Even during a time of relative innocence among the Nephites, Jacob feels “constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes . . . and tell you of your wickedness and abominations” (Jacob 2:9–10). The Nephites have begun to “labor in sin,” making Jacob “shrink with shame before the presence of my Maker, that I must testify unto you concerning the wickedness of your hearts” (Jacob 2:5–6).
Although his people have “obtained many riches” (Jacob 2:13), it isn’t seeking riches itself that is a problem but the corrupting effect riches has on them. Jacob gives perhaps the clearest directive in the scriptures about wealth: “Before ye seek for riches, seek ye the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:18–19).
It seems to be human nature, however, that even the most well-intentioned seekers of wealth quickly lose perspective and the ability to “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you” (Jacob 2:17, 21). Perhaps they are not aware that a “hope in Christ” means first obtaining an assurance of eternal life (cf. 2 Nephi 31:17–20; Moroni 7:3, 41).
All too soon into their history, the Nephites are “lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose ye are better than they” (Jacob 2:13). This “persecution” appears to be little more than wearing “costly apparel” and “supposing they are better than they,” or Jacob would have described actual instances of it. Rather, pride distances people from the meek and humble, who feel put down by the aloofness of those who act out such passive persecution.
Jacob, however, must confront his people with an even “grosser crime” (Jacob 2:22–23). The Lord tells him, “This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms” (Jacob 2:23). Based on David’s and Solomon’s practice of having “many wives and concubines,” they “lead away captive the daughters of my people,” taking advantage of their tender natures (Jacob 2:23–24, 33). In so doing, they have “broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them,” so that “many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds” (Jacob 2:35).
The Lord has “seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people . . . because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands” and “will not suffer” their cries to “come up unto me against the men of my people” (Jacob 2:31–32) and not avenge them. If the Nephites don’t repent, he will “visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction,” and the Lamanites will “possess the land of your inheritance” and one day “become a blessed people” (Jacob 2:33; 3:3–4, 6).
Those who commit these crimes, however, seem oblivious of their “awful consequences” (Jacob 3:12). Jacob calls on them to “shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil” (Jacob 3:11). Do they know that “because of [their] filthiness” they “bring [their] children unto destruction” and that their children’s sins will be “heaped upon [their] heads at the last day” (Jacob 3:10)? Elsewhere, Jacob had warned, “Wo unto them who commit whoredoms, for they shall be thrust down to hell” (2 Nephi 9:36). God’s law states that “there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none” (Jacob 2:27).
Lest we assume that the Nephites alone were guilty of these transgressions, recall that Nephi had seen in vision that the Gentiles of the last days would commit similar crimes: “They persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ” (2 Nephi 28:13–14).
Jesus, too, predicts that the Gentiles of the last days will be “lifted up in the pride of their hearts” and be full of “whoredoms,” “abominations,” and other sins (3 Nephi 16:10; 21:19; 30:2). Those who don’t repent, he says, will be destroyed and the Lamanites will receive the land for their inheritance (3 Nephi 16:15–16; 20:20–22; 21:20–22).
While people zealous for the pursuit of mammon today indulge in similar active and passive forms of persecution, not many excuse themselves in taking plural wives. Latter-day Saints realize that those who live lifestyles other than what the Lord directs through his living prophet open themselves up to the power of Satan. We sadly observe in the lives of some how ardent rationalization replaces the Holy Spirit as those who deviate from the path become a law unto themselves. Fortunately, some who have experimented with the “principle” have perceived the error of their ways, and have repented and returned to the fold.
But what, precisely, are the rampant “whoredoms” of the Gentiles that Nephi and Jesus have seen? Could it be the recurring cycle of marriage and divorce that afflicts our LDS society, though it be legal according to the laws of the land? Our corrupt culture puts spouses almost in the category of cars that can be traded in after shopping around for a new model with flashy features. Do we need reminding that God’s commandment disallows divorce “saving for the cause of fornication” (3 Nephi 12:32)?
If we truly understood God’s plan of happiness—that in spite of our shortsightedness, if we are obedient God promises us “everlasting joy” (D&C 101:18)—would we not see the self-defeating nature of coveting riches, or wives, or “soul mates”? Would we not instead consider the “hearts pierced with deep wounds,” especially among our children, and the “awful consequences” of our selfish actions? As a case in point, we might ask whether we or our children will still be here when the Lamanites become a “blessed people” upon this land (see 1 Nephi 14:1–2).