3 Nephi Chapter 3
3 Nephi 3-4 The Nephites gather themselves together to defend themselves against the Gadianton band led by Giddianhi and then Zemnarihah. The Nephites are led by the Chief Judge Lachoneus and the military captain Gidgiddoni. The Gadianton band is eventually defeated. Zemnarihah is hanged from a tree, and then the tree is felled.
Chapter 3 contains a letter that Mormon inserted into the record from Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadianton robbers, to Lachoneus, the governor of the Nephites. Terrence L. Szink has provided us with an interesting comparison between this letter and one written to captain Moroni by Ammoron, a Lamanite king some forty-seven years earlier (Alma 54):
In both letters there is a request for the surrender of the Nephites (Alma 54:18; 3 Nephi 3:6-7), although in the case of Giddianhi, it is more an invitation to Lachoneus to turn the people over to him and join with him in oppressing them. Both opponents claim that they have been wronged and that they have been unjustly deprived of their "rights of government" (Alma 54:17-18; 3 Nephi 3:10). Both letters contain a rejection of God (Alma 54:21-22; 3 Nephi 3:2); and finally, both threaten destruction (Alma 54:20; 3 Nephi 3:3-4).
The differences in the letters demonstrate that in the case of the Gadianton robbers, the Nephites were confronted with an enemy much more sophisticated and dangerous than any previous. . . .
Another difference in the letters is the sophisticated tone of Giddianhi's message. He repeatedly compliments Lachoneus, referring to him as "most noble," praises his "firmness" and his "noble spirit in the field of battle." He claims to be motivated by a feeling for the welfare of the Nephite leader. All this was intended to entice Lachoneus into selling his people out and joining with the robbers, and it is in striking contrast to the direct boldness of Ammoron's letter. Giddianhi was a "smooth operator," a man who, although apparently well educated, was entirely without conscience and not to be trusted under any circumstance (Studies in Scripture, Volume Eight, Alma 30 to Moroni, 128-30).
Some have seen parallels in our day to the sophisticated Gadianton robbers. Terrence L. Szink has suggested that this parallel may be "the rich and powerful drug trafficking organizations that threaten to destroy our society. They use many of the same tactics and have the same goals as the Gadianton robbers" (Ibid., 130).
We may divide 3 Nephi 3 into two halves:
1. The first half (verses 1-10) illustrates the adversary's tactics. We read, for example, that he uses flattery, sarcasm, doubt, and skepticism in verse 2; intimidation, fear, and threats in verse 3; accusation in verse 4; and hypocrisy in verse 5. In verse 6 he uses the false multiple choice dilemma (yield or be destroyed) when we know that these are not the only choices; Satan inevitably leaves out the option of turning to God. In verse 7, he uses entrapment; verse 9, reversal of values-he makes good seem bad and bad seem good; and finally in verse 10 he uses justification or transfer of blame. Evil always seems to justify itself.
2. The second half of chapter 3 illustrates Lachoneus's righteous responses to Giddianhi's evil threats. We may learn important lessons from his responses as we battle the enticings of Satan in our own lives. Lachoneus's responses include don't be afraid (verse 12); decisions based on fear are inevitably bad decisions; pray for strength (verse 12); gather together (verse 13; see also D&C 115:5-6; 101:20-22); build fortifications (verse 14-today our fortifications may be the programs of the Church); place the guards (verse 14-the priesthood is to keep watch over the Church); repent (verse 15); exert oneself to follow the prophet (verse 16) and his apostles (verse 19); don't flirt with danger (verses 20-21); and arm yourself with the whole armor of God (verse 26).
1 And now it came to pass that in the sixteenth year from the coming of Christ, Lachoneus, the governor of the land, received an epistle from the leader and the governor of this band of robbers; and these were the words which were written, saying:
verse 1 Notice that both Lachoneus and Giddionhi have the title of "governor." Apparently, the titles "chief judge" and "governor" are interchangeable. We have no way of knowing whether or not Lachoneus was a democratically elected "governor." We are reminded that the Gadianton robbers considered themselves a political organization. They considered their leader, Giddianhi, the head of a government in exile.
verses 2-10 In his letter, notice how virtuous Giddianhi is, at least in his own judgment. In a parable, the Savior warned us to be cautious about accepting a man's estimate of his own righteousness at face value. When "two men went up into the temple to pray," one of them proclaimed his righteousness and the other his sinful condition. As it turns out, the self-proclaimed labels were both incorrect (Luke 18:10-14).
