4 For the Lord God hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.
(2 Nephi 4:4)
One of the most frequently repeated promises in the Book of Mormon is that people who keep God’s commandments will prosper in the land. Nephi received this promise directly from the Lord shortly after his family left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 2:20-21) and a memory of this promise helped him decide follow a difficult commandment soon afterward (1 Nephi 4:14). Lehi shared this promise with Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and the sons of Ishmael after arriving in the promised land (2 Nephi 1:9, 20). In the passage above, he reiterates the promise to their children. Many subsequent writers in the Book of Mormon refer to this promise, including Jarom, Omni, King Benjamin, and Alma the Younger (Jarom 1:9, Omni 1:6, Mosiah 1:7, Mosiah 2:22, Alma 9:13, Alma 36:1, 30, Alma 38:1).
What does it mean to “prosper?” In modern English, the word is generally associated with financial success. This use of the term also appears in the Book of Mormon, such as when Mormon describes the way the Lord has “prospered” the Nephites: “in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art.” But as he continues his description, we see a broader definition of prosperity: “sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people” (Helaman 12:2). During the time of Captain Moroni, the Nephites thought of “prospering” in terms of defending themselves against an invading army (Alma 48:15-16). Nephi defined it in terms of building a new society where people could live happily (2 Nephi 5:11-17, 27). This variety of uses is consistent with Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which simply defines prosper as “to be successful; to succeed.”
The opposite of “prospering in the land,” according to the passage above, is to be “cut off from [God’s] presence.” This is consistent with Mormon’s observation that, when the Nephites “[boasted] in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper” (Helaman 4:13). The world is too complicated–there are too many variables that we can’t control–for us to believe that we can achieve sustainable success without divine help. Additionally, being close to God brings a joy into our lives that we can’t find any other way (Mosiah 4:3, Alma 19:6, Alma 27:17-18). Perhaps that is why Elder Quentin L. Cook associated true prosperity with having the companionship of the Holy Ghost:
Prospering and being wealthy are not necessarily synonymous. A much better gospel definition of prospering in the land is having sufficient for our needs while having the abundant blessing of the Spirit in our lives. When we provide for our families and love and serve the Savior, we will enjoy the reward of having the Spirit and prospering in the land (“Reaping the Rewards of Righteousness,” Brigham Young University Women’s Conference, 2 May 2014).
This concept has been a recurring theme in the teachings of Elder Cook. He mentioned it in several recent general conference talks (October 2008, October 2011) and in a footnote of his most recent conference talk. He also discussed the concept in a recent BYU devotional address.
Today, I will remember that God will help me “prosper in the land” to the degree that I obey His commandments. I will remember that “prospering” means much more than acquiring material wealth. It also refers to protection from harm, success in achieving my goals, and contentment in my heart. Ultimately, it comes as a result of my closeness with God through the gift of the Holy Ghost.