These statements reflect the condition of wickedness the people of Ammonihah are in after hardening their hearts against the word of God. At the same time, they are an invitation to obtain greater light and knowledge, which knowledge Alma identifies with the “mysteries of God.”
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).
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.
The prophet Zenos’ allegory of the olive tree seems to provide the common source for Nephi’s and Paul’s olive tree imagery (cf. Romans 11:16–24; 1 Nephi 10:12–14; 15:12–16). The olive tree as a symbol of Israel, together with the fig tree and grapevine, has a long history in the Old Testament (cf. Judges 9:8–13; Hosea 14:6–8; Jeremiah 11:16–17). All three varieties can renew themselves even if they decay and are cut down.
The Lord likens Israel to a cultivated or tame olive tree, which, after growing to full stature, begins to wax old and decay (Jacob 5:3). Israel grew to full stature under kings David and Solomon but from then on declined spiritually and politically. Paul makes another allusion to the tree that decays and waxes old. It symbolizes the old covenant, or testament, which the new must replace (Hebrews 8:13).
Gentiles begin entering the picture with Israel’s exile to Assyria in 722 B.C. and Judah’s exile to Babylon in 587 B.C. and the deportation and resettlement of Israelites in other parts of these empires. Wild branches are grafted into the olive tree when the Gentiles accept the gospel after the Jews reject it (cf. Romans 11:1–27). By that time, many Israelites had assimilated into the Gentile nations so that these too could qualify for the blessings of God’s covenant with Israel by right of lineage.
For a time, under this grafting arrangement, the mother tree bears good fruit, as do three transplants to other parts of the vineyard. The transplants comprise (1) Jewish and Jewish–Christian migrations (Ether 13:11); (2) the Ten Tribes, who, after their exile into Mesopotamia, journey into Eastern and Western Europe (cf. 2 Esdras 13:40–46); and (3) the descendants of Lehi, who possess the land “choice unto me above all other parts of the land of my vineyard” (Jacob 5:43; cf. 2 Nephi 1:5; 29:13).
Zenos devotes by far the largest portion of his allegory to the final grafting phase that occurs after “a long time had passed away,” when all four trees have become corrupt (Jacob 5:29–77). This locates the allegory’s main time frame in the last part of the latter days, as also implied by the expression, “the end soon cometh” (Jacob 5:29). By that time, the branches have “overcome the roots . . . taking strength unto themselves” (Jacob 5:37, 48). The servant asks the Lord of the vineyard to “spare it a little longer,” whereupon the Lord commissions him to commence the regrafting process (Jacob 5:50–60).
The phrase, “Begin at the last that they may be first, and that the first may be last” (Jacob 5:63), refers initially to the restoration of the gospel to the Gentiles and, eventually, when these reject it, to its acceptance by the Jews and all the house of Israel (1 Nephi 13:42; cf. Matthew 20:1–17; Romans 11:17–27; 3 Nephi 16:10–11). This end-time process is an exact reversal of when the Jews rejected the gospel and the Gentiles accepted it in the time of Christ and the early apostles.
According to the prophet Ether, the day in which the first will be last and the last first is when the house of Israel will be gathered “from the four quarters of the earth, and from the north countries” (Ether 13:11–12). Moroni, who wants to say more on this subject, is “forbidden.” Instead, he says, “Great and marvelous were the prophecies of Ether; but they esteemed him as naught, and cast him out” (Ether 13:13). Evidently, Moroni can’t say more because the Lord wants to “try the faith” of his people with the words we now have (cf. 3 Nephi 26:9–1).
For a fuller understanding of these prophecies we must rely on the words of Isaiah, who predicts that the Lord will gather Israel and Judah from the four corners of the earth and from the land of the North, at which time they will return in a new exodus to Zion (cf. Isaiah 11:10–12:6; 43:2–8, 16–17; 48:20–21; 49:1–22). On this very subject, Nephi quotes the prophecies of Isaiah after he too is forbidden to say more (1 Nephi 20:20–21; 21:1–22).
