Helaman Chapter 15
1 And now, my beloved brethren, behold, I declare unto you that except ye shall repent your houses shall be left unto you desolate.
verse 1 "your houses shall be left unto you desolate" This terminology seems to have originated with the prophet Isaiah (see Isaiah 15:9; Isaiah 23:22). The phrase implies that unless the people repent, the day will come when their beautiful and lavishly adorned homes will be uninhabited. This will occur because their land will be cursed by the Lord and become unproductive, desolate, and uninhabitable.
2 Yea, except ye repent, your women shall have great cause to mourn in the day that they shall give suck; for ye shall attempt to flee and there shall be no place for refuge; yea, and wo unto them which are with child, for they shall be heavy and cannot flee; therefore, they shall be trodden down and shall be left to perish.
verse 2 Donna Lee Bowen and Camille S. Williams have commented on the oft-used biblical imagery of God as the husband and his people as wife:
In a sense, the woman is the image of God's people. The biblical imagery of God as husband and his people as wife is continued in the Book of Mormon, mostly from the writings of Isaiah. Decadent Israel is described as devoid of honorable men, in that they valued women as decorative sex objects (2 Nephi 13:16-26; Isaiah 3:16-26). When God's people become unfaithful to him, they are called "the whore of all the earth" (2 Nephi 10:16). When he calls his people to repentance, the Lord asks rhetorically, "Have I put thee away? . . . Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement?" (2 Nephi 7:1; Isaiah 50:1). The images of a mother too weak to nurse her child and a pregnant woman so near term she is unable to flee destruction are used to motivate the Nephites to repent (Helaman 15:1-2); the woman whose children are lost is the image of desolation (1 Nephi 21:20-21). Those who accept "marriage" with the Lord are to experience joy as abundant as that of a barren woman who becomes a mother of many children, and the Lord consoles his people by saying, "For thy maker, thy husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name" (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, volume 4, "Women in the Book of Mormon," 1,577).
3 Yea, wo unto this people who are called the people of Nephi except they shall repent, when they shall see all these signs and wonders which shall be showed unto them; for behold, they have been a chosen people of the Lord; yea, the people of Nephi hath he loved, and also hath he chastened them; yea, in the days of their iniquities hath he chastened them because he loveth them.
verse 3 "they have been a chosen people of the Lord" For a discussion of what it means to be a chosen people, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:19-20.
"in the days of their iniquities hath he chastened them because he loveth them" In this last dispensation, the Lord said to his people through Joseph Smith: "Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you" (D&C 95:1).
4 But behold my brethren, the Lamanites hath he hated because their deeds have been evil continually, and this because of the iniquity of the tradition of their fathers. But behold, salvation hath come unto them through the preaching of the Nephites; and for this intent hath the Lord prolonged their days.
verse 4 "the Lamanites hath he hated because their deeds have been evil continually" In our modern terminology, it would be more accurate to say, "The Lord has withdrawn his Spirit from the Lamanites because their deeds have been evil continually." There is also some scriptural precedent for the idea that if an individual is not obedient, the Father's love will be withdrawn from him: "If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness" (D&C 95:12). Also, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). But, is not the Lord's love for us unconditional? Let us consider this interesting question.
Divine love has recently become a subject of some discussion and, I believe, some misunderstanding both in and out of the Church. One round of this discussion seems to have begun with the publication of an article entitled "Divine Love" by Elder Russell M. Nelson (Ensign, February 2003, 20). In his excellent article, Elder Nelson made the point that divine love is, at least in some sense, conditional. He wrote, "While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional" (Ibid.). His article met with considerable criticism from those without the Church who lack a complete understanding of the concept of divine love.
Most all of us carry the intuitive notion that God's love for us is unconditional. Indeed we have been so taught by apostles and prophets. For example, President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote, "In moments of quiet, we reflect upon [Christ's] matchless life and His unconditional love for each of us" (LDS Church News, 11 December 1993, 4). Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote, "[Christ's] duties have long been galactic, yet He noticed the widow casting in her mite. I am stunned at His perfect, unconditional love of all" (Even As I Am, 115). Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin added, "Faith [in the Lord's will] turns us toward the Savior, his life, and his unconditional love for us" (Finding Peace in Our lives, 177). The Family Home Evening Resource Book counsels families to: "Have a scripture search for examples of unconditional love. As you find scriptural examples, draw parallels for your own family so that family members can see how divine unconditional love can be applied in their own lives" (Lesson 17: "Love At Home," 74). And in an Ensign editorial: "To love completely with a wholeness even as Christ loved, to manifest a mature and unconditional love in all human relations, would minimize many fears" (Editorial: "With an Eye Single to His Glory," Ensign, December 1971, 153).
