CLICK HERE to read Mosiah 9.
This chapter begins “the Record of Zeniff”, which continues through chapter 22. It’s a book within a book within a book. Let’s review:
The people of Zarahemla had good King Benjamin, who taught them to be a covenant people. King Benjamin passed his kingdom down to his son, Mosiah. Mosiah continued this righteous reign, and there is peace in the land. But the people tease Mosiah about a missing group of people who left Zarahemla and never returned, and so he sends a search party out after them. Ammon is the leader of this search party. Ammon and his search party found the missing group, who are now living in the land of Lehi-Nephi. These missing people are ruled by King Limhi, but in bondage to the Lamanites. While celebrating their reunion, King Limhi tells Ammon that he has the records of his people, the missing group! The whole history of the people since the time they left the land of Zarahemla.
These chapters, chapters 9-22, are that record, that history of the people who left the land of Zarahemla.
So these chapters are their story, and then in chapter 25 we pick back up in “real time” and see what happens (baptism!) after King Limhi’s people are reunited with the Nephites, having repented and returned to being (looking like and acting like) covenant people.
But for now, we take a time out to catch up with what happened to King Limhi’s people from the time they left Zarahemla until now, when they are in bondage to the Lamanites.
The story starts with Zeniff, who was a Nephite. Because he knew the land well, he was sent out as a spy to check on the Lamanites. The Nephites wanted to destroy the Lamanites because they continued to attack them in war and they had done terrible war things to the Nephite people. But, Zeniff says, “when I saw that which was good among them, I was desirous that they should not be destroyed” (verse 1).
So instead of doing what he was told (like Nephi, who was told to kill Laban for a greater purpose), he “contended with my brethren in the wilderness” (verse 2). Instead of destroying the Lamanites, he wanted to make a peace treaty with them.
Here’s the problem with that logic: the problem with the Lamanites was that they were not a covenant keeping people. If they had been able to keep covenants, they would not be involved with contention or war. If they are not able to keep covenants (spiritually), they are not going to be able to keep a peace treaty, either (temporally).
Everything is about covenants.
Every relationship we have is about covenants.
There are some people, some friends, some relationships that we can make “peace treaties” with because they are able to keep covenants (even if they do not have the full story yet, don’t yet know the full gospel, or don’t yet know of Covenants with a capital “C”). If they are able to keep the covenants they do have, if they are working on their line upon line, no matter which line that is, then this is a person making progress (even if at their own pace). Anyone making progress, line upon line, is a person climbing toward making and keeping covenants.
But there are others who refuse to make covenants (won’t participate, bitter, unforgiving, won’t initiate) or to keep covenants (won’t accept feedback, explosive, gossip, unfaithful, blaming others, pushing limits, demanding). This is why there is a cycle to abuse, and why contention breeds drama that repeats itself. In these situations, there cannot be a peace treaty because a treaty requires both parties to agree to their responsibilities and keep their promises. A treaty is a covenant, so someone who cannot keep covenants will not be able to keep a peace treaty, either.
This was the problem, repeatedly, in this history of the Israelites. They kept making peace treaties with people who did not know how to keep covenants or were not able to keep covenants. So instead of having “peace”, the influence of what-is-not-of-God infiltrated their camps, slowly and subtly, until they had fallen away because they were desensitized to what-is-not-of-God until it became a part of them.
Many of these influences, at least initially, may not technically be evil, but they can blunt our judgment, dull our spirituality, and lead to something that could be evil. An old proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so watch your step…. Like thieves in the night… we don’t have to throw open the door, serve them tea and crumpets, and then tell them where the silverware is kept! (You shouldn’t be serving tea anyway.) Throw the rascals out!
(Elder Holland, Place No More for the Enemy of my Soul, April 2010)
But it always starts when we have a good reason, when we think we are justified.
But that’s always a red flag: when we feel “justified”, that is contention and not of God.
Zeniff had been through a lot, though, and had seen how “father fought against father, and brother against brother” (verse 2). So he was “over-zealous” (verse 3), because of these experiences, which led him to wanting to do things his own way instead of the Lord’s way.
Not listening to the Savior, however, led them into danger.
Again, this is a great parallel to liken into our lives, because most of us don’t try to break covenants and don’t try to fall away. Most of us don’t just quit or give up or suddenly do some great sin without anything leading up to it.