2 Lachoneus, most noble and chief governor of the land, behold, I write this epistle unto you, and do give unto you exceedingly great praise because of your firmness, and also the firmness of your people, in maintaining that which ye suppose to be your right and liberty; yea, ye do stand well, as if ye were supported by the hand of a god, in the defence of your liberty, and your property, and your country, or that which ye do call so.
verse 2 Giddianhi is a typical example of the "king-men" in the Book of Mormon. The reader may wish to review the salient features of the "king-men" in the introductory commentary for Alma 46. Please note that though he is one of the king-men, he tries to appear to be one of the "freemen"-particularly in this verse. He speaks strongly for the individual rights and liberty of all people. Hugh Nibley has commented that "the king-men have always made a big thing of sounding like freemen" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 340-42).
"ye do stand well, as if ye were supported by the hand of a god" It is typical for a skeptic to seek for alternate explanations for those occurrences that the faithful would regard as being caused by divine intervention. Elder Boyd K. Packer explained: "One thing is for sure: the skeptic will never know, for he will not meet the requirement of faith, humility, and obedience to qualify him for the visitation of the Spirit" (That All May Be Edified, 340).
verses 3-10 Here Giddianhi delivers his ultimatum. We will learn that Lachoneus did not answer the letter, but prepared his people for battle and eventually defeated the attacking force.
3 And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachoneus, that ye should be so foolish and vain as to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command, who do now at this time stand in their arms, and do await with great anxiety for the word-Go down upon the Nephites and destroy them.
verse 3 "do await with great anxiety" Here, of course the word "anxiety" means an earnest and intense desire.
4 And I, knowing of their unconquerable spirit, having proved them in the field of battle, and knowing of their everlasting hatred towards you because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them, therefore if they should come down against you they would visit you with utter destruction.
5 Therefore I have written this epistle, sealing it with mine own hand, feeling for your welfare, because of your firmness in that which ye believe to be right, and your noble spirit in the field of battle.
verses 6-7 Brother Hugh Nibley comments on the "deal" that Giddianhi is about to propose to Lachoneus:
The chief who signs himself the governor of the Society (verse 9) begins by expressing warm admiration for the Nephite governor's firmness "in maintaining that which ye suppose to be your right and liberty" (verse 2), showing himself to be a fair-minded and sporting type. In the next verse he is very patronizing-every inch the "big-shot." "And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachoneus, that ye should be so foolish and vain as to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command" (verse 3). So, big hearted as he is, the chief proposes a deal, but not until he has first given a little sermon which burns with righteous indignation for the wrongs he and his people have suffered (verse 4). The deal is that Lachoneus, for whose genuine talent and courage the chief again expresses his sincere admiration, is to be taken into the Society, and in return for bringing with him all the property over which his authority extends, he is to be received on a fifty-fifty basis-"not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance" (verses 6- 7). It was all very high-minded and idealistic. The chief was speaking only in the name of virtue; he was simply giving the other side a break, "feeling for your welfare," as he so nicely put it (verse 5). If the deal was refused, it would be curtains-"ye shall become extinct" (verse 8). All he is asking for, Giddianhi concludes, is "that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government" (verse 10). And let no one suppose that his followers did not sincerely believe that they were the righteous and offended ones, and their opponents just too wicked to live with (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 6, 391-92).
6 Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you.
7 Or in other words, yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us-not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance.
verse 7 This is an interesting verse, and it illustrates a fascinating point. The Gadianton band are not simply robbers in the usual sense. Robbers need people to pray upon-they have to have "sheep to shear." What is the point of inviting everyone to join? If they were simply a band of robbers and everyone joined with them, there would be no one to rob. In fact, the Gadianton adherents are more than just a band of robbers, they are an ideological party. They are called "robbers" by their enemies, but there is more to them than that. They apparently have their own government and their own secret documents and their own secret oaths and covenants.
8 And behold, I swear unto you, if ye will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed; but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct.
verse 8 It is likely that Giddianhi was sincere and meant what he said here in this verse (see the discussion of oath taking in the commentary for 1 Nephi 4:31-33).
9 And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton; which society and the works thereof I know to be good; and they are of ancient date and they have been handed down unto us.
verse 9 Note that Giddianhi "bears his testimony" of the ideology of the society of Gadianton. He points to the secret society's "works" and states that they are venerable, old, and good-indeed, of "ancient date." We have learned previously that the Gadianton robbers did not obtain their secret oaths and covenants from the twenty-four plates that contained the record of the Jaredites (Alma 37:27; Alma 37:29). Rather they were given to Gadianton "by that same being who did entice our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit" (see Helaman 6:26 and its commentary). These secret oaths were the very essence of the Gadianton society. The penalty for betrayal of these oaths was death. This fact produced a degree of devotion to evil not found among any of the Nephites' previous enemies.
