Mosiah 7-17: “All We, Like Sheep, Have Gone Astray.”

The theme of this set of chapters for me centers around wandering. As humans, we have a near constant feeling of “there has to be something more” that drives us. Sometimes it drives us to make mistakes, to abandon things that are good and true. Sometimes it drives us to seek out our past, and explanations for who we are. Sometimes it drives self-awareness and self-improvement. In all cases, the feeling on the underneath is not something we should ignore, but instead we should focus on how to harness it best.

One tool that the Lord has given us in our journey to assist is prophets. I have long felt prophets are misunderstood, primarily because the title “prophet” is too general and encompasses too many things. It is easy to wonder why every prophet is not like Moses, or Joseph Smith, or why some prophets had crazy miraculous visions, and others we are not aware of any.

I would like to spend some time outlining a helpful way to look at prophets and their different roles. The first thing I will say is that prophets are valuable both through their present words, and in the study of their words after the fact. The second thing I would say is that prophets should be grouped into primary functions as opposed to thinking they all consist of the same function. Anyone can have the spirit of prophecy and the Testimony of Christ, which can give them revelation for them and their stewardship. This is, in a real way, like being a prophet, but for my purposes I am focused on prophets who have a specific calling or charge from God to assist us humans in our journey.

I like to place “called of God” prophets into three categories: Restoration Prophets, Custodial Prophets, and Prophets of Warning. Below is a quick summary of things that I think can help us understand prophets and their different functions:

  • Restoration Prophets
    • Period of Apostasy Predates Activity
    • Visions and Witnesses of God and Christ
    • Introduction of New, or Reintroduction of Old Covenants and Ordinances
    • New Scripture
    • Beginnings of Organizational Structure – policies, rules, and traditions
    • Leaves the organization in the hands of custodial prophets
  • Custodial Prophets
    • Clarification and Compilation of Scripture and Doctrine
    • Governance and Direction of Covenants and Ordinances
    • Direction of Growth of the Church and its influence
    • Primarily focused on increasing the faith, repentance, and passing down of gospel teachings through generations
    • Vast majority of prophets belong to this category
    • Success of the community usually results in complacency and apostasy after many generations.
    • Some custodial prophets are also successful prophets of warning and get the people back on the path of faith and repentance.
  • Prophets of Warning
    • A renewed focus on remembering Jesus Christ
    • Warnings that not following the commandments and repenting will lead to destruction
    • Warnings that rejecting Christ and the prophets will lead to spiritual apostasy
    • Warning and restoration prophets are often martyred for their cause
    • Usually met with stiff rejection from the prideful, those looking past the mark and seeking to be more elite than others
    • Usually followed by apostasy and a period where the Lord is more absent from the community
    • In the last days will be followed by the end times

The wandering of us all is why prophets are helpful and necessary, and particularly warning prophets. In this week’s chapters we are introduced to our first warning prophet since Lehi. Abinadi is one of the most important people in the Book of Mormon as his influence lead to the organization of the church by Alma. Up until this point, the gospel was pretty exclusive, passed down loosely through families and those who were tied to Nephi’s and then Mosiah’s family.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 18-19 – Mosiah 7-17

– All of us go astray from the Lord, yet Christ has promised that He will find us and help us. This is done by those of us that believe seeking and helping each other, especially those who are alone or in need.

– Our sins, and whether we keep trying to repent of them, not only affect us, they influence all those who truly respect and love us.

– The only certain way to miss the salvation of Christ is to reject Him and His prophets willingly.

History and Context:
– Mosiah I – Refugee of the Land of Nephi and possessor of the plates of Nephi and Brass Plates. Was not a direct descendant of Nephi and was given the plates by Amaleki. Later made king of Zarahemla.  

– Benjamin – Son of Mosiah I, beloved king of Zarahemla for many years. 

– Mosiah II – Son of Benjamin, final king of Zarahemla, and person responsible for uniting the people of Lehi-Nephi and Mulek. 

– Zeniff – Associate of Mosiah I and Benjamin. Led a group of people back to the Land of Nephi and became the king of his people in the land of Lehi-Nephi. 

