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).
Only later, when Kishkumen tries to kill Helaman, does it come to light that a secret combination led by one Gadianton was conspiring “to murder, and to rob, and to gain power” over the people (Helaman 2:4–5, 8). Though this is the first reported incident of a secret combination among the Nephites, Mormon makes the point that, in the end, “this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi” (Helaman 2:13).
Putting popular versions of it aside for a moment, when considering the story of “Helaman and his stripling warriors” there exists an explicit theology behind the relationship these young Ammonites had with Helaman that accounts for their miraculous deliverance in battle in the face of such tremendous odds.
We may sometimes wonder why the latter part of the book of Alma seems to emphasize wars between the Nephites and Lamanites, devoting so much scarce space on the gold plates to their detailed description. On the other hand, many other, sometimes costlier wars in the Book of Mormon are almost passed over or described in just a verse or two.
Upon describing the fall of man and the Atonement that “God himself” would make to counter the Fall’s negative effects (Alma 42:6, 14–15, 23), Alma summarizes with: “And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world. And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction and misery” (Alma 42:26).
The question is, How do we obtain such salvation, whether in this life or the next? Alma recalls, “I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more” (Alma 36:18–20).
Of all Alma’s words to Korihor, the following seem the most poignant and central to this antichrist’s attempts to deceive the people: “I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God” (Alma 30:42).
From other scriptures, we learn that lies and deception came into the world as a result of Satan’s rebellion against God: “He became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice” (Moses 4:4). A person who lies, moreover, is called a “child of the devil” (Alma 5:39).
Those who lie fall in the category of telestial persons, whose destiny is to be “thrust down to hell” (2 Nephi 9:34; D&C 76:103). An antichrist, however, takes lying to the next level. He repudiates Christ and denies the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22). Like Satan’s, his intent is to use lies as a means of “destroying the children of God.”
Just as God’s children love the truth and follow the example of Jesus Christ, so those who “love and make a lie” follow the example of Satan. Hence, Christ and Satan function at opposite ends of the spectrum as exemplars of righteousness and wickedness, respectively. “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning. The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth; And no man receiveth a fulness of truth unless he keepeth his commandments. He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things” (D&C 93:24–28).
This formula for growing in the truth—by keeping the commandments of God—additionally tells us that those who love and believe lies reach that point by breaking the commandments of God. Their alienated state comes especially from speaking evil about others, putting them down while justifying themselves, as did Korihor (Alma 30:14–16, 23–28, 31). The psychology of liars is invariably grounded in unrepented sins and attempts to make others the scapegoats of their guilt. If they can get people to believe their lies, they soon begin believing them themselves.
In the end, Korihor confessed, “I always knew that there was a God. But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I have taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true” (Alma 30:52–53).
Because Korihor is a type of our time as well as a historical figure, there is a lesson we can learn from his example. Jesus predicted of the last days, “There shall arise false christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24). Of course, Jesus’ statement implies that the elect cannot be deceived, or they would not be the elect. By their very nature, God’s elect have learned good from evil and truth from falsehood to such a degree that they see through Satan’s deceptions. Those who are deceived are not celestial but terrestrial and telestial persons (D&C 76:75, 103).
Paul speaks of a great Antichrist of the last days: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there shall come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. . .
“And then shall that Wicked [One] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume by the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, 8–12).
Even today, “there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you. Behold, I, the Lord, have looked upon you, and have seen abominations in the church that profess my name. But blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life. But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment. Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power . . . Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me” (D&C 50:2–9).
John Taylor, in a First Presidency Message, taught an important lesson on what happens to people who lie: “Many stories go from mouth to mouth concerning the truth of which those who repeat them know nothing . . . We testify that those who give way to this influence . . . who gossip about and aid in the dissemination of these things to the injury of their fellows, will, unless they speedily repent, lose the Spirit of God and the power to discern between truth and falsehood, and between those who serve God and those who serve Him not. Their own minds will become so darkened by the spirit of falsehood that the Spirit of God will cease to have power with them and will flee from them.” (Epistle to the Saints in Semi-Annual Conference, October 6, 1886.)
