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Author Ted Gibbons passed away recently, after a long battle with cancer. In honor of his memory and the wonderful insights he shared here on Meridian, we will continue to publish his work periodically.
A story in Helaman is the perfect primer to show us how we fall to the enticings of Satan.
When the splendid Nephi, son of Helaman, returned to Zarahemla from the land northward (Hel. 7:1), he found the Nephites in a state of awful wickedness (Hel. 7:4).
“And it came to pass . . . that the Nephites did build [the secret combinations] up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations. And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government” (Hel. 6:38,39).
Nephi was so distraught that he prayed. Amulek and the Lord instructed us to pray in our closets and secret places and wildernesses (see Matt. 6:5,6; Alma 24:36). This is not how Nephi prayed at this time, however. Nephi was Apouring out his soul unto [email protected] (Hel. 7:11)
“upon a tower, which was in the garden of Nephi, which was by the highway which led to the chief market, which was in the city of Zarahemla; therefore, Nephi had bowed himself upon the tower which was in his garden, which tower was also near unto the garden gate by which led the highway” (Hel 7:10).
He prayed so loudly and in such a conspicuous place that he attracted an audience.
“And it came to pass that there were certain men passing by and saw Nephi as he was pouring out his soul unto God upon the tower; and they ran and told the people what they had seen, and the people came together in multitudes that they might know the cause of so great mourning for the wickedness of the people. And now, when Nephi arose he beheld the multitudes of people who had gathered together” (Hel. 7:11,12)
He had a number of potent things to say to these rebels, but among them, this verse stands out to me:
“Yea, how could you have given way to the enticing of him who is seeking to hurl away your souls down to everlasting misery and endless wo?” (Hel 7:16).
The question echoes in my bones. The Nephites knew the truth, and they knew Lucifer’s objectives (everlasting misery and endless woe), and yet they gave in to his enticings anyway. Nephi’s question, “how could you? . . .” receives at least four answers in the final chapters of Helaman. They are (1) weariness; (2) bad memories; (3) rationalization; and (4) distraction.
(1) The first is implied by a word used to describe Nephi in Helaman 10. Nephi has just proven conclusively that he is an inspired man, a prophet of God, and the people, in response, “divided hither and thither and went their ways, leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them” (Hel. 10:1).
As Nephi started for home, “being much cast down because of the wickedness of the people . . .” (Hel 10:3), the Lord interrupted his musings. The word the Lord used twice here to describe Nephi’s devotion was unwearyingness (Hel. 10:4,5). The use of the word in this context seems to indicate that most people get weary of good works. At least we have been warned about this problem (see Galatians 6:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:13). Alma told Helaman to teach the people “to never be weary of good works” (Alma 37:34). I wonder how often disciples surrender to evil impulses because they are weary. I’ve been to church two weeks in a row. I’ll sleep in today. Or, I’ve just returned from a mission. After two years of 60-hour weeks, I deserve a break. Or I have prepared for hours every week for this Sunday School class, but no one listens to the lessons. I’ll just wing it this time.
These attitudes might be true of some, but not of Nephi. He worked with unwearyingness. Evidence of his zeal comes just moments later when the Lord commanded
“. . . go and declare unto this people, that thus saith the Lord God, who is the Almighty: Except ye repent ye shall be smitten, even unto destruction” (Hel. 10:11).
Having heard this, Nephi “. . . did stop and did not go unto his own house, but did return unto the multitudes who were scattered about upon the face of the land, and began to declare unto them the word of the Lord which had been spoken unto him, concerning their destruction if they did not repent” (Hel. 10:12).
Cause number one for people yielding is weariness.
(2) The Nephites began to war among themselves (Hel. 11:1) and Nephi prayed for a famine, thinking correctly that hunger might encourage more repentance than bloodshed. After about four years, the people saw“that they were about to perish by famine, and they began to remember the Lord their God; and they began to remember the words of Nephi. And the people began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders, that they would say unto Nephi: Behold, we know that thou art a man of God, and therefore cry unto the Lord our God that he turn away from us this famine, lest all the words which thou hast spoken concerning our destruction be fulfilled” (Hel. 10:7,8, emphasis added).
This remembering of the words of Nephi happened somewhere around the seventy-fifth year. But in the eighty and second year, “they began again to forget the Lord their God” (Hel. 11:36).
The second cause of yielding is bad memories. Mormon describes the problem eloquently:
“Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do the Holy OneCyea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity. And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him” (Helaman 12:4, emphasis added). Helaman 12 from which the quote above is taken is a most interesting chapter. I think it is unique in the Book of Mormon because it is an editorial a chapter long. Mormon interjects thoughts and insights frequently in the text of the book, but here he seems to have shoved the plates aside and opened up his heart. It is not difficult to imagine him bursting with frustration over the instability of the Nephite people.
He chooses to make his point in a most interesting way: everything created by the hand of God will change its nature at the command of God, except for one thing: man.
“O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth” (Hel 12:7)
Why less than the dust of the earth?
