Helaman Chapter 4
1 And it came to pass in the fifty and fourth year there were many dissensions in the church, and there was also a contention among the people, insomuch that there was much bloodshed.
verse 1 "there were many dissensions in the church" It was the nature of Nephite civilization that dissensions within the church soon led to civil dissensions which came to plague the entire Nephite nation and plunge it into a destructive series of wars with the Lamanites.
2 And the rebellious part were slain and driven out of the land, and they did go unto the king of the Lamanites.
3 And it came to pass that they did endeavor to stir up the Lamanites to war against the Nephites; but behold, the Lamanites were exceedingly afraid, insomuch that they would not hearken to the words of those dissenters.
verse 3 The Lamanites had been beaten too many times and were not enthusiastic about the prospects of yet another assault on the Nephites. Daniel C. Peterson wrote: "The great war narrated in the book of Alma had ended in utter Lamanite defeat only a little more than two decades earlier, and the spectacular campaign led by Coriantumr had concluded disastrously just thirteen years before. And both of these military catastrophes had been set in motion by dissenters from the Nephites, who often seemed more than willing to fight their erstwhile brethren down to the last drop of Lamanite blood. Thus, the Lamanites did not respond favorably to the incitements of this particular group of dissenters" (Studies in Scripture, Volume Eight, Alma 30 to Moroni, 99).
4 But it came to pass in the fifty and sixth year of the reign of the judges, there were dissenters who went up from the Nephites unto the Lamanites; and they succeeded with those others in stirring them up to anger against the Nephites; and they were all that year preparing for war.
verse 4 But yet another wave of dissenters wore down the Lamanites' reluctance to fight the Nephites.
5 And in the fifty and seventh year they did come down against the Nephites to battle, and they did commence the work of death; yea, insomuch that in the fifty and eighth year of the reign of the judges they succeeded in obtaining possession of the land of Zarahemla; yea, and also all the lands, even unto the land which was near the land Bountiful.
6 And the Nephites and the armies of Moronihah were driven even into the land of Bountiful;
verse 6 The city and land of Bountiful was the vital northernmost fortification of the eastern border of Nephite territory at this time. Its strategic purpose was to restrict access to the land northward in order to prevent the Nephites from becoming boxed in by the Lamanites (Alma 22:29; Alma 22:33; Alma 50:32-34; Alma 51:28-32; Alma 52:9; Helaman 1:23; Helaman 1:28).
7 And there they did fortify against the Lamanites, from the west sea, even unto the east; it being a day's journey for a Nephite, on the line which they had fortified and stationed their armies to defend their north country.
verse 7 Exactly what distant is being referred to here that is "a day's journey for a Nephite." It would appear that the length of the fortified line created by the Nephites for defense against the Lamanites could be negotiated by a Nephite on foot in one day. Apparently the fortified line began at the west sea and extended toward the east. No east sea is mentioned (see also Alma 22:32).
8 And thus those dissenters of the Nephites, with the help of a numerous army of the Lamanites, had obtained all the possession of the Nephites which was in the land southward. And all this was done in the fifty and eighth and ninth years of the reign of the judges.
verse 8 "all the possession of the Nephites which was in the land southward" Notice here that the land of Zarahemla is divided into a land northward (including the land Bountiful into which the Nephites had retreated) and a land southward which includes the city of Zarahemla.
9 And it came to pass in the sixtieth year of the reign of the judges, Moronihah did succeed with his armies in obtaining many parts of the land; yea, they regained many cities which had fallen into the hands of the Lamanites.
10 And it came to pass in the sixty and first year of the reign of the judges they succeeded in regaining even the half of all their possessions.
11 Now this great loss of the Nephites, and the great slaughter which was among them, would not have happened had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them; yea, and it was among those also who professed to belong to the church of God.
verses 12-14 In these three following verses, Mormon interrupts his narrative to offer some observations on the reasons for the Nephites' inability to defend against this Lamanite invasion. One might expect Mormon, himself a great military commander, to comment on military tactics or strategy. Instead he comments on the wickedness of the Nephites, which wickedness had even extended into the church of God. Competent as Mormon was in military matters, he never forgot that the Lord ultimately determines the course of all human affairs.
