Ether 9:3 passed by the hill of Shim, and came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed
This passage is significant because it places the geography of the Jaredites in the same land that the Nephites inhabited during the ministry of Mormon. This was the land in which Mormon was raised and also fought his last battles. The hill Shim, in particular, was the hill from which he obtained the many records of the Nephites (Mormon 1:3; 2:17).
Ether 9:7 Akish began to be jealous of his son
It is hard to imagine anyone so wicked that they would torture their son to death because of an uncontrollable desire for power. Moroni doesn't discuss much of the demented psychology of these paranoid Jaredite power mongers. However, Josephus goes to great lengths to describe the same thought process as it occurred in the life of Herod the Great. We know him as the king who killed all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under (Matt 2:16). But this mass infanticide was but one of many atrocious acts which marked Herod's reign.
Like Akish, Herod's paranoia seemed to have no end, nor did his cruelty to those who were a threat to him. He "never left off avenging and punishing every day those that had chosen to be of the party of his enemies" (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XV, 1:1) Accordingly, Herod had his brother-in-law, his uncle, his mother-in-law, and her father killed. Once, he even considered murdering Cleopatra. In his paranoia, he became suspicious of those who had been his most intimate friends and therefore had them killed. Based on false rumors, he had his once beloved wife killed. He who might be a threat to his power, until "there were...none at all left of the kindred of Hyrcanus [his mother-in-law's father]; and the kingdom was entirely in Herod's power, and there was nobody remaining of such dignity as could put a stop to [him]." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XV, 7:10)
Of his sons, Herod was perpetually suspicious. Concerned that one of his sons was guilty of sedition, he had his son's friends tortured in order to extract information from them. This torture resulted not in a confession but in the death of many of the young men. (Ibid, Book XVI, 8:4). Josephus writes, "he was...overrun with suspicion and hatred against all about him...in order to his preservation, he continued to suspect those that were guiltless: nor did he set any bounds to himself; but supposing that those who stayed with him had the most power to hurt him, they were to him very frightful." This mentality lead to mental illness with paranoid delusions, "because he could trust nobody, he was sorely punished by the expectation of further misery; for he often fancied in his imagination, that his son had fallen upon him, or stood by him with a sword in his hand; and thus was his mind night and day intent upon this thing, and revolved it over and over...And this was the sad condition Herod was now in." (Ibid, Book XVI, 8:5) Predictably, Herod had three of his own sons killed: Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater.
The Lord wants us to have homes which are a "heaven on earth." Satan wants us to have homes which are a "hell on earth." The sons of Herod and Akish undoubtedly had homes more aptly described by the latter. Thus we learn what price was paid by the wicked who lusted for power above all. They lived in perpetual paranoia until they had their very family members killed.
Ether 9:11 Akish was desirous for power; wherefore, the sons of Akish did offer them money
"Akish got elected because he offered the people money. He wanted power and they wanted gain, and they made a bargain. The reference I have here is this: A poll shows that 85 percent of this year's contested Senate races went to the candidate who spent the most. You can indeed buy that sort of thing, as Akish did. People got their money and Akish got his power." (Approaching Zion, p. 94)
Ether 9:12 the destruction of nearly all the people...save it were thirty souls
Excepting the Omer's band of runaways, the people had destroyed almost everyone in society. Only thirty participants survived the war-and this in a society which was numbered in the millions! (see Ether 15:2) The amount of revenge, hatred, and violence which could have produced such a war is hard to comprehend, but it is only a foreshadowing of the final Jaredite war of annihilation (see Ether 14-15).
"A war of the most horrible character broke out, which lasted for several years, and ended when nearly every soul was slain. Of the Kingdom of Akish, for which he had sinned so much, there remained but thirty souls. All the rest-men, women, and children, had been swept by bloody hands into untimely graves. The people of Akish having been thus destroyed, Omer, with his friends, returned from his exile and reigned over the feeble remnant of a wasted people." (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 6, p. 136)
Ether 9:16 in the space of sixty and two years they had become exceedingly strong
The Book of Mormon teaches of the dangers of wicked kings, declaring behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction (Mosiah 29:17). Yet the righteous reign of Emer clearly shows the great benefit of a righteous king, for in the relatively short span of 62 years, the people had become both exceedingly strong and exceedingly rich. Hereby, we behold how much good doth one righteous king cause to come to pass, yea and what great prosperity!
Ether 9:19 they also had horses
"If Joseph Smith had been writing the Book of Mormon instead of translating it from ancient records, he would have been very foolish to have included references to horses on the American continent in Book of Mormon times. (1 Nephi 18:25; Enos 21.) In 1830, nearly all the historians and scholars were convinced there had been no horses on the American continent before the coming of Columbus. After the Book of Mormon was published, however, archaeological discoveries were made that clearly indicate that horses were in the Americas before Columbus arrived. In the asphalt deposits of Rancho LaBrea in southern California, numerous fossil remains of horses have been found that antedate Book of Mormon times. Although these discoveries do not absolutely prove horses were in the Americas in the time period covered by the Book of Mormon (about 2600 B.C. to A.D. 421), they do prove horses were there before the coming of Columbus.
"Some scientists have now accepted the possibility that horses and men lived concurrently in the Americas before the coming of Columbus. Franklin S. Harris, Jr., quotes the zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson as saying: 'There is a body of evidence both from the mainland of Central America and even from rock drawings in Haiti itself tending to show that the horse may have been known to man in the Americas before the coming of the Spaniards.' (The Book of Mormon Message and Evidences [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1953], pp. 88-89.)" (Daniel Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p.117)
Ether 9:19 there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms
"The evidence for the association of early man in America with now-extinct animals, such as the horse, camels, elephant types, including mastodons and mammoths, and others is given in detail in three recent books: G. G. MacCurdy, (editor) Early Man as depicted by leading authorities at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, March, 1937, containing papers by thirty-six experts. Much material is given, and the suggestion is made that man may even have helped in the extinction of these animals. The second book is by M. R. Harrington, Gypsum Cave, Nevada, Southwest Museum Papers, No. 8, which tells of the work at Gypsum Cave and previous associations elsewhere of mammoth, mastodon, camel and horse with man, and there is a map showing twenty-three places where extinct animals have been associated with man in the United States.
