Many years ago I took my family to Lake Powell. In many areas of the lake, there are rocks hidden just beneath the surface of the water. If you are traveling in a boat at a high rate of speed and hit one of these rock formations, you could find yourself in deep trouble.
The problems the Nephites face in the book of Helaman are akin to rocks hiding just beneath the surface of the water. In the beginning of the book, the Nephites are dealing with three main problems:
1. Secret Combinations – Helaman 2:13
2. The love of money and riches – Helaman 3:36
3. The degradation of the laws of the people – Helaman 4:22
Helaman 13 details how the hearts of the people were centered in their love of money and chasing of material wealth. From the text we read:
And the day shall come that they shall hide up their treasures, because they have set their hearts upon riches; and because they have set their hearts upon their riches, and will hide up their treasures when they shall flee before their enemies; because they will not hide them up unto me, cursed be they and also their treasures; and in that day shall they be smitten, saith the Lord. Behold ye, the people of this great city, and hearken unto my words; yea, hearken unto the words which the Lord saith; for behold, he saith that ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them, and have not hearkened unto the words of him who gave them unto you. Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord your God for them; yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities (Helaman 13:20-22).
At issue in these verses is what we choose to “set our hearts” upon. The Book of Mormon will not illustrate the problem without also pointing us towards a solution. In these verses we see that the antidote to this heart problem lies in our need to “remember the Lord”. A few verses later we read:
And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them (Helaman 13:31).
This idea of holding, retaining, and having our hearts set on riches is a theme that is visited another way in Helaman 3. Here Mormon inserts his observations regarding the people:
Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the aword of God, which is bquick and powerful, which shall cdivide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and dnarrow course across that everlasting egulfof misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked— And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the aright hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out (Helaman 3:29-30).
Here Mormon tells us that instead of trying to “lay hold” upon our riches, we must “lay hold” upon the word of God. This brings our minds to the imagery of the rod of iron in 1 Nephi 8 & 11. Another comparison Mormon puts forth is of a sword, where he states that the word of God is “quick and powerful”. Finally, we have the compass image, where we read that the word of God will “lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course”. This image is something we have a difficult time grasping.
We see this illustrated throughout the Book of Mormon, but in these few chapters the best illustration is the conflict the Nephites are having with the Lamanites. In chapter 4 of Helaman we read that the Lamanites have taken half of the cities of the Nephites, and that no matter how hard they try, they cannot reclaim the cities that they have lost. Mormon writes:
Therefore they did abandon their design to obtain the remainder of their lands, for so numerous were the Lamanites that it became impossible for the Nephites to obtain more power over them; therefore Moronihah did employ all his armies in maintaining those parts which he had taken. And it came to pass, because of the greatness of the number of the Lamanites the Nephites were in great fear, lest they should be overpowered, and trodden down, and slain, and destroyed (Helaman 4:19-20).
The natural inclination in this situation is to increase in some military aspect. “We need more armies, more men!” some might cry. The answer to their situation lie in “laying hold” to the word of God. Instead of coming up with some new way to kill the Lamanites, Nephi and Lehi endeavored to preach the word of God to the occupying armies of the Lamanite nation. From the text we read:
And they did remember his (Helaman’s) words; and therefore they went forth, keeping the commandments of God, to teach the word of God among all the people of Nephi, beginning at the city Bountiful; And from thenceforth to the city of Gid; and from the city of Gid to the city of Mulek; And even from one city to another, until they had gone forth among all the people of Nephi who were in the land southward; and from thence into the land of Zarahemla, among the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did preach with great power, insomuch that they did confound many of those dissenters who had gone over from the Nephites, insomuch that they came forth and did confess their sins and were baptized unto repentance, and immediately returned to the Nephites to endeavor to repair unto them the wrongs which they had done. And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did preach unto the Lamanites with such great power and authority, for they had power and authority given unto them that they might speak, and they also had what they should speak given unto them— Therefore they did speak unto the great astonishment of the Lamanites, to the convincing them, insomuch that there were eight thousand of the Lamanites who were in the land of Zarahemla and round about baptized unto repentance, and were convinced of the wickedness of the traditions of their fathers (Helaman 5:14-19).
