Come Follow Me: Mosiah 18-24

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Latter-day Saints have a thing about Doctrine, with a capital D. We try to define it, we argue about it, we prioritize it. We even misquote scripture which supposedly says “bearing down in pure doctrine” (Alma 4:19), when it actually says “pure testimony.” “Pure doctrine” is not a scriptural phrase, and I’m not even sure what it means. We tend to read scripture looking for doctrine. Sometimes, because of cultural expectations about how to identify doctrine, we can’t see it when it’s right in front of us.

I think we are conditioned to conceptualize and identify simple propositional phrases as “doctrine” e.g., “tithing is 10% of increase” or “charity is the pure love of Christ.” But what if this is not primarily the way scripture is meant to teach?

Much of the chapters we read today does not contain any sentences like those. It’s stories, instead, and not stories with obvious and pithy moral imperatives for us to follow, like parts of the Gospels, or any “thus we see” from Book of Mormon editors. So, if doctrine is the purpose of scripture, and these stories don’t contain much doctrine… then what’s the point?

I suggest that scripture frequently teaches in more subtle ways and on a larger scale than the sentence or story level. Often, a point is made by how different stories or passages are arranged; we recognize the point by refocusing our reading and noticing an implicit pattern of comparison between them. This kind of deliberate arrangement-for-contrast happens as well with the Gospels and Old Testament laws. Julie Smith’s commentary does a fantastic job highlighting this for the Gospel of Mark.

We need to learn to look at the forest, not the trees.

So today, I want to compare the story of Limhi’s people with the story of Alma’s people, and draw some important lessons from the comparison. In particular, read and reread these stories focusing on comparisons of how each group gets in to and then out of bondage.

Both are in bondage, and require God to deliver them (Mosiah 21:5, Mosiah 24:21)

The bondage of Limhi’s people comes because of sin (namely, living like King Noah, ignoring Abinadi, and killing him. See Mosiah 11:21-25) whereas the bondage of Alma’s people comes because “the Lord sees fit to try his people.” (Mosiah 22:21-22)

Limhi’s people try to force their way out of bondage militarily, and are badly beaten every time.(Mos 21:6-12)

Alma’s people support each other, and “submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the lord.” (Mosiah 24:15)

In both cases, they eventually humble themselves and turn to God. (Mosiah 21:13-15)

Limhi’s people escape through Gideon’s plan, which takes advantages of the guards drinking to a senseless stupor.  (Mosiah 22:5-10. I might ask, why didn’t Gideon think of this sooner? Did God inspire him? The text doesn’t say so, but contrast Mosiah 21:5 which implies divine intervention)

Alma’s people escape through divine intervention, which puts the guards into an unnatural sleep…or senseless stupor. (Mosiah 24:19)

Both groups return to the land of Zarahemla, which they had originally come from.

What’s the doctrine here? Regardless of how you got into whatever mess you’re in, whether sin (Limhi’s people) or just “bad luck” (Alma’s people), the Lord delivers those who humble themselves and put their trust in him.  Nephi’s comment about tender mercies…

If I wanted to stretch the metaphor a bit, I would say, this is salvation history. We’re away from our original home, in the wilderness. Sometimes evil or misfortune happen to us through no conscious choice of our own, but sometimes we choose it ourselves. Either way, the result is that we come into bondage and the only way out is to humble ourselves and depend on God, who delivers us.

Grant Hardy writes in Understanding the Book of Mormon:A Reader’s Guide

Mormon’s literary ambitions can also be seen in the organization of his narratives. While theological implications are never far away, the exact meaning to be gained from comparing similar stories is often left to readers, while Mormon’s skill (and delight) in constructing narratives is clearly evident….