And yet, Elder Nelson teaches in his article that it is important to acknowledge a part of God's love as conditional and contingent upon our obedience to the Lord's commands.
At first these teachings seem to create an enigma. Is Christ's love unconditional or conditional? The solution to this seeming mystery is a simple one. To completely understand God's love for us, one must recognize and understand two separate types of love under the umbrella of "divine love." These are charity and grace.
Charity. The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni addressed the Lord, "And now I know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity" (Ether 12:34). Christ possesses this attribute, this love called charity, to perfection, and he has commanded that we also strive to acquire it. "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34). Moroni continues: "Wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father" (Ether 12:34).
Charity is a concern for others that grows and grows and eventually comes to displace our concern for ourselves (Matthew 10:39). Previously, I suggested a test for charity: When you are concerned about the temporal and spiritual welfare of others as much as you are concerned for your own, you have charity.
God's (the Father's and the Son's) charity for us exceeds our ability to comprehend (1 John 4:8). He is our exemplar, the epitome of charity. This is a love he feels passionately. By virtue of this charity he yearns for our spiritual and eternal success. He longs to spend eternity with each of us in his celestial presence (Moses 1:39). This aspect of God's love for us is aptly called unconditional, perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal. It is extended to all humankind (Matthew 5:45; 2 Nephi 26:33; 3 Nephi 12:45). "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). A clear example of charity here on earth is parental love, perhaps especially maternal love.
Grace. The scriptural passages referring to divine love can be confusing if one does not distinguish clearly between those referring to his charity and those referring to his grace. Grace is God's love for us. It is particularly that aspect of his love that impels him to extend to us blessings we do not actually merit. The concept of God's grace is intimately associated with his responsibility to eventually judge each of us. We often refer to his grace using the closely related word mercy.
In his judgment of us, God (Jesus Christ) is bound by the law of justice which decrees eternal fairness in all eternal matters. When he extends his grace to us, he does so in the form of blessings. He is able to extend to us these blessings by virtue of his atoning sacrifice. When he does this, he extends to us the blessings of his atonement.
While Christ has the capacity to extend infinite grace to us his creatures, he is bound by his sense of justice to extend his grace, his blessings, to us according to our obedience and worthiness. Not everyone will receive a full measure of his grace and become exalted. Some will, according to their worthiness, receive the blessings of his grace to a more limited extent.
We may thus accurately say that this aspect of his love, the blessings we receive according to his grace and mercy, are given conditionally and not unconditionally. We may wish to refer to his grace as infinite because it is wrought by virtue of his infinite atonement. His grace is not, however, infinite in the sense that all of God's children receive it unconditionally and in full measure.
In the scriptures we also encounter passages that reference this particular aspect of his love, his grace: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21, emphasis added). "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23, emphasis added). "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love" (John 15:10). "If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness" (D&C 95:12). "And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made; wherefore, he did bring them out of the land of Egypt" (1 Nephi 17:40). "I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me" (Proverbs 8:17).
Other scriptural passages emphasize that his divine blessings to us, given by virtue of his grace and mercy, are conditional (see 1 Kings 3:14; 1 Kings 6:12; Malachi 3:10; Mosiah 2:22; 3 Nephi 24:10; D&C 85:3; D&C 85:119:4-5).
God will always love us (extend his charity to us) unconditionally, "regardless." But he cannot bless us (extend his grace to us) unconditionally.
