Previous: Mosiah Chapter 1  |      Book Home      |   Next: Mosiah Chapter 3

Mosiah Chapter 2

Scripture Mastery

Mosiah 2-5 King Benjamin's speech

Mosiah 2:17 When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

Mosiah 2:20-21 If you should render all the thanks and praise, yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

Mosiah 2:22-24 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land. And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

Mosiah 2:38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.

Nothing specific is known about Benjamin's birth, though we can speculate that he was probably born between 195 and 187 BC. If he acceded to his father's throne at age thirty, then his reign began some time between 165 and 157 BC. Thus, both he and his father Mosiah each ruled about 40 years in Zarahemla. He fought a major war with the Lamanites around 160-150 BC. He was likely in his late 60s at the time of his sermon.

King Benjamin had fought a good fight. He had led his people and wielded the sword of Laban in their defense against the attacking Lamanites whom he had driven out of the land. He had successfully contended with "false Christs," "false prophets, and false preachers and teachers," and he had dealt with "much contention and many dissensions" among his people (Words of Mormon 1:12-18). In his sermon, we will learn that although he was a military hero in leading his people to victory against attacking Lamanites, he was meek and unassuming. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said of him, "Benjamin's meekness in the face of his many accomplishments marks this man. . . . Benjamin was Benjamin, whether he was in his garden, on the battlefield, with his family, or practicing statecraft. For him there was no such thing as a public persona. Moreover, how many other warrior-kings, for instance, would have chosen to regard themselves as teacher more than king?" (King Benjamin's Speech Made Simple, ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks [FARMS: Provo, Utah], 3).

He was now ready to report his stewardship to his people. As we have already learned, Benjamin had three primary reasons for calling his people together: (1) to announce his retirement; (2) to name a new king (Mosiah 1:10); and (3) to ask his people to covenant to take upon themselves the name of Christ (Mosiah 1:11-12).

Benjamin's sermon may be divided into three separate orations, each treating a different topic:

1. Mosiah 2:9-41-This is the report of his royal stewardship in which he declares that he had provided his people with temporal and spiritual peace.

2. Mosiah 3:1-27-Here he speaks as a prophet teaching his people how to achieve spiritual success. He relays to his people the words of an angel emphasizing Christ's ministry and atonement.

3. Mosiah 4:4-30-This is his discourse on how people can obtain remission of their sins through the principle of service.

This sermon was delivered about 124 BC. It is likely that Mormon recorded onto the plates of Mormon the entire account of Benjamin's speech without abridging it. It is actually difficult to classify this great sermon. It is, at once, a prophetic text, a coronation text, a covenant renewal text, a farewell speech, a doctrinal discourse, and a personal testimony.

King Benjamin's sermon has been oft analyzed by able scholars and is generally highly regarded today as a masterful oration. It has not always been so. It has taken us as a people a long time for our understanding of his speech to mature. B. H. Roberts viewed the speech as an elementary discussion, as if given, he said, to "little children who were taking first lessons" ("God's Great Men: Jacob and Benjamin," Millennial Star 50 [3 December 1888], 774). Sidney B. Sperry saw the speech as "remarkable in many respects," but he thought it was "highly improbable that Benjamin had received much instruction in the making of sermons or speeches" (Book of Mormon Compendium [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968], 293).

Benjamin's speech has been credited with facilitating the transition in Nephite government between kingship and a more democratic form of government, the rule of judges (John W. Welch, FARMS Brown Bag Lecture, April 8, 1998). This was accomplished by certain features of the speech including Benjamin's teaching that he as king was no better than any other person in the society (2:10-11). Benjamin made certain that his people understood that the only real king was God (2:19). In traditional Israelite coronations, only the king entered into a covenant with God, however in Benjamin's speech every person in the kingdom was allowed to enter into the covenant (5:2-7). Through the speech the people became spiritually begotten, free, and empowered (3:17; 5:7-9). Benjamin shared the royal duties such as caring for the poor (4:16, 21-30), and he prohibited slavery (2:13).

King Benjamin's Speech and the Feast of Tabernacles

One of the exciting developments in Book of Mormon research in the past few years has been the discovery of evidence of the ancient Israelite pilgrimage festivals in the Book of Mormon. No single Book of Mormon source has been more fertile for these discoveries than King Benjamin's sermon. There is good reason to believe that the events recorded in Mosiah 2-6 took place during a Nephite observance of the Israelite Feast of Tabernacles.

Among the features of this account that are typical of the Israelite Feast of Tabernacles are the pilgrimage of whole families to the temple site, the sacrifice of animals, and the people's dwelling in tents. The mention made of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Old Testament suggests that its purpose was to enable the Israelites to renew their covenant with God, and that appears to be what the Nephites were doing as they assembled at their temple (Mosiah 5:5; Mosiah 6:1). If you have an interest in this topic, please read the supplemental article, The Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals and Their Relationship to King Benjamin's Speech.

