Helaman Chapter 13
The prophecy of Samuel, the Lamanite, to the Nephites. Comprising chapters 13 to 15 inclusive.
Helaman 13-16 The preaching and prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite from the wall around Zarahemla
It is suggested that the reader review the principle of "leitworter" in the commentary for Helaman 5:5-12. Here in Helaman 13 Mormon gives an account of the preaching of the Lamanite prophet Samuel to the people of Zarahemla. In doing so, Mormon uses the principle of "leitworter" by including repetitively a few theme words and phrases which give emphasis to the essence of his message. Those theme words or phrases ("leitworter") are: "saith the Lord," "a curse," "riches," and "your destruction is made sure." The salient theme of Samuel's message is obvious: Samuel's message is not his own message, it is the Lord's. Those who set their minds upon the material riches of the world will be cursed, and lest they repent, their destruction is made sure.
1 And now it came to pass in the eighty and sixth year, the Nephites did still remain in wickedness, yea, in great wickedness, while the Lamanites did observe strictly to keep the commandments of God, according to the law of Moses.
verse 1 "in the eighty and sixth year" This date references the reign of judges which began about 91 BC. Thus the date is about 5 or 6 BC.
2 And it came to pass that in this year there was one Samuel, a Lamanite, came into the land of Zarahemla, and began to preach unto the people. And it came to pass that he did preach, many days, repentance unto the people, and they did cast him out, and he was about to return to his own land.
3 But behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people whatsoever things should come into his heart.
verse 3 "the voice of the Lord came unto him" In his book Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World, biblical scholar David E. Aune sets forth the various formulaic expressions that characterize prophetic speech in the Old Testament (see Donald W. Parry, "Thus Saith the Lord: Prophetic Language in Samuel's Speech," JBMS 1/1 :181-83). These expressions serve to formally introduce vital, sacred utterances and to announce that the Lord is the source behind them. The Book of Mormon prophets used the same formulas in their prophetic discourse. This particular expression, "the voice of the Lord came unto him," is called the revelation formula (e.g., 1 Samuel 15:10; Zechariah 7:1). This expression indicates the origin of the message and the authority of the speaker. For other uses in the Book of Mormon, see verses 5, 7; Jacob 2:11; and Alma 43:24.
"whatsoever things should come into his heart" Here is an acceptable definition of revelation to a prophet of God. Personal revelation is, of course, available to each of the honest in heart as well as to the Lord's prophets. Unlike the prophet, however, the individual is entitled to revelation concerning issues of his own stewardship. The prophet is entitled to revelations regarding all of the people.
4 And it came to pass that they would not suffer that he should enter into the city; therefore he went and got upon the wall thereof, and stretched forth his hand and cried with a loud voice, and prophesied unto the people whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart.
5 And he said unto them: Behold, I, Samuel, a Lamanite, do speak the words of the Lord which he doth put into my heart; and behold he hath put it into my heart to say unto this people that the sword of justice hangeth over this people; and four hundred years pass not away save the sword of justice falleth upon this people.
verse 5 It is characteristic of the Lord that he never destroys a people without giving them every chance to return to him. As had been his pattern in times past, he sent a prophet (at other times, many prophets) to plead with them to repent and to warn them of the inevitable consequences if they refuse to hear his message.
"four hundred years pass not away save the sword of justice falleth upon this people" While the Book of Mormon account does not end until AD 421 (Moroni 10:1), the destruction of the Nephite people and culture will begin in earnest in AD 385 and will be virtually complete by AD 400 (Mormon 6; 8:2, 6).
6 Yea, heavy destruction awaiteth this people, and it surely cometh unto this people, and nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely shall come into the world, and shall suffer many things and shall be slain for his people.
verse 6 "Yea, heavy destruction awaiteth this people" What period of destruction is referred to here? We will learn from 3 Nephi 8 that one period of significant destruction is just prior to the advent of the resurrected Jesus on the western hemisphere which will occur about forty years hence. Apparently, however, Samuel's warning refers mainly to the great final battles of the Nephites in about AD 385 when they were virtually annihilated by the Lamanites (see the previous verse).
verses 5-6 Some have been bothered by what seems to be a repetitious and poor literary style of these two verses because of the frequent use of the term "this people."
