Secret Combinations – Ether 8:22-23

22 And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not.
23 Wherefore, 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, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
(Ether 8:22-23)

The warnings against secret combinations in the Book of Mormon are emphatic. In this chapter, Moroni warns us to “suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you.” If we are not vigilant, he warns, we will be overthrown and destroyed. What are these secret combinations, and why are they so dangerous?

In the book of 3 Nephi, just before the destruction which coincided with the death of the Savior, a group of judges entered into an agreement with one another that they would testify on each other’s behalf. They essentially agreed to perjure themselves on behalf of one another in order to enable them to get away with secret crimes against the state. Because it was widely known that they were guilty of improper enforcement of the law, and because they were able to escape punishment, they created so much distrust of government that the people separated into tribes.

Now, in the book of Ether, we learn that a similar combination was formed many years earlier, among the Jaredites. A man named Akish gathered his relatives and close friends and entered into an agreement with them that none of them would reveal his actions which led to the assassination of the king. He thought he was safe, because they had agreed to the ultimate punishment for anyone who betrayed the group. Loyalty to the group had become a matter of life or death and thus became more important than any of their other loyalties.

Akish did become king, but he ruled over a kingdom which was in constant chaos and which effectively destroyed itself. Fortunately, Omer, the king whom Akish had tried to kill, had escaped and fled to a different land with his loyal supporters. In the end, he outlived Akish and inherited what was left of the kingdom Akish had ruined.

What can we learn from stories like this? I can think of a few lessons:

  • Any group which places loyalty to the group over decency to people outside of the group is on a path that will lead to sorrow and destruction. The Savior teaches us to love all of God’s children. Secret combinations prioritize loyalty over basic respect for all people.
  • Any group which attempts to retain loyalty by fear is on dangerous ground. Loyalty cannot be maintained in this way forever. Such loyalty is fragile and unsustainable. Thus, “Akish began to be jealous of his son, therefore he shut him up in prison, and kept him upon little or no food until he had suffered death” (Ether 9:7). This inhumane act led to war between Akish and his other sons, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of almost all of his people.
  • You might be able to hide your crimes from other people, but you can’t hide them from God. As Moroni warns us in the passage above, God is patient, but the consequences of immoral behavior will eventually catch up with us.

Today, I will recognize and refute the fallacies which led to the creation of these secret combinations in ancient times. I will love all of God’s children and will not allow group loyalties to prevent me from serving people outside of the group. I will avoid situations in which loyalty is enforced by fear and will seek to build loyalty through consistent love and integrity. I will also remember that God knows all things, and that I cannot keep any secrets from Him.

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