Everybody has an opinion on COVID-19, how it is damaging the economy, whether it is serious enough to warrant a nationwide lock down, what kinds of medication will help, among many other things. For my part, I have some health issues that make me more susceptible to it and so I have stayed hunkered down and have encouraged others to do the same. I feel like it is smart to listen to the prevailing medical advice and stay home.
However, there is one huge caveat to my opinion. Financially speaking I was somewhat prepared for something like this and I am blessed that my company is still in business and can function passably during all of this. This puts me in a situation that is completely different than most people in the world. While some of you are in situations like me, there are undoubtedly many more of you that are feeling much more scared, and financially devastated by what is happening.
It is with that backdrop that I want to plead with anyone who survives this fairly unscathed, or with resources to spare, to please make a plan now to help those who this catastrophe will affect so terribly. It is our Christian responsibility to succor those who are in need of succor, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and administer relief to those who are sick physically and spiritually.
In conference this weekend I felt like Elder Holland said it best about defeating COVID-19 and our responsibility afterward:
“When we have conquered it — and we will — may we be equally committed to freeing the world from the virus of hunger and freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty.”Jeffrey R Holland
This week’s study plays into our current situation, and its central person is my Book of Mormon hero – King Benjamin. I named my first son after this man, and these chapters frame the basis for the way I see and live the gospel. I can think of no other scriptures, save Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, where a more clear and powerful description exists of how to live life, how to love Jesus Christ and accept his gift of redemption, and how to love and help each other through the journey of life.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 14-17 – Mosiah 1-6
– There are no amount of good works that can balance our equation with God. We owe him everything and are in his debt.
– Christ’s atonement doesn’t bring the equation into balance; it completely eliminates the old equation.
– The new equation is centered around our admission that we need Christ’s help and we do not reject what He is offering as opposed to compliance with the Law dictating the outcome of the equation.
History and Context:
– There are few very important subtexts to understand when we are told that Benjamin taught his sons specifically about the language and the records that were passed down. First, it is important to note that the vast majority of people would have been illiterate and so their spoken language would have been significantly different than the written language of the plates. This is similar to Latin being the written language of the Bible but German and Italian being the language of the people in the Middle Ages. This passing down of literacy, history, and spiritual teachings would have been kept within the family and would have made them very different from most people in their community, which is why they were likely the ruling family for centuries.
– As mentioned, being the King, or the ruler in Benjamin’s society was not tied to riches or taxation. Like what we know of Mesoamerican culture of the time, leadership was much more tied to wisdom, knowledge, language advantage, military victory, and spiritual experiences. Accumulation of power over time could lead to wealth and more military victories, but since Benjamin was only the second King in this new group of followers, this was not likely the case.
– Mormon is the narrator and editor for the next significant portion of the Book of Mormon. He has a unique view in his efforts to select, edit, and build the narrative. His 20/20 vision of the final outcome of his people allows him to make an outline with cause and effect, and then select the most central and critical points in history that support and demonstrate how the collapse of his society occurred. His selections are intentional, illustrative, and persuasive, but we also need to remember they are not all-inclusive.
– One key facet of Mormon’s narration is around the gap between the poor and the elite and rich. The Book of Mosiah, which is our first experience with Mormon in the narrative, is happening at a time when Mesoamerican cultures were experiencing a similar shift of issues with increased dissatisfaction by the change in societal structure from egalitarianism (all people are equal) to ruling, wealthy and elite classes having more rights than the poor. Mormon shows this clearly through the Book of Mosiah, where it starts with Benjamin, who is not separate from his people and mandates equality as part of the gospel and temporal living, to later complete shifts in people through riches, pride, and elitism.
– When we learn that Benjamin sent the written version of his speech to those who could not hear his voice it was more likely the written version was read to smaller audiences than a document being passed out to all of the people to read or to take home.
– In Chapter 5, there is a lot of discussion about taking a name, and it is important to understand that anciently, having a name would have brought a thing into existence. Names were powerful, they were symbols and meanings and the true nature of things. Because people were illiterate and less educated, names were the key to their living and meaning. So, when the people took upon them the name of Christ after making their covenant, this would have been a very significant thing for them.
– In Chapter 6, Mormon editorializes Benjamin’s efforts to write the names of the people in a way that seems like Mormon didn’t think it was that important. This subtle and interesting difference between editor and the other narrators in the Book of Mormon are small but powerful evidences that Joseph Smith was not the author, but truly writing the words of others.
