One thing about committing to a weekly schedule is that Wednesday comes around no matter what. Capping off an intensely busy work week last week, extreme weather in Toronto caused flooding at the building where my congregation has church, resulting in the cancellation of my Sunday School class. While you might think that would mean I’d have had lots of time to get ahead on my blog post, that didn’t happen. Instead, nothing got done prior to packing and getting on a plane Monday morning. Now we’re here on our first vacation in a long time, visiting Miami Beach to celebrate Mike’s 40th birthday. (This was the destination of our first vacation together 17 years ago, so it’s a special place for us.) Anyway, long story short, I don’t have all my books with me this week, and I think I’m the only person reading the Book of Mormon here on the beach. But at least it’s sunny and 82° F.*
This week, King Benjamin is wrapping up his sermon and he’s got a message that is pretty explicit about a couple key ideas.
(Point #1) You must give money to beggars when asked. You may have all kinds of ideas about makers and takers in society. You may like to rant about a culture of dependency, but you’re totally wrong. According to King Benjamin, it’s a simple commandment: “ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish” (Mosiah 2:29 CofC).
Got some qualifiers on that? Want to rationalize your way out of this? King Benjamin’s way ahead of you.
Perhaps thou shalt say, “The man has brought himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance, that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just.”
Exactly! I’m good because I give charity freely to other, theoretical people who are “deserving poor” — not this guy in front of me, who is doubtless a welfare king.
Wrongo! According to KB:
“I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this, the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done, he perisheth for ever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.”
O man! For ever. (As an aside, although there’s no room for nuance in King Benjamin’s absolute formulation, I can’t help but reflect that the panhandlers here in Miami Beach have a bit of a different experience than the folks back home in Toronto enduring the polar vortex.)
That aside notwithstanding, the teaching about giving freely to all beggars continues very explicitly (Mosiah 2:37-45 CofC). This kind of personal charity, according to King Benjamin, is directly analogous to God’s grace, which is the other key point in the sermon’s wrap up.
(Point #2) From God’s perspective “are we not all beggars?”
Do we not all depend upon the same being, even God, for all the substance which we have; for both food, and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 2:32 CofC)
In King Benjamin’s formulation, we are totally dependent on God for everything, but most important of all, we are dependent on God for our salvation. As “unworthy creatures,” who ought to be aware of our own “nothingness” and our “worthless and fallen state,” salvation can only come as a gift freely given by God.
There is none other salvation, save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there conditions whereby man can be saved, except the conditions which I have told you. Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things both in heaven and in earth… Believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he will forgive you…And behold if ye do this, ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; (Mosiah 2:12-22 CofC)
Theologically, this whole passage struck me as very Protestant. No doubt many a Baptist preacher would like such an explicit description of the idea of grace. In King Benjamin’s formulation, salvation is the ultimate gift. We can’t earn it; we can only receive it if we humble ourselves completely and accept ourselves to literally be on par with the panhandlers.
When King Benjamin’s sermon ends, the whole assembly speaks a liturgical formula, which is called a covenant and is functionally like a mass baptism and confirmation, as they all take upon themselves “the name of Christ” (Mosiah 3:11 CofC).
When that’s finished, King Benjamin retires to emeritus status, his son Mosiah becomes king, and the narrative lurches forward. I know that the Book of Mormon is famous for being dull and repetitive — and maybe that will happen when Oliver Cowdery shows up, the dictation speeds up, and the well goes dry — but for now in this early phase, there’s a lot packed into a little space.
Right away King Mosiah sends a guy named Ammon (a descendant of Zarahemla, which was hitherto just introduced as the name of the land) along with fifteen other “strong men” to the “land of Lehi-Nephi” to find out what happened to “the people who went up to dwell” there (Mosiah 5:1-4 Cof C). Presumably, both the story of the people going to Lehi-Nephi and the story of Zarahemla were part of the lost 116 pages.
Ammon and his party find the land of Lehi-Nephi and its king, Limhi, who is the grandson of the leader of the original expedition, Zeniff. King Limhi and his people pay tribute to Laman, King of the Lamanites and hate their condition enough that they’d prefer to be slaves to Ammon’s people (who are being identified as the Nephites here, I think, for the first time) (Mosiah 5:22 CofC).
But there’s more! In addition to the records of his own people, King Limhi has a set of “twenty-four plates, which are filled with engravings; and they are of pure gold” (Mosiah 5:64 CofC). They were found in the wilderness amid the ruins of a desolate battlefield. The record will, no doubt, “give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed” (Mosiah 5:70 CofC).
King Limhi can’t “translate” the gold plates, but Ammon is aware that King Mosiah has inherited that capacity, which “is a high gift from God” (Mosiah 5:75 CofC). Specifically, King Mosiah is a “seer” — which is to say a man commanded by God to look at things called “interpreters” “wherewith that he can look and translate all records that are of an ancient date” (Mosiah 5:72-73 CofC). Moreover, Ammon goes on to explain:
…a seer is greater than a prophet… a seer is a revelator, and a prophet also, and a gift which is greater, can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God. But a seer can know of things which have past, and also of things which are to come; And by them shall all things be revealed, or rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them; And also, things shall be made known by them, which otherwise could not be known… Doubtless, a great mystery is contained within these plates; and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men… (Mosiah 5:77-83 CofC).
Thus we will be treated to a story within the story — gold plates within gold plates. And with King Mosiah the seer and his interpreters, we have a precedent for Joseph Smith the seer and his seer stones.
Next week: I’ll be reunited with my books in the winter wonderland of Canada and our reading will be Mosiah 6-8 CofC/Mosiah 9-16 LDS.
* At least it was that temperature Tuesday when I was doing my reading, not so today as I’m posting.