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Waiting on the Lord
Samuel had prophesied that in five years time there would be a day, a night, and a day without any darkness, and now the wondrous time had come. Those who already hated the Church found in the prophecy an opportunity to terrorize the believers, planning to execute them on the day should the prophecy not be fulfilled.
The scriptures tell us that the people began to be “sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass” (3 Nephi 1:7). We might see ourselves in a similar circumstance, as sometimes we tremble that God may have forgotten us or that he has overlooked our needs or promised blessings. We sometimes wonder, “Can I trust the Lord to be as good as his word?” So much of our experience is with mortals who mean to do well, but often don’t, whose words are sometimes slippery. We live in a world with people who often break their promises, and so we may be tempted to look at all promises as pie crust-easily made, easily broken.
But God is a God of truth. He cannot lie. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, “(D&C 1:38) Often, like the believers in this historical event, we must wait until all looks desperate before the blessing arrives.. God asks us to hold on with patience, so that, in fact, we can develop patience. God has his timing and it is perfect, however much it revises our plans and our thinking.
In that awful hour of waiting, the prophet Nephi “cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people” (3 Nephi 1:11). It is often urgency and crisis that moves us to a different level of prayer. Nephi’s pleas were answered with these glorious words of comfort. “Lift up your head and be of good cheer.” Clearly God does not want us to be anxious and tormented. Then the mighty words, “For behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets” (3 Nephi 1:13).
Signs and Wonders
Many of the people who had not believed in the words of the prophets fell to the earth with astonishment. That they were duly impressed is an understatement. Through that night of light, they knew that the Son of God must shortly appear. Was this, however, enough to make them lifelong and staunch supporters? Was a sign so obvious, so unmistakable, enough to convert a nation? Only momentarily. Not long had passed before “the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen-Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people” (3 Nephi 2:1,2),
One might wonder how anything like a night without darkness could be wrought by man. But those who want to turn from God create a logic all unto themselves. If they don’t want to believe, no sign can convert them. What do we learn about unbelievers from this experience? If Laman and Lemuel see an angel, they will still continue to beat their brother. If the persecutors see a new star, they still are blind. The Book of Mormon Institute manual notes, “Signs flow from faith and, indeed, are a product of it. They strengthen the faithful but produce faith only in the spiritually responsive. Therefore, their chief purpose is not to produce faith, but to reward it. It is not an uncommon thing in scripture to see the most marvelous signs and evidences of God’s power ignored or rationalized away by those without faith.”
Thus, while signs do not deeply move the unbeliever, they play a key role in the life of a believer. God says, “And he that believeth shall be blest with signs following, even as it is written” (D&C 68:10), Bruce McConkie adds this “Gifts of the Spirit which the Lord bestows upon those who believe and obey the gospel of Christ are called signs. That is, their receipt stands as an evidence or sign of the presence of that faith which results from believing the truth. Signs are wonders and miracles; they always and invariably are manifest to and among the faithful saint” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 73).
The faithful will see signs from God in their lives. Moroni says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?” (Moroni 7:27)
The unbeliever may say he desires a sign. These people, however, are generally sign seekers not because they would believe, but because they do not wish to do so. They use their demand for a sign as a way to taunt believers.
It may be confusing to note the time reckoning in 3 Nephi 2:9-7. The Nephites were using three calendar systems. The first was to determine the number of years since Lehi left Jerusalem. The second method was to count the numbers of years from the beginning of the reign of the judges. The third method was to reckon time from the period when the sign was given of from the coming of Christ.
The Scourge of the Gadiantons
As the people grew in wickedness, the Gadiantons began to spread death and carnage throughout the land. Hugh Nibley has divided his analysis of the Gadianton robbers into four parts. You’ll notice that this probe of the conditions surrounding the flourishing of the Gadiantons had uncanny resonances to our world today.
1. Power and gain, the two being interactive: power wins gain and gain wins power for whoever has either.
2. Control of overthrow of the government; using political office ‘to rule and do according to their will, that they might get gain and glory’ (Helaman 7:5).
1. Secret agreements between individuals and groups. The Gadiantons are essentially an underground movement.
2. Assassination: These two things, ‘secret combinations’ and ‘that men should shed blood’ have been forbidden by God ‘in all things…from the beginning of man’ (Ether 8:19)
3. Payola: ‘Akish did offer them money…(Ether 9:11); ‘…letting the guilty go unpunished because of their money…’ (Helaman 7:5).
4. Skillful propaganda and public relations: ‘…flattering words…’
5. The hate campaign: a steady output of charges, accusations, and rumors, in the manner of Amalickiah: Accuse-always accuse. ‘Eagerness to accuse is from the devil.’ (Brigham Young)
6. Intimidation: ‘breathing our many threatenings…’operating ‘by the hand of secrecy,’ wearing fearsome disguises (3 Nephi 4:7).
