1 And now it came to pass that Zeniff conferred the kingdom upon Noah, one of his sons; therefore Noah began to reign in his stead; and he did not walk in the ways of his father.
Textual: The first person of Zeniff's account is now replaced with a very clearly synoptic third person account. Where up to this point Mormon entered Zeniff's record as he found it, now Mormon abandons copying and turns to abridging. Why does he make this shift in editorial method? Zeniff's account is succinct and informative. It provides important information without providing too much information.
The account of Noah is likely to have been longer. As a more established kingdom, and particularly as evidenced from Noah's excesses, we may see him as a fairly self-important king. Such a man would make sure his record was impressive. In addition to length, however, Mormon would be completely unimpressed with Noah. Mormon's introduction to Noah begins unflatteringly, which is certain to be a contrast with the tone of Noah's official record. Mormon shifts to telling us about Noah because the original records would not tell of the real Noah.
2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.
Textual: We must remember that Mormon is writing this description long after the account, and while it must be based on original sources, what we have is Mormon’s interpretation of those documents rather than the documents themselves. An official reported would never place his own kings actions in this pejorative light. If the tone of this report comes from Mormon, we may legitimately attempt to uncover something of the material upon which he was basing his opinions.
Mormon’s denunciation of Noah has some specifics that we can deal with:
While not part of the current catalog of his sins, idolatry is added in verse 6. It is significant that in addition to the moral aspects of commandments, multiple wives, whoredoms, and all manner of wickedness, Mormon also highlights the preoccupation with wealth. This begins with the tax noted in verse 3 but is the particular focus of verses 8-14. We have seen this conjunction of religious problems before (see Jacob 2:12-13 and associated commentary). Just as with Jacob, Mormon sees in Noah’s people a connection between social and economic sins – all of which are religious sins because religion encompasses all life. Even though we might see polygamy as a separate issue from wealth, it was apparently deeply connected in the New World, with both Jacob and now Mormon making implicit associations between a sin involving multiple wives and the accumulation of wealth.
The appearances of the term "whoredom" in the Book of Mormon fall are either in conjunction with riches (Mosiah 12:29, Alma 1:29-32, Hel. 3:14, Ether 8:16, Ether 10:7) or as a part of a general litany of types of sins including contentions, strifes, and deceivings (Alma 30:18, Alma 50:21-22, Hel. 6:22, 3 Ne. 16:10, 3 Ne. 30:2, 4 Ne. 1:15-17, Morm. 8:31). A shift begins to occur in Alma and the explicit connection to riches disappears from the context of "whoredoms after Helaman, though many of the sins earlier associated with "whoredoms" continue to be mentioned.
3 And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain.
Social: There are a couple of important parts to this list of taxed items. At the end of the list are foodstuffs. A tax of food in one way or another is essential to provide for a hierarchy that does not till the land themselves. The provisions of fatlings and grain as well as the indication in verse 4 that these taxes are to support himself appear to indicate that King Noah (and most likely his priests and court) did not work the land themselves, but were fed from the labor of others.
The first part of the list is clearly metals. Sorenson provides the following information on Book of Mormon metals (edited to correspond to this list):
Economics: We assume that gold and silver are precious, but this entire list of metals falls under the category of "precious." The are specifically included as precious in verse 8. How is it that the other metals are also precious? The presence of brass as an alloy suggests that these things are not precious because of the ore, but because of the malleability of the metals. As was noted in Jacob, they are precious for what can be made with them, not simply because they exist (as with Asians, Mesoamericans would appear to place a higher intrinsic value on green jade than gold).
Just as in Jacob, the economics of the situation are important. Noah is in a land which was previously inhabited by Lamanites. Had ores been of the type of intrinsic value that gold was to the Spaniards, we might expect that the available gold would be already gone before the Lamanites were willing to give up the land. Nevertheless, in a single short generation (Zeniff already being of his majority when he joins the first expedition) Noah is able to tax specific workable metals.
The solution is precisely the same as we saw in Jacob. The value is in the goods created with the metals, not the existence of the metals. If there is sufficient of these metals to give a fifth part to the King, then while he would have more, he would not necessarily be significantly more wealthy that the rest of the population. It is the ability to exchange goods that yields wealth, and that exchange outside of the community that leads to wealth led to social and religious distinctions in the city of Nephi. Noah is back at the scene of the crime, in a very literal way, and he is repeating the same economic and religious errors as did the Nephites in Jacob’s time.
