Helaman Chapter 7
The Prophecy of Nephi, the son of Helaman-God threatens the people of Nephi that he will visit them in his anger, to their utter destruction except they repent of their wickedness. God smiteth the people of Nephi with pestilence; they repent and turn unto him. Samuel, a Lamanite, prophesies unto the Nephites. Comprising chapters 7 to 16 inclusive.
This headnote or superscription, written by the prophet Mormon, contains a sentence that arguably doesn't quite belong here. It is the sentence "Samuel, a Lamanite, prophesies unto the Nephites." It doesn't quite belong because it is redundant-it is repeated by Mormon in a headnote for Helaman 13 which is a more appropriate location. The prophet Samuel's preaching is reported in Helaman chapters 13-16. This minor disjuncture may have been due to the exigencies of time and circumstances that must have plagued Mormon in abridging the many records in his possession. The end for the Nephites was drawing near, and he undoubtedly was feeling the pressure of it all.
The suggestion has been made that it might have been reasonable to divide the book of Helaman, turning the single book into "Helaman" (chapters 1-6 of our present book of Helaman) and "Nephi, son of Helaman" (chapters 7-16).
Helaman 7-9 Nephi prays and preaches from his garden tower. He miraculously visualizes the murder of the chief judge and even identifies his murderer.
1 Behold, now it came to pass in the sixty and ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of the Nephites, that Nephi, the son of Helaman, returned to the land of Zarahemla from the land northward.
2 For he had been forth among the people who were in the land northward and did preach the word of God unto them, and did prophesy many things unto them;
verse 2 Again, it is likely that the "land northward" is not the land Desolation which is north of the narrow neck of land. Nephi had probably been preaching in the northern part of the former land of Zarahemla-the northern part of the present land of Mulek (see Helaman 6:10 and its commentary). This likely included the land Bountiful.
3 And they did reject all his words, insomuch that he could not stay among them, but returned again unto the land of his nativity.
4 And seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment-seats-having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God, and not in the least aright before him; doing no justice unto the children of men;
verse 4 "laying aside the commandments of God, and not in the least aright before him" In Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, the definition of the word aright is "in a right form; without mistake or crime." The implication here is that the ethic or rules of conduct of the Gadianton robbers was hardly correct in the eyes of God. They were laying aside God's commandments, an action that was "not in the least aright" before God.
5 Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills-
verse 5 Brother Hugh Nibley writes: "The Gadiantons 'did obtain the sole management of the government' [Helaman 6:39] . . . and 'they governed in the interest of one class alone' (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 9, 100).
The Gadiantons knew where the real power lay, and they were careful to fill the judgment seats with their own people who could make and interpret the laws to their own advantage, "letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money." And what could anybody do about it, now they were the law, "held in office at the head of the government, to rule and do according to their wills," deciding for themselves what was right and wrong and enjoying unlimited power? Nephi was helpless in his high office and looked on "in the agony of his soul" (Helaman 7:6). . . . And yet in all this they considered themselves very righteous-it was all perfectly legal (Helaman 7:5; Helaman 8:1-7). It was time for something to happen-a terrible drought at Nephi's request [will bring] the people to their senses and [break] the Gadianton power (Helaman 11:4-10) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 555).
The one thing the Gadianton administration respected was money, and their policy was "to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world," naturally [as mentioned in the previous paragraph] "letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money" (Helaman 7:5). To operate with impunity they needed public support: "Ye have united yourselves unto . . . that secret band . . . established by Gadianton!" [Helaman 7:25] cries Nephi to his countrymen. "Yea, wo shall come unto you because of that pride which ye have suffered to enter your hearts, which has lifted you up beyond that which is good because of your exceedingly great riches!" (Helaman 7:25-26) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 364-65).
"Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness" Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet have aptly written:
Wickedness and righteousness have no tolerance for each other. Like light and darkness, they cannot share the same space at the same time. If light is to shine, darkness must flee; if darkness is to reign, the light must give way. Each seeks the victory over the other. Thus it is that the truly pure, honest, and righteous cannot avoid the bile, spleen, and gall of the wicked (Doctrinal Commentary of the Book of Mormon, Volume III-Alma through Helaman, 367).
6 Now this great iniquity had come upon the Nephites, in the space of not many years; and when Nephi saw it, his heart was swollen with sorrow within his breast; and he did exclaim in the agony of his soul:
7 Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; then were his people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord-
8 Yea, if my days could have been in those days, then would my soul have had joy in the righteousness of my brethren.
verses 7-8 One cannot help being a bit amused here at Nephi's wish and lament. Certainly in the days of father Lehi and his family there was much good and many who were obedient. There was also much stubbornness and recalcitrance. Isn't it true, for all of us, that at times the past somehow seems easier, more pleasant and more favorable than our present reality? Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Memories assume pleasing forms as clouds do afar off."
9 But behold, I am consigned that these are my days, and that my soul shall be filled with sorrow because of this the wickedness of my brethren.
