid “aside the commandments of God.” This alteration of the political landscape also suggests that the nature of law has shifted meaning, and therefore Mormon notes that they no longer do “justice unto the children of men.” The Gadianton takeover has altered the basic fabric of Nephite society.
While Mormon and Nephi certainly saw this as calamitous, we must remember that this was a process of social change that occurred over time, and eventually reflected a shift in the popular attitude towards these changes. While the balance of power was forcibly altered, the change of rulers was allowed because there had already been a fundamental shift in the popular paradigms of how the Nephite society ought to be.
5 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—
Social: Mormon catalogues the social problems he sees in the Gadianton takeover. Since all of these things are part of the rejection of the traditional Nephite religion, the gospel that Mormon believes, it is no surprise that he speaks poorly of the rule of the Gadiantons. However, it is important to reconstruct Mormon’s social catalogue in the perspective of a Mesoamerican culture to note that it is quite probable that all of this catalogue of evils were part of the cultural package adopted by the Gadiantons from the surrounding city-states.
First, we have the distinction Mormon makes between the treatment of the righteous and the wealthy. The definition of righteousness is, of course, those who continue to believe in the gospel. We saw in Helaman 6:39 that those who followed the gospel were considered to be poor, and that they were discriminated against because they were poor, or more specifically because they were not of the same class as the wealthy. While Mormon uses righteousness as the distinguishing marker here, the real differentiation is social status, and as a lower class (where classes were defined by visible goods, and the egalitarian believers did not accumulate such goods for purposes of social distinction) the believers did not receive the same privileges as the elite class. Mormon indicates that this is because of their “money.” This is certainly a translation error because money was not the medium of exchange anywhere in the New World. Nevertheless, the intent is correct. The deciding factor was certainly economic position, something that is defined by “money” in modern society, but by the visible accumulation of elite goods in Mesoamerica. Mormon is describing the precise conditions that would have happened in this society in a Mesoamerican community, with the exception of Joseph’s anachronistic translations of “money.”
The next “problem” is that these Gadiantons desired 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.” Those who were in power were those who controlled the access to the elite goods, and were at the apex of the social hierarchy. Mormon’s link between political office and “gain and glory” is precisely descriptive of the conditions in Mesoamerica at this time period.
The next item in the catalogue is: “that they might the more easily commit adultery.” This one has less direct supporting evidence, but the probability is that this is related to the Mesoamerican social acceptance of multiple wives and concubinage. This was the issue we say in Jacob, where the multiple wives were related to whoredoms. Here they are adultery, which signifies a sexual relationship outside of the accepted legal definition of marriage. If the tradition Nephite definition were to have one wife, and the new social order allowed for multiple wives in the Mesoamerican tradition, then Mormon’s description of that practice as adultery would be accurate, as Mormon would not recognize those additional marriages.
The last item sin the catalog are stealing and killing, items that we have already discussed as plausibly related to the Mesoamerican practice of waging war to create tribute relationships with other cities. That situation provides ample plausible social context for both the killing and the stealing, where Mormon would consider it theft because it was not earned goods through trade, but rather extracted tribute that was imposed on a people.
6 Now this great iniquity had come upon the Nephites, in the space of not many years; and when Nephi saw it, his heart was swollen with sorrow within his breast; and he did exclaim in the agony of his soul:
We have noted that it was the balance of social power that was rapid, not the shift in the desires of the population. Nevertheless, it serves Mormon’s purposes to make this a rapid descent into apostasy. In this case, he uses this rapid descent to set up Nephi’s lament that begins in the next verse.
7 Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; then were his people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord—
Nephi’s father, Helaman, had exhorted him to remember his heritage, and gave him a name (and his brother as well) that would help them to remember their heritage. This lesson was well learned. When Nephi begins his lament, he begins by tying his desires to the ancestors. He desires to have been with his namesake Nephi in the better times when the people followed the laws of God.
Of course Nephi is using the typical human embellishing of the past, making it better than it was. Nephi does not long for the original familiar tension when the Lamanites forced the first Nephites to flee. He is not speaking of the difficulties that Jacob had in teaching the people, and dealing with the issue of multiple wives. He wishes for an idealized past were all was better, where the great Nephi was in charge, and all sat willingly at his feet.
This tells us that Nephi was as human as the rest of us, and that while he certainly had read much of the records of the past, he probably did with them what we tend to do with the scriptures – that is, read the “good parts” and skip quickly over the parts that are of less interest. For Nephi, the record of the past held some idyllic version of a people sitting willingly at the feet of the great first prophet.