4 And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.
5 For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.
Social: Verse 15 tells us that Noah supported his government by removing all of Zeniff’s people and replacing them with his own people. This is not an unusual tactic, but it helps to understand why it happens. While some of this process certainly has to do with personalities, it often has to do with the elimination of conflicts between the ways of the old regime and the ways of the new. In this particular case, it is very clear that there were new ways introduced by Noah. The new ways were so significantly different that they were sure to cause dissonance with those who represented the older way. Thus the elimination of Zeniff’s priests was a logical step for Noah.
Understanding that the removal of political adversaries has a universal logic to it, why the priests in particular? First, we must continue to remember that the modern separation between church and state did not exist in the ancient world. From what we learn of the trial of Abinadi, the priests appear to function as high political counselors as well as their religious function. Regardless of their political positions, however, the priests were also the keepers of the religious rites. It is precisely in those religious practices that Mormon sees the huge shift from Zeniff to Noah. Since the alternations in practice were religious, it was particularly imperative that Noah remove those who could have voiced religious misgivings about the new practices, and done so from respected seats of power. In order to effect his changes, Noah had to remove the old set of priests.
The next important question is where the ideas for those changes came from, particularly the institution of polygyny (more than one wife). The culture of the Nephites should have been decidedly monogamous, as polygyny was forbidden them from the time of Lehi (Jacob 3:5). Nevertheless, the Nephites in this particular area appear to have a hard time living the law of monogamy, and twice now have welcomed polygyny (those against whom Jacob contended and the current Noahites). Notice that in both cases the "whoredoms" included wives and concubines – and probably other sexual unions.
As was noted for Jacob’s time, one of the prerequisites for polygyny is the ability to support it. Multiple wives are more expensive than one wife. It is no wonder that most of the time the sins of wealth and polygyny go together. Wealth provides the economic platform that allows polygyny.
Apart from economics, however, we are still left with the problem of acceptance. The United States in modern days is a reasonable example of attitudes toward marriage. Even with Mormon polygamy in the background (and non-LDS polygamy in the underground) there is a very strong cultural bias against polygyny. It is reasonable to assume that the women of Zeniff’s city might have had a similar belief if they were surrounded by monogamist cultures. However, if the Lamanites that the Zeniffites had to do business with to gain wealth were also polygamist, then there was not only a model for such a social behavior, but a model attached to riches and prestige.
Again the parallel to Jacob’s time is instructive. The accumulation of wealth in ancient societies typically depended upon the ability to exchange goods outside the community so that one might obtain items considered rare and therefore valuable. Consider the items that are taxed to provide the living for Noah and his court. While foodstuffs are included, the rest of the valuables are workable metals. What would Noah do with the workable metals? They increased his wealth, but how?
The only way that the metals would increase Noah’s wealth – say to purchase fine clothing, would be to exchange them outside the community. If he were to exchange them within the community, what value would they have? He could never trade the metal back to those who had been taxed for the metal, because to them it would not have relative value. Noah’s wealth came from trading outside the community, and he apparently also traded in ideas, adopting concepts such as polygyny from the communities with which he traded.
6 Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.
7 Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering things unto them.
Social: We must read these verses through Mormon’s expression of displeasure at the peoples actions. When the people labor, it is Mormon who concludes that they labor to "support iniquity." It is much more telling that as he describes the situation, Mormon lets us know that Noah and his court were "in…idolatry" and then the very next verse indicates that the people also "became idolatrous." The idolatry issue is extremely critical, and we should not pass it quickly. One of the great distinctions of Israel was its firm stance against idols in a world full of the idols of religions. The introduction of an idol into Israel is not simply an artifact, but an alteration of the fabric of religious thought. When Mormon says that Noah had become idolatrous, it is more than Noah bringing in a golden calf. Noah has changed religions. In addition, his people have also changed religion. Both Noah and his people have become idolatrous, a signal that not only has the political world been overthrown, but the religious also.
It was this alteration of the religious reality of the people from Zeniff to Noah that is the cause of the litany of transgressions Mormon gives. They were not things that the people simply decided to do, but rather a set of practices that came with the new religion/political order they had adopted.