The fact that Mormon tells these stories [of Alma and Limhi] one right after the other encourages us to think of them as a pair, as does some of the distinctive language he employs. In both cases, we read how they “gather(ed) their flocks together,” “depart(ed) … into the wilderness,” and “after being many/twelve days in the wilderness … they arrived in the land of Zarahemla … and (King) Mosiah received them with joy” (Mosiah 22:10, 11, 13, 14; Mosiah 24:18, 20, 25). In addition, the idea that none could deliver them but God appears only four times in the Book of Mormon, each time associated with the peoples of Limhi and Alma:

Mosiah 11:23: “except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God” (Abinadi’s initial prophecy to Noah’s people)

Mosiah 23:23: “For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob” (Mormon’s cautious editorial foreshadowing)

Mosiah 24:21: “they poured out their thanks to God because he … had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God” (Mormon’s narrative summary)

Alma 36:2: “I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Alma2’s sermon to his son Helaman)

There is thus a similarly happy outcome for both groups, but also a significant difference: extraordinary faith begets extraordinary results. The second deliverance (brought about through a divinely induced sleep) is obviously more miraculous than the first (which depended on the effects of alcohol). Gideon becomes something of a national hero, with a city named in his honor (Alma 6:7), and while there is never a city that bears the name of Alma1 (so far as we know), he is allowed to establish branches of the church through the land of Zarahemla.

The 2016 issues of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies had an interview with Grant Hardy about that book as well as several other articles about or responding to his Book of Mormon work.

Tidbits-

  • Here’s the collection of articles pertaining to today’s chapters at Book of Mormon Central.
  • Mosiah 21:23 Back in Mosiah 18:8-10, we read that the baptismal covenant includes “bearing one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” Well, here they are literally doing just that. Baptism entails duties and responsibilities within a community, as well as support from that community.
  • On baptism in Mosiah 18, I’ll repeat some earlier commentary. Baptism is not the covenant itself, but the witness or sign of the covenant we make. At least in modern times, the terms of that covenant are spelled out in the pre-baptismal interview, where the baptisee must verbally agree to the terms of the baptismal covenant; otherwise, they don’t get baptized. This does not seem to be in force for e.g. Acts 8:27-40. Mosiah 18:10 says that our baptism serves as “as a witness before [God] that [we] have entered into a covenant” and Alma 7:15 similar says “show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.” Thus did Joseph Smith preach that “Baptism is a sign to God, to angels to heaven that we do the will of God ” Words of Joseph Smith, 108. The association of a public witness or visible sign with a covenant goes all the way back to Genesis 9:12-13, and Genesis 17:11, and is found elsewhere too.

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21 thoughts on “Come Follow Me: Mosiah 18-24

  1. Hi,
    Old Testament question for you. I have a scripture mystery that I wanted your insight on, if you have a moment to respond. My grandfather was an ardent scriptorian in the style of Joseph Fielding Smith. My grandfather was a Gospel Doctrine teacher for decades and people still comment on his effectiveness as a teacher of the gospel. One of the ward members once asked my grandfather what the secret to great teaching was. My grandfather responded, “Genesis 2:10-14.” He supplied no other explanation. The verses are the description of the four rivers named after the creation narrative, Gihon, Pishon, Tigris and the Euphrates. Do you have any thoughts as to what these four verses have to do with excellence in teaching?
    Thanks,
    Robert

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  2. Not a member of any church here, but so nice to be semi-affiliated with the Orthodox, where the creed constitutes all the doctrine. Doctrine is meant to be the theology, the understanding of the nature of Christ.

    I can’t get Mormons to give me a straight answer on these questions: If God is eternal and unchanging, why was he once a man? Who is God’s Father and why don’t you worship that God? The Mormon understanding that God started out human and has a father is quite Gnostic. Get that relationship straight and you’ll probably have all the doctrine you’ll need.

    If you respond to this I’d also be curious if you can identify when the Orthodox Church went apostate. Thanks!

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    1. Mormonism is relatively new, and lacking a long intellectual tradition.

      As for your questions, I’m not a theologian, but I would question some of your presuppositions and framing (e.g. what does it mean to be eternal and unchanging? Doesn’t becoming incarnate in Jesus qualify as a “change”? Can God change his mind?) and point you in general to Blake Ostler’s books. http://amzn.to/25sFmww

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      1. Well I appreciate the answer, in the spirit of keeping this uplifting, some consider that Jesus is co-eternal with God, therefore also unchanging. The idea that Jesus “became” God is not universal.