Textual: Mormon is inserting this lament from Nephi’s writings. The lament consists of verses 7-9, and must be considered to be copies of the text directly from Nephi’s record, without any editorial comment from Mormon. Mormon returns to editorializing in verse 10.
8 Yea, if my days could have been in those days, then would my soul have had joy in the righteousness of my brethren.
9 But behold, I am consigned that these are my days, and that my soul shall be filled with sorrow because of this the wickedness of my brethren.
Literary: Verses 8 and 9 are meant to be contrasting parallels. In the old days Nephi would have had joy, but in these days he has sorrow. In the old days the people were righteous, now they are wicked. It is probable that he understands that he also plays on his own name as a pivot in this contrast. There was a Nephi; there is a Nephi. The circumstances, and therefore the joy available, are different.
10 And behold, now it came to pass that it was upon a tower, which was in the garden of Nephi, which was by the highway which led to the chief market, which was in the city of Zarahemla; therefore, Nephi had bowed himself upon the tower which was in his garden, which tower was also near unto the garden gate by which led the highway.
Cultural: This verse is the best description of the physical residence of an important man. We should not expect that all Nephites lived in such a residence, for Nephi had been a chief judge, and would have been according not only place in the city, but larger residence. It is interesting to note that this description of the residence fits well with the archaeological evidence coming from Mesoamerican residences.
The first point to note is that this residence is “by the highway which led to the chief market.” While inter-city roads are later additions to the Mesoamerican city-state landscape, the internal roads are part and parcel of the planned layout of the ceremonial centers, including the residences for those who live in the city proper. It is thus quite to be expected in Mesoamerica that a road might lead by the residence of a man who had been the chief judge, and thus would merit a residence in the city proper.
The next aspect of the road is that it “led to the chief market.” Wallace Hunt notes:
“Significantly, this is the only place in the Book of Mormon where the word market appears.
One hardly notices the words chief market in this particular chapter, and upon deeper perusal of the verse, the use of the two words at first seems unnecessary. Why add this description? If Joseph Smith were authoring the book, there would be no need to include such a description. In fact, any unusual word or description could jeopardize the integrity of the work. After all, the native Americans with whom he was familiar had no marketplaces!
We can, however, draw several conclusions from Mormon's inclusion of the phrase chief market. First, the description was important to include, since he was limited for space and therefore would have included only words, phrases, and events that he felt were significant. Also, this description signifies that cities in this time period not only had more than one market, but that one of the markets was either larger or more significant than the others.” (Wallace E. Hunt, Jr. “Notes and Communications-the Marketplace”, FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 4, no. 2 (Fall 1995), 140.)
Welch corroborates Hunt’s conclusions with additional information on the Mesoamerican context for multiple market places:
“Cortez and his fellows were amazed by the market in Tlatelolco in the Valley of Mexico, by its diversity of goods, and by the complexity of its organization. Yet until recently, only little attention has been given to the fact that a number of these cities had multiple markets.
The evidence, however, seems quite clear. Blanton and Kowalewski, for example, have noted that Monte Alban had both a chief market and subsidiary ones. fn For Teotihuacan, Rene Millon identifies one location as "the principal marketplace" and suggests that other markets existed for special products, such as kitchen wares. fn George Cowgill, the other leading expert on Teotihuacan, concurs. fn The Krotsers point out the same phenomenon at El Tajín. fn Meanwhile Edward Calnek's reexamination of documentary evidence on the organization of the Aztec capital, Tenochititlan, has established that each major sector of the city had its own market, in addition to the giant central one. fn Apparently Zarahemla was no different.” (John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992], 237. See also Wallace E. Hunt, Jr..Notes and Communications-the Marketplace, FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 4, no. 2 (Fall 1995), 140.)
So far, then we have a road leading to a chief market, both quite typical features of a larger Mesoamerican city. To this point, Nephi’s residence rings true to time and space.
We also learn that Nephi’s residence was a compound surrounded by a wall in which there was a gate. This wall enclosed at least the “garden of Nephi” and the “tower.” While it isn’t stated, we presume that it also enclosed, or was attached to, the residence itself. Are these features of a Mesoamerican elite residence? Yes.
“…garden areas were cultivated immediately adjacent to single habitation complexes. At the archaeological site of El Tajín near the coast of the Gulf of Mexico east of Mexico City are the remains of a city that occupied at least five square kilometers at its maximum period, probably between A.D. 600-900. At that time, the houses of its middle-class people were surrounded by gardens and fruit trees. fn Likewise, the famous city of Tula, north of the capital of Mexico, was even larger, up to fourteen square kilometers around A.D. 1000-1100, and gardened houselots were common there too.” (John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992], 237.)
