Mosiah 12


MDC Contents


Mosiah 11:29

29 Now the eyes of the people were blinded; therefore they hardened their hearts against the words of Abinadi, and they sought from that time forward to take him. And king Noah hardened his heart against the word of the Lord, and he did not repent of his evil doings.

Mosiah 12:1

1 And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people, for they have hardened their hearts against my words; they have repented not of their evil doings; therefore, I will visit them in my anger, yea, in my fierce anger will I visit them in their iniquities and abominations.

Textual: Mormon sets up Abinadi's second mission by summarizing the social climate into which the Lord sent Abinadi. Abinadi was not only sought by the king, but was also sought by the people. In verse 11:29 Mormon makes sure that we understand that it is the people themselves who are first on the lookout for Abinadi to kill him. Of course Mormon also tells us that neither Noah nor his people repented, so we know that the judgements of God will surely come upon them. Into this climate of unrepentance and of a population seeking Abinadi's life comes Abinadi on his second mission from the Lord.

When Abinadi comes among the people he comes in disguise, and then appears to blow his cover by announcing his name. Why the disguise if he were to openly state his name? The answer is verse 11:29. Without the disguise Abinadi could not have come among them because he would have been killed as he entered the community. We learn from this that Abinidi has been outside the community for the space of two years, but would still be known and still hunted for his life. Whether or not Abinadi understood the personal martyrdom that awaited him, the Lord's purpose required that Abinadi go before Noah's court. To accomplish that, Abinadi had to survive long enough to be in a public place where he could both preach and call attention to himself. In such a public place, the people who might have killed him upon sight would now defer to the officials of the government, and Abinadi would be take before Noah. That audience before Noah was the true purpose of his mission. Coming in disguise got him to the point where he could be given over to the authorities and brought to confront Noah and his priests directly.

Mosiah 12:2

2 Yea, wo be unto this generation! And the Lord said unto me: Stretch forth thy hand and prophesy, saying: Thus saith the Lord, it shall come to pass that this generation, because of their iniquities, shall be brought into bondage, and shall be smitten on the cheek; yea, and shall be driven by men, and shall be slain; and the vultures of the air, and the dogs, yea, and the wild beasts, shall devour their flesh.

During Abinadi's first mission the Lord had him call the people to repentance. This mission is different. Abinadi does not deliver a prophetic if but rather a prophetic will. Abinadi now foretells their bondage and suffering. The people have made their decision, and the Lord has made his. Abinadi simply describes the imminent future of the unrepentant population. These fearsome calamities will all too soon become the reality of their lives.

Textual: Mormon appears to be citing a record of Abinadi's speech. However, it is also clear from internal evidence that there was no single account of the speech (see verses 10-12 below). It would have been very surprising to have a single account of this part of Abinadi's discourse because it was made to a public that was not expecting him. There would have been no way that someone would have happened to have the writing materials with him to record the precise words.

Mormon's source here is the official record of Noah, and the source of that record had to be the oral remembrances of those in the crowd. Those remembrances were not complete, and lead to slightly differing versions of what he said (again see 10-12 below).

Mosiah 12:3

3 And it shall come to pass that the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace; for he shall know that I am the Lord.

The fate of the people is foretold, and the fate of their king is foretold. Noah will all too literally become "as a garment in a hot furnace."

Literary: It is possible that both the form of this curse and the imagery of the curse flowed from references retained from the Old World. While at this point in time specific Nephite remembrance of Old World customs may be limited, the retention of certain literary structures is not beyond possibility. Similarly, the retention of practice that correlated to the specifics of the law of Moses also have a probability of retention. In that light, note the following:

" In Mosiah 12:3, Abinadi prophesied "that the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace." Noah’s priests reported the words a little differently, "thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire" (Mosiah 12:10). The prophecy was fulfilled when King Noah was burned to death (see Mosiah 19:20).

Mark J. Morrise has shown that Abinadi’s words fit the pattern of a simile curse, in which the subject of the curse is likened to a specific event; Morrise provides many examples, such as the following from an Aramaic treaty of approximately 750 B.C.:

Just as this was is burned by fire, so shall Arpad be burned.

Hugh Nibley suggested that Abinadi borrowed from the simile curse in Isaiah 50:9, 11 (cited in 2 Nephi 7:9, 11):

"Who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment the moth shall eat them up. . .. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled."