8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;
9 And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things.
Textual: Mormon is our editor here, a point that should be obvious, but which bears emphasis. As an editor he makes choices about what and how he tell the story he wants to communicate to his audience. In this case he has a story to tell about Noah. Mormon clearly thinks poorly of Noah (as will we by the end of the story). When Mormon tells this story he allows his antipathy to color he way in which material is presented, and these two verses are illustrative of how he crafts his version of the events. Make no mistake, this is Mormon's view of those events, not necessarily the participants view.
In verse 8 Noah embarks on a building spree. He builds many buildings, and decorates the with fine and valuable things. In verse 9 that building continues with the building of Noah's personal palace. Once again finery is noted. What Mormon does is paint the building of the personal palace as a selfish and greedy thing. We can tell by the descriptions and particularly the decorations with precious metals that this is vain and imprudent man.
The historical picture is probably very different. First, let's take a look again at the events of verse 8. Noah goes on a building spree. While Mormon's implication might be that is was through overburdening his people, it was through an imposition of a twenty percent tax on mostly luxury items or trade items (see verse 3 and comments on verse 3). A tax of only twenty percent, and that only on some parts of our production, would be welcome relief to most modern Americans. It sounds bad because Mormon wanted it to sound bad. In comparison to what many modern societies are used to, it might be seen as a bargain.
Of course the real question of such taxation is the use to which the taxes are put. While Mormon manages to focus our attention on the personal palace, a close reading of the text notes that these had to be public buildings, a program of improving the public architecture. Thus much of the building apparently went for public consumption rather than Noah's personal consumption.
The next very important point is found in verse 7: " Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests..." Mormon's reporting of this time period again highlights the iniquity of Noah. What it downplay is the apparent willing participation of the people. This was not an oppressed populace taxed against their will to feed the personal benefit of a selfish king, but rather a populace which had accepted the same cultural definitions that their king did (Jackson and Tanner agree that "there is no hint in the record that they saw themselves as oppressed" Jackson, Kent P. and Morgan W. Tanner. "Zeniff and Noah." In: _Studies in Scripture, Volume 7, 1 Nephi to Alma 29. Deseret Book Company. 1987, p. 232). Those definitions described the type society that they were, and the public architecture would proclaim their acceptance of that model of life - a model that bespoke a generalized wealth and prosperity of the people. Because this adoption of a new culture apparently also included the adoption of that new culture's religion, This change of religious allegiance is apparently also supported by the people, but is certainly the cause of Mormon's clearly antipathetic view of Noah and his reign.
10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.
Historical: In the context of a Mesoamerican location for these events, the building of a temple would likely follow the general pattern of Mesoamerican temples, particularly in this case since the people were "idolatrous" and probably more closely aligned with neighboring religions. If Noah is building a Mesoamerican temple, we need to examine a particular element of this verse: "his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.."
The first glance reading would suppose that the walls of the temple were built of wood. That would conjure the image of a wooden structure which would be foreign to what we understand of Mesoamerican temples, particularly those that were attempting to display finery as was the temple of Noah. However, that is not what the verse says. The verse has the workmen working inside the walls, and creating precious decorative elements. We clearly understand that the walls were not made of copper and brass but were simply adorned with artifacts of copper and brass. The grammatical reference to wood is precisely the same. The walls are not wood, but are decorated with fine work in wood. In this we do have a corroboration with Mesoamerican temples, where elaborate wooden carvings might appropriately be part of the temple.
11 And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people.
Social: There is nothing known in Mesoamerican architecture that might show what is described in this verse. Mesoamerican "seats" were low to the ground, and should not be visualized as chair. The common native would squat or sit on the ground. A ruler would have a small raised seat. This concept of raising the seat to a higher level that others is mark of social stratification, which would be very common in the kind of society Noah was apparently building. It would appear that in addition to the seat itself, there was some raising of the level of the ground so that the priests would be higher is both physical and conceptual space above those who came before them.
12 And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof and overlook the land of Shilom, and also the land of Shemlon, which was possessed by the Lamanites; and he could even look over all the land round about.
13 And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom; and he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom, which had been a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land; and thus he did do with the riches which he obtained by the taxation of his people.
Geography: Noah builds two very tall towers in strategically important localities. One tower is associated with Lehi-Nephi, and the second with Shilom. Each of the two lands under Noah's control have a very high tower built such that the land may be surveyed from the top of that tower. These are certainly defense systems from which a lookout may be maintained over the surrounding territory.
