You are here
Show Full Text
Noah Leads the People
1 And now it came to pass that Zeniff conferred the kingdom upon Noah, one of his sons; therefore Noah began to reign in his stead; and he did not walk in the ways of his father.
2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.
Although Mormon does not specifically say that he continues to use the record of Zeniff as his source, that is clearly the case. As with other official records, the record of Zeniff’s people would have been recorded on a record named for the beginning of the dynasty, and subsequent rulers’ records would have been included in the same book. Therefore, although Mormon ceases quoting from the record of Zeniