The commonly referred to “pride cycle” is the topic of this week’s lesson. How often have you, or someone you know said something like this next thought? “The Nephites were so stupid! They no sooner get blessed than they grow proud and start breaking all the commandments!” Well, this is what we will talk about in this article.
Reading Assignment: Helaman 6-12.
We have to start the cycle somewhere, so let’s look at their high point. The promise has always been that obedience will bring blessings. Mormon is very meticulous about pointing out all the blessings the Nephites receive when they are righteous. This helps to portray their suffering in stark relief when they become disobedient later on.
About this time in the Book of Mormon Mormon begins to make a real distinction between those in the church and those out of the church. The “real” church of God are those members who are actually living the commandments they have been given. These are they who are experiencing the joy the gospel brings into the lives of the repentant soul. Those who reject the lifestyle of the gospel, whether in or out of the church, find life much more difficult.
3 Nevertheless, the people of the church did have great joy because of the conversion of the Lamanites, yea, because of the church of God, which had been established among them. And they did fellowship one with another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy.
When the Lamanites came into the land and began to preach the gospel with great power and authority, they confounded those who had rejected the gospel message, and many of them rejoined the church or became members for the first time. This brought an unprecedented peace between the Lamanites and the Nephites. People were able to travel anywhere in the land and conduct business. There was complete cooperation between the Lamanites and the Nephites, and people crossed borders back and forth without restraint.
Because of the great amount of ore in the land, both the Lamanites and the Nephites became very wealthy as to the things of this world. They had craftsmen of all types making the most intricate and marvelous things. The Lord also blessed them with many other material goods, as we see in Helaman 6:12-13.
12 They did raise grain in abundance, both in the north and in the south; and they did flourish exceedingly, both in the north and in the south. And they did multiply and wax exceedingly strong in the land. And they did raise many flocks and herds, yea, many fatlings.
13 Behold their women did toil and spin, and did make all manner of cloth, of fine-twined linen and cloth of every kind, to clothe their nakedness. And thus the sixty and fourth year did pass away in peace.
For three or four years they experienced unprecedented prosperity jointly as a society. But all was not necessarily well in Zion. Their chief judge was murdered while he sat in his judgment seat. That same year, his son, who had been appointed in his stead, was also murdered. This tells us that there were those of the band of Gadianton still thriving behind the scenes.
Mormon says that they had been blessed with ease and comfort for so long that they forgot where it all came from. He put it this way in Helaman 6:17:
17 For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain.
There is something about the children of Israel, whether in Old Testament times or in Book of Mormon times that just can’t abide peace for very long. How does Satan do it? How does he turn them so quickly from being obedient and happy into murdering, turning their backs on the poor, and setting their hearts on their riches? It appears to have something to do with the level of their conversion.
We are told that the Lamanites who were converted by Ammon and his brethren never did turn away from the truth. Their conversion was true and complete. But the Nephites seem to never, as a people, get to this point. They are brutalized by war and famine, pestilence and plague. Then and only then do they remember to turn and serve their God. It seems that death has to be staring them in the face to remind them of their mortality before they remember that the only one who can deliver them from that awful fate is the God taught to them by their prophets.
But once they have become settled in their newly found obedience, and life becomes comfortable, Satan moves in with all the worldly distractions. Ooh, look at that beautiful set of clothing she is wearing. I would really like that. Ooh, look at how much my neighbor is prospering in his business, I want to be that rich. These things don’t seem to be connected to their obedience to the commandments of the Law of Moses they are required to obey each day. Before long, their pursuit of what will make them feel important or look good in public has replaced their daily observance of the Law. God is forgotten, and church is no longer a consideration.
They had another component in their lives, the Gadianton robbers. This secret society pandered to the wanton lusts of the people. They promised that they could have all those things they wanted, and more. The catch was that they had to swear to keep their membership in the band a secret, and be loyal to others who also belonged to their select group. It was all very flattering.
Treating the Gadiantons
We thought we had gotten rid of the Gadiantons, but Mormon tells us that their secret plans and oaths are never far away. Helaman 6:26 says that when the plans are not actually available to be read by someone who would want to use them, Satan puts them into the hearts of those who want to get gain and not suffer the penalties of the law. So even though they had been hidden from the people, Satan revealed them anew.
The Nephites, ever greedy and filled with the desires of the flesh, embraced these plans and the Gadianton robbers filled their society and their government. But the Lamanites were more wise, and went among the people and vigorously taught the gospel until “this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among” them. They seemed to realize that no amount of legislating could get rid of thieves. Only preaching the word of God could do that. Can you imagine what will happen to our society when God is completely removed from public life?
Gadianton robbers are among us today, just as they were in the Book of Mormon. They don’t go by that name, but the oaths are the same, and the purpose is the same, to get gain, to rob, to plunder, to murder, and not get caught. Satan hasn’t changed his end goal, to destroy as many of us as possible. He just gets more subtle about it.
The secret to the Lamanite’s success in purging the robbers from among them is found in Helaman 6:1. Mormon says they became more righteous than the Nephites, “because of their firmness and their steadiness in the faith.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I didn’t touch any of the story line in this lesson. Too much information! The important lesson in this episode of the Nephite and Lamanite history is how they either continue to be blessed or descend into death and destruction. The promise made to Lehi, Nephi, and every other major prophet of the Book of Mormon still holds true for us today. If we turn our backs on the Lord, for any reason, we will be destroyed as a nation and as a people.
The church will survive, but only as long as there are righteous among the church. The Lord does not protect the willful sinner, even if they claim to be a member of His church. Only the righteous, those who obey the commandments and are firm and steady in their faith are protected.
The Nephites were only converted on the surface. There wasn’t a deep conversion to keep them steady in times of ease. Only the wrath of their God woke them to a sense of their responsibilities. Only death and destruction kept them aware of their need for their Lord. This dependence is real. The need for the Lord in our lives is very real. His promises of prosperity and protection are every bit as real as his threat of death and destruction. What we choose is up to us.
The scriptures have multiple references to those who humble themselves, as opposed to those who must be humbled by the trials sent from heaven. The lesson manual ends with a quote from Elder Gordon B. Hinckley. His words are as true today as they were then.
“No other written testament so clearly illustrates the fact that when men and nations walk in the fear of God and in obedience to his commandments, they prosper and grow, but when they disregard him and his word, there comes a decay that, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 10; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 8).