John L. Sorenson has suggested a practical way in which the secret oaths of the Gadianton society might have been "of ancient date and . . . handed down unto" those in the Gadianton society at the time of Giddianhi:
The Nephite secret combination pattern is obviously very similar to what had been present among the Jaredites. Was there a historical connection? . . . An efficient alternative explanation of how the later secret groups came to look so much like those of the Jaredites is direct transmission of the tradition through survivors of the Jaredites to the people of Zarahemla [the Mulekites] and thus to Gadianton. This process probably would have been unknown to Alma or other elite Nephite writers, who must have had little to do directly with the mass of "Mulekite" folk (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There," 21).
10 And I write this epistle unto you, Lachoneus, and I hope that ye will deliver up your lands and your possessions, without the shedding of blood, that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government, and except ye do this, I will avenge their wrongs. I am Giddianhi.
11 And now it came to pass when Lachoneus received this epistle he was exceedingly astonished, because of the boldness of Giddianhi demanding the possession of the land of the Nephites, and also of threatening the people and avenging the wrongs of those that had received no wrong, save it were they had wronged themselves by dissenting away unto those wicked and abominable robbers.
12 Now behold, this Lachoneus, the governor, was a just man, and could not be frightened by the demands and the threatenings of a robber; therefore he did not hearken to the epistle of Giddianhi, the governor of the robbers, but he did cause that his people should cry unto the Lord for strength against the time that the robbers should come down against them.
verse 12 "the threatenings of a robber" Today we would not make much of the difference between the terms thief (Hebrew ganab) and robber (Hebrew gedud). However, in Hebrew tradition there was a significant difference. The legal distinctions between theft and robbery, especially under the laws of ancient Israel, have been analyzed by Bernard S. Jackson, professor of law at the University of Kent-Canterbury (Theft in Early Jewish Law [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972]). A thief was usually a local person who stole from his neighbor. He was tried and punished civilly, most often by a court composed of his fellow townspeople. Robbers, on the other hand, were often outsiders, brigands, highwaymen. They usually acted in organized groups rivaling local governments and attacking towns. They swore oaths and extorted ransom. They were dealt with militarily and could be executed summarily. Thieves, however, were a much less serious threat to society. This distinction seems to be made consistently in the Book of Mormon (John W. Welch, "Theft and Robbery in the Book of Mormon and in Ancient Near Eastern Law," a FARMS reprint). This explains how Laban could call the sons of Lehi "robbers" and threaten to execute them on the spot without a trial, for that is how a military officer like Laban no doubt would have dealt with a robber. It also explains why the Lamanites are always said to "rob" from the Nephites but never from their own brethren-that would be theft, not robbery. It also explains the rise and fearful menace of the Gadianton society, who are always called "robbers" in the Book of Mormon, never "thieves." It is also probably no coincidence that the Hebrew word for "band" or "bandits" is gedud, and the most famous Book of Mormon robbers were known as Gadianton's "band."
The importance of this ancient legal tradition in the Book of Mormon is further enhanced by the fact that Anglo-American common law would have provided Joseph Smith with quite a different understanding of the legal definitions of the terms theft and robbery, inconsistent in many ways with the dominant usages found in the Book of Mormon. In ordinary American usage, the two terms are nearly synonymous. Moreover, if Joseph Smith had relied on the language of his King James Bible for legal definitions of these terms, he would have stumbled into error, for that translation uses the English words thief and robber indiscriminately. For example, the same phrase is translated inconsistently from the Hebrew or Greek of Jeremiah 7:11 as "den of robbers" and yet from the identical Greek in Matthew 21:13 as "den of thieves," even though Jesus was quoting Jeremiah on that occasion, to say nothing of the fact that thieves do not have dens. In addition, the same word for robbers in the Greek New Testament (lestai) is sometimes translated as "thieves" (crucified next to Jesus in Matthew 27:38) and other times as "robber" (describing Barabbas in John 18:40). Nevertheless, there was indeed an important ancient distinction between thieves and robbers that no translator should neglect, and over which Joseph Smith did not blunder.
13 Yea, he sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and their children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place.
verse 13 "save it were their land" Some have poked harmless fun at this phrase as perhaps being unnecessary.
