Helaman 1-16: “Remember, Remember”

Mormon’s commentary on the society of believers begins to get somewhat bleak as we approach the birth of Jesus Christ. He has spent his life reading, compiling, and abridging the records of a thousand years and has seen a number of patterns emerge, but none are as important in my mind than the cycles of destruction which happen to the community of believers. Mormon has documented and emphasized dozens of these cycles, but in Helaman he gives multiple clear illustrations of the prosperity and subsequent destruction of the communities of believers.

Mormon is living in a time that ends with these same cycles causing the complete destruction of the Nephite culture, which partially explains why Mormon is so frequently pointing these patterns and cycles out in the narrative of the Book of Mormon. In Helaman the word remember is used what feels like 200 times. The people cannot remember the things that caused all the messes in the past. Over and over the same cycles repeat because the people don’t remember (sound familiar?).

When I was a seminary student these cycles were called the “Pride Cycle.” The pattern would be explained as follows:

  • Believers are promised that if they follow the gospel plan they will prosper.
  • Believers follow the plan and become prosperous.
  • Prosperity leads to differing levels of financial, political, or secular success.
  • Divisions begin due to pride, and being distracted from the purpose of the gospel.
  • A warning prophet comes to call the people to repentance before it is too late.
  • Division increases and leads to conflict, dissensions, and ultimately some form of destruction that harms the people significantly.
  • A restoration prophet comes to bring the community of believers and converts back together and reestablishes the community of believers who are then promised prosperity if they follow the gospel plan.
  • Repeat…

As an aside, the Book of Helaman has some really awesome stories in it and I don’t want to distract from those stories, but viewed from 30,000 feet, the book is a very specific illustration of this cycle with one caveat. As I have studied and thought about the “Pride Cycle” over the years I think the cause of the issues is something much more specific than pride. I feel like the root of the societal issues is actually greed, and the pattern is more like this:

  • Believers are promised that if they follow the gospel plan they will prosper.
  • Believers follow the plan and become prosperous.
  • Prosperity is not perfectly distributed and those who have more begin to associate with others who have more.
  • Those who have more prosperity begin a subtle transition from Christ being their focus to protecting, increasing, and enjoying their wealth. Meanwhile, those with less begin to obsess about obtaining more wealth, or the unfairness of the disparity of wealth. This causes a distinct division among the people.
  • A warning prophet comes to call the people to repentance before it is too late.
  • Division increases and principles of service, humility, compassion, giving to the poor, working hard, are forgotten and the complete focus of nearly all the people is on the god of wealth.
  • Humility and repentance are replaced with pride and justification which is like fuel on the fire of division and eventually it leads to conflict and weakness. Outside forces and inside work for the destruction of the believers and win.
  • A restoration prophet comes to bring the community of believers and converts back together and reestablishes the community of believers who are then promised prosperity if they follow the gospel plan.
  • Repeat…

As you read Helaman you will see in very explicit terms this cycle, and here is one example from a warning prophet named Samuel:

Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord your God for them; yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swellingenvyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities.

Helaman 13:22

The root evil in these cycles is worshiping the god of wealth. Pride is is the defense mechanism we create when we are challenged on who we are worshiping. In order to protect our actions and our pride we resort to justification. Once we begin to justify wrong actions as an individual or a group it inevitably leads to all manner of iniquities and ultimately our spiritual and potentially temporal destruction.

Having the Book of Mormon help us remember the pitfalls of past societies is incredible. The “Greed Cycle” is something that continues to happen today. It is a part of our nature and is something we must confront in our own hearts and lives.

Fortunately in this same book we can find the solution to this cycle. In fact, I would say the solution is through all of Holy Scripture. The solution is to keep our hearts and minds on the Lord Jesus Christ. We must build the foundation of our lives on Him and His gospel. Faith, humility, repentance, love, kindness, sharing of our resources, lifting others up, turning the other cheek, service, and gratitude are all things that point us toward Christ and away from the god of wealth. This is why scriptures exist, to remind us of the path that leads to the most happiness, and the eternal happiness that we are all seeking.

If we do not remember this then we will follow the patterns of destruction for as long as it takes to remember and change our path.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 33-35 – Helaman 1-16

– The spiritual survival of our sphere of influence is more important than any individual temporal success.

– Prosperity is a result of living the gospel, setting our hearts upon riches is a result of prosperity, apostasy and disbelief in God is the result of setting our hearts upon riches. This cycle is the challenge to believers in all ages.

– Remembering the Lord, our spiritual experiences, what matters most is our families and our eternal relationships, is the only way to fight the Pride/Greed Cycle.

History and Context:
– Gadiantion robbers were introduced in Alma and they become a key component of the Book of Helaman. This group of people have their origins in the Book of Ether and the Jaredite civilization. They are united in their desire to destroy the things of God and they create counterfeit covenants and oaths that bind them to each other and to doing anything, any crime to destroy the purposes of God. They are often dissenters of the believers and they are frequently involved with instigating and creating conflict. While there may be groups like this in our modern world, the symbolism of the Gadianton Robbers can easily be seen all around us.  Any ideology, group or messaging that seeks to create conflict, fear, or division is a form of Gadianton to our community.    

– Mormon’s geography is important to understand some of the basics.  First, it is important to know that Mormon is either using geography and therefore descriptions of the land as he sees it over 500 years after the events he is writing about or he is attempting to interpret the geography through the records that were kept by the people of that time.  Both things are going to create inaccurate descriptions and even naming conventions for locations. The reason this is important is because Mormon is seeking to describe places so that his audience can be familiar with these locations and his audience was supposed to be the people who were destroying his people of the time.  People who lived in the area.  For us, who are unfamiliar with the area, the locations are more likely to create speculation and misunderstandings than help.  When I read the book I rarely concern myself with the locations, only the fact that there were so many things happening around these people that were silently influencing events.  

