Mosiah Chapter 8
1 And it came to pass that after king Limhi had made an end of speaking to his people, for he spake many things unto them and only a few of them have I written in this book, he told his people all the things concerning their brethren who were in the land of Zarahemla.
verse 1 Who is the first person in this verse, and what is "this book"? The "I" is Mormon, and "this book" is the plates of Mormon. See the supplementary article, Those Confusing Book of Mormon Plates. Mormon, here, makes reference to King Limhi's sermon found in verses 18 through 33 of Mosiah 7.
"all the things concerning their brethren who were in the land of Zarahemla" As mentioned previously (see the commentary for Mosiah 7:17), it is likely that Limhi spent the evening prior to his sermon at the temple visiting with Ammon and brushing up on the current happenings in Zarahemla.
2 And he caused that Ammon should stand up before the multitude, and rehearse unto them all that had happened unto their brethren from the time that Zeniff went up out of the land even until the time that he himself came up out of the land.
verse 2 "from the time that Zeniff went up to the land even until the time that he [Ammon] himself came up out of the land" Zeniff had departed Zarahemla about 200 BC. The rescue of the Zeniffites by Ammon was about 121 BC. Ammon was asked not only to give a report on the current status of Zarahemla, but also to tell about the rescue party's rather circuitous journey up to the land of Nephi from Zarahemla.
3 And he also rehearsed unto them the last words which king Benjamin had taught them, and explained them to the people of king Limhi, so that they might understand all the words which he spake.
verse 3 "the last words which king Benjamin had taught them" Keep in mind that the Zeniffites knew nothing of king Benjamin, as they had been in the land of Nephi (or Lehi-Nephi) at the time of Benjamin's reign in Zarahemla. Benjamin began his reign about 160 BC (which, coincidently, was about the same time that Noah became king) and ruled until 124 BC. Thus Benjamin's sermon had been delivered only three years previously and was undoubtedly fresh on Ammon's mind.
4 And it came to pass that after he had done all this, that king Limhi dismissed the multitude, and caused that they should return every one unto his own house.
5 And it came to pass that he caused that the plates which contained the record of his people from the time that they left the land of Zarahemla, should be brought before Ammon, that he might read them.
verse 5 This is the first mention of this set of plates, the record of the Zeniffites compiled by the Zeniffites themselves. The translation, and probable abridgement, of these plates comprises chapters 9 through 22 of the book of Mosiah.
There is no indication that Ammon had any difficulty communicating with the Zeniffites. They must have had a language in common.
6 Now, as soon as Ammon had read the record, the king inquired of him to know if he could interpret languages, and Ammon told him that he could not.
verse 6 Ammon had obviously been able to read the record of the Zeniffites. In this verse Limhi is asking Ammon if he can read languages other than that spoken by the Nephites and the Zeniffites.
7 And the king said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.
8 And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.
verse 8 When these forty-three men happened on to the remains of the Jaredite culture, did they know where they were? Did they know the identity of the people whose remains they were viewing? We will learn later that the men feared they may have found the remains of Zarahemla with all of its inhabitants annihilated (For a more complete account of this experience see Mosiah 21:25-28 and its commentary).
9 And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.
verse 9 "twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings" We will later learn that these are the plates of Ether, the record of the Jaredites. They will later be translated by king Mosiah, the son of king Benjamin. This translation is not available to us today. Also the prophet Moroni, the son of Mormon, will eventually translate this record, and, of course, we have this translation today as the book of Ether.
10 And behold, also, they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.
verse 10 "breastplates, which are large" The Jaredites are believed by several investigators in Book of Mormon geography to correlate with the ancient Olmec culture of Mesoamerica who lived some time between 2500 BC and 300 BC (Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 55-67). It is particularly interesting to note that these people were of unusually large boney structure. The 16th century historian Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl referred to them in his writings as "giants."
11 And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no one in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates. Therefore I said unto thee: Canst thou translate?
verse 11 The "hilt" of a sword is its handle.
12 And I say unto thee again: Knowest thou of any one that can translate? For I am desirous that these records should be translated into our language; for, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed, from whence these records came; or, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed; and I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction.
13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
verse 13 Some have felt that Ammon was oddly silent when he was told about the twenty-four plates and other artifacts that had been recovered from the land Desolation. After all, he was a descendant of the people of Zarahemla (Mosiah 7:13), and might be expected to have known of the tradition that existed among his people of finding Coriantumr, the last survivor of the great Jaredite conflict (Omni 1:20-22). He gives no indication of having heard of the Jaredites who occupied the land of Desolation or of the war of extinction or of the wounded Jaredite ruler who lived among his ancestors for nine months. Ammon seemed to be as ignorant of Coriantumr as Limhi was. It could be that Ammon was simply carelessly ignorant of his people's traditions. After all, Coriantumr was discovered some 400 years previously. Or, it could be that Mormon's account of Ammon's response in this instance is deficient. It has also been suggested that the "Mulekites" were a heterogeneous group and that all segments of their population did not share the same traditions (John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 1, number 1, 1992, 16).
"a man that can translate the records" Ammon, of course, is referring to king Mosiah, the son of king Benjamin.
