Cover image: Minerva K. Teichert (1888-1976), Ammon before King Limhi, 1949-1951, oil on masonite, 35 15/16 x 48 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1969.

In today’s chapters we are introduced to King Noah’s son and successor to the throne, King Limhi.  To me, King Limhi is an intriguing fellow.  What do we know about him and his reign?

1) He became king when his father abandoned his people (Mosiah 19:26)
2) He appears to be a righteous man
3) He doesn’t appear to be an initiator (Mosiah 21:5-6)

He appears to be everything that his father Noah was not!  Even though Limhi was a king during a significant era in the history of his people, we really don’t see him doing anything great.  Even when it comes to the rescue of his people, most of the planning and executing of it is done by Gideon and Ammon. I think it is intriguing that he grew up to be a righteous man in an environment that did everything to foster the opposite effect.  That’s not an easy thing to do. 

In the annals of scripture, we see very few people who are able to do that. We need to remember that in the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5, Zenos tells us that the master transplanted branches in the “nethermost parts of the vineyard” — one in a “choice piece of land,” and one in a “poor piece of land.”  Which of the two was the one that brought forth the most good fruit?  The one planted in the poor piece of land.  So what was the moral of that part of the allegory?  It’s not our environment which makes the difference, but our response to the master’s touch.  I suggest to you that, with Limhi, we are seeing a real-life example of that part of the allegory.  Perhaps it would be helpful if we asked ourselves how he was able to do it.

First, let us consider a person who also lived in a similar environment to that of Limhi.  The patriarch Abraham also had a wicked father and lived in a wicked environment in the land of Ur of the Chaldees.  Let’s read how he describes his environment.  Abr. 1:1states, “In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence.” This verse might well be the greatest example of understatement in the entire scriptural canon. Why did Abraham believe he  had to leave?

Abraham 1:5-7:

My fathers having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to my voice; For their hearts were set to do evil, and were wholly turned to the god of Elkenah, and the god of Libnah, and the god of Mahmackrah, and the god of Korash, and the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; Therefore they turned their hearts to the sacrifice of the heathen in offering up their children unto these dumb idols, and hearkened not unto my voice, but endeavored to take away my life by the hand of the priest of Elkenah. (emphasis added)

Although we don’t read it specifically here, other traditional sources indicate that Abraham’s own father Terah was a part of the group who wanted to sacrifice Abraham. His father was trying to have him killed!  That seems like a pretty good reason to me to get out of town. 

In this type of environment, it would be hard to blame Abraham for going along with the crowd, but notice his comment in Abraham 1:4 “I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.”

What do you think this verse means?  How did he even know that such a priesthood existed outside of the Egyptian priests?  Do you think that his father taught him about it?  Note what he says in Abraham 1:31. 

But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me. (emphasis added)

What enabled Abraham to be a righteous man in the midst of iniquity?  He had the scriptures which he studied and kept.  Note that is the exact opposite of Abinadi’s accusation against Noah and his priests (Mosiah 12:27). They had the scriptures, but did not treasure them.

I love this quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on scripture study:

I do not treasure God’s promise in my understanding but in my heart.  It is not to be analyzed by my intellect, but to be pondered in my heart. . . . If I have God’s Word only in my mind, then my mind will often be busy with other things and I will sin against God.  Therefore, it is never sufficient simply to have read Gods word.  It must penetrate deep within us….It is often better to read a little in the Scriptures and slowly, waiting until it has penetrated within us, than to know a great deal of God’s Word but not to treasure it in our hearts. 

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating On the Word)

I would suggest to you that Limhi’s righteousness was founded in a similar source as Limhi, but in order to come to that conclusion, we have to do some digging.  There is nowhere in our chapters that explicitly says that Limhi poured over the scriptures for an hour every day.  There are at least two very real indications that Limhi was interested in the scriptures and that he spent a great deal of time thinking about them.  Let’s start with the most obvious and work our way down.

First of all, Limhi was very anxious to know what the 24 plates of gold contained.   

