13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
14 And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.
In Jacob’s second sermon to the Nephites, he calls them to repentance for two sins: pride and lustful thoughts. In the passage above, he describes the sequence of events which led to the sin of pride:
- They received many blessings. As Jacob reminds them, they can’t (or at least shouldn’t) take full credit for their prosperity. “The hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly,” he says, “that you have obtained many riches.” If the Nephites had remembered the source of their prosperity with gratitude, they might have avoided becoming proud.
- The blessings were not distributed evenly. As so often happens, during this time of great prosperity, some people received more blessings than others. This presented both an opportunity and a challenge to those who received more.
- The wealthy people began to flaunt their riches. By wearing expensive clothing which their neighbors couldn’t afford, they were able to give the impression that they were more important than their neighbors.
Incidentally, I don’t think “stiff necks and high heads” sounds very comfortable. Jacob borrowed this phrase from his brother Nephi (2 Nephi 28:14), who may have been inspired by Isaiah’s description of the daughters of Zion (2 Nephi 13:16-24). In the interest of looking rich, these people began to associate their own worth with their worldly possessions, particularly their clothing. As Jacob warns them, they are in a precarious position. The same God who gave them these possessions could take them away if they did not respond to their privileges with more gratitude and humility.
Any time blessings are distributed unevenly, we face the same challenge. Will those who have received more share with those who have received less? Or will they forget the source of their blessings and convince themselves that they received more because they deserve more? Will they show off their blessings as a symbol of their superiority, or will they maintain a sense of individual worth which is separate from the blessings they have received?
Today, I will remember my blessings with gratitude. I will seek to remember my value as a child of God, independent of any possessions, talents, or status that I may receive in this world. To the degree that I am blessed more than other people, I will recognize that God doesn’t distribute blessings unevenly to reward some of his children for being better than others, but rather to give them opportunities to share with one another.