7 And behold, an angel of the Lord hath declared it unto me, and he did bring glad tidings to my soul. And behold, I was sent unto you to declare it unto you also, that ye might have glad tidings; but behold ye would not receive me.
verse 7 The "glad tidings" are, of course, that Jesus Christ would come into the world, suffer many things, be slain for his people, and make available to all mankind the opportunity of forgiveness from sin and the opportunity to return again to their celestial home (see also Mosiah 3:5).
8 Therefore, thus saith the Lord: Because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of the Nephites, except they repent I will take away my word from them, and I will withdraw my Spirit from them, and I will suffer them no longer, and I will turn the hearts of their brethren against them.
verse 8 "Therefore, thus saith the Lord" Apparently these are the Lord's own words which were put into Samuel's heart (see verse 5). These words of the Lord extend through verse 20.
There are actually six different expressions or forms of speech used by prophets in the Book of Mormon to indicate prophetic authority and prerogative. In other words, when a prophet delivers the word of the Lord, he will announce it as such using one of these speech forms. These have been identified and categorized by Donald W. Parry (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 , 181-83). They include "Thus saith the Lord" (the messenger formula); "Listen to the words of Christ" (the proclamation formula); "As the Lord liveth" (the oath formula); "Wo be unto" (the Woe formula); "I say unto you" (the announcement formula); and "The word of the Lord came unto me saying" (the revelation formula).
Here the Lord outlines the immediate consequences of the Nephites' recalcitrance, the withdrawal of the Spirit and the visitation of destruction upon them in battle. In the next verse he defines the long term consequence of their disobedience-their eventual annihilation.
9 And four hundred years shall not pass away before I will cause that they shall be smitten; yea, I will visit them with the sword and with famine and with pestilence.
10 Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger, and there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction; and this shall surely come except ye repent, saith the Lord; and those of the fourth generation shall visit your destruction.
verse 10 "there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction" This verse may be a bit confusing set in its present context. It actually has reference to a 166-year period following the Lord's appearance to the Nephites on the western hemisphere. Following the Savior's appearance there were many years of general righteousness among the people. This was the "golden age" of the Nephites which lasted until AD 200 (three generations). During this idyllic period men "did deal justly one with another" and "there were not rich and poor, bond and free" (4 Nephi 1:2-3). This period has been referred to as the Nephite "mini-millennium." Following this period (in the "fourth generation") the people began to wax strong in iniquity, and the Lord began to visit them with destruction (3 Nephi 27:32).
11 But if ye will repent and return unto the Lord your God I will turn away mine anger, saith the Lord; yea, thus saith the Lord, blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me, but wo unto him that repenteth not.
12 Yea, wo unto this great city of Zarahemla; for behold, it is because of those who are righteous that it is saved; yea, wo unto this great city, for I perceive, saith the Lord, that there are many, yea, even the more part of this great city, that will harden their hearts against me, saith the Lord.
13 But blessed are they who will repent, for them will I spare. But behold, if it were not for the righteous who are in this great city, behold, I would cause that fire should come down out of heaven and destroy it.
14 But behold, it is for the righteous' sake that it is spared. But behold, the time cometh, saith the Lord, that when ye shall cast out the righteous from among you, then shall ye be ripe for destruction; yea, wo be unto this great city, because of the wickedness and abominations which are in her.
verse 14 "it is for the righteous' sake that it is spared" One is reminded of Abraham's bartering with the Lord over the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18:23-32).
"when ye shall cast out the righteous from among you, then shall ye be ripe for destruction" The negative metaphor of "ripening" occurs frequently in the Book of Mormon and refers to a fruit's going from ripe to overripe to rotten.
