Helaman Chapter 12
Helaman 12:3 Except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, they will not remember him.
Do wealth and prosperity invariably lead a person away from things of the spirit? Helaman chapter 12 is a discourse on just this subject. When the Lord blesses a people with material blessings, does that people always come to overlook the role of the Lord in their material successes? Perhaps not invariably, but certainly man has had this tendency. This scenario plays itself out repeatedly in the Book of Mormon. It would seem that an abundance of riches virtually guarantees the spiritual destruction of a people. If such is the case, then why doesn't God withhold the dangerous wealth from man? The reason, of course, is that this life is intended as a probationary state, and for it to be a real probation, these must be "an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11).
This entire chapter is an editorial by the prophet Mormon in which he comments upon the spiritual blindness of the Nephites and warns of the great destructions to occur among them prior to the Lord's visit to them. His warning is, of course, pertinent to us today as we have been taught of the great destructions to occur among us just prior to the Lord's second coming. Mormon not only warns of the destruction but he specifies the main reasons for it: pride and especially lusting after material things.
verses 1-3 It is interesting and instructive to compare the accounts of history written by secular historians with the history written by the prophet Mormon. Secular historians, most often lacking any spiritual insight, tend to report history and analyze historical events purely in terms of tangible and scientifically measurable factors that influence the events of history. A secular historian is more likely to describe a people's material successes or failures and attribute them to known social, political, or economic phenomena. Any possible divine influences on the course of history will be ignored because they cannot be verified or measured. This approach of writing history with attention mainly to visible achievements tends to completely ignore any spiritual or religious values of a culture.
Thomas W. Mackay has observed:
Mormon perceived history from the larger perspective of the eternities. He was clearly in the prophetic tradition. His was not a world-view restricted by a mechanistic notion of causation. Rather, the events of human history demonstrated God's justice and his ultimate control of the affairs of men. Providential causation, in direct fulfillment of prophecy, is the hall-mark of Mormon's portrayal of history. Thus his primary concern is righteousness, for if man, by his behavior, sets himself at the cross-currents to the cosmos, then he will heap upon himself divine retribution. Such a perspective stands in stark contrast to that taken by most modern historians. Their concern is with the more physical and tangible products of a culture" ("Mormon's Philosophy of History" in The Book of Mormon: Helaman through 3 Nephi 8, According To Thy Word, 137).
Mormon not only has the benefit of personal revelation, but he also has access to the written prophecies of many inspired prophets. Mormon accepted as truth all the words of the prophets before him. Additionally, he lived during the days when the annihilation of the Nephites, according to previous dire prophetic warnings, actually took place. He is able to witness that destruction, that fulfillment of prophecy, first hand. Mormon views the historical evolution of the Book of Mormon peoples as simply the results of their righteousness and wickedness and the consequent blessings or punishments of a just God. He likely regarded as particularly poignant the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite who not only called his contemporaries to repentance but also prophesied of the time when the Nephites' disobedience and internal dissension would result in their extinction, with the Lamanites merely supplying the physical means of that extinction. Samuel's prophecies are poignant to Mormon because Mormon was a personal witness to the fulfillment of those prophecies. For Mormon the issue of a people's righteousness is the only issue, and he minimizes the importance of their material "progress" or "growth" or the physical trappings of their civilization. As might be expected, Mormon also acknowledges Satan's evil influences in the course of history (Helaman 2:21; Helaman 2:25-2).
Thomas W. Mackay has also commented on the lack of correlation between material and spiritual achievements of a people:
Prosperity [does not] act as a reliable indicator of righteousness. Prosperity in and of itself is not a valid measure of society, because it may be the result of wickedness or of righteousness. Worldly success may occur, but the most important results of righteousness are evident in the hearts and minds of people-their attitudes, responses, and motivations. . . . Frequently there is a time-lag factor between the righteousness or wickedness of a people and the increases or decreases in economic and material manifestations of God's intervention or blessings. . . . For example, to a prophet, a particular people [may be] already in a moral decline before its "zenith" as interpreted by an uninspired secular historian (Ibid., 136, 138).
It is likely that as Mormon was abridging the records of this highly volatile period of Nephite history, he became increasingly frustrated over the erratic and unreliable behavior and spiritual commitment of the Nephites. In Helaman 12 Mormon departs from his historical account to vent his exasperation over the Nephites' irresponsibility and spiritual immaturity. One can easily sense his disappointment and anger in this chapter's first few verses.
1 And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.
verse 1 "thus we can behold how false . . . the children of men" "False" means being untrue to what one purports to be-indeed, hypocritical.
"the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men" To be unsteady is to be inconsistent and erratic in convictions and behavior. This is in contrast to the "unwearyingness" which the Lord attributed to the prophet Nephi (Helaman 10:4). Another adjective for the opposite of "unsteadiness" used in the scriptures is steadfastness.
"we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him" This is simply a reiteration of the now well-known "promise/curse" of the Book of Mormon.
2 Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One-yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.
verse 2 "then is the time that they do harden their hearts" Here is a universal foible. "In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me" (D&C 101:7-8). See also the discussion of hard-heartedness in the commentary for Alma 10:6.
"they . . . do trample under their feet the Holy One" To "trample" God under foot means to set aside his counsels and to be disobedient to his commands.
3 And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.
verse 3 For the meaning of chasten, see the commentary for Mosiah 23:21.
verses 4-6 Here Mormon itemizes in plain language the almost universal weaknesses of fallen man that are so offensive to God. The Book of Mormon does not teach the doctrine of human depravity, but it does teach that mortal man has a "fallen" nature.
4 O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!
5 Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom's paths!
