3 Nephi Chapter 2
1 And it came to pass that thus passed away the ninety and fifth year also, and the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen-
verse 1 "the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven" Here is an obvious characteristic of the non-believer, the sinner, the "natural man." When the influence of the Spirit is withdrawn from an individual and he sinks deep into the worldly mire, he is less and less apt to be impressed by any wonders sent forth from God. He will disavow any thought of heavenly influence and will seek instead naturalistic explanations for any miracle. Another principle is operative here. While miracles or supernatural occurrences may induce faith in those who are blessed to observe them, this faith tends not to be strong and enduring. The faith that endures is developed "precept upon precept; line upon line . . . here a little, [and] there a little" (Isaiah 28:13) over the years of obedience and striving. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29).
"hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds" Hardhearted? Spiritually blind? Spiritually deaf? Do all these terms have specific meanings? Elder Bruce R. McConkie has differentiated between spiritual deafness and blindness:
Spiritual deafness describes the state of those who are lacking in spirituality, whose spirit ears are not attuned to the whisperings of the still small voice of the Spirit. Similarly, spiritual blindness is the identifying mark which singles out those who are unable to see the hand of God manifest in the affairs of men. Such have "unbelief and blindness of heart" (D&C 58:15); they are "hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds" (3 Nephi 2:1) (Mormon Doctrine, "Deafness," 184).
To harden one's heart is to willfully close one's heart against the Holy Spirit, in rebellion against God, in order to accomplish one's own will. The resulting hard-heartedness can result in the Spirit's ceasing to strive with a person and in spiritual death. Hard-heartedness can lead progressively from indulging oneself somewhat in wrongdoing to gross wickedness. Hard-heartedness is associated with complaining or murmuring, unbelief, blindness of mind, anger, impenitence, stiffneckedness, pride and sexual sin, desire for vengeance, abominations, cruelty, and murder. Hard-heartedness restricts spiritual understanding and can eventually lead to "know[ing] nothing" concerning the mysteries of God, and then being "taken captive by the devil" (Alma 12:9-11). It resists the softening action of the Holy Spirit and its attendant virtues, like meekness, compassion, and humility. It renders one vulnerable to lies, and blind to divine signs and wonders. It flourishes in conditions of ease and prosperity.
2 Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people; and thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing.
verse 2 For an especially apt specific example of the general rule contained in this verse, flip back to 1 Nephi 16:37-38. In these verses in 1 Nephi, Laman and Lemuel rebel against, and even plot to kill, their brother Nephi and their father Lehi even though these recalcitrant brothers had previously seen an angel who had rebuked them (1 Nephi 3:29-31). It would seem that there's nothing new or original in Satan's techniques in trying to lead astray the family Adam. Why should he change his approaches, when the old ones seem to work so well?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell adds his warning:
How quickly he moves in, even where people have had special spiritual experiences, seeking to get people who have seen signs "To disbelieve all which they had heard and seen" (3 Nephi 2:1-2). The adversary has a better chance to persuade us that what we believe is foolish if we worry about looking foolish in front of our fellow men. We read about the subtleties of the devil and that the adversary persuadeth not one man to do good (Alma 12:4; Moroni 7:17). He cheateth people's souls; and having thus persuaded people that there is no devil, he becomes a shepherd of many (2 Nephi 28:21-22; Alma 5:39) (Things As They Really Are, 41-42).
"thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people" Hugh Nibley commented on the dangerous and chilling power Satan possesses in obtaining control over man:
It is on that principle of opposites that Satan's participation in our lives is to be explained. If we can be "encircled about eternally in the arms of [God's] love" (2 Nephi 1:15), we can also be "encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction" (Alma 5:7); and if we can be perfectly united in the at-one-ment, we can also be "cast out" (Alma 5:25), separated and split off forever-"their names shall be blotted out . . . the names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people" (Alma 5:57). When Satan claims you as his, there is indeed a horrible oneness; for he too will embrace you to get power over you: Do "not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom" (2 Nephi 2:29; cf. 1 Nephi 13:29; 2 Nephi 28:19; Alma 8:9). He will hold you in his strong embrace, having a great hold over you (Alma 10:25; Alma 12:17; Alma 27:12; Helaman 16:23). Joseph Smith felt that power, and it was not an imaginary power at all, a power many have felt since (JS-H 1:16). For he "get[s] possession" of you (3 Nephi 2:2), "for Satan desireth to have you" (3 Nephi 18:18), just as the Lord does. So while on the one hand, God "inviteth and enticeth to do good" and be one with him, so on the other hand Satan "inviteth and enticeth to sin" (Moroni 7:12-13) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 9, 585).
"doctrine of Christ" Again, as a reminder: The "doctrine of Christ," also called the gospel of Christ (Jacob 7:6; 2 Nephi 31:2; 2 Nephi 31:21), consists of those teachings that, when adhered to, make it possible to return to live eternally in the presence of our heavenly parents and our Savior. This doctrine is the "only way . . . under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God" (2 Nephi 31:21)-it is the only doctrine with the power to save. This doctrine is the gospel or "good news" of the atonement-that it is indeed possible for us to achieve this sublime goal, that of being exalted.
3 And it came to pass that the people began to wax strong in wickedness and abominations; and they did not believe that there should be any more signs or wonders given; and Satan did go about, leading away the hearts of the people, tempting them and causing them that they should do great wickedness in the land.