Just as one doesn’t have to be perfect in order to have the spirit of truth, so one doesn’t have to be a Korihor to have a lying spirit. As with God’s elect, the key to avoiding deception and self-deception is keeping the commandments of God (cf. D&C 76:52; 84:33–34).
Although Alma, in Alma 13, describes in some detail what is involved in order to enter into the “rest of the Lord,” he first mentions this concept by way of a revelation in Alma 12. He says, “Whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest. And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest” (Alma 12:34–35).
The idea of “hardening” or “not hardening” the heart continues a theme Alma had preached earlier in this chapter, in which he identified hardening the heart with receiving a “lesser portion” of God’s word and not hardening the heart with receiving a “greater portion” (Alma 12:9–11). From Alma’s parallel usage, we can thus conclude that a person’s receiving the greater portion of God’s word will ultimately lead to his or her entering into the “rest of the Lord.”
The idea of entering the Lord’s “rest” first appears in the scriptures in Psalm 95, referring to what happened during the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness: “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation, as in the temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways, unto whom I swore in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest” (Psalms 95:7–11; cf. Hebrews 3:7–19).
The Israelites had provoked the Lord by complaining that he had brought them out of the land of Egypt to kill them in the wilderness from hunger and thirst (Exodus 16:1–17:7). They provoked him again as they neared the Promised Land and were afraid to enter, conspiring instead to return into Egypt (Numbers 14:1–4). The Lord then swore in his wrath that they would wander forty years in the wilderness and die there, and that their little ones, whom they complained would die in the wilderness, would possess the land (Numbers 14:5–37).
The implication here is that entering into the “rest of the Lord” is synonymous with entering the Promised Land. Elsewhere the Lord’s “rest” is identified with Zion, a place in the Promised Land designated as the Lord’s dwelling place (Psalms 132:13–14).
D&C 84 also recalls the Israelites’ provocation of the Lord in the wilderness: “This greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God . . . For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:19, 22–24; cf. Exodus 19:1–20:19).
In the light of this latter-day revelation, Zion and the Promised Land appear as metaphors of the “fulness of his glory.” This is also evident from the experience of Moses, who saw the glory of God, but not all (Exodus 33:18–23), for “no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth” (Moses 1:2, 5). Still, looking forward to the earth’s terrestrialization in the Millennium—and beyond that to its celestialization—the Lord said to Moses, “As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14:21). To this, Paul adds the idea of a future Sabbath day of rest for God’s people who have performed good works and not hardened their hearts in unbelief (Hebrews 4:1–11).
Many of these conjoined concepts thus come together in the Millennium, the earth’s paradisiacal seventh day of rest, when Zion will be established and the Lord reigns among his people. Others pertain to a phase beyond the Millennium.
Alma teaches that persons who enter into the rest of the Lord are those who don’t harden their hearts but humble themselves before God. They receive his word with joy, bring forth fruit meet for repentance, receive a remission of their sins, watch and pray continually, perform works of righteousness, have faith in the Lord, call upon his holy name, are sanctified by the Holy Ghost, have their garments made white by the blood of the Lamb, are pure and spotless before God, cannot look upon sin except with abhorrence, have a hope of eternal life, have the love of God always in their hearts, are humble, meek, and submissive, are patient and full of love and all long-suffering, are led by the Holy Spirit, are called with a holy calling, are ordained with a holy ordinance, exercise mighty faith, are ordained to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, preach repentance, teach his commandments, and establish peace (Alma 13:6–13, 16–19, 28–29; 16:17).
According to Alma, persons who don’t enter into the rest of the Lord are those who harden their hearts, are unbelieving, procrastinate the day of their repentance, are hardened against the word of God, don’t continually watch and pray, are tempted beyond what they can bear, are bound by the chains of hell, provoke the Lord, bring down his wrath upon them as did the ancient Israelites, suffer everlasting destruction, and die the second death (Alma 12:35–36; 13:27, 30; 16:17).
