Lesson 34: How Could You Have Forgotten Your God?
Purpose: To help class members recognize the cycle that leads from righteousness to wickedness and back to righteousness.
Let’s begin our discussion today by recalling Lehi told his family soon after they had landed in their new land of promise.
2 Nephi 1:9
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.
Which part of Lehi’s posterity does this promise apply to? [All of it – Nephite and Lamanite – all of whom were “brought out of the land of Jerusalem. Invite discussion.]
Let’s turn now to Helaman, chapter 6 – almost 600 years after Lehi spoke of the promise he had received from the Lord.
1 And it came to pass that when the sixty and second year of the reign of the judges had ended, all these things had happened and the Lamanites had become, the more part of them, a righteous people, insomuch that their righteousness did exceed that of the Nephites, because of their firmness and their steadiness in the faith.
2 For behold, there were many of the Nephites who had become hardened and impenitent and grossly wicked, insomuch that they did reject the word of God and all the preaching and prophesying which did come among them.
There is some debate among Book of Mormon scholars as to whether these verses are referring to the entire Lamanite and Nephite nations, or only to the Lamanite and Nephite parts of the Church. There are valid points to be made for either choice, and there’s no need for us to get into a debate here. I will, though, ask you to listen to me read two statements, and examine your feelings and reactions:
1. A large part of the Nephite nation became grossly wicked and rejected the word of God.
2. A large part of the Nephite church became grossly wicked and rejected the word of God.
Do you respond differently to the two statements? How/why? [Discuss.]
Think for a moment about what you know is going to happen during the remainder of the Book of Mormon. Think about conditions during Mormon’s time, as he is selecting which parts of the records to include in his abridgement that will one day be published as the Book of Mormon. What do you suppose he thought about as he studied the records of the Nephites and Lamanites in this period? If he thought back to the promise given to Lehi about who would prosper in the land, do you think that caused him pain, or gave him comfort?
Let’s read Helaman 6:3
3 Nevertheless, the people of the church did have great joy because of the conversion of the Lamanites, yea, because of the church of God, which had been established among them. And they did fellowship one with another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy.
Regardless of the turmoil in the surrounding world, regardless, perhaps, of feelings about Church members who may, like the Nephites, “reject the word of God,” how can the Church remain a source of comfort and fellowship?
Scripture Discussion and Application
1. The people are righteous and are blessed with peace and prosperity.
2. The Nephites become proud and wicked. Nephi calls them to repentance.
3. The Lord gives Nephi the sealing power. The unrepentant Nephites face warfare and famine.
4.The Nephites humble themselves and repent.
The converted Lamanites that we’re reading about here were converted largely through the missionary efforts of Lehi and Nephi, the sons of Helaman. Let’s go back a few pages to recall how Lehi and Nephi were able to be so successful:
18 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did preach unto the Lamanites with such great power and authority, for they had power and authority given unto them that they might speak, and they also had what they should speak given unto them –
19 Therefore they did speak unto the great astonishment of the Lamanites, to the convincing them ,insomuch that there were eight thousand of the Lamanites who were in the land of Zarahemla and round about baptized unto repentance, and were convinced of the wickedness of the traditions of their fathers.
Keeping those verses in mind, let’s read what the converted Lamanites then did:
4 And it came to pass that many of the Lamanites did come down into the land of Zarahemla, and did declare unto the people of the Nephites the manner of their conversion, and did exhort them to faith and repentance.
5 Yea, and many did preach with exceedingly great power and authority, unto the bringing down many of them into the depths of humility, to be the humble followers of God and the Lamb.
This is one thing I love about this part of the Book of Mormon: Mormon gets our attention by turning all of our expectations upside down – and yet those upside-down expectations are completely in line with everything we know about the gospel: The Lamanites have generally been the wicked ones, yet here they are as converts, as missionaries, trying to convert the wicked Nephites who, by every expectation, ought to be the righteous ones. In the previous chapter, it was Nephi and Lehi, heirs to generations of righteous ancestors, who were preaching with “great power and authority”– and in this chapter it’s the newest converted Lamanites, with generations of ancestors who have fought against the prophets who have the “great power and authority.” Yet all this is exactly according to the promise Lehi received nearly 600 years earlier: those of his descendants who obeyed the commandments prospered.
Does this remind you of anything in your personal experience, where your expectations were complete reversed, yet you ended up happier or more blessed than if your expectations had been met?
7 And behold, there was peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites.
How do you understand this verse? Do you see it as “there was peace because so many people were listening to the missionaries,” or as “because this was a time of peace, the missionaries were able to accomplish their work”? [Are the Nephites righteous? No, Helaman 6:1 tells us they were not. Why would they be blessed with peace if they were wicked? So that the Lamanites could spread the gospel? Because it was a brief period of peace, and so does not ultimately invalidate the promise given to Lehi? Discuss.]
There is another item in the Book of Mormon narrative at this point that turns expectation on its head, that we need to discuss.
8 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire.
9 And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites; and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north.