With that being said, there are many fascinating and powerful descriptions and location explanations from Mormon’s time that match with the Mesoamerican world of his time that are more than coincidence. There are places you can learn about those things, many in the resources I point out below. 

– Helaman is the grandson of Alma the Younger and keeps the records before passing them to his son Nephi.  

– Pahoran dies and his son’s vie for the judgement seat.  The drama created by this situation leads to a series of conflicts over the next 60 years. 

– Lehi and Nephi are the sons of Helaman and they are some of the most amazing people in the Book of Mormon.  Nephi is blessed similarly as Enoch with a sealing power even beyond the priesthood sealing power and they are the means of bringing thousands of people to the Lord despite their own people despising and persecuting them. 

– Samuel is a prophet that has arisen outside of the Nephite culture and record keeping regime. He arose as more people were converted to the Lord outside of Nephite culture than within. He prophesies that Christ will not only be born but also die in the near future. 

– Timeline 52 BC – 1 BC

The Pride/Greed Cycle
After a few years of relative peace, there is a huge conflict when Pahoran dies and his sons fight over the judgement seat. Eventually Helaman, the grandson of Alma the Younger, becomes the chief judge. After Helaman restores order the community begins to prosper again, both in thousands of new converts to the church, but also in trade and monetary prosperity. As we move into Chapter 4, Mormon gives us a key statement:

And it came to pass that the fifty and second year ended with peace also, save it were the exceedingly great pride which had gotten into the hearts of the people; and it was because of their exceedingly great riches and their prosperity in the land; and it did grow upon them from day to day.

Helaman 3:36

The ticking time bomb had begun and sure enough the dissension and conflict becomes too much, despite the ministering of Helaman, Nephi and Lehi. Many people leave the city and go to the land North including the people of Ammon and their Stripling Warriors. Mormon uses this moment to explain that there were many writing and many other things that were lost to time when the people divided and mixed with all the indigenous (Lamanite) people. However, what isn’t said outright, but we can potentially assume is that many of those who left remained faithful and built communities of faith. We find in the coming decades that the people outside of Zarahmela are more righteous and even produce Samuel the prophet and so it is clear that many of those who left were faithful and some of the most prideful and lost remained.

The Ministry of Nephi and Lehi
Nephi and Lehi have tremendous success in their efforts to preach the gospel and to bring people to the Lord, but over and over again when they restore peace and faith to the people, after a few short years the people fall into the same trap and approach destruction because of their wealth and pride.

In one of the most poignant stories, Nephi uses miracles and prophecy to show the people that he is from God and while some believe his words, so many others use justifications to condemn and ridicule him. The basis for their justification is always to protect their wealth and their status. This leads more people away from the Lord. Nephi is distraught and after receiving the sealing power from God uses famine to convince people to repent. They do and they come back, only to fall again a few years later to Nephi’s utter frustration. Mormon sums up the cycle of destruction with this powerful commentary:

And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him. Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.

Helaman 12:1-2

Samuel and The Prophecies of the Savior
With the time approaching for Christ to be born, the Lord sends Samuel as the ultimate warning prophet to the people. He prophecies that signs will come to show that Christ will be born, and the signs of His death so that the people can see and know that Christ, who has been spoken of for centuries is real. Most of the people reject the prophecy, but the specificity of the prophecy sets the stage for the conflict among those who believe and those who have quit believing as we head toward the birth of Jesus Christ.

Key Moment or Scripture: Helaman 5:6-12
Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.
Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them.
And now my sons, behold I have somewhat more to desire of you, which desire is, that ye may not do these things that ye may boast, but that ye may do these things to lay up for yourselves a treasure in heaven, yea, which is eternal, and which fadeth not away; yea, that ye may have that precious gift of eternal life, which we have reason to suppose hath been given to our fathers.
O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world.
10 And remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.
11 And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.
12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

Found early in the Book of Helaman, we get the words that changed Nephi and Lehi and made them who they were. These words, especially the final verse are the key to avoiding the “Greed Cycle” and finding peace in the conflict of life.

Nearly everything that the Church requires from an administrative and programmatic point of view (Priesthood Quorums, Relief Society, Youth Classes, Primary, Attending Church, Ministering, Seminary, Institute, Conferences, Trek, Emphasizing reading the scriptures, praying daily, serving missions, writing journals, etc.) are supposed to be geared toward helping us remember to build our foundation on Christ. Although they all are not essential, salvific, or even good ideas, these concepts and programs are continual reminder points for our journey.

I think it is easy to be annoyed by how many things there are, instead of finding the ones that work for us and use them the way they were meant to be used. We don’t have to engage with every single aspect of the church, creating burnout or unnecessary annoyance, but we should engage with as many as we need to help us and our sphere of influence remember the Lord and to build our foundation on His gospel.

We are humans and we will chase after the next shiny light in front of us just like a cat with a laser pointer. This is why we need reminders. For me the things that help me the most are studying the scriptures, and teaching them to my family. It helps me remember the Lord and remember that I need His help just as much as anyone else does.

Final Thoughts:
We are quickly approaching the Savior’s appearance in the Americas and the true foundation for the Book of Mormon’s place in the world. Another testament to the world that Jesus Christ is truly the Redeemer and Savior of the World. An additional witness from people separate from the events recorded of Jesus’s life.

  • 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