On this subject, Paul taught that God’s works were “finished [also ‘decided,’ or ‘determined’] from [before] the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3). In other words, God’s plan from before the creation of this earth was that his people would ultimately enter into his rest: “That which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest” (D&C 121:32). While there are many considerations that influence whether or not we will enter into the rest of the Lord, the chief determining factor is whether or not we will harden our hearts or repent (Alma 12:10–11, 13, 33, 35–37; 13:4–5; 16:17; cf. D&C 84:24).
See Chapter 23, “A Lesser and Greater Portion.”
Preaching to the people of Zarahemla, Alma essentially outlines two paths his people are following, or may follow, one leading to eternal life, the other to death and hell. Two opposite forces are at work in the earth, the one as real as the other: “I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil. Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him” (Alma 5:40–41). In short, what his people do, not necessarily what they profess, determines who they are and where their destiny lies.
In order that they may clearly distinguish between righteousness and wickedness, Alma provides many examples, pointing out where each path leads. A synopsis of his words follows:
Some people believe in the words of the prophets, while others live in a state of unbelief; the souls of some are illuminated by the light of God’s word, while others dwell in the midst of darkness; some repent of iniquity, while others don’t repent; some humble themselves before God, while others persecute and make a mock of those who do; some wash their garments clean and pure of all stains, while others wear garments stained with blood; some are cleansed from sin through the blood of their Redeemer, while others are filled with guilt and remorse; some are spiritually born of God, while others are dead to things pertaining to righteousness;
Some people look up to God with pure hearts and clean hands, while other remain in their filthiness; some are loosed from the bands of death and the chains of hell, while others are encircled about by them; some enter into a covenant to keep the commandments of God, while others set God’s commandments at defiance; some look forward with an eye of faith to eternal life, while others are puffed up in the vain things of this world; some bring forth works meet for repentance, while others are not found guiltless; some worship the true and living God, while others worship idols; some steadfastly believe on the name of Jesus Christ, while others set their hearts on earthly riches; some are stripped of pride and envy, while others are puffed up in the pride of their hearts;
Some people touch not unclean things, while others cleave to them; some have care for the poor and needy, while others turn their backs on them; some come out from among the wicked, while others are not numbered among the righteous; some are the sheep of the good shepherd, while others are as wolves among the flock; some belong to the fold of the good shepherd, while others belong to the fold of the devil; some hearken to the voice of the good shepherd, while others refuse to hearken to his voice; some put their trust in the living God, while others trample the Holy One under their feet; some walk in the path of righteousness, while others, professing to know the ways of righteousness, have gone astray;
Some people have had a mighty change wrought in their hearts, while others persist in wickedness; some walk blameless before God, while others retain a perfect remembrance of their guilt and wickedness; some perform works of righteousness, while others work iniquity; some abound in good works, while others are dead to good works; some walk after the holy order of God, while others are children of the devil; some make the paths of God straight, while others walk in crooked paths; some are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, while others are murderers, guilty of all manner of wickedness; some receive the image of God engraven in their countenance, while others suppose that they are better than them; some are faithful to God until the end, while others yield themselves up as subjects of the devil;
Some people sing the song of redeeming love, while others have cause to wail and mourn; some are saved, while others cannot be saved; some inherit the kingdom of heaven, while others are unprepared to be judged of God; some partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life, while others are doomed to an everlasting destruction; the names of some are written in the Book of Life, while others’ names are blotted out; some view this corruption raised to incorruption, while others receive the wages of death; some receive an inheritance on the right hand of God, while others are hewn down and cast in the fire; some view this body raised to immortality, while others set their hearts upon the things of this world; some, God receives to himself, to sit down in his kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the holy prophets, while others are cast out (Alma 5–7).
By asking a series of question around these concepts, Alma provokes serious soul-searching among his people. Many respond, and a reformation takes place in Zarahemla (Alma 6:1–6). As a type of our time, Alma declares the coming of their Redeemer in a day not far distant: “The Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth” (Alma 7:9).