(Mosiah 8:5-12; 21:25-28)Notice that this isn’t just some casual interest that Limhi is expressing.  He is fascinated by the idea of having some additional scripture.  He wants to find a translator even before he seeks to rescue his people from bondage or to get them out of paying their 50% taxes to the Lamanites!  It’s not exactly clear what records that these Nephites had access to.  Probably they had a copy of the brass plates and the Nephite history down to the beginning of King Benjamin’s reign, but notice how anxious Limhi is to have Ammon relate to the people the events that had happened since his people left Zarahemla.  So excited was he about all of this that he gathered his people together to the temple to preach to them and to have Ammon preach to them. 

Secondly, in each of Limhi’s three recorded speeches, he shows that he is well versed in the scriptures and quotes from them often.  (Although we don’t find Limhi “doing” a whole lot, we do find him giving speeches.)  Our chapters record four major speeches:

1) At the trial of Ammon and his brethren;

2) an official address given at a covenant renewal ceremony (Mosiah 7:17-33); 

3) the discussion with Ammon about the records (Mosiah 8:5-21); and

4) the interrogation of king of the Lamanites (Mosiah 20:13-22). 

As we look at these speeches, something very interesting emerges.  In all of these speeches, Limhi relies heavily on the scriptures and official documents of the land.  Now, we don’t have times to go over all of them, but I’d like us to look at a sample, so that we can get the idea for ourselves.

Mosiah 7:18-20

O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted; for behold, the time is at hand, or is not far distant, when we shall no longer be in subjection to our enemies, notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made.

Therefore, lift up your heads, and rejoice, and put your trust in God, in that God who was the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; and also, that God who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, and caused that they should walk through the Red Sea on dry ground, and fed them with manna that they might not perish in the wilderness; and many more things did he do for them.

And again, that same God has brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, and has kept and preserved his people even until now; and behold, it is because of our iniquities and abominations that he has brought us into bondage. (emphasis added)

Where have we heard a similar speech before?  1 Nephi 17:23-29 Nephi made a similar speech when he was trying to get his brothers to help build the boat.  He reminded them about how God parted the Red Sea and fed them with manna. Also note the correspondence that the end of verse 20 has with Mosiah 12:2  Again, he is referring to Abinadi’s call to repentance – “this generation, because of their iniquities, shall be brought into bondage.”

Mosiah 7:21-22  “And ye all are witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being over-zealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about—And all this he did, for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage.” (emphasis added)

Where else do we this word “over-zealous”?  Zeniff himself uses the word in his own record (Mosiah 9:3).  That’s probably also where he got the phrase “deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman.”  Compare to this to Mosiah 10:18  which says, “For this very cause has king Laman, by his cunning, and lying craftiness, and his fair promises, deceived me, that I have brought this my people up into this land, that they may destroy them; yea, and we have suffered these many years in the land.”

Let’s skip ahead to the end of that speech.

Mosiah 7:29-31  “For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them. And again, he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the chaff thereof in the whirlwind; and the effect thereof is poison.  And again he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the east wind, which bringeth immediate destruction.”

Now, we don’t have these scriptures recorded anywhere else in our present canon, but Limhi appears to have had them in his record.

Similarly, in Limhi’s third major speech at the end of his discussion with Ammon he refers to scriptural citations yet again. 

Mosiah 8:19 compare toJacob 4:8;

Mosiah 8:20 compare toProv. 8:11-17

Mosiah 8:21 compare toMosiah 17:17 

What do you think that all of this tells about Limhi?  He knew his scriptures!  But how did he come to know them?  I seriously doubt that his father taught them to him. Perhaps he thought of his father as a good “bad example.”  He probably started reading them on his own initiative.  They became very important to him, and he “hungered and thirsted” after any type of scripture that he could get his hands on.  Not only did he read them, but apparently he spent time memorizing them as well.  Could this have been a factor in Limhi’s righteousness despite his familial and social environment?

Is it then any wonder that the Brethren keep imploring us to read the scriptures?  Pres. Kimball cautioned us that sometimes,

We overestimate our scriptural knowledge. I ask us all to honestly evaluate our performance in scripture study. It is a common thing to have a few passages of scripture at our disposal, floating in our minds, as it were, and thus to have the illusion that we know a great deal about the gospel. In this sense, having a little knowledge can be a problem indeed. I am convinced that each of us, at some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves —  and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again.  (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 174)     

At another time he revealed to us the following,

I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more, I find it easier to abide their counsel. (Ibid.)

