Mosiah 29:7 I fear there would rise contentions among you
Mosiah was the seer who translated the plates of gold which contained the record of the Jaredites. The history of this people, with their frequent civil wars, internal conflict and monarchial abuses, is still fresh in his mind. In verse 7, Mosiah describes what would happen if his sons began to fight over the throne in Zarahemla, and his description is taken from the experiences of the Jaredites as recorded in Ether 7-10.
B. H. Roberts
"The sons of Mosiah, who were heirs to the Nephite throne, were miraculously converted to the gospel, and so thoroughly imbued had they become with the importance of the work of the ministry of the Church that they abandoned their rights of succession to the kingly dignity, and departed from the land of Zarahemla to perform missions among the Lamanites. In consequence of the action of these young princes, Mosiah II was confronted with the problem of succession to the Nephite throne, since those to whom belonged the right refused to accept the honor. He feared that if another were appointed instead of one who had constitutional claims to the throne, there might arise contentions over the question of succession. 'And who knoweth,' said he, 'but what my son to whom the kingdom doth belong, shall turn to be angry, and draw part of this people after him, which would cause wars and contentions among you, which would be the cause of shedding much blood?' He therefore recommended the election of a chief judge or president of the theocratic-democracy, who would be possessed of both administrative and judicial powers, in the hope that such action, taken by the people themselves, would obviate all difficulty or question about the legitimacy of the government about to be established." (New Witnesses For God, vol. 2, p. 243)
Mosiah 29:11-12 it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man
After making this statement, Mosiah sets up a system of government based mortal men acting as judges. However, these men are not to judge by their own wisdom but are to judge this people according to the commandments of God. In king David's last recorded psalm, he reiterated this concept, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God (2 Sam 23:3). This system should be as just as possible-second only to being directly subject to the Righteous Judge. In the Millenium, this will happen as Isaiah explained, the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king (Isa 33:22).
Mosiah 29:13 if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings
The Book of Mormon records the history of several righteous kings. Nephi, Benjamin, Mosiah, and others led the Nephites in righteousness. When the king is a righteous as these men were, a monarchial form of government is even more efficient than a democracy. The latter has built-in inefficiency and checks and balances. The former allows the righteous king to do the right thing immediately, without waiting for legislative funding, constitutional conformity, or public approval. Accordingly, during the Millenium, the righteous will be ruled by a monarchial theocracy with the Lord as "Prophet, Priest, and King" (Hymn #136).
The problem with continuing under a monarchy, then, is that these righteous men are exceptional. The general rule is that less righteous, or frankly wicked, men eventually rise to power only to make the people suffer thereby. As Mosiah says, because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you (v. 16). Therefore, the prophets were always leery of establishing a government of kings. Nephi was faced with a people who looked up to them as their leader, And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power (2 Ne 5:18). In the Old Testament, we read that when the Israelites asked the prophet Samuel for a king so that they could be like all the other nations in the land, the Lord replied, Hearken unto the voice of the people...for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them (1 Sam 8:7). The Israelites would have benefited most if they had the KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev 19:16) as their king, for I, the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king, and I will be a light unto them forever, that hear my words (2 Ne 10:14).
Mosiah 29:17 For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed
Mosiah doesn't have to search far in the annals of Nephite history to find an example of a wicked king. He points to the well-known wickedness of king Noah and the disastrous spiritual and political results of his reign. As the D&C states, when the wicked rule the people mourn (DC 98:9). No better example of this could be given than in the reign of king Noah.
Mosiah 29:25 choose you by the voice of this people, judges
The annals of history rarely contain a story like this. That a monarch would dissolve the throne in favor of a democracy is both unlikely and unbelievable. But Mosiah did not have an ego problem. He was not caught up in the concept that his name, through his sons, would be propagated on the throne of Zarahemla. His royal legacy was intentionally destroyed for the benefit of his people. That is what makes the birth of this early democracy so remarkable.
Mosiah 29:26 it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right
J. Reuben Clark
"I have a complete confidence in the aggregate wisdom of the...people, if they are given and made to understand the facts. The wisdom of the mass is always greater than the wisdom of the individual or of the group. The few may be more subtle, more agile-minded, more resourceful; they may for a time push to the front and scamper ahead in the march; they may on occasion and for a time entice us down the wrong highway at the crossroads. But the great slow-moving, deliberate-thinking mass plods along over the years down the divinely appointed way. Led astray, they slowly, cumberously swing back to the right road, no matter what the toil or the sacrifice may be, and when they start the return, they crush whatever lies in their path. So has humanity come up through the ages." (Prophets, Principles, and National Survival, compiled by J. L. Newquist, p. 110)
Harold B. Lee
"Those who have served as public officials soon learn that there is always the imperative necessity of deciding whether or not demands on a controversial issue are being made by a well-organized loud minority or by a greater majority of those who might be less vocal but whose cause is just and in accordance with righteous principles. Always we would do well to reflect upon the counsel of a wise king of ancient times:
Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not night." therefore do your business by the voice of the people. (Mosiah 29:26.)