– Noah – Son of Zeniff, king of Lehi-Nephi for over a decade and his wickedness led the people astray from the commandments and their covenants. He incited the Lamanites to war and was warned by Abinadi to repent or be destroyed.  Noah killed Abinadi and was killed in a like manner as Abinadi warned. 

– Abinadi – Warning prophet sent to the people of Lehi-Nephi to warn them of destruction if they did not repent. Was martyred for his teachings, but his words changed the heart of Alma the Elder who later formed the church. 

– Limhi – Son of Noah, a good king, but taken captive by the Lamanites as a result of Noah’s actions years earlier. Later takes his people and merges his kingdom in Zarahemla with Mosiah II. 

– Alma the Elder – A wicked priest of Noah, who is converted through his faith in Abinadi’s teachings. He is an enemy of the state, but he teaches and converts thousands to Christ. They flee into the wilderness as well and are taken captive, but eventually are reunited in Zarahemla where he becomes the founder and the first leader of the church. 

– Multiple Expeditions – The period covered in most of Mosiah can be confusing, because it actually starts in the time period before Benjamin was made king, spans until Benjamin’s son Mosiah has been king for a while, and involves multiple expeditions to a place they have multiple names for. Hopefully this summary and explanation is helpful:

  • 276 BC – Wicked Parts of Nephites were destroyed (Omni 1:5)
  • 276 – 200 BC – Further disintegration of Nephite culture (Omni)
  • 200-180 BC – Mosiah I takes anyone who will follow him out of the Land of Nephi, because of persecution and likely potential death, and they establish a new home in Zarahemla (integrating with another group of people that possess the records of the Jaredites and descendants of Mulek). Zeniff was likely part of this group
  • 200-180 BC – Mosiah I is made king of Zarahemla
  • 160-150 BC – Benjamin is made king of Zarahemla
  • 160-157 BC –  Zeniff joins a party that is interested in going back to the Land of Nephi and either helping their families, or defending them. The party is destroyed through civil-unrest and Zeniff returns defeated.
  • 157 BC – Zeniff leads a party on the same journey and eventually they come to a place on the borders of the Land of Nephi which is called Shilom and Lehi-Nephi at different points. Establishes relations with the surrounding people (called Lamanites). 
  • 137 BC – Zeniff dies after a war and Noah becomes king of the land of Lehi-Nephi.
  • 127 BC – Abinadi comes among the people of Lehi-Nephi.
  • 125 BC – Abinadi is killed and shortly after Noah is killed as well. Alma the Elder believes Abinadi and takes a group of believers into the wilderness and establishes a new group of believers. 
  • 124 BC – Limhi becomes king of Lehi-Nephi. 
  • 124 BC – Mosiah II coronation
  • 122 BC – Limhi has peace for two years before a war begins with the Lamanites.
  • 122-121 BC –  Limhi and Alma are both taken captive or occupied by the Lamanites.
  • 122-121 BC – Ammon is sent by Mosiah II to search out the people of Zeniff.
  • 121 BC – The people of Lehi-Nephi and Alma’s followers are reunited in Zarahemla with the Mosiah II’s kingdom. Alma establishes the Church of Christ.
  • 92 BC – Mosiah II and Alma the Elder Die 

– Urim and Thummim – we learn of “interpreters” that accompany the records of the Jaredites in Mosiah Chapter 8. These interpreters are similar to the Urim and Thummim that is discussed in Old Testament scripture. Urim and Thummim are described by Trinity Theological College in Brisbane Australia as “sacred lots and may have had the form of dice, pebbles, or sticks. Another possibility is that they were two stones, one white and the other black.” Moses and Aaron both used the stones to assist in divine seeking of questions and were key components of the role of a seer in their time. Their usage fell out of favor when the monarchy took over the rule of the kingdom and prophets became custodial advisors to the kings. It is not likely that there is only one set of Urim and Thummim, and it is likely that multiple versions have existed over the centuries. 

Zeniff Looks for Something Greater
The chapters begin with Mosiah II sending a group of people to look for Zeniff’s people who had left them many years early. Ammon and his companions are captured by Limhi, the grandson of Zeniff. When Limhi learns that Ammon is from Zarahemla, he releases him and gathers the people together to let them know that Ammon has assured Limhi that Mosiah is a “seer” and can help them interpret the writings of the 24 plates as well as deliver them from their current bondage.

