The book of Helaman begins with “a serious difficulty among the people of the Nephites” (Helaman 1:1), and the difficulties keep coming. It does not seem to be the best time to be running for political office. Chief judges are assassinated through political intrigue, and Helaman himself has to take over the judgeship as well as record an annual account of what happens to his people. We learn of bands of robbers, rejection of the prophets, and pride and disbelief throughout the land. Ezra Taft Benson taught, “The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.” (“The Savior’s Visit to America,” Ensign, May 1987, 4.)
Up until this time, the Nephites perceive the Lamanites as the major threat to their safety. They were worried about the big threat – the lion that might attack them. But this threat ended up disappearing. Mormon points out in Helaman 2:13-14 that what they perceived to be a secondary concern (secret combinations) ended up being the cause of the destruction of the people of Nephi.
Before 1989, what was thought to be the greatest threat to the USA? When I was in high school, I remember a movie called “The Russians Are Coming.” The fear of communism and the USSR was widespread. But Russian communism is no longer perceived as our greatest threat. The major threat now is international terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, pornography, materialism, etc. We can see a parallel to this situation in the Book of Mormon. The Nephites now faced a greater threat than the invading Lamanite armies.
Besides being aware of the lions that may attack, we need to become aware of the “snakes in the grass.” When you concentrate on the big things, you miss the little snakes. Years ago, I took a Book of Mormon class from Michael Wilcox, and he used an analogy that I found very useful for understanding this situation in the book of Helaman. He likened the Nephite threat to a 3-headed snake. These three heads consist of – organized crime, corruption, and materialism.
Hel. 1:12The enemy is WITHIN the society – it is difficult to detect. The secret band “did mingle themselves among the people, in a manner that they all could not be found.”
Hel. 2:3-4, 8 Their main objective was to “gain power” and glory through whatever means they deemed necessary. Besides organized crime, what else might fit the definition of secret combination today? The list is a long one – corruption in government, human trafficking, gambling schemes, gang criminality, prostitution rings, extortion, racketeering, extortion, money laundering, back-door financial dealings, (the 2008 financial crisis brought on by unwise and corrupt lending practices by banks seeking a profit) etc.
Ether 8:19-22 speaks about nations who uphold secret combinations and allow them to spread over the land. Secret combinations are difficult to get rid of because they continue to resurface. Certain nations are known for importing drugs into the United States and Europe. But who really upholds the drug cartels? Not the nations that produce the drugs, but the nations that buy the drugs. These societies are plagued with “turf wars” between the secret combinations that war with each other. What can STOP secret combinations? Ether 8:23 Repentance – “O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you.” It is sin that enables secret combinations to continue.
Ether 8:24 speaks of “this secret combination” as a singular entity. Ether 8:25 says “whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people” “It” seeks to destroy the people. What is “it”? Satan’s kingdom, “it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies.” Satan is a monster with seven heads, like the Hydra in Greek mythology. The Hydra had many heads, and every time someone would cut off one of them, two more heads would grow out of the stump. If you kill one, another will get you. Evil has to be fought at the heart level. Ether 8:26 Moroni said that he was “commanded to write these things that evil might be done away,” that “the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men.” This will come only when they are persuaded “to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness.” Their hearts must be changed.
Hel. 6:20, 37 The Lamanites tried to stop secret combinations, and they even preached the gospel among “the most wicked parts of them.” The result was that “this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.” The most powerful way to fight a secret combination is with an open combination – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Truth is the best weapon against the counterfeits of truth. The word of God is quick and powerful in changing lives, even the lives of Gadianton robbers.
Hel. 6:21 As Satan began to “stir up the hearts of the Nephites,” they began to unite with the robbers and entered “into their covenants and oaths.” They swore to protect one another and vowed that they would not let them “suffer for their murders, and their plunderings.” Their attitude was, “I don’t have to pay for what I’ve done, for I am above the law.”
3 Nephi 6:28-30a These secret organizations combination sought “to combine against all righteousness.” They entered a covenant to “destroy … the people of the Lord.” They sought to “deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice,” and thus “overthrow justice” and destroy government and law. They endeavored to circumvent the law.
Helaman 6:26 Satan knows that unity is a powerful tool, and he uses it for his own evil designs. These secret combinations are upheld through powerful oaths and covenants. They are very ancient, and although the prophets were warned not to let them become known, Satan, the master deceiver, revealed them again. He is a master imitator and delights in counterfeiting sacred covenants for his own evil purposes. He institutes secret names, signs, and oaths, which are all perversions of true principles.