Jacob adds that “the day that he [the Lord] shall set his hand again the second time to recover his people, is the day, yea, even the last time, that the servants of the Lord shall go forth in his power, to nourish and prune his vineyard; and after that the end soon cometh” (Jacob 6:2). This prophecy relies on Isaiah’s prediction that the Lord will “set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people.” At that time, the “outcasts of Israel” and the “dispersed of Judah” will be gathered from the “four corners of the earth” and will participate in a new exodus to Zion (Isaiah 11:11–12:6; cf. 2 Nephi 21:11–22:6).
Also speaking of that time, the Prophet Joseph Smith says, “Christ, in the days of His flesh, proposed to make a covenant with them [the Jews], but they rejected Him and His proposals, and in consequence thereof, they were broken off, and no covenant was made with them at that time. But their unbelief has not rendered the promise of God of none effect: no, for there was another day limited in David, which was the day of his power; and then His people, Israel, should be a willing people” (TPJS, 14–15).
The “day of power,” to which both Jacob and Joseph Smith refer, is the day that “the Messiah will set his hand again the second time to recover them; wherefore, he will manifest himself unto them in power and great glory, unto the destruction of their enemies, when that day cometh when they shall believe in him” (2 Nephi 6:14; cf. 1 Nephi 14:13–17).
Zenos’ beautiful allegory of the olive tree may thus be more fully understood in the light of Isaiah’s prophecies of the same end-time scenario. In all likelihood, the allegory is itself an expansion upon Isaiah’s olive tree allegory (cf. Isaiah 11:1).
By linking up with the words of Isaiah each time they predict end-time events, Book of Mormon prophets clearly point us to Isaiah. And each time they do, only one scenario emerges from these combined scriptures, and it is always the same. Lest we esteem the prophecies of Isaiah as naught and cast them out—as the Jaredites did those of Ether—therefore, we might ask, Is understanding the words of Isaiah perhaps the main test we must pass before the Lord reveals more? And second, Is the final grafting of the Jews, the Ten Tribes, and the Lamanites into the olive tree held up until some of us perform this?
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).
Nephi and Jesus have many things in common as they teach the people, especially as Nephi seeks to emulate his Savior, whom he knows will appear to his people. Both Nephi and Jesus prophesy concerning the restoration of the house of Israel and God’s fulfilling his covenants with his people. Both speak of the Gentiles and their ministering role towards the house of Israel. Both rely on the words of Isaiah to describe Israel’s latter-day restoration. Both give keys for understanding Isaiah. And both teach the “doctrine of Christ.”
The Book of Isaiah has been a stumbling block for readers probably since it was written, about 700 B.C. Still, the fact that Jesus called the words of Isaiah “great,” and commanded the Nephites to search them diligently (3 Nephi 23:1), means that therein lies a deliberate test. If people would do as he commanded—for which he always “prepares a way”—they would soon realize that Isaiah holds the key to all the scriptures, even the Book of Mormon.
While Nephi takes the place of his father Lehi as the principal teacher of the family, his brother Jacob takes Nephi’s place as a “second witness.” Jacob, who had “beheld in thy youth his glory” (2 Nephi 2:4), is not a step behind Nephi in his love and understanding of the scriptures. Though his teachings have a slightly different flavor than Nephi’s—as one would expect with differences in personality and divine calling—they are just as eloquent and original in their thoughts and expressions.
The Lord’s promise to Joseph in Egypt that he would raise up a “choice seer” out of his lineage (2 Nephi 3:6–7, 11, 14) was supremely fulfilled in the Prophet Joseph Smith. The “work” he would perform, which would be “of great worth” to Joseph’s descendants, consisted in part of bringing forth the Book of Mormon (Mormon 8:14). This would help restore them “to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers” (2 Nephi 3:7, 11–12, 15, 18–23).
