3 Nephi Chapter 6
1 And now it came to pass that the people of the Nephites did all return to their own lands in the twenty and sixth year, every man, with his family, his flocks and his herds, his horses and his cattle, and all things whatsoever did belong unto them.
2 And it came to pass that they had not eaten up all their provisions; therefore they did take with them all that they had not devoured, of all their grain of every kind, and their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and they did return to their own lands and their possessions, both on the north and on the south, both on the land northward and on the land southward.
verse 2 "they did return to their own lands . . . both on the north and on the south, both on the land northward and on the land southward" Again, it seems likely these Nephites' homes were all located in the greater land of Zarahemla, and that these directional designations were simply describing the relationship of their home lands to the limited area in which they had gathered for self-protection.
3 And they granted unto those robbers who had entered into a covenant to keep the peace of the land, who were desirous to remain Lamanites, lands, according to their numbers, that they might have, with their labors, wherewith to subsist upon; and thus they did establish peace in all the land.
verse 3 "who were desirous to remain Lamanites" These converted Lamanite souls had previously joined with the Gadianton band. They now desired to hold to their covenants and remain Lamanites rather than rejoin the numerous dissenting Nephites who had comprised the large part of the Gadiantons.
The Gadiantons had again been effectively eradicated just as they had been in the days of Nephi the son of Helaman (Helaman 11:10).
4 And they began again to prosper and to wax great; and the twenty and sixth and seventh years passed away, and there was great order in the land; and they had formed their laws according to equity and justice.
verse 4 "equity and justice" Can one really distinguish between these two virtues? Intuitively we may define justice as "according to the law as it is written." What then is equity? Is it something in addition to justice? Elder Bruce R. McConkie has defined equity as "the principle which tempers the harshness of justice. Equity dictates that the law shall be administered according to its spirit and not merely its letter (D&C 102:16; 134:3; Helaman 3:20; 3 Nephi 6:4). It is an attribute of Deity (Psalm 98:9; Psalm 99:4; Alma 9:26)" ("Equity" in Mormon Doctrine, 231).
5 And now there was nothing in all the land to hinder the people from prospering continually, except they should fall into transgression.
verse 5 According to the now well-know promise/curse of the Book of Mormon, if the people are faithful to their covenants then they are literally guaranteed by the Lord that nothing on earth can, without their own will and action, mar their liberty, security, prosperity, and happiness.
The Nephites were enjoying a happy ending to a frightening threat and were certain to experience a splendid economic boom. And how long did this happy period last? For about two years. Then "there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up" (3 Nephi 6:14).
6 And now it was Gidgiddoni, and the judge, Lachoneus, and those who had been appointed leaders, who had established this great peace in the land.
7 And it came to pass that there were many cities built anew, and there were many old cities repaired.
8 And there were many highways cast up, and many roads made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place.
9 And thus passed away the twenty and eighth year, and the people had continual peace.
10 But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;
verse 10 "exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions" We are reminded of Jacob's warning to the rich: "Wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also" (2 Nephi 9:30).
11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.
verse 11 When a society becomes involved in active foreign trade, a bureaucracy grows up to negotiate alliances and administer laws governing the trade practices (see the commentary for Helaman 6:7-8). It is likely these "merchants," "lawyers," and "officers" were involved in the trade industry and had become wealthy in the process.
12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.
verse 12 To understand the probable central reasons for the appearance of this class society, see the commentary for Helaman 6:7-8 which discusses the phenomenon of foreign trade among the Nephites.
It is clear that in a class society, poverty can result in a lesser opportunity for education. It is also clear that the Lord regards this as an evil fruit of a class society (D&C 49:20).
13 Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.
verse 13 "some did return railing for railing" To rail against someone is to speak negatively or bitterly or reproachfully (finding fault) against them.