Covenant Renewal Pattern

Another interesting pattern found in King Benjamin's sermon is described by Blake T. Ostler ("The Covenant Tradition in the Book of Mormon," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, 230-40). In the Israelite pilgrimage festivals and on the occasions of the coronation of a new king or ordination of a high priest, as described in the Bible, Brother Ostler has discovered a pattern of a covenant-renewal ritual with eight distinctive features. These are:

1. The gathering of the people, usually to the temple (Mosiah 1:10; Mosiah 1:18).

2. The introduction of the person who will stand as the representative of the people before God and state the terms of the covenant (Mosiah 2:1; Mosiah 2:9).

3. The covenant speech emphasizing the reasons why the people ought to be obedient to the terms of the covenants (Mosiah 2:21).

4. The outlining of the terms of the covenant (Mosiah 2:22-24).

5. Summarizing the blessings of obedience to the covenant and the penalties or cursings for disobedience (Mosiah 5:8-10).

6. Identifying those to stand as witnesses for the covenant (Mosiah 2:14).

7. The recording of the covenant (Mosiah 6:1).

8. Formal dismissal from the session (Mosiah 6:3).

A similar pattern has been identified in the gathering of the people to the temple in the land of Nephi by King Limhi (see Mosiah 7:17-8:4).

Farewell Speech Pattern

Scholars have recently taken an interest in similarities in the farewell speeches of many ancient religious and political leaders. Certain themes appear consistently in these addresses given by people such as Moses and Socrates at the end of their lives. It almost seems as if these ancient speakers were following a customary pattern. William S. Kurz has published a detailed study comparing twenty-two addresses from the classic and biblical traditions ("Luke 22:14-38 and Greco-Roman and Biblical Farewell Addresses," Journal of Biblical Literature 104 [1985]: 251-68). Kurz signals four of the elements as particularly common to Hebrew farewell addresses: The speaker:

1. proposes tasks for successors

2. reviews theological history

3. reveals future events

4. declares his innocence and fulfillment of his mission.

These elements all appear in King Benjamin's sermon.

Treaty/Covenant Pattern

Yet another ritual pattern has been identified in King Benjamin's speech by Stephen D. Ricks ("Treaty and Covenant in King Benjamin's address" in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, [FARMS, 2002], 389-94). This is the "treaty/covenant pattern" in ancient Israelite literature-a literary feature that was completely unknown when the Book of Mormon was published in 1830 and was not identified and studied until the past two generations. In 1954 George Mendenhall described in detail the connection between a treaty pattern from ancient Hittite (inhabitants of Asia Minor or Turkey from 1900 to 1200 BC) treaties and Israelite covenant making ("Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition," Biblican Archaeologist 17 [1954]: 66). He identified the specific elements of the treaty/covenant pattern:

1. The king/prophet gives a preamble that introduces God as the one making the treaty or covenant or that introduces his prophet as a spokesman for God. Benjamin's covenant assembly preamble in the book of Mosiah begins: "These are the words which [Benjamin] spake and caused to be written, saying" (Mosiah 2:9). Although Benjamin is speaking, he is clearly acting as the mouthpiece of God. In fact, a sizable part of his address consists of words that had been made known to him "by an angel from God" (Mosiah 3:2).

2. The king/prophet gives a brief review of God's dealings with Israel in the past. The book of Mosiah passage includes a long account of the past relations between King Benjamin and his people as an a fortiori (with even a stronger reason) argument for the people's obligation to God (see Mosiah 2:19).

3. The king/prophet notes the terms of the treaty or covenant, listing specific commandments and obligations that God expects Israel to keep. Benjamin's address also contains numerous commandments; for example: "Believe in God. . . . Believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you" (Mosiah 4:9-10).

4. The people bear witness in formal statements that they accept the treaty or covenant. Following King Benjamin's address, the people express a similar desire "to enter into a covenant with [their] God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments" (Mosiah 5:5). They further witness their willingness to obey by allowing their names to be listed among those who have "entered into a covenant with God to keep his commandments" (Mosiah 6:1).

5. The king/prophet lists the blessings and curses for obedience or disobedience to the treaty or covenant. The curses and blessings in Benjamin's speech are implied rather than stated outright: "Whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God. . . . Whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God" (Mosiah 5:9-10).

6. The king/prophet makes provisions for depositing a written copy of the treaty or covenant in a safe and sacred place and for reading its contents to the people in the future. The words of King Benjamin were written and sent out among the people, not only so they could be studied and understood but also, it can be surmised, so they could serve as a permanent record of the assembly (see Mosiah 2:8-9). At the end of Benjamin's address, when all of the people expressed a willingness to take upon themselves Christ's name, their names were recorded and presumably preserved as a memorial of the covenant (see Mosiah 6:1).

