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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He Being a Very Subtle Man – Alma 47:3-4

3 And now it came to pass that the king was wroth because of their disobedience; therefore he gave Amalickiah the command of that part of his army which was obedient unto his commands, and commanded him that he should go forth and compel them to arms.
4 Now behold, this was the desire of Amalickiah; for he being a very subtle man to do evil therefore he laid the plan in his heart to dethrone the king of the Lamanites.
(Alma 47:3-4)

If there is a single lesson to be learned from Amalackiah’s rise to power among the Lamanites, it is this: be careful whom you trust. Two people—the king of the Lamanites and Lehonti—placed too much confidence in Amalackiah, and in both cases, there were clear warning signs which they either didn’t notice or ignored.

  • The king unwisely placed Amalackiah in command of his armies, even though he had only recently arrived and had vigorously tried to convince them to attack the Nephites. Why was he so eager to betray his own people, and what did that say about his likely loyalty to the Lamanites?
  • Lehonti, the commander of an opposing Lamanite army, agreed to collaborate in a deception: Amalackiah would surrender in exchange for becoming Lehonti’s second in command. Why would Lehonti trust a person who would betray his own followers so easily? How did he convince himself that this would end well?

Jesus told his disciples that he wanted them to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). He wants us to be kind to others but not to assume that others will always be kind to us. He wants us to be sincere, but not to ignore warning signs when others are being deceitful.

This is a tricky topic, because all relationships are built on trust, and none of us is perfectly trustworthy. Every person we interact with is imperfect, and we all need some level of tolerance for our weaknesses. Nevertheless, an important part of protecting our families and loved ones is detecting when other people don’t have our best interests at heart or when they aren’t being candid about their motives. In particular, as these two stories illustrate, a person who enlists our help to harm someone else is likely to turn against us in the end. Collaborating with them or assisting them is hazardous. We would be wiser to surround ourselves with people we can trust, people who demonstrate a commitment to integrity and who have our best interests at heart.

I’m mindful of the following advice from the Church manual For the Strength of Youth:

As you seek to be a friend to others, do not compromise your standards. If your friends urge you to do things that are wrong, be the one to stand for the right, even if you stand alone. You may need to find other friends who will support you in keeping the commandments. Seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost as you make these choices.

Today, I will be judicious about the trust I place in other people. Even as I strive to be inclusive and kind, I will also be observant and careful. I will recognize the importance of choosing my friends and associates wisely.

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They Were Seeking for Power – Alma 46:4, 19-20

4 And Amalickiah was desirous to be a king; and those people who were wroth were also desirous that he should be their king; and they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power.
5 And they had been led by the flatteries of Amalickiah, that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people.
(Alma 46:4-5)

It seems pretty intuitive that Amalackiah’s sales pitch was not going to result in sustainable leadership. “I want to be king so that I can have power over this people. If you support me, you can have power too, just not as much as me.” Like a pyramid scheme, the system was bound to break down at some point because the people at the bottom of the hierarchy would get nothing. Amalackiah’s gamble was that he could convince enough people to support him so that he could impose the system on everyone else by force.

Moroni had a different goal. When he saw the preparations of Amalackiah, he prayed for the freedom of his people. Then, he said, “Surely God shall not suffer that we, who are despised because we take upon us the name of Christ, shall be trodden down and destroyed, until we bring it upon us by our own transgressions” (Alma 46:18). He raised the title of liberty—a flag which reminded the people of the things they valued most: God, freedom, peace, and family. When the people saw this standard and heard his appeal, they “came running together, with their armor girded about their loins” and followed him into battle against the Amalickiahites (Alma 46:19-22).

By contrasting the leadership styles and motivations of Amalackiah and Moroni, Mormon illustrates a significant principle: leadership by force is not strong, and is certainly not durable. As the Declaration of Independence of the United States attests, “Governments…[derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed.” And as Joseph Smith later learned while imprisoned in Liberty Jail:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (D&C 121:41-42).

Today, I will remember that the decision to follow a leader is a choice. I will strive to uplift the people I lead and to help them achieve their goals. I will avoid power struggles and will seek instead to empower others.

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