President Russell M. Nelson promised: 

My dear brothers and sisters, I promise that as you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions—every day. I promise that as you ponder what you study, the windows of heaven will open, and you will receive answers to your own questions and direction for your own life. I promise that as you daily immerse yourself in the Book of Mormon, you can be immunized against the evils of the day, even the gripping plague of pornography and other mind-numbing addictions.

(“The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like without It?” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2017, 62–63).

So far this year we’ve seen the scriptures play a pivotal role in the lives of Nephi, Jacob, Enos, and now Limhi.  There’s a message for us.  The question is, will we heed it? Ponder President Nelson’s theme from Conference: “Hear Him, hearken, and heed!” 

Analyzing the Literary Style of Mosiah 7-10

Mormon sees himself as a historian with a responsibility of telling the story of his civilization comprehensively and accurately. As he goes about his work as editor, he find himself navigating between  the competing roles of historian, literary artist, and moral guide.  As he strives to balance all three of these roles, his voice can be heard in three types of passages. (I gained these insights about Mormon’s role as editor in Grant Hardy’s book. Understanding the Book of Mormon, published by Oxford University Press in 2010.)

The first is through short, editorial interruptions scattered throughout the large plates, beginning with Mosiah. Mosiah 8:1 – “for he [King Limhi] spake many things unto them and only a few of them have I written in this book.” Hardy notes that “there are more than three hundred such interruptions, distributed evenly throughout Mormon’s history.” (Hardy, 97)

The second place where we can recognize Mormon’s voice is in his sections of extended comments. Many of these begin with “and thus we see…”  (See Helaman 12:2-3) In these longer passages, Mormon reveals his intentions and circumstances to his readers.to his readers. 

The third place we see Mormon speaking is in the material added by his son Moroni – such as the sermon on faith, hope, and charity and the letter on the folly of infant baptism. In such narratives, we see that “Mormon speaks much differently to his contemporaries and his son than he does to us.” (Hardy, 100)

Given the chronological framework of the Book of Mormon, it is always fascinating when Mormon presents things out of sequence, as in these early chapters of Mosiah. Mormon employs many interesting techniques when he is trying to write about multiple characters where the action takes place at the same time, but in different locations. He handles this problem by the use of flashbacks. We often see this technique used in movies, which sometimes confuses us, unless the producer kindly chooses to portray the flashbacks in black and white. 

In the first flashback, a search party locates a long-lost Nephite colony in Lamanite territory (Mosiah 7-8). The eight-year history of that settlement is told in a lengthy flashback that extends from Mosiah 9:1 to 21:27, and ends with a repeat account of the arrival of the search party – this time told from the perspective of the colonists.  At this point, Mormon returns to the same exact conversation that had been interrupted thirteen chapters earlier!  I am amazed that he is able to keep track of all these loose threads. To me, this another testimony of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as a true ancient record.

After this narrative, Mormon again uses his skill as an editor to track two other simultaneous narratives – the escape of Limhi’s people from bondage (Mosiah 22) and the escape of Alma’s people (Mosiah 23-24), with the Lamanite army jumping from the first narrative to the second at Mosiah 22:26/23:30.  Finally both groups are reunited with the main body in Mosiah 25. From here, the narrative focus shifts back to Zarahemla, from which the search party left many years before.

Such flashbacks and multiple accounts are complex editorial maneuvers. In my opinion, such deft writing skill defies my wildest imagination. Mormon must have had all his records spread out before him, and must have been cross checking the chronology constantly.  I don’t see how anyone could have made up such a complex story. Let alone dictated it without looking at any notes.

So, in Alma 8-16 and 17-25, we find two separate accounts that both culminate in the destruction of Ammonihah, but the explanations given in each version are different. One is spiritual (due to the justice of God) and one is political (due to the Lamanites attacks on the Anti-Nephi-Lehi people after their conversions.) But we will leave that for another week.