Coronation Ceremony Pattern

Mosiah 2-5 is also a coronation ceremony for Benjamin's son Mosiah. Kingship in ancient Israel and in the ancient Near East and the various steps of the coronation ceremony remained unexamined until the first decades of the twentieth century, when they became the subject of systematic investigation. The account of Mosiah's coronation contains the following four key elements of ancient Israelite coronations:

1. The sanctuary (temple) as the coronation site. A society's most sacred spot is the location where the sacred act of coronation takes place. For Israel, the temple was that site (see 2 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 1:45; and 1 Kings 1:39). In the case of the Nephites, the temple at Zarahemla was the sacred site chosen for Benjamin's address to the people and for Mosiah's consecration as king (see Mosiah 1:18).

2. Installation in office with insignia. For a biblical example, see the coronation of Joash (see 2 Kings 11:12). At the coronation of Mosiah, Benjamin gave him certain objects, passing on the official records of the people (the plates of brass and the plates of Nephi), the sword of Laban, and the miraculous ball-the director or liahona (see Mosiah 1:15-16).

3. Anointing. To anoint the king with oil was a significant part of coronation ceremonies in ancient Israel and in the ancient Near East generally. The Bible records the anointing of six kings: Saul, David, Solomon, Jehu, Joash, and Jehoahaz. Indeed, the name-title Messiah, which was used to refer to several of the kings of Israel, means "anointed" or "the anointed one," no doubt referring to the rite of anointing the king during his installation in office. Following his address and the people's renewal of the covenant, Benjamin "consecrated his son Mosiah to be a ruler and a king over his people" (Mosiah 6:3). The context does not indicate whether this "consecration" included anointing. However, some ritual act was evidently involved since almost the beginning of Nephite history, for Jacob mentioned a coronation that included anointing. He reported that his brother Nephi, the first king, "began to be old, and he saw that he must soon die; wherefore, he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings" (Jacob 1:9). "According to the reigns of the kings" clearly refers to the pattern of kingship in Judah, with which Nephi was personally familiar.

4. Receiving a throne name. In many ancient societies a king received a new name or throne name when he was crowned king. Several Israelite kings had two names, a birth name and a throne name. Similarly, use of a single royal title marked the early Nephite kings. Jacob wrote, "The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, . . . wherefore, the people were desirous to retain in remembrance his name. And whoso should reign in his stead were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth, according to the reigns of the kings; and thus they were called by the people, let them be of whatever name they would" (Jacob 1:10-11). While we do not know that this new name was given to the Nephite rulers as part of the coronation rite, there is every reason to expect that it was.

John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks said of king Benjamin's speech:

Many points have deeply impressed us about Benjamin's speech. Our studies have convinced us that if a person were to sit down to write such a speech, that person would need to know hundreds of facts and details; and after years of research seeking to grasp all of those details correctly, that author would still be left with the staggering task of embedding all that information fluently and purposefully into an organized composition that accomplishes simultaneously multiple objectives and does so in an unassuming and artistically lucid manner. Benjamin's speech is not a creation that just happened. Its very existence, with all that it enfolds, testifies of God, that he is, that he loves his children despite their weaknesses, and that he blesses those who keep his commandments.

We conclude, both on spiritual and intellectual grounds, that Benjamin's speech bears true and valuable testimony of the prophesied atonement of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all things that in them are. We apologize if it takes readers more than a day and a half to read this book [King Benjamin's Speech Made Simple], but we remind the impatient that Joseph Smith took only about that long to translate this section in the Book of Mormon containing King Benjamin's Speech (King Benjamin's Speech Made Simple, Introduction).

1 And it came to pass that after Mosiah had done as his father had commanded him, and had made a proclamation throughout all the land, that the people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them.

verse 1 In ancient Hebrew culture one always went "up to the temple" implying that the temple was located on a high vantage point. Ascending the "mountain of the Lord's house" (Isaiah 2:2) was a ritual climb to the presence of the Lord.

2 And there were a great number, even so many that they did not number them; for they had multiplied exceedingly and waxed great in the land.

verse 2 We do not know the size and population of the land of Zarahemla in 124 BC, but it is possible to speculate:

1. The people were given only one day's notice to gather (Mosiah 1:10). This would make it unlikely that any point in the land of Zarahemla was more than twenty miles from the city. If in fact Benjamin's speech did take place at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, as has been suggested above, then this point might be rendered invalid. In that case the people would have already been intending to gather for the observance of the Israelite pilgrimage festival.