10 And behold, now it came to pass that it was upon a tower, which was in the garden of Nephi, which was by the highway which led to the chief market, which was in the city of Zarahemla; therefore, Nephi had bowed himself upon the tower which was in his garden, which tower was also near unto the garden gate by which led the highway.
verse 10 Brother Hugh Nibley has reported the relatively recently-discovered custom of the ancient Hebrews of having special shrines or prayer-rooms in their houses for the purpose of domestic worship. In other places in scripture these have been referred to as "closets and secret places" (Luke 12:3; Alma 34:26). Nephi's tower might well have been such a designated place though it was obviously not secret (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 6, 405).
See also the commentary on "tower" in Omni 1:22.
"in his garden" For decades the prevailing view was that cities with high-density populations did not exist at all in Mesoamerica. More recently, work at places like Teotihuacan and Monte Alban have demonstrated unquestionably that cities in the modern sense were indeed known during the Book of Mormon times. In at least some of these cities, garden areas were cultivated immediately adjacent to single habitation complexes.
"by the highway which led to the chief market" This is the only instance in which the word "market" is used in the Book of Mormon. What is the significance of the description chief market? The adjective "chief" implies that the cities of this time period had more than one market and that one of the markets was either larger or more important than the others. Wallace E. Hunt, Jr. has described evidence that the larger ancient cities of Mesoamerica, the most likely geographic site for the lands of the Book of Mormon, had main or central (chief) markets as well as satellite or smaller markets ("The Marketplace," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 4, number 2, 138-41).
11 And it came to pass that there were certain men passing by and saw Nephi as he was pouring out his soul unto God upon the tower; and they ran and told the people what they had seen, and the people came together in multitudes that they might know the cause of so great mourning for the wickedness of the people.
12 And now, when Nephi arose he beheld the multitudes of people who had gathered together.
13 And it came to pass that he opened his mouth and said unto them: Behold, why have ye gathered yourselves together? That I may tell you of your iniquities?
14 Yea, because I have got upon my tower that I might pour out my soul unto my God, because of the exceeding sorrow of my heart, which is because of your iniquities!
15 And because of my mourning and lamentation ye have gathered yourselves together, and do marvel; yea, and ye have great need to marvel; yea, ye ought to marvel because ye are given away that the devil has got so great hold upon your hearts.
verse 15 "ye have gathered yourselves together, and do marvel" The gathered Nephites wondered why Nephi was praying for their souls. After all, they considered themselves righteous.
Gerald Hansen, Jr., in commenting on this verse, observed: "When people go to church for status or out of habit, then the teachings of Christ to treat everyone with respect, to have mercy, and to do justly, have little or no effect in the lives of those who profess righteousness. In reality, church-going can be part of the spiritual problem. The intolerant and unjust who have religion have often convinced themselves that God loves them because they do religious things. They are spiritually oblivious, or as God says to the wealthy, lukewarm member of the church in Laodicea, "[thou] knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). The Nephites in the book of Helaman are a great example of this phenomenon. When Nephi severely chastised them, they marveled. In spite of their gross wickedness, they were shocked that he thought they were wicked" ("The Terrifying Book of Helaman" in The Book of Mormon: Helaman Through 3 Nephi 8, According To Thy Word, 173-74).
It was not uncommon for early Israelite prophets to use acted-out examples in their preaching. When Jeremiah wanted to impress the people of Jerusalem with his prophecy that they would be yoked into bondage by the Babylonians, he draped himself with thongs and a yoke and thus went forth proclaiming his message of doom (see Jeremiah 27:2-11). Other similar symbolic acts performed by prophets are found in Jeremiah 13:1-11 (hiding a waistcloth), Jeremiah 19:1-13 (smashing a bottle), 1 Kings 11:29-39 (tearing a garment into twelve pieces), 2 Kings 13:15-19 (shooting an arrow), and Isaiah 20:2-6 (walking naked). It has been suggested that this sermon of Nephi was similarly staged as a prophetic allegory in the form of some kind of mock funeral sermon. This might explain the "great mourning" and "lamentation." Perhaps the crowd gathered because they were curious to know who had died. In that context he will prophetically announce the death of the chief judge (Helaman 8:27).
"ye are given away" You have surrendered your will and your agency to the devil.
16 Yea, how could you have given way to the enticing of him who is seeking to hurl away your souls down to everlasting misery and endless wo?
verse 16 "how could you have given way . . ." This literary style is called the prophetic lament. The lament always begins with the word how (see also Isaiah 1:21).
"him who is seeking to hurl away your souls down to everlasting misery and endless wo" Just where is Satan seeking to hurl these souls? This passage realistically refers to the spirit prison, though ultimately Satan desires that many will, at the end, "remain filthy still" (D&C 88:102) and be hurled into outer darkness.
17 O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die? Turn ye, turn ye unto the Lord your God. Why has he forsaken you?
verse 17 "Why has he forsaken you?" We are not accustomed to reading that God has forsaken anyone, yet here that seems to be the case. In what way has God forsaken these wicked Nephites? He has withdrawn his Spirit and has left them spiritually adrift. The reader should be assured that in doing this the Lord has not, nor would he ever, violate the law of justice.