4 And thus did pass away the ninety and sixth year; and also the ninety and seventh year; and also the ninety and eighth year; and also the ninety and ninth year;
5 And also an hundred years had passed away since the days of Mosiah, who was king over the people of the Nephites.
verse 5 It was at the death of king Mosiah that the younger Alma became the first chief judge of the people and the years began to be counted according to the "reign of the judges."
6 And six hundred and nine years had passed away since Lehi left Jerusalem.
7 And nine years had passed away from the time when the sign was given, which was spoken of by the prophets, that Christ should come into the world.
8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ; therefore, nine years had passed away.
verses 5-8 Undoubtedly the reader is by now familiar with the dating references in the Book of Mormon. In case a review would be helpful: The Nephites reckoned their dates by three different events. These were: (1) Lehi's leaving Jerusalem; (2) the commencement of the reign of the judges which was about 91 BC-sometimes alternatively referred to as the year Mosiah died (Mosiah 29:44-46); and (3) the sign of the birth of Christ (3 Nephi 1:15). See the commentary for 3 Nephi 1:1.
It is a notable irony that the Nephites began to reckon their time from the time of the night without darkness, even though most of them will soon come to doubt the validity of the sign. This is somewhat analogous to our situation today in the western world where time is measured from the birth of Christ, yet many people do not believe in Christ as the Son of God.
For a discussion on the actual birth date of the Savior, see the commentary for 3 Nephi 1:1.
9 And Nephi, who was the father of Nephi, who had the charge of the records, did not return to the land of Zarahemla, and could nowhere be found in all the land.
verse 9 It is interesting that Mormon still had the issue of Nephi's mysterious disappearance on his mind and here he mentions it again "out of the blue," so to speak. We have already discussed the disappearance and probably translation of this Nephi some nine years earlier (3 Nephi 1:3).
10 And it came to pass that the people did still remain in wickedness, notwithstanding the much preaching and prophesying which was sent among them; and thus passed away the tenth year also; and the eleventh year also passed away in iniquity.
11 And it came to pass in the thirteenth year there began to be wars and contentions throughout all the land; for the Gadianton robbers had become so numerous, and did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land, that it became expedient that all the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, should take up arms against them.
12 Therefore, all the Lamanites who had become converted unto the Lord did unite with their brethren, the Nephites, and were compelled, for the safety of their lives and their women and their children, to take up arms against those Gadianton robbers, yea, and also to maintain their rights, and the privileges of their church and of their worship, and their freedom and their liberty.
verse 12 Apparently by now the covenant of pacifism entered into by the Lamanites who were converted by Ammon and his brethren had expired. This covenant not to bear arms had lasted for at least eighty-four years and through a few generations. (Alma 27:21-26; Alma 43:11-12; Alma 24:5-6; Alma 24:15-19; Alma 24:20-24; Alma 26:31-34; Alma 44:20; Helaman 5:51; Helaman 15:9).
13 And it came to pass that before this thirteenth year had passed away the Nephites were threatened with utter destruction because of this war, which had become exceedingly sore.
14 And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites;
15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;
verse 15 Notice that in this verse, the facts of their curse being removed and their skin becoming white were two separate occurrences-"their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white" (italics mine). The curse was not the dark skin. Rather the curse was the loss of the Spirit-the spiritual separation from God. The dark skin was only the mark of the curse, and it had previously been prophesied that the mark would be removed from them when they were restored to the Savior and his gospel (2 Nephi 30:6).
For a useful summary of the Lamanites, particularly a consideration of their skin color, see the commentary for Mormon 5:15.
It has been suggested by some that the Lamanites' dark skin, in the early days of the Book of Mormon story, may have been the natural result of the intermarrying of Laman, Lemuel, and those of their persuasion with the indigenous peoples who were already in the New World on their arrival. This issue is discussed in the commentary for 2 Nephi 5:21-23. There remain some misgivings about the idea that God brought about skin color changes in the Book of Mormon by completely natural means. Here in this verse, for example, it is difficult to see how the Lamanites' skin could become white in any natural way. Perhaps, however, that when there became no distinction between Nephite and Lamanite, with all the intermarrying that would produce, everyone's skin would be indistinguishable.
16 And their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites. And thus ended the thirteenth year.
verse 16 "they were numbered among the Nephites" This joining of the Lamanites with the Nephites likely provided a larger and stronger military force as noted in the following verse. We will learn that this advantage, however, is short lived.
17 And it came to pass in the commencement of the fourteenth year, the war between the robbers and the people of Nephi did continue and did become exceedingly sore; nevertheless, the people of Nephi did gain some advantage of the robbers, insomuch that they did drive them back out of their lands into the mountains and into their secret places.
verse 17 "in the commencement of the fourteenth year" There is reason to believe that the Nephite year began in the month we call April (3 Nephi 8:5). Thus the "fourteenth year" began in April of AD 14 and ended in March of AD 15.
18 And thus ended the fourteenth year. And in the fifteenth year they did come forth against the people of Nephi; and because of the wickedness of the people of Nephi, and their many contentions and dissensions, the Gadianton robbers did gain many advantages over them.
19 And thus ended the fifteenth year, and thus were the people in a state of many afflictions; and the sword of destruction did hang over them, insomuch that they were about to be smitten down by it, and this because of their iniquity.
verse 19 "the sword of destruction did hang over them" This phrase is Mormon's colorful way of saying that the Nephite society was on the brink of destruction.