2. "The number who attended Benjamin's assembly was somewhat greater than could be accommodated 'within the walls of the temple'-likely the plaza or sacred courtyard area" (Mosiah 2:7). Initially the king had supposed that the crowd could fit into the area so that he might speak to them directly, but the group proved too big to hear the aged ruler. John Wesley, at age 70, was able to preach to 20,000 people in the open in England, which suggests that the size of the assembly in Zarahemla was perhaps a little larger. The extent of the land plus the number of people assembled suggest that the population centered in Zarahemla at the time of Benjamin, about 125 BC, was on the order of 25,000, many of whom lived in villages near the settlement, especially along the river" (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 156-57).

3 And they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses;

verse 3 Here is evidence that King Benjamin's speech coincided with the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles which was also called the Festival of the New Year. In the Jewish world, the new year festival traditionally began with burnt offerings of animals.

"they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice" See the important commentary for 2 Nephi 2:9.

4 And also that they might give thanks to the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, and who had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies, and had appointed just men to be their teachers, and also a just man to be their king, who had established peace in the land of Zarahemla, and who had taught them to keep the commandments of God, that they might rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men.

5 And it came to pass that when they came up to the temple, they pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family, consisting of his wife, and his sons, and his daughters, and their sons, and their daughters, from the eldest down to the youngest, every family being separate one from another.

6 And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them;

verses 5-6 "tents" Perhaps this is further evidence that this occasion coincided with the ancient Jewish holiday known as the Feast of Tabernacles. This annual festival among ancient Jews was also called the Feast of Booths. It took place in the autumn and commemorated the completion of the agricultural year and celebrated the beginning of the new year. It was also held to recall Israel's wilderness pilgrimage and to renew Israel's covenant with the Lord. "Booths" were shelters constructed of branches and vines. The original significance of the "booths" derived from an agricultural practice: to protect the olive orchards in the month of harvest (September), their owners used to guard them by night, standing in these booths. Later on, the booth was reinterpreted as a symbol of Israel's wilderness experience. Each celebrant had to provide himself with a booth in which he slept and ate all his meals for seven days. This was done in remembrance of Israel's journey through the wilderness.

If you have not already read the supplemental article The Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals and Their Relationship to King Benjamin's Speech, then you might wish to do so now.

7 For the multitude being so great that king Benjamin could not teach them all within the walls of the temple, therefore he caused a tower to be erected, that thereby his people might hear the words which he should speak unto them.

verse 7 "he caused a tower to be erected" The building of wooden structures from which the prophet may speak to his people at important times of covenant making is well-established Hebrew tradition. For example, Josiah stood upon a "pillar" (2 Kings 23:3), Solomon built a "scaffold" (2 Chronicles 6:13), and Ezra stood upon a "pulpit of wood" (Nehemiah 8:4). Why did Benjamin build a "tower" and not a pulpit or scaffold or pillar? It is interesting that the "pulpit of wood" upon which Ezra stood was translated from the Hebrew word which may be transliterated in English "migdal" or "migdawl." This Hebrew word is commonly translated from the Hebrew as "tower."

See also the commentary on "tower" in Omni 1:22.

8 And it came to pass that he began to speak to his people from the tower; and they could not all hear his words because of the greatness of the multitude; therefore he caused that the words which he spake should be written and sent forth among those that were not under the sound of his voice, that they might also receive his words.

9 And these are the words which he spake and caused to be written, saying: My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.

verse 9 "hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day" The phrase "this day" may mean more than merely "at this time." It may have significant religious import. The words "this day" appears eighteen times in the Book of Mormon. Eleven of these appear in conjunction with Nephite gatherings at their temples. It has been suggested in an article ("This Day" by John W. Welch, Donald W. Parry, and Stephen D. Ricks, a FARMS reprint, 1990) that this phrase may be specific for one of the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals or feasts which may well have been observed by the Nephite people. "All Israelites were commanded to assemble at their temple 'before the Lord God' three times a year on their high holy days (see Exodus 23:17). The Nephites were 'exceedingly strict' in observing the law of Moses (in their looking forward to the Christ whom that law typified; see 2 Nephi 5:10; 2 Nephi 11:4; Jarom 1:5; Alma 30:3). It thus follows that they also regularly gathered in holy assemblies on such days" (Ibid.). For a review of these three annual festivals, see the supplemental article The Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals and Their Relationship to King Benjamin's Speech.

"mysteries of God" These "mysteries of God" likely refer to the temple endowment covenants about to be revealed to the people. Benjamin is able to reveal these mysteries by virtue of his holding the Melchizedek priesthood (D&C 84:19).