Verse 13 notes that the hill north of the land Shilom was a "resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land." This is a reference to the departure of Mosiah from Nephi (see the chronicle beginning in Omni 1:12). Sorenson suggests that "resort" should be seen in the context of a staging point, and notes that "the Zeniffites likely inhabited only the local land of Nephi (and perhaps also Shilom), for the hill was convenient only to those two localities." (Sorenson, John L. The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book. FARMS 1990, p. 239.)
14 And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.
Mormon continues his very unsympathetic portrait of Noah and his priests. If Noah were actually adopting a foreign mode of life (with the appertaining religion) then these actions were possibly seen in a much different light by the people who had also adopted that cultural model. For instance, we have noted that while Mormon sees Noah setting his heart upon riches, we have noted that the people may have been doing the same, and approving of the riches that were manifest for their benefit. The consorting with wives, concubines, and harlots depends totally upon our cultural definitions of the types of women described by those words. With the exception of harlots, the wives and concubines could easily be seen as legal wives under a different system (much as we have suggested Jacob preached against).
The "harlots" may indicate that there were sexual unions which were not under the bounds of legal marriage. In many religions, however, their were priestesses who might perform such acts as part of their religious service to their gods. The Vestal Virgins of the Greek world might be an Old World example of what could be described here.
None of this means that Mormon is incorrect in his moral disapproval of Noah's actions. Noah was clearly an apostate from the true religion, and regardless of the social acceptance of his actions, Mormon understood that they were not actions under the approval of the God that Noah should have known and served. It is in the context of Noah's apostasy that we need to see Mormon's comments. Noah had left the values of the true God for the values and riches of the false gods. No matter how well accepted were those practices, they were still the practices of false gods, and Mormon knew and prayed for better.
15 And it came to pass that he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people.
Botanical: The use of the term vineyards brings up the problem of pre-Columbian grapes in the New World. Sorenson suggests:
Social: If we allow for a possible translation mislabeling here, we have the emphasis on alcoholic drinks rather than the plant from which they were made. Mormon's point isn't the type of wine, but the effect of the wine. It is also quite likely that Mormon's point isn't absolutely the wine, but the "wine in abundance… he became a wine-bibber…." Rather than any drink, it is the excess in particular that is examined.
Doctrinal: The printing of the Book of Mormon precedes Section 86 of the Doctrine and Covenants by 3 years. When the Book of Mormon was translated there was no clear recommendation by the Lord condemning alcohol, and so this verse should not be read as though it followed Section 86. It clearly indicates the Lord's disdain of alcoholic excess. The Bible exhibits this same general conception of the relationship of alcohol and spirituality in the prohibition of alcohol in situations of particular religious purity while it was clearly acceptable at other times.
16 And it came to pass that the Lamanites began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.
17 And king Noah sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and the Lamanites came upon them and killed them, and drove many of their flocks out of the land; thus the Lamanites began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.
Social: The problems between the Lamanites and the Noahites begin with small raiding parties. As happened in Zeniff's rule, the attack on this non-Lamanite population came in small raids rather than massive warfare. This is fairly significant because it allows us to make some inferences about the political climate of the time.
First, we should delineate what these attacks were not. They were not an organized and coordinated assault by combined Lamanite armies. The description Mormon gives is clearly much smaller in scale. The raids come upon small numbers of people in the fields. This is not an attack against a political institution, but an attack against goods (and secondarily the people who control them). A successful Lamanite raid would yield goods (crops and flocks) but had no direct effect on the political balance among the various communities. No king was attacked. No city was threatened. The motivation was small, not large.
Noah reacts to these raids appropriately, but not necessarily effectively. He apparently does not consider them to be threats against himself and his rule, but sees them for what they are - robbing bands. He sends out guards, but in insufficient numbers. This again tells us that the marauders are small bands. Garrisons are not sent, but guards. Noah is reacting small to a small threat. Nevertheless, Mormon (possibly influenced by his very personal involvement in Lamanite wars, sees these are very significant events. The raids appear to be more important to Mormon that they were to Noah, based on Mormon's verbal response compared to Noah's physical response. Mormon's purpose is served by indicating an escalation of Lamanite incursions against Noah's people, but it is very possible that the language he uses is colored by his personal experience of over 600 years later.
18 And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil.
This verse is deceptively simple. Noah sends armies. They are victorious. They return "rejoicing in their spoil." From such simple descriptions we must glean possible history.
Remember that the incursions against Noah's people were small, probably perpetrating by marauding bands for the purpose of gaining food (which is about all they were going to get by attacking people in their fields… "riches" wouldn't be handy as they were working). Noah's reaction against these small bands is to send "armies." Numerically there is a huge difference between a small band and a single "army," let alone "armies."