The transgression always comes before sin, and it’s the transgressions we usually don’t notice.
It’s the transgressions that lead us into danger, long before we choose to sin.
We may know that we want to keep covenants, and we make be confident that we know how to keep covenants.
But if we do not do things the Lord’s way, if we are not following Him, then we lead ourselves into danger. We may still, even then, not sin, but we have led ourselves into dangerous ground away from the protection He offers. This always happens in the small and subtle things, in the plain and simple things. We are either following the Savior, or we are not. It’s that simple.
Zeniff was not. He was still on task, still doing what he was asked to do, still looking like a covenant-keeper. But he had led himself into danger, and so the consequences began:
“we were smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God” (verse 3).
When we are doing things our way, when we are looking like a covenant keeper but not acting like one, then there is famine – spiritually and/or temporally.
It is the Spirit that nourishes us, that feeds us, that quickens us. If we are without vigor, if we are without hope, if we are without peace, if we are without joy, it is because we are without that Spirit. But if we are doing things our own way and following our own path instead of doing things the Lord’s way and following His path, then we have removed ourselves from that nourishment.
The classic “nourishment” text is in Jacob, which shows how the Lord can nourish us even where we are. We are to stand in these holy places, and be not moved (D&C 87:8).
But when we move, either through inappropriate emotional attachments, pornography, affairs, unrighteous dominion, explosive anger, or any of these that give a “place” for the enemy of our soul, then we are in danger. When we are not acting like the Savior by loving gently while inviting to progress, and demonstrating that love through service, then we are in danger. We will be “hungry” with lust in some form, unable to be satiated, whether it be by food without nutrients, or lost in the intensity of an inappropriate emotional attachment or pornography instead of building the intimacy of real relationships, or driven by rages of bitterness or explosive anger that make us hard and feed contention. We will be starving, with all of these things escalating, because we have removed ourselves from nourishment. This is famine.
This consequences of this famine are the “sore afflictions”. Pornography and inappropriate emotional attachments will hurt marriages. Contention and drama will ruin friendships. Food without nutrients will destroy bodies. Bitterness will kill hope, peace, and love because it removes charity (the love is not pure, and not of Christ). Rages and explosive anger will cut the bonds of children, turning their hearts away instead of toward.
All of this is because we forget God.
All of this will lead us to wandering in the wilderness (verse 4).
So instead of following directions, or doing it the Lord’s way, Zeniff tries to make a peace treaty with that which is not-of-God.
We do this anytime we “justify” bad behavior or excuse poor choices or ignore feedback that warns us of danger. We do this anytime we say, “this isn’t so bad because it isn’t yet such-and-such, which I would never do”. We do this anytime we hide from truth or keep secrets or cover up instead of repenting.
Instead of destroying that which is not-of-God, Zeniff tries to make peace with it.
(Note that when we do this, not only are we putting ourselves in danger, but we are also failing to testify to the other people involved. When we make peace with what is not-of-God, we are no longer “set apart”, no longer holy, no longer different than the world. In this way, we fail to testify, so the world – others – will have no reason to think we are any different or that we have anything to give, because we have already surrendered our opportunity to testify, either in words or behavior, by saying what is not-of-God is okay when it is not.)
Zeniff does this when instead of attacking, he goes in to the King to make a deal (verse 5).
We ought not be making deals with what is not-of-God.
So he makes a deal with the king for his people to possess the land of Lehi-Nephi, and the land of Shilom (verse 6). The king also tells them to go away, and so Zeniff does (verse 7).
It looks simple.
It looks clean.
There was no great sin involved, nothing bad seemed to happen.
It’s all fine.
There is no problem.
It looks like he got away with doing it his way.
“And we began to build buildings, and to repair the walls of the city…” (verse 8).
So now, since he got away with doing it his way, and nothing bad seems to have happened, he is going to get comfortable. This is the desensitizing, where we make ourselves at home, where we get used to it, where we start to feel good about it because everything is fine and under control. We invite it in to serve tea and crumpets, and it becomes a part of our life.
Not only do we invite it in, but we plant more of it. We repeat the behavior, we continue the inappropriate interactions, we let the seeds of what is not-of-God multiply and multiply until we have whole gardens of it, until our lives – our survival – depend on it.