Helaman 6:27 Cain, whose name in Hebrew means “to acquire,” was the first man to enter into a secret combination with Satan to get gain.
Moses 5:29-31 It was based on the Mahan principle – life can be exchanged for money. Your life for my money. This is the GREAT SECRET. Moses 5:32 War is the ultimate expression of the Mahan principle. This principle has many applications besides war. A man with a weakness can be controlled – you can make money off of him by exploiting his addictions or poverty. This can also refer to a slower death — drugs, prostitution, alcohol, or sweatshops.
Moses 5:33 Cain says, “I am free” – “I got away with it. I don’t have to suffer for my actions.
I can sin and not suffer for it.” Today we buy into the theories or Relativism — “immorality isn’t a sin, it’s a lifestyle.” “I’m not breaking any laws.” “Everybody else does it.”
Moses 5:34 When the Lord asks Cain where Abel is, he answers, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He is saying, “I have no responsibility for my fellow man.” “It’s a dog eat dog world.” “I don’t care if I lure my brother into alcoholism. He has a choice.” This is Social Darwinism at its peak. We see this attitude in the world today – “survival of the fittest,” “look out for #1.”
God’s attitude is the polar opposite of these attitudes. He places a high value on human life and counsels, “Esteem your brother as yourself.”
Corruption of the law
Helaman 4:21b-22, 5:2 It begins by “setting at naught the commandments of God.” Then, they “trampled under their feet” the laws themselves. The people became so wicked that “the laws had become corrupted,” because the “laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good.”
Helaman 5:1-4 People had no regard for the law. Only the fear of being caught kept them from sinning. Even a good person can’t do much if people don’t respect the law anymore. Nephi sees no other option but to leave the judgment seat to preach to the people, having grown “weary because of their iniquity.”
Helaman 6:39 Secret combinations gained “sole management of the government.” Helaman 7:4-5 The people are in an “awful state of wickedness.” They were “doing no justice unto the children of men” that they might “more easily” commit sin, “condemning the righteous because of their righteousness” and “letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money.” Laws that are in harmony with the laws of God are soon thrown out.
Alma 62:49 As a rule, the accumulation of wealth produces pride, which begins the pride cycle leading to wickedness and destruction, followed by repentance, and the resulting blessings of the Lord. However, at the end of Alma, the Nephites accomplished the unusual. “Notwithstanding their riches, they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes; neither were they slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him.”
They were both rich and righteous. Alma 62:50-51 Moreover,“they remembered how great things the Lord had done for them, and they did pray unto the Lord their God continually, insomuch that the Lord did bless them . . . so that they did wax strong and prosper in the land.” This was in 56 BC. Seven years later, in 49 BC, we learn in Helaman 3:1, 24-25that “alittle pride” had entered into the church. At the same time, “there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did join themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance,” so that the church leaders were “astonished beyond measure.” This continued, and at one point, there were “tens of thousands” who were baptized and united with the church. This continued for many years, and in 43 and 42 BC, there was peace and “continual rejoicing” in the land of Zarahemla.
The next year, Helaman 3:33 tells us that all was peaceful except for “the pride” which began to entered the HEARTS of some who professed to believe in the church of God.” Helaman 3:34 describes the nature of this pride. “And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren.” This reminds me of the jeering, mockers who lived in the “great and spacious building” of Lehi’s dream. Helaman 3:36 By 40 BC, this had grown into “exceeding great pride” which had gotten into their HEARTS . . . “and it did grow upon them from day to day.”
Helaman 4:11-12 catalogues the many causes for “the great slaughter” which took place among the Nephites – chiefly “the pride of their hearts” because of their riches, and their “oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry . . . making a mock of that which was sacred.”
Today, what sacred things does the world mock? Almost everything! People who publicly proclaim a belief in God are in the minority, and our world seems epitomized by the list of abominations cited here – “denying revelation” as being ridiculous and unscientific, “murdering” countless unborn children, “lying” (this trait has become ubiquitous among the powerful who go to great lengths to conceal the truth), “stealing” (through various scams and under-the-table negotiations), “adultery” being accepted as the norm, and “great contentions” which are visible in Congress and in the streets of America. And all this happened within the space of a decade.
Hel. 5:51-52 The Nephite-Lamanite conflict ends because of the missionary efforts of Nephi and Lehi, and, unbelievably, “they did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possession.”
The Lamanites grow rich because they trade freely with the Nephites. Helaman 6:8-13 is a chiastic description of their wealth. Note the parallels to recent American history – the USSR fell in 1989, and was followed by the most prosperous decade in the USA in the 20th century, the1990’s.