– One final thing to remember is that Mosiah, Benjamin’s father, was a refugee leader of people who fled from where the original Nephite homeland was. It is possible he fled because the people completely rejected the Lord and assimilated by conquest from the “Lamanites,” but we know for sure Mosiah was not a descendant of Nephi or Jacob, because Amaleki who gave Mosiah the plates was the last descendant who was tasked with keeping the small plates. Mosiah, Benjamin, and Mosiah again were chosen by the Lord to lead, but the lineal connection to Nephi was disconnected.
Borrowed Dirt Bags – Chapter 1-2
Benjamin’s death is approaching, and he has passed his status to Mosiah. For the purposes of notifying the entire community and to give his farewell address to them Benjamin asks everyone to come to the temple. There are so many people who come, with their families, that it becomes necessary for Benjamin’s words to be disseminated throughout the people.
The first part of Benjamin’s address is crucial in its message and approach. He focuses primarily on the unequal relationship that human beings have with deity. While the philosophies of the world naturally set up humans as the individual pinnacle of life, and our own self-interests seem to dominate our decisions and what is celebrated as success, Benjamin defines the human condition as “borrowing” bodies “less than the dirt of the earth” and constantly falling short of our requirements from God. To some, this can come across as a real hit to self-esteem (when our self-worth is built on status, or a positive in the good/evil scorecard), however that is not the intent or the subtext of Benjamin’s point. His point is simple, that this is how it is supposed to be, we are supposed to free ourselves from comparison to other humans or even to God, instead we need to just recognize that it is unequal, and that we do need God, and that keeping the commandments puts us in a frame of mind where we are seeking the help of God, rather than rejecting it.
He finishes this part of his address by asking us to “consider upon the blessed and happy state of those who keep the commandments” and then he says something key: “they are blessed IN all things both temporal and spiritual.” At first it seems that he is saying they are blessed WITH all things (which is obviously not true), but when you look at IN as more like DURING then it makes more sense. People who seek to keep the commandments and recognize their inequality and need with God, are happy DURING all things, situations, and circumstance both temporally and spiritually. It is the frame of mind that matters. The world around us is built to make us the God’s of the whole earth and keeping the commandments and our relationship with the God is built to help us recognize we need God.
Atonement – Chapter 3
With the correct frame of mind communicated to his people, including showing how Benjamin, himself, had to work and toil to be an example, Benjamin then goes into a vision he had received. This vision acts as a two-part solution to the unequal equation from Chapter 2. First, he describes Christ’s atonement as the cure for our inequality with God. Christ will pay for all the sins, feel all the pain, and remove the need for a balanced equation. Sometimes it seems as though Christ is balancing the equation, but in my opinion, it feels like he is just removing the equation all together by solving it permanently. The second thing Christ’s atonement does is give the people something concrete and familiar to focus their worship and spiritual attention upon. While before, there was this huge inequality between God and humans, now, with Jesus suffering the maladies of mortality, being human, suffering the complete lows and highs of humanity, and showing us the example of how to live and how to believe. This gave us something to focus on, something to believe in, and someone to relate with.
The new equation is set to us at this point. The equation has two parts, but in Chapter three we only get the first: We must believe in Christ and submit to the Holy Spirit and repent (keep trying to improve). Those who reject Christ are the only ones in danger of ultimate failure, everyone else has a clear path to salvation.
How do we Always Rejoice? – Chapter 4
Chapter 4 is my favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon. The people have felt the spirit and have been converted to not only realizing they need God, but they recognize that Jesus is truly their Savior and they want to become better people. Sensing this, Benjamin then lays out the way a person who believes in God and Jesus’s Christ’s atonement should build the foundation of their lives. He gives the new equation:
- Foundation for Believers 4:9-10
- Believe in God and Believe Jesus Christ
- Believe that repentance, change, and progression are not one-time experiences
- Practical ways to build this Foundation 4:11
- Remember and be grateful for what God has done
- Remember that we always need God
- Pray every day in humility, gratitude, and love
- Be Faithful – or in other words, keep trying your best
- Results of having and building upon the Foundation 4:12
- Always Rejoice
- Always Feel God’s Love
- Always Retain Remission of Sins.
