Change is definitely in the wind for the Nephite people. Last week’s lesson showed how their whole way of worship changed. This week we see how their entire form of government is undergoing a great transformation from being ruled by a king to having a system of judges. If this isn’t enough to deal with, pride within the church and priestcrafts are introduced. If it isn’t one thing it is another! We’ll specifically look at what it takes to have a government that produces righteous judgments.
Reading Assignment: Mosiah 29; Alma 1-4.
Change in government
Here is a link to a past article on the change of the Nephite government. I recommend reading this for additional ideas for this part of the lesson. How Mosiah Used the Book of Ether.
How many examples in history (anywhere in the world) can you find where an established system of government sought the voice of the people for help in changing to a better form of government that required individual accountability for each citizen? I’m no historian, but I couldn’t think of a single example. Generally speaking changes in government are accomplished mainly through bloodshed and overthrowing those currently in power. This makes the Nephite’s change in government special and unique.
The king/prophet Mosiah is trying to convince his people that they need to stop having kings. Kings are great, but only if the king is righteous. Unfortunately, this cannot be guaranteed. Kings who are not righteous cause great damage to the people because they spread wickedness among the people. He used Noah and the Jaredite kings as his examples of what happens when a wicked king comes into power. He used his own father, Benjamin as an example of a righteous king.
In Mosiah 29:10-11 Mosiah tells his people that his proposal will be good for the peace of his people.
10 And now let us be wise and look forward to these things, and do that which will make for the peace of this people.
11 Therefore I will be your king the remainder of my days; nevertheless, let us appoint judges, to judge this people according to our law; and we will newly arrange the affairs of this people, for we will appoint wise men to be judges, that will judge this people according to the commandments of God.
Note that if you want peace those who are elected must be wise and be willing to judge the people according to the commandments of God. Keep this in mind. Mosiah gives his people a warning in regards to the importance of their elected officials being wise and good people. In Mosiah 29:26-27 we learn some good lessons about what it means to live in a representative form of government.
26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.
Mosiah doesn’t spell it out, but if the minority of the people are able to get the majority of the people to elect corrupt leaders then the people would have chosen evil over good. It is then that the judgments of God would come upon the people. He warns his people that there will always be a minority who want wicked things, but it is up to the majority to insist that they do not have their way. The safety of the whole nation depends on the majority making sure that goodness always wins out.
Satan wastes no time
Here is where we stand in the story. The sons of Mosiah are off on their 14 year mission to the Lamanites. Alma the Younger has been made the Chief Judge over the people, and is also the prophet of the Church of God. Alma has already died, and Mosiah follows him out of this world within just a few short years. Just so you see what’s coming up in the future, Alma the Younger’s son, Helaman, is already a young man coming of age. The new form of government by judges is not even a year old.
Say hello to Nehor. Nehor is known for introducing priestcraft among the people of Nephi. Nehor was an impressive, imposing figure of a man, known for his much strength. He was really good with words, and was expert in the art of flattery. He was a dangerous man. In Alma 1:3-4 we learn something of what he taught the people.
3 And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.
4 And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.
The description we have of what Nehor taught is given to us by a prophet. Prophets have a way of cutting through all the words, lies, and half truths, and telling us the reality of something. You can bet that Nehor would not have worded his teaching like the prophet did. The bulk of the believing world is run by priestcraft today. This is the only way we have ever seen most religions – through the lens of priestcrafts.
One who practices priestcraft holds themselves up to be a light or example of good to the world. People pay them money to preach to them the doctrines they want to hear. This is what it means “to become popular.” Mind you, they don’t normally say that out loud, but that is the reality of many people’s behavior. How many times have you heard someone say they were “shopping around” for a church to attend? Many people don’t choose a religion or church to be taught the truth so much as they go to church to feel good about themselves. If they don’t like a particular doctrine taught by a certain religion or church they just go find another one they don’t disagree with. It is the job of those they patronize with their contributions to deliver entertaining and indulgent teachings. The people who do this are the people referred to in the New Testament as those having “itching ears.” See 2 Timothy 4:3.