        I have to say, and I hope you examine yourself on this: This is what Mormons do — they pretend like they don’t understand the definition of very basic words. Eternal, in standard English, means “always was always will be.”

        Hence the term “eternal marriage” is actually a misuse of the word eternal that leads to (confirms?) theological confusion.

        The other word Mormons have made their own definition for is “doctrine” as in “that’s not doctrine.” This phrase is used when Mormon doctrine, for example the Mark of Cain theory espoused as doctrine for 100+ year by everyone from Brigham Young to Joseph Fielding Smith. Now the church someone claims that was never doctrine.

        So when you said in your article you were going to tease out doctrine based on your reading of “scriptures” just be away you are following a well-established Protestant tradition. I have always wondered, if the Holy Spirit can testify the meaning of scripture to the reader, why do 500 different versions of Protestantism exist? (I consider Mormonism to be one of those 500 because so much LDS culture is taken from Protestantism).

        Well thanks for the pointer to amazon.com. I would simply say, focus on the core question you ignored: “Why do you not worship Heavenly Father’s father?” When Brigham Young can refer to “God” as “Cain’s grandfather” why not keep going up the chain until you find the true eternal God that the BofM talks about?

        Enjoy:)

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      2. Well, I’m *in* a Religious Studies department under a prominent Mormon Studies thought leader, and know many people associated with the MI; I think most would agree with my characterization.

        I have not suggested that “Jesus became God” (although some non-lds scholars have read parts of the New Testament that way). Rather, I’m suggesting that whatever “eternal and unchanging means” it can’t be completely static, as evidenced by the incarnation and various Old Testament passages. Words are not self-defining, particularly in theological and historical discussion, which often involves multiple languages and technical meaning(s).

        But I’m not interested in playing hostile semantic games or debating Brigham’s speculations. You’ll have to go elsewhere for that.

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      3. Don’t feel like you have to reply if you take disagreement as “hostile,” but words indeed are not self-defining — we have tradition and dictionaries. And of course other Mormon scholars agree with you, that’s my point, that you should maybe look outside that tradition.

        Now you are the one who said, “becoming incarnate in Jesus.” I think if you look back at the Orthodox tradition, that one that Jesus started and is still around lo 2000 years later, the tradition that “God didn’t learn — God always knew” is an interesting way to look at it.

        Now to characterize Brigham Young’s teachings at conference as “speculations” reminds of of a Bishop here in SLC who says, “I’d rather listen to a living prophet than a dead one” when he disagrees with the people who founded his church. If you all could just focus on being a little more consistent you’d have a theology people might pay more attention to.

        Sorry you took anything I said to be hostile but that is indeed how most Mormon’s take (badly) any criticism of the history their own church publishes in books they charge money for at Deseret Books. I hope you have a great weekend and keep up the great work, you’re getting closer to the truth.

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      4. John Lukacs,

        If you’re still around, I’m curious in your opinion. Why should Mormonism want to have a creed? Why should we care so dearly about giving a definitive explanation for the nature of Christ? Obviously, Jesus made some statements in the New Testament about His nature, and Mormons have fleshed out some things in the King Follett Discourse and elsewhere, but why not let those documents speak for themselves? Is there any special benefit to harmonizing mysteries?

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      5. Well off the top of my head, given all the conflicting statements about God that can be found WITHIN Mormonism, a creed would provide some consistency.

        For example, the doctrine that God was once a man and is now a God (I would call that a change, i.e. variability!): “As man is God once was, as God is, man can become” stated by many church leaders …

        vs. Mormon 9:

        9 For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?

        10 And
        now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in
        whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto
        yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.

        And a creed could perhaps settle, if “God” was once a man, who is “God’s” father and why don’t Mormons worship Heavenly Father’s father.

        Finally, to say the LDS Church lacks a creed is to ignore the Articles of Faith, and D&C, which serve as a creed of sorts.

        Thanks for asking.

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      6. Thank you for your answer, but I want to push back on it a little bit. First, I think you’re somewhat right in saying that the Articles of Faith and D&C are a creed of sorts. I think a more accurate statement is that these documents *could* be used as a creed, but because no one actually does, they haven’t been “ratified” as creeds. Until then, they’re non-creedal.