But the Isaiah parallel is only a partial one, for verse 11 (which mentions fire) has nothing to do with the garment which is consumed by the moth, not the fire. If there are parallels to be found, one might expect them to include both the garment and the fire and possibly the furnace. Yet no such complete parallels are forthcoming from the Old Testament or other ancient Near Eastern literature. Nevertheless, there are some partial parallels.

The law of Moses provides that a garment visibly tainted by the plague is to be burned (see Leviticus 13:52, 57; compare Jude 1:23). While the Lord knew about germs, the ancient Israelites did not. Therefore, the burning of garments to prevent the spread of disease would not have been reasonable before the nineteenth century, when people learned that microorganisms caused diseases. But the burning of a man’s possessions after his death is very common in "primitive" cultures throughout the world. Typically, all his personal possessions would be brought into his house (usually a rather insubstantial structure in such societies), which would then be set on fire. In this way, the deceased would not be able to find his possessions and would be free to move on to the world of spirits. In such cases, we have the garment and the fire, but not the furnace.

A ceremonial burning of worn-out priestly clothing took place in the Jerusalem temple of Christ’s time during the Feast of Tabernacles. Located above the court of the women were huge cups in which olive oil was burned; these garments served as wicks. Just as priests who developed bodily infirmities were disqualified from performing priestly functions under the law of Moses (see Leviticus 21:17—23), so, too, their worn clothing became unsuited for temple service. (research by John A. Tvedtnes, "As a Garment in a Hot Furnace." _Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon_. FARMS 1999, p. 127-8).

Mosiah 12:4

4 And it shall come to pass that I will smite this my people with sore afflictions, yea, with famine and with pestilence; and I will cause that they shall howl all the day long.

Mosiah 12:5

5 Yea, and I will cause that they shall have burdens lashed upon their backs; and they shall be driven before like a dumb ass.

The various calamities that will befall the people of Noah do not come simultaneously. Some come as the result of the armies of the Lamanites, some, such as the burdens on their backs, come in the aftermath of their subjugation by the Lamanites. All comes to pass, but at different times. These last conditions are those under which they were living when Ammon arrived, a scene we have already read, but which lies still in the future at this point in the flashback narrative.

Translation: Abinadi uses the phrase "they shall be driven before like a dumb ass." The understandable reference to this is that the people will be used as beasts of burden, which is the state in which Ammon finds Limhi and his people. The translation problem comes with both the animal and the conception. There are no asses in the Western Hemisphere prior to European contact, and there are no known beasts of burden. Thus both the animal and the concept of using an animal in this way would be foreign to Abinadi.

This is a case of translation of meaning rather than words. The modern reader clearly understands Abinadi, but might not understand a more culture bound phrase, such as "tributaries with a tumpline" (the tumpline is a native method of carrying heavy burdens). The translation of the text of the plates would, in this case, be one of translating a concept rather than the specific words used on the plates. This is consistent with the less-than-literal translation mode that has been proposed in this commentary.

Mosiah 12:6

6 And it shall come to pass that I will send forth hail among them, and it shall smite them; and they shall also be smitten with the east wind; and insects shall pester their land also, and devour their grain.

Mosiah 12:7

7 And they shall be smitten with a great pestilence—and all this will I do because of their iniquities and abominations.

Sorenson discusses this prophecy of Abinadi:

"The prophet Abinadi warned Noah and his priests on the Lord's behalf: "It shall come to pass that I will send forth hail among them, and it shall smite them; and they shall also be smitten with the east wind; and insects shall pester their land also, and devour their grain. And they shall be smitten with a great pestilence—and all this will I do because of their iniquities and abominations" (Mosiah 12:6-7). No scriptural record tells of the fulfillment of this prophecy, but the threat turns out to be a valid one on the Guatemalan scene where it seems to have been uttered. The conditions foretold are phrased in such a way as to indicate they were within the realm of nature's recognized potential, yet they were so rare that the listeners normally did not contemplate such a combination of calamities as a serious possibility. Highland Guatemala does occasionally suffer just those prophesied conditions under unusual circumstances. Abinadi's point was that God would cause these rare phenomena to come about jointly as unusual punishment for the Zeniffites' gross wickedness.

