Helaman 4:5 they succeeded in obtaining possession of the land of Zarahemla
Mormon's purpose in abridging the plates is not to give us a long description of every war which occurred among the Nephites. Chapter 4 chronicles a war which was about as extensive as the ones described in Alma 43 to Alma 62. In fact, never had the Lamanites had such military success, capturing the land of Zarahemla and also all the lands in the land southward. However, Mormon does not bother us with the details. He doesn't give us warfare for the sake of warfare. He never elaborates on the strategic successes of the Lamanites. As a Nephite general, it would have been too painful for him to write them.
Rather, he described the warfare in the end of Alma because it taught us certain lessons. It provided great examples of integrity and strength in Moroni, Pahoran, Helaman, and his stripling warriors. Having given us such a characteristic description of Nephite and Lamanite warfare, he abridges the current war into less than a chapter because he has already taught us the major lessons to be learned.
Helaman 4:7 they did fortify...from the west sea, even unto the east; it being a day's journey
It has never been the purpose of this website to attempt to define the geographical points described in the text. The geography of the Book of Mormon is neither completely discernable nor important. But if there is geographic description which is discernable, it must be this one. The Panamanian isthmus is accurately described in this verse and in Alma 22:32, And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea...there being a small neck of land.
But even the location of this small neck has been debated. Some have argued that it is actually located in Central America, just south of the Yucatan Peninsula. This seems to complicate matters in a book which is famous for being plain and precious. What the reader should know is that Bountiful was just south of the small neck and that the land of Zarahemla was even further south.
Therefore, Moronihah had a narrow line of defense to protect their north country, but most of the Nephite cities and lands had already been captured. Moronihah was holding on by a thread, as it were.
Helaman 4:11 the great slaughter...would not have happened had it not been for their wickedness
In the "good guy, bad guy" mentality which is so reinforced by Hollywood, we often attribute a "good guy, bad guy" schema to the Book of Mormon. However, whenever the Nephites are at war, they are no longer the good guys. It is only because they have become sufficiently wicked that the Lord was forced to scourge them with the Lamanite armies in fulfillment of the word of the Lord to Nephi, '[the Lamanites] shall have no power over thy seed except they shall rebel against me also. And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance' (1 Ne 2:23-24).
So, the Nephites are the bad guys, and the Lamanites are the other bad guys-but not for long. Soon the righteousness of the Lamanites will exceed that of the Nephites (Hel 7:24).
"Critics like O'Dea have told the world that the Book of Mormon is a rather naive tale, a typical 'Western,' in which the 'good guys' fight the 'bad guys.' Nothing could be further from the truth. At every confrontation of the Nephites and Lamanites in war, the Book of Mormon is at pains to point out that the conflict is to be attributed to the wickedness of both parties. Indeed, the greatest battle before the final debacle was fought not between the Nephites and Lamanites but between Nephite armies (3 Nephi 4:11). 'They shall have no power over thy seed,' the Lord promised Nephi, 'except they shall rebel against me also' (1 Nephi 2:23). The 'also' is important--it means that whenever the Nephites and Lamanites fight it is because both have rebelled against God. It is never a case of 'good guys versus bad guys.'
Helaman 4:11 wickedness...among those also who professed to belong to the church of God
Harold B. Lee
"There are many who profess to be religious and speak of themselves as Christians, and, according to one such, 'as accepting the scriptures only as sources of inspiration and moral truth', and then ask in their smugness: 'Do the revelations of God give us a handrail to the kingdom of God, as the Lord's messenger told Lehi, or merely a compass?'
"Unfortunately, some are among us who claim to be Church members but are somewhat like the scoffers in Lehi's vision-standing aloof and seemingly inclined to hold in derision the faithful who choose to accept Church authorities as God's special witnesses of the gospel and His agents in directing the affairs of the Church.