From there the story shifts back in time to the writings of Zeniff and we get an account of his journey to the Land of Lehi-Nephi and his interactions with the large adjacent kingdom. Zeniff does his best to keep the community close to God over his decades of rule. However, Zeniff admits that his pride and wandering heart led his people into a pretty bad situation. After believing the King Laman to be honest in his intentions when they agreed to a peace, the Lamanites came to battle, and war decimated both groups of people. Zeniff realizes that his pride has led to the death and torment of many hundreds if not thousands of people. Soon after the battle, Zeniff confers the kingdom to his son Noah.

Noah and the Influence of Wicked Kings
Noah uses the fear of the war to place heavy burdens on his people so they can build large structures and fortifications, including a large tower that can see if Laman and his people will be coming back. After years of this Noah then begins to take advantage of the people and become rich on the back’s off the people. He removes the righteous priests from their roles and appoints new priests that agree with his justifications for immorality and wickedness.

These ideas and philosophies not only create a division among the people, but they permeate the culture of the people and many people fall away from their belief in God. Noah fends of smaller attacks from the Lamanites, but because Noah was more focused on his own wealth and lifestyle, the Lamanites begin overtaking and killing the people until Noah sends the army to drive them back. This only increases Noah’s pride as his victory cements his power over the people.

Abinadi’s Warning
Eventually the Lord sends a warning prophet, Abinadi, to Noah and his people. Abinadi warns them that if they do not return to the Lord, the Lamanites will destroy and take them captive. The people and Noah reject his message, but Abinadi is able to flee without capture. Two years later, Abinadi returns with the same message, and this time with intent to be captured so he can speak to Noah in person.

When finally brought before Noah, Abinadi teaches his message about keeping the commandments, the purpose of the commandments pointing and preparing us for Jesus Christ, the power of redemption through repentance. Noah attempts to stop Abinadi during his message, but the power of the Lord protects Abinadi. As he is teaching, Alma, onof Noah’s priests, feels the spirit and is converted to what Abinadi is teaching, but the rest of the priests and Noah convince themselves that Abinadi is wrong and they are right. The power of their own pride and justification that they know more than prophets, and that humility and repentance are not enough lead them to sentence Abinadi to death.

Alma flees and Abinadi promises that Noah and his priests will suffer the same fate as Abinadi, who is being burned at the stake for his beliefs.

Why is it in our nature to be unsatisfied with life? What kinds of things can we do to channel that feeling into things that improve our life and the lives of others?

In our positions of stewardship do we ever act like the Wicked King Noah? Do we give permission to others to reject the Lord and His commandments? What can we do to change things like that in our life?

When we hear that the only way to avoid salvation from the Lord is to reject Christ willfully, what does that mean in our own lives? How can we make sure we and others do not reject the Lord, even when there are doubts, and serious mistakes being made?

Key Moment or Scripture: Mosiah 14:1-8
Yea, even doth not Isaiah say: Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him there is no beauty that we should desire him.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb so he opened not his mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment; and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgressions of my people was he stricken.

In these chapters we see some examples of how people are prone to wander away from the Lord, wander from the safety of the commandments, from the safety of people who love them. There are many things that make us wander, some of them good like Zeniff, but when we wander from the Lord a strong force tends to take over our hearts. The force of Pride. We all hate being wrong, we hate admitting our mistakes, we hate admitting we might need help, especially from God who is not always here, and from leaders of the church who are not perfect and we might have reason to disagree with, or from our parents and family who love us but we think they are wrong and trying to control us.

In every case, the pride we have is a cancer in our spiritual souls and it separates us from God even further. The only path back is so simple, but so hard. A true admission that we need Jesus Christ and a repentant spirit that we will do our best to make our way back.

Please take a minute to listen to this song, it is my favorite hymn and it truly highlights what happens in our souls. The words, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love….Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above.”

Final Thoughts:
After seeing the how two different groups of people receive the gospel message (Noah’s Kingdom and Alma’s Refugee Believers) we will get to see how things play out for both groups in next week’s chapters. There are some very interesting principles, especially that are applicable in our current situation where we feel that we are confined and not able to work, move, and even worship the way would otherwise like to.

  • Sources
    • 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