Helaman 12:1 thus we can behold
The last several chapters have shown how quickly the Nephites would switch from righteousness to wickedness. By now, the reader should be able to recognize when Mormon steps in to editorialize. He almost always begins with a phrase like, "and thus we see," or in this case, "And thus we can behold." Accordingly, Helaman 12 represents Mormon's commentary on this time period of vacillation. During this chapter, Mormon discusses the pride cycle, the nothingness of man, the power of God, a little bit of astronomy, and the judgments of God.
As a commentator, it is humbling to see the wisdom of Mormon's perceptive commentary. While the rest of us make our humble attempts to add some small piece of insight, Mormon's commentary puts us to shame. He is so filled with the spirit of prophecy and revelation that his commentary on the scriptures is scripture in and of itself. Therefore, the reader is asked to excuse the weakness of those of us who presume to make commentary on his commentary. The following quote puts scriptural commentaries, such as this one, into the proper perspective.
Elder Ronald E. Poelman
"There are many commentaries available, and they have a valid use, but they are not a substitute for the scriptures...Unfortunately, many people use them as a substitute. This analogy may help to demonstrate how much better it is to read the Bible rather than just read a commentary:
"When I used to travel on business, if I had any spare time, I liked to go to art museums. I would buy a little guide book when I first arrived at the museum and read through it before I went to see the exhibits so I could understand what I was going to see, something about the artists, and the work itself. Such reading enhanced my appreciation of the real thing. But if, having read the guide book, I had said, 'I know all about what's in the museum,' and left I would have missed the experience of seeing the real art exhibits and having my mind and soul stirred by them.
"But that's what some members of the Church do. They'll read the commentaries as a substitute for the real thing. They will teach the commentary instead of the scriptures. The fact is that the real thing...has the promise of the Spirit associated with it, whereas the commentaries are just another exercise and are useful to help us into the real thing. But the real thing is the scripture themselves. There is a spirit in them that, if we're open to it, will not only help us to understand but will also give us the witness that these things are true. That makes all the difference in our behavior." (Church News 01/01/94)
Helaman 12:1 the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men
Humans are, by nature, inconsistent. We say one thing one minute and the opposite the next. We are capable of incredibly strong and passionate feelings about certain issues, only to find that we have abandoned them years later. Our minds, hearts, and thoughts are prone to incredible swings-at times, from one extreme to the other. Our feet would just as soon meander as walk a straight course. God, on the other hand, exhibits no unsteadiness. Hugh Nibley stated, "steadiness and durability are the marks of the highest and best qualities of character, as in God himself, who exhibits no 'variableness neither shadow of changing' (Mormon 9:9)."
The prophets over the years have been concerned with 'the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men.' Elijah asked, 'How long halt ye between two opinions' (1 Kgs 18:21). Joshua suggested, 'choose you this day whom ye will serve' (Josh 24:15). Paul taught that one of the functions of organized religion is to keep us from being 'children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine' (Eph 4:14). No greater example of such spiritual vacillation can be found than in the lives of the Nephites. They were the fastest in history to go from righteous to wicked. In Helaman 11, they went from righteous to wicked in 5 years, and from wicked to incredibly wicked in the next 4 years.
In order that history doesn't repeat itself, we need to be more consistent, but the steadiness of true discipleship does not come naturally. We need helps, reminders, and constant diligence to stay on course The Book of Mormon is full of symbolic reminders: the strait and narrow path, the iron rod, the strait gate, and the injunction to endure to the end (Jacob 6:11). As Nephi reminds us, 'And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay...Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.' (2 Ne 31:19-20).
Henry B. Eyring
"You and I need to be patient, and for a reason. A quick reading of the Book of Mormon, a few prayers, a shallow attempt at repentance, a casual regard for the covenants we've made-of course, that is not enough. The scriptures use over and over again the word 'steadiness' to describe faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. When faith and repentance and diligent efforts to live the commandments have gone on long enough that virtue garnishes our thoughts unceasingly, then the doctrine of the priesthood, the truthful answers to the questions that really matter, will distill upon us as the dews from heaven.
