As always, use the Official Gospel Doctrine Manual in your preparation, these ideas are supplemental.
Samuel is one of the most colorful characters in the Book of Mormon, and few readers can forget the image of this fearless servant of God announcing the dramatic signs of Christ’s birth and death, crying repentance from the walls of Zarahemla. The proud, wicked, and prejudiced Nephites were offended by the presence of a Lamanite reproving them for their sins (Hel 14:10), Historically, that was a Nephite prerogative, but not the roles were reversed. (Largey, Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 697).
3 – “the voice of the Lord came unto him” Did Samuel hear an audible voice, or was it more of a feeling within him? President Boyd K. Packer taught:
Describing the promptings from the Holy Ghost to one who has not had them is very difficult. Such promptings are personal and strictly private! The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear. It is described as a ‘still small voice.’ And while we speak of ‘listening’ to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, ‘I had a feeling. . . .'”Revelation comes as words we feel more than hear. Nephi told his wayward brothers, who were visited by an angel, ‘Ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.’ (1 Ne. 17:45.) “The scriptures are full of such expressions as ‘The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened,’ or ‘I will tell you in your mind and in your heart,’ or ‘I did enlighten thy mind,’ or ‘Speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts.’ There are hundreds of verses which teach of revelation.” (“A Thought from the Scriptures,” LDS Church News, 1998, 07/11/98.)”
Other passages in the Book of Mormon describe the voice in similar terms: “it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center” (3 Nephi 11:3, see Also Helaman 5:30, 46)
6 – “repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” First things first! Samuel no doubt had great doctrinal understanding, but first principles should always be given first priority! Faith in Christ and repentance are grouped together in numerous passages throughout the Book of Mormon (See also Articles of Faith 4).
9 – “four hundred years shall not pass away” Samuel’s prophecy, that the Nephites would not survive beyond four hundred years, was right on. Moroni wandered “for the safety of [his] own life” after the destruction of the Nephites, and finally buried the plates in 421 A.D.
13-14 – “if it were not for the righteous who are in this great city” Sometimes the Lord withholds judgment upon a wicked city because of a relatively small number of righteous people who are living there. Notice footnote 13b, which takes us to Genesis 18:23, and the destruction of the city of Sodom. Abraham asks the Lord not to destroy the righteous with the wicked, and the Lord agrees (after an interesting exchange), not to destroy the city if only ten righteous are found there. Abraham persuades Lot and his family to leave, and shortly thereafter the city is destroyed (read the entire account Genesis 18:23-33). A similar event took place in Ammonihah, where the believers were cast out (Alma 14:7), and their wives and children martyred, leaving only the wicked in the city. With the righteous cast out, Ammonihah was shortly thereafter wiped out in one day (Alma 16:10).
22 – “the things with which he hath blessed you” God gave them the riches to bless them, but rather than remembering God in gratitude, they remember only their riches. President Joseph F. Smith taught: “I believe that one of the greatest sins of which the inhabitants of the earth are guilty today is the sin of ingratitude. —Joseph F. Smith (Gospel Doctrine, 270). Footnote 22a takes us to Luke 12:34, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
26 – “if a prophet come among you…” Sometimes prophets bring messages of hope and peace, other times they bring warnings. As someone once said, “the gospel is here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The Nephites had become comfortable in their prosperity and had forgotten God. Footnote 26c takes us to Isaiah 30:9-10 where Isaiah describes the type of prophets that people really want:
That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
27 – “Do this, and there is no iniquity” These are the type of prophets, teachers, philosophers and opinion leaders the world really want. “There really is no such thing as sin, do whatever you want, and what happens here stays here.” These are the “smooth things and deceits” Isaiah spoke of, and they are the ones that society rewards with gold silver and costly apparel. Korihor had a similar philosophy, and he “had much success” because what he taught was “pleasing unto the carnal mind” (see Alma 30:53). We don’t want prophets who teach hard doctrines, just tell us that we’re great and that all is well.
31 – “he curseth your riches, that they become slippery” When something is slippery, it is hard to hold on to, and we drop it or lose it. How did this “slipperiness” happen? Did a giant storm of WD-40 fall from the clouds? It doesn’t really say. Perhaps there was an increase in theft in the land? Whatever the curse was, it is a reminder to the modern reader that the most precious things are not objects we can hold in our hands, but things we keep in our heads and in our hearts like our character, our intelligence, our testimony and our relationships.
33 – “O that I had repented” These exact phrases were later spoken by the Nephites, just as Samuel had predicted. See 3 Nephi 8:25
38 – “everlastingly too late” Credit cards and consumer loans have a “grace period” in which the debtor is given an extra day or two after the due date to make a payment, but if we wait too long, eventually, time runs out. Similarly, we cannot procrastinate the day of our repentance forever. As Mormon observed, “I saw that the day of grace was passed with them, both temporally and spiritually” (Mormon 2:15).
38 – “ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity” Here Samuel the Lamanite gives us one of those great, concise phrases like “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). How could we possibly expect happiness while living the plan of misery? We will never find light by looking in the dark, and we will never find happiness outside the “plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8).
2 – “five more years cometh” This is a very specific prophecy with a due date – some of those who heard this prediction wrote it down, and marked the day when the five years would be up. See 3 Nephi 1:5-6.
13 – “through his merits” we cannot earn or “merit” our own salvation. We are saved through the merits of Christ. We are all “beggars” as King Benjamin taught, and none of us can say, “you have to save me, I earned it!” Then why are we working so hard? Now that we have come to Christ, we are striving to become like him, because he asked us to! But he is always the Savior, the one who saves. As Lehi told his son Jacob, “I know that thou are redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer” (2 Nephi 2:3).
