The Lord is consistent in all that He does. If you can spot His patterns of behavior understanding Him becomes much easier. In this article I will look at several instances, mainly in the Book of Mormon, where the Lord follows a specific pattern for destroying His people. To read about other patterns God follows do a search on gospelstudy.us for “God’s use of patterns.”
God never just comes out one day and announces that a people are going to be destroyed. He always follows a pattern of warnings and giving them time before they are told of their imminent destruction. His compassion for us cannot allow Him to do any less. God wants us to be happy and to thrive. Only when we refuse to cooperate and be obedient, despite multiple warnings and invitations to return to Him, does He finally tell us that if repentance is no longer an option we are willing to consider then we must consider the only remaining alternative, which is extinction or extended punishment. This is known in the scriptures as becoming “ripe” for destruction.
Most people have a real hangup about death. In the following article I explain why the Lord forbids us from killing under most circumstances, but has no problem with taking life Himself. The secret to understanding why the rules are the way they are when it comes to death and killing is in understanding what death is and how it works.
Warnings and records
It is really important here to clarify that while the patterns hold up, our records don’t. The Lord is consistent in the way He behaves. His love is consistent, and His discipline is consistent. What isn’t consistent is humanity’s ability to write and preserve records. We simply don’t have all the records of the times the Lord has communicated with the nations of the earth. And some nations were destroyed by God because of their wickedness – they were “ripe” in iniquity. But other nations were destroyed because of the wickedness of others, through no fault of their own. Refer back to the article referenced above.
I’m going to talk about Nineveh in a moment, and I am pretty sure that as soon as I do you will think of several other cultures that were destroyed in one way or another. In this article I am only referring to those who were destroyed because of being ripe in iniquity. Not all nations have been destroyed because of their own iniquity. More often than not it was because of someone else’s sinful ways, and those people will have to answer for the deaths they caused.
Fire versus invaders and Nineveh
Another pattern seems to be that the Lord doesn’t destroy people Himself, unless He is the only one around to do the deed. Look at Sodom and Gomorrah for example. He was the only one around to cause their destruction. The nations surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah were not wicked enough to destroy them, and it wasn’t time for Israel to move into the area and claim their birthright. In 2 Nephi 3:9–10 Joseph of Egypt recorded that his descendents would be in captivity until the Lord raised up Moses to deliver them. That wouldn’t happen for another 400 years. Why? Because the Lord had to wait until the people already living in what became Israel were ripe for destruction. In 1 Nephi 17:35 we learn that the people living in future Israel had rejected every word of God, and were ripe in iniquity. So the Lord used Israel, His covenant people to destroy them. This is why they were supposed to kill them all, and Israel fell under condemnation for not killing all the people they conquered.
Another example is Nineveh, another wicked city. It was wicked enough that the Lord had sent them people to teach them how to behave, and they rejected God’s teachings, whatever they were. So when they finally got evil enough, the Lord sent Jonah to tell them one last time that if they did not repent and change their ways He would destroy them. They repented and averted their own destruction. This is the pattern: multiple warnings – wait time – final warning – result, which is either prosperity or destruction. It is always the people’s choice in the end as to which they receive.
A second example of destruction by fire is found in the Book of Mormon (and I’ll talk about this more in a few minutes) when Nephi, in the Book of Helaman, tells the Nephites that if it wasn’t for the few righteous still within the city of Zarahemla the Lord would, at that time, burn the city with fire to destroy them. I wondered why fire and not the usual invading Lamanites. That is when it hit me, the Lamanites at that time were more righteous than the Nephites, so why would they invade? Many of the Lamanites had made a covenant with God never again to raise their sword against another person. The Lord would have to destroy them Himself, and His usual method is plague, pestilence, famine, or fire. If there is a good chance they will repent He uses plague, pestilence, and famine. If He knows they are completely ripe in iniquity, the choice is almost always fire from heaven. Look through your scriptures and see if this pattern doesn’t hold up. Even at Christ’s death the most wicked of all the Nephite/Lamanite cities were destroyed by fire. The rest were sunk, or buried either by earth or water.
Abinadi, the second example
This is the framework of this story:
- Abinadi comes to the Nephite people and warns them of their impending punishment if they don’t repent. The message he delivers from the Lord is very specific, right down to the type of repentance the Lord requires of them. It isn’t just any repentance, this must include sackcloth and ashes (Mosiah 11:20–25). The punishments the Lord promises are very specific.
- They reject Abinadi’s message and he leaves for two years. This is the waiting time given to them by the Lord to allow them time to change and repent.
- Abinadi is sent back to the Nephites, and this time his message is one of certainty. It is no longer a matter of “if you don’t repent” it is “this is going to happen.” He now gets down to specifics telling the people that the king’s life would be worth no more than a garment in a furnace, etc.
- This message includes one final warning in Mosiah 12:8 – “… except they repent I will utterly destroy them … yet they shall leave a record behind them.”