        But to the main point, you’ve certainly hit the nail on the head by pointing out that Mormonism has some inconsistencies, or at least, very vague notions about God full identity as well as Jesus’s identity. Cleaning those up through a creed could provide some rather nice consistency. But that still leaves the question: why should Mormons do that? Creeds are nice. Consistency is nice. But apart from being nice things to have, why are they so important? More to the point, why are they so important for Mormonism? What does a consistently stated nature of God have to do with what Heavenly Father and Jesus have required of us?

        Perhaps a creed could make Mormonism seem more convincing, since confusing statements about God’s origin and identity make Mormonism sound false. After all, we’re socially conditioned to expect that truth is wholly consistent, and inconsistencies are a sign of falsehood. But if we’re talking about the mysteries of God, then at some level, a creed is really just an incomplete rational expectation of how God conforms to what we think might be true. A creed isn’t a logical proof, but an assertion of belief that hopefully provides some consistency. How can we know that a creed, any creed, is both wholly consistent and wholly accurate from God’s perspective? I don’t know if we can. There is no way to empirically verify the validity of any one creed. God’s mysteries are mysterious. And since they are mysterious, what value is there in coming up with a creed that may not even accurately reflect the full nature of God? I’m truly curious.

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      7. John Lukacs, on a tangental note, I’m interested in learning more about Orthodox beliefs about the Holy Eucharist. Is there any book or other source you would recommend?

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      8. I think the best reference is “The Orthodox Way” and “The Orhtodox Church” by Bishop Kallistos Ware, done as his thesis. http://amzn.com/014198063X

        Don’t forget I said early on, I am not Orthodox, I was born and raised Roman Catholic, but am not currently affiliated with any specific church, though I am nominally Christian. To clarify, I am also not Evangelical nor Charismatic/Pentecostal.

        I will say, and I hope you take it well, that you have done what I see many LDS members do (not to say you are LDS, I don’t know): You are taking hundreds of words to talk around a truth that only takes about a dozen words to identify:

        The section of the Book of Mormon I quoted, read in plain English, says the LDS are not worshiping the real God.

        In many other places in the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, God is unchanging and eternal. The LDS worship a changing God which their own scripture identifies as not-God. Consistency might get the LDS back worshiping the true God, not his son, grandson, or some other distant relative 🙂

        Another opportunity for consistency would the the inconsistency between BofM quotes about hell and the D&C version where not even Hitler goes to the
        “outer darkness.” LDS believe Satan is real, they just don’t think (hardly) anyone will live with him after the judgement 🙂

        Hope that answers your questions, I wish the blog post author would answer some of the ones I posed, like when he thinks the Orthodox church lost the priesthood. I don’t know a single Mormon who can give a direct answer on that one. Thanks for asking

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      9. One more thing I would mention, the Orthodox Study Bible is currently discounted down to $15 on Amazon for the Kindle version, a great deal! https://amzn.com/B000XPNVFI
        The “Introduction” sections of each book give the Orthodox take on authorship and historical settting that I wish the KJV had. The OSB uses the Septuagint for OT, and NKJV for NT.

        The footnotes in that work are often revealing, and reflect a 16-1700 year old tradition that reflects the thoughts of the early church fathers. IMHO Protestantism (and LDS-ism) involves throwing out all early church tradition in the name of some vague apostasy that no one can pinpoint. That tradition is quite worth studying, even if I often walk away disagreeing with the Orthodox take on things, understanding it leads to an awareness of the politics of the early centuries of the church that was set up in Acts.

        Now on Communion, Transubstantiation is a western/Roman Catholic thing, the Orthodox simply hold that the wine and bread really change to Christ’s blood and flesh, but they don’t feel the need to explain how. So in one sense, the Orthodox also appreciate a good mystery and leave it as such, while it’s a more Catholic/legalistic approach to need a scientific explanation.

        Reading the OSB notes on John 6:60-66 (funny numbers, right?) is revealing. Also revealing is 1 John, which displays an early (late first century) emphasis on doctrinal purity … I don’t agree with it, but if you don’t believe what John believes, you don’t have salvation! For anyone who reads the Bible literally (not me), that’s a pretty strong reason to have a creed or some form of doctrinal certainty, and such examples exist in the BofM as well.