10 Now the land south was called Lehi and the land north was called Mulek, which was after the son of Zedekiah; for the Lord did bring Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south.
11 And behold, there was all manner of gold in both these lands, and of silver, and of precious ore of every kind; and there were also curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it; and thus they did become rich.
12 They did raise grain in abundance, both in the north and in the south; and they did flourish exceedingly, both in the north and in the south. And they did multiply and wax exceedingly strong in the land. And they did raise many flocks and herds, yea, many fatlings.
13 Behold their women did toil and spin, and did make all manner of cloth, of fine-twined linen and cloth of every kind, to clothe their nakedness. And thus the sixty and fourth year did pass away in peace.
Did the people have enough to eat? Were they getting by on zucchini and pumpkin, or was their diet more elaborate? What about clothing? How about luxuries?
Because there was peace among the Nephites Lamanites, the people were not only enabled to produce their own goods – no need to supply an army, or to endure a famine because you had to flee from enemies – but they were also free to trade in peace and acquire goods from distant places and from craftsmen who could create things that most people could not produce themselves.
Let’s go back to a similar time of peace and prosperity, described by Mormon in Alma 1:29-30
29 And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need – an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth.
30 And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.
Let’s look at conditions in our own world now. Do we generally have enough to eat? Is our diet varied? Do we have enough to wear? How about access to gold and silver and precious things? [hold up iPad] How about the rest of it – do we send away any who are naked, or hungry? Do we care for the sick? Are we liberal to all?
In many ways, then, we find parallels between ourselves and at least two points in Book of Mormon history. Let’s look back again at the Nephites and Lamanites in the book of Helaman.
16 And in the commencement of the sixty and seventh year the people began to grow exceedingly wicked again.
17 For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain.
Setting aside the matter of wars and bloodshed for a moment, let’s talk about the economics first. If everybody has enough, as we’ve agreed they did, what is behind their desire to accumulate even more wealth? We’ve agreed that our world parallels the world of the Nephites in regard to our abundance – do we parallel them in regard to this desire to “be lifted up one above another” as well?
I realize it’s easier to look at other people than ourselves in this respect – easier to look at the world in general than at the Church, or easier to look at the ward member with the new car and the exotic vacation plans than at ourselves, but let’s take a moment to think, without necessarily responding: If you are being absolutely candid with yourself, did setting your heart upon riches, or being lifted up one above another, play any role in your choice of career? of housing? in your voting decisions in the upcoming election? in any extravagant purchase you made recently?
How do we know when our economic choices are acceptable to the Lord, or when they cross the line into vanity? Are any of us justified in making that judgment about a neighbor?
We set aside the matter of wars and bloodshed; now let’s go back to that. In the setting of the Book of Mormon, wars would have been very personal and would have affected everyone directly – not only were the Nephites in the army, or taxed to support their armies, but war meant fleeing to a city for safety, and enduring a famine because you couldn’t grow a garden or raise your flocks. Most of us don’t have anything like that personal connection to war in our generation … or do we? Are we (“we” meaning our nation, members of our Church, ourselves) sometimes stirred up to anger, war, and bloodshed? What effect does this have on us, even when we’re not running from an invading army and watching our homes and fields be destroyed?
In this period of the Book of Mormon, Nephi, the son of Helaman, rebuked the Nephites for their lust for riches and warfare.
20 O, how could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you?
21 But behold, it is to get gain, to be praised of men, yea, and that ye might get gold and silver. And ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world, for the which ye do murder, and plunder, and steal, and bear false witness against your neighbor, and do all manner of iniquity.
26 Yea, wo shall come unto you because of that pride which ye have suffered to enter your hearts, which has lifted you up beyond that which is good because of your exceedingly great riches!
27 Yea, wo be unto you because of your wickedness and abominations!
28 And except ye repent ye shall perish; yea, even your lands shall be taken from you, and ye shall be destroyed from off the face of the earth.
I’ve asked you a couple of times to imagine what Mormon must have felt as he compiled the Book of Mormon. Again, what do you think was going through his mind as he copied Nephi’s rebuke here?
Mormon knew – because it was in his own past – that the Nephites would become rich, then wicked, then humbled, then forgiven, then prosperous, then proud, then humbled, again and again, until in his own day they were finally destroyed. He must have known this would be a problem throughout the history of mankind, because he chose to warn future generations about it by making this cycle such a prominent feature of his compiled Nephite history.
What is true of nations and peoples is also true of individuals. Depending on the course of our own lives, we are somewhere in this cycle of prosperity – pride – downfall – repentance – forgiveness – and prosperity. Our personal cycles may not match what’s going on in the world economy, or in the lives of other ward members … but we’re somewhere in that cycle, anyway.
President Hinckley begged members of the Church to:
See for the real things, not the artificial. Seek for the everlasting truths, not the passing whim. Seek for the eternal things of God, not for that which is here today and gone tomorrow. Look to God and live.
Somehow, I can hear that said in Mormon’s voice, as well as President Hinckley’s! [Testimony]