10 I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man.

verse 10 "I have not commanded you to come up hither . . . that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man" It is interesting to note that in ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian societies, the king was viewed as being divine or at least as being the adopted offspring of deity. In contrast, in Israelite and Nephite cultures, kingship was viewed rather ambivalently (Ibid., 1987). Later on, Mosiah will warn of the danger of kingship (Mosiah 29:16-17).

11 But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me.

12 I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time, and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you;

verses 11-12 "consecrated by my father" Benjamin's father Mosiah had designated Benjamin as king and accordingly Benjamin's life would be wholly dedicated to governing his people-he was "suffered to spend [his] days" in the service of his people.

13 Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another, nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery; nor even have I suffered that ye should commit any manner of wickedness, and have taught you that ye should keep the commandments of the Lord, in all things which he hath commanded you-

verse 13 Here, the verb "suffered" might be alternatively interpreted as tolerated.

In this verse King Benjamin sets forth a law specifying that five things will henceforth be prohibited. These are:

1. murder,

2. plunder (steal valuables by open force),

3. theft,

4. adultery, and

5. any manner of wickedness.

Apparently the Nephites regarded this set of laws as a legal precedent. This five-part list will appear seven other times in the Book of Mormon (see Mosiah 29:36; Alma 23:3; Alma 30:10; Helaman 3:14; Helaman 6:23; Helaman 7:21; and Ether 8:16). It has been observed that this repetition of these five items provides a compelling example of the internal consistency in the text of the Book of Mormon. When Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he dictated as he went, never taking time to go back and review. How then could he have remembered these five items and be able to repeat them accurately? The reason is simple-he was translating and not writing or editing.

Kings in ancient Israel were obligated to maintain justice and to protect the rights of the weakest members of society. "Indeed, these qualities were invariably mentioned in descriptions of good kings" (Ibid., 1987). See also Mosiah 4:26.

14 And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne-and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.

verse 14 Benjamin had not required that his people support him financially. He had earned his bread by his own sweat just as the Lord had commanded Adam to do. Consequently the people were not burdened with taxes. "Burdensome, unjust taxation is a form of theft. King Benjamin realized that a government has no more right to steal from its citizens than the citizens have to steal from one another. When all labor, none are oppressed. Since political morality depends upon personal morality, the strict observance of the moral code by both the ruler and the ruled was the very foundation of his benevolent reign" (Rodney Turner, "The Great Conversion," Studies in Scripture, Volume Seven, 1 Nephi to Alma 29, 211).

15 Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day.

16 Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.

verse 16 In ancient Hebrew culture, the kings were intended to be types or symbols of what the Messiah would one day be. Benjamin, with his selfless service and dedication to his people, was an apt symbol.

17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

18 Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?

verses 19-24 Benjamin is about to teach his people one of the more profound lessons found in all scripture. A casual reading of these verses might fail to bring this idea to your attention. He will teach the doctrine of "divine indebtedness." It is a universal truth, as applicable today as it was in Benjamin's day. It is simply the necessity of viewing our relationship with our Savior in its true and proper perspective. And what is that perspective? It is that we are deeply in his debt. He has created us (verse 20) and granted unto us our lives (verse 23). He continues to preserve us from day to day (verses 20, 21). Even if we were to serve him with all our might and render unto him all the thanks our souls possess, we would yet be unprofitable servants (verses 20, 21). All he requires of us is that we keep his commandments (verse 22). When we do, he blesses us more than we have merited which only increases our indebtedness (verses 22, 24). Therefore we have nothing of which to boast (verse 24).

Our material possessions are not ours, but his (D&C 104:13-14; Psalm 24:1). Consider, for a moment, what a different place the world would be if we all truly accepted the truth that material possessions are of no eternal significance. Instead, we observe today, desperate struggling to acquire possessions, possessiveness by those who "earned" their material goods, and the denial of those goods to those who don't "deserve" them. We see crimes of theft and deception committed by the "have nots" and sins of hoarding and over-protectiveness committed by the "haves." We see blood shed and war fought by nations in an effort to "own" more land.

Divine indebtedness also may be referred to as gratitude or humility. A man possessing this gift is said to have a "broken heart and contrite spirit." He is truly humble. Divine indebtedness is the very antithesis of pride. Benjamin is not merely suggesting to his people that they express their gratitude to God, rather he is relaying to them a commandment of God to do so (D&C 59:7; D&C 59:21; D&C 78:19). The acquisition of true gratitude to God-divine indebtedness-is not merely a mental exercise, but rather a spiritual one. Only the Spirit of the Lord can impart the eternal perspective necessary for us to truly feel this indebtedness. Gratitude is thus a spiritual gift which can only be received by revelation. It is said that gratitude is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues. Why is this so? If a man can successfully obtain from the Holy Spirit a sense of complete and utter dependence upon God for all that he is, for all that he has, and for all that he can become, then he will realize the desperate need he has for the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. He will then be blessed to know that only through the atonement of Jesus Christ can he be saved and exalted.

