As usual, these ideas are offered only as a supplement and not as a replacement for the official Gospel Doctrine Lesson Manual.
President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
In the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming. A major portion of the book centers on the few decades just prior to Christ’s coming to America. By careful study of that time period, we can determine why some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet. From the Book of Mormon we learn how disciples of Christ live in times of war.” (A Witness and a Warning, pp. 20-21.)
4 – “Pahoran, Paanchi, and Pacumeni” In this verse we are introduced to some strange sounding names – strange to the latter-days that is, but not so strange in ancient Egypt according to scholar Hugh Nibley:
There is in the Book of Mormon, within one important family, a group of names beginning with Pa-. They are peculiar names and can be matched exactly in Egyptian. (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 282).
It is hard to explain bull’s-eyes like Korihor, Pahoran, and Paankhi as pure accidents. Paankhi was a popular Egyptian name in the seventh century B.C., but it was not known until the end of the last [nineteenth] century. (Since Cumorah, 170).
In a study by Gardiner [an Egyptologist], he refers to “Piankhi’s Instructions to His Army.” That is a peculiar name, a pure Egyptian name, and one odd enough that no one could have possibly invented it in the Book of Mormon. Piankhi was a general before the time of Lehi, was very famous, became king of Egypt, and the name became quite popular afterwards …. But of course the name occurs in the Book of Mormon (Helaman 1:3). (Temple and Cosmos, 255).
5 – “appointed by the voice of the people” this language indicates some sort of election process occurred, evidently an aspect of the reign of the judges.
8 – “condemned unto death” This might sound harsh at first, but remember that the Nephites had just been through many years of war, and why? Because ever since the initiation of the judges system, there have been those who have tried to go back to having a king, and king’s lead to bondage.
11- “swearing by their everlasting Maker” It is strange that people would invoke the name of God while planning activities expressly forbidden by God. Strange, but consistent. Notice that Satan persuades Cain to swear “by the living God” as well.
And Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands. And Satan sware unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret. And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness. (Moses 5:29-31).
18 – “because of so much contention and so much difficulty in the government” The reasons for their problems are explained by Mormon.
33 – “depart out of the land in peace” Notice the mercy shown to Lamanite prisoners of war. As is often the case, a Nephite dissenter, Coriantumr (see verse 15), stirs up the Lamanites and uses them as pawns for his own ambitious purposes.
13-14 – “by the end of this book” Mormon desires to impress upon us the destructive power of secret combinations. Elder M. Russell Ballard observed:
The Book of Mormon teaches that secret combinations engaged in crime present a serious challenge, not just to individuals and families but to entire civilizations. Among today’s secret combinations are gangs, drug cartels, and organized crime families. The secret combinations of our day function much like the Gadianton robbers of the Book of Mormon times. They have secret signs and code words. They participate in secret rites and initiation ceremonies. Among their purposes are to “murder, and plunder, and steal, and commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness, contrary to the laws of their country and also the laws of their God.” (“Standing for Truth and Right,” Ensign, November 1997).
8 – “they did multiply and spread” just another reminder of the many migrations of the children of Lehi.
14 – “a hundredth part … cannot be contained in this work” The Book of Mormon contains only a fraction of what happened among the children of Lehi. If we were to take the math literally, instead of being 531 pages long, the Book of Mormon could have been 53,100 pages long. Which gives us reason to ponder on every page, “why did they decide to include this?”
23 – “in the more settled parts of the land” The Gadianton robbers had an easier time hiding in bigger cities rather than tiny settlements or villages. Larger populations often mean an increase in crime.
24 – “great prosperity in the church” Here the word “prosperity” is equated with growth, or with many being baptized, not necessarily material prosperity (although that also occurs at times).
25 – “even the high priests” Someone once remarked that in order to astonish the high priests, you have to wake them up first. Joking aside, this is another reminder of the miraculous nature of the Lord’s church. It is not the high priest’s church, it is the Lord’s church, and he is a God of miracles.
27-28 – “thus we see” We love to find the words “thus we see” because we know that Mormon wants us to see and draw a conclusion from the events being described. Here we are reminded of the Lord’s mercy to all who call on his name, and that the “gate of heaven” is open to all. 2 Nephi 31:17 refers to repentance and baptism as the “gate by which ye should enter.”