By choosing the path of righteousness, we, like the Nephites, will prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord and ready ourselves to receive him. The other path leads to death and destruction, which await the wicked in that day.
The alienation of Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah from the beliefs and teachings of their fathers, and their “going about rebelling against God” (Mosiah 27:10–11) follows a pattern that has existed from the time of Adam until today. What is uncommon is that God sends an angel to turn the situation around. Though by no means infringing on the rebels’ free agency, the angel confronts them with the error of their ways and the consequences of their actions. At the same time, he demonstrates the power of God that backs up his heaven-sent mission (Mosiah 27:11–15).
Such direct divine intervention, though it doesn’t occur easily, nevertheless follows a scriptural pattern. Through his infinite wisdom and foreknowledge, God has intervened in the affairs of humanity at different times in order to correct a situation. But there are always other players involved, in this case Alma the Elder and his people. The angel told the estranged young man, “The Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith” (Mosiah 27:14).
The key to this formula for occasioning divine intervention is Alma the Elder’s praying “with much faith,” as distinct from his just praying. In that respect, the “power and authority of God,” of which the angel convinces Alma, doesn’t refer only to the power and authority God has to do these things, but to the power and authority of God Alma the Elder has when he prays for his son. It is possible to reach a point in one’s spiritual progression, as did Nephi the son of Helaman, when God fulfills every petition of his servant, making a person “mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works,” so that “all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will” (Helaman 10:5; cf. Isaiah 44:26).
Alma the Elder had received “power and authority from God” to minister to the Nephites and ordain men to the holy priesthood (Alma 5:3). He himself served as the “high priest” and “founder of their church” (Mosiah 23:16). While the individual circumstances of his receiving power and authority from God are unclear, we may assume, considering all that transpired in his life, that he had received a personal manifestation from the Lord just as other priests and prophets did of old. After the time of Moses, “all the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself” (TPJS, 181). We can’t simply assume that Alma the Elder’s formerly serving as a priest of King Noah lent him such authority.
We can assume that when Alma the Elder prayed, he did so for specific things, things he believed would happen. He didn’t pray in nebulous generalities or allow himself to disbelieve the things for which he prayed. When Nephi the son of Helaman asked the Lord for a famine in order to stir up his people to repentance, he too believed it would happen (Helaman 11:3–5). Without the element of his faith, nothing would have occurred (cf. D&C 8:10; 63:10–11). Melchizedek’s exercising “mighty faith” in God, for example, helped him convert a wicked people into a Zion society (Alma 13:17–18; Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 14:26–34).
In these spiritual manifestations, we see at work the “power” of the priesthood, which comes through personal righteousness, as distinct from the “authority” of the priesthood, which comes through ordination. Therein lies the ability to have power with God, which power we also receive from God.
In the Book of Isaiah, the spiritual level one may attain that is characterized by direct divine intervention is identified as that of “seraphim” and “watchmen.” These persons are the same as, or the equivalent of, those who receive “the spirit and power of Elijah,” also called “the fulness of the Priesthood” and the “sealing power,” which is a stage of spiritual progression beyond making sure one’s calling and election (see TPJS, 335–40; cf. D&C 77:11). These are persons who “call upon the Lord” day and night (Isaiah 62:6), who, like Daniel, pray individually to the Most High God three times a day (Daniel 6:10) for themselves and others. God blesses their ministry to his people, through which service they gain eternal life.
The Prophet Joseph Smith, in his Lectures on Faith, which were once a part of the Standard Works, teaches that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things . . . and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God . . . by this means obtain[ing] faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life . . . But those who do not make the sacrifice cannot enjoy this faith, because men are dependent upon this sacrifice in order to obtain this faith”(Lecture Sixth, Lectures on Faith).