        Well sorry for the novel 🙂 Hope this is interesting to you. If you really want to “hear” more this is not always doctrinal but always very interesting: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodoxyheterodoxy

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      10. Along those lines , shouldn’t the doctrine at least be consistent on the identity of the Father , and the Son ? Along with a hard distinction ? In this small expose alone exists a huge contradiction as far as my understanding goes . Is the pre mortal Jesus Christ the God of the BoM and the Old Testament ? If true , then the quote at the end of this article , and the New Testament are at odds . See further what I mean with Alma 29:11 , and Book of Acts 3:13 . Along with the quote above of Alma 36:2 .

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      11. Well, that’s the very issue that I’m not so sure about. Should it be consistent? It would be nice. Should there be a hard distinction? Again, that sounds nice. But does it make all that great of a difference if God or Jesus Christ is talking? If the scriptures themselves don’t seem to be too concerned with positively identifying the speaker (and possibly going back and forth between the two of them), then why should I care?

        I don’t know how important it is to iron out these details or others (i.e. what year the Great Apostasy started, how many angels can dance on the head of a needle, etc.).

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      12. Allow me to disagree with a the importance of this being insignificant . If you believe J S , it’s paramount and without this knowledge it would be impossible to come unto the Father or the Son . It’s also paramount in understanding the atonement and especially the resurrection . When the Lord revealed his physical premortal existence in the BoM , it was more than the only revelation that counted as true doctrine . And why would scripture attempt to apply a distinction to the God of Abraham , Isaac , and Jacob not being the Son ? I feel this is step one in worshipping the one true God with truth . Thank you .

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      13. Oh and I am sure the Religious Studies department and the FARMS people would sincerely disagree that Mormonism lacks a long intellectual tradition 🙂

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  3. Ben thanks for your posts – I get so much out of them. I was thinking about the deliverance in the two stories. Limhi’s people came up with their own solution ( like brother of Jared) where alma waited in faith until the Lord gave instruction. Is waiting for an answer demonstrating more faith? When does the Lord expect us to figure it out, just having faith that he will assist us in our attempts?

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  4. I want to make a small comment about the success of Gideon’s plan to escape, specifically why he didn’t try it earlier:

    From what I can tell, there are a few parts to the answer:

    Firstly, people can be stubborn. (Shocker, I know.) They didn’t even think about going back to Zarahemla until they had been humbled beyond all reason. (This humbling is the bulk of the content of Mosiah 21.) And this stubbornness becomes more reasonable when you remember that they were a couple of generations in at this point. Zarahemla was a myth; the land of Nephi was all most of them had known.

    Secondly, though, once they did think about going back or asking for help (and this was very late, after the afore-mentioned humbling), they discovered that they didn’t know the way. The reference for this is Mosiah 8:7-11, where it records that Limhi sent a failed expedition to find Zarahemla and beg for help. (I suspect God considered that expedition a complete success, given what we know of the 24 plates they found and how King Mosiah would use them, but in the moment it was a complete failure.) It just left them under the impression that their last chance of finding external allies had been completely destroyed.

    And then Ammon and co. step into the mix, with knowledge of both how to get to Zarahemla, and enough authority to vouch that they would be welcomed back (now I’m wondering if being a descendant of Zarahemla helped him have that authority). That was the real key—access to somewhere to _go_. In all likelihood the whole “get the guards drunk” plan had been considered before, but had always run into the meatgrinder of “And then what?” Get captured like Alma’s folk were? Without a friendly ally to the people of Limhi/adversary to the Lamanites, it would have been both pointless and painful. With Ammon there, they actually had a chance.

    And I like this, because it helps augment the contrast between the people of Limhi and the people of Alma. For the people of Alma, it’s very direct intervention by God; for all we know, that’s how they found their way to Zarahemla. For the people of Mosiah, it’s one of those naturalistic-like explanations that only shows God’s hand when you look at it from a God’s eye view. In the moment, it seems like the most natural thing in the world, following from what has come before and going into what comes after.

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