Why Seest Thou This Man…Revile Against This People and Against Our Law? – Helaman 8:1-3

1 And now it came to pass that when Nephi had said these words, behold, there were men who were judges, who also belonged to the secret band of Gadianton, and they were angry, and they cried out against him, saying unto the people: Why do ye not seize upon this man and bring him forth, that he may be condemned according to the crime which he has done?
2 Why seest thou this man, and hearest him revile against this people and against our law?
3 For behold, Nephi had spoken unto them concerning the corruptness of their law; yea, many things did Nephi speak which cannot be written; and nothing did he speak which was contrary to the commandments of God.
(Helaman 8:1-3)

Sometimes people reject messages they don’t want to hear by attacking the messenger rather than by dealing with the message on its own merits. One form this can take is to accuse the messenger of being antagonistic toward the established order, and by extension toward the people. For example:

  • When King Noah was about to release the prophet Abinadi after condemning him to death, his priests protested, “He has reviled the king” (Mosiah 17:12). This statement aroused the king’s anger, and he let the execution move forward.
  • When Amulek called the people of Ammonihah to repentance, the lawyers protested, “This man doth revile against our laws which are just, and our wise lawyers whom we have selected” (Alma 10:24). Amulek replied, “Ye say that I have spoken against your law; but I have not, but I have spoken in favor of your law, to your condemnation” (Alma 10:26).
  • In the passage above, a group of judges who, according to Mormon, were also Gadianton robbers, make a public display of fidelity to their laws and of outrage at Nephi’s words, even though they were privately willing to break those laws and protect one another in doing so. “Why seest thou this man, and hearest him revile against this people and against our law?”

One lesson from these examples is to beware of arguments that become personal. When you hear someone attacking the motives of another person, or when you are tempted to question their motives, you might ask yourself whether that is a distraction from the main issue: the message itself.

Today, when I disagree with others, I will avoid making it personal. I will respond to the content of their messages and will refrain from criticizing or questioning the motives of the messenger. I will avoid animosity, which would blind me and prevent me from reasoning effectively.

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They Had All Things in Common – 4 Nephi 1:2-3

2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
(4 Nephi 1:2-3)

The ideal government is small because perfect people are largely self-governing. They may need a minimal amount of coordination, but when you are surrounded by people who (1) avoid contention, (2) care about the well-being of the people around them, and (3) are committed to fairness, a lot of the functions of government become irrelevant.

After the Savior’s visit to the American continent, the Nephites and the Lamanites were forever changed. As Mormon relates in the passage above, their Christlike attributes had a profound impact on their community and on their economic and social systems. “There were no contentions and disputations among them.” There were no social classes. “They were all made free.”

The other day, I wrote about a group of Nephites who were so immoral that they could not be governed by the law. In today’s passage, we see the inverse situation: a group of people who are so good that they need no law to govern them. It reminds me of Joseph Smith’s description of how he governed the members of the Church, as reported by Brigham Young:

The question was asked a great many times of Joseph Smith, by gentlemen who came to see him and his people, “How is it that you can control your people so easily? It appears that they do nothing but what you say; how is it that you can govern them so easily?” Said he, “I do not govern them at all. The Lord has revealed certain principles from the heavens by which we are to live in these latter days…. The principles which He has revealed I have taught to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 24: “Leading in the Lord’s Way“).

Today, I will remember that living according to true principles makes us truly free. I will strive to live as the Nephites and Lamanites did in the passage above, by avoiding contention, giving generously, and being fair to the people around me.

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Whether Among the Nephites or the Lamanites – Helaman 6:7-9

7 And behold, there was peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites.
8 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire.
9 And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites; and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north.
(Helaman 6:7-9)

Yesterday, I wrote about the dissolution of the Nephite government and the dividing of the people into tribes, in about the year 30 A.D. Today, I’d like to rewind about 60 years to a much better time, a time in which not only the Nephites but also the Lamanites enjoyed peace. In the preceding verses, Mormon tells us that many of the Lamanites came into the land of the Nephites to preach the gospel among them. As a result of their preaching, many Nephites were converted to the gospel and the Nephites and the Lamanites were united.