"That's been my experience with seeking the confirmation of truth by the Spirit of God. I have at times sought it by singular effort, in times of great need, and it has come. Investigators have that experience when they reach the point where they must know if the Book of Mormon is true.
"But far more often for me, I notice the Spirit's presence in quiet confirmations at times when all I seem to have done is plod on in diligence, doing the simple things-searching the scriptures with a prayer in my heart and with more concern for others, and therefore less time for pursuits that let Satan, the father of lies, entice me. It's in periods of that steadiness that I notice the Holy Ghost, almost in the way you're surprised to discover that your shoes are wet from the dew formed on the grass overnight, and I look up and realize that my mind has been enlightened and my heart has been enlarged." (To Draw Closer to God, p. 120)
Helaman 12:2 at the very time when he doth prosper his people...they do harden their hearts
Mormon is making reference to the part of the pride cycle in which prosperity leads to pride.
Elder Sterling W. Sill
"...when God adds our goods and blesses us so with education, success and comfort; what do we [do]? We would naturally think that we would respond in kind, that we would be obedient, faithful, humble and grateful. But that is not always what happens. Sometimes in response to an accumulation of blessings, we become arrogant and proud and turn away from the Lord. When God adds peace and prosperity we frequently respond with an increase in our crime wave and a sharp uptrend in our delinquency curve. At least the Prophet said, '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 [of Israel]-. And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they Will not remember him.' (Helaman 12: 2-3.)
"When we won't respond to the Lord's addition, we force him to resort to subtraction and to take our blessings away from us in our own interest." (BYU Speeches, March 3, 1964, p. 3)
Neal A. Maxwell
"President Lee... commented on the 'unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men,' which has so often meant that at the very time when people are being blessed, the softening of their situation causes them to harden their hearts. (Helaman 12:1-2.)" (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, p. 50)
Helaman 12:3 except the Lord doth chasten his people...they will not remember him
Neal A. Maxwell
'We need to remember, however, that people whose hearts are hardened will have to experience something sufficiently strong to break their hearts and bring them to their senses. If it is true (as it is) that the Lord chasteneth those whom He loves, we would not really want immunity from the chastening of either circumstance or other things.
"Because God loves us, He will do what is necessary in order to teach us what we need to know. 'Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you.' (D&C 95:1.)
"In further modern revelation, the Lord says, 'Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.' (D&C 101:4-5.)" (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, p. 55)
Harold B. Lee
"'And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, they will not remember him.' (Helaman 12:2-3.) Isn't that a terrible indictment, and yet that is happening before us today. We are seeing that affluence. Never was there such prosperity in this country. We have been forgetting God, and we have turned aside from His teachings, and we are paying a terrible price. It is the test that, if we survive, will perhaps take some of the punishments that this prophet said would be necessary to bring us back to our knees and seek for the Lord to guide and direct us." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 330)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Afflictions can soften us and sweeten us, and can be a chastening influence. (Alma 62:41.) We often think of chastening as something being done to punish us, such as by a mortal tutor who is angry and peevish with us. Divine chastening, however, is a form of learning as it is administered at the hands of a loving Father. (Helaman 12:3.)" (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, p. 39)
Helaman 12:5 how slow are they to remember the Lord their God
Elder Reed Smoot
"Yet it is wise to recall that sometimes, in our own human weakness, we become neglectful even of our supreme obligations. As told in Bible history, the Israel of olden time did this on different occasions, and called forth reprimands therefor. Our knowledge of such instances may serve as warnings to us, to avoid similar mistakes, and to keep the Gospel light shining within our hearts. The Israel of the Book of Mormon record also had occasions of neglect. The book of Helaman in the Book of Mormon makes record of such event, wherein the words of that writer present a timely lesson to us, were we to become neglectful of God's word... When in their situation of ease, they began to forget God, they fell under affliction arising from their own neglect of responsibility to the divine word. The historian then goes on to say of them:
'Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.' (Helaman 12:6.)
