Helaman 3:4 they did travel to an exceedingly great distance
In following the travels of the descendants of Lehi since their arrival, the land of their inheritance was not far from where they landed. Subsequent migrations north to Zarahemla did were not an extensive distance. In fact, the distance between the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla could be traveled in only 21 days (Mosiah 23:3; 24:25), or an approximate distance of 300-400 miles. However, this Nephite excursion is different because of the great distance traveled. Significantly, the location of the large bodies of water and many rivers spoken of is not known, but it has been implicated to be in Central America (see Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 5, p. 207).
"...the great northern migration [was] a massive drift of population, Nephite and Lamanite alike (Helaman 6:6), to lands far to the north. In the same year in which Hagoth sent off his first great ship to the north (Alma 63:5-6), a company of 'five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward' (Alma 63:4). This was but the beginning of a continuing trend of large-scale migration into the north countries. Because of troubles and dissension a really great movement took place a few years later when 'an exceedingly great many . . . went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land. And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers' (Helaman 3:3-4). This is obviously not to be confused with the northern land of lakes from which Moroni barred access to the people of Morianton in a relatively small-scale military action (Alma 50:25-35). When distance is described as 'exceedingly great' by a people to whom long marches and strenuous campaigns in the wilderness were the established rule, we can be sure that it was at least the equivalent of the migrations of some of our Indian tribes in modern times, which sometimes ran to thousands of miles. Once the Book of Mormon people break out of the land of Zarahemla, there is no telling how far they go: since they have all the time in the world we have no right to limit their wanderings and settlements by our own standards of foot-travel." (An Approach To The Book of Mormon, p. 409)
Helaman 3:6 because...of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate
The Jaredite nation was a huge society with a population which likely outnumbered the Nephites and Lamanites combined. In the absence of environmental rights activists, they had apparently used up all the timber in the land northward. The problem created an ecological crisis so severe that the animals were forced into the land southward for food (Alma 22:31). The Jaredites left the land desolate and so it was called Desolation. By definition, Desolation was the land north of the small neck of land spoken of in Alma 22:29-32. This confirms the often misunderstood fact that Zarahemla, Bountiful, and most of the Nephite cities were located south of this small neck of land. See also Alma 63:4-5.
Helaman 3:7 became exceedingly expert in the working of cement
One might assume that the cement spoken of refers to the working of adobe. However, professor John Welch describes how accurately the term cement describes the building material of the time.
"The Book of Mormon dates this significant technological advance to the year 46 B.C.
"Recent research shows that cement was in fact extensively used in Mesoamerica beginning largely at this time. One of the most notable uses of cement is in the temple complex at Teotihuacan, north of present-day Mexico City. According to David S. Hyman, the structural use of cement appears suddenly in the archaeological record. Its earliest sample 'is a fully developed product.' The cement floor slabs at this site 'were remarkably high in structural quality.' Although exposed to the elements for nearly two thousand years, they still 'exceed many present-day building code requirements.'
"After its discovery, cement was used at many sites in the Valley of Mexico and in the Maya regions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. It was used in the construction of buildings at such sites as Cerro de Texcotzingo, Tula, Palenque, Tikal, Copan, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza...Mesoamerican cement was almost exclusively lime cement. The limestone was purified on a 'cylindrical pile of timber, which requires a vast amount of labor to cut and considerable skill to construct in such a way that combustion of the stone and wood is complete and a minimum of impurities remains in the product.' The fact that very little carbon is found in this cement 'attests to the ability of these ancient peoples.'
"John Sorenson further noted the expert sophistication in the use of cement at El Tajin, east of Mexico City, after Book of Mormon times. Cement roofs covered areas of seventy-five square meters! 'Sometimes the builders filled a room with stones and mud, smoothed the surface on top to receive the concrete, then removed the interior fill when the [slab] on top had dried.'