Mormon describes an open border between these two groups of people: “the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites,” and in turn, “the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites.” No passport required, no visa, no tariffs imposed on transported goods, and no concerns about safety or security. Sounds like an optimal set of conditions for business, and, in fact, Mormon tells us that “they became exceedingly rich.”

Why did this fantastic relationship between these two nations result in greater prosperity? I think there’s an underlying principle, and I think it is found in the following scripture:

For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby (Doctrine and Covenants 46:11-12)

We all have different gifts. We all have different blessings. Whom do those gifts and blessings benefit? All of us, to the extent that we are willing to share them with one another. But to the degree that we hoard our possessions, our time, our energy, and our talents, we lose out on the enhanced blessings that might have come from collaborating with other people—people whose strengths can complement our own and with whom we can be far more productive and successful than we would have been alone.

Today, I will appreciate what the people around me have to offer, particularly those skills and personality traits which I lack. In my efforts at work, in my community service, in my church calling, and in my family, I will strive to leverage the strengths of others while contributing my own, recognizing that we are all better off when we share the best of what we have with one another.

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Tribes – 3 Nephi 7:2

2 And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land.
3 And every tribe did appoint a chief or a leader over them; and thus they became tribes and leaders of tribes.
(3 Nephi 7:2-3)

Why did the Nephites separate into tribes? Because they didn’t know who to trust anymore. Their governor had been assassinated. They were surrounded by robbers who appeared to be ordinary people and who were willing to lie to defend one another. Their justice system, as a result, was useless. All that they could do was gather in groups of people who really could trust each other—family and close friends. Since it was impossible to trust acquaintances, it was also impossible to select leaders and to organize shared activities beyond these groups. Since we all benefit when we are able to collaborate with other people, we are all impoverished when our circles of trust constrict.

The Gadianton robbers played a pivotal role in destroying trust in the society, but the hardening of social classes also played an important role. In the prior chapter, Mormon tells us that “the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Nephi 6:12). A rigid class structure with little movement between social classes created a climate in which distrust could spread rapidly.

What is the antidote for this phenomenon? It is to build relationships with a diverse group of people, to form alliances and build trust with people who are different from you. As President Russell M. Nelson said this week after a historic meeting between Church leaders and the NAACP:

Together we invite all people, organizations and governmental units to work with greater civility, eliminating prejudice of all kinds and focusing more on the many areas and interests that we all have in common. As we lead our people to work cooperatively, we will all achieve the respect, regard and blessings that God seeks for all of His children.

And in turn, Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP said:

Like the Latter-day Saints, we believe all people, organizations and government representatives should come together to work to secure peace and happiness for all God’s children. Unitedly, we call on all people to work in greater harmony, civility and respect for the beliefs of others to achieve this supreme and universal goal (“First Presidency and NAACP Leaders Call for Greater Civility, Racial Harmony,” mormonnewsroom.org, 17 May 2018)

Today, I will work to build relationships of trust with the people around me, particularly with people who are different from me. I will remember that contracting circles of trust impoverish all of us. I will do what I can to build bridges of trust and collaboration among the people in my community.

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They Could Not Be Governed by the Law – Helaman 5:2-3

2 For as their 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, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.
3 Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction.
(Helaman 5:2-3)

We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by…morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, [and] Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral…People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
– John Adams, Letter to the Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798

There is a limit to the power of any government. That’s the message I get from the passage above. Mormon tells us that the increasing wickedness of the people had two corrosive effects:

  1. The laws were becoming corrupted. The people were championing laws that were not in harmony with true principles, so that the government was no longer a force for good.
  2. At the same time, their laws were becoming less relevant. As morality eroded, people had less respect for the rule of law, which meant that the government had less influence generally.

The only way a free society can thrive is for its members to uphold high moral standards. King Mosiah made that clear to the people when he introduced the system of judges. As long as the collective voice of the people was in harmony with true principles, then this system of government would function effectively for them. But, he warned, “if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you” (Mosiah 29:27)

The Lamanites understood this principle and applied an effective remedy. When the false teachings of the Gadianton robbers began to spread among them, they proactively and energetically worked to teach true principles to the people who had been deceived. “They did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites” (Helaman 6:37).