- Practical ways to build upon the Foundation 4:13-26
- Never seek to injure others but seek to make peace
- Take responsibility of being a parent seriously and take care of children with love and compassion
- Teach them to love and to believe in the Lord
- Seek to succor, assist, clothe, feed, and bless those in need
- Give substance to anyone in need regardless of their circumstance.
- Change our mind frames away from what self-inflicted actions cause distress and difficulty to just assisting and helping.
- This is done through admitting that not all of our own difficulties are truly self-inflicted and remembering our foundation that we all need God and are all Beggars.
- Even if you cannot give, how you feel about those who are suffering and your willingness to help if you could is essential.
- Cautions in these efforts 4:27-30
- It is not necessary to do more than you can, do not let guilt or extreme involvement hurt and destroy your own life and your own situation. Take care of yourself as well.
- There is an unlimited amount of ways that a person can sin, and we will all do or not do many of them. Sin is not a reminder that we cannot improve, but a reminder that in order to improve we need the Lord.
- Our thoughts lead to words, which lead to actions and so start with our foundation and remember that we need the Lord.
A New Name – Chapter 5-6
Covenants are a key component in symbolizing and sealing our desire to change with the Lord. They are things we can hold dear and focus on in our journey through life. The people all feel impressed to make a covenant, and like many covenants, this one comes with a new name. The new name of these people is the Lord Jesus Christ and so this people would have viewed themselves much like we do, Christians and believers.
Benjamin finishes this experience by reminding the people that what their thoughts focus on, whether it be the Lord Jesus Christ and helping others, or our own selves (our power, status, wealth, or worthlessness, and limitations), will influence their happiness and their life. It is how we view ourselves and others that ultimately leads us to joy or misery.
Why does Benjamin want us to see ourselves at such lower status compared to God? Is it because he wants us to feel bad about ourselves? Is it because he wants us to admit something about ourselves? What purpose is he attempting to achieve?
What part of you is still the “Natural Man”? What can becoming meek, submissive, willing to change, and humble do to help you become something different?
Why does Benjamin pose our desire to love and care for other people as a result of Faith + Humility + Repentance + and needing God, as opposed to something that helps us with those things? What does that mean for our individual actions and journey to connect with God?
Key Moment or Scripture: Mosiah 4:16-21
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
I hit on this in the beginning of this post, and there are so many facets of King Benjamin’s address that I love, but I feel strongly this needs to be reiterated. For many of us the point, the focus, and the object of our existence can be the pursuit of financial success, stability, and comfort. Those things are not inherently wrong, but they can easily become a distraction from the focus of humility, love, kindness, repentance, and faith.
Benjamin frames the difference in how we look at beggars. How do you look at a beggar? Truly how do you look at people who are hungry, poor, destitute, and struggling. Do you look at them as people who brought this upon themselves? Do you look at them as people looking to take advantage? Do you ignore them and tell yourself that you didn’t have anything handed to you and figured it out for yourself? Do you do anything other than recognize that we are all beggars when it comes to God? If so then there is something missing in our hearts. We have not reconciled with God yet, and our efforts to become successful have distracted us from Christ and His mission.
This is not an easy thing, and it doesn’t change in our hearts overnight, but if we listen to King Benjamin and truly seek to remember that we all NEED God and we all are struggling with different things, and feel that joy and love that comes from feeling redeemed then it becomes part of us to help and love and lift those with burdens. I will finish again with a quote from Elder Holland.
For one thing, we can, as King Benjamin taught, cease withholding our means because we see the poor as having brought their misery upon themselves. Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing? Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, “Are we not all beggars?”11 Don’t we all cry out for help and hope and answers to prayers? Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we have made and troubles we have caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses, that mercy will triumph over justice at least in our case? Little wonder that King Benjamin says we obtain a remission of our sins by pleading to God, who compassionately responds, but we retain a remission of our sins by compassionately responding to the poor who plead to us.Jeffery R Holland
Next week we move into Benjamin’s son Mosiah’s reign as king. A number of very important people and events come into play from this part of Mormon’s historical narrative. We will also be introduced to other people who impact the narrative outside of the family that are very important. Have a great week and hopefully everyone stays safe and things can normalize around us soon.
- Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Brant Gardner
- The Book of Mormon as History by Brant Gardner
- Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy
- The Book of Mormon Made Harder by James Faulconer