Richard D. Draper has summarized the specific criteria found in the Book of Mormon by which a people may be found by the Lord to be "ripe": (1) when "the voice [the majority] of this people should choose iniquity" (Alma 10:19); (2) when the people "turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth" (2 Nephi 28:16); (3) when they reject "every word of God" (1 Nephi 17:35); and (4) "when [they] shall cast out the righteous from among [them]" (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: "Hubris and Ate: A Latter-day Warning from the Book of Mormon," 24).
15 Yea, and wo be unto the city of Gideon, for the wickedness and abominations which are in her.
verse 15 Samuel is preaching on the wall of Zarahemla, yet he specifically condemns the neighboring city of Gideon. One need not doubt that Gideon deserved this special condemnation.
16 Yea, and wo be unto all the cities which are in the land round about, which are possessed by the Nephites, because of the wickedness and abominations which are in them.
17 And behold, a curse shall come upon the land, saith the Lord of Hosts, because of the peoples' sake who are upon the land, yea, because of their wickedness and their abominations.
18 And it shall come to pass, saith the Lord of Hosts, yea, our great and true God, that whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth shall find them again no more, because of the great curse of the land, save he be a righteous man and shall hide it up unto the Lord.
verse 18 The great sin of the Nephites in Zarahemla was that they substituted the love of riches for the love of God.
"whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth shall find them again no more" There was apparently a well-established Hebrew tradition of burying sacred things in times of peril to keep them safe. For example, the Torah itself was buried when Israel sinned, to be dug up in later times. The Dead Sea Scrolls are another example of how in times of dire peril all those sacred things that had been dedicated, including the holy writings, were buried for safety (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 2, 151-52). We may summarize Samuel's message: Those who set their hearts upon their riches will lose them.
"save he be a righteous man and shall hide it up unto the Lord" Here we gain the impression that the riches are not evil in and of themselves. Rather the evil is in the hearts of those who come to love riches more than they love God. Brother Hugh Nibley observed:
The righteous can be entrusted with unlimited wealth because they do not put their hearts upon it. To his highly prosperous subjects King Benjamin announced, "I . . . have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you" (Mosiah 2:12). And his even more prosperous son was never guilty of "seeking for gain, yea, for that lucre which doth corrupt the soul" (Mosiah 29:40). Riches are to be accepted gratefully as a fringe benefit, in the Book of Mormon, but never to be the object of our search: "But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish" (2 Nephi 26:31). The condemnation of the Nephites in the days of wickedness and vengeance is ever that "they have set their hearts upon their riches." "Ye are cursed because of your riches," says Samuel the Lamanite, "and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them." At the very beginning Nephi declares, "But wo unto the rich . . . their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their God" (2 Nephi 9:30). And another Nephi at the time of Christ repeats the refrain: "O, how could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you? . . . Ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world" (Helaman 7:20-21) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 356).
19 For I will, saith the Lord, that they shall hide up their treasures unto me; and cursed be they who hide not up their treasures unto me; for none hideth up their treasures unto me save it be the righteous; and he that hideth not up his treasures unto me, cursed is he, and also the treasure, and none shall redeem it because of the curse of the land.
verse 19 "Treasures" here may be interpreted in a literal sense as one's material possessions or in a figurative sense as those things, both animate and inanimate, that are most highly prized by an individual. In a figurative sense, then, to "hide up" one's treasures to the Lord is to dedicate one's life to him.
As mentioned in the prior verse, Brother Hugh Nibley has found evidence that the hiding up of treasures is an ancient Israelite practice:
In 2 Baruch we read an interesting thing. All the treasures of Israel, he says, must be hid up unto the Lord so that strangers may not get possession of them. And in Helaman, where people are rebuked for hiding their private treasures, we read, "They shall hide up their treasures unto [the Lord]." It's a commandment. . . . Later Baruch tells us how "they hid all the vessels of the sanctuary, lest the enemy should get possession of them." Though this writing was published only since [the Book of Mormon's publication], a more recent find gives it solid historical dimensions-the famous Copper Scroll, found in Cave Four at Qumran. The significance of this, an important record written on copper alloy sheets and hidden up, is that it was in fact written and prepared with the express purpose of its being hidden up. That's why it was written, for it contains a record of all the other treasures hidden up to the Lord. Here we have a concrete and indisputable example of an ancient Israelite practice (Temple and Cosmos, 216-17).