Unfortunately, the Nephites weren’t so wise. “They did build [the robbers] up and support them…until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites.” “In the space of not many years,” their government had been infiltrated by the robbers until “they did obtain the sole management of the government” (Helaman 6:32, 38-39).

Today, I will strive, as the Lamanites did, to uphold high moral values and to persuade others to do the same. I will remember that good government depends on the goodness of its citizens.

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Gadianton’s Robbers and Murderers – Helaman 6:17-18

17 For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain.
18 And now behold, those murderers and plunderers were a band who had been formed by Kishkumen and Gadianton. And now it had come to pass that there were many, even among the Nephites, of Gadianton’s band. But behold, they were more numerous among the more wicked part of the Lamanites. And they were called Gadianton’s robbers and murderers.
(Helaman 6:17-18)

A couple of observations about the Gadianton robbers:

  • They grew strong during a time of prosperity. They weren’t desperate people trying to feed themselves; they were prideful people who had “set their hearts upon their riches” and who now wanted to have more than other people. “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 122).
  • They colluded with each other to commit crimes and to protect one another from being caught or punished. They committed their crimes in secret and covered up for each other. Most of the time, they appeared to be ordinary people. (See Helaman 1:10-12.)

So the motivation of these robbers was pride and their tactic was deceit. By agreeing to protect each other, they were able to get away with many crimes and to recruit new members.

But ironically, even as these robbers deceived the people around them, they were themselves deceived. Their central goal—to “be lifted up one above another”—was fundamentally unachievable. They would never have enough. Someone else would always have more. They would be forever chasing a prize which was unattainable and which was unable to make them truly happy. They could not have truly loving relationships; the best they could hope for was the legalistic covenants which bound them to each other. They were loyal to each other, but it was a loyalty motivated by fear, not by love. In short, they must have been miserable.

Today, I will avoid the fallacies that motivated the Gadianton robbers. I will resist pride, and will seek instead to elevate the people around me. I will avoid dishonesty of all kinds. Above all, I will remember that a free society requires honesty, and that pervasive deceitfulness will corrupt and eventually destroy any organization.

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He Did Unite with the Voice of the People – Helaman 1:5-8

5 Nevertheless, it came to pass that Pahoran was appointed by the voice of the people to be chief judge and a governor over the people of Nephi.
6 And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people.
7 But behold, Paanchi, and that part of the people that were desirous that he should be their governor, was exceedingly wroth; therefore, he was about to flatter away those people to rise up in rebellion against their brethren.
8 And it came to pass as he was about to do this, behold, he was taken, and was tried according to the voice of the people, and condemned unto death; for he had raised up in rebellion and sought to destroy the liberty of the people.
(Helaman 1:5-8)

When Pahoran, who had been chief judge for fifteen years, died, each of his three sons wanted to succeed him. One son (also named Pahoran) was elected. The second son, Pacumeni, conceded defeat graciously, and agreed to accept the will of the people. But the third son, Paanchi, refused to concede and jeopardized the stability of his country by trying to start a rebellion.

The ability to accept failure and adapt is a critical skill. Without it, we would be unable to collaborate with other people and to participate in organizations, because it is inevitable that our opinions and desires will collide with those of the people around us from time to time.

In the most recent general conference, Elder David A. Bednar taught us about the Christlike attribute of meekness:

Meekness is a defining attribute of the Redeemer and is distinguished by righteous responsiveness, willing submissiveness, and strong self-restraint…. The Christlike quality of meekness often is misunderstood in our contemporary world. Meekness is strong, not weak; active, not passive; courageous, not timid; restrained, not excessive; modest, not self-aggrandizing; and gracious, not brash. A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious, or overbearing and readily acknowledges the accomplishments of others (“Meek and Lowly of Heart,” General Conference, April 2018).

Today, I will strive to follow Pacumeni’s example of meekness in my interactions with my colleagues at work. When my opinions and ideas don’t prevail, I will adapt quickly so that I can contribute to the success of the group. I will remember that exercising self-restraint and recognizing the contributions of others is a sign of strength and that I can most effectively influence the group from a position of solidarity, not animosity.

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