"There are those in the Church who speak of themselves as liberals who, as one of our former presidents has said, 'read by the lamp of their own conceit.' (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 373.) One time I asked one of our Church educational leaders how he would define a liberal in the Church. He answered in one sentence: 'A liberal in the Church is merely one who does not have a testimony.' (Stand Ye In Holy Places, p. 352-3)
Helaman 4:12 it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches
"For the most part, the Church today finds itself in much the same circumstances as those in the beginning of the book of Helaman. It is wealthy and growing rapidly. Are we in danger? The Book of Mormon suggests that the only real danger to the Church itself is not an outward foe but rather a more powerful and far more devastating enemy within-pride. It grows in the hearts of those who profess to be Saints. It is little wonder that President Benson has warned us against pride. Will we heed the warning or become as the Nephites of old?" (Richard D. Draper, FARMS: Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, Fall-1994, p. 32)
Helaman 4:12 oppression to the poor
It is no coincidence that the hypocrites of the church were at the same time oppressing the poor and mocking that which is sacred. There is a connection between these concepts as described in Proverbs, 'He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker', and 'whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker' (Prov 14:31; 17:5). This principle is most beautifully encapsulated in the words of the Lord. He taught very clearly that our treatment of the poor will be accounted to us as if it were our treatment of the Savior himself. Therefore, to mock the poor is to mock the Maker.
'Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.' (Matt 25:41-45)
Helaman 4:12 making a mock of that which was sacred
Joseph Fielding Smith
"Do not be deceived; the Father will not be mocked, nor will he permit us to trample his holy ordinances under our feet at will, simply because of some trifling dissatisfaction. There will have to be many adjustments and our plans, if they are not in harmony with the law the Lord has given, will not stand in and after the resurrection. Some of us may find that we have deprived ourselves of these eternal blessings because of our petty and evil actions. Let us beware how we hold the covenants of the Lord, lest we be judged and, being found guilty, lose the whole." (The Way To Perfection, p. 259)
Gordon B. Hinckley
"The Church has a host of critics and an army of enemies. They mock that which is sacred. They demean and belittle that which has come from God. They pander to the desires of others who evidently enjoy seeing that which is sacred made to look funny. I cannot think of anything less in harmony with the spirit of Christ than this kind of activity.
"We are pained by the desecration of that which to us is holy. But we need not fear. This cause is greater than any man. It will outlast all its enemies. We need only go forward, without fear, by the power of faith. Said the Lord in an early season of this work: 'Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. . . . Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.' (D&C 6:34, 36-37.)" (Faith, The Essence of True Religion, p. 16)
Helaman 4:12 denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation
"The pride-induced denial of the spirit of prophecy and revelation may be very blatant and open, but often it comes in more subtle, disguised forms. Speaking of the proud, President Benson illustrated some of these [forms]:
"We pit our will against God's. When we direct our pride toward God, it is done in the spirit of 'my will and not thine be done.'... The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives (see Helaman 12:6). They pit their perceptions of truth against God's great knowledge, their abilities versus God's priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works. . . . The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren't interested in changing their opinions to agree with God's." (CR, April 1989, p. 4.)
(McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 3, p. 347)
Helaman 4:13 they were left in their own strength
"Mormon, the true prophet-historian that he is, herein gives one of the most important keys to understanding the history of the covenant people. When they are faithful and obedient, even the mightiest empires of the world cannot succeed in overthrowing them. The chariots of Pharaoh were caught in the returning waters of the Red Sea, and the seemingly weak and defenseless Israelites journeyed into the Sinai without further molestation. (See Exodus 14) Several hundred years later, the mighty armies of Assyria encamped around Jerusalem. To that point, no city or nation had successfully resisted the power of Assyria. But in response to the pleadings of Isaiah, the king and the people turned to the Lord. The next morning 185,000 Assyrian soldiers lay dead, smitten during the night by some mysterious plague sent by the Lord. Sennacherib, the mighty king of Assyria, retreated without shooting an arrow against the city. (See 2 Kings 19:32-37)
"But let the people turn from the Lord, let them fall into apostasy and wickedness, and the source of their strength and power withdraws. Often we say that the Lord punishes his people for their wickedness. In a way this is true, but often the Lord does not have to intervene directly and send punishments upon his people. The enemies of Israel are ever ready and eager to move against the people of the Lord when they lose their real source of power, and they are 'left in their own strength.' (Hel 4:13) Whenever 'the Lord did cease to preserve them by his miraculous and matchless power' (v. 25), they became easy prey to those who were their enemies." (Book of Mormon Student Manual, 1981, p. 356)
Dallin H. Oaks
'The pride of self-satisfaction is the pride Alma meant when he told his son Shiblon: 'See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength' (Alma 38:11). The consequences of the pride of self-satisfaction in Helaman's time are described in these words:
'And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands' (Helaman 4:13).
"The pride of self-satisfaction is probably the kind of pride that prominent members were warned against in the early revelations of this dispensation (D&C 23:1 [Oliver Cowdery]; 25:14 [Emma Smith]; 56:8 [Ezra Thayre] ). In a sermon delivered in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: 'There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake' (History of the Church 5:424).
"We still have a great many 'wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught.' And no one suffers more from their condition than they themselves." (Pure in Heart, p. 92)
Helaman 4:14 Moronihah did preach many things unto the people
Moronihah was a general, trained in killing the enemy with the greatest efficiency. What is he doing preaching to the people? Is that his job? Where does he get off teaching the people as if he were a prophet or a high priest? Shouldn't he leave the preaching to Nephi and Lehi?
Certainly, the Nephite generals are unusual. They knew better than to boast in their own strength. They knew better than to fight the enemy without first cleansing the inner vessel. And they knew that 'the preaching of the word...had [a] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else' (Alma 31:5). Counterintuitive as it may be, when the Nephites were wicked, the preaching of the word was a general's most powerful weapon. No wonder 'it was the custom among all the Nephites to appoint for their chief captains...some one that had the spirit of revelation and also prophecy' (3 Ne 3:19). Unless they had done so, they would most certainly have been destroyed long before 400 AD.
Helaman 4:22 they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah
If the great legacy of King Benjamin was his sermon from the tower, then the legacy of his son, Mosiah, was the Nephite legal system. He had abolished his own monarchy, established a system of judges, founded society on democratic principles, and 'established laws' which 'were acknowledged by the people' (Alma 1:1). Hugh Nibley referred to the laws of Mosiah as the Nephite "constitution," and the speech of king Benjamin as their "bill of rights" (See Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 75, p. 222).
Those of us who are privileged to live in a country in which there is legal stability sometimes forget how important just laws are. When the Nephites begin to alter these laws, they begin to destabilize the very foundation of their society.
"Although the law of Mosiah allowed the people to select judges, it does not appear that these judges had the power to create law itself. The law that they applied was 'given them' by Mosiah (Mosiah 29:39), and the laws under which they acted were remembered several generations later as the 'laws of Mosiah' (Helaman 4:22).
"Like other ancient lawgivers, who often drew on divine sources in legitimizing their laws, Mosiah gave the laws 'which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people' (Helaman 4:22). For example, Moses issued the laws that Jehovah revealed to him, and Hammurabi claimed on his stele that the god Marduk had 'called' him 'to make justice to appear in the land' and commanded him 'to set forth truth and justice' by establishing his laws.
"The law of Mosiah primarily made procedural changes and probably did not make radical changes in the substantive rules of the law of Moses. Mosiah instructed the new Nephite judges to judge 'according to the laws . . . given you by our fathers' (Mosiah 29:25; italics added), and twenty-two years later the Nephites were still 'strict in observing the ordinances of God, according to the law of Moses' (Alma 30:3)." (John W. Welch, Reexploring The Book of Mormon, pp. 158-9)