Mosiah Chapter 11
Mosiah 11-17 The preaching and martyrdom of Abinadi and the conversion of Alma.
A major subject in chapter 11 is the corruption of King Noah and the people in his kingdom. In the Book of Mormon, King Noah is the prototype of the wicked king just as Benjamin is the type of a righteous one. Whereas Benjamin brought great joy to his people as he taught them righteous principles, Noah brings sore afflictions and suffering to his people. This chapter documents and itemizes the sins of Noah's people which include: having many wives and concubines, doing all manner of wickedness, levying burdensome taxes which were used to support the extravagant lifestyle of Noah and his court, consecrating priests who were lazy and lifted up in pride, worshiping idols, enjoying whoredoms, speaking lying and vain words, placing their hearts upon riches, spending their time in riotous living, becoming wine bibbers, boasting of their own strength, and delighting in the shedding of blood.
At this time in the Book of Mormon, there are two parallel stories unfolding, one here in the Land of Lehi-Nephi and the other in the land of Zarahemla. So that the reader might maintain a reasonable orientation as to how one story relates temporarily to the other, let us briefly review the relative dates of the two locations.
First let's consider the land of Zarahemla. Recall that Mosiah led the Nephite peoples from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla in about 210 BC. We are not given the date on which King Benjamin succeeded his father Mosiah on the throne but it was probably about 160 BC. Benjamin's farewell address and the succession of Benjamin's son Mosiah to the throne took place in about 124 BC.
Zeniff led a group of Nephite peoples from Zarahemla to the land of Lehi-Nephi in about 200 BC. Zeniff ruled over his people until he was succeeded by his son Noah in about 160 BC. Noah was killed and his son Limhi installed as puppet monarch in about 145 BC. Limhi and his people will be rescued and will return to the land of Zarahemla in about 121 BC. Alma will lead his people back to Zarahemla in about the same year.
Thus we learn that King Benjamin's speech was delivered only about three years before the return of King Limhi and his people and the return of Alma and his people to the land of Zarahemla.
1 And now it came to pass that Zeniff conferred the kingdom upon Noah, one of his sons; therefore Noah began to reign in his stead; and he did not walk in the ways of his father.
verse 1 Notice that between the final verse in chapter 10 and this first verse of chapter 11, the speaker or first person changes. In chapters 9 and 10, Zeniff is the first person. Beginning in chapter 11 Mormon becomes the first person. This illustrates Mormon's technique of abridgment. At times he lifted direct quotations or first person accounts out of the collection of records we call the large plates of Nephi, and at other times he limited himself to a simple abridgment of them, functioning himself as the first person.
2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.
verse 2 It is interesting to note that by this time the population of the Zeniffites was sufficiently large, that Noah could have "many wives." Presumably the concubines were women of a different culture. Perhaps they were Lamanites or women of other peoples who lived in the area of the land of Lehi-Nephi.
"he did cause his people to commit sin" Apparently his example of leadership and personal conduct gave license to his people to conduct themselves similarly. This point is made repeatedly in this chapter (see also verses 6-7, 15, 19). People have a tendency to follow their leaders, and corrupt leaders bear some of the responsibility of the corruption of individuals under their influence.
3 And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain.
verse 3 By today's standards this 20% tax may not seem overly burdensome!
"ziff" It is interesting that "zeev" or its transliteration "ziff" is a Hebrew word which means something like "shining" or "brightness." Here it refers to some type of shiny metal.
The term "fatlings" may refer to any young animal (calf, kid, lamb, or pig) which is being fattened before being slaughtered.
4 And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.
verse 4 "thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom" Mormon makes something of an understatement.
5 For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.
verse 5 To "put down" apparently means to dismiss.
It is not clearly stated in the Book of Mormon whether or not Zeniff or any of his priests were properly ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. We would presume that the priesthood authority did reside with Zeniff and his priests. We will later learn that Alma, one of King Noah's priests, did possess "authority from God" (Mosiah 18:18). Alma had to have received his authority from an angel, from Abinadi, or from some other person holding the authority. It seems unlikely that the prophet Abinadi had an opportunity to ordain Alma before Abinadi's martyrdom. Thus it is likely that Alma and the other priests of King Noah did trace their authority back to Zeniff's court.
6 Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.
verse 6 "they were supported . . . in their whoredoms" Noah's priests were guilty of more than just the unrighteous taking of many wives and concubines. Adultery was apparently among their several vices (see verse 14).