"The presence of expert cement technology in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica is a remarkable archaeological fact, inviting much further research. Cement seems to take on significant roles in Mesoamerican architecture close to the time when the Book of Mormon says this development occurred." (John W. Welch, Reexploring The Book of Mormon, p. 213)
Helaman 3:8 they began to cover the face of the whole earth
B. H. Roberts
"Here it will be proper to dispel what I regard as a misapprehension of the extent of Nephite occupancy of the north continent, at this period of Nephite history. From the fact that in the foregoing quotation it is said that the Nephites removing from Zarahemla traveled 'to an exceeding great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water, and many rivers,' some have supposed that the Nephites at this time extended their colonization movements as far north as the great lakes in the eastern part of North American and from the fact that it is also said that 'they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south, to the sea north, from the sea west, to the sea east,' it has been supposed that these expressions meant to convey the idea that the Nephites at this time had extended their settlements over both continents; and that 'from the sea south to the sea north' meant from the sea at the southern extremity of South America (south of Cape Horn), to the Arctic Ocean, north of North America. There is no evidence, however, in the Book of Mormon that warrants such a conclusion as to the extent of Nephite occupancy of the western hemisphere in 46 B.C. Allowance for hyperbole must be made in the expression, 'They began to cover the face of the whole earth,' since the facts set forth in the whole history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon are against the reasonableness of such an expression if taken literally." (New Witnesses for God, p. 229)
Helaman 3:13-15 there are many records kept of the proceedings of this people
Certainly, the Book of Mormon is an abbreviated history, designed to bring us to Christ not to inform us of all the doings of the Nephites and Lamanites. The above scripture makes it clear that other records were also kept. Some of these other records were seen by the prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery while in a cave in the hill Cumorah. Brigham Young tells the story:
"Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates... When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: 'This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ.'" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 19, p. 40)
Helaman 3:16 the Nephites...mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called Nephites
The Nephite race was never extinguished completely. As a people, the Nephites were destroyed but there were many individuals in the days of Mormon who were willing to deny their religion and the Christ in order to save their own necks. In the words of Moroni, 'there are none save it be the Lamanites and [Gadianton] robbers that do exist upon the face of the land. And there are none that do know the true God...they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ (Mormon 8:9-10; Moroni 1:2).' That the Nephite blood was preserved amongst the Lamanites is significant because of the promises which were given to Nephi, 'the Lord God will not suffer that the Gentiles will utterly destroy the mixture of thy seed, which are among thy brethren' (1 Ne 13:30, italics added).
Helaman 3:21 Helaman's sons: Nephi and Lehi
Jeffrey R. Holland
"Soon two marvelous brothers-great-grandsons of Alma the Younger-introduced an era of tremendous growth in faith prior to Christ's birth, a period when 'tens of thousands' joined the church. Reading as he did of Nephi and Lehi's success, Mormon editorialized regarding the resolute 'man [or woman] of Christ,' they who grasp the iron rod and safely walk the way of life, triumphing over Lucifer's deception and efforts to destroy, claiming in the end the principalities and powers promised to the heirs of the covenant." (Christ and the New Covenant, p. 128)
Helaman 3:25 even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure
"'even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure' at this great progress. We're astonished at the progress of the church today. There's no real reason for it that you can explain, except that it's the work of the Lord. It's happening in the strangest places where you'd never expect it, very strange places." (Teachings From The Book of Mormon, Lecture 74, p. 212)
Helaman 3:28 the gate of heaven is open unto all
Everyone would like a personal invitation from God. But the invitation has been given, the opportunity availed, and the gate already opened. The responsibility is ours to respond to the invitation-'Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. I am Jesus Christ' (DC 19:23-4). And, 'he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile' (2 Ne 26:33).
Neal A. Maxwell
"'The man of Christ' knows that a loving, living, and revealing God did not, as some imply, suddenly lose interest in mankind about A.D. 100, grow bored, and wander off into space. The disciple worships an unchanging God, and proclaims that the good tidings are brought anew; for the gospel is not merely a gospel for one age, for one people, or for one place-it is a gospel for the galaxies!" (Ensign, May 1975, p. 101)
Helaman 3:29 the word of God [will] lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery
Neal A. Maxwell
"For 'the man of Christ,' the words of scriptures are like parachute flares above the trenches of life, illuminating the landscape only briefly, but long enough for him to see the enemy clearly and to make his way along the path he must take-and to help others so to do." (Deposition of a Disciple, p. 95)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Those already in the household of faith may be pardoned a tremble or two as they read the graphic description of the challenging journey facing the serious disciple-whom Helaman called, 'the man of Christ.' (Hel. 3:29)
"This is a brief attempt to describe just a few of the things the men and women of Christ will feel and see in the course of that adventurous journey.