19 And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!

verse 19 "If I . . . do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!" Note how Benjamin is striving to obey the principle stated in Matthew 5:16: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." He wanted the people's gratitude for his service to be extended to the Lord instead of towards him.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell commented further on Benjamin's meekness. In so doing, he commented also on the meekness and deference evident in both the Father and the Son:

Benjamin's impressive meekness actually mirrors the majestic and mutual meekness of the Father and the Son, on which I have reflected lately. So I share these brief thoughts with you. Consider these illustrations: Deferential Jesus said: "There is none good but one, that is, God" (Matthew 19:17). "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me" (John 7:16). "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John 5:19). The Father said: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). "And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful" (2 Nephi 31:15). The Father's very voice, as we all know, was "small" but penetrating, not "harsh" or "loud" (3 Nephi 11:3). There is a majestic mutual meekness about the Father and the Son, and we should learn from it (King Benjamin's Speech Made Simple, ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks [FARMS: Provo, Utah], 18-19).

20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another-

21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another-I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

verses 20-21 These two verses contain one of the longer sentences in the Book of Mormon.

"if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants" Aren't these verses, on their face, a bit discouraging? Is it really true that a man may labor with all his heart and soul and yet be unprofitable to the Lord? It is true, but the reason is an exciting one. The Lord is so generous with us, we cannot possibly cause him to be in our debt. As we obey and serve him, he rewards us with spiritual blessings and gifts. These do not necessarily come as earthly blessings. He rewards us far in excess of our service to him. We are constantly and increasingly in his debt.

As I write these words, I have just returned from watching a professional tennis tournament. In each tennis tournament, one finds a few entrants referred to as "wild cards." These are individuals who are invited to join a tournament who did not actually qualify for entrance by virtue of the points they have accumulated. In spite of their failure to qualify, the tournament committee extends to them an invitation-often for sentimental reasons. It is felt they will add to the quality and interest of the tournament. Though my analogy suffers from being only superficially apt, are we not all "wild cards" in the kingdom of God?

In perhaps one other sense, we are all unprofitable servants. God is the creator of all things. He is perfect in his knowledge and power. What could any of us possibly do to profit him? What could we do to improve his status or assets?

It is poignantly true that if we are as diligent as we can be, we cannot keep the Lord from blessing us. Just today, as I write these words, I have been made aware of a physician author writing recently in the British Medical Journal who commented on the "accidental" or serendipitous discoveries made in medicine over the years, especially the discovery of penicillin. He supposes that these discoveries are probably not, in fact, accidental, but rather the rewards of a merciful God to an individual who has done the work to prepare himself to make the discovery. Rather than being due to serendipity, they are due to "divinipity." This author has coined the saying, "Serendipity is 'divinipitous,' but 'divinipity' is not serendipitous." This would seem to be a saying well worth remembering.

22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.

verse 22 This verse clearly spells out the way each of us can please God. We must simply "keep his commandments."

23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

verse 23 The "first place" is the premortal existence.

24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

verses 23-24 Benjamin is teaching the idea that each of us is deeply indebted to God for the blessings of life we all enjoy but have not earned. These include life itself and the Lord's protective care. We know not the way we should travel in this eternal universe, but he does, and he will lead us.

25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.

26 And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust. And ye behold that I am old, and am about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth.

verse 25-26 "can ye say aught of yourselves" "Aught" means anything. Benjamin is asking, "Do you have anything to brag about?"

"Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth" Have we no worth at all? This stinging indictment is initially puzzling as it seems to debase mankind. Yet we know that man is supremely important to God (Moses 1:39). This expression is not just hyperbole. Rather it refers to natural and fallen man's propensity for disobedience. Man, in his naked carnal state, devoid of the Spirit of God, is disinclined to respond to promptings in matters of the Spirit. Rather he is inclined to respond only to worldly influences. The "dust of the earth," in contrast, is obedient to God's commands: "For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God" (Helaman 12:7-8). Here is a great irony, since all God requires of us, in order to clear our indebtedness to him, is obedience to his laws.

27 Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you.

28 I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.

verses 27-28 We read in latter-day scripture: "It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. Therefore, they [the neighbors] are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own head" (D&C 88:81-82). And what if we fail to warn our neighbors? Then "their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day" (Jacob 1:19).

verse 28 "at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave" A Bible scholar, William S. Kurz, has published a study comparing several farewell addresses from the classical and biblical traditions ("Luke 22:14-38 and Greco-Roman and Biblical Farewell Addresses," Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985): 251-68). He has identified some twenty elements common to these farewell addresses. John W. Welch and Daryl R. Hague have compared King Benjamin's farewell address with these elements and have found a remarkable correlation ("Benjamin's Speech: A Classic Ancient Farewell Address," a FARMS reprint, 1987). The details of their comparison will not be reported here. The interested reader is referred to their article.