12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites-
verse 12 Here are enumerated the major sins of the Nephites. Perhaps their most formative and fundamental sin was that of pride and the consequent withdrawal of the Spirit of God. The other sins mentioned here spring from pride and its consequences. For a discussion of the sin of pride see "Pride" in volume 1, chapter 5, The "Natural Man" and "Spiritual Man" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
"deserting away" Stan Larson has suggested an alternate word for "deserting" here:
Deserting in the phrase "deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites" of Helaman 4:12 has appeared in every printed edition of the Book of Mormon. The word deserting would normally be found in a context indicating an abandoning of military service. However, the printer's manuscript has "desenting." This could be taken either as deserting or dissenting. A consideration in favor of the latter is the association of the same preposition, away, found in 3 Nephi 3:11 where it talks about dissenting away. Also Oliver Cowdery's spelling habits in the Book of Mormon manuscript should be considered. There are ten other places where dissent (or related forms) are spelled as desent, which certainly pushes in favor that dissenting was the intent of the printer's manuscript at this point. Thus, by a not-too-far-fetched conjectural emendation the text becomes dissenting" (BYU Studies, volume 18, number 4, 568).
13 And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands.
verse 13 To be "left in their own strength" is, of course, to be cut off from the Lord's protective influence.
14 But behold, Moronihah did preach many things unto the people because of their iniquity, and also Nephi and Lehi, who were the sons of Helaman, did preach many things unto the people, yea, and did prophesy many things unto them concerning their iniquities, and what should come unto them if they did not repent of their sins.
15 And it came to pass that they did repent, and inasmuch as they did repent they did begin to prosper.
16 For when Moronihah saw that they did repent he did venture to lead them forth from place to place, and from city to city, even until they had regained the one-half of their property and the one-half of all their lands.
verse 16 While Moronihah succeeded in winning back about one half of all the Nephite lands, the remainder would become irretrievably lost to the Nephites.
17 And thus ended the sixty and first year of the reign of the judges.
18 And it came to pass in the sixty and second year of the reign of the judges, that Moronihah could obtain no more possessions over the Lamanites.
19 Therefore they did abandon their design to obtain the remainder of their lands, for so numerous were the Lamanites that it became impossible for the Nephites to obtain more power over them; therefore Moronihah did employ all his armies in maintaining those parts which he had taken.
verse 19 The Nephites are forced to adopt a defensive strategy of mere defense and containment.
20 And it came to pass, because of the greatness of the number of the Lamanites the Nephites were in great fear, lest they should be overpowered, and trodden down, and slain, and destroyed.
21 Yea, they began to remember the prophecies of Alma, and also the words of Mosiah; and they saw that they had been a stiffnecked people, and that they had set at naught the commandments of God;
verse 21 "they had been a stiffnecked people" There is symbolism involved in being "stiffnecked." This term may represent the people's refusal to bow their heads in humble reverence and submission to God. To be "stiffnecked" is to be proud and stubborn.
22 And that they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people; and they saw that their laws had become corrupted, and that they had become a wicked people, insomuch that they were wicked even like unto the Lamanites.
verses 21-22 Throughout the Book of Mormon, it is clear that there was an intimate relationship between the spiritual and secular laws of the Nephite peoples. The "standard works" or the scriptural records of the Church of God-the brass plates of Laban and the small and large plates of Nephi-contained the laws of the gospel and the scriptural basis for the Nephite civil government and law. The corruption of civil law was always preceded by the rejection of those moral principles upon which that law was founded (see also Helaman 5:2). This is a grand principle and should well serve as a warning for all nations of the world even today. We regard the constitution of the United States of America as an inspired document. We believe that God inspired the founding fathers so that a country might be established with sufficient freedoms to allow the establishment and growth of the Lord's Church in these last days. Yet, this country still lacks the ideal form of government which will pertain during the Millennium-a theocracy with the Lord Jesus Christ at its head. The government of the United States is a necessary compromise. Thus, this country has been foreseen in prophecy as the "great Gentile nation."
23 And because of their iniquity the church had begun to dwindle; and they began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face.
verse 23 "the judgments of God did stare them in the face" The judgments of God stare a people in the face when that people is on the very threshold of incurring the wrath and judgments of God because of their behavior.
24 And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples-
verse 24 "the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them" These Nephites had broken their sacred covenants, and thus the Spirit could no longer dwell with and preserve them.
Mormon likens the condition of the apostate Nephites to that of an unholy temple wherein the Spirit can no longer dwell.
25 Therefore the Lord did cease to preserve them by his miraculous and matchless power, for they had fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness; and they saw that the Lamanites were exceedingly more numerous than they, and except they should cleave unto the Lord their God they must unavoidably perish.
26 For behold, they saw that the strength of the Lamanites was as great as their strength, even man for man. And thus had they fallen into this great transgression; yea, thus had they become weak, because of their transgression, in the space of not many years.
verse 26 Brother Hugh Nibley comments: " 'In the space of not many years,' the Nephites were reduced to a sorry, materialistic people, hopelessly outnumbered by their enemies but with no inclination whatsoever to call upon God" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 553-54). The book of Helaman repeatedly makes the point that a great civilization can be lost in a very short time (see also Helaman 6:32; Helaman 7:6).