After years of peace and prosperity, in 26 BC, Helaman 6:17 reports that because “the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world,” they “began toset their hearts upon their riches.” When I think of the word SET, I think of CEMENT. Helaman 6:30-31 in these verses, we read that “Satan got great hold upon the hearts of the Nephites.” How did he get HOLD of their HEARTS?He uses wealth – their HEARTS get SET on materialism. Helaman 6:35 “The Spirit of the Lord began to withdraw from the Nephites because of the hardness of their hearts.” As a result of their hearts being SET on their riches, the result is hard hearts – hard like CEMENT. It all boils down to what has HOLD of your hearts. Notice in verse 31 that their idols were their gold and their silver.
Helaman 7:15, 18, 21, 26 In my scriptures, I have underlined the word hearts in these verses. They all describe PRIDE in the HEARTS of the people. But the scriptures never identify a problem without giving a solution. Look at the word HOLD – we love to get HOLD of money. Helaman 13:20, 31, 33, 35, 36 all speak of riches becoming “slippery.” How do riches get slippery? We want to get HOLD of riches but they become slippery that we cannot keep HOLD of them, and yet, ironically Satan has a firm HOLD of our hearts. If we don’t want our riches to become “slippery,” what do we do? Rather than hide our money under the mattress, we put it in a CD, in the stock market, in real estate, or in a government bond. But is it secure there? Look at what happened to ENRON stock after shady accounting practices were used to hide its debt. The “hall of shame” goes on and on – WorldCom, Tyco International, Bernie Madolf’s hedge fund, and many other Ponzi schemes and similar stock scams. Scarlet O’Hara always believed in the value of owning land, which has traditionally been a true principle, but look at what happened to real estate values in 2008! Where can you safely put your money so that it does not disappear?
God has given us an antidote to the venom of this three-headed snake –– get HOLD of something else!
1. Helaman 3:27-30 Get HOLD on the word of God.
a. the word is a sword – it cuts through wiles of the devil
b. the word is an iron rod – it leads men in a strait and narrow path.
c. the word is a compass – a Liahona – it will GUIDE men where he should go.
d. the word is a ship – it will “land” men’s souls in the kingdom of heaven
GET HOLD of the scriptures! WRITE them on your HEARTS instead of SET them on riches!
2. Helaman 3:35 YIELD your HEART to God instead, and purify and sanctify it. A sanctified heart wants to be good. I love this quote from Boyd K. Packer:
I want to be good. I’m not ashamed to say that – I want to be good. And I’ve found in my life that it has been critically important that this was established between me and the Lord so that I knew that He knew which way I had committed my agency. I went before him, and in essence said, “I’m not neutral, and you can do with me what you want. If you need my vote, it’s there. I don’t care what you do with me, and you don’t even have to take anything from me because I give it to you – everything, all I own, all I am.” And that makes the difference.
(Boyd K. Packer – “That All May Be Edified,” 272)
3. Helaman 13:22 Let GRATITUDE, not pride, fill your hearts. Gratitude always brings the Spirit. Expressing gratitude vocally always brings humility. When I got back from my mission in Hong Kong, I was overcome with the blessings of my life in America. I remember walking into our huge chapel with the high ceiling and chandeliers. In Hong Kong, we met on the top floor of apartment buildings, usually the tenth floor. There were elevators that went to the top, but the small children couldn’t reach the high numbers, so they would jump and push the highest number they could reach, and then walk up the stairs the rest of the way. Also, I remember, sticking my head under the faucet and gulping down the water because I couldn’t get over the great blessing of being able to drink water right from the tap! (We had to boil our water in Hong Kong before we could drink it.)
4. Helaman 5:5-6, 9 REMEMBER who you are. Live up to your name. Remember is repeated ten times in the right-hand column of this page.
Helaman admonished his sons to remember three things, which communicate the whole essence of the Book of Mormon:
(1) “remember to keep the commandments of God”
(2) “remember your names” and the good works and words of these prophets
(3) remember the name of Christ, and “that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved” When we enter the covenant of baptism, we take upon us the name of Christ, as he is the “father” of that covenant.
President Spencer W. Kimball taught that “the most important word in the dictionary could be remember.” Because we have made covenants with God, he said, “our greatest need is to remember” them. “Remember is the program.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Circles of Exaltation” – address to Church Educational System religious educators, June 28, 1968, 5.)
A quote in the Yad Vashem Memorial in Israel reads, “Forgetfulness leads to exile, but remembrance is the secret to redemption.”
