Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
In many ways, King Benjamin’s speech has stood as The Book of Mormon’s version of an ancient General Conference. And though the kind of large gathering his people experienced on that occasion are almost entirely unheard of in our present circumstances, we can still remain united in our hearts as we follow the prophet, heed the words of the Lord and continue to feast each day on His living word through the scriptures. So, at this time when General Conference, Easter and Passover are still near our hearts, let’s look at three lessons that we can learn from King Benjamin’s speech to his people.
1. Be like Little Children
The Lord’s counsel to “be like a little child” is repeated over and over again in the New Testament. Whether it was after an argument among His disciples about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, or simply as part of a sermon to anyone who had ears to hear, the Savior seemed especially keen to emphasize this point: we cannot be who we truly are unless and until we become like little children.
This advice spreads itself across all of scripture, with one of its most noteworthy verses right in the middle of King Benjamin’s speech to his people. Mosiah 3:19 says,
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”
Now, at a time when many of us have been cooped up with our little ones for a lot longer than we’d ever thought possible, maybe this seems a little confusing. I mean, looking to children as the examples of all righteousness is a bit hard when one of them just finished coloring a masterpiece on the wall of the guestroom and another just poured a bag of marbles down the toilet just to “see what would happen.” But hear me out. This is not a commandment to start bringing a little bag of Cheerios to church for yourself when all this is over. It is, instead, to always remember who we are, that is, children of God.
If we allow ourselves to forget who we are, that is when we start making choices we shouldn’t. Maybe that’s why my mom would always call out, “Remember who you are!” when my brother and I would leave for school each morning or get together with friends in high school. If we talk with our Father each day in prayer—just talk to Him—our paths will straighten, things will fall into place, and not only will we never be alone, we will know we aren’t alone. “Don’t worry about your clumsily expressed feelings,” said Richard G. Scott, “Just talk to your Father.” If we cultivate a relationship with our Father on a daily basis, we will always remember that we are His children, and so it will become easier to follow His commandment to “become as a child,” as King Benjamin said.
2. Don’t Trifle with the Words of the Lord Spoken by His Prophets
As we’ve just finished another General Conference, it’s important to talk about what we do now. Following President Nelson’s invitation to ask ourselves how we hear Him, one of the first things that came to mind was General Conference. It is easiest for me to hear the voice of the Lord when I listen to His servants because, as it says in Doctrine and Covenants 1:38,
“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
When King Benjamin spoke to his people, he knew this same principle to be true. “I have not commanded you to come up hither,” he said as he began his speech, “to trifle with the words which I shall speak.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “trifle” as “to treat with a lack of seriousness or respect; to play or dally with.” This, I assume, was not President Nelson’s hope for us, either. He, I’m sure, would echo the invitation given by King Benjamin in Mosiah 2:9 when he said, “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.”
I know that we will get just as much out of the General Conference talks as we put into them. The Lord, as President Nelson told that adorable group of children last weekend, loves effort. And as we draw near unto Him by studying and honor the words of His living prophets, He will draw near unto us.
3. How to Know Things
In our day and age, efficiency is highly valued and important. This mindset often applies just as much to learning as it does to manufacturing rubber duckies or getting our fast food order on time. Just like when we check off the boxes on our to-do lists, if things don’t get done the first time, we get frustrated. And so, when we study or try to learn anything, when it doesn’t get done the first time—when we don’t have the satisfaction of checking off a box in somewhere in our brains, it’s almost confusing (side-note: no such boxes exist inside out brains, just ask a neuroscientist, or a zombie).
With learning, especially learning the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is simply not this way at all. We must repeat and repeat the words, ideas, concepts and principles we wish to be part of our souls so that they are ever-present before us. King Benjamin understood this perfectly because he was an ancient Israelite. Their practices and customs, just like those of present-day Judaism, are all about repetition as a means of invoking remembrance.
Want to remember how God saved us from slavery in Egypt? Let’s have an elaborate, symbolic dinner literally every year for the rest of time.
Want to remember God throughout the day? Let’s make sure we pray at specific hours three times a day so we don’t forget.
We do these same things. In our ordinances, from the temple to the sacrament table, we repeat and repeat that which we hold most dear so that it will remain constantly present before us. We even do it with our scriptures. We read them every day, every day, every day so that we will always retain them in our remembrance.
In Mosiah 1, King Benjamin explained to his sons why the scriptures were so important. It wasn’t so that there would be a record of past events tucked away in a corner just in case someone ever needed them. No, it was so that they would read them over and over again so that, even for us today, in King Benjamin’s words, “we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes (Mosiah 1:6).”
Alma talks about this same principle in Alma 32. If we come to know something by the power of the Holy Ghost so that we taste the light of its truth, our knowledge is perfect in that thing. However, if we lay it aside and do not continue in our faith, both repeatedly revisiting that which we have already come to know as well as pursuing further light and knowledge, we will, in the words of Nephi, lose even that which we have.
In short, let’s make this last weekend only the first of many re-visitings to the freshest words of the Lord given through His living prophets. As we do so, I know that we will draw closer to Him, He will draw closer to us, and we will be better able to follow the Prophet’s invitation to hear Him.