What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Obedience?

Some form of the word “obey” appears 31 times in the Book of Mormon:

Book # Occurences
1 Nephi 4
2 Nephi 6
Jacob 5
Mosiah 7
Alma 9

“I must obey.”

Obedience is a very important topic for Nephi, and he frames most of his story in terms of the response of different individuals to commandments from the Lord:

  • When the Lord commanded his father to leave Jerusalem, “he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him” (1 Nephi 2:3).
  • When he was asked to return to the city of Jerusalem in search of the brass plates: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7).
  • When he was commanded to make a written record of his family’s experiences, “I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things” (2 Nephi 5:31).

He concludes both of his books with a reference to the importance of obedience:

  • “Wherefore, my brethren, I would that ye should consider that the things which have been written upon the plates of brass are true; and they testify that a man must be obedient to the commandments of God…. Wherefore, if ye shall be obedient to the commandments, and endure to the end, ye shall be saved at the last day. And thus it is. Amen” (1 Nephi 22:30-31).
  • “For thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey. Amen” (2 Nephi 33:15).

And he explains the importance of baptism in terms of the Savior’s obedience to the will of the Father:

  • “Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Nephi 31:7).

Nephi’s brother Jacob followed his lead, referencing Abraham’s willingness to obey God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac, and quoting Zenos’s allegory of the vineyard, in which the servants “did obey the commandments the Lord of the vineyard in all things” (Jacob 4:5-6, Jacob 5:72).

The last verse of Jacob’s writings also references the importance of obedience (Jacob 7:27).

“According to the spirit which they listed to obey.”

Nephi and Jacob described obedience as a binary choice: God commands, and we choose whether or not to fulfill those commandments.

More than 450 years later, King Benjamin added an additional variable to this equation: we receive commandments from multiple sources, and we decide which of those sources we will choose to obey. Reminding his people of a doctrine taught by his father, Mosiah, he warned:

“Beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah. For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that spirit; for if he listeth to obey him, and remaineth and dieth in his sins, the same drinketh damnation to his own soul” (Mosiah 2:32-33).

Later in the book, after a horrific battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites, Mormon tells us that tens of thousands of people were “sent to the eternal world…”

…to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one. For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey (Alma 3:26-27).

“All the remainder of our days”

King Benjamin reminded his people of the happiness that comes from obeying the commandments of God (Mosiah 2:41). As a result of his teaching, they promised to obey God’s commandments for the remainder of their lives, regardless of what He might command them to do in the future (Mosiah 5:2, 5).

“Whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed.”

The first high priest of the church, Alma, was cautious about authority. Having seen firsthand the damage caused by King Noah, he warned his people to be careful whom they chose to follow: “Trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister,” he said, “except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” (Mosiah 23:13-14).

Alma’s apprehensiveness must have influenced his friend King Mosiah, the son of King Benjamin. Near the end of his life, Mosiah chose not to name a successor but instead to establish a representative system of government. Mosiah explained his decision in terms of the unreasonable power of a king:

He enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness (Mosiah 29:23).

The principle taught by Alma and Mosiah is clear: be careful whom you trust to be your leader, and don’t place so much power in the hands of a single person that they can compel obedience.

“They would not…obey the commandments of the king.”

The Book of Mormon provides a few examples of civil disobedience, in which people refused to obey a command of a leader even at great personal peril:

  • When King Noah commanded the men to leave their wives and their children, many of them refused to comply. Those who did obey later regretted the decision. They rebelled against the king, took his life, and returned to their families (Mosiah 19:11-12, 18-21).
  • Some years later, at the urging of a Nephite dissenter named Amalackiah, the king of the Lamanites commanded his people to “gather themselves together…to go to battle against the Nephites.” The Lamanites “were exceedingly afraid…to displease the king,” but they were more afraid of a war which they did not believe they could win. “And it came to pass that they would not, or the more part of them would not, obey the commandments of the king” (Alma 47:1-2).

“They did obey…with exactness.”

Helaman led a group of 2,060 young men whose parents had made an oath never to use a weapon again. He was amazed by their courage and their faith, which he attributed to the teaching of their mothers. He was also impressed with their precise obedience to every command, even in the heat of battle. When the rest of the army was about to give up…

…those two thousand and sixty were firm and undaunted.
Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them (Alma 57:20-21).

Today, I will remember these lessons from the Book of Mormon about obedience. Like Nephi and Jacob, I will recommit to always obey the commandments of God. Following the counsel of King Benjamin, I will be careful which influences I am choosing to obey. As Alma and Mosiah cautioned, I will be careful that my allegiance to human leaders does not place me at odds with doing what is right. And, like the armies of Helaman, I will remember the power of a group of people who are united and determined to obey with exactness.

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