"the iniquity of the tradition of their fathers" See the commentary for Enos 1:14 and Mosiah 10:12-17. See also verses 7 and 15 of this chapter.
verses 1-4 David E. Bokovoy has proffered an explanation for Samuel's use of the words hate and love in these verses (FARMS Insights, volume 22, 2002). A literary genre found in ancient Hebrew writings is based on the "suzerainty treaty" of ancient Israel (pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable-soo¢ za rin tē). This is a treaty that exists between a vassal Lord, the suzerain, and his subjects. In this relationship the subject was required to love the suzerain with all his heart. This love implied more of a political commitment rather than an emotional attachment. Loving the suzerain with all one's heart signified the severance of all other political allegiances. In writing of the relationship of Yahweh to Israel, prophet writers sometimes utilized the idea of the "suzerainty treaty" in which Yahweh was the suzerain Lord and the people of Israel were his subjects. Scholars in recent decades have shown that in the biblical world the word love often represented a covenantal devotion to one's superior, while its opposite, namely hate, at times signified the status of an individual outside of this affiliation. While the connotation of these words for Westerners usually signifies an intense emotional charge, in the ancient Near East, love and hate often carried the aforementioned unique covenantal connotation (for an example, see Hosea 9:15). The words love and hate in the biblical world often carried a deliberate connotation of political alliance (or lack thereof). In these verses wherein Samuel the Lamanite describes God's love and hatred, there seems to be conveyed a specific nuance derived from the world of antiquity. When Samuel presents his inspired message to the people of Nephi, he declares, "They [the Nephites] have been a chosen people of the Lord; yea, the people of Nephi hath he loved" (verse 3). With these words, Samuel attempts to remind the Nephites that they have traditionally served as God's covenant people. In this relationship, the Lord has acted as the Nephite suzerain from whom the people of Nephi have received reciprocal "love." In contrast, Samuel presents his own people, the Lamanites, as those whom God "hath hated because their deeds have been evil continually" (verse 4). Significantly, Samuel uses the verb hate in the same context in which it appears in the book of Hosea (see again, Hosea 9:15). God hated the Lamanites in a parallel manner to the way he hated the Ephraimites: their evil acts had placed them outside the boundary of his covenantal relationship. While some modern readers have expressed concern regarding this apparently harsh statement preserved in the Book of Mormon, Samuel's message relates perfectly to the context of "love" and "hate" in the ancient sense of alliance.
verses 5-9 In these verses Mae Blanch has found evidence of the Lamanites' true repentance according to the criteria set forth by President Spencer W. Kimball ("Samuel the Lamanite" in Studies in Scripture, Volume Eight, Alma 30 to Moroni, 121-22). These criteria include: (1) sorrow for sin (verse 9); (2) abandonment of sin (verse 5); (3) confession of sin; (4) restitution for sin (verses 6, 9); and (5) doing the will of the Lord (verses 5, 7).
5 And I would that ye should behold that the more part of them are in the path of their duty, and they do walk circumspectly before God, and they do observe to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments according to the law of Moses.
verse 5 "they do observe to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments according to the law of Moses" The righteous Lamanites and the righteous Nephites will be observers of the law of Moses until that law is superseded at the time of the Savior's personal visit to the Book of Mormon people in the land Bountiful. During his visit the Lord will declare that the law (the Mosaic law) had been given by him (3 Nephi 15:4-5).
6 Yea, I say unto you, that the more part of them are doing this, and they are striving with unwearied diligence that they may bring the remainder of their brethren to the knowledge of the truth; therefore there are many who do add to their numbers daily.
verse 6 Regarding the concept of "unwearied diligence," Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote: "With enduring comes a willingness . . . to 'press forward' (2 Nephi 31:20) even when we are bone-weary and would much rather pull off to the side of the road" (Men and Women of Christ, 70). Elder Maxwell taught further: "Few balances are more difficult to strike than achieving equipoise between the counsel of the Lord to guard against running faster than we have strength and means (Mosiah 4:27; D&C 10:4), and his counsel to display 'unwearied diligence' in our discipleship. It would be both foolish and untrue to suggest that discipleship is free of physical fatigue-clearly it is not. There are unmistakable times when 'the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak' (Matthew 26:41). However, part of enduring well to the end includes moving forward, even when we are truly physically fatigued. Even so, it includes as well those moments when the need for renewal through rest, repose, or respite calls for 'sacred idleness'" (We Will Prove Them Herewith, 100).
7 And behold, ye do know of yourselves, for ye have witnessed it, that as many of them as are brought to the knowledge of the truth, and to know of the wicked and abominable traditions of their fathers, and are led to believe the holy scriptures, yea, the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written, which leadeth them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart unto them-
8 Therefore, as many as have come to this, ye know of yourselves are firm and steadfast in the faith, and in the thing wherewith they have been made free.
