Chapter 35: A Voice in the Wilderness

Samuel the Lamanite appears on the scene shortly before the birth of Christ, bringing “glad tidings” of Christ’s coming and warning of the “heavy destruction” that awaits the Nephites if they don’t repent (Helaman 13:5–7). He gives signs of Christ’s birth and death and confronts the Nephites with their iniquities (Helaman 14:2–5, 20–27). Additionally, he warns that if they persist in their wickedness the Lamanites, who are now in the process of abandoning their false traditions and accepting the truth, will supplant them, while the Nephites will be destroyed (Helaman 15:1–17).

When that time comes, they will lament and say, “O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came to us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them. Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us? And this shall be your language in those days. But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity” (Helaman 13:36–38).

At a first glance, it may seem odd that Samuel the Lamanite would refer to a destruction of the Nephites that he himself admits still lies four hundred years in the future (see Helaman 13:9). What meaning, if any, does this have for the Nephites in the context of the good news of Jesus’ coming to save the world from sin (Helaman 13:6–7; 14:1–29)? Is Samuel just rambling or is there a meaning and purpose behind these connections?

Looking at the Book of Mormon typologically, one does, in fact, notice a pattern. According to Samuel the Lamanite, there would also occur a great destruction among the Nephites at the time of Christ’s death (see Helaman 14:21–24). As we learn later, Jesus comes to the Nephites on the heels of that destruction (3 Nephi 8:1–11:8). Other scriptures affirm that a similar great destruction of peoples and lands will occur in the last days, just prior to Lord’s coming to reign on the earth (see Isaiah 24:1–25:9; D&C 45:33, 41–44).

Where else in the Book of Mormon, then, do these several components of a prophecy come together in the mouth of a prophet who is rejected by the people, including the idea of one people supplanting another? Abinadi, in addressing a group of Nephites during the reign of King Noah, predicts the coming of the Son of God (Mosiah 15:1–12) and declares God’s warning to his people 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” (Mosiah 12:8).

Moroni repeatedly interrupts his abridgment of the book of Ether to speak directly to the Gentiles, his future readers, to warn them that what happened to the Jaredites and Nephites can or will also happen to them (see Ether 2:11–12; 4:5–19; 8:20–26; 12:22–41). He describes how the prophet Ether saw the coming of Christ, how he warned the Jaredites that if they didn’t repent they would be destroyed, and how Lehi’s descendants would supplant them (Ether 13:4–8, 20–21).

But just as the Nephites rejected Abinadi and Samuel the Lamanite, so the Jaredites “rejected all the words of Ether” and “esteemed him as naught” (Ether 13:2, 13). As a result, the Spirit of the Lord “ceased striving with them, and Satan had full power over the hearts of the people; for they were given up unto the hardness of their hearts, and the blindness of their minds that they might be destroyed” (Ether 15:19).

Most informative is what Moroni omits mentioning about the events of the last days. He simply confines himself to Ether’s prophecies about the descendants of Joseph possessing this land, the Jews returning from the four quarter of the earth, and their inheriting the new and old Jerusalems, respectively. Though “about to say more”—such as how the Gentiles will configure in the events of the last days—Moroni is “forbidden” (Ether 13:13). In his futuristic predictions he pointedly leaves out any reference to the Gentiles whom he has just been addressing. Those who will dwell in the New Jerusalem are simply “they who are numbered among the remnant of the seed of Joseph, who were of the house of Israel” (Ether 13:10).

From Book of Mormon definitions of “Gentiles” and “house of Israel,” however, we know that Latter-day Saints come under the category of “Gentiles,” while Jews, Lamanites, and Ten Tribes come under the category of “house of Israel.” Because the expression “numbered among” refers to one people assimilating into another (see Mosiah 25:12–13; Alma 45:13–14; 3 Nephi 2:14–16), and because Nephi, Jacob, and Jesus predict that the Gentiles on this continent who don’t harden their hearts will ultimately be “numbered among” Lehi’s descendants (see 1 Nephi 14:1–2; 2 Nephi 10:18–19; 3 Nephi 16:13; 21:6, 22; 30:2), it becomes clear from the Book of Mormon account that the Gentiles too, like the Jaredites and Nephites before them, will be destroyed and that those who remain will ultimately assimilate into Lehi’s descendants whom the Father has promised will again inherit this land.

In that sense, the Book of Mormon account of Samuel the Lamanite casts the Nephites as a type of the latter-day Gentiles and Samuel as a herald of the coming of Christ. Like John the Baptist, whom the Lord gave power to “overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord” (D&C 84:28), Samuel was the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:1–3). As with Abinadi, Ether, and John the Baptist, the people rejected him, but his words about their destruction, like those of his fellow prophets, would all be fulfilled.

Avraham Gileadi