This fits the pattern I bolded in the previous section. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Abinadi knew going into this visit to Zarahemla that this was to be a one way trip, and that the only thing remaining to be seen was the method of his own death. All the signs point to his having a pretty good idea that they were going to kill him once he was finished delivering his message. This reminds me of Joseph Smith heading off to Carthage to seal his own testimony, knowing that the judgments that would follow his death needed his martyrdom to be completely justified. That is often the pattern.
Nephi, Samuel, and the third example
This example of the pattern for destruction only recently became evident to me, partly because the warnings are split between multiple prophets. Nephi started the first set of warnings. From about 29 BCE the Lamanites and Nephi all preached to the Nephites to try to get them to repent (Helaman 6:4). Nephi even went into the land northward to preach the gospel to all the people who had traveled there. They rejected his message, so he returned home to Zarahemla. Less than seven years after almost two decades of hard warfare the people had been prospered so much that they began to set their hearts on their riches (Helaman 6:17). They also began to embrace the Gadianton society that took over the government (Helaman 6:31).
Nephi mourned over the wickedness of the people and we have the story of him praying on his garden tower, the people wanting to know what was wrong to cause such mourning, and him telling them of the murder of their chief judge. That is followed by the Lord giving Nephi the sealing power. Nephi had promised the people that the Lord would destroy them if they did not repent (Helaman 6:28).
After Nephi was given the sealing power the people became even more hardened and wicked. The Gadianton society started to divide the people through contentions, and they began to war among themselves, killing each other with swords. Nephi decided that since they were killing themselves anyway, perhaps they could be saved if the Lord brought a famine to their doorstep. Nephi prayed to the Lord, and the heavens were sealed for five years. The people continued to die, but it was from famine. Finally, they saw the writing on the proverbial wall and humbly asked Nephi if he would pray to have the heavens opened again. The Lord blessed them with rain, and for a few years they behaved themselves. Unfortunately it only lasted a few years then they became more impenitent than ever.
Nephi was their warning shot. Samuel was their final notice. (Think Law of Witnesses) In Helaman 13:5–39 (which is basically the whole chapter) Samuel spells out their wickedness, their punishments, the chances they had received to be happy and how they had squandered and rejected that happiness, etc. He gives them a warning that the day would come, if they did not repent, that both they and their treasures would be cursed. Samuel then goes into some detail about how that would work for them, and how they would feel when that day came. He then makes the point that when it gets to where everything, both they and what they hold so dear to their hearts are curse, it will be too late to repent. In verse 38 he says that when that day comes their time for change will already be behind them, and their destruction will be guaranteed.
38 But behold, your of probation are past; ye have the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for in doing iniquity, which thing is to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.
Unless the people repented immediately, they would bring upon them the curse of total destruction promised by the Lord in 400 year’s time. This opens up an interesting question. But what about all those righteous people that lived for a couple of centuries after Jesus came to the America’s? Doesn’t that count?
From the time of Samuel to the death of Christ on the cross the people of Nephi could prove themselves. And in that time they proved they loved evil more than good. So when Samuel told them “your days of probation are past” I don’t think he was announcing to them that the Lord had weighed them in the balance and found them permanently wanting. They still had a chance to repent, but they were quickly running out of those chances. As a people they were making their choice. They were demonstrating to the Lord that they preferred to seek for happiness in sinning.
Nephi had also warned the people of the destruction to come, but Samuel was their second witness that they were fast running out of opportunities to repent. Their civilization was going to be destroyed; it would be guaranteed, if they did not repent quickly and change their ways. Between Samuel’s sermon and their actual destruction there were waves of righteous living, and many thousands of them died very righteous people. But eventually almost all of them rejected the gospel Christ brought them, and they had to be pulled from mortality, for the day of their ability to repent had come and gone.
The Lord’s patterns don’t change, for He, Himself declares to us throughout the scriptures that His course is one eternal round. When we become ripe in iniquity, be that now or in a future generation, we will see the same scene play out. We will be warned by the prophet to repent and turn to the Lord and stop trying to find pleasure in our sins. If we don’t do it there will be a brief waiting time for us to prove our determination to either repent or not repent. When the Lord sees that the people, as a whole, have wholly turned from Him, and they have completely embraced Satan’s rule, He will have the prophet declare the punishments foretold in the scriptures to come upon mankind, and may God have mercy on our souls in that day.
The righteous, as a whole, will always, ultimately, be preserved, for that has always been God’s promise. But those who do not listen to, and follow the prophet, cannot say they didn’t see it coming. For the Lord has a pattern that He always follows. We always are told in clear and unmistakable terms to repent and turn to God. The choice is up to us. God will never punish the righteous, so if punishment comes it is always because of our choices. In the end, until we have sinned away our liberties, we are ultimately in control. Once we have sinned away our day of grace we no longer have the choice of what happens.
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