29-30 – “lay hold upon the word of God” These are powerful verses which promise blessings to those who “lay hold,” like those in Lehi’s Dream, to the iron rod. The cunning and snares and wiles of the devil are divided asunder for them. “Wiles” is not a word we use very often today, but “wiles” are defined as a “trick or stratagem.” We may remember the “Wily Coyote” of cartoon fame who was always trying to capture the roadrunner. Our protection against Satan’s stratagems is to hold fast to the iron rod. I often ask my students to add a footnote to Alma 31:5.
33 – “not into the church of God” Mormon here distinguishes between the church and the members of the church.
35 – “yielding their hearts unto God” – this is the “I’ll go where you want me to go” attitude, or yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit as King Benjamin said (see Mosiah 3:19). Some might believe that by fully giving our hearts to God we are giving up something, but President Ezra Taft Benson promised:
Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life (see Matthew 10:39). (“Jesus Christ- Gifts and Expectations,” Ensign, December 1988).
Notice also that the Holy Ghost is the sanctifier – see 2 Nephi 31:17, Alma 13:11-12, 3 Nephi 27:20. We have often used the language that at baptism our “sins are washed away,” but scripturally speaking, it is the Holy Ghost who cleanses and sanctifies.
3-4 – “there were dissenters” Once again, it is Nephite dissenters that cause the most problems for the Nephites. It is interesting to remember that many of Joseph Smith’s problems were caused not by non-members, but by apostate members.
11-12 – “this great loss … would not have happened” The promise so often repeated in the text is that if you keep the commandments, you will prosper in the land. When the Nephites stray, their problems return.
12 – “making a mock of that which was sacred” this verse gives us quite a list of problem, which all start with the “pride of their hearts.”
13 – “left in their own strength” As soon as we say “we are strong, we can do this on our own,” the Lord leaves us alone to find out how weak we really are.
15 – “they did repent” Notice that repentance leads to prosperity.
2 – “they who chose evil were more numerous” This is a chilling situation, which was referenced at the beginning of the instituting of the reign of the judges.
And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land (Mosiah 29:27).
And why was the destruction coming? King Mosiah revealed laws which had been given by God, but in the book of Helaman, “they saw that their laws had become corrupted” and they had “trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people” (Helaman 4:21-22). When God’s laws are changed or altered or discarded, brace for impact.
In this regard, it is interesting to note that John Adams said: Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other – John Adams (as cited in Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 621).
4 – “all the remainder of his days” like many senior missionary couples, Nephi decided to dedicate himself to missionary service for the rest of his life.
9 – “only through the atoning blood of Christ” The Book of Mormon teaches throughout that there is no salvation without Christ.
12 – “ye must build your foundation” When we encounter a verse as powerful as this one, it is helpful to review not only what it says, but what it does not say. An interesting discussion to have is to identify the false foundations on which we might be tempted to build our lives. False foundations could include appearance, accomplishments, fame, popularity, monetary success, etc.
Occasionally, these false foundations are revealed for what they really are. Like most Latter-day Saints, I have attended many, many meetings in my life. But the ones that have changed me the most were usually funerals. I will never forget watching one of my older brothers carry his infant son in a very small casket to a grave after a memorial service. It was one of the most sobering, heartbreaking things I have ever witnessed. What foundations mattered at that point? Was my brother thinking, “Well, at least I was popular in high school?” No. Was he comforted by the fact that he had many fine accomplishments? No again. Was he thinking, “I’m glad I have a nice car?” Of course not. Suddenly, all of the things which the world thinks are so important, all of those false foundations meant absolutely nothing. Was there anything that brought any measure of peace to the family? Yes. The Savior and the Plan of Salvation was all that mattered in that moment. Did it take away the pain and hurt? No, not completely. But that’s another part of this verse. The storms will come. It doesn’t say “if” mighty winds come, but “when.” They will come, but we are promised they will have “no power” to “drag us down” because of Jesus Christ and his victory over death and sin.
18 – “they … had what they should speak given unto them” This same promise is made to missionaries in our day in D&C 84:85; D&C 100:5-6
29-30 – “still voice of perfect mildness” This is a beautiful description of the whispering of the spirit, very similar to the description given just before Christ’s appearance in 3 Nephi 11:3.
41 – “Alma and Amulek and Zeezrom” Isn’t this wonderful? All three of these men had an interesting past: Alma was a rebellious youth, Amulek was living far beneath his spiritual privileges, and Zeezrom was a cunning lawyer trying to trap Alma and Amulek before his questions became sincere. But we are not defined by our past, and neither were they.