We can be assured that Alma the Elder, Nephi the son of Helaman, Melchizedek, and others had similarly “covenanted with the Lord by sacrifice” (Psalms 50:5) sufficient for them to attain the faith they demonstrated so as to prevail with God to answer their prayers. Would they, in emulating the Son of God, expect him to sacrifice his all and they not do likewise? On the contrary, their obtaining the highest order of the holy priesthood possible on earth depended on this very sacrifice of themselves, while their successful ministries demonstrated its fruits.
As the Book of Mormon contains “less than a hundredth part” of the Nephites’ spiritual history, there doubtless occurred many other instances of angels personally visiting God’s people, just as they do to this day. Because covenanting with the Lord by sacrifice is not limited to persons holding positions of authority, but is the privilege of all of God’s people, so the faith in God necessary to obtain divine intervention is likewise the privilege of God’s people, though such intervention may occur indirectly as well.
See Isaiah Decoded, 221–62.
From Zeniff to Limhi, we observe a classic cycle of prosperity, wickedness, and repentance. Under King Zeniff, who led a colony of Nephites from Zarahemla back to the Land of Nephi, the people prospered. He caused them to labor with their hands for their support, and in the midst of their enemies they enjoyed a measure of peace (Mosiah 9:8–9; 10:4–5). When the Lamanites eventually attacked them, the “strength of the Lord” was with the Nephites so that they slew the much more numerous Lamanites by a ratio of over ten to one (Mosiah 9:17–19; 10:10, 20). At those times, Zeniff and his people put their trust in God and “did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies” (Mosiah 9:17; 10:19).
Under King Noah, the “strength of the Lord” was no longer with the Nephites. The colony fragmented and soon became subject to the Lamanites (Mosiah 11:16–17; 19:2–15). King Limhi, Noah’s son, restored a measure of peace among his people (Mosiah 19:27), but when the Lamanites again attacked them they were unable to deliver themselves (Mosiah 21:2–12). Even when they “did cry mightily to God . . . that he would deliver them out of their afflictions,” they were not delivered (Mosiah 21:14–15). Only gradually, “by degrees,” did they begin to prosper again in the land (Mosiah 21:16). Eventually, Ammon rescued them and they migrated in an exodus back to Zarahemla (Mosiah 22:1–11).
A similar thing happened to Alma and his people, who had broken off from the people of King Noah. After they had repented and undergone baptism, after they had covenanted to bear one another’s burdens, and after they had established themselves in the land of Helam and begun to prosper, the Lamanites discovered them and put them into bondage (Mosiah 18:7–10; 23:20–39). If God was a just God who had accepted their repentance, and if he was pleased with the covenant they had made, how could he still let this happen? If we ourselves had taken all the necessary steps to make such a course correction, wouldn’t we expect the Lord to again bless us and not subject us to further sorrows?
Lest we be among those who “understand not the dealings of the Lord,” let’s review the covenant he made with his people Israel in the beginning. Every covenant of the Lord contains blessings and curses. If those with whom he covenants keep his commandments, which are the law of the covenant, blessings follow; if they don’t, the curses. Deuteronomy 28 delineates many of the blessings the Lord promised his people Israel if they would keep his commandments. Likewise, the curses if they didn’t. Among these curses are his people’s bondage to enemies and their powerlessness to deliver themselves (Deuteronomy 28:25, 48).
Because Alma and King Limhi and their peoples endured these very things—even long after they had repented of wrongdoing—it means that they were still suffering the penalties of the covenant they had once broken. Though they had been living righteously for some time, and the Lord had forgiven them their transgressions, the curses of the covenant still followed them and their offspring.
This also means that covenant blessings and curses operate independently of people’s current spiritual disposition. In other words, they can accrue to people today as a result of what they or their forebears did yesterday. Thus, the Lord speaks of “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Deuteronomy 5:9). However, this doesn’t mean that children are guilty of their parents’ sins, as Ezekiel makes clear (Ezekiel 18:19–20). Rather, it implies that children may inherit the results of their parents’ transgressions, that there are consequences of parents’ actions that children may have to deal with in their lives.