"In these days of distorting the plain words of scripture, of atheistic teachings, of chaotic social propaganda, and of general economic uncertainty, it may be well for us, in our private contemplation, to give at least a passing heed to the conditions cited in the Book of Mormon, and for us to seek more earnestly than ever to remember God, that his blessings and protecting care may come to us still more abundantly in our time of special need, such as seems to be upon us today. Though the efforts of men may be frustrated, God's promise does not fail wherein he says to those who draw near to him: 'I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.' (Leviticus 26:9.) It is our own responsibility, individually as well as collectively, to thereby gain our own welfare, and the welfare of others, under our divine call in this age." (Conference Report, Apr. 1934, p. 39)
Helaman 12:6 they do not desire that the Lord their God...should rule and reign over them
Elder Stephen D. Nadauld
"The age-old problem described so well by prophets in the Book of Mormon and reiterated by modern prophets seems to be one of pride. Pride in its many forms is the great challenge from within. Mormon expressed it so well when he said, 'Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them' (Hel. 12:6). Once rooted in a person's heart, pride sets the stage for spiritual downfall: unrighteous thoughts that spring up from within can lead to an unwillingness to be submissive or to follow counsel. For some, personal prosperity reinforces the notion that they are doing fine on their own. Others begin to feel that rules can be tailored a little to meet their personal desires. Sound teachings become old-fashioned, and leaders start to seem out of touch, unfeeling, or too old. None of these thoughts happen overnight but come gradually as humility and meekness are eroded by possessions, status, and prosperity. Pride causes a hardened heart and spiritual deafness, both of which can ultimately lead to a host of more serious sins. In the worst case, a person may go beyond self-destructive behavior and become an enemy to God, desiring to fight openly against His teachings." (Ensign, July 1996, p. 16)
Helaman 12:7-8 how great is the nothingness of the children of men
When it comes to the value of human existence, there is a doctrinal dichotomy which deserves some discussion. In the Mormon Church, the doctrine is commonly taught that all of God's children are very literally sons and daughters of God with the same divine potential as their spiritual parents. Scriptures which confirm this principle teach that 'we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together' (Rom 8:16-17, see also Gal 4:1-7; Jn10:33-36). As his children, the Lord has asked us to remember that 'the worth of souls is great in the sight of God' (DC 18:10).
On the other hand, Mormon reminds us about the great nothingness of man, that we are even 'less than the dust of the earth.' Well you can't get much more worthless than that! Moses concluded that 'man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed' (Moses 1:10). Benjamin asked, 'Can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth' (Mosiah 2:25).
Well, which is it? Are we worth less than the dust of the earth, or do we have great intrinsic worth as heirs of God? Can both of these things be true simultaneously? Mormon helps us to understand this doctrine. He explains that the dust moves according to the commands of God, but that man, by virtue of his agency, is the only being in the universe which defies the commandments of God. Therefore, as sinners, we are less than the dust of the earth.
Our potential, however, is divine. It was this great transformation, from sinner to joint-heir, to which Paul referred, 'the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant (or slave)...in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son...to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons...and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.' (Gal 4:1-7) The proud need to be taught that they are less than the dust of the earth. If any boast of their divine potential, it is because they do not understand that such a glorious potential is available to them not because of their greatness but because of the condescension of Christ. As the Master in all things, Christ understands both ends of this great dichotomy, for he was God, yet he was forced to suffer all things-in effect, he was made lower than the dust of the earth that we might be glorified. 'He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth' (DC 88:6).
"What a piece of work is a man!...in action how like
an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of
the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what
is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; no,
nor woman neither."
