King Benjamin shines as one of the great leaders and teachers in the Book of Mormon. Some of the most memorable sayings in the scriptures flow from his lips: “The natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19); “How knoweth a man the master whom he has not served?” (Mosiah 5:13); “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17); and so forth.
Even though Nephite government eventually changed from kings to elected judges, a righteous monarchy was still considered the ideal form of government, and King Benjamin was held up as its example. Mosiah told his people, “If it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you” (Mosiah 29:13).
Mosiah’s statement is messianic in outlook. It anticipates God’s government on the earth during the Millennium, when many will rule under our Savior, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings (cf. Luke 19:12–19).
What is it, then, that makes a monarchy the ideal form of government? Or rather, what is it that constitutes a righteous king, as under a monarchy so much hinges on the king? Remember, it was the unrighteous example of King Noah in the land of Nephi that principally persuaded the Nephites in Zarahemla to agree to a different kind of rule (cf. Mosiah 29:17–18).
One thing that convinced the Nephites to change their government to judges was “that every man might bear his part,” and that every man might “answer for his own sins” (Mosiah 29:34, 38). This meant that under kings such was not the case. Instead, the king, in large measure, bore the people’s part and answered for their sins, not so much in a spiritual but in a temporal sense. Thus, King Mosiah explained to the Nephites “all the trials and troubles of a righteous king, yea, all the travails of soul for their people” (Mosiah 29:33).
The rationale behind such a proxy or surrogate role by the king on behalf of his people has its roots in the Davidic covenant. This was the covenant the Lord made with King David and his ruling heirs, who were types of Christ, the Messiah or “anointed one.” What constituted an ideal or righteous king in Israel was a man who was willing to answer to God for his people’s disloyalties to God in order to obtain their temporal salvation. When enemies threatened, the Lord was bound by the terms of his covenant to protect them, so long as the king was loyal to God and the people were loyal to the king. When the people kept the king’s law and the king kept God’s law, the Lord was under obligation to protect both king and people. As the Nephites had recently experienced, however, divine protection failed under the wicked King Noah, leading to disastrous consequences for those under his rule.
Under King Benjamin, the Lord protected his people against enemies from without and from within. King Benjamin led the Nephites against the armies of the Lamanites who had invaded his land “until they had driven them out of all the lands of their inheritance” (Words of Mormon 1:13–14). Further, with the help of holy men among his people, King Benjamin shut the mouths of false christs, prophets, preachers and teachers and established “peace in the land” (Words of Mormon 1:15–18). This was consistent with his role as a “king” and “protector” of his people, of which Nephi provided the model (cf. 2 Nephi 6:2). In this sense, King Benjamin was an ideal king. He accomplished what Melchizedek had done among his people (cf. Alma 13:17–18), who was the prototype of a “savior on Mount Zion.”
At that point in Nephite history, an angel of God appeared to King Benjamin and instructed him how to take his people to the next spiritual level based on the merits of the future atonement of Jesus Christ. This was consistent with the king’s role of “teacher” as well as “ruler,” of which Nephi again provided the model (cf. 1 Nephi 2:22).
All these things should speak volumes when we apply the role of a righteous king to ourselves as Latter-day Saints, particularly to those who have been ordained kings and priests in the house of Israel. The same covenant relationships that existed anciently apply today, both between God and a king and between the king and those to whom he ministers.
The Lord always works within covenant relationships, which relationships follow the guidelines or terms of the covenant that he has established. Thus, if we are to rule and reign with Christ at his second coming, or in any other time and place, then we must have a clear understanding of what is required of us and live in a way that qualifies us for that role. Otherwise, our kingship is void of substance and our hope vain.
Questions we might ask ourselves, therefore, could include, Are we, like King Benjamin, just men who establish the laws of God and judge those who come under our protection according to his commandments? Do we bear the responsibility of those over whom we have a God-given stewardship and “answer for their sins” in order to secure their temporal salvation according to the terms of the covenant between the Lord and the king? Do those to whom we minister keep our law as we keep God’s law, so that the Lord might bless both us and them? Are we living lives worthy of the visitation of ministering angels?
Looking towards the future restoration of the house of Israel—the Jews, Lamanites, and Ten Tribes—are we, in our role as “kings and queens of the Gentiles,” prepared to serve as “nursing fathers and nursing mothers” to them after the pattern of King Benjamin (2 Nephi 10:9)? Or will we fail to live up to our callings as “saviors of men” and be accounted “as salt that has lost its savor” (D&C 103:10)? By all scriptural accounts, there appears no middle ground for Latter-day Saints between these two choices.
For a complete discussion of covenant theology and its wide application in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, see “Priesthood, Patriarchy, and Proxy Salvation,” The Last Days, 175–261.