The walled compound is equally well attested at multiple locations. This leaves the question of Nephi’s tower. What was this tower?
The attested “towers” inside the walled compounds are pyramidal structures. Those attached to private residences were not nearly as high as those used for public ritual, but they were nevertheless similarly constructed, if not nearly so high. Certainly the top of Nephi’s tower was sufficiently close to the ground that he could discourse to the population. As a place for prayer and communion with God they were symbolically well-suited:
“In Old Testament times Israelites and surrounding nations built and used such holy elevations. The Canaanite "high places" (bamoth) to which the backsliding Israelites resorted were strongly condemned by the prophets (for example, in Ezekiel 43:7). Archaeologists now know that those structures were earthen platforms quite like those found by the thousands in Mesoamerica. In Israelite thought, they stood for mountains or hills just as elsewhere in the Near East. On them, it was felt, heavenly powers were especially accessible; this was a divine contact point, "the navel of the earth." The underworld (not necessarily conceived as hell) was thought accessible at the same "world axis." The Baal worshippers of Canaan believed that El, progenitor of the gods, dwelt at Aphaca, a spot on the coast where a mountain rises immediately above a huge cave. So this great deity of theirs was connected not only with the mountain but also lived in "aqueous and subterranean environs." That sounds perfectly Mesoamerican. Teotihuacan's Pyramid of the Sun, it was recently discovered, was built over a cavern and spring of obvious sacred significance.
This business may all sound thoroughly pagan, but worship upon elevations was orthodox in Israel if done right. Moses' experience in Sinai comes to mind, as well as Nephi's vision on a mountain (1 Nephi 11:1). The temple seen in vision by Ezekiel was "upon a very high mountain" (Ezekiel 40:2-5). One of the Hebrew names of God was Sur, "Mountain" (for example, 1 Samuel 2:2 literally reads, "There is no Mountain like our God"). Chapter 32 of Deuteronomy uses this name for deity eight times. fn Among the Nephites we find expectable sacred significance for mountains. Nehor was carried to "the top of the hill Manti . . . between the heavens and the earth" to be executed (Alma 1:15). The prophet Nephi got upon his private tower in his garden that, he said, "I might pour out my soul unto my God" (Helaman 7:10, 14); to him a tower was a special place to pray, and like the natural hilltop, it was considered "between heaven and earth." (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985], 174.)
All aspects of this short description of Nephi’s residence fit the Mesoamerican model of an elite residence in the city center. Of course a farmer’s home in the outskirts of the town would be quite different, even though it would also likely have been a compound area. The farmer’s residence would not be by a road, and would not have a tower. It probably would not have a wall with a gate, though it would certainly have some type of “garden” surrounding the house where the family kept various plants for foodstuffs.
11 And it came to pass that there were certain men passing by and saw Nephi as he was pouring out his soul unto God upon the tower; and they ran and told the people what they had seen, and the people came together in multitudes that they might know the cause of so great mourning for the wickedness of the people.
The three brief verses we have of Nephi’s lament clearly were not the complete text, nor the complete context. Nephi is engaged in a process of mourning for the sins of the people, and this mourning apparently took on a vocal as well as visual form. Since Nephi was elevated on his tower by the road leading to the chief market, he was right in the visual/audial path of the throngs that would move back and forth to market. Thus they would naturally notice this unusual mourning on the tower. Clearly those who heard it deemed it unusual, and they gathered others to come and see and hear the spectacle on the tower.
Welch suggests that the nature of Nephi’s lament was in the visual and audible form of a lament for one who had died:
“Several clues indicate that Nephi may have attracted attention to his message by carrying on as if someone had just died.
1. Nephi was in "great mourning" (7:11) and "lamentation" (7:15). Mourning generally means more than just feeling sorry or crying privately. One can imagine Nephi dressed in traditional Nephite mourning attire (whatever that might have been), gesticulating on top of his tower perhaps in motions of bereavement. Onlookers would have wondered immediately who in the important aristocratic household of the great Alma's descendants had just died.
2. He continued with this conduct for a fair amount of time—at least long enough for people to go tell many others in town who then turned out in multitudes (see 7:11). If during this time Nephi was conducting a recognizable mock mourning or funeral ceremony, this would have been quite a curiosity.