"the things are called interpreters" This is the first mention in the Book of Mormon of this peculiar device intended by the Lord to be used for translating ancient records. For a detailed description of this device, see The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon Plates, in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, appendix A. We understand the "interpreters" to be the "Urim and Thummim," two special stones prepared by God and used by prophets for receiving revelations and for translating scriptural records written in a language unknown to the prophet. God's prophets who are allowed to use the Urim and Thummim have been referred to as "seers." The term "interpreters" is unique to the Book of Mormon. The term "Urim and Thummim" is not found in the Book of Mormon text.
Is there more than one set of interpreters in ancient scripture? There are at least two and possibly three or more. The brother of Jared was the first to receive a set (Ether 3:22-28). He was commanded to seal them up with his record as a means of translating the same (Ether 3:23-24). Joseph Smith, of course, possessed the interpreters, and we are told that his were the same given to the brother of Jared (D&C 17:1). Where did King Mosiah get his? There is no mention of Lehi and his party's bringing these stones with them. Some have suggested that Mosiah obtained his from his father and grandfather, Benjamin and Mosiah. This idea originates with the account of the older Mosiah's translating the Mulekite's large stone "by the gift and power of God" (Omni 1:20-21). Were King Mosiah's interpreters the same as those given to the brother of Jared? It is possible, but it seems unlikely, unless the early Mulekites found them among the artifacts previously belonging to the Jaredites and handed them down to eventually be delivered by the people of Zarahemla to Mosiah.
Abraham received a set (Abraham 3:1). Either Abraham's set was passed along or Moses received another (Exodus 28:30). The fate of this set or these sets is unknown. There are several other mentions of this type of device in the Old Testament. Apparently a Urim and Thummim was kept in the pocket of the breastplate worn by the high priest in Old Testament Israel (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65). This Urim and Thummim was also apparently used for receiving revelation from the Lord (e.g., Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6).
The name "Urim and Thummim" is the transliteration of two Hebrew words which mean "lights" and "perfections," referring to the stones' ability to bring to light hidden things of the past (Alma 37:23). The -im ending on both words apparently represents the Hebrew masculine plural suffix.
Joseph Smith first learned of the stones' existence the night of September 21, 1823 from Moroni, then a resurrected being, who told him that when he should obtain them, he should show them only to those to whom he should be commanded to show them (JS-H 1:42). Joseph first saw the Urim and Thummim the following day (JS-H 1:52), and obtained them and the plates four years later (JS-H 1:59).
"lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish" Ammon suggests that the unauthorized use of the interpreters might lead to the death of the offender. It seems more likely that any unworthy individual who tries to use them would simply find them ineffectual (see 1 Samuel 28:6).
14 And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.
15 And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.
verse 15 Mormon seems to attribute this verse to king Mosiah, the son of Benjamin. Are "prophets" different than "seers"? Apparently the term "seer" was used in the earliest of Old Testament times to designate a prophet. A prophet is essentially one who proclaims the word of God, especially the testimony of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. A seer has the gift to prophesy of future events and to interpret past events and records (see the commentary for the following verse). Most prophets are also seers, but apparently it is possible to be a prophet and not be a seer. We will learn in the next verse, however, that every seer is also a prophet.
16 And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.
verse 16 "a seer is a revelator and a prophet also" A seer is the most inspired of men, having visual revelations of things past, present, and future pertaining to both heaven and earth. These visions are not mere dreams; they may be experienced while in a waking state. Father Lehi, his son Nephi, and the brother of Jared are notable seers in the Book of Mormon. The translation of ancient records is another aspect of seership (see verse 13). A man who possesses the interpreters (Urim and Thummim) is a seer. He is allowed "by the gift and power of God" to look in the interpreters for the purpose of interpreting languages.
"except he should possess the power of God" The term "power of God" here might be interpreted as "all of the power of God."
"yet a man may have great power given him from God" We know that under certain circumstances, God allows man to borrow some of his power. Such a man is said to hold the priesthood.
17 But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.
verse 17 "a seer" What is a seer? He is a priesthood leader who is empowered to see with spiritual eyes things which are not visible with the natural eyes. He can see "things which are past," "things which are to come," "secret things," hidden things," and "things which are not known."
18 Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.
verse 18 "man, through faith, might work mighty miracles" Here is a reminder that miracles are not given by the Lord in order to produce faith in the receiver. Rather, miracles are given to mortals as a reward for their faith. See Miracles in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 20.
19 And now, when Ammon had made an end of speaking these words the king rejoiced exceedingly, and gave thanks to God, saying: Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.
verse 19 "mystery" "mysteries" For a discussion of the two definitions of the concept of the "mysteries of God" see the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:1.
For further discussion of the "interpreters" see the commentary for Mosiah 8:13.
20 O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people; yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them!
verse 20 "for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them" (italics mine) It should be noted that in biblical scripture, the concept of wisdom is often referred to as "she" or "her" (see Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 2:4; Proverbs 3:13; Proverbs 4:5-9). By the way, if you have ever used Proverbs 8:22-31 as a passage of scripture which provides evidence of the pre-existence of man, notice that the first person in this passage is not man, but rather wisdom!:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When [there were] no depths, I was brought forth; when [there were] no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I [was] there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, [as] one brought up [with him]: and I was daily [his] delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights [were] with the sons of men (Proverbs 8:22-31).
21 Yea, they are as a wild flock which fleeth from the shepherd, and scattereth, and are driven, and are devoured by the beasts of the forest.
verse 21 King Limhi comments on a natural tendency of man and its consequences (see The "Natural Self" and "Spiritual Self" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 5).