Geographer F. W. McBryde explains that certain meteorological situations produce an extremely drying north or northeast wind. (Recall that the "east" among pre-Columbian peoples in highland Guatemala coincided with what on our present maps is north or northeast.) These freak "norte" winds hold back the moist air from the Pacific side that normally flows into the highland valleys daily. As a result, the normal pattern of life-giving showers is upset. Fire danger heightens under these unusual conditions, with drying gusts reaching as high as 35 miles an hour. Great hailstorms occasionally (March through May) accompany these winds, as the strong surge of dry air converges along the coast with moist Pacific air, forming huge hail-generating thunderheads that drift inland above the north ("east") wind. Thus, a period of "east wind" could cause disastrous weather problems in Guatemala/Nephi, in just the terms the prophet said.

He also warned that insects would come to attack the crops. Migratory locusts periodically caused great destruction to corn fields in the Yucatan Peninsula and highland Guatemala. The dry interior Motagua River valley, only 15 miles "east" from our Nephi, had a climate that particularly favored the pests. The dry "norte" winds could drive the swarms those few miles onto the Zeniffites' fields. The Annals of the Cakchiquels, one of the traditional histories from the highlands, mentions two locust infestations shortly before the Spanish conquest, and there must have been many more. Food shortages that result from destructive weather and locust infestations are known historically to have brought malnutrition and pestilence in their wake. As Abinadi foretold, the pattern of wind, hail, insects, and famine, which on the surface seems rather arbitrary, turns out to be logically, integrally linked when we have our geography correct. They could happen, and would be devastating, if the Lord chose to trigger them. (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1985, p. 183.)

Mosiah 12:8

8 And it shall come to pass that except they repent I will utterly destroy them from off the face of the earth; yet they shall leave a record behind them, and I will preserve them for other nations which shall possess the land; yea, even this will I do that I may discover the abominations of this people to other nations. And many things did Abinadi prophesy against this people.

While the general prediction of destruction is a typical prophecy of doom, this particular prophecy is unique in that it includes the idea that a record will be made of their doom. Abinidi is specifically telling people that not only are they headed into their own doom, but that they will be used as a moral object lesson for future peoples. It is no wonder that they were unhappy with him!

Mosiah 12:9

9 And it came to pass that they were angry with him; and they took him and carried him bound before the king, and said unto the king: Behold, we have brought a man before thee who has prophesied evil concerning thy people, and saith that God will destroy them.

The anger of the people does not get Abinadi killed, it gets him taken before the king. Once again, this is the desired outcome of the mission.

Mosiah 12:10

10 And he also prophesieth evil concerning thy life, and saith that thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire.

Mosiah 12:11

11 And again, he saith that thou shalt be as a stalk, even as a dry stalk of the field, which is run over by the beasts and trodden under foot.

Mosiah 12:12

12 And again, he saith thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land. And he pretendeth the Lord hath spoken it. And he saith all this shall come upon thee except thou repent, and this because of thine iniquities.

Textual: Where verse 3 compared Noah to a garment in a hot furnace, here the imagery is different. The garment in the furnace is here, indicating that this was one of the most memorable of his statements, but added to it is the dry stalk and blossoms of a thistle. As noted in the comment on verse 2 above, Mormon cannot be citing a firsthand account of this speech by Abinadi, bur rather the official reports of what the recorders were told by the people who brought Abinadi before the court.. Whether nor not the original text split up the details the way we see them, or whether Mormon simply emphasized the garment in the furnace because his historical vantage point knew that it so clearly presaged Noah's fate we cannot tell. Either explanation works, though I have a preference for Mormon's deliberate emphasis of the garment in the fire based upon the way Mormon set up Noah's story. Mormon's knowledge that prophecy was directly fulfilled in the mode of Noah's death would be irresistible as he wrote the story.

Mosiah 12:13

13 And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?

Mosiah 12:14

14 And now, O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you, and he has prophesied in vain.

Mosiah 12:15

15 And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also prosper.

Textual: There are two possible sources for this speech. It could be recorded exactly as is in the court records of Noah, and Mormon simply cites the speech. It is also possible that there was a record of the accusations, and Mormon has simply framed them as a speech. Once again either is possible. It is not unusual in ancient literature for an author to create the words that would have been said to give a dramatic context. The details of the accusations against Abinadi suggest that there was a record of the words in the record, but even that data does not really tell us if this is a speech Mormon places in the mouths of the people. Since it is a collective speech, and since it could not have been recited in unison, it is more likely that Mormon is the source of the particular wording and the dramatic situation, based upon his source material.