(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"Now [Mormon] did not mean to say that the Lord has greater concern for and loves the dust of the earth more than he does his children. He did not mean to say that we, the children of the Lord, in his sight are considered less than the dust of the earth. The point he is making is that the dust of the earth is obedient. It moveth hither and thither at the command of the Lord. All things are in, harmony with his laws. Everything in the universe obeys the law given unto it, so far as I know, except man. Everywhere you look you find law and order, the elements obeying the law given to them, true to, their calling. But man rebels, and in this thing man is less than the dust of the earth because he rejects the counsels of the Lord, and the greater the blessings he receives, (this because of his agency), the more willingly does he turn from the source of those blessings, feeling self-sufficient, and puts his faith and his trust in the arm of flesh rather than in God." (Conference Report, Apr. 1929, p. 55)
"The animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms abide the law of their Creator; the whole earth and all things pertaining to it, except man, abide the law of their creation....We tame the animals and make them do our drudgery and administer to our wants in many ways, yet man alone is not tamed-he is not subject to his Great Creator. Our ignorant animals are faithful to us, and will do our bidding as long as they have any strength; yet man who is the offspring of the Gods, will not become subject to the most reasonable and self-exalting principles. How often have we witnessed a faithful animal conveying his master home so drunk that he could not see his way or sit up; yet his faithful animal will plod through mud, shun stumps, trees, and bad places, and land him safely at home." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, pp. 246-7 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 205)
Helaman 12:9-13 by the power of his voice
The elements are controlled by the command of God, and the creation was done in just this manner. Some might ask "what is the process by which the creation takes place?" or "how exactly is it done?" That God the Father created the heavens and the earth by his Son, Jesus Christ is clear enough. But what did the pre-mortal Jehovah do? Did he physically gather unorganized matter, mold it with his hands and produce life in a cosmic test-tube? Obviously not! The scriptures tell us exactly how God controls the elements-by the power of his voice.
This phrase has two implications. First, the power of his voice is the same as the power of his word, and the scriptures clearly demonstrate that "the Word" is another synonym for Jesus Christ. The most famous scripture which teaches this is John 1:1-3, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. Therefore, God the Father created the earth by the power of his word-or by the power of Jesus Christ (Jacob 4:9).
The second and less obvious implication is that the process of creation takes place by the power of the spoken word. How did Jesus Christ gather the elements? He simply commanded that the unorganized matter become earth. The power of his priesthood had force over the elements which obeyed his every command in the creation. This pattern of creation is apparent from the book of Abraham, And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed...And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good (Abr 4:18, 21). Mormon explained that, 'if he [says] to the earth-Move-it is moved' (v. 13). How much more simply could it be stated? The process of creation is to order the elements to combine into land, sea, sun, moon, atmosphere, plants, animals, etc. Once commanded, the elements respond to the priesthood of the great Creator, and obey as commanded. By 'the power of his voice', God was 'able to speak and the world was, and to speak and man was created' (Jacob 4:9).
Helaman 12:15 surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun
Mormon understood astronomy much better than his counterparts in the Old World. Presumably, the nature of the solar system was made known unto him by the Lord. For a prophet to consider the heavenly bodies as a matter of spiritual pursuit is not new. The greatest prophet-astronomer was certainly Abraham, to whom was revealed the very solar system of Elohim (Abr 3:2-9). Facsimile No. 2 from the same book demonstrates that Abraham knew even more than could be revealed by Joseph Smith.
Mormon had learned that the rising and setting of the sun was because of the rotation of the earth around its axis rather than the sun orbiting around the earth. It would take scientists in the Old World another 1100 years to reach this same conclusion. Ironically, the religion of the day considered such doctrine heresy. Elder John A. Widstoe chronicles the scientific development.