9 And ye know also that they have buried their weapons of war, and they fear to take them up lest by any means they should sin; yea, ye can see that they fear to sin-for behold they will suffer themselves that they be trodden down and slain by their enemies, and will not lift their swords against them, and this because of their faith in Christ.
verse 9 "they have buried their weapons of war, and they fear to take them up lest by any means they should sin" Presumably Samuel makes reference here to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies (see Alma 23 and 24), though this same pattern of conversion might have occurred with other Lamanites, including those converted by Nephi, the son of Helaman, and his brother Lehi, even down to the time of Samuel. This pattern consists of accepting the prophesied Christ, rejecting their former lifestyles, taking upon themselves a covenant of pacifism, and burying their weapons and renouncing warfare.
10 And now, because of their steadfastness when they do believe in that thing which they do believe, for because of their firmness when they are once enlightened, behold, the Lord shall bless them and prolong their days, notwithstanding their iniquity-
verse 10 "the Lord shall bless them and prolong their days, notwithstanding their iniquity" This statement of Samuel's is a future reference to the Lamanites and their descendants as a people. It does not refer to any individual Lamanite, since any individual who accepts Christ and truly repents of his sins is forgiven of those sins and does not have to be blessed "notwithstanding [his] iniquity."
11 Yea, even if they should dwindle in unbelief the Lord shall prolong their days, until the time shall come which hath been spoken of by our fathers, and also by the prophet Zenos, and many other prophets, concerning the restoration of our brethren, the Lamanites, again to the knowledge of the truth-
verse 11 We know the Lord will never completely abandon the remnants of the Lamanites and allow them to be annihilated. Zenos did prophesy of the time in the latter days when all of the rebellious Israelites, including the remnants of the Lamanites would return to the fold (1 Nephi 19:15- 17).
12 Yea, I say unto you, that in the latter times the promises of the Lord have been extended to our brethren, the Lamanites; and notwithstanding the many afflictions which they shall have, and notwithstanding they shall be driven to and fro upon the face of the earth, and be hunted, and shall be smitten and scattered abroad, having no place for refuge, the Lord shall be merciful unto them.
verse 12 "in the latter times" This expression refers to our dispensation, the dispensation of the fulness of times.
13 And this is according to the prophecy, that they shall again be brought to the true knowledge, which is the knowledge of their Redeemer, and their great and true shepherd, and be numbered among his sheep.
14 Therefore I say unto you, it shall be better for them than for you except ye repent.
verse 14 The Lord's covenants contain great blessings for those who enter into and continue faithful to them. They also include cursings for those who do not live up to them. The greater the blessings offered, the more grave the cursings. The Nephites had been promised by the Lord that if they were faithful, nothing on earth could in any way ever mar their liberty, security, prosperity, and happiness: "And now there was nothing in all the land to hinder the people from prospering continually, except they should fall into transgression" (3 Nephi 6:5). This lofty promise was matched by a promise of total extinction in case they should fail to comply with the conditions of the covenant.
15 For behold, had the mighty works been shown unto them which have been shown unto you, yea, unto them who have dwindled in unbelief because of the traditions of their fathers, ye can see of yourselves that they never would again have dwindled in unbelief.
16 Therefore, saith the Lord: I will not utterly destroy them, but I will cause that in the day of my wisdom they shall return again unto me, saith the Lord.
verses 15-16 We have previously discussed the fact that the Lamanites will never be completely destroyed from off the earth (see the commentary for Helaman 7:24). Here is reiterated at least part of the reason. Because they had not the same spiritual advantages as the Nephites (prophets, scripture, righteous traditions of their fathers) they are not under the same condemnation as the Nephites. Not only will they not be destroyed, but in the latter days ("the day of my wisdom"), some of them will repent and join the Church of Jesus Christ.
17 And now behold, saith the Lord, concerning the people of the Nephites: If they will not repent, and observe to do my will, I will utterly destroy them, saith the Lord, because of their unbelief notwithstanding the many mighty works which I have done among them; and as surely as the Lord liveth shall these things be, saith the Lord.
verse 17 "as the Lord liveth shall these things be" The Lord swears a solemn oath to destroy the Nephite people and culture lest they repent.