The accusation against Abinadi focuses on Abinadi's statements about the king and about the people themselves. Because those statements deal with the destruction of the political order, Abinadi may be rightly (in their eyes) seen as a seditionist, and therefore culpable by law. The people bring Abinadi before their government, and accuse him.

Mosiah 12:16

16 Behold, here is the man, we deliver him into thy hands; thou mayest do with him as seemeth thee good.

When Abinadi is given up to Noah, it is important that we understand that this is an orderly society responding to disorder in an orderly way. While Mormon clearly paints an unsympathetic picture of Noah's people, it is from his religious perspective that he does so. From their own perspective, they appear to be a people who are governed. Mob action does not take Abinadi and deal with him directly, but rather he is handed over to authority. While under custody, this Abinadi who appears to have made threats against the king and all of society will yet have a trial (or form of a trial) and will not be executed on simple whim.

Mosiah 12:17

17 And it came to pass that king Noah caused that Abinadi should be cast into prison; and he commanded that the priests should gather themselves together that he might hold a council with them what he should do with him.

Mosiah 12:18

18 And it came to pass that they said unto the king: Bring him hither that we may question him; and the king commanded that he should be brought before them.

Mosiah 12:19

19 And they began to question him, that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him; but he answered them boldly, and withstood all their questions, yea, to their astonishment; for he did withstand them in all their questions, and did confound them in all their words.

We continue to find in the approach of Noah to Abinadi the workings of order, if not express law. Rather than a summary execution, Abinadi is brought before the priests. While these verses describe what happened, we must guess as to why it happened.

First, it does not appear that there is a tremendous popular support for Abinadi as it was the people who turned him over to the king. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the ways of God were forgotten entirely, and there were likely to be some sympathizers, even if they were not as vocal as the rest of the community that had adopted the new ways. As we have developed the story of Noah and Abinadi, the theme has been a conflict between religious systems (remembering the close connection between religion and community politics at this time). It is therefore very understandable that Abinadi be brought before the priests.

Abinadi poses a religious challenge, one that should be met by the religious establishment. The intent of the priests is to "cross him," or to show Abinadi to be wrong. The presumption is that they will be able to prevail, and use their superior knowledge and position to declare victory over Abinadi's ideas. This would effectively discredit Abinadi with those who might have sympathized, and consolidate the rule of the new order over all of the people. The tactic backfires, however, as Abinadi "did withstand them in all their questions, and did confound them in all their words." This tells us that there is a religious debate being held, and that while the attempt is being made to discredit Abinadi, he is holding his own.

Textual: This interpretation of Abinadi's defense before the priests of Noah is again Mormon's summary. It is entirely possible that the perception of Abinadi's withstanding the questioning is related to Mormon's sympathy with Abinadi. As will be clear as the story continues, the priests of Noah will eventually have a very different reaction to Abinadi, and consider him to have condemned himself (though it will by they who condemn themselves in the eyes of God).

Mosiah 12:20

20 And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying:

Mosiah 12:21

21 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;

Mosiah 12:22

22 Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;

Mosiah 12:23

23 Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;

Mosiah 12:24

24 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?

Textual: We have a particular instance of the type of questioning of Abinadi by the priests. It appears that this is not the full questioning, but simply one that Mormon elects to include. Note that verse 19 has Abinadi withstanding questioning, with verse 20 starting with "and it came to pass." This would appear to indicate that what we have is a single response, and perhaps the concluding response, of the questioning.

The question of the priests cites Isaiah 52:7-10, with no changes from the text of the King James Version of those verses. The very stating of these verses tells us something important about the Zeniffite expedition. They clearly brought a copy of the brass plates (or at least some sections, with Isaiah being obviously one of the them). It is certain that the brass plates themselves would not have been allowed to leave Zarahemla, as they were part of the regnal insignia entrusted to Mosiah by Benjamin (Mosiah 1:16). The preparations for their departure must either have included the time to make a copy, or else there were multiple copies available in the community. That a copy was available for study rather than remembered text (even though this text is remembered, as there is no indication of consulting the text at this time) is evidenced by the change in the priests under Noah. Those who might have been charged with remembering scriptures were removed, and these new priests needed a way of learning the texts.

The last question that must be asked of this section of text is why this particular question was posed to Abinadi. We must suppose that since the priests of Noah were trying to "cross" Abinadi, that the question was not asked because they sincerely wanted to understand the answer. There must be some conflict hidden in the text which would show a difference between Abinadi and the priests that they could use against him. Thus somehow, this text is one where they saw a religious difference that they thought they could use to their advantage. What was it?