These 8,000 Lamanites were most likely occupying military forces. Think of it! These two missionaries were able to bring about such miraculous change that the Lamanites that occupied the very center of their lands were brought to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and were friendly with the Nephites. But Nephi and Lehi do not stop here – they press forward toward the land of Nephi where the main group of Lamanites reside:
And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did proceed from thence to go to the land of Nephi. And it came to pass that they were taken by an army of the Lamanites and cast into prison; yea, even in that same prison in which Ammon and his brethren were cast by the servants of Limhi. And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, they went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them (Helaman 5:20-22).
This story illustrates the power in trusting in the strength of the Lord. Instead of trusting in their own strength by fighting the Lamanites, these two priesthood holders brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to this nation – a nation that was bent on their destruction. While Nephi and Lehi were cast into prison, we know from reading the rest of the chapter that they were miraculously delivered (another constant theme in the Book of Mormon) and that through this miracle many more Lamanites were converted. Chapter 5 ends with the following observation:
And as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers. And it came to pass that they did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possession (Helaman 5:51-52).
What could have been a tremendous loss of life through a vicious and long fought war ends peacefully. Both sides see the error of their ways, the Nephites are restored to their lands, and the Lamanites give up their hatred of the Nephites. Both sides experience a great peace in the land (Helaman 6:5-7).
An analogy used in class using this experience has to do with a time when we have tried through our own means and strength to accomplish something and have not had success. One brother shared how he tried to find employment and did everything in his power – except to ask the Lord for help. It was a profound moment in class as we all realized the importance of doing things the Lord’s way to accomplish the work He has set for us to do.
I am amazed at the bravery of Nephi and Lehi in this chapter. It would be so frightening to venture forth into enemy territory to preach the gospel. Yet, this is another illustration of how much Heavenly Father loves His children. Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.
Sometimes we may worry that we will be rejected. Nephi and Lehi went forth in faith, and the wonderful miracle in Helaman 5, the outpouring of the Holy Ghost among the Lamanites changed everything in the lives of those involved.
I really like the following illustration from the life of President Packer and shared this with the class today:
Don’t be worried whether they accept you – worry that they don’t misunderstand you
Some years ago I was invited to speak to a group at Harvard University. At that time a member of the Church was campaigning for national office and this created much interest.
Both faculty members and students were to be present. I, of course, hoped that the gospel message would be accepted and that the meeting would end in harmony of views.
As I prayed that this might result, there came to me the strong impression that this prayer would not be answered.
I determined that however preposterous talk of angels and golden plates and restoration might be to them, I would teach the truth with quiet confidence, for I have a testimony of the truth. If some must come from the meeting unsettled and disturbed, it would not be me. Let them be disturbed, if they would.
It was as the Spirit foretold. Some shook their heads in amazement, even cynical amusement, that anyone could believe such things.
But I was at peace. I had taught the truth, and they could accept it or reject it as they pleased.
There is always the hope, and often it is true, that one among them with an open mind may admit one simple thought: “Could it possibly be true?” Combine that thought with sincere prayer, and one more soul enters a private sacred grove to find the answer to “Which of all the churches is true, and which should I join?”
As I grow in age and experience, I grow ever less concerned over whether others agree with us. I grow ever more concerned that they understand us. If they do understand, they have their agency and can accept or reject the gospel as they please.
It is not an easy thing for us to defend the position that bothers so many others.
Brethren and sisters, never be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Never apologize for the sacred doctrines of the gospel.
Never feel inadequate and unsettled because you cannot explain them to the satisfaction of all who might inquire of you.
Do not be ill at ease or uncomfortable because you can give little more than your conviction.
Be assured that, if you will explain what you know and testify of what you feel, you may plant a seed that will one day grow and blossom into a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 1
1. President Boyd K. Packer, The Only True Church, Conference Report, October 1985.