15-17 “he surely must die that salvation may come” Some did not accept Jesus as the Messiah because he died. They didn’t expect that kind of Messiah. Samuel explained that part of the Messiah’s mission was to die in order to overcome spiritual and physical death, and to ultimately bring us all back into the presence of the Lord. Now, whether he are allowed to remain in his presence after that reunion is another question, but that we will all return to his presence is a result of Jesus’ victory over spiritual and physical death.
30 – “whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself” When caught up in a rebellious spirit, we may do things to spite others, to show our own independence, or to show we are not going to be subject to all these rules. But what Moms often say is true, “You’re not hurting anyone but yourself.” “Ye are free” Samuel says, and indeed we are. But when we choose our actions, we also choose our consequences. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell once quipped, “we must want the consequences of what we want.”
31 – “be restored unto that which is good” It is as if Samuel the Lamanite was listening in when Alma talked to his son Corianton. Remember that Corianton had a misunderstanding of the word “restoration,” believing that no matter what he did, he would be restored to happiness. But the word “restored,” in a spiritual context, means “what goes around come around,” or that good or bad, you will reap, or be “restored” to that which you sow. Alma’s discourse has been called the “law of restoration,” and idea repeated here.
3 – “he hath chastened them because he loved them.” It’s obvious that God doesn’t give up easily. If he didn’t care about us at all, he wouldn’t chasten us, he would just let us reap the consequences of our poor choices. In Hebrews 12:6-7, Paul says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” Worse than being chastened, would be to have an earthly or heavenly parent who would never give us correction or chastening.
4 – “the Lamanites hath he hated” This is strong language, uncomfortable language, and ought to be further explored. My personal opinion is that of course the Lord loved the Lamanites, but it was their actions that he hated. So perhaps it’s a “hate the sin, love the sinner” distinction. When we read the whole sentence from Samuel, we see that they are “hated” because their “deeds have been evil continually.” It was their choices that mattered. The opposite is also true. The Book of Mormon speaks of being “favored of the Lord.” Why is that? Did the Lord just choose one group to favor and another to condemn regardless of their behavior? No, each individual can choose to be favored by his actions! Being favored is our choice to make, not God’s. He loves all his children. “He loveth [or favors] those who will have him to be their God (1 Nephi 17:35). Evidence of the Lord’s love for the Lamanites comes at the end of the verse, “for this intent hath the Lord prolonged their days” (in verse five, he has even more praise for the Lamanites). Remember also, that it was the Nephites who were wiped out as a people, not the Lamanites. Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites are spoken of in glowing terms, who, when converted, “never did fall away” (Alma 23:6, and Helaman 15:10). It also softens the phrase a little bit when we remember that it is Samuel, a Lamanite himself, who is speaking this verse. (One additional thought, we can think of “love” and “favor” as synonymous terms when we read D&C 95:12, “If you keep not my commandments, the love of the father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness.”)
10-12 – “because of their steadfastness” further evidence of God’s love for the Lamanites which should be taken in consideration when pondering the language used in verse 4.
17 – “as the Lord liveth” here again we see that emphatic language “as the Lord liveth” which is an oath, saying, in effect, “if this isn’t true, then God doesn’t live.”
2 – “the Spirit of the Lord was with him… they could not hit him with their stones neither with their arrows” The Spirit of the Lord protected Samuel physically, in this case, and in the same way, the Spirit of the Lord can protect us from the spiritual stones and arrows that may be thrown at us as we strive to defend truth and virtue in a world increasingly hostile toward religion.
6 – “the more part of them did not believe” Were Samuel’s efforts wasted? No, the Lord had offered the Nephites another chance, and a few went to Nephi to be baptized (verse 3). For them, Samuel’s efforts were eternally important.
12 – “but little alteration in the affairs of the people” Modern missionaries may become discouraged when it seems there is “little alteration” among the people they teach. But this is consistent with missionaries throughout time. Peter preached an incredible sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and how did the people respond?
- Some were amazed
- Some were “in doubt” (perplexed in the NIV)
- Some mocked
- Some received his word and were baptized.
Modern missionaries should not be surprised if listeners often divide themselves up into similar categories.
14 – “glad tidings of great joy” This is recognizable Christmas language (Luke 2:10), and, interestingly, Mormon also mentions angels appearing to “wise men” as the signs of Jesus’ birth begin to be fulfilled.
15-16 – “some things they may have guessed right” That’s the only way the unbelievers could explain it, a “lucky guess.” We are reminded of the Word of Wisdom, which would have been harder to defend on purely medical grounds in 1833. As a child, I remember seeing cigarette commercials on TV, and even hearing that cigarettes “aided digestion” as late as the 1960s. Today, the benefits and validity of the Word of Wisdom as a health code is well-founded. How do critics account for that? Lucky guess?
18 – “it is not reasonable” Relying on human reason is always shaky ground.
18 – “why will he not show himself unto us?” Had these people been acquainted with what had already been taught among them, they would know that it had already been prophesied that Jesus would visit them personally.
2 Nephi 26:1 – And after Christ shall have risen from the dead he shall show himself unto you, my children, and my beloved brethren; and the words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do.
Alma 16:20 – And many of the people did inquire concerning the place where the Son of God should come; and they were taught that he would appear unto them after his resurrection; and this the people did hear with great joy and gladness.
21 – “cunning and mysterious arts” Some will say, “show me a sign, let me see it with my own eyes, and then I’ll believe.” So they see it with their own eyes, and then what do they say? “Oh, you are using some cunning and mysterious art of the evil one.” Notice that Laman and Lemuel, who had seen and heard heavenly manifestations used the same language:
“he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us…” (1 Nephi 16:38)