3. Whatever he did, it was something of a public spectacle that worked the crowd into a state of awe, for Nephi told them they indeed had "great need to marvel" (7:15).
4. The tower would probably have been a pyramid or similar structure. Typically, such mounds were used for burials, as well as for prayer. If Nephi's tower was the family burial site, his reference to the righteousness of his ancestors in his allegorical funeral for the Nephite nation would have been all the more poignant.
5. If Nephi was mourning and lamenting, the crowd would have wondered, of course, who had died. It would have struck them personally, therefore, when Nephi began decrying their iniquities (see 7:13-14). Moreover, since he speaks later of "murder" (7:21; 8:26), it is possible that he spoke the word "murder" as he poured out his soul to God while the crowd was gathering.
6. Nephi surprised the crowd when he asked them, "Why will ye die?" (7:17). Unless they repent, he told them, God will turn them into "meat for dogs and wild beasts" (7:19), and their souls will be hurled to everlasting misery (see 7:16). Nephi predicted slaughter and utter destruction at the hands of enemies (see 7:22, 24) and prophesied that the people would be "destroyed from off the face of the earth" (7:28).
7. Nephi then cited examples of people who had been delivered from death (see 8:11-19) and spoke of other destroyed peoples. Thus, the themes of death and deliverance from death characterize Nephi's words throughout this speech.
8. Nephi concluded by being specific. For one person in particular, Nephi's funeral may have been more than mere allegory. Nephi announced prophetically the death of the chief judge in Zarahemla (see 8:27). His death not only would have validated Nephi's words in general, but also would have presented a corpse, symbolically representing all the people of Zarahemla and potently completing the allegorical message of this apparent funeral sermon.” (John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992], 242.)
12 And now, when Nephi arose he beheld the multitudes of people who had gathered together.
13 And it came to pass that he opened his mouth and said unto them: Behold, why have ye gathered yourselves together? That I may tell you of your iniquities?
Nephi notices that a crowd has gathered. Indeed, he could hardly be surprised that a crowd had gathered as he had placed himself in such a position that he would attract a crowd. It is quite probable that this was precisely what he had intended.
14 Yea, because I have got upon my tower that I might pour out my soul unto my God, because of the exceeding sorrow of my heart, which is because of your iniquities!
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.
Nephi knows that it has been his mourning attitude and vocalizations that has gathered the crowd. They came curious, and now Nephi will tell them that it is they for whom he mourns. The people would likely have though that there was a death in the family, but Nephi points the finger at them, and accuses them of iniquity. Nephi is mourning them.
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?
17 O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die? Turn ye, turn ye unto the Lord your God. Why has he forsaken you?
Nephi uses the formalities of mourning to set up this confrontation with the crowd, and he uses that imagery to highlight the sinful state of his audience. He ties his current discourse to his actions by asking “why will ye die?” The people had come to learn who had died, and Nephi now tells them that it is they who are dying by following “him who is seeking to hurl away your souls down to everlasting misery and endless wo.”
18 It is because you have hardened your hearts; yea, ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd; yea, ye have provoked him to anger against you.
19 And behold, instead of gathering you, except ye will repent, behold, he shall scatter you forth that ye shall become meat for dogs and wild beasts.
They are following a leader (Satan) who will lead them to spiritual death. They have turned their backs on the God who can save them, and so rather than save, he “shall scatter you forth that ye shall become meat for dogs and wild beasts.” This sounds like a very un-Christ-like cursing. What it is, however, is the application of the penalty of the foundational promise. Without the protection of God, they Nephites will be subject to being overrun. At this point, the statement is not a cursing but a prophecy. The disintegration of their political entity will create these conditions.
20 O, how could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you?
21 But behold, it is to get gain, to be praised of men, yea, and that ye might get gold and silver. And ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world, for the which ye do murder, and plunder, and steal, and bear false witness against your neighbor, and do all manner of iniquity.
Nephi says that the Nephites have “have forgotten [their] God in the very day that he has delivered [them].” Typically, Nephite prophets have considered “deliverance” to be a deliverance from some military conflict, or perhaps a position of bondage. The most recent deliverance was the return of Nephite lands after the Lamanite conversion. They had been lost, and were returned. While the deliverance did not come through military action as it had in the past, it did come through the hand of the Lord, and very. Nephi was intimately involved in that conversion, and therefore understood the connection between that conversion and the deliverance of the Nephite holdings in the land of Zarahemla.