“For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God” (Hel 12:8).
Generally speaking, you expect dust to just lay there (by dust, Mormon must mean ground or dirt). That is the nature of dust. But at the command of God, it will change its nature and move.
Throughout the next several verses, Mormon, comes back again and again to this matter of the voice of God.
“Yea, behold at his voice do the hills and the mountains tremble and quake. And by the power of his voice they are broken up, and become smooth, yea, even like unto a valley” (Helaman 12:9,10).
It is not the nature of mountains to tremble and quake. If I were to look through our north windows and see Mount Timpanogos hopping around, I would know something strange was happening. But at God’s command, mountains will change their nature.
“Yea, by the power of his voice doth the whole earth shake; Yea, by the power of his voice, do the foundations rock, even to the very center. Yea, and if he say unto the earth,Move,it is moved. Yea, if he say unto the earth.Thou shalt go back, that it lengthen out the day for many hours,it is done; And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun” (Hel. 12:11-15).It is not the nature of the earth to shake and rock and move and go back, but at the command of God, the earth will change its nature and do those very things.
“And behold, also, if he say unto the waters of the great deep,Be thou dried up,it is done” (Hel. 11:16).
I don’t mean to be redundant, but Mormon was. He made this point over and over again, so I will too. Water is wet. Sometimes it is wet for about 5 miles straight down. That is its nature. But at the command of God, even the sea will change its nature.
Mormon continues by testifying that at the voice of God, mountains will move and fall on cities (12:17); hidden treasures will be lost (12: 19, 20); and men will be cursed and cut off (12:20,21).
Now note the things Mormon says about the nature of men in this chapter. They are, we are told “false, unsteady, foolish, vain, evil, devilish, quick to do iniquity, slow to do good, quick to hearken to the evil one, quick to set their hearts on the vain things of the world, quick to be lifted up in pride, quick to boast, quick to do iniquity, slow to remember the Lord, slow to give ear to the Lord=s counsels, slow to walk in wisdom’s paths, nothing, and even less than the dust of the earth” (Helaman 12:4,5).
But will men change their nature at the command of God? Generally, the Nephites except for a few, have not. But of those who will, Mormon says, “Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved” (Hel. 12:23)
(3) Helaman 13-15 gives an account of Samuel’s visit to Zarahemla, and of the prophecies he gives of the signs of the birth and death of Christ Samuel describes for the Nephites signs that will be impossible to miss. They are not likely to listen to the still, small voice, but these signs will be obvious enough for the most hard-hearted person to recognize. After his sermon, Samuel leaves and is never seen again among the Nephites (Hel. 16:8). Not long after his departure, the signs Samuel prophesied began to appear.“But it came to pass in the ninetieth year of the reign of the judges, there were great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled” (Hel 16:13).
The Nephites are now confronted with a huge problem. Samuel evidently told the truth and they therefore ought to repent. But they will not. They are going to yield to the enticing of the evil one no matter what.
“Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them, both of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites, and began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom” . . . (Hel 12:15).
How could that be possible? How could they harden their hearts in the face of the most compelling evidence that they are wrong? The answer is the third cause of yielding: Rationalization. The text of Helaman 16 gives several examples:
- “A few things they may have guessed right among so many” (16:16) And of course if this is just a lucky guess, there is no need to repent.
- “It is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ should come” (16:17). This objection is that for one being to pay for the mistakes of another is not natural. As Spock would say: “It’s not logical.” Therefore, I won’t repent.
- “We know that this is a wicked tradition, which has been handed down to us by our fathers.” And, of course, if the mission of Christ is a tradition rather than a revelation, I do not have to repent.
- “And they will, by the cunning and the mysterious arts of the evil one, work some great mystery which we cannot understand” Again, if this matter of Christ and his coming is Satanic and mysterious, rather than divine revelation . . . well, that is the nature of rationalization.
The third cause for yielding is rationalization, which is the act of modifying standards to match behavior. Repentance is the act of modifying behavior to match standards.
(4) There is one more cause for yielding in this chapter, one more thing Satan might do to get people to surrender to his enticing. I call it distraction.
“And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come” (Hel. 16:22).
I think it would be difficult someone to worry about the coming of Christ in a few years if he was worried that his neighbor might fire-bomb his house tomorrow. A good friend told about stepping on a rattlesnake when he was worried about lightning. He was distracted from a greater danger.
“Are there so many fascinating, exciting things to do or so many challenges pressing down upon you that it is hard to keep focused on that which is essential? When things of the world crowd in, all too often the wrong things take highest priority. Then it is easy to forget the fundamental purpose of life. Satan has a powerful tool to use against good people. It is distraction. He would have good people fill life with “good things” so there is no room for the essential ones. Have you unconsciously been caught in that trap?” (Richard G. Scott, C.R., April 2000).
We must not lose sight of the determination of our enemy to cast us down to everlasting misery and endless woe. The last half of Helaman shows us some of the ways we can yield to his enticing.