Grant Hardy comments:

The Book of Mormon, with its multiple records, plates, writers, and editors, is anything but a naïve straightforward narrative.  This makes it something of a puzzle. If Joseph Smith had intended to author a religious morality tale, either to gain converts or to make money, he could have written something much simpler. Latter-day Saints regard the integrated complexity of the text (especially in light of its oral dictation) as evidence of both its divine transmission and the contingencies of its origins as an actual historical record. (Hardy, 121)

Just as Nephi did when he inserted lengthy chapters of Isaiah, Mormon also uses embedded documents. Grant Hardy compares this skill to that of the author Robert Louis Stevenson in his book Treasure Island. Fifty pages into the story, the narrator tell us how he found writing materials in the shipwreck and started to make a record: “I began to keep my journal, of which I shall here give you the Copy (tho’ it will be told all these Particulars over again) as long as it lasted, for having no more ink I was forced to leave it off.” He then reproduces several months of short journal entries, though he gradually begins to add reflective comments. He signals these by the phrase, “But I return to my journal…” He eventually drops the mechanism of quoting from his diary entirely, presumably because, as we readers were warned, he ran out of ink.

This is an amazing literary device, and a similar narrative style can be found in Mosiah 9-10, when Mormon inserts the first-person memoirs of Zeniff. Here, the shift in chronological prospective is measured in centuries rather than decades. In the previous chapter, Limhi, the king of the Nephite colony, had brought out the records of his people so that Ammon could read them. (Keep in mind that this  Ammon is the leader of a rescue party from Zarahemla, not the missionary Ammon of the many severed arms a generation later.) Then, quite suddenly, we are reading those very records. In the middle of the conversation between Ammon and Limhi, we encounter a brief heading: “The Record of Zeniff – An account of his people from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until the time that they were delivered out of the hands of the Lamanites” (Mosiah 9: headnote).

The subject this particular setting comprises thirteen and a half chapters, from Mosiah 9:1-21:27, where the conversation between the two men, Limhi and Ammon, is resumed.  Within this narrative, however, chapters 9 and 10 stand as a distinct unit.  Without much of a heads up, we hear the voice of Zeniff, writing almost five hundred years before Mormon’s time, “I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites…” At the end of Zeniff’s words, we return to a third-person narrative as Zeniff’s kingship ends, and we are told that “Zeniff conferred the kingdom upon Noah, one of his sons.”

Mormon, of course, knows how Zeniff’s attempt to establish a Nephite colony in Lamanite territory will end up – that is, not happily, necessitating Ammon’s rescue mission to free the enslaved people.  But the fact that Zeniff remains ignorant of the outcome allows readers to vicariously experience the hopes and gradual realizations of that original generation firsthand.

Up to this point we have seen Nephi as a hero with a white hat, and Laman and Lemuel as villains.  True, we have seen that sometimes Lehi murmurs (1 Nephi 16:20) or Nephi has self-recriminating thoughts on occasion, but by and large it is easy to distinguish the heroes from the villains. Even those who are transformed by a change of heart, are propelled from complete wickedness to complete righteousness.

Zeniff, however, is hard to categorize. Though he seems like a decent person, somehow, despite his good intentions, everything he tries to do seems to turn out a disaster.  In his record, he shares his reflections and writes candidly about his mistakes and weaknesses. I find this intriguing. We will discuss his personality momentarily.

Mosiah 9:1-2  Initial Attempts to Regain the Land of Nephi

We first see Zeniff as a spy, although a rather ineffective one because his attempts at reconnaissance are undermined by his compassion.

I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers’ first inheritance, and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them—but when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed (Mosiah 9:1).

Unlike earlier record keepers who could see nothing of value in Lamanite culture, Zeniff has a remarkable ability to see the good in others. As a man of peace, he seeks to make a treaty with the Lamanites rather than destroy them. He wants to regain the land of his first inheritance though negotiation rather than through conquest.