Secondly, just as with Zeniff, the armies are sent out against "Lamanites." The changes of finding the precise Lamanites is extremely slim. In fact, if the marauders were out for food, they might even be marginal to main Lamanite society. Nevertheless, Noah's armies do find people to drive back, just as Zeniff's did. Just as with Zeniff's event, it is quite possible that the attacks were justified against Lamanites, but ended up against hamlets rather than against those specific bands responsible for the thefts.
Lastly, the armies return with "spoil." They don't "come home with that which was stolen." They come home with "spoil." This is the benefit (at least the ancient economic benefit) of war. When a people is conquered, their goods are forfeit. Thus Noah avenges attacks on food sources with attacks on unspecified targets from whom "spoils" are taken.
From the official position of the Lamanites, it would be quite understandable that the tensions between the Lamanites and Noahites escalate. The politically complex Lamanites would be extending protection to hamlets, but probably saw the marauders as bandits not supported by the Lamanites (just as was suggested for Zeniff's case). The reprisal against protected peoples when the perpetrators were seen as outlaws would justify the Lamanite response. While there is no direct evidence to suggest that the Lamanites really were responding to these conditions, this is one way to view the evidence, and the alternative simple sees the Lamanites as perpetrating wars because they were "bad." I suggest that explanation is too simplistic.
19 And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.
Textual: The first thing we should extract from this passage is Mormon's reason for including it. Mormon is painting a picture of a people in apostasy, from which they will be called to repentance by Abinadi. Thus for Mormon, these events serve to set up the reason why the Lord called Abinadi to come among them. Without question Abinadi is the focus of much of this account, as the detailed presentation of Abinadi before the court will attest. At this point, however, the importance is the setup for that story, and the setup necessitates our understanding of the fallen nature of Noah and his people. Their sins include the "pride of their hearts." They have achieved a victory, but ascribe it to their own strength and forget their God. Even worse, they "did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren…"
It is perhaps more difficult to understand this statement from Mormon, as it is hard to reconstruct what text he would be abridging that would allow him to make that statement. However, if Mormon did understand that the armies were retaliating against hamlets, he may have well understood that the "victory" was hollow because it was directed against stationary populations rather than the marauders. The "victory" was a blood payment for "crimes" against the Noahites, but possibly not directed at the specific peoples who had committed those crimes. In that analysis, Mormon could have seen that what drove them was their "delight in blood" rather than the political necessities of defense.
Social: On a social level, this passage gives us even more information. Mormon notes that the claim of the people is that: "their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites." On the heels of a victory that would appear to have been conclusive, we are given to understand something about relative numbers. The Noahites are a significantly smaller population in the land than the Lamanites. This demographic reality lies behind the statement that their "fifty" could stand against "thousands." While the statement is bellicose hubris, it must reflect their perception of a reality. The Noahites were a significantly smaller population.
The second piece of information we may extract is that the people saw their military victory as a victory against a political body of the Lamanites, not just marauding bands. For whatever reason, the focus of the conflict is now changing. Where the Lamanites had come upon small groups in the field - isolated and easy targets, somehow this "victory" is now proclaimed over the whole of the Lamanites. This further suggests the concentration of the action against settlements under Lamanite political control, and will explain the escalation of the conflict into the major offensive that will see the flight of Noah and his court later.
20 And it came to pass that there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi; and he went forth among them, and began to prophesy, saying: Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, Go forth, and say unto this people, thus saith the Lord—Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.
Textual: Now Mormon begins the real story. The rest of the information he has given about Noah up to this point is only to lay the foundation for the story of Abinadi, a story that has two parts, a first mission and a second mission. This is Abinadi's first mission from the Lord.
Social: Abinadi is a member of the society, he is "a man among them…" He may or may not have been one of those who had come from Zarahemla with Zeniff. We are unaware of his age, despite our very clear mental picture of him in an Arnold Freiburg painting. Whatever his age, he comes on a mission from God to preach repentance. He certainly is not one of the people who has abandoned God for the new religion, and he comes to preach against it. He is sent to preach against "abominations, wickedness, and whoredoms." All of these can be seen as the results of the adoption of the culture/religion of the surrounding areas which in turn denies the true God. Abinadi comes to call them back to their God.
