Life among the Nephites at this time is precarious at best. Everything is in an upheaval, and all because of their own wickedness. Those who endure faithfully in the church are only a tiny minority now because most of the church has apostatized. The Gadiantons are running amok, and threatening to completely wipe the Nephites and Lamanites from existence. If there was ever a time when faithful observance of commandments was needed, it is now.
Reading Assignment: 3 Nephi 1-7.
Samuel the Lamanite has prophesied of the signs that are to precede and accompany the Savior’s birth. He put a deadline for these signs at five years time. Those who don’t believe in the prophets claim their five years are up, and have set a date for the execution of all believers if the sign hasn’t been given by a certain day.
Consider their predicament. They believe the prophet’s words. They are faithfully looking forward to the day the sign will be given. There are other signs and wonders happening in the heavens that give support to their faith that the time is drawing closer. But those in power have set an arbitrary deadline that says that if the actual sign of the night with no darkness doesn’t happen by a certain date, all believers will be rounded up the next day and executed.
What does that do to one’s faith? What do you do when everything appears to support the Lord’s word, but man has decided to circumvent the Lord’s timing and kill everyone who believes if their own deadline isn’t met? How do you continue to show your faith? Do you resign yourself to dying to show your faith, if it comes to that? These are hard questions with equally difficult answers.
As it turns out, Nephi spends the day in prayer pleading with the Lord to spare his people, and is told that the sign would be given that night. This spared the people, and many were converted because the evidence of the prophet’s words was too overpowering to argue with. 3 Nephi 1:23 makes an interesting point.
23 And it came to pass that Nephi went forth among the people, and also many others, baptizing unto repentance, in the which there was a great remission of sins. And thus the people began again to have peace in the land.
Evidently humans are not rational creatures. Notice his comment in verse 23. He says there was a great remission of sins, and so the people began again to have peace in the land. How many times does this have to happen before people begin to get the connection that righteousness equals peace in the land? We might well ask ourselves the same question. How many times do we have to stumble and fall in this life before we get it that keeping the commandments is the only way for us to find peace and happiness? We are too easily diverted and distracted, too easily convinced that something other than the gospel will make us happy.
The Nephites did indeed have peace for several years, but the Gadiantons were recruiting for all they were worth. People were dissenting from the Nephites and flocking to the Gadiantons. Evidently they were making offers people felt they could not refuse. Even the Lamanites, who had been so steadfastly righteous all these years couldn’t keep their children from defecting to the side of the robbers. Their children were so wicked they were even causing their parents to commit sin. 3 Nephi 1:30.
30 And thus were the Lamanites afflicted also, and began to decrease as to their faith and righteousness, because of the wickedness of the rising generation.
For the next 13 years the people hardened their hearts against the signs and wonders shown them and the prophecies and promises given to them. How does this work? The Lord showed the people proof they could not argue with that Christ had been born. They knew he was alive and living in Jerusalem. Yet somehow Satan manages to convince people that there was no way to actually know that Jesus was really in Jerusalem or that he would be coming to visit them. For that matter, how do they know that the signs and wonders, as the prophets called them, were actually from God?
All he had to do was to plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of the people then let their imaginations and some well-placed lies do the rest. Does this work on us as well? How many times do we have a powerful experience in our lives that “convinces” us of the truth of something, yet down the road we end up acting as though the experience never happened?
One of the hallmarks of behavior that accompany apostasy is anger. As the prophets come back to convince the people of the error of their ways, they become angry. Now they have the rejection, and sometimes even the death of prophets to answer for. Have you ever been confronted with a sin and become angry with the one calling you out on it? Have you ever seen this happen with a friend or a relative?
The wickedness of both the Nephites and the Lamanites progressed from bad to worse until it got to the point that about all who were left in the Nephite/Lamanite camp were those still faithful to the teachings of the prophets. Most others had defected to the Gadiantons. It was then that the carnage from the Gadianton’s raids got so bad the Nephites and Lamanites had to move in with each other for their own protection.
Giddianhi, the new leader of the Gadiantons, finally demanded of Lachoneus, the governor of the Nephites, that he hand over the government of the land, with all cities. If he didn’t completely surrender everything to the Gadiantons, Giddianhi would bring in his massive armies and make the Nephites extinct. What Giddianhi was not factoring in was that those who were left were the more righteous part of the people.
It was the practice of the Nephites, when they were righteous, to appoint a prophet or at least a man of God to be their military leader. This had always been to their benefit in the past. Lachoneus appointed a prophet by the name of Gidgiddoni to be the commander of the armies. It was decided that all the remaining people needed to gather into the center of the land, stripping everything of worth from their lands and bringing it all into the center for protection.
Doing what the Lord has always commanded his people, they decided to wait until attacked. As long as they were defending themselves, and had not given first offense, the Lord would protect them and give them the victory. This is just what happened. The robbers moved down out of the mountains, but could not start farming in a time of war, so they had nothing to eat by a scant supply of meat from the wilderness. All the animals were with the people of the Lord in the center of the land, where they could out wait the robbers for years.
After a massive battle, with incalculable carnage, and a siege that failed miserably, the robbers finally gave up and decided to flee into the north country where they could start over on their own. But the prophet, Gidgiddoni cut them off, surrounded them, and in a single day they rid themselves of the Gadianton problem completely. What a miracle!
Once again the Lord had kept him promises that if the people would repent and turn their hearts to him, he would protect them and fight their battles for them. The Lord never fails those who endure faithfully. For several years they enjoyed their peace and began again to prosper in the land.
It happened again. In all their prosperous living they began to forget the source of their prosperity and happiness. They set their hearts on their riches and the comforts of life and began to become hardened towards one another. They turned away the poor and rejected the words of the prophets. Once again war became the norm.
Their divisions were so pronounced that even the church couldn’t hold the people together. Even the church crumbled and fell apart. It was then that those who hungered for power, the judges and lawyers, and even the chief priests of the church, killed the prophets, against the laws of the land. When they were brought to trial for their crimes, the families of those accused assembled and re-administered the secret oaths and covenants of old. The Gadiantons were born again.
They murdered the chief judge before he could try their family and friends. The divisions were so bad that the government itself dissolved, and people had to protect themselves by gathering together into tribes made of family and friends.
This is where we find ourselves. We have the lessons of the Nephites before us. We have elections coming up in the next couple of months in the United States. We have great divisions among the people, and increasing tensions over the political atmosphere even among the members of the church within the US. What are we doing to make sure we, as the people of the Lord, are seeking each others’ welfare, instead of seeking for the power of one candidate for office to increase over that of another candidate? Are we seeking to unify people or divide people? Are we seeking to lead by the Spirit of the Lord in these matters or are we leading with raw emotion?
Who is our commander? Who are we taking orders from in these last couple of months before the elections? Are we listening to the lies and half truths told by Satan or are we seeking to please the Lord by staying faithful to our covenants and commandments? Are we enduring faithfully in these times when it is so easy to become distracted by the chaos of the political arena?
In just a few weeks we will have General Conference. We will hear from our prophet and the General Authorities of the Lord’s Church. Now might be a good time to begin fasting and praying that we will be prepared spiritually for the counsel they will give us at Conference. It is no different for us than it was for the Nephites. Those who remain faithful to the Lord’s servants, and keep God’s commandments are those who will find safety in these days of trial.