"Let this counsel be our counsel to our church members and the honorable of the earth everywhere. Be alert and active in your business and political interests. The great danger in any society is apathy and a failure to be alert to the issues of the day, when applied to principles or to the election of public officials.
The fourth certainty to keep in mind in our civic responsibility is to choose those to govern us as 'civil officers and magistrates [who will] enforce the laws and ... administer the law in equity and justice' (D&C 134:3), as we are admonished by inspired men of God.
"In a word, we must seek for statesmanlike men who will ask, 'Is it right and is it good for the country or the community?' instead of those who may merely ask, 'Is it politically expedient?' (Ye Are the Light of the World, chapter 22)
Harold B. Lee
"When election draws near we hear members say, 'Why doesn't the Church tell us how to vote?' I cannot think of anything that would bring about a greater wholesale apostasy than if we would assume to do that. I say, the Lord has told you how to vote. You read Section 134, verse 3, of the D&C, where the Lord said,
We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.
"That is what the Lord said. Then I say to them, read Mosiah's wise counsel, when he said, (quotes Mosiah 29:25-26.)
"I have said to them, 'If you do not know how to vote after you have read those two things, you are dumber than I think you are.' Any true Latter-day Saint can know how to vote." (BYU Speeches of the Year, 1965, p. 9)
Mosiah 29:27 if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity
When over half of the population desires wicked laws and wicked rulers, the state of the people becomes precarious. Fortunately, this is rarely the case. However, the Lord has previously demonstrated his willingness to destroy those who have met this requirement. Certainly, the judgments of God did come upon Noah's people, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Jews, and the Nephites. A typical example can be found in Helaman:
For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who choose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.
Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction. (Hel 5:2-3)
"This scripture (Mosiah 29:27) should make all Americans pause in this day of wickedness to ask themselves whether the 'voice of the people'-that is, the majority-now seeks evil rather than light....The scripture is explicit in saying that if 'the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come.'....But it is a majority which is being reduced each day, as is shown in the rapid increase in crime, immorality, venereal disease, pornography and the other vile blotches upon our land. In a moral way, America is drifting...If we remain adrift, we shall perish, and we shall bring destruction upon our own heads." (Church News, July 4, 1970)
Joseph B. Wirthlin
"Mr. Frank Stanton, CBS president emeritus, told a Brigham Young University audience that network television standards will continue to decline because they are based on society's standards. He said, 'Standards come from the audience...; the audience determines the programming and program content.' Further, he said, ' I believe there will be more infractions with respect to immorality and violence and it will get a lot worse before it gets better because of the changing standards of our society.' (The Daily Universe, Feb. 2, 1989, p. 1). What a sad commentary on our society!...If television viewing choices serve as a valid measure of our society, they who choose evil surely are more numerous than they who choose good." (Ensign, May 1989, p. 9 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 242)
Mosiah 29:28 they may be judged of a higher judge
An all-powerful judge is not much different than a king. Therefore, Mosiah wisely sets up a system of checks and balances. He does this not with three branches of government but with a system of accountability by which judges can be tried for not performing according to the law which has been given. In this system, the lower judge may be judged of a higher judge and the higher judge may be judged by a group of lower judges.
An analogous system has been set up in latter-day church government. When a priesthood leader transgresses, he is judged by a higher authority. When a president of the high priesthood (member of the First Presidency) transgresses, he is judged by a group of lower authorities:
And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by the twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;
...Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness. (DC 107:82-4)
Mosiah 29:32 I desire that this land be a land of liberty
B. H. Roberts
"(quoting Mosiah 29:32) To my mind Joseph Smith, in bringing forth that principle through the Book of Mormon--the principle of personal, moral, responsibility to God for the government that obtains in free republics--has contributed one of the mightiest thoughts to the political life of the age in which he lived, that any man has brought forth in all the contributions that have been made to political thought in America. Patrick Henry's idea that men had an inherent right to rebel against insufferable tyranny is not equal to it. Jefferson's great doctrine of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed with the inalienable rights of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is not greater than this Book of Mormon doctrine. Webster's great contribution of 'nationalism,' viz., that this nation was an indestructible union of indestructible states, is not superior to it. And Lincoln's great thought, that the principle of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are of right free, must hold good as to the colored race as well as to the white race, does not surpass it. Because this great Book of Mormon thought is this: that while governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, there goes with that the awful, moral responsibility, direct to God, of every man and woman participating as sovereigns in a free government, for the kind of government that obtains in such country. The great doctrine of direct, moral responsibility to God of a free people is indeed a soul-inspiring utterance, but it is also an awe-inspiring condition, and on its face bears evidence of the divine source whence it comes.