"The third book is by H. M. Wormington, Ancient Man in North America. This book reviews various finds, for example, the finding of an arrow point under the left scapula bone of a large mammoth, near Angus, Nebraska, in 1931. The association of horse, mammoth, mastodon and elephant with early man is now so generally accepted that there is no need to present details of evidence in addition to those in the three books mentioned. Many authorities have given clear expression of this acceptance. A. V. Kidder in referring to various discoveries says these 'prove beyond possible doubt that man was present in the New World contemporaneously with many mammals now extinct.' A. L. Kroeber: 'In an earlier stage, whale man's numbers were few and his arts and weapons undeveloped, these species may have continued to live alongside him without serious molestation. Once better equipped and organized, Indian tribes may well have put an end to piedmont bison, horses, camels, mastodons, and mammoths; possibly in a few centuries in a given terrain.'" (Franklin S. Harris, Jr., The Book of Mormon: Message & Evidences, pp. 88-89)
Ether 9:22 he even saw the Son of Righteousness
We know very little of Emer, but we know enough to realize that he was a great man. He had been a righteous king, much like king Benjamin would be to a later people. He had even seen God. This makes him great by association for it puts him in the same class with some great prophets including: the brother of Jared, Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Mormon, and Moroni.
"The experiences of Emer are some of the most promising moments in these chapters of rampant wickedness among the Jaredites. As a very righteous leader of his people, Emer was privileged to have the veil parted and see the Lord Himself...Moroni may have desired to show us through Emer that not only righteousness but perfect faith is possible in a world sandwiched in on all sides by wickedness." (Frank F. Judd, Jr., Book of Mormon Symposium Series, 4 Nephi - Moroni, edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 150)
Ether 9:26 Heth began to embrace the secret plans again of old, to destroy his father
"Secret combinations are formed to implement the ambitions of individuals, seeking power through gain and gain through power. Hence they produce and thrive in an atmosphere of conflict, within the groups and between them, assassination being, as the Book of Mormon makes very clear, the cornerstone of their dire economy." (Since Cumorah, p. 395)
Ether 9:30-31 The relationship between drought and plagues of serpents
Those who have studied the plagues brought upon Egypt through Moses have noted some obvious relationships between the different kinds of plagues. First the waters were turned to blood, driving the frogs onto dry land. Later lice were followed by flies, etc (Ex 6:20-8:24). Similarly, there is a relationship between the great dearth spoken of and the plague of serpents which followed. One author explained it this phenomenon:
"During my lengthy residence in Israel (1971-79), I had opportunity to visit the Musa Alami Farm near Jericho. The farm had been constructed after Israel's 1948 War of Independence to settle displaced Palestinian refugees...Much of the farm was in disrepair during our visit because of the 1967 Six-Day War. Orange groves had died from lack of water, and most of the fields lay fallow. During the war, all but two of the pumps bringing underground water to the surface had been destroyed, making it impossible to maintain the farm at its previous level...Of particular interest to me was the effect on local wildlife. When crops were no longer being grown near the river, the mice moved westward to find grains in the few fields still under cultivation. They were, naturally, followed by serpents. From time to time, residents of the farm found vipers in and around their houses. This, they assured us, had never happened before the war.
"My thoughts turned to the story in Ether 9:30-3, where we read that the Jaredites were plagued by 'poisonous serpents' during a time of 'great dearth' when 'there was no rain upon the face of the earth.'...A similar tale is told of the Israelites during the period of the exodus from Egypt. Soon after arriving in the wilderness, where there was 'no bread, neither . . . water,' they encountered poisonous serpents 'and much people of Israel died.' In this case, however, the serpents were not destroyed; instead, the Lord provided a miraculous means for the healing of those who had been bitten (Numbers 21:5-9; see also Deuteronomy 8:15; 2 Kings 18:4; John 3:14-5; 1 Corinthians 10:9; 1 Nephi 17:41; 2 Nephi 25:20)." (John A. Tvedtnes, FARMS: Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 6, no. 1, Fall-1997, "Drought & Serpents")
Ether 9:31-35 their flocks began to flee before the poisonous serpents
For the geographical significance of these verses, see commentary for Mormon 6:2.
"The description of how people were driven out of a land by a plague of serpents that then 'hedge up the way that the people could not pass' (Ether 9:31-35) may put a strain on your scientific credulity. I hasten to relieve it. Pompey the Great, we are told, could not get his army into Hyrcania because the way was barred by snakes along the Araxes, a stream that still swarms with the creatures. One of the chief philanthropic activities of the Persian magi was to make war on the snakes-a duty which must go back to a time when the race was sorely pressed by them. The Absurtitani were said to have been driven from their country by snakes, and Esarhaddon of Assyria recalls the horror and danger of a march by his army through a land 'of serpents and scorpions, with which the plain was covered as with ants.' In the thirteenth century A.D. Shah Sadrudin set his heart on the building of a capital which should surpass all other cities in splendor; yet the project had to be abandoned after enormous expense when during a period of drought the place so swarmed with serpents that no one could live in it. It is interesting in this connection that the plague of serpents in Ether is described as following upon a period of extreme drought (Ether 9:30)." (Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites, p. 221)