Elder Neal Maxwell taught, “[The man of Christ] accepts the reality that the curriculum of the Church may, at times, seem like an echo chamber, but he knows that just as the challenges of life repeat themselves, so must the Master’s teachings” (General Conference, October 1975). In the temple, we are taught over and over what we need to “remember.”
There are so many great quotes on this subject that I want to include a few more:
So much of pride is essentially forgetting, and so much of humility is essentially remembering.
(JB Haws, former East High seminary teacher, now a BYU professor.)
Remembering is sacramental. Remembering is to the past as faith is to the future. Remembering the past covenants of the Lord and remembering progenitors were not just exercises in historiography for Joseph. Remembering is a stipulation required in covenants revealed by Joseph Smith. (Mosiah 5:11-12; D&C 20:77,99).
(John Welch, “Joseph Smith and the Past,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith, BYU Studies, 44:4, 111)
Joseph Smith links memory and the Holy Spirit:
Another important consideration is, that without the gift of the Holy Spirit the greater part of the teachings of the Savior would have been in vain; for such is the weakness of the human mind, that unless it is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, it would forget the things which it had been taught; and in consequence thereof they would be useless. (Messenger & Advocate, 36)
5. Helaman 5:12 Build your life upon the Savior, the ROCK of Christ. The word BUILD suggests effort. Luke 6:48 The man who built his house upon a rock had to “dig deep.” See also Moses 7:53, the “Messiah is the Rock of Heaven,” and whoever comes “in at the gate” is invited to “climb up by [Him.]”
Whenever you can, try to picture the scriptures. When you read “shafts in the whirlwind” think of a tornado, sucking up debris as it cuts its path of destruction. If you see a tornado, do you brace yourself or get out of the way? No matter how strong you are, nobody can handle a tornado. We need to prepare ourselves ahead of time, because when the tornado appears, it’s too late! It is futile to start nailing boards on your windows when the tornado arrives. The “shafts” in a tornado are easily able to knock you down, or “drag you down” as the scripture reads, because of the strength of its force. Spiritually, only by building my life upon the Savior can we survive these things.
We read in 1 Nephi 15:24 that Satan throws “fiery darts” at us to blind us to the truth and “lead us away to destruction.” Only by “clinging to the rod” and “treasuring up the word” (JSM 1:37) will we be able to survive these “shafts in the whirlwind.”
What is the ROCK?
3 Ne. 14:24 Here, the ROCK is the teachings of God — the TRUTH. The sand is the teachings of men — always shifting.
3 Ne. 18:12 Here, the ROCK is the covenants we make — especially the sacrament.
Moses 7:41 Enoch has just been shown a vision of the Savior suffering for the sins of the world. To understand the depth of Christ’s love for all mankind, reread the verse, substituting “Jesus” for “Enoch.” In Hebrew, the word translated as shook means “to overflow, “to stretch out, to long for.” Christ’s love is the rock. When you build on him, you build on a sure foundation. All of eternity isn’t big enough to hold his mercy.
Moses 7:53 How big a rock should we picture? A boulder, the Rock of Gibraltar, Mt. Olympus? How broad is that rock? “I am Messiah, . . . the Rock of Heaven, which is broad as eternity; whoso cometh in at the gate and climbeth up by me shall never fall.” Where would we fall? We cannot fall because there is nowhere to fall.
The scriptures are full of literary foils – diamonds displayed on black velvet to make the differences even more striking. Contrast the sure foundation of the Savior with the great and spacious building which has no foundation.
6. Helaman 5:22-28 Follow the PROPHET. Another literary foil is seen in the contrast between the light around Lehi and Nephi and the cloud of darkness surrounding the Lamanites and Nephite dissenters. This darkness is a symbol of their spiritual state.
There are three darknesses found in the Book of Mormon. What penetrates them?
a. Lehi’s dream. The mists of darkness are penetrated by the iron rod — the WORD OF GOD.
b. The darkness in 3 Nephi is penetrated by the VOICE of God. What was God’s voice like? Hel. 5:29-30 “not a voice of thunder, but it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul” Helaman 5:46 “pleasant, as if it were a whisper” 3 Ne. 11:3Not harsh, yet “piercing to the very soul” and “causing their hearts to burn” Hel. 5:31 a voice of “mildness,” but earthshakingly powerful!
c. The darkness of the prison is penetrated by the FACE OF GOD’S PROPHET. Helaman 5:36 What will enable you to see through the clouds of darkness? The face of a prophet.Why? Because the prophet will always direct you to turn your gaze to heaven. (See Hel. 5:38-44)
Henry B. Eyring teaches us how to build on this rock in his April 2006 address entitled “As a Child.”