"It was upon this principle of confidence in the ability of the people to govern themselves that the Lord inspired those whom we call the 'fathers of our republic,' the founders of the constitution--it was upon this great principle of belief in the ability in the people for self-govermnent, that the corner stones of this republic were laid." (Conference Report, Oct. 1912, pp. 33-4)
Ezra Taft Benson
"Keep in mind that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they themselves have. They cannot give that which they do not possess. . . .
"The proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act. By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft, involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute the wealth or force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by man. No man can delegate a power that he does not possess. The creature cannot exceed the creator." (Conference Report, Oct. 1968, pp. 18-19)
Mosiah 29:38 every man should have an equal chance
J. Golden Kimball
"I love God for one thing, if nothing else, that He gives to every one of His children, black or white, bond or free, an equal chance. I like equality of opportunity, and whenever parents make a favorite of a child, I feel sorry for the favorite. If you want to destroy your family show favoritism, and do not give every child an equal chance. We parents have got to learn that lesson. Not to favor the child because you love it, but favor each and every child alike, that is a sacred obligation. God does that with all of His children, and if there is any disadvantage or any wrong, we do it against each other, God does not." (Conference Report, Apr. 1913, p. 88)
Mosiah 29:42 Alma was appointed to be the first chief judge
Although we have heard little so far of Alma's activities in the church since his conversion, it is evident that he had sufficiently proved himself to the people and Mosiah. Mosiah had granted to him the custody of the records of the Nephites (Mosiah 28:20), and Mosiah's people had elected him to be the first chief judge.
B. H. Roberts
"It is difficult to determine with precision the entire character of the constitution of the Nephite democracy. But from what is written in the Book of Mormon this much may be learned: The chief judge, elected by the people, was the supreme governor of the land, the chief executive. His oath of office bound him 'to judge righteously, and to keep the peace and the freedom of the people, and grant unto them the sacred privileges to worship the Lord their God; to support and maintain the laws of God all his days, and to bring the wicked to justice, according to their crimes.' (Alma 50:39) A similar oath was doubtless administered to the inferior judges. To a limited extent also legislative powers were granted to the chief judge, but these powers appear to have been limited to framing laws, which were not of force until ratified by the voice of the people. No limit seems to have been set to the term of office of the chief judge, but as the voice of the people placed him in office, the same power could also dismiss him from it; and it may be that the power of impeachment, vested in a certain number of inferior judges...extended to deposing even the chief judge. In any event it may be concluded that he held his position only during good behavior." (New Witnesses For God, vol. 2, p. 244)
Mosiah 29:44 And thus commenced the reign of the judges
This change in government is significant in that the Nephites changed their chronology at this time. Prior to this, they counted years based on how long it had been since Lehi left Jerusalem. From now on, until the birth of Christ, their chronology is based on the beginning of the reign of the judges, being 91 years before the coming of Christ, and 509 years since the departure of Lehi.
Mosiah 29:46 And it came to pass that Mosiah died
"As a law maker, Mosiah may be regarded among the most eminent this world has produced. We regard him in some respects as the Moses, in others the Alfred the Great, of his age and his nation. But besides him being a king, he was also a seer. The gift of interpreting strange tongues and languages was his. By this gift he translated from the twenty-four plates of gold, found by the people of King Limhi, the records of the Jaredites.
"No wonder that a man possessed of such gifts, so just and merciful in the administration of the law, so perfect in his private life, should be esteemed more than any man by his subjects, and that they waxed strong in their love towards him. As a king, he was a father to them, but as a prophet, seer, and revelator, he was the source from whence divine wisdom flowed unto them. We must go back to the days of the antediluvian patriarchs to find the peers of these three kings (the two Mosiahs and Benjamin), when monarchs ruled by right divine, and men were prophets, priests, and kings by virtue of heaven's gifts and God's will." (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, pp. 290-1)