Of course we do not have sufficient information to know for certain, but there are some possibilities that can at least give us a frame in which we can see the verbal combat arising.

Context 1: Noah's people as a victorious Jerusalem versus Abinadi's future calamities. The text that is specifically cited deals with a triumphant Jerusalem. The watchmen are shouting for joy, and the Lord "hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem." In the context of the earlier victory over the Lamanites, Noah's realm appears to be in a period of peace. It would not be unusual for the priests to associate themselves with Jerusalem, and apply this verse to their present conditions. If the priests were using this text as a proof of the current protection of the Lord over their people, that would place Abinadi in a position of denying scripture. Thus in this context, the question is asked to contrast the current favor and peace with Abinadi's dire predictions. This is essentially the position John W. Welch takes:

"What was the thrust of their challenge? It appears that the priests intended, by their direct examination of Abinadi, to catch him in conflict with that scripture and thereby convict him of false prophecy - a capital offence under the law of Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:20). In essence, they were apparently asking Abinadi why he bore tidings of doom and destruction when Isaiah had declared that the beautiful and true prophet brings good tidings and publishes peace…" (Welch, John W. "Isaiah 53, Mosiah 14, and the Book of Mormon." In: Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. FARMS, 1999, p. 294).

Context 2: This context is a little harder to see, because it presumes that both the priests and Abinadi knew the surrounding context of the verses rather than the verses themselves. This is not hard to presume, as the appear to be able to cite scripture at will. When the particular text is cited, it comes with the implicit connections to the surrounding texts. Indeed, Abinadi's response strongly suggests that he understood this linkage to the larger context, because his response cites Isaiah 53, which is a continuation of the text message of 52 from which this text arises. If this is the context of the question, then we may be seeing a repeat of the Sherem/Jacob conflict. Abinadi's response clearly proclaims the Messiah. If Noah's priests understand the Law the way Sherem did, then they would preach the Law of Moses (as they proclaim in verse 28) but deny the role of the Messiah. With their Nephite heritage, however, they would surely have known of the Messianic emphasis of Nephite religion, and expected that Abinadi would interpret this text Messianically. We may presume that the priests would have denied the Messianic nature of the text, and used that conflict of interpretation to condemn Abinadi. See Jacob 7 for the debate between Jacob and Sherem. It is interesting to note that not only do we see a recurrence of the polygamy issue when these people return to the culture area of the land of Nephi, but also perhaps a return to the religious philosophy of Sherem, who was a man of that culture area. We may be seeing a particular form of religious synthesis adopted by the Lamanites of that particular region.

Mosiah 12:25

25 And now Abinadi said unto them: Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?

Rhetorical: Rather than immediately rise to the bait of the trap laid for him, Abinadi turns the trap back on the priests. They have asked him a question, presumably so that his answer might condemn him. However, in asking the question, they have allowed themselves to appear to be asking for information they lack. Abinadi turns this appearance against them. This tactic allows Abinadi to turn the trap into an attack on these priests of an apostate religion.

Mosiah 12:26

26 I say unto you, wo be unto you for perverting the ways of the Lord! For if ye understand these things ye have not taught them; therefore, ye have perverted the ways of the Lord.

Abinadi dives into his accusation of the priests. They are teaching perverted ways. While they might say that they are based in scripture, they do not understand them (and he uses their asking of a question as evidence for this!). While the priests have attempted to find evidence to accuse Abinadi, Abinadi uses this opportunity to condemn them. His message from God becomes focused on these priests who have perverted the ways of the Lord, whose teachings were close enough to the inherited gospel of the people that they would listen and accept the changes, but sufficiently diminished by interpretation and acceptance of outside influences that they had become perverted.

Mosiah 12:27

27 Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise. Therefore, what teach ye this people?

Mosiah 12:28

28 And they said: We teach the law of Moses.

Abinadi shifts the focus from himself to the priests. They have allowed him to do this because they have asked a question of scriptural interpretation, and they must be able to defend their interpretation. Abinadi asks what they teach. They answer that they teach the law of Moses. Their answer requires some explanation.