14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord.
verse 14 "the church was broken up in all the land" Obviously there were not only classes that existed in society without the church, but the factions rose up in the church as well. The opposite of this fragmentation of the church, and indeed the solution to such fragmentation is the phenomenon of unity within the church. The Savior taught that unity among his followers served as a witness to the world that he is the Christ (John 17:20-26). Paul exhorted all to become "fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19) and to "come in the unity of the faith" (Ephesians 4:13). Zion refers to the community of believers who, through their unity in Christ, have become "of one heart and one mind" (Moses 7:18). Such unity among the saints is achieved through individual obedience to the laws of God and through common dedication to the Savior. In order to be unified, the church members must share common aspirations, beliefs, and purposes. In the Book of Mormon, for example, the Savior explained that to become "one," members must end disputations and contentions (3 Nephi 11:22-28; 3 Nephi 11:36). The Book of Mormon also teaches that the saints must mitigate any condition that undermines unity among members, including significant economic and social distinctions (3 Nephi 6:10-16; 4 Nephi 1:24-35) (F. Neil Brady, "Unity" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, volume 4).
Brother Hugh Nibley observed: "Economic inequality is a deadly danger to the church in every age. . . . The usual explanation . . . for the increasing iniquity of society . . . is nothing but the desire 'for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world' (verse 15)" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 6, 393).
15 Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this-Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.
verse 15 Commenting on the remarkable rapidity with which the Book of Mormon people turn from humble and righteous to proud and wicked, Hugh Nibley wrote:
Money gets quick results, and the effects of newly acquired riches are almost instantaneous. At once the happy recipient of a big promotion is expected to change his lifestyle, move to a better part of town, join different clubs, send his children to different schools, even change his church affiliation for a more fashionable one, or drop an intended bride for one more acceptable to the president's wife and her exalted circle. . . . No, my friends, the Book of Mormon does not exaggerate either the relentless efficiency or the speed with which wealth corrupts all those who "set their hearts upon riches and the things of the world" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 364-65).
16 And thus Satan did lead away the hearts of the people to do all manner of iniquity; therefore they had enjoyed peace but a few years.
verse 16 One might well wonder as to the role of Satan in "lead[ing] away the hearts of the people to do all manner of iniquity." After all, is not there an element of "natural man" or "natural self" within each of us that might incline us toward iniquitous behavior without any prompting at all? Satan is "street wise" and smart. He obviously delights in a man's succumbing to his natural self. That natural self seems to be the root cause of sin. It is quite separate from the influences of Satan. But Satan provides abundant opportunities or temptations for a man to be led away by his natural tendencies. Satan also provides comfort and consolation after the fact of sin. "Please don't feel bad. Don't blame yourself. You were only doing what any normal man would have done under those circumstances."
One might well argue that the pulls of the natural self are more ubiquitous and more readily accessible to man than the Spirit's promptings. The former require no effort or striving. They do not have to be earned. We do not have to qualify ourselves to be worthy of them. They are provided to all mortals "free-of-charge." On the other hand, one must strive earnestly to qualify to receive the promptings of the Spirit of God.
17 And thus, in the commencement of the thirtieth year-the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should-and thus in the commencement of this, the thirtieth year, they were in a state of awful wickedness.
verse 17 "the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them" The people had completely lost control over their own destinies. Their unrighteousness had "delivered [them] up" to the will of Satan.
18 Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God.
verse 18 The Nephites brought condemnation upon their own heads because they knowingly and wilfully rejected the teachings of the brass plates and the counsels of the prophets of the Lord.
19 And now it was in the days of Lachoneus, the son of Lachoneus, for Lachoneus did fill the seat of his father and did govern the people that year.