John A. Widstoe
"About 1500, A. D., Copernicus, a Dutch astronomer, having still more facts in his possession than had Ptolemy, concluded that the simplest manner in which the apparent movements of the sun, moon, and planets could be explained, was to assume that the sun is the center of the planetary system, and that the earth, with the moon and planets, revolves according to definite laws around the sun. This theory, supported by numerous confirmatory observations, was generally accepted by astronomers, and really did explain very simply and clearly many of the facts of planetary motion.
"Fifty years after the death of Copernicus, the celebrated astronomer, Kepler, proposed extensions and improvements of the Copernican doctrine, which made the theory that the planets revolve about the sun more probable than ever before. He suggested first that the planets move around the sun in closed curves, resembling flattened circles, and known as ellipses. By assuming this to be true, and assisted by other discoveries, he was also able to state the times required by the planets for their revolutions around the sun, and the velocity of their motions at different times of the year. Later investigations have proved the great laws proposed by Copernicus and Kepler to be true; and from their days is dated the birth of modern astronomy." (Joseph Smith as Scientist: A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy, chapter 6)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"There is a prevalent notion in the world today that before the time of Columbus, Galileo, and Copernicus, all ancient people believed that the earth was flat and the center of the universe. From the writings of the Scriptures, and more especially those which have come to us in this dispensation, we know that the ancient peoples, when they were guided by the Spirit of the Lord, had the true conception of the universe. The Lord revealed to Abraham great truths about the heavenly bodies, their revolutions, times and seasons, and these were published by the Prophet Joseph Smith before modern astronomers were familiar with these facts. From the writings of Abraham we learn that the Egyptians understood the nature of the planets. Moses also recorded much about this and other worlds, but because of the unbelief and apostasy from truth, these writings were eliminated from his writings...
"We learn from the Book of Mormon (Helaman 12:13-15) that the Nephites understood the nature of the planets. It was not until apostasy and rebellion against the things of God that the true knowledge of the universe, as well as the knowledge of other truths, became lost among men." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, footnote, p. 118-9)
Helaman 12:18-19 if a man hide up a treasure in the earth, and the Lord shall say-Let it be accursed
Mormon is not referring to a hypothetical situation. The prophet Samuel the Lamanite had prophesied that men would hide things in the earth but never find them again because of a curse from the Lord (Hel 13:18). This prophecy was fulfilled as recorded by Mormon, 'And these Gadianton robbers, who were among the Lamanites, did infest the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again' (Mormon 1:18).
"We see many of the Elders of Israel desirous of becoming wealthy, and they adopt any course that they think will bring them riches, which to me is as unwise as anything can be--to see men of wisdom, men that seem to have an understanding of the world and of the things of God, searching after minerals throughout these mountains; they traverse the hills, and they dig here and there, and keep digging and picking, and rolling the rocks from morning till night. This chain of mountains has been followed from the north to the south, and its various spurs have been prospected, and what do they find? Just enough to allure them, and to finally lead them from the faith, and at last to make them miserable and poor. Ask the brethren why they do this, and the ready reply will be, 'Is it not my privilege to find a gold mine, or a silver mine, as well as others?' As far as I am concerned I would say, 'Yes, certainly it is your privilege, if you can find one.' But do you know how to find such a mine? No, you do not. These treasures that are in the earth are carefully watched, they can be removed from place to place according to the good pleasure of Him who made them and owns them. He has his messengers at his service, and it is just as easy for an angel to remove the minerals from any part of one of these mountains to another, as it is for you and me to walk up and down this hall...
"People do not know it, but I know there is a seal set upon the treasures of earth; men are allowed to go so far and no farther. I have known places where there were treasures in abundance; but could men get them? No. You can read in the Book of Mormon of the ancient Nephites holding their treasures, and of their becoming slippery; so that after they had privately hid their money, on going to the place again, lo and behold it was not there, but was somewhere else, but they knew not where. The people do not understand this; I wish they did, for they would then do as I do, pay attention to the legitimate business that God has given them to perform." (Journal of Discourses, p. 36-39)