"thus did the people labor exceedingly" The record is unclear as to whether or not Noah's people saw themselves as being oppressed. If this phrase was strictly Mormon's editorial observation, then perhaps they did not. If, on the other hand, Mormon found in the record that the people described themselves as having to "labor exceedingly," then it is likely that at least some of them viewed Noah's leadership as oppressive.
We have already learned that the people themselves generally became wicked. This is an example of wicked leadership leading to a corrupt following (see also verse 20).
7 Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering things unto them.
verse 7 "they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests" Tyrannical governments throughout history have been able to maintain control of their people by appealing to their vanity. Two common ways to do this include: (1) building large and lavish buildings and monuments that ostensibly display the greatness and prestige of the land, and (2) seeking military conquests that supposedly demonstrate the superiority of the land over others. Note in the following verses how King Noah used these very techniques to flatter his people (see especially verses 8-10, 12-13, and 16-19).
For a discussion of the various forms of the word flatter, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 28:22.
8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;
verse 8 "and he ornamented them with . . . iron" Today we do not consider iron a decorative metal. John W. Welch has pointed out that in ancient Palestine iron was difficult to obtain and the product of a difficult production technique. It was therefore highly prized and utilized for decoration. Items were not of solid iron but were plated, veneered, or studded with the metal (see also 2 Nephi 5:15; Jarom 1:8; Ether 10:23) ("Decorative Iron in Early Israel," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 133-34).
9 And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things.
verses 10-11 The description of Noah's temple, which follows, leaves one with an empty feeling. It was obviously a worldly place wherein no true temple worship occurred. It was more the symbol of worldly success-on which the working classes might look with pride-than a place of honest worship.
10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.
verse 10 It seems likely that Zeniff had previously restored the temple originally built by Nephi and his people over four-hundred years previously (2 Nephi 5:16).
11 And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people.
verse 11 It is interesting to note that in Noah's court there were "high priests." In its many other occurrences in the Book of Mormon text, the term "high priest" seems to refer to an office resembling the high priest in ancient Israel. Usually there was only one at a time. An example is the elder Alma (Mosiah 23:16; Mosiah 26:7). Later on in the Book of Mormon, perhaps because of the size of the Church, it seems to have been necessary to have more than one high priest (Alma 30:20-21). Apparently these were regional high priests who functioned under the direction of the chief high priest in Zarahemla who was the younger Alma (Alma 30:29; Alma 46:6, 38; Helaman 3:25; 3 Nephi 6:21-22; 3 Nephi 6:27). Why is it that Noah apparently had more than one high priest? Perhaps this was just another of the many apostate features of his court. The title high priest does not appear in the Nephite record after the coming of Christ.
12 And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof and overlook the land of Shilom, and also the land of Shemlon, which was possessed by the Lamanites; and he could even look over all the land round about.
verse 12 Keep in mind that the Nephites occupied the lands of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom, while the Lamanites occupied the neighboring land of Shemlon. See the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands. See also the supplemental article, Notes on the Hypothetical Map of the Book of Mormon Lands.
13 And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom; and he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom, which had been a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land; and thus he did do with the riches which he obtained by the taxation of his people.
verse 13 "he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom" Note that Noah built at least two towers, the one described in this verse and the one in the city of Lehi-Nephi near the temple.
"which had been a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land" Apparently a hill north of the land of Shilom was regarded as the traditional site where the Nephites, led by Mosiah, stopped to rest as they fled out of the land of Nephi a few decades previously.
14 And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.
verse 14 One cannot help but contrast Noah's "style" with that of King Benjamin who "labor[ed] with [his] own hands that [he] might serve [his people], and that [they] should not be laden with taxes" (Mosiah 2:14).
15 And it came to pass that he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people.
verse 15 "he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber" Some scholars have faulted Joseph Smith for references in the Book of Mormon to wine in the New World. These scholars assure us that wine produced from grapes-which is the usual meaning of the word wine-was never made nor used in the Americas. However, the Book of Mormon makes no reference to grapes, although it does, as in this verse, mention "vineyards." Some other sort of wine could have been so labeled by the Nephites. When the Spaniards arrived in Mesoamerica, they spoke about several kinds of native "wines." An intoxicating drink was commonly manufactured by fermenting a mixture of water, a certain tree bark, and honey. Other groups fermented juices drawn from the agave plant, bananas, pineapples, or the heart of certain palm trees. To all of these, the Europeans applied the term wine (see documentation in Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 186-87). Further, the Spaniards spoke of native plantings of the agave cactus (from which the drink balche was made) as "vineyards" (see J.E.S. Thompson, ed., Tomas Gage's Travels in the New World [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958], 76). So Joseph Smith's use of the terms wine and vineyards in the translation of the Book of Mormon has proved to be no mistake, whether some non-grape fruit was used or, as Joseph himself probably assumed, Nephite wine was made from grapes by a process like that used by European settlers in the early United States. The grape plant has now been identified from an archaeological site in the Mexican state of Chiapas that dates to the Nephite period. The archaeologist making the discovery presumed that the ancient people made wine from the fruit (see Alejandro Claudio Martinez Muriel, "Don Martin, Chiapas: inferencias economico-sociales de una comunidad arqueologica" [master's theses, Escuela Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, and Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1978], 105, 120, 125).