In preparing to write this article I read Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon, and gained an interesting insight I had never before considered. Mormon, the historian, very rarely points out explicitly the similarities between incidents in his narrative. He only rarely says, “I am reminded here of an earlier incident.” However, in Helaman 2:13-14 he draws a parallel between the Gadianton robbers of the first century BC and the secret societies in his own time, 400 AD. Later, in Helaman 6:15-31, he compares these with the secret combinations among the Jaredites a thousand years before. He points out that these secret oaths have not been passed down through the records, but they were revealed again by Satan. These are unusual examples of Mormon explicitly pointing out similarities to his readers. Most often, he encourages readers to make comparisons of their own through his editing and writing.
In Helaman 5:21, he points out that Nephi and Lehi were put into “the same prison in which Ammon and his brethren were cast by the servants of Limhi.” But unlike them, the two brothers remain in the prison for a long time, and are only released after a “miraculous spiritual manifestation.” Rather than exhibiting similarities to Ammon’s experience, there are many more connections between the prison experience in Helaman 5 and the coming of Christ after his resurrection in third Nephi. Grant Hardy notes these parallels.
|Jesus’ Visit to the Nephites||Narrative Elements/Phrases||Nephi and Lehi in Prison|
|3 Nephi 8:6||the earth shook “as if it were/was about to divide asunder”||Helaman 5:33|
|3 Nephi 8:19-22||a cloud or vapor of darkness||Helaman 5:28-34|
|3 Nephi 10:9||the darkness disperses||Helaman 5:43|
|3 Nephi 11:3-5||a voice comes three times||Helaman:5:29-33|
|3 Nephi 11:3||it was not a loud voice, but rather one that was “still” or “small” and “it did pierce . . . to the very soul”||Helaman 5:30|
|3 Nephi 11:5||they look up to see “from whence the voice/sound came”||Helaman 5:48|
|3 Nephi 11:8||angels/Jesus came down “out of heaven”||Helaman 5:48|
It appears that the deliverance of Nephi and Lehi and those with them in the prison is a foreshadowing of the more extensive deliverance of the Nephites in Bountiful from the darkness and destruction preceding Christ’s coming. The prison story functions as a “dramatized prophecy” that points forward to Christ, and it also testifies of a God who speaks to individuals in the depths of darkness and fear. These are extraordinary chapters.
The arrival of Jesus at the temple in Bountiful is the long-awaited climax of Nephite prophecy. The prison experience of Nephi and Lehi begins one of the most astonishing conversion stories in the entire Book of Mormon. The majority of the Lamanites accept the gospel, renounce war, and return all the Nephite territories they have conquered. Just like that, in one single verse, the Nephites regain all of the lands that they have been fighting for in the last half of the Alma chapters!
When the resurrected Christ speaks from Heaven in 3 Nephi 9:20, he alludes to the events in Helaman 5: “whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” Mormon has prepared his readers for this moment by telling the earlier story in a manner that anticipates Jesus giving the Spirit, so we are able to recognize and understand the allusion made by Christ. (See Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, p. 162-166)
I would like to conclude with excerpts from Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s Conference address entitled “The Man of Christ” from (Helaman 3:29). He described the “challenging journey facing the serious disciple” whom Helaman called, “the man of Christ.” I love the language used by Elder Maxwell in describing the challenges “the man or woman of Christ” will encounter on that adventure:
The man of Christ “sees trends around him about which it is difficult to speak, but impossible to remain silent.” . . . He does not divorce the Sermon on the Mount from the sermon at Capernaum with its hard teachings which caused many to walk “no more with” Jesus. (John 6:66.)
He sees that only the gospel can really help us avoid the painful excesses in the tug-of-war between the need for liberty and the need for order. He knows, for instance, that true law enforcement depends on the policing of one’s self . . . He sees that those who worship at the altar of appetite are very intense. To be fully effective against their enveloping evil, there must exist a sin-resistant strain of souls for whom narcotics, prostitution, gambling, and alcohol hold no allure, for we bind the adversary and his mortal minions only as we bind our appetites.
The “man of Christ” knows that only truth radiant with love can cross the chasm that lies between some individuals who are light-years apart, even though they live under the same roof.
May each of us, brothers and sisters, navigate that strait and narrow way, landing our immortal souls “at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven.” (Hel. 3:30.) Only then, when we are really home, will our mortal homesickness disappear—our highest human yearnings for what could be are but muffled memories of what once was—and will again be—for we have indeed “wandered from a more exalted sphere.” (Hymns, no. 138)