I have suggested that the significant difference in the Noah rule over that of his father, Zeniff, is that Noah has adopted aspects of a foreign culture and religion. While this incursion of foreign elements is the source for their "whoredoms" and "idolatry," it could not have come at the complete abandonment of all of the culture/religion of the people prior to that time. Change rarely works this way (even under the duress of outright conquest the conquered peoples still attempt to retain some of their previous culture and religion). Thus the incursion of new ideas into the society was overlaid on the foundation of the Mosaic law, and doubtless justified through it. It is entirely conceivable that the multiple wives was justified by Solomon and David, just as occurred during Jacob's time.

The conceptual foundation of the people was the law of Moses, even though it had been interpreted to allow the entrance of the elements that Mormon found distasteful, and against which Abinadi is directly preaching. Nevertheless, we should not presume that the power of the idea of living the law of Moses was diminished. Thus when Abinadi asks what is preached, the quick answer is the law of Moses. In the minds of the priests this should put Abinadi at the disadvantage. What they are attempting to do is place themselves as defenders of the law of Moses, and by contrast, Abinadi would have to be against the law of Moses, and therefore culpable.

Of course, the tactic does not work, and Abinadi turns up the pressure on the priests of Noah.

Variant: The 1830 text for verse 27 reads "… therefore what teachest thou this people.." (emphasis added). This has been changed to "therefore what teach ye this people…" (emphasis added. Book of Mormon Critical Text. FARMS 1987, p. 428).

The shift from "thou" to "ye" is needed grammatically because Abinadi is addressing a group of people, and "thou" is the singular form. There is no significant meaning lost through the change, and in fact, the modern usage must reflect the underlying text better than the 1830's version. The fact is that a native speaker would not make this type of mistake, but Joseph could easily make the error since this form of English was not native to him. As with other similar types of errors in the Book of Mormon text, the best suggestion is that the translation method allowed for some participation of Joseph's language, while remaining faithful to the general meaning of the underlying text.

Mosiah 12:29

29 And again he said unto them: If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches? Why do ye commit whoredoms and spend your strength with harlots, yea, and cause this people to commit sin, that the Lord has cause to send me to prophesy against this people, yea, even a great evil against this people?

Abinadi declares that the priests of Noah are not correctly intepreting the law of Moses. Rather than be seen as denying the law (as the priests undoubtedly hoped) Abinadi stands as a champion of the law. He has placed the priests in precisely the position they had attempted against Abinadi.

Abinadi gives a list of ways in which they priests are in violation of the law of Moses:

  1. they set their hearts upon riches
  2. they commit whoredoms
  3. they cause the people to commit sin

Abinadi's first accusation certainly sounds bad, but how is it a violation of the law of Moses? There is nothing in the law of Moses that prevents people from being well-to-do. There is nothing that suggests that poverty is preferable. To get a better idea of what Abinadi is suggesting, we need only look at the other two examples we have to this point in the Book of Mormon where men of God have railed against riches. Jacob clearly objects not to riches, but to the unequal distribution of riches (see Jacob 2:17-19). Benjamin has the same concern, and specifically discusses the responsibility of those who have toward those who do not (see Mosiah 4:16-25).

Abinadi is following what appears to be a consistent Nephite reading of the law of Moses, that it desires the common good of the people, and counsels against the social and economic separation that riches can bring. It is this principle that the priests are violating. That they might have riches is not the issue, but that their hearts are upon them. They desire the riches, power, and position. They desire to be placed above the populace (remember that they are even seated above those who come before them - Mosiah 11:11). It is this inequality that is the violation of the law as the Nephite prophets interpret it.

The second accusation concerns whoredoms and harlots. As has been discussed previously, this presumes social definitions. It is virtually certain (though unstated) that the priests of Noah justified their multiple wives on the basis of Solomon and David, as did the Nephites who first lived in Nephi during Jacob's times. Once again, Abinadi is preaching against the specifics, and in this case most likely the marriage to outside women and the adoption of foreign religious practices that may have included ritual sex acts. These are not simply moral sins, but open acts of rebellion against God.