Joseph L. Allen has suggested that in Mesoamerica "the wine was probably made from the maguey plant or from other similar plants. The maguey plant is a relative of the century plant and has a large center with the appearance of a giant pineapple. The unfermented pulp juice is processed into tequila or mescal" (Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 174).
16 And it came to pass that the Lamanites began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.
17 And king Noah sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and the Lamanites came upon them and killed them, and drove many of their flocks out of the land; thus the Lamanites began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.
18 And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil.
verse 18 King Noah sent his armies against the Lamanites. At times the Nephites were driven back by the Lamanites. On other occasions the Nephites were able to temporarily gain advantage over the Lamanites. On these occasions, the forces of Noah would return home exulting over their "victories"-albeit very temporary ones.
19 And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.
verse 19 Mormon seems to use the expression "great victory" here with some sarcasm. He seems to be making a mockery out of the Nephites' arrogance.
"Their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites" There are some suggestions in the Book of Mormon that the Nephite military structure was based on the "decimal system," that is, the size of the military units were multiples of one hundred. In this case one-half of one hundred. This system was found in Palestine at the time Lehi and his family left there.
There are references to units of . . . thousands (see Alma 43:5; Alma 60:22; 3 Nephi 3:22), and ten thousand (see Mormon 6:10-15). In only Israelite-sized units, not specifically mentioned in Nephite-Lamanite organizations, are formations of tens and hundreds. Possibly these also existed among Book of Mormon people but were not mentioned because of their relative unimportance and because they comprised part of other units, like fifties and thousands. Units of ten thousand are most frequently mentioned in the Book of Mormon, at least after the time of the judges (ca. 91 BC). Use of the larger units may have resulted from increasing population and hence the increased ability or need to support larger armies. The earlier battles speak of units of fifty and thousands (see Mosiah 11:19; Alma 43:5), while later battles speak more of thousands and tens of thousands (see 3 Nephi 4:21) (A. Brent Merrill, "Nephite Captains and Armies" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, 268-69).
20 And it came to pass that there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi; and he went forth among them, and began to prophesy, saying: Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, Go forth, and say unto this people, thus saith the Lord-Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.
verse 20 Here is a new character, who has not previously appeared in the Book of Mormon. He is Abinadi. We have no information as to his origin, though it is interesting to speculate. Did he come up to the land of Nephi with Zeniff? Or did he come up from Zarahemla on his own? Was he born in the land of Nephi? Obviously we don't know. He knew the scriptures and therefore must have encountered the plates of brass in Zarahemla. He is a vital figure in the Book of Mormon and a great prophet. He will eventually give his life for the gospel. His doctrinal teachings as contained in Mosiah chapters 12 through 16 are invaluable. He apparently operated alone, and we know for certain of only one convert that resulted from his teachings, the man Alma. Abinadi thus set the stage for most of the remainder of the Book of Mormon story which consists of Alma's establishing the church or kingdom on the American continent.
In our mind's eye we usually picture Abinadi as an old man, thin and weather-beaten, and he may well have been. This bias has probably resulted largely from the well-known depiction of him by the artist Arnold Friberg. It is notable, however, that there is nothing in the text of the Book of Mormon that tells us anything about his age or physical characteristics.