Although this seems to be an ethically superior approach, most of Zeniff’s companions retained traditional attitudes of hostility and suspicion toward the Lamanites, and would have none of his reasoning. However, Zeniff was a persuasive speaker, and won over so many of the men that the leader feared that his mission, and more importantly, his authority, was being compromised.  Accordingly, he ordered Zeniff’s execution.  What happened next is recorded in two different places in the Book of Mormon. The first is in Omni 1:27-28:

And now I would speak somewhat concerning a certain number who went up into the wilderness to return to the land of Nephi; for there was a large number who were desirous to possess the land of their inheritance. Wherefore, they went up into the wilderness. And their leader being a strong and mighty man, and a stiffnecked man, wherefore he caused a contention among them; and they were all slain, save fifty, in the wilderness, and they returned again to the land of Zarahemla.

Zeniff also places the blame on his leader, but also acknowledges his own role in the debacle:

Therefore, I contended with my brethren in the wilderness, for I would that our ruler should make a treaty with them; but he being an austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain; but I was rescued by the shedding of much blood; for father fought against father, and brother against brother, until the greater number of our army was destroyed in the wilderness; and we returned, those of us that were spared, to the land of Zarahemla, to relate that tale to their wives and their children (Mosiah 9:2)

Zeniff argued from a morally correct position, and he won many supporters. In addition to family members, many others came to his rescue. He specifically states that these issues superseded family loyalties, and that “brother fought against brother.” It is difficult to miss the irony of this situation here, for in attempting to show kindness to his enemies, Zeniff has taken actions that directly resulted in the slaughter of his allies and relatives!

Both of these accounts openly place blame on the obstinate leader of the party, but Zeniff is patently touched by the loss of these souls. We might expect him to return gratefully to his own wife and children and relate the tale of his narrow escape from disaster, but notice the words he uses in this verse. He does not say, “We related this tale to our wives and our children.” Rather, he states that it is his sad responsibility to relay the news of this catastrophe to the wives and children of those who have been slain, who they themselves have killed.  Here again, Zeniff shows his sense of compassion for his enemies. We are only able to make this deduction, however, because Mormon has left this document intact, preserving its detail and nuance. If he had paraphrased it, the power these words communicate would have been lost. As it is, we can read between the lines to see for ourselves the compassion and humility of Zeniff’s soul.

Mosiah 9:3-9   The Second Attempt to Regain the Land of Nephi

Can you imagine how difficult it would have been for Zeniff to organize a second expedition to the land of Nephi? He would have had to promise that this time things would be different because they would have peaceful motives from the start. He would have to sell himself as a different kind of leader. It makes us wonder exactly why he wanted this particular territory so badly.  He himself admits that he was “over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers” (Mosiah (9:3), and this exact phrase is used by his grandson King Limhi (Mosiah 7:21).  Whatever his motivations might have been, we get the idea that Zeniff wanted to relive sacred history on the very place where it had first occurred four hundred years earlier. We are led to believe that this second group would include women and children, similar to Lehi’s group, because they planned on establishing a settlement.

Note how Zeniff combines his own deep feelings with scriptural themes in Mosiah 9:4:

After many days’ wandering [just like Lehi] in the wilderness we pitched our tents in the place where our brethren were slain [why revisit that terrible site? For a moment of reflection? A memorial service?], which was near to the land of our fathers [this proximity makes the failure of the last attempt more poignant; they almost made it]. (Insights in brackets are from Grant Hardy, 127)

This time, Zeniff and his people have “smooth sailing,” as it were.  Instead of confronting the Lamanites with arms, they approach the Lamanites in peace, and successfully negotiate a treaty with them.  Interestingly enough, Zeniff does not comment on, what seems to the reader, the Lamanite king’s rather callous expulsion of his own people from their lands. The colonists are able to “possess the land in peace” (Mosiah 9:3), and they immediately start to till the land and rebuild the very cities where Nephi and Jacob had once lived. On the surface, at least initially, it seems as if Zeniff’s peaceful tactics have been successful.  Unfortunately, from here on out, “we have a slow-motion portrayal of disaster in the making, as we see Zeniff’s people become enslaved to the very Lamanites who now appear so accommodating and reasonable” (Hardy, 127).