We should thus draw a distinction between sin and iniquity. Broadly speaking, sin is something we do wrong, of which we can repent and be forgiven through the merits of Christ’s atonement. Iniquity, on the other hand, is the effect of sin, which may be cumulative and which may continue down the generations until a descendant or descendants reverse it.
Dysfunctional patterns, for example, are regularly passed on from parents to children until someone takes ownership of the “iniquity,” repents of it, and begins to live by the laws of God. Although Abraham was born into dysfunctional circumstances, he aspired to return to the “blessings of the fathers” (Abraham 1:1–2, 5–7; emphasis added). His father Terah, and his whole society, were idolaters, and a famine—a curse—prevailed in the land (Joshua 24:2; Abraham 2:1).
Ultimately, Abraham reversed his cursed condition by serving the Lord, who blessed him with his own Promised Land (Genesis 17:1–8; Abraham 1:16). From then on, the blessings of the fathers came upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who loved God. A similar pattern of blessings or curses accruing from parents to children appears in D&C 98:28–37.
The same principle of blessings and curses operating independently of people’s current disposition may apply in an opposite sense. The prosperity Latter-day Saints have inherited today, for example, may go back several generations to their pioneer ancestors. Those converts to the restored gospel, like Abraham, gave their all to serve God and rid themselves of the iniquities of their fathers.
Some of their descendants today, meanwhile, may throw away their sacred heritage, not realizing that the blessings they currently enjoy have accrued from their forebears and could be reversed into curses at any time. The original prosperity of King Noah’s people, and their initial victory over the Lamanites, may fall into that inherited category (Mosiah 11:18–19).
Alma and King Limhi and their peoples took ownership of their cursed condition by covenanting with the Lord to serve him and keep his commandments (Mosiah 18:10; 21:31–32). From then on, they exercised patience, confident the Lord would deliver them from their enemies in his own due time—that he would reverse their curse and turn it into a blessing. Like the Woman Zion or Jerusalem of the last days, they would eventually come full term, their iniquity would be “expiated,” and after their exodus out of Babylon they would be born a new nation of God’s people called Zion (cf. Isaiah 40:2; 48:20–21; 66:7–11).
The Nephites who completed this cycle under Alma and King Limhi became the nucleus of the church in Zarahemla (Mosiah 25:19–24). They were living witnesses of the power of God unto deliverance (Mosiah 25:10). They had experienced both the curse and the blessing and could inspire many among the Nephites to serve the Lord and keep his commandments.
For Nephite and Lamanite implementation of the emperor–vassal paradigm in its various forms of government, and for a comprehensive explanation of Christ’s Atonement in the light of emperor–vassal covenants, see “Priesthood, Patriarchy, and Proxy Salvation,” The Last Days, 175–261; and Isaiah Decoded, 169–219, 263–320.
To his hearers, Abinadi’s words about God being simultaneously the “Father” and the “Son” (Mosiah 15:2) didn’t present the anomaly it may to us. Those are technical terms they were familiar with based on the Nephites’ and Lamanites’ ancient Near Eastern covenant heritage. The word “father” designates an emperor while “son” identifies a vassal king.
The first “seer” we meet in the scriptures, called by that name, is the prophet Samuel, when Saul seeks him out to find his lost donkeys (1 Samuel 9:18–20). A comment is there made that “beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer” (1 Samuel 9:9). The word “prophet” seems to have become more popular because “all that he [the seer] saith cometh surely to pass” (1 Samuel 9:6). Later scriptural definitions distinguish between prophets and seers.
Others known as seers in the Old Testament include Abiathar and Zadok, the priests, Gad, who was King David’s seer, Heman, Iddo, Hanani, Asaph, Juduthun, and the prophet Amos (1 Samuel 30:7; 2 Samuel 15:27; 24:11; 1 Chronicles 25:5; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 16:7, 10; 29:30; 35:15; Amos 7:12). David often inquired of the Lord through a seer whether and where to go to battle against the Philistines and Amalekites (1 Samuel 23:6–12; 30:7–8; 2 Samuel 5:19, 23–25). Doing so, gave him much the advantage against Israel’s enemies.