29 And moreover, I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might declare unto you that I can no longer be your teacher, nor your king;

30 For even at this time, my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you; but the Lord God doth support me, and hath suffered me that I should speak unto you, and hath commanded me that I should declare unto you this day, that my son Mosiah is a king and a ruler over you.

verse 30 "my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you" A physician student of the Book of Mormon, such as myself, may well wonder whether Benjamin intended a literal rather than a figurative meaning to this phrase. I cannot help but wonder if he might have developed a neurologic disorder involving a tremor in his later years. Might he have had Parkinson's Disease or some other neurologic disease characterized by a tremor?

31 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should do as ye have hitherto done. As ye have kept my commandments, and also the commandments of my father, and have prospered, and have been kept from falling into the hands of your enemies, even so if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land, and your enemies shall have no power over you.

verse 31 "I would that ye should do as ye have hitherto done" Benjamin is commending his people for their obedience during his reign. Again, we are reminded that these Nephites are already committed church members. Since Benjamin and his father Mosiah were righteous men, as the people obeyed their commandments, they were obeying the commandments of God.

32 But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah.

verse 32 "ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah" To list is to lean toward or be inclined to. It is interesting to note that in all of the scriptures, the phrase "list to obey the evil spirit" is unique to this verse. The shorter phrase "list to obey" is found in only one other place, in D&C 29:45. In this latter Doctrine and Covenants reference it also refers to those who choose to obey evil influences.

"which was spoken of by my father Mosiah" We have no record of Benjamin's father Mosiah's speaking of the "evil spirit" or, for that matter, we have no report of his speaking on any subject. We are thus reminded again that the large plates of Nephi were heavily edited by Mormon, and Mormon's record contains only a small fraction of the original writings of the Book of Mormon prophets.

33 For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that spirit; for if he listeth to obey him, and remaineth and dieth in his sins, the same drinketh damnation to his own soul; for he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment, having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge.

verse 33 It is important to note that throughout the remainder of King Benjamin's sermon, and indeed even previously in other passages, the Book of Mormon speaks of our eternal destiny in terms of extremes-the highest heaven and the lowest hell, salvation in the celestial kingdom with God or eternal damnation in outer darkness with the devil. There is "no middle ground. The doctrine of multiple degrees of salvation or multiple heavens revealed to the Prophet Joseph in February, 1832, in the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants is not contained in the Book of Mormon. This is not to say that the Book of Mormon prophets did not know about the three degrees of glory, but it is a simple fact that they did not write about them. An example is seen in 1 Nephi 15:35: "The final state of the souls of men is to dwell in the kingdom of God, or to be cast out." See also verses 40 and 41 below.

Another related doctrine that is not found in the Book of Mormon is that the "probation" through which each of us must pass includes not only our mortal lives on earth, but also the period of time spent in the "spirit prison." Those that are blessed to enter the "paradise" part of the spirit world have already completed their probation (see also the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:25-26). The fact that it is possible to repent after this mortal life, then, is missing from the Book of Mormon.

The doctrine of the Book of Mormon is thus: Repent during this earth life and be saved or you will be lost and suffer everlastingly. This is obviously incomplete doctrinal truth.

Why do we find incomplete gospel truths in the "most correct book" ever written? Two reasons seem most likely: (1) The Book of Mormon prophets may have known the complete truths of the plan of salvation, but they were able to teach only a limited version to their spiritually shallow congregations. (2) Those prophets may not as yet have received the full plan of salvation story, and thus they were able to teach only an incomplete version-that taught in the Book of Mormon. The Lord obviously intended the Book of Mormon to come forth in the nineteenth century. Perhaps he knew that a version of the doctrine which was more in line with the Protestant mind of the time would be more likely to be received by the people of that time. If the book contained the complete truths of the three degrees of glory, the temple ordinances, celestial marriage, and man's ultimate potential destiny, it would have been held suspect by those of Joseph's time and insurmountable ideological obstacles might have prevented the book's success. Hence, perhaps the Lord intended the partial rendering of the plan of salvation which we read throughout the Book of Mormon.

One plausible way to interpret Book of Mormon passages on the subject of heaven is to interpret the concept of "heaven" as referring to the "multiple heavens," or all three of the degrees of glory-celestial, terrestrial, and telestial.