"Regarding events in the world, 'the man of Christ' sees trends around him 'about which it is difficult to speak, but impossible to remain silent.' Because he sees with 'an eye of faith,' he knows more than he can tell; but he need not always be fully articulate, for real Christianity is contagious.
"He believes deeply in the Beatitudes, but also in those doctrines which tell him 'who' Jesus is. He does not divorce the Sermon on the Mount from the sermon at Capernaum with its hard teachings which caused many to walk 'no more with' Jesus. (John 6:66.) These latter doctrines are likewise a part of the bracing breeze of the scriptures which must be played upon the fevered brow of mankind.
"He knows that 'the gate of heaven is open unto all,' but that the Man of Galilee will finally judge each of us on the basis of a rigorous celestial theology, instead of the popular 'no-fault theology' of this telestial world-for Jesus is the gatekeeper 'and he employeth no servant there.' (2 Ne. 9:41.)
"...May each of us, brothers and sisters, navigate that straight and narrow way, landing our immortal souls 'at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven.' (Hel. 3:30.) Only then, when we are really home, will our mortal homesickness disappear-our highest human yearnings for what could be are but muffled memories of what once was-and will again be-for we have indeed 'wandered from a more exalted sphere.' (Hymns, no. 138.) May we make that journey I so pray in the name of Him who has completed this same journey and who beckons us onward, Jesus Christ. Amen." (Conference Report, Ensign, May 1975, p. 101)
Franklin D. Richards
"The sum of the whole matter is, that having found the straight and narrow path that leads to the tree of eternal life, our only safety is in seizing hold of the rod of iron, which is the word of God, and clinging to it through all the dark, misty and troublesome experiences we may be called to pass through; and that if we do this we shall find ourselves eventually partaking of those fruits which will bring to us eternal life, with joys supernal." (Collected Discourses 1886-1898, vol. 1., edited by Brian H. Stuy, April 8, 1888)
Helaman 3:32 there was peace and exceedingly great joy in the remainder of the forty and ninth year; yea, and also… the fiftieth year
What could have been the cause of this great period of peace and tranquility among the Nephites? Even the priests and teachers were “astonished beyond measure,” tens of thousands of souls were baptized into the church, there was continual rejoicing in the land of Zarahemla, even “exceedingly great joy” for the end of the 49th and 50th years. A reader (Genevieve Ficquet) has suggested that perhaps this was a Jubilee celebration for the Nephites (Lev. 25). Under the Law of Moses, the Law of the Jubilee was celebrated the 50th year, after seven periods of seven years. It is the Sabbatical year of Sabbatical years. The Lord commanded Moses that the Israelites should release debtors of their debts, release their servants or slaves, and rest their lands in a celebratory year of freedom.
It was a great idea but required faith because the Israelites had to trust that the Lord would bless their crops to produce enough the 49th year so that they could rest their lands the 50th—not to mention the difficulty in releasing a servant or slave. There is no evidence in the Old Testament that the Israelites ever kept the law. Did the Nephites keep the law? If they started counting the years when the judges were originally established, then the 50th year would have been the Jubilee year. If they had the faith to keep the Jubilee year, it is not surprising that the Lord would bless them in astonishing degree.
Gerald N. Lund
The jubilee year was a special sabbatical year. Every seventh year, the land was to rest—nothing could be planted, cultivated, or pruned. People were to eat only what grew of itself and then only what they needed at the time. (See Lev. 25:1-7.) The Lord promised that the year before, the sixth year, the land would bear three times its normal yield to feed the people during the sabbath year: "If ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase: then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years." (v. 20-21.)
Verses nine and ten (of Lev. 25) in particular explain some of the unique features of the jubilee year: "Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: . . . ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.