Joseph’s prediction that this seer would be “great like unto Moses” nuances the nature of his prophetic mission (2 Nephi 3:9). Moses was a dispensation leader and lawgiver who similarly restored his people to the knowledge of the Lord’s covenants with their fathers. He held the keys of the Melchizedek priesthood and “sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God” (Exodus 19:10–11, 14–17; D&C 84:23–27). Moses saw God and prophesied the coming of the Messiah (Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 18:15; Mosiah 13:33; Helaman 8:13; Moses 1:2). In all these things, Joseph Smith was “like unto Moses.”
Joseph Smith received “commandments and revelations” for the church “even as Moses” (D&C 28:2). Moreover, the Lord had said to Moses in the mount, “In a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take away many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men—among as many as shall believe” (Moses 1:41).
That promised prophet, too, resembles Joseph Smith. To enable Joseph Smith to fulfill his mission of “preserving” the descendants of Joseph and all the house of Israel (2 Nephi 3:16), Moses himself committed to him “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” (D&C 110:11).
In the Sinai wilderness, Moses had declared to his people that “the Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15). For the Lord had said to Moses, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:18–19).
Nephi declared that “this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel,” and that “all who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people” (1 Nephi 22:20–21). (As the Hebrew language has no upper case letters, no terms or names appear capitalized in the Old Testament.) Peter also taught that Jesus was the prophet of whom Moses testified and that “every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:22–23; cf. 7:37).
To the Nephites, Jesus explained, “I am he of whom Moses spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people” (3 Nephi 20:23; cf. John 5:46; D&C 133:64).
The expression “cut off from among the people” adds another dimension to this prophecy. A scriptural analysis shows that those who are “cut off” include “hypocrites” (D&C 50:8), “the rebellious” (D&C 64:35–36), and “wicked, unfaithful, and unjust stewards” (D&C 101:90). Those cut off for transgression are delivered over to the “buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption” (D&C 104:8–10).
In a specifically end-time context, those “cut off” include wild branches of the olive tree (Gentiles) who do not “continue in his goodness” (Rom. 11:22; cf. Jacob 5:65–66), “whosoever will not believe” the words of Christ, which the Lord’s “servant” will bring forth to the Gentiles (3 Nephi 21:10–11; cf. Isaiah 52:13–15), “whosoever will not repent and come unto my Beloved Son” at that time (3 Nephi 21:20), and those who “will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles” when the “arm of the Lord” is revealed (D&C 1:14; cf. JS-Matthew 1:55; JS-History 1:40).
In this end-time setting, the Lord’s “servant” who brings forth the words of Christ to the Gentiles, is also “like unto Moses.” Jesus says of those who disbelieve his words at that time, “(It shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant” (3 Nephi 21:11).
The roles Isaiah attributes to this servant resemble Lehi’s prediction to his son Joseph concerning his descendants: “There shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration to the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren” (2 Nephi 3:24). These events are preparatory to the coming of Israel’s God.
In sum, three messianic persons may be described as “like unto Moses,” namely Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, and the servant who prepares the way before the Lord’s second coming. While Jesus is the prophet like unto Moses, Joseph Smith and the Lord’s end-time servant perform additional essential restorative roles. All three compare to the “stem,” “rod,” and “root” of Jesse in Isaiah’s allegory of the olive tree (Isaiah 11:1, 10; D&C 113:1–6).
What sets the Book of Mormon expectation of the Messiah apart from the Jewish one is that the Messiah will be the Lord God himself, the “Holy One of Israel,” as Isaiah often describes him (2 Nephi 1:10; cf. Isaiah 41:14; 54:5). The Jewish idea of the Messiah, on the other hand, centers around one who will “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6).
Some time between the “record of the Jews” passing from the Jews to the Gentiles and its going forth as a “book” (the Bible) to all the nations of the Gentiles, “many plain and precious parts” and “many covenants” are “taken away” and “kept back” by “that great and abominable church” (1 Nephi 13:20–32). This results in the “fulness of the gospel,” as taught by the “twelve apostles of the Lamb,” being perverted or downgraded, “blinding [people’s] eyes” and “hardening [their] hearts,” so that many Gentiles “stumble,” giving Satan “great power over them.”