CLICK HERE to read Helaman 7.
In chapter 6 we read about how the Nephites started falling away through pride and contention – both of which are behaviors that demonstrate (and so also indicate) a lack of repentance and a failing to look to God.
We also saw how the Lamanites began to humble themselves, look to God, and repent – and so were blessed by the outpouring of His Spirit.
The rest of the book of Helaman (through chapter 16) tells this story as Nephi (the son of Helaman) prophesies to the Nephites (verse 1). Even a Lamanite prophet, Samuel, is sent to the Nephite people to warn them of coming destruction.
It is, in this chapter, about twenty years before Christ is born in Bethlehem.
When the Nephites reject the preaching and testimony of the prophet Nephi (verse 3), he did not stay among them, but returned home (verse 3). This grieved him deeply (verse 6). He remembered who he was named after, Nephi the son of Lehi that left Jerusalem to follow the Lord into this land, and remembered how the people were “easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord” (verse 7). Nephi mourns that the people no longer look to God, and mourns the loss of that experience since the people do not choose righteousness.
This is important, for if Nephi had despaired because he was alone or because the people would not choose, that would be iniquity of his own. But mourning is legitimate, and okay, and necessary, even as the Lord did weep over His people (see Moses 7:28-37). In the same way, we can mourn the losses of experiences – and even friendships and relationships – that happen because people do not choose righteousness. This is legitimate grief that even the Lord grieves. We see the loss – the gap between what could be and what is not – and grieve that. We mourn the experiences of joy and celebration and closeness that we miss out when there is distance put between us when others do not choose righteousness. We mourn their struggles and misery that comes from captivity and bondage, and grieve that we are not celebrating freedom and joy together. But we do not despair.
Nephi says that if the people had chosen righteousness, they would be happy as their ancestors were, full of “joy in the righteousness” of each other, enjoying the experience of everyone loving God by caring well for each other (verse 8). But this is not what the people have chosen, and so he feels sorrow because of their wickedness (verse 9).
Formally rejecting the Prophet and his teachings (and so also his counsel and warnings), the Nephites decline into a state of destruction, a “state of such awful wickedness… laying aside the commandments of God” (verse 4) and “condemning the righteous because of their righteousness (and) letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money… that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills” (verse 5).
Nephi grieved this so deeply, mourning for the loss of the people, that he bowed down in prayer in his garden tower (verse 10). Some people saw him grieving so deeply, and went and got other people to see this mourning (verse 11). Nephi saw the people as he finished praying (verse 12), and asked why they had gathered (verse 13). He told them directly that his sorrow was because of their iniquities (verse 14), and urges them to realize what a strong hold the devil has gotten on their hearts (verse 15). He confronts them for flirting with danger, for giving way “to the enticing of him who is seeking to hurl away your souls” (verse 16). He tells them to repent, and urges them to realize they are missing His presence (verse 17) due to the hardness of their hearts (verse 18).
They are choosing to be scattered, he says, instead of gathered (verse 19).
This is the pattern, always: when we listen and obey the words of the prophets (the word of the Lord), we are gathered and strengthened and blessed and empowered. When we do not, when we refuse, when we ignore, when we turn away, then we remove ourselves from His presence – which is to remove ourselves from those blessings – and so we are scattered to destruction.
Sometimes it’s huge, like what happened when Babylon scattered the Jews at the time Lehi left Jerusalem.
Sometimes it’s personal, like losing relationships or friendships or family.
But scattering, in some form, is always the cost of refusing repentance – just as gathering, in some form, is always the blessing of repentance.
O, how could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you? (verse 20)
Nephi tells them he knows the answer already: it was to gain the praise of men and the riches of the world, to do the iniquities that give the illusion of “feel-good” and are self-focused instead of God-focused and bringing true joy (verse 21).
And for this cause, wo shall come unto you except ye shall repent… for behold, the Lord will not grant unto you strength, as he has hitherto done… (verse 22)
Then Nephi says something profound: he tells the Nephites that the Lamanites are more righteous because they have been true to what truth that had, and obedient to the knowledge they have received thus far. The Nephites had more knowledge and greater truth, but were not obedient; they knew better, and failed to do what they knew they should do (verse 24).
These will be the consequences of joining the Gadianton robbers (secrets and riches of our day) (verse 25), of being lifted up in pride instead of depending on God (verse 26). These will be the consequences the people have chosen (verse 27), even losing their lives (as they knew it, as we know it) and their lands (and their status) (verse 28).
Behold now, I do not say that these things shall be, of myself, because it is not of myself that I know these things; but behold, I know that these things are true because the Lord God has made them known unto me, therefore I testify that they shall be.