Israelites were to set any bond servants free, give any slaves their liberty, and forgive any debtors their debts. What sweeping changes in an economy! Imagine the panic that would be sent into the banking community today to say all debts would be forgiven. Imagine too the consequences of property being returned. If a person, perhaps through foolishness or because of poverty, had sold his inheritance, that family property would be restored to him on the fiftieth year. (Jesus Christ, Key to the Plan of Salvation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 24-25)
Helaman 3:33 pride began to enter into...the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church
This verse indicates that there are members of the Church who, in God's view, don't really belong to his church. In the scriptures, the Lord does not define membership in his church based upon whether one's name is on the roles. Rather, he defines membership based upon whether one's heart is contrite, 'Behold, this is my doctrine-whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church' (DC 10:67-8).
Unfortunately, because pride is so prevalent, there are those today who are professing to belong rather than truly belonging to the Lord. They are like the prideful at the last day, who will cry, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity' (Matt 7:22-3). To these the Lord has given strict warnings. They are the first to suffer the wrath of God when the Lord decides to "clean house", 'Behold vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation...And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me' (DC 112:24-26).
"...there are two churches. There are the people who profess it, and the people who really are. They all profess to belong to the church of God, but how do you distinguish? Well, as Paul says, our security rests in this. God knows his own. Only he knows the ones who are true Latter-day Saints and those who aren't. We have no means of knowing. You'd be surprised what rascals there are among us and what good people there are among us too. But you never suspect." (Teachings From The Book of Mormon, Lecture 75, p. 215)
Helaman 3:35 they did fast and pray oft
Robert L. Simpson
"The world needs self-discipline. You can find it in fasting and prayer. Our generation is sick for lack of self-control. Fasting and prayer help to instill this virtue...In addition to the occasional fasting experience for a special purpose, each member of the Church is expected to miss two meals on the fast and testimony Sunday. To skip two consecutive meals and partake of the third normally constitutes approximately a 24-hour period. Such is the counsel.
"Competent medical authorities tell us that our bodies benefit by an occasional fasting period. That is blessing number one and perhaps the least important. Second, we contribute the money saved from missing the meals as a fast offering to the bishop for the poor and the needy. And third, we reap a particular spiritual benefit that can come to us in no other way. It is a sanctification of the soul for us today just as it was for some choice people who lived 2,000 years ago." (Conference Report, Oct. 1967, p. 18 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 228)
Helaman 3:35 sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God
One sister described the process of personal sanctification as follows:
"As I travel along the road of this earthly life, I am constantly faced with many obstacles as well as many joys. Over and over again, I find myself pleading with Heavenly Father to help soften my heart. Whether it is to be more patient toward my children, or more tolerant towards others, my pleas for help have always seemed to be the same.
"One morning as I knelt in my personal prayers, I found myself again petitioning Heavenly Father for this familiar request when I felt prompted to pick up the scriptures. What I came across was, to me, astounding.
"I realized that what I had been longing for was this very purification and sanctification of heart of which this beautiful scripture speaks so plainly. I also realized that the way to obtain this wonderful purification (or softening) was to fast and pray often and to yield my heart unto God. I understood that there was more expected of me than just asking for Heavenly Father's help. I needed to do my part and submit my every action and thought to His will. Now I ask myself, is my behavior consistent with yielding my heart to God's will?" (Carla Edington, Church News, 09/13/97)
Henry B. Eyring
"Yield your heart unto God. Ask him what it is he would have you do. Know that he will have prepared a way for you to do it, even under great difficulties. Ask him how he would have you share what you have with others, and you will feel his love. He lives and he loves you. He wants you to come home again." (To Draw Closer To God, p. 89)
Ezra Taft Benson
"[those] who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace" (see "Jesus Christ-Gifts and Expectations," New Era, May 1975, 20).
Neal A. Maxwell
"Giving place in our souls and in our schedules, making room for God's words and work (Alma 32:27; see also 1 Nephi 21:20), requires intellectual submissiveness. It requires us to be responsive to all entreaties from the Lord, rather than being dependent upon thunderbolts to move us, or upon being commanded in all things (D&C 58:26-28). Submission requires sufficient dedication and perspiration to 'try the experiment' of His gospel's goodness (Alma 34:4), to begin to follow Him in earnest." (Not My Will, But Thine, p. 13)