14 And he caused that fortifications should be built round about them, and the strength thereof should be exceedingly great. And he caused that armies, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites, or of all them who were numbered among the Nephites, should be placed as guards round about to watch them, and to guard them from the robbers day and night.
15 Yea, he said unto them: As the Lord liveth, except ye repent of all your iniquities, and cry unto the Lord, ye will in no wise be delivered out of the hands of those Gadianton robbers.
verse 15 Lachoneus realized that military preparations were not enough to prepare his people to meet the challenge of the Gadianton robbers.
16 And so great and marvelous were the words and prophecies of Lachoneus that they did cause fear to come upon all the people; and they did exert themselves in their might to do according to the words of Lachoneus.
17 And it came to pass that Lachoneus did appoint chief captains over all the armies of the Nephites, to command them at the time that the robbers should come down out of the wilderness against them.
18 Now the chiefest among all the chief captains and the great commander of all the armies of the Nephites was appointed, and his name was Gidgiddoni.
19 Now it was the custom among all the Nephites to appoint for their chief captains, (save it were in their times of wickedness) some one that had the spirit of revelation and also prophecy; therefore, this Gidgiddoni was a great prophet among them, as also was the chief judge.
verse 19 "some one that had the spirit of revelation and also prophecy" We might interpret this as simply one who has lived in such a way that he is deserving of and responsive to the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.
20 Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands.
21 But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.
verse 21 Gidgiddoni explains that the Lord has forbidden the Nephites to become the aggressors. Gidgiddoni also may have in mind the practical fact that every time the Nephites have gone up in the mountains of the wilderness, they have been defeated. He then outlines a good counter-guerrilla strategy (see the commentary for Helaman 11:24-25).
22 And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies.
verse 22 "the proclamation of Lachoneus" The Nephites are about to assemble enough provisions to last for seven years and gather themselves to an appointed place. The intent of this plan was to literally starve the robbers to death. There is an interesting geographic note that relates to this incident. Note the description of the place of gathering in the next verse. It has been pointed out by Dr. Joseph L. Allen (Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 37-38) that the mountains between the Chiapas depression (the proposed location of the city of Zarahemla and the River Sidon) and the Coatzacoalcos River (the "line" separating the land Bountiful from the land of Desolation-see the illustration, Book of Mormon Lands, a Proposed Setting- are known today as the Lacandone Mountains. The associated valley and the area are called Lacanha. Perhaps the similarity between the name of this area and the name of the great Nephite governor, Lachoneus, is only accidental, but it is also most interesting (see also the commentary for the following verse).
23 And the land which was appointed was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation.
verse 23 We have little information to inform us as to the exact location of this land to which the Nephites with all their resources will gather. This land has to be large enough to accommodate the "great many thousand people who were called Nephites (see the following verse)," yet small enough to have a defendable perimeter and small enough to be besieged by the armies of robbers (3 Nephi 4:7). One might propose a large but limited area in the northern part of the greater land of Zarahemla between the Sidon basin as it runs true north and the parallel line that separates the land Bountiful from the land of Desolation (see the illustration, Book of Mormon Lands, A Proposed Setting. Just how large this land is, the Book of Mormon text does not explain.
24 And there were a great many thousand people who were called Nephites, who did gather themselves together in this land. Now Lachoneus did cause that they should gather themselves together in the land southward, because of the great curse which was upon the land northward.
verse 24 "Lachoneus did cause that they should gather themselves together in the land southward, because of the great curse which was upon the land northward" The "land southward" is in this case in the greater land of Zarahemla. The "land northward" refers to the land Desolation. While your author is not specifically aware of the Lord's pronouncing a curse upon the land Desolation, it is clear that the Nephites regarded it as a cursed and almost haunted land probably because they had discovered there the ruins and the bones of the destroyed Jaredite nation (see Alma 22:30 and Mosiah 8:8). Hence they gave it the name "Desolation."
25 And they did fortify themselves against their enemies; and they did dwell in one land, and in one body, and they did fear the words which had been spoken by Lachoneus, insomuch that they did repent of all their sins; and they did put up their prayers unto the Lord their God, that he would deliver them in the time that their enemies should come down against them to battle.
verse 25 The defensive preparations of the Nephites were completed.
26 And they were exceedingly sorrowful because of their enemies. And Gidgiddoni did cause that they should make weapons of war of every kind, and they should be strong with armor, and with shields, and with bucklers, after the manner of his instruction.
verse 26 "and with bucklers" "A buckler is a small shield designed specifically for defense against the sword, but in general it can refer to any type of small shield that is strapped to the forearm" (Warfare in the Book of Mormon, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, 408-09).