Earlier seers, chronologically, include Enoch, who saw “the spirits God had created” and “things which were not visible to the natural eye” (Moses 6:36); the Brother of Jared, who saw “all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be” (Ether 3:23–25); Ether, who saw the destructions that would come upon the Jaredites, and also far into the future to the new Jerusalem (Ether 13:2–14); Abraham, who saw the order of the stars and God’s creations (Abraham 3:1–28); and Moses, who saw every particle of the earth and all its inhabitants (Moses 1:8, 27–29). In our day, the Prophet Joseph Smith exemplifies the role of seer, just as his ancestor, Joseph in Egypt, had predicted (2 Nephi 3:6–16).
As with the Brother of Jared, Abraham, Aaron, Abiathar, and others, a seer was usually one who had a seer stone or stones, also called the Urim and Thummim, which were kept in an “ephod” or linen pouch (Exodus 28; 35;1 Samuel 2:18, 28; 30:7; Ether 3:23; Abraham 3:1). These quartzite-type stones functioned much like terrestrial computer chips through which one could access the knowledge of the universe.
From Old Testament descriptions of what seers did in the days of King David, we can conclude that Alma the Younger was a seer. When he informed Captain Moroni’s men of the direction the Lamanites were taking to attack the Nephites, he fulfilled the classic function of a seer (Alma 43:23–24). In that respect, Alma, like the Old Testament seers, became a “great benefit to his fellow beings,” as many lives were spared as a result (Mosiah 8:18). Earlier, King Mosiah had conferred upon Alma the Urim and Thummim together with the Nephite and Jaredite records (Mosiah 28:10–20).
Ammon gives the best scriptural definition of a seer when he says, “A seer can know of things which are past, and also things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known” (Mosiah 8:17). As a case in point, the Urim and Thummim are able to “discover to every creature” in the land “the iniquities and abominations of the people” (Mosiah 28:15).
A specific function of a seer, or of one who uses the Urim and Thummim, is translating scriptures. Through their means, a seer “has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date . . . and the things are called interpreters” (Mosiah 8:13). With their help, King Mosiah could translate the plates of Ether, as these interpreters were “prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men” (Mosiah 8:19). Moreover, the gift of seership is God’s greatest gift to mortal man: “A gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God” (Mosiah 8:16).
Because of the sacred nature of divine seership and the power of God that is manifested, great restrictions are placed on the Urim and Thummim or seer stones. By definition, a seer is one who is “commanded” by God to use this seeing device (Mosiah 8:13). Alternatively, people who have experimented with seer stones, who have looked into them when not commanded, have “perished,” mentally, physically, and spiritually, precisely as Ammon warned (ibid.).
Nevertheless, God promises each of us our personal Urim and Thummim when we have progressed to that point: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Revelation 2:17). The new name compares to an access code that enables the recipient to look into the stone or stones and inquire of God.
The Prophet Joseph Smith commented that the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17 “will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made manifest” (D& C 130:10). Those who receive these stones are celestial beings (D&C 130:11), in other words, persons who make sure their calling and election. Temple ordinances and covenants teach us the requirements for obtaining the Urim and Thummim and the manner in which we receive them.
Patriarch Charles D. Evans of the Utah Stake saw in a vision published in Volume 15 of the 1893 edition of the Contributor how, during the Millennium, people would not learn from books or teachers as we do today, but rather by looking into Urims. They would see the past and the future, the makeup of all things, and how lower elements are assumed upward into living life forms.
Indeed, the Lord invites us today to see the things the Brother of Jared saw. To that end, we must “repent of [our] iniquity, and become clean before the Lord.” We must “exercise faith in [him] even as the brother of Jared did, that [we] may become sanctified in [him].” When we do this, the Lord will “manifest unto [us] the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto [us] all [his] revelations” (Ether 4:6–7).