20 And the day shall come that they shall hide up their treasures, because they have set their hearts upon riches; and because they have set their hearts upon their riches, and will hide up their treasures when they shall flee before their enemies; because they will not hide them up unto me, cursed be they and also their treasures; and in that day shall they be smitten, saith the Lord.
verse 20 "cursed be they and also their treasures" Again, if we interpret a man's "treasures" as those things which are ultimately of most importance to him, then this verse avers that if our lives and resources are not used for righteous purposes, we will lose whatever abilities and possessions we have.
21 Behold ye, the people of this great city, and hearken unto my words; yea, hearken unto the words which the Lord saith; for behold, he saith that ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them, and have not hearkened unto the words of him who gave them unto you.
verse 21 Samuel summarizes two reasons why the unrighteous people of Zarahemla are cursed. First, they have set their hearts upon their riches, and secondly, they have a mind-set that they have earned and are entitled to all their material possessions. They do not acknowledge that all things upon the earth are really the Lord's and he only allows us to utilize them while we are here. As Hugh Nibley succinctly puts it: "They simply refused to regard or treat their riches as gifts, but insisted that they were earnings" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 9, 136).
22 Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord your God for them; yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities.
verse 22 "Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches" Samuel aptly summarizes the materialism of the Nephites in Zarahemla.
"great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities" Materialism seems to automatically and inevitably result in a cascade of additional sins that are itemized here. "Great swelling" is an ostentatious life style. The "persecutions," "murders," and "all manner of iniquities" are the crimes committed for the sake of riches.
23 For this cause hath the Lord God caused that a curse should come upon the land, and also upon your riches, and this because of your iniquities.
verses 22-23 Dr. Hugh Nibley, in his writings, often refers to materialism and the acquisition of material things as "the economy." Through the operation of what Dr. Nibley calls "Samuel's Law," Samuel sets forth the interesting rule that when "the economy" becomes the main and engrossing concern of a society-or as the Book of Mormon states it, when "they begin to set their hearts upon their riches"-the economy will self-destruct, that is they will lose their riches. This is how Samuel puts it: "Ye do always remember your riches . . . your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride . . . envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions and murders, and all manner of iniquities." Dr. Nibley states, "Note well the sequence of folly: first we are well pleased with ourselves because of our wealth, then comes the game of status and prestige, leading to competitive maneuvers, hatred, and dirty tricks, and finally the ultimate solution [murders]. Where wealth guarantees respectability, principles melt away as the criminal element rises to the top" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 349-50).
One may easily notice that considerable attention is given in the Book of Mormon to warnings against the sin of pride or an over-concern with things of the world. Why is this so? Because pride provides incontrovertible evidence that an individual possesses the wrong perspective. Things of the world are all important, and things of the eternities are ignored or worse. Pride is likely the most dangerous trap into which we mortals may fall. Materialism and worldly acquisition is a jealous master who will not be served halfheartedly and will suffer no rival, not even God: "Their treasure is their God" (2 Nephi 9:20). "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon" (Matthew 6:24). There is little reason to doubt that Samuel's law operates on an individual basis as well in a society of people. That is, one who becomes taken up by his or her material possessions is in danger of losing them-perhaps even before mortal death.
24 Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.
25 And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.
verse 25 The Nephites deceive themselves by saying, "Had we lived in earlier days among those earlier true prophets, we certainly would not have slain them or cast them out." They imply that their evil actions are justified because their contemporary prophets like Samuel and Nephi were false prophets. It has ever been easier to acknowledge the prophets of old more than the contemporary ones.
26 Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
verse 26 "Behold ye are worse than they" Samuel's reference here is to those "of old time" mentioned in verse 24 who "cast out the prophets" and mocked them "and cast stones at them" and did "slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them." The people of Samuel's day claimed to be better than those who persecuted the prophets in past times. But in fact, the Lord, through his prophet Samuel, avers that they are more wicked.
"you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner" "Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them. But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves" (D&C 121:16-17).