7. Showmanship, e.g.,the picturesque uniforms and romantic appeal to the young, (3 Nephi 1:29).
8. Tight control of members-death penalty for betrayal (Ether 8:14), Helaman 1:11)
1. The Gadiantons were totally partisan, the laws and interests of the combination taking priority over all other laws and interests.
2. All were ambitious, hence the labor for power and gain: Cain is the type and model.
3. The combinations were highly competitive, feuding fiercely among themselves.
4. They sought to portray a noble image, with much talk of rights and wrongs, high courage and noble character. (The letter to Lachoneus).
5. They professed piety and religion, swearing their forbidden oaths not by the demons but ‘by the God of heaven…’ (Ether 8:14),’…by their everlasting Maker…’ (Helaman 1:11)
6. They were paranoid, always attributing their troubles to the wickedness of others; never the aggressors, they are constantly seeking to avenge their wrongs. Vengeance is their watchword.
1. They flourish best in an affluent business society, and wither in times of poverty.
2. They crystallize around ambitious individuals.
3. They readily coalesce with kingmen, would-be nobility, great families, ambitious local officials, and rapacious Lamanite overlords, i.e., with all who are opposed to popular government among the Nephites.
4. They have destroyed every civilization in the New World in which they have been able to thrive.
5. They cannot thrive or even survive without the acceptance and encouragement of the society in general. Being predatory and non-productive, i.e., parasites, they must have a complacent society to host and support them. Such a society is one which accepts as desirable the Gadianton goals of power and gain. (Since Cumorah: The Book of Mormon in the Modern World, pp. 407-8.)
Letter from Giddianhi
In light of Hugh Nibley’s analysis of the Gadiantons, consider the letter from Giddianhi to Lachoneus in chapter three of 3 Nephi. The psychology Giddianhi uses in this letter is nearly a perfect mirror of the way Satan attacks all of us.
“Lachoneus, most noble and chief governor of the land’ (3 Nephi 3:2). Giddianhi heaps false praise upon Lachoneus as if to slyly attack his defenses. The idea? This is not an arch enemy writing, but a friend who really has Lachoneus’ best interests at heart. In fact, Giddianhi gives “exceedingly great praise because of your firmness, and also the firmness of your people.” Here’s a direct lie. Giddianhi does not admire the Nephites. He wants to absorb them, undermine their will, eat at their diligence and courage to take all that they have.
What are the Nephites defending? Giddianhi says it is “that which ye suppose to be your right and liberty.” In other words, he is attacking their very idea of truth and right. They are deluded, wrong-headed. He would suggest that to defend themselves and their beliefs is unfair, obsessive, overly ardent. The idea is to belittle and trivialize their standing up for their dearest beliefs, as if they have no right to do so. He would have them think that to stand for something and defend themselves is foolish and vain. Of course, you can see parallels in today’s world. Giddianhi also attacks squarely on the idea that they are being supported by God. “Yea, he says, ye do stand well, as if ye were supported by the hand of a god, in the defence of your liberty.”
Defending that which is most precious to the Nephites is a ridiculous idea, Giddianhi asserts for at least two reasons. First, his men are brave and eager, “await[ing] with great anxiety for the word” to go down and destroy the Nephites. We have all the power on our side, he is saying. You are not backed by God, and you do not have the truth on your side. Your cause is hopeless and foolish. Second, he asserts that his men are noble and his cause is just. How often the evil portray themselves as the good. Their aims, they say, are compassionate. We know what is good for you, they say.
“And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton; which society and the works thereof I know to be good” (3:9). There it is again. Though they commit murder, though they are demanding that the Nephites give up all they have, he is asserting the society is good.
The most galling statement of all is that Giddianhi claims he is “feeling for your welfare” as he demands that they yield up “your cities, your lands, and your possessions.” What would he ask for if he wasn’t feeling for their welfare? Satan does the same with us. He says, “I have nothing for you but misery, and exchange I want you to yield to me your peace of mind, your joy, and your inheritance in the kingdom of God.”
We can learn something important about how to combat Satan in our personal lives by the way the Nephites deal with the Gadiantons. Lachoneus sent a proclamation among all the people that they should gather together with their flocks, their herds, and their substance. They built fortifications to protect themselves.
We, too, can gather all of our spiritual resources and build a fortification that is the whole armor of God. A great secret is revealed in this chapter. Gadiantons are starved out when they have no one to prey upon. They are not producers themselves. They have no ability to create anything. Their only skill is preying and absorbing the goods of others. Satan would suck the life out of us. He, who cannot have the life that we are promised, would absorb us like a spider sucking the juice out of an insect.But we don’t have to give in to any of his tactics. Whether he pretends his aims are noble. Whether he tells us to follow him because our faith is just not realistic. Whether he tells us our life or cause or hopes are foolish. Whether he tries to frighten, pretending he has all the power on his side, he is lying.
We have the truth with us.
Lachoneus did not believe any of Giddianhi’s brash letter. He did the right thing, instead.
He gathered in his forces and starved the Gadianton’s out.