20 And there began to be men inspired from heaven and sent forth, standing among the people in all the land, preaching and testifying boldly of the sins and iniquities of the people, and testifying unto them concerning the redemption which the Lord would make for his people, or in other words, the resurrection of Christ; and they did testify boldly of his death and sufferings.
verse 20 The Lord patiently and mercifully offers to the Nephites an opportunity to repent. We have previously observed that the Lord never levels serious destruction against people without an adequate warning. We will see in the ensuing verses that the Nephites did not take advantage of this opportunity to repent. Note that the Lord had inspired men to preach to the people and call them to repentance. Obviously, Nephi, the son of Nephi, was not the only prophet of the day.
"they did testify boldly of his death and sufferings" These prophets were preaching to people with a Jewish heritage. Whom did the Jewish world await as their messiah? They waited upon one who would be a conquering hero-certainly not a suffering servant who would willingly lay down his life. Thus it was not only appropriate, but important for these prophets to teach and prophesy of a Savior who would suffer and willingly lay down his life.
21 Now there were many of the people who were exceedingly angry because of those who testified of these things; and those who were angry were chiefly the chief judges, and they who had been high priests and lawyers; yea, all those who were lawyers were angry with those who testified of these things.
verse 21 Again we learn that the most vociferous and vocal opponents of the prophets and their message were the "king men" whose socioeconomic positions were threatened (see the introductory comments for Alma 46 and the commentary for Helaman 6:8).
22 Now there was no lawyer nor judge nor high priest that could have power to condemn any one to death save their condemnation was signed by the governor of the land.
23 Now there were many of those who testified of the things pertaining to Christ who testified boldly, who were taken and put to death secretly by the judges, that the knowledge of their death came not unto the governor of the land until after their death.
verse 23 "there were many . . . who were taken and put to death secretly" Apparently one of these was Timothy, the brother of the prophet Nephi. Timothy was raised from the dead by his brother (see 3 Nephi 7:19; 3 Nephi 7:19:4). This same Timothy, along with his brother Nephi will become a disciple (apostles) of the Lord.
24 Now behold, this was contrary to the laws of the land, that any man should be put to death except they had power from the governor of the land-
25 Therefore a complaint came up unto the land of Zarahemla, to the governor of the land, against these judges who had condemned the prophets of the Lord unto death, not according to the law.
26 Now it came to pass that they were taken and brought up before the judge, to be judged of the crime which they had done, according to the law which had been given by the people.
verse 26 "they were taken and brought up before the judge" These lesser judges were brought before the chief judge of the land, Lachoneus the son of Lachoneus (see verse 6).
27 Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law.
28 And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness.
verse 28 These judges, lawyers, and high priests made the same covenant Cain had made with Satan: "Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands. And Satan sware unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret. And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness" (Moses 5:29-31).
Brother Hugh Nibley has referred to the "murder to get gain" concept as "converting life into property" (Approaching Zion, 166). Brother Nibley comments upon this wicked covenant group, the king-men:
These lawyers and judges had one annoying check on their power-the "federal government." All orders of capital punishment had to be signed by the governor of the whole land [verse 22]. To evade the galling restrictions of centralized government, these men of affairs accordingly developed skillful techniques of putting people out of the way before the governor could hear about it [verse 23]. When news of this leaked out and they were brought to trial, the friends and families of the judges rallied to the cause of regional rights, while all the bureaucracy of lawyers and high-priests closed ranks, came together-"and did . . . unite with the kindreds of those judges" [verse 27]. This is a clear and vivid picture of class government and how it worked. All these people, who were the rulers and masters of the country, holding high office and keeping the power in their family and their class, then covenanted "to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land" [ verse 30] (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 6, 393-94).
29 Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.
30 And they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country; and they did covenant one with another to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto kings.
verse 30 This wicked group of judges and their influential friends begin to plan a coup d'etat-a forcible takeover of the government. As brother Nibley pointed out, this episode is a good example of what might be referred to as "class government." All these people who are plotting against the government are the rulers and masters of the country, holding high office and keeping the power in their family and their own upper socioeconomic class.
This group's desire to have a king is probably largely economically driven. For insight into why this is so, see the commentary for Helaman 6:8.