Biographical: There is little information available on who Abinadi might have been. John Tvedtnes proposes an interesting hypothesis:
"When Noah replaced his father Zeniff as king of the Nephites living in the land of Nephi, "he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts" (Mosiah 11:5)….
We know that Abinadi "spake with power and authority from God" (Mosiah 13:6). Amid the political and religious corruption in the land of Nephi, how did he receive this divine authority? It is possible that he was one of the deposed priests who had served under the righteous king Zeniff, but, alas, the record is silent on this matter" (Tvedtnes, John A. The Most Correct Book. Cornerstone, 1999, pp. 323-4).
21 And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.
22 And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people.
23 And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.
Literary: It is tempting to see these verses as a type of chiasm, but the verses have a subtle change of reference that suggests that the third verse builds upon the first rather than simply reflect it.
In verse 21 the message is:
Repent and turn to God
Or.. they will be brought in to bondage by their enemies.
This is the first part of the prophecy, it begins with a people who are not in bondage, and offers them freedom from entering bondage by repenting.
Verse 22 appears to indicate the foreknowledge of God that they would not repent in time to spare themselves the bondage and afflictions. When they do not repent, the afflictions will come, and God declares himself behind them. As with other afflictions by God in the Old Testament, the rhetoric has God playing an active role in supplying the afflictions, when what is meant is that he allows others to perpetrate them.
In verse 23 Abinadi appears to return to the repentance theme. It is true that he returns to the theme, but the timing of the repentance is clearly different that that of verse 21. In verse 23 the message is:
You will be brought into bondage
Only God will remove you from bondage.
While the language is parallelistic, the theme is progressive through time, with the final pronouncement indicating the foreknowledge of God that they will come under bondage and affliction. Even in that state, and with this perhaps pessimistic prophecy, yet the Lord still holds hope before the people of Noah. There is still room for repentance, and when they repent, the Lord will deliver them. The story of the public penance, repentance, and preparation for salvation we have already seen in the story of Ammon before Limhi.
24 Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.
25 And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions; and thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me.
How is it that a kind and loving God would be slow to hear the cries of his children? Why does he not respond immediately? We must remember that the Lord works on multiple levels, and that this particular promise of being "slow to hear their cries" comes only after the second failure of the Noahites to repent. They do not repent sufficient to prevent their bondage, and they repent of their bondage at first, because of the bondage, not because they have truly learned to turn to their Lord.
The social transformation of the faithful people of Zeniff into the idolatrous people of Noah is a great change, and the seduction of the apparent wealth and prestige of Noah's kingdom (bolstered by real or imagined "victories") would have been strong. The repentance of that people requires a denunciation of that new culture/religion, and a dedication to return to God. As with the Israel under Moses, it took time to remove Egypt form the hearts of this smaller version of Israel in a different kind of bondage.
26 Now it came to pass that when Abinadi had spoken these words unto them they were wroth with him, and sought to take away his life; but the Lord delivered him out of their hands.
There is a story here that we do not have. It is abundantly clear why those who had embraced the new culture/religion would want to remove Abinadi - he was attacking their very lifestyle and all that they believed that they had achieved. We might assume that it was the officials who were wroth, but it appears that it was the people themselves who rejected Abinadi. In verse 26 it is apparently the people to whom Abinadi was preaching who sought his life. Noah does not appear to hear of Abinadi until after this event, witnessed by the following verse. Thus it is convenient to blame Noah for the apostasy of the people, but their bondage was brought on by their own decisions, and not simply the rule of Noah.
27 Now when king Noah had heard of the words which Abinadi had spoken unto the people, he was also wroth; and he said: Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him, or who is the Lord, that shall bring upon my people such great affliction?
28 I command you to bring Abinadi hither, that I may slay him, for he has said these things that he might stir up my people to anger one with another, and to raise contentions among my people; therefore I will slay him.
Noah echoes the people's reaction to Abinadi, and he specifically commands that Abinadi be brought to him to be put to death. The charge is sedition, because Abinadi "raise(s) contentions among my people." This would indicate that while Abinadi was not generally received, yet there were some who believed, or else there would be no contention to which Noah could point. In spite of the kingly decree, however, Abinadi is not brought before Noah at this point, but is protected by the Lord for the space of two years before he returns on his second mission (see Mosiah 12:1)
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.
Textual: There is no chapter break at this point in the edition, and this verse is an essential preface to our current Mosiah 12:1. It will be discussed in that context.
|by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1999|