Mosiah 9:10 – 10:5   The First War with the Lamanites

As Zeniff is writing his personal history towards the end of his life, he realizes that he had been overly optimistic, even naïve.  He sees then what he could not see at the time it was happening, that “it was the cunning and craftiness of King Laman to bring my people into bondage, that he yielded up the land that we might possess it” (Mosiah 9:16). This realization only comes to Zeniff in his mature years as a leader, probably because he always looked for good motives in others, because those were the qualities of his own heart.

Grant Hardy observes, “the king of the Lamanites had made an investment, banking on the industriousness of the colonists and the simmering resentment of his own displaced people, and from the beginning he planned to reconquer the Land of Nephi just as soon as Zeniff’s people have made it productive.” (see verses 10-12) 

When the Lamanite people attack thirteen years later, Zeniff responds admirably, showing himself to be a resourceful leader who seeks to protect his people. He arms them with “all manner of weapons which we could invent” (Mosiah 9:16), and then leads them into battle himself. Mosiah 9:17 records:

Yea, in the strength of the Lord did we go forth to battle against the Lamanites; for I and my people did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, for we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers.

Again, Zeniff is recreating sacred history, and draws scriptural parallels to the deliverance of his ancestors who were also delivered when the Lord “did hear [their] cries and did answer [their] prayers” (Mosiah 9:18; 2 Nephi 4:23-24; Jacob 7:22).  This battle is successful – the Lamanites are completely driven out of their lands. But Zeniff, ever compassionate, takes the time to number the Lamanite casualties, 3,043 – an exact figure, not an estimate. He takes the time to bury their dead, and not just his own.  To me, this is evidence that he regards each of these fallen men as individuals, in whom he has seen much good.  We are not surprised to see no signs of exultation at this victory. He feels a sense of loss here.

As a young man, Zeniff was full of naïve enthusiasm, ready to attempt to try to relive his life on the sacred ground hallowed by his ancestors. And yet, as he comes to know the ways of the world, he comes to the realization that reasonableness, moral principles, and hard work are not all he needs to achieve his objectives.  He has counted on the integrity and honor of others, because to him, that is “normal.”  In this he is deeply disappointed.

As he observes the Lamanite way of life, he notes that the people are “lazy,” “idolatrous,” and eager to “glut themselves with the labors of our hands.”  He has desired peace from those he saw as “good.”  Deeply disappointed, we see a man of peace reluctantly become a man of war. Yet he seems to have retained his compassion and his faith in God, as well as his reverence for his heritage.

With this new sadder, yet wiser perspective, Mosiah 10:1 begins with Zeniff’s edict: “And I caused that there should be weapons of war made of every kind.” Although he reports that there was “continual peace” (verse 5) for the next nine years, he knows that eventually the Lamanites will attack again. Like Captain Moroni, he wants to be prepared. [May I insert an aside here? As a student of Hebrew, I can’t help but notice the many “and he caused. . .” in these verses of the Book of Mormon. Even if I did not already have a strong testimony of this book as an ancient, sacred record, the very use of these repeated Hebrew examples of the Hiphil causative grammatical stem, would cry out to me as evidence of its truthfulness. You just can’t make this stuff up!]

Mosiah 10:6-22    Second War with the Lamanites

The Lamanites experience a change of leadership, and King Laman’s son, undoubtedly impatient with his father’s defeat and withdrawal, immediately seeks to renew the fighting as he comes to the throne.  Zeniff’s people are prepared this time, as they have sent out spies.  In his reminiscences, Zeniff recounts that that the Lamanites attack from the opposite side this time, and he describes their weapons and their fearsome appearance. He gathers men to battle, and attempts to hide the women and children in the wilderness. Then he records this, which provides the title of our lesson:

And it came to pass that we did go up to battle against the Lamanites; and I, even I, in my old age, did go up to battle against the Lamanites. And it came to pass that we did go up in the strength of the Lord to battle. (v. 10)

Elder David A. Bednar gave an inspiring discourse on this very subject, In the Strength of the Lord. Even in his old age, Zeniff boldly leads his people into battle. We, as readers, are eagerly expecting an account of the battle at this point, but he does not continue his account until ten verses later.  This is what literary scholars label as the technique of “suspension.” This is where an author will build to a climax, but while he has the audience’s complete attention, he backs off and makes them wait a bit. This allows the author to slip in information of great importance while he has his audience on the edge of their seats, as it were.  This is exactly the intention of Zeniff, because he presents here the explanation of the war from the Lamanites’ perspective.  Where some generals seek to dehumanize the enemy in order to enable his troops his troops to take the lives of men more easily, Zeniff tries to make us understand the why of their resentments and hostility.