We think it’s the only way to fight the famine.
We forget it’s the cause of the famine.
It may be a part of our life for years, and we think it’s okay, because it’s comfortable and everything is just fine.
But there is always a price.
And the price will be paid, because we have removed ourselves from the protection and mercy of the Savior.
“Now it was the cunning and the craftiness of king Laman, to bring my people into bondage, that he yielded up the land that we might possess it” (verse 10).
It’s all an illusion.
Removing ourselves from the Savior’s protection and mercy makes us dependent on the law, which we cannot keep. The further dependent upon these sins and transgressions we become, the more of our agency we surrender. The comfy safe place we thought it built for us that felt so good turns out to be a mirage, and the good “food” we thought it fed us – how alive it made us feel – turns out to be addiction instead of nourishment, intensity instead of intimacy.
It’s all an illusion.
And by the time we realize it, we are already very nearly trapped.
We are in danger.
So we, who think we are such hard workers, and such good covenant keepers, find ourselves in bondage to those who use us to do what they cannot or will not do for themselves.
Inappropriate emotional attachments are not about love and care for you, but about an intensity that traps under the illusion of what-feels-good. This bondage helps you both avoid the hard work of developing intimacy in your own marriage.
Pornography is the illusion of what-feels-good, until you are trapped in a bondage of not being able to function as your body was designed. Like Satan and his followers without bodies, your spirit is addicted to an illusion while your body no longer has access to that experience. He makes you as miserable as he is.
Bitterness, explosive anger, and emotional rages demands others to notice how you feel and forcing others to feel how you feel. It gives an illusion of communication, that you have made it so evident that others will finally know you, understand you, listen to you. But it’s a trap, because that kind of communication is not effective in that it does not accomplish what you are trying to do. Instead of expressing your feelings and opinions in order to build relationships through communication, you are only communicating your desire to destroy relationships.
Demanding others – even if to notice how you feel – is that which is not-of-God.
The Savior doesn’t demand, He invites.
Forcing others – even if to feel how you feel – is that which is not-of-God.
Forcing is Lucifer’s plan, not Jehovah’s.
This is how we send ourselves into bondage, through a vicious cycle of contention that always leads to wars that destroy.
“Therefore it came to pass that king Laman began to stir up his people that they should contend with my people; therefore there began to be wars and contentions in the land” (verse 13).
And the wars happen when you least expect it, and where you are most comfortable.
Feel like your marriage is safe? That’s where you get blasted.
Think your kids love you automatically? That’s where you get blasted.
Think your respite is a close friendship? That’s where you get blasted.
Contention always leads to war, and the battleground is always where we are comfortable and not paying attention. This is why the Nephites “fortified their cities”. We get attacked in the places we think are safe, when we should be doing the work to protect these places. This is why they are “sore afflictions”, because we get hit where it hurts.
For these people, in this literal example, it happened while the people were out “watering and feeding their flocks and tilling their lands” (verse 14).
Getting attacked gets our attention.
It helps us to remember the Lord, and it turns us back to him because we need His help.
He is the one who delivers us out of bondage.
So it is far too often that we turn to our prophet (verse 15) and to our Savior, only because we have found ourselves in bondage. Again.
He will deliver us, because He has promised. But it is us who have failed to do the work, and so we must fight the battle now (verse 16).
This is different than remaining in the covenant – and looking like it and acting like it – because the promise then is that HE HIMSELF will fight our battles (D&C 105:14).
But when we have removed ourselves, He will deliver us but we must fight.
“Yea, in the strength of the Lord did we go forth to battle… for I and my people did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, for we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers” (verse 17).
When we remember the Lord, when we repent and turn back to Him, when we submit to doing things His way, and show our love through obedience and faithfulness, He will fight for us.
“And God did hear our cries and did answer our prayers; and we did go forth in his might…” (verse 18).
But the consequences for having left his protection are still ours to suffer.
“And behold, to our great sorrow and lamentation, two hundred and seventy-nine of our brethren were slain” (verse 19).
These are, indeed, “sore afflictions”, when we put ourselves in danger by not doing things His way.
When we remove ourselves from His mercy, then we are left with the consequences of His justice.