One author has compared him to John the Baptist (Rodney Turner, Studies in Scripture, volume seven, 1 Nephi to Alma 29, Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, 240- 41). The similarities between Abinadi and John the Baptist are interesting. Abinadi, like John, preached to a people whose religious orientation was toward the law of Moses. He (Abinadi) preached of the Messiah to come, although he actually knew little about that Messiah. He preached repentance and warned of the impending judgments of God. Both Abinadi and the Baptist were opposed by the religious and secular leaders of their day, and both died violent deaths at their hands. Both served as "transitional" prophets who provided the link between the old covenant and the new covenant-the law of Moses and the Gospel of Christ. Thus they both served as "Eliases," preparing the way for the mortal advent of the Messiah.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has pointed out that Abinadi is also one of the most extensively developed types or shadows or prophetic prefigurations of the Savior in the Book of Mormon (Christ and the New Covenant, chapter 8). Consider the following foreshadowing links and parallel possibilities between Abinadi, the first Book of Mormon martyr and Christ, the last and great sacrifice:
1. Both were called to preach repentance to those sinning, and both were rejected.
2. They were bound and taken before religious priests and political rulers.
3. They were cross-examined.
4. Both were dismissed as being mad.
5. They spoke with power and authority.
6. Neither could be slain until their message or mission was completed.
7. Abinadi was imprisoned for three days, while Christ was "entombed" for three days.
8. They were both condemned for blasphemy, and they would not recall their words.
9. In their deaths, innocent blood was shed.
10. In both cases a leader was tempted to release them, but both leaders yielded to detractors and delivered them to be slain.
11. Yet another conspicuous irony is that both died lamenting that those who claimed a belief in the law of Moses could not recognize the messianic teachings contained therein, let alone discern the Messiah himself, toward which that law, in its purity, had always been directed.
21 And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.
verse 21 In this verse, Abinadi is still speaking for the Lord (see verse 20). Here is the essence of Abinadi's warning to the people: Repent or be taken into bondage by your enemies. Perhaps this bondage is both temporal and spiritual. As one considers the history of the house of Israel, it becomes apparent that no segment of Israel has ever been placed in bondage to their enemies (1) without being warned by prophets whom the Lord has raised up for that express purpose, and (2) without "earning" and deserving their captivity by virtue of their disobedience and wickedness.
22 And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people.
verse 22 "I am . . . a jealous God" Abinadi continues speaking the words of the Lord, and he will continue to do so through verse 25. This phrase means that the Lord is not willing to share a person's devotion. He asks that we direct all our allegiance to him and to no other.
"visiting the iniquities of my people" When the Lord "visits" an individual's iniquities upon him, he punishes that person for his evil doings. This expression is found elsewhere in the scriptures (Jeremiah 23:2; Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Deuteronomy 5:9; Numbers 14:18; Exodus 34:7; see also Mosiah 13:3).
23 And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.
24 Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.
25 And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions; and thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me.
verses 23-25 These prophecies were, of course, fulfilled. The Nephites under King Limhi, Noah's son and successor, will live in virtually complete captivity to the Lamanites.
verse 25 "sackcloth and ashes" This expression is symbolic of true contrition and repentance. Sackcloth is a coarse, dark-colored cloth traditionally worn, in Hebrew culture, by those in mourning. Such a person would also often scatter ashes upon himself as another gesture of humility (Isaiah 58:5; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 11:21).
26 Now it came to pass that when Abinadi had spoken these words unto them they were wroth with him, and sought to take away his life; but the Lord delivered him out of their hands.
verse 26 The people were wroth or angry with Abinadi. Abinadi's message had thrown a damper on the celebratory mood of the Nephites who were celebrating the shedding of Lamanite blood just prior to his arrival. His message obviously angered his listeners, who by now were blood thirsty. Note that it was not just Noah and his priests who rejected Abinadi and his teachings, but the people of Noah as well.
27 Now when king Noah had heard of the words which Abinadi had spoken unto the people, he was also wroth; and he said: Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him, or who is the Lord, that shall bring upon my people such great affliction?
verse 27 "who is the Lord" King Noah was not the first to ask this question. It was also asked by Cain the notorious son of Adam (Genesis 5:4) and by Pharaoh, the captor of Hebrews in Egypt (Exodus 5:2). It is a most heretical and blasphemous question, as its meaning is something like: "Who does he think he is, anyway?"
28 I command you to bring Abinadi hither, that I may slay him, for he has said these things that he might stir up my people to anger one with another, and to raise contentions among my people; therefore I will slay him.
29 Now the eyes of the people were blinded; therefore they hardened their hearts against the words of Abinadi, and they sought from that time forward to take him. And king Noah hardened his heart against the word of the Lord, and he did not repent of his evil doings.
verse 29 Though Noah and his people sought the life of Abinadi, the Lord allowed him to escape. He will return two years later in disguise. Where he went during these two years is not stated. Perhaps he returned to Zarahemla.
"they hardened their hearts against the words of Abinadi" See the discussion of hard-heartedness in the commentary for Alma 10:6.