Samuel is the only Lamanite prophet in the Book of Mormon of whom we have any record. It is significant that he has to come to the Nephites to preach repentance, since the Nephites are ripening for destruction. His consistent message to the Nephites is to repent and return to the Lord or they will have passed their day of grace, and will guarantee their own destruction.
Reading Assignment: Helaman 13-16.
I’m sure the irony of a Lamanite preaching righteousness and repentance to the Nephites was not lost on the residents of Zarahemla. It is also puzzling that such powerful prophecies as Samuel gave them were not recorded anywhere, yet almost 38 years later the Savior, himself, asked Nephi’s son Nephi why no one had written down Samuel’s prophecies. I’m guessing Nephi was as surprised as any to realize that even though everyone knew of them, no one had ever bothered to write them down.
Questions about Samuel
Here are some questions that have arisen in my mind as I have studied Samuel’s words. Feel free to comment below if you feel you have an answer to any of these questions. I have pondered them and have come up empty.
The first question is found in two verses at the beginning of the reading assignment. Helaman 13:6-7 says this:
6 Yea, heavy destruction awaiteth this people, and it surely cometh unto this people, and nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely shall come into the world, and shall suffer many things and shall be slain for his people.
7 And behold, an angel of the Lord hath declared it unto me, and he did bring glad tidings to my soul. And behold, I was sent unto you to declare it unto you also, that ye might have glad tidings; but behold ye would not receive me.
Heavy destruction awaiteth this people. Only repentance and faith in Christ can save them. The Savior shall suffer many things and die for his people. That sounds like a pretty depressing litany of woe and gloom. Which part of that brought glad tidings to Samuel’s soul? He says that he came to the Nephites to share these glad tidings, but they rejected him. For this reason, the Lord had changed his mission to the Nephites and was now declaring a message of dire warning.
My guess is that the message that brought so much joy to Samuel’s soul was the part about Christ’s mission. The fact that He would die for the sins of the people, though sad that he had to die, holds the greatest reason to rejoice. Without his death, all mankind would be lost from the presence of God forever. That He would come and die for us in order to save our souls from eternal banishment is the greatest of reasons to shout praises. Perhaps I have missed something in this passage, but this is all I can come up with. Do you have other thoughts from these two verses?
The next question has to do with their immediate need to repent and the timeliness of their punishment if they don’t. In Helaman 13:8-14 Samuel states that in 400 years’ time, if the Nephites don’t repent right now, He will no longer suffer their disobedience and will remove his word (scriptures and prophets) from among the people. He will turn their enemies against them and their enemies will utterly destroy the Nephites.
In fact, if it wasn’t for the righteous living in the city right now, God would have rained down fire from heaven to destroy the people. This places the people squarely in the predicament of Sodom and Gomorrah. The only step left to take to be completely burned off the map is for them to cast the righteous out from among them, thus getting rid of the only barrier between them and utter destruction.
Think about who Samuel is talking to. Most of the people he is preaching to are already wicked enough to be destroyed. Yes, there are some who believe on his teachings and go find Nephi, confess their sins, and are baptized. But the majority couldn’t care any less about what this lunatic on the wall has to say about their descendants 400 years from now.
The part that puzzles me is why the Lord told him to start off by telling them about the long game. Yes, it is true that in 400 plus years their posterity will be destroyed by the Lamanites, but what about the destruction that will kill most of them that will take place in just 38 years? I would think that would be of greater concern to them in the here and now. And if the Lord is going to destroy all these wicked people in 38 years, what does their repenting now have to do with the destruction of their people in 400 years? After all, in 38 years when the wicked are destroyed at Christ’s death, only the righteous will be left anyway. What is the link to their repenting now and the reversal of their posterity being destroyed in 400 years? We might never know.
The cause of their wickedness
Priestcraft, plain and simple. In Helaman 13:26-29 Samuel details their sins as a people. They cast out or kill the prophets, yet they exalt someone who will tell them that anything they want to do is no sin. He refers to these preachers as “foolish and blind guides.” The important point that he leads up to is that the Lord will only put up with this kind of behavior for so long.
Life really is a probation. If we violate our probation badly enough, the Lord eventually declares us to be a lost cause, beyond redemption, unredeemable (according to the dictionary that is my own made up term). In short, the Holy Ghost will work with us as long as we make an effort to listen or try to obey. In this case God’s patience is infinite. It is when we doggedly insist that we will do things our own way, and we fight the Lord at every turn, that is when we are declared lost. This is the condition of those who are ripe in iniquity and ripe for destruction.
Samuel continues his discourse to the people by explaining not only the signs of Christ’s coming and the signs of his death, but the reasons for all these things. He mentioned in chapter 13 that Christ would die for the sins of the people, but in chapter 14 he explains why it is necessary. His explanation isn’t long off the mark of repentance, however.
In verses 28-31 he brings home the point that he is telling the people of these things so there is no cause for unbelief. He wants everyone to understand that because God has given us the knowledge between good and evil we are free to choose for ourselves. Because we have the ability to choose freely between the two, if we are judged and have chosen death, then spiritual death is what we will receive for all eternity. We have chosen death for ourselves. If we choose to obey God then spiritual life is what we will have restored to us. We choose. Nothing is forced on us, it is all our choice.
In verse 3 of chapter 15 the Lord tells the people that he has chastened the Nephites because he loves them. To be chastened is to be corrected and taught the right way. Sometimes chastening comes in the form of simple reminders, but other times it comes with punishments or stern warnings. All these corrections are meant to save the people from sin and far worse punishments of an eternal nature. If the Lord didn’t care what happened to us, all he would need to do is remain silent and we would successfully damn ourselves.
Much has been said about the change of heart that is so desirable. Once our hearts are changed we lose our desires to sin and we enjoy doing good continually. Verse seven reminds us that it is exercising faith in Christ and repenting of our sins that causes this great change of heart. Samuel points out to the Nephites that they know full well that the converted Lamanites actually fear to sin.
Consider that term “fear to sin.” How often do we knowingly walk into a situation where we will commit sin? How often do we actually desire to sin, to break a commandment or do something we know we ought not to do? These people had undergone such a great change in their disposition that the thought of breaking a commandment or causing displeasure to their God made them fearful and concerned. Sin was distasteful to them. This is what the change of heart can do for us.
What can we, what ought we to take away from Samuel’s sermon to the Nephites while on the wall? How can we apply his stern warnings to these people to ourselves?
We live in a society saturated with priestcraft of every variety. We live in a society filled with those who have partaken of the oaths and covenants of the Gadiantons. Our government and our laws have become corrupted. Our lives are soft and filled with leisure time and luxuries unknown in any other time in the history of the world. We are inundated with sin and the encouragement to embrace sinful practices. These are the times in which we live.
The conditions given by Samuel for the happiness of the Nephite people are based on their desires to repent and turn to the Lord. Exercise faith in Christ. Choose which sin you want to rid yourself of, and take it to the Lord and seek for a change of heart to lose the desire for that sin. Repentance is not just changing our behavior, but losing our desire for the sin. To do that we must stay close to the Lord.
This I believe is the message of joy the angel brought to Samuel. The Savior was coming into the world to redeem us all. His death was a necessity for our salvation. Our eternal joy is possible only because of Christ’s suffering and death. Our repentance allows us to be more like Christ, and to experience for ourselves the joy of righteous living. Repentance and faith are the key. They are the good news Samuel came to bring to the Nephite people.