This is the pattern of preaching introduced to the Nephites by Nehor. Instead of teaching the truth (that sin will destroy us), he taught that God is love and will redeem all mankind (no effort needed). Those who practice priestcraft are master wordsmiths. They “craft” what they teach to hold one’s attention and enthrall the people. It is sad to say that many of those who go into the profession of religion today do so because there is good money to be made, not necessarily because they believe what they teach. Alma says that if this form of preaching were to become popular among his people it would lead to their destruction. Why would we be any different?
Unfortunately, Nehor did not control his anger. He met Gideon, a righteous man, who withstood all his arguments and words. In his anger Nehor pulled out his sword and killed Gideon, who was now an old man. Nehor was brought before Alma, who condemned him to die for two crimes, murder, and priestcraft. Yes, he was condemned to death for introducing priestcraft among the people. Alma specifically said that this teaching would lead to the destruction of the people, so that made priestcraft a crime against the Nephite state.
Nehor dies an ignominious death, a shameful death, but that does not stop the spread of this new doctrine among the people.
16 Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.
17 Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief.
Next we have Amlici, who hates the church of God. He wants to use the very gift just given to the people, a voice in their own government, to take that voice away from them. I find this an interesting tactic, since that is exactly what Satan does to us. When Satan gets us to sin, to break a commandment, we give up a portion of our agency. The more we follow Satan the less moral agency we have, and the more difficult it becomes to repent. Eventually, we give up all our agency and we become slaves to Satan’s will. It is ironic that he uses the very gift we fought for in the premortal life to deprive us of that gift in mortality. This is what Amlici was doing.
Amlici’s goal was to become king by the voice of the people. He would promise whatever he had to to get the votes of the majority, but his ultimate plan was to become king so he could destroy the Lord’s church. When the people voted and he lost the vote, he incited his followers to anger. They revolted and anointed him king anyway. The first thing Amlici did was to wage war on the Nephites to try to force himself on them. When they defeated his army he fled to the Lamanites and joined his army to theirs and brought them back to overrun the Nephites. Alma and his people were strengthened by their faith in God and defeated the almost innumerable hosts of the Lamanites.
Pride in the church
In Alma 4 we learn that the prosperity brought on by the righteousness of the people also brought pride. The members of the church became so full of themselves that they were actually leading those who were not members of the church on from one wickedness to another. The wickedness of the members of the church became the biggest stumbling block to the conversion of those who were initially interested in joining the church.
To bring order back into the church Alma relinquished his role as chief judge to a newly elected righteous man named Nephihah. Alma dedicated his remaining years to going throughout the church to regulate the churches (congregations) and reclaim as many as he could from their wayward ways.
In the chapters for this week’s lesson are many types and shadows of the world we live in today. We are surrounded by those who preach priestcraft. We are all comfortable with this form of preaching since this is what we have all been raised around. But there are lessons to be learned about what priestcraft does to a people. We need to learn to stay close to the living prophets and willingly accept all they teach us, even those doctrines that are socially unpopular.
We need to recognize that Satan uses our gift of agency to ensnare us. We need to stay obedient to the commandments in order to keep the full use of our agency. And there are those who wish us harm, but use flattering words and arguments to deceive us, trying to get us to follow them and support them in their wickedness. Only they and the Lord know their ultimate aim in their designs. Staying close to the Spirit will protect us and show us what we should do.
Finally, we need to beware of pride. Pride is having an antagonistic attitude to anything that is good, i.e. anything that comes from God. Pride is self consuming and all consuming. Being obedient to the commandments will teach us to be selfless and increase our desire to serve others and seek their happiness.
All these lessons we find in these chapters are relevant to us and our lives. The answer in both timelines is the same, stay close to the Lord’s anointed servants, be humble, and do good, seek good, promote good, and defend good.