The specific catalogue of sins listed in verse 21 indicates that Nephi is directly preaching against the secret combinations. This suggests that the assembled crowd would understand what he was talking about. Certainly there were members of the Gadiantons present in the crowd (see Helaman 8:1), but it is also quite probable that the concept of the secret combinations was well known, even if the particular oaths were secret. The Gadiantons were, after all, a political party at this time, and in charge of the government. It would be surprising if the rest of the people did not know at least generalities about them. Part of the reason that the Book of Mormon’s secret combinations were presumed to refer to Masons by many readers is precisely that the Masons were known, and known to have secret oaths, even when the specifics were not known. In this same way, the Gadiantons at this point in time were hardly a secret organization, even though they did have secrets in the organization.
22 And for this cause wo shall come unto you except ye shall repent. For if ye will not repent, behold, this great city, and also all those great cities which are round about, which are in the land of our possession, shall be taken away that ye shall have no place in them; for behold, the Lord will not grant unto you strength, as he has hitherto done, to withstand against your enemies.
Nephi continues the prophetic description of what was going to happen to this people. With the Lord withdrawing his protection, they are subject to the cursing side of the foundational promise.
23 For behold, thus saith the Lord: I will not show unto the wicked of my strength, to one more than the other, save it be unto those who repent of their sins, and hearken unto my words. Now therefore, I would that ye should behold, my brethren, that it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent.
Even with the coming cursing, the Lord still accepts repentance. The way out of destruction remains open, if only they would accept it. As Nephi is attempting to convince them of their need to repent, he creates what should be the greatest contrast possible. Nephi tells them that “it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent.” The Nephites carried a cultural antipathy to the concept of the Lamanites, even when they appear to have been adopting Nephite cultural ways. This was the inheritance of the Nephite fathers, a prejudice as firm and defining as the Lamanite tradition of the offenses of the first Nephi against their fathers Laman and Lemuel. For the Nephites, being compared unfavorably to the Lamanites would have been an affront, and something nearly unbelievable. Nevertheless, it was quite true. Nephi measured value in the coin of the gospel and faithfulness to it. The Nephites no longer, as a people, follow God, yet many of the Lamanites do. This reversal of belief leads to a reversal of favor. God favors faithfulness, not ancient prejudices.
24 For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent.
The Nephites certainly know of the conversions of the Lamanites to the Nephite gospel, and it is that knowledge that Nephi uses here. The Lamanites have received the gospel, and are keeping it. The Nephites had received the gospel, but have rejected it. This places the Lamanites in the more righteous position. Nevertheless, Nephi continues to hold out hope against the dire prophecies by noting that they may still repent and avoid the consequences.
25 Yea, wo be unto you because of that great abomination which has come among you; and ye have united yourselves unto it, yea, to that secret band which was established by Gadianton!
26 Yea, wo shall come unto you because of that pride which ye have suffered to enter your hearts, which has lifted you up beyond that which is good because of your exceedingly great riches!
Nephi makes two categories of sins on the people. The first is the acceptance of the Gadiantons, and the second is the “pride which ye have suffered to enter your hearts.” This pride led to the use of wealth as a means of social distinctions and the establishment of economic hierarchies. Note that Nephi says that they have been “lifted.. up beyond that which is good.” This “lifting up” is part of the process of creating the social distinctions.
The acceptance of the Gadiantons is interesting. Nephi notes that the Nephites have united themselves to this “secret band.” If the majority of people have united themselves to it, it is hardly a “secret band” in the connotation that they presence is secret. The secrets are in the combinations, not in the existence. Nephi notes that this is something that has come among them, and therefore Nephi is declaring it to be foreign in origin – foreign at least in the idea that it does not belong in traditional Nephite society. It is an idea from the outside, fomented by people on the inside.
27 Yea, wo be unto you because of your wickedness and abominations!
28 And 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.
The prophetic cursing is repeated. Here it is couched even more closely in terms that resemble the foundational promise, so it cannot be missed.
2 Nephi 1:9
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.
While the promise is couched in positive terms, certainly the promise of permanence in the lands has its cursing in the opposite condition, and it is that destruction from the lands of inheritance to which Nephi clearly refers.
29 Behold now, I do not say that these things shall be, of myself, because it is not of myself that I know these things; but behold, I know that these things are true because the Lord God has made them known unto me, therefore I testify that they shall be.
Nephi makes certain that his audience understand that this is a prophetic utterance made on behalf of God. It is not Nephi’s personal opinion, although certainly Nephi agrees with it.
Textual: There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002