18 It is because you have hardened your hearts; yea, ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd; yea, ye have provoked him to anger against you.
verse 18 "ye have provoked him to anger against you" A thoughtful consideration of the Lord's anger leads to the conclusion that it consists mainly of a poignant and agonizing disappointment.
19 And behold, instead of gathering you, except ye will repent, behold, he shall scatter you forth that ye shall become meat for dogs and wild beasts.
verse 19 We have discussed previously the reasons why the Lord gathers or scatters a people (see the discussion of the gathering and scattering of Israel in the introductory commentary for 1 Nephi 20). The only circumstances under which the Lord will assist in his peoples' gathering are true repentance and conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 43:1-7; Jeremiah 3:12-23; Jeremiah 16:11-21; 1 Nephi 10:14; 2 Nephi 9:2; 2 Nephi 10:6-7; 3 Nephi 20:29-33). The dispersion or scattering of a people occur when they apostatize from the truth (Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:25; Deuteronomy 28:64; Jeremiah 16:11-13; 2 Nephi 6:9-11; 10:5-6; Helaman 7:19).
20 O, how could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you?
verse 20 Nephi will answer his own question in the following verse.
"in the very day that he has delivered you" This phrase should be interpreted figuratively and not literally. The Lord's redemption (the result of his atoning suffering and death) to individuals and to groups of individuals is available or offered to the worthy on any day or in any situation.
21 But behold, it is to get gain, to be praised of men, yea, and that ye might get gold and silver. And ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world, for the which ye do murder, and plunder, and steal, and bear false witness against your neighbor, and do all manner of iniquity.
22 And for this cause wo shall come unto you except ye shall repent. For if ye will not repent, behold, this great city, and also all those great cities which are round about, which are in the land of our possession, shall be taken away that ye shall have no place in them; for behold, the Lord will not grant unto you strength, as he has hitherto done, to withstand against your enemies.
23 For behold, thus saith the Lord: I will not show unto the wicked of my strength, to one more than the other, save it be unto those that repent of their sins, and hearken unto my words. Now therefore, I would that ye should behold, my brethren, that it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent.
verse 23 "it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent" The implication here is obvious. Those who receive light knowledge are responsible to live in accordance with it. Those who sin after having received knowledge of the truth by revelation bear greater condemnation than those who sin in ignorance (D&C 82:3; Luke 12:48).
24 For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent.
verse 24 "he will lengthen out their days" The Lamanites will never be completely annihilated, rather a remnant will be preserved even to the latter days (see Helaman 15:15-16).
Hugh Nibley has pointed out that the Lord made distinct and different two-part promises to both the Nephites and the Lamanites:
The Nephites and Lamanites each received a promise in the beginning, and each promise contained two parts, a promise of bliss and a promise of woe, "for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land" (Alma 45:16). . . . For the Lamanites the penalty of their backsliding is that they shall be scattered and smitten and driven by the Gentiles; the reward of their faith is that they are to survive all their afflictions and in time become the Lord's own people again. For the Nephites the promised reward of faith is that nothing on earth can, without their own will and action, 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 tremendous guarantee is matched by a promise of total extinction in case they should fail to comply with the conditions of the contract. Since they never became fully ripe in iniquity as did the Nephites, the Lamanites were allowed to remain in the land, paying for the privilege by taking a terrible beating: "Wherefore, if ye are cursed, behold, I leave my blessing upon you. . . . Because of my blessing the Lord God will not suffer that ye shall perish" (2 Nephi 4:6-7). It was an unconditional promise of survival (Jacob 3:5-9; Helaman 7:24; Helaman 15:14-17). No such promise was given the Nephites, and Enos was told that though the Nephites might perish, still the Lamanites would survive to receive his record (Enos 1:13; Enos 1:16) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 389-90).
"increase their seed" An abundant and righteous posterity is a blessing at times promised to the faithful. We know that Abraham, because of his obedience, was promised a posterity as numerous as "the stars of the heaven, and as the sand upon the sea shore" (Genesis 22:17). This blessing also applies to our dispensation. For those who enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, "this promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham" (D&C 132:31).
25 Yea, wo be unto you because of that great abomination which has come among you; and ye have united yourselves unto it, yea, to that secret band which was established by Gadianton!
26 Yea, wo shall come unto you because of that pride which ye have suffered to enter your hearts, which has lifted you up beyond that which is good because of your exceedingly great riches!
27 Yea, wo be unto you because of your wickedness and abominations!
28 And except ye repent ye shall perish; yea, even your lands shall be taken from you, and ye shall be destroyed from off the face of the earth.
29 Behold now, I do not say that these things shall be, of myself, because it is not of myself that I know these things; but behold, I know that these things are true because the Lord God has made them known unto me, therefore I testify that they shall be.
verse 29 Nephi, as a prophet, appropriately seals his message with his testimony of the message's divine origin.