He explains that they are acting in such a manner because they have been deceived by the “traditions of their fathers.” He offers the Lamanite version of history:

Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea; and again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea… (vv. 12-13)

In reality, much of what the Lamanites say makes sense from their perspective. Nephi did assume the leadership position of his elder brothers, he did take the Brass Plates, which were family property, when he took leave of his family. Perhaps King Laman did see his scheme to enslave Zeniff’s people as a just recompense for hundreds of years of injustice at the hands of the Nephites.

Zeniff takes pains to point out that this alternative view of history was faulty, because “Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord,” while Laman and Lemuel “hardened their hearts against the Lord.” (v. 14)  Yet it is amazing that Zeniff both knows and takes the Lamanites’ point of view seriously enough to offer a reply – in “prime time” as Grant Hardy calls it. (p. 130)

He also notes that there is no comparable passage in the entire Book of Mormon!

Zeniff may have chosen to communicate his sympathies for his disadvantaged opponents, but instead, he shows us through the literary organization of his narrative — when we are all primed to receive news of victory. He does this because of his compassion for all men. Obviously, Mormon must have had similar feelings, for he “takes advantage of this well-crafted rendition by quoting it directly, as an embedded document.” (Ibid.)

In Mosiah 10:19, we learn that this digression was part of Zeniff’s exhortation to his men before they went into battle. Again, rather than seeking to demonize the enemy, he asks them to remember that the Lamanites are basically “good” people who have been defrauded by their leaders. Zeniff shows here that he still believes that reason and compassion are appropriate responses to evil, although he acknowledges that his gullibility has caused the situation in which they find themselves. “For this very cause has king Laman, by his cunning, and lying craftiness, and his fair promises, deceived me, that I have brought this my people up into this land, that they may destroy them” (v.18).

Finally, after this thought-provoking detour, the news of victory in the battle is a little anticlimactic, being reported in only one verse: “And it came to pass that we did drive them again out of our land; and we slew them with a great slaughter, even so many that we did not number them” (v. 20). The fact that the dead are not counted is a sign of Zeniff’s “weariness and dwindling idealism.” (Ibid.) Zeniff’s record concludes in the next two verses – his people return to their lands and peaceful activities, and he confers his kingdom on one of his sons, Noah. He has seen how his decisions, although well-intentioned, have caused much death and suffering in the land. (see v. 18)  However, the colony is still intact and has been protected by God.  What he cannot see is how quickly everything will fall apart after he is gone.

Back to Mormon’s Narrative

As Mormon begins his narrative in Mosiah 11, we can see that yet another of Zeniff’s decisions has resulted in disaster, his choice of Noah as his successor. Noah’s bad example has caused them to lose the favor of the Lord, and become corrupt.  It has led them to be enslaved by the Lamanites after they had rejected the prophet Abinadi and put him to death. Grant Hardy proposes this idea:

Zeniff had been so anxious to see the good in everyone, and so unrealistic in his assessments of crucial situations, that perhaps even as a father he was excessively lenient and long-suffering, at least with this particular son.”  (Hardy, 131)

As I view the series of disasters in Zeniff’s life, I feel a sense of pity, almost, because they have been precipitated by seemingly good inclinations. The qualities that we admire most in him – compassion, tenacity, and loyalty to moral principles, come to be seen as faults when his plans go wrong. He judges himself as being naïve, short-sighted, over-zealous, and a poor judge of character.