6 Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
7 O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth.
verse 7 This verse may seem puzzling since it seems to debase mankind, and we know that man is supremely important to God (See Moses 1:39). Actually the verse is not meant to be demeaning to man. Rather, it emphasizes his utter dependence upon the Lord-thus the "nothingness of the children of men." Another idea is also implied. The earth itself is more obedient to God's commandments that is man. The next several verses make explicit this latter idea.
verses 8-18 Notice in these verses that God accomplishes his purposes by communicating with the elements. Implicit in this idea is that the "inanimate" elements of the earth are combined with intelligences who control the elements and who maintain and exercise their agency. God would never deny any intelligence its free exercise of agency. Hence when God commands, he really requests. Those intelligences controlling the elements obey because they know, love, and honor him.
8 For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.
9 Yea, behold at his voice do the hills and the mountains tremble and quake.
10 And by the power of his voice they are broken up, and become smooth, yea, even like unto a valley.
11 Yea, by the power of his voice doth the whole earth shake;
12 Yea, by the power of his voice, do the foundations rock, even to the very center.
verses 13-20 These verses contain a series of conditional "if-then" statements. In English, a typical conditional clause would be "if you come, then I will come," with then being optional. The first part of such sentences is the "condition." The second part is the consequence. In Hebrew this same clause is expressed as "if you come and I will come." It is instructive to note that in the original text of the Book of Mormon, there were at least fourteen occurrences of this non-English expression. One occurrence was accidentally removed in 1 Nephi 17:50 as Oliver Cowdery was producing the printer's manuscript by copying from the original manuscript: "if he should command me that I should say unto this water be thou earth and it shall be earth." The remaining thirteen occurrences were all removed by Joseph Smith in his editing for the second edition, including one from the famous passage in Moroni 10:4: "and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent having faith in Christ and he will manifest the truth of it unto you." Verse 13 of this chapter was rendered in the original edition: "yea, if he saith unto the earth, Move, and it is moved (italics added)." Joseph's use of the more typical Hebrew construction in his original translation supports the idea that Joseph's translation was a literal one and not simply a reflection of his own dialect. It is extraordinarily doubtful that Joseph, or any other native English speaker, would have ever spoken this way. An "if-and" conditional sentence grates on our ears. If someone were to use it in our presence, we would find it very odd. . . . (Royal Skousen, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: "The Original Language of the Book of Mormon: Upstate New York Dialect, King James English, or Hebrew?" 34).
13 Yea, and if he say unto the earth-Move-it is moved.
14 Yea, if he say unto the earth-Thou shalt go back, that it lengthen out the day for many hours-it is done;
15 And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun.
verses 14-15 "surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun" These verses likely refer to the biblical account in which Joshua commanded the sun and the moon to stand still so that his army might complete their rout of the Amorites (Joshua 10:12-14). However Mormon makes a technical correction to that account. The biblical account assumed that the earth was stationary and that the sun revolved around it. It is fascinating to learn that Mormon knew that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vice verse. This is known as a heliocentric (sun at the center) view of our planetary system. Obviously the Book of Mormon people knew something about astronomy (see the commentary for Alma 30:44). They apparently had a more accurate understanding of the nature of the earth's movement than did their Greek contemporaries who at that time predominantly believed in a stationary earth.
16 And behold, also, if he say unto the waters of the great deep-Be thou dried up-it is done.
17 Behold, if he say unto this mountain-Be thou raised up, and come over and fall upon that city, that it be buried up-behold it is done.
18 And behold, if a man hide up a treasure in the earth, and the Lord shall say-Let it be accursed, because of the iniquity of him who hath hid it up-behold, it shall be accursed.
19 And if the Lord shall say-Be thou accursed, that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever-behold, no man getteth it henceforth and forever.
20 And behold, if the Lord shall say unto a man-Because of thine iniquities, thou shalt be accursed forever-it shall be done.
verses 18-20 "accursed" From Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, we read the definition of accursed: "Doomed to destruction or misery; separated from the faithful; cast out of the church; excommunicated; worthy of the curse; detestable; execrable [pronounce execrable with the accent on the first syllable-'ex']."
21 And if the Lord shall say-Because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence-he will cause that it shall be so.
verses 22-26 After strongly denouncing the wicked and inconsistent tendencies of mankind, Mormon now lovingly reminds us that through the gift of repentance man may be saved.
22 And wo unto him to whom he shall say this, for it shall be unto him that will do iniquity, and he cannot be saved; therefore, for this cause, that men might be saved, hath repentance been declared.
23 Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved.
24 And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works.
verse 24 "that they might be restored unto grace for grace" To receive "grace for grace" is to receive incremental blessings from the Father as we obey him and selflessly serve others. These incremental blessings are gifts of the Spirit that result in our continued sanctification or growth toward acquiring the character of God. They are "restored" to the process of spiritual growth when they repent of their sins and return to the fold.
25 And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord;
verse 25 "there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord" The expression "cast off" means to suffer spiritual death. It is synonymous with being cast out of the Lord's presence. This broad group would include those who inherit the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms and those who become sons of perdition.
26 Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen.
verse 26 Those who receive "everlasting life" are not just those who will live forever. All will live forever. These are the ones who inherit the celestial kingdom. "Everlasting damnation" is that punishment handed out by God to all those not in the celestial glory. The word damnation implies that there will be a limit placed on the spiritual progress which they can make in their assigned eternal realm.
We should not assume that those "who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery" will in fact feel miserable for all eternity. We are taught in the Doctrine and Covenants that the words "endless" and "eternal," when applied to punishment, don't refer to the duration of the punishment. Rather they refer to the source or instigator of that punishment-God himself-who is endless and eternal (D&C 19:10-12). In other words, endless and eternal are other words for God. Eternal punishment is God's punishment.