The last accusation is that the priests are teaching these things to the people. Clearly the priests have been the means of integrating the new practices into the inherited religion of the people. Their task has been to find ways, such as an appear to David and Solomon, to ease the entrance of these new ideas. In this role, the priests are directly at fault for the beliefs of the people, who have been swayed by them, and now believe enough that they would not only not recognize a prophet of God, but would willingly turn him over to his inevitable death. In this accusation, Abinadi foreshadows Christ's teaching on the Sermon on the Mount: "Matt. 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven…"

Mosiah 12:30

30 Know ye not that I speak the truth? Yea, ye know that I speak the truth; and you ought to tremble before God.

Mosiah 12:31

31 And it shall come to pass that ye shall be smitten for your iniquities, for ye have said that ye teach the law of Moses. And what know ye concerning the law of Moses? Doth salvation come by the law of Moses? What say ye?

Abinadi's message from the beginning has been one of the coming calamities. Here is specifically attaches the sin to the priests, and declares that they will come under the condemnation of God. What Abinadi may not understand is that these priests will escape some of the worst of the bondage and difficulties that will come upon the people of Noah. Their ultimate punishment will be at the hands of God, not wrecked upon them by the Lamanites as it will be for the rest of the people of Noah.

Rhetorical: Once again Abinadi attacks the priests directly. Just as they thought to lay a verbal trap for Abinadi, Abinadi lays one for them. He asks if salvation comes through the law of Moses. Abinadi knows what they will say, and this question goes to the crux of the apostasy of the Noahite priests and peoples. Abinadi knows that salavation comes only through the Messiah, and know that they have known this in the past. It was taught to them at one time. However, the priests have altered the teachings, and as Sherem did, removed the Messiah from the picture, holding only to the law of Moses. Abinadi will highlight and condemn this position.

Mosiah 12:32

32 And they answered and said that salvation did come by the law of Moses.

This is the only response that the priests can give. They have been teaching the law of Moses, obviously to the exclusion of the Messianic revelations the Nephite prophets have received. Without the Savior, they must conclude that the law is sufficient to bring salvation.

Mosiah 12:33

33 But now Abinadi said unto them: I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved; yea, if ye keep the commandments which the Lord delivered unto Moses in the mount of Sinai, saying:

Rhetorical: Abinadi now begins to explain their error to them. He beings with the foundation of Moses, the point on which they agree. What he will do is begin on this commonly accepted ground, and build the case that condemns the priests.

Mosiah 12:34

34 I am the Lord thy God, who hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Mosiah 12:35

35 Thou shalt have no other God before me.

Mosiah 12:36

36 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing in heaven above, or things which are in the earth beneath.

Textual: Abinadi is citing Exodus with only minor changes:

Ex. 20:2-4

2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: (the words in italics are emphasized to note the locations of the differences between Abinadi and the KJV text).

The deletion of "that is" is a simplification procedure. This is a case where a change is made that is not related to italicized words in the KJV (Book of Mormon Critical Text. FARMS 1987, p. 431). There is very little specific that can be gleaned from this change, other than the confirmation that the KJV text was not copied directly and completely faithfully.

The more interesting change is the shift from the plural "gods" of the KJV to the "God" of Abinadi. This may be a simple change similar to the reduction of the "that is" clauses, a simple shortening of the text. However, it is also possible that in the context of Abinadi before the priests of Noah.

To understand this possible context, we must remember that the priests of Noah were synthesizing the old religion with elements of the new religion. One of the fundamental principles of the law of Moses was the belief in the One God. That belief is so fundamental that it would be impossible to alter in a single generation from Zeniff to Noah (even assuming that there were converts from polytheistic cultures among them - the converts might be accustomed to multiple gods, but would have willingly given them up. Such people tend to be even more protective of their new religious principles). It is therefore likely that the priests of Noah had not mixed in new gods. What they had done was to so alter the law as to effectively deny the one.

This is Abinadi's accusation. Abinadi may have very consciously recited the verse with God in the singular because it would be easy for the priests to deny that they worshipped multiple gods. However, the accusation isn't in multiple gods, but rather that they have perverted the worship of the One God.

Mosiah 12:37

37 Now Abinadi said unto them, Have ye done all this? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not. And have ye taught this people that they should do all these things? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not.

Abinadi forces home his point. They should believe in the One God who brought his children from bondage in Egypt and gave the law to Moses. Abinadi accuses them of denying that God. As we see in the next verse, this is tantamount to declaring the priests blasphemers, and they react accordingly.

Textual: The modern chapter break at this point is unfortunate. It does not exist in the 1830 edition, and this interruption creates too much conceptual distance between this remarkable accusation and the effect of that accusation upon the priests of Noah. This chapter should always be read with the next one for the sense of the power of the argument and drama of the situation.

      by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1999