As Nephi walked dejectedly toward his home after being ignored by the people of his city, he heard the voice of God. The Lord was pleased with Nephi’s unwearying efforts to spread the gospel, and now, because of his faithfulness over time, God was granting him additional power. “Ye shall…smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people” (Helaman 10:6).
Nephi was not vindictive, and he was not inclined to request a natural disaster. His response to this message from God was to redouble his efforts in preaching the gospel. He traveled from city to city “until he had declared [the word of God] unto them all, or sent it forth among all the people” (Helaman 10:17).
Not only were the people unresponsive to Nephi’s message, they also began to be more violent. “They were divided against themselves and began to slay one another with the sword” (Helaman 10:18).
It was in the face of this increased violence that Nephi decided to use his God-given power. He asked God to initiate a famine, not as a punishment for their bad behavior, but to make the violence stop, and perhaps to put them in a more reflective state of mind:
O Lord, do not suffer that this people shall be destroyed by the sword; but O Lord, rather let there be a famine in the land, to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God, and perhaps they will repent and turn unto thee.Helaman 11:4
It worked. The immediate effect of the famine was that “the work of destruction did cease by the sword” (Helaman 11:5). The people were apparently too hungry to fight with each other. And gradually (over the next three years), as the people had time to think about their situation, “they began to remember the Lord their God; and they began to remember the words of Nephi” (Helaman 11:7). They repented, Nephi asked God to remove the famine, and it began to rain again.
Sadly, the repentance was short-lived. Barely three years after the end of the famine, the violence resumed and became worse. But for a brief period of time, the famine served an important spiritual role in the lives of those people.
I’ve been thinking today about the lessons of the famine for us during a global pandemic. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently emphasized the opportunity that our current circumstances give us to reflect on spiritual things and to turn our hearts toward God:
I would not say…that this [pandemic] is some sort of a judgment from God. But we have plenty of scripture, we have plenty of religious history and doctrine and sacred texts that do reveal and testify of God’s hope that we will turn to Him voluntarily, that we will choose to be reflective and righteous and contemplative in a spiritual way that that will all be to His grand purposes and to our good….
We’d be foolish, we’d have missed a sacred opportunity…if we didn’t search our soul, do a little repenting, vow to be a little better here, or a little kinder there.“Coronaspection – Interview with Elder Jeffrey Holland,” The Elijah Interfaith Institute, 8 June 2020
Today, I will remember the lessons of Nephi’s famine. I will take some time to consider how I can use my current circumstances to draw closer to God.