As we reflect on the reasons why Mormon chose to insert Zeniff’s record as an intact document into his narrative, we need to consider several things. Although it interrupts the flow of Mormon’s history, and does not mention Christ or theology, it is apparent that he made a conscious editorial decision, which must have been intended to communicate something particular. Perhaps Mormon was impressed with Zeniff’s example of faith in the midst of his unexpected trials, his compassion for his enemies, and his devotion to his own people. Perhaps the most likely reason that Mormon chose to slow down his narrative here was because Zeniff’s establishment of this colony was a pivotal moment in Nephite history.  Grant Hardy notes, “Even though this settlement eventually failed, Mormon knew that it was the origin of the Nephite Christian church and a line of prophets who would dominate the years leading up to the coming of Christ. These leaders included the two Almas, the two Helamans, and the two later Nephis.” (Hardy, 131)

Lessons Learned

My favorite lesson that these chapters teach us is “how to solve the problem of accepting people that are different from each other,” as taught in Mosiah 9:1 The SOLUTION to this problem lies in the ability to see that which is “good” in each other.  We need to get each side to see the good in each other. Notice that in Mosiah 9:2, the ruler of the expedition wanted to destroy the Lamanites, whereas Zeniff wanted to make a treaty with them. They are faced with a choice: TREATY vs. DESTROY.  Is Zeniff right or is his commander right? Can the people really live with the Lamanites and trust them?

Who proves that Zeniff was really right?  Let’s look ahead to Alma 26:23,30-31.The four sons of Mosiah desire to take the gospel to the Lamanites.  Are they successful?  PartiallyIt can be argued either way.  Who eventually proves that Zeniff and the four sons of Mosiah are right?  Nephi and Lehi, who convert the entire Lamanite nation in Helaman 5:18-19, 50-52.  You have to see the good in people. Only the gospel can reverse centuries of hatred and animosity. 

Another great theme is the solution to the “blindness and stumbling of the people.”  Mosiah 7:29  The people’s own ways are a stumbling block.  Mosiah 8:20-21 Their stubborn ways cause them to be blinded to the ways of the Lord.  But who CAN see?  Mosiah 8:13 The word “look” is used four times in this verse. Such a person is called a see-er, spelled with three e’s. He has the help of the Urim and Thummim, whose meaning in Hebrew is “lights and perfections.”  In other words, they help a person have “light” to SEE more “perfectly.”  In Mosiah 8:15-16 Ammon CORRECTS Limhi.  A seer IS a prophet.  We have fifteen of them today.  What can a seer see?  Mosiah 8:17  Things in the past and future – secret and hidden things.   A seer sees “afar off” — that which is coming that we cannot see. I love Moses 7:36 which describes a seer as being able to see “things which are not visible to the natural eye.”

Final Thoughts

I have always loved the book of Mosiah, but now I appreciate it in a more mature way. When I was in graduate school at BYU, I learned that the very name Mosiah is significant. It is related to the name of the Savior.  The fact that Mormon chose this name for this book is very significant. The following insights are from John W. Welch, “What Was a Mosiah?” From Book of Mormon Central.

The term mošia (is an ancient Hebrew term whose key meaning was “savior.”  People in danger cry out, “But there is no mošiah (Deuteronomy 22:27). It derives from the verb yasa, which means “to free, to deliver, to rescue, to save.”  Thus, this word applies perfectly to the Mosiahs in the Book of Mormon.  John Welch observes: King Mosiah 1 was a God-appointed hero who delivered the chosen people of Nephi from serious wars and contentions by leading them in an escape from the land of Nephi (see Omni 1:12-14). It is unknown whether he was called Mosiah before he functioned as a mošia of his people or whether he gained this well-earned title afterward, perhaps as a royal title.”

The themes of deliverance and God’s salvation are prominent themes in the book of Mosiah.  This book tells of one mošia after another.  Alma peaceably saved his people from King Noah and the Lamanites. Zeniff’s grandson Limhi eventually function as a mošia by leading his people in their escape back to Zarahemla. The book of Mosiah is meaningfully named indeed.

The Hebrew term was also used as a divine title.  God was and is such a savior, who would come down and bring salvation (Mosiah 3:9). As a divine title, this term was applied exclusively to God. As Isaiah 43:11 states, “I . . . am the Lord, and beside me there is no mošia.” The angel sent to Benjamin confirmed the unique work of the Savior, the only way and means whereby salvation comes to mankind (Mosiah 3:17)  This statement applies to all mankind, “the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation” (Mosiah 3:20), “in other words, a Savior of the world” (1 Nephi 10:4).