27 But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth-and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
verse 27 Here Samuel points out their hypocrisy by describing the type of "prophet" these Nephites were willing to accept. These Nephites were obviously not willing to take the first step of repentance by acknowledging their sins. Instead they assuaged their consciences with the soothing and false counsel of "foolish and blind guides" (verse 29). Anyone who could justify the actions of these wicked Nephites was automatically in their good graces. And he who could sanctify their actions became their prophet.
28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.
verse 28 Hugh Nibley comments on this verse: "This is, incidentally, exactly how prophets were treated in Ancient America, where the Chilans (prophets) were held in such high esteem that they were carried on men's shoulders when they went abroad-lifted up. Another bull's-eye for the Book of Mormon" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 344).
29 O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?
30 Yea, behold, the anger of the Lord is already kindled against you; behold, he hath cursed the land because of your iniquity.
31 And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them.
verse 31 "he curseth your riches, that they become slippery" None of their possessions can be kept safe from slipping away from them in their time of spiritual poverty.
32 And in the days of your poverty ye shall cry unto the Lord; and in vain shall ye cry, for your desolation is already come upon you, and your destruction is made sure; and then shall ye weep and howl in that day, saith the Lord of Hosts. And then shall ye lament, and say:
verse 32 "in the days of your poverty" The "days of your poverty" refers to the time when an individual comes to realize that he has sinned and wishes it he had done otherwise. Among the pitiful individuals in spirit prison "there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil" (Alma 40:13).
"your desolation is already come upon you" Desolation is spiritual and emotional ruin, a feeling of abandonment.
"your destruction is made sure" One who has had ample opportunity to hear and accept Jesus and his gospel and yet rejects them has failed the test of mortal probation (see also verse 38). He is sealed up to destruction-spiritual death. One is reminded of the light-minded expression: "His 'falling and rejection' is made sure."
33 O that I had repented, and had not killed the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out. Yea, in that day ye shall say: O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us.
34 Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle.
35 Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land.
verses 34-35 Mae Blanch has written: "It is not surprising that in a society where wealth is more important than God, stealing should be raised to a fine art. Theft, fraud, deception, loss of treasure buried to keep it safe would bring the people to poverty-the loss of their false god" ("Samuel the Lamanite" in Studies in Scripture, Volume Eight, Alma 30 to Moroni, 119).
36 O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them.
37 Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us? And this shall be your language in those days.
verse 37 "Behold, we are surrounded by demons" The prophet Mormon, in describing the Nephites of his day as possessing the "sorrowing of the damned," wrote, "And it came to pass that the Nephites began to repent of their iniquity, and began to cry even as had been prophesied by Samuel the prophet; for behold no man could keep that which was his own, for the thieves, and the robbers, and the murderers, and the magic art, and the witchcraft which was in the land" (Mormon 2:10).
38 But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.
verse 38 "your days of probation are past . . . it is everlastingly too late" Samuel delivers a most solemn and ominous warning. In essence, "It is too late to repent. Your destruction will surely occur."
"ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity" The humanistic and hedonistic philosophies of men hold that individuals should be free to gratify their own carnal desires, to set their own moral standards, to live for the pleasure of the moment, and to do all of this without guilt. In order to sin without guilt, of course, one must lower his moral standard to correspond with his behavior. This is exactly opposite the true gospel principle, which is that to remove guilt one must repent and lift his behavior to correspond to the Lord's standard. And inevitably that lifting involves an element of pain. The humanistic and hedonistic philosophies are more comfortable. Among those who espouse these philosophies of men, there is a significant and profound irony: They can never find true happiness. This fact is expounded so often in the scripture that it has become almost trite, yet can there be a fact more profound and more important (Alma 41:10)? True happiness is God's goal for all his children and may only be found in living according to righteous principles. It is utterly impossible to find it in iniquity. Even so, man goes on stubbornly trying to find happiness in sin (Mormon 2:3). As Paul said of the Jews in his day, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3).
39 O ye people of the land, that ye would hear my words! And I pray that the anger of the Lord be turned away from you, and that ye would repent and be saved.