This particular verse teaches that a person who responds to an evil spirit and dies in his sins drinks "damnation to his soul" and receives an "everlasting punishment" (see a brief discussion on what it means to be damned in the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:24). The implication is that a man who dies without repenting is banished to outer darkness to live with the devil and his angels eternally. Perhaps some further clarification would be helpful. One possibility is that perhaps the verse does refer to the individual who will be banished to outer darkness. The phrase "dieth in his sins" may refer, not to the physical death, but to the person who lives out his time in the spirit prison and never does repent and accept Christ as his Savior. He persistently refuses to repent and remains "filthy still" (2 Nephi 9:16; D&C 88:35). Such a person will reside with the devil forever. Along the same lines, perhaps the phrase "having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge" gives us a clue as to its meaning. Perhaps this verse refers to that individual who accepts the gospel and lives its principles to the point where he is blessed to be visited by the "Second Comforter"-he has his calling and election made sure. Subsequently he comes out in open rebellion against the Church and seeks its destruction. He thus transgresses the law "contrary to his own knowledge." Such a treacherous soul will spend eternity with Satan.

An alternate explanation is that the expression "everlasting punishment" may not refer to outer darkness at all. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Martin Harris was taught by the Lord that the terms "Endless" or "Eternal" (and perhaps "Everlasting") are simply names for God. Eternal or endless or everlasting punishment is not punishment that has no end, but rather is simply God's punishment (D&C 19:4; D&C 19:6; D&C 19:10-12). When an unrepentant sinner dies, he is placed in the spirit prison. There he must be taught and refined. He will suffer much personal pain, even to produce "weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth." Such an individual is suffering God's punishment, which may also be called "eternal punishment," "endless punishment," or "everlasting punishment." The usual end result is that the individual will repent and be purified to the point where he will inherit a degree of glory-either terrestrial or telestial or even possibly celestial.

34 I say unto you, that there are not any among you, except it be your little children that have not been taught concerning these things, but what knoweth that ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are; and also have been taught concerning the records which contain the prophecies which have been spoken by the holy prophets, even down to the time our father, Lehi, left Jerusalem;

verse 34 This verse seems a little awkward in the reading. If the phrase "except it be your little children that have not been taught concerning these things" were placed in parentheses, and if the words "all of you" were inserted after "also," it might read more smoothly. Basically the verse says, "All of you know that you are sufficiently eternally indebted to your heavenly Father that you ought to completely dedicate yourself to him. Also, each of you is familiar with the writings of the prophets on the brass plates."

"render to him all that you have and are" "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof" (Psalm 24:1).

35 And also, all that has been spoken by our fathers until now. And behold, also, they spake that which was commanded them of the Lord; therefore, they are just and true.

verses 34-35 Here Benjamin summarizes the scriptures or "standard works" available to his people. They consist of (1) "the records which contain the prophecies which have been spoken by the holy prophets, even down to the time our father, Lehi, left Jerusalem"-the plates of brass, and (2) "all that has been spoken by our fathers until now"-the writings on the large and small plates of Nephi.

verses 36-39 These verses seem to refer to the unpardonable sin or the sin against the Holy Ghost. To reiterate, the essential elements of this sin are: (1) Accepting Christ and his gospel and living the commandments to the point where one is blessed to be sealed up to eternal life either by the Holy Ghost or by a personal visit from the Savior himself. (2) After achieving such a favored state, one must then deny one's testimony and come out in open rebellion against the Church and seek for its destruction.

It is apparent that the great spiritual endowments about to be received by this people impose upon them a most solemn and binding obligation.

36 And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom's paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved-

37 I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.

verse 37 The phrase "open rebellion" originated with the Book of Mormon. It is found nowhere in the scriptures but in this verse, in Alma 3:18, and in Mormon 2:15.

38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.

verse 38 "shrink from the presence of the Lord" Here is the condition exactly opposite to that described in D&C 121:45: "Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God."

39 And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

40 O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.

41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

verse 41 "O remember, remember that these things are true" The Hebrew verb zakhor (to remember) carries a richer meaning than usually attributed to the verb remember in English. It seems to mean far more than the mere mental recall of information, though of course that is part of its meaning. This verb occurs in the Old Testament over two hundred times and means "to be attentive, to consider, to keep divine commandments, or to act. . . . Indeed, to remember involves turning to God, or repenting, or acting in accordance with divine injunctions. . . . Conversely, the antonym of the verb to remember in Hebrew-to forget-does not merely describe the passing of a thought from the mind, but involves a failure to act, or a failure to do or keep something. Hence, forgetting God and his commandments is the equivalent of apostasy" (Louis C. Midgley, "O Man, Remember, and Perish Not," a FARMS reprint, March 1990). For examples of other uses of the verb to remember in the Book of Mormon see Mosiah 4:30; Mosiah 13:29-30; Alma 37:35; and Moroni 4:3.

Previous: Mosiah Chapter 1  |      Book Home      |   Next: Mosiah Chapter 3