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As contentions grew amongst the people again, so did dissensions in the church (verse 1). The rebellious ones were driven out, and they ran away to the king of the Lamanites (verse 2). They tried to stir him up into going to war, but the Lamanites had learned their lessons and did not dare (verse 3). But more and more Nephite rebels kept going to the Lamanites, “stirring them up to anger”, until the Lamanites prepared for war (verse 4).
This we see the evidence of contention, and why it always leads to drama. They were so busy refusing to repent, that when they blamed the converted Nephites for wrong-doing, they didn’t see that they themselves were still the ones acting like foolish children, or that they had brought the drama with them – thus proving the innocence of the converted Nephites by their own bad behavior (their own bad behavior that was consistently bad, even outside the context of the converted Nephites).
And this is how contention always does “commence the work of death” (verse 5), whether it is literal and physical death in actual wars, or whether it is another death – like squashing someone else’s spirit, shaming a gentle soul, or killing off a friendship.
Thus the battle began (verses 6-7).
The rebel Nephites joined the Lamanites, declaring war on the converted Nephites (verses 8-10). The rebels even began to win, taking some of the Nephite land for themselves. This would not have happened, the prophet says, “had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them” (verse 11). He even defines the “them” as members of the church, “those who professed to belong to the church” (verse 11).
It was pride again, because they were keeping their riches to themselves instead of caring for the poor. They were oppressing “the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying prophecy and revelation, murdering and plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions”, even joining the Lamanites in battle (verse 12).
This is where contention led them, because contention is not of God. Because contention is not of God, when we are led by it, we are led toward destruction. These were people who had made covenants, and did not think they were breaking covenants – just pushing the line, bending the rules, pushing the limits. They were not committing adultery, just having an emotional affair. They were not as bad as the Gadianton Robbers, just doing their own murdering and stealing. They were not wasting their riches, but just were not sharing them. They were deceiving themselves! This hardened their hearts against repentance, so that they ran away instead of confronting their own issues and returning to the Lord.
This was their great wickedness, to withdraw themselves from the Spirit, “boasting in their own strength”, until finally the Spirit withdrew from them and they were left on their own. Without the Spirit’s presence, they could not “prosper” – either temporally through provision and protection, or spiritually through testimony and faith (and so denied the experiences of others or doubted what they had previously known). So instead of progressing (temporally or spiritually), they regressed and lost ground (verse 13).
Moroni’s son, Moronihah, preached to the people, as did Helaman’s sons, Nephi and Lehi, urging the people to repent (verse 14). Those who did repent began to prosper once again, even having the Lord’s Spirit return to them (verse 15). Moronihah led the repentant people back to their land, as best they could regain them from the Lamanites (verses 16-17).
However, they could not regain all their lands from the Lamanites (verse 18), because the Lamanites were so many. So instead, Moronihah used his armies to maintain the cities they had retaken (verse 19). But the Nephites were afraid, because there were more Lamanites (verse 20).
Yea, they began to remember the prophecies of Alma, and also the words of Mosiah; and they saw that they had been a stiffnecked people, and that they had set at naught the commandments of God… and they saw that their laws had become corrupted, and that they had become a wicked people (verses 21-22).
They realized they were as bad as the (non-converted) Lamanites.
They realized they were worse, really, because they knew better.
They realized also the consequences, that “because of their iniquity, the church had begun to dwindle; and they began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face” (verse 23). They saw they had become weak, “and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples” (verse 24).
Therefore the Lord did cease to preserve them by his miraculous and matchless power, for they had fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness… (verse 25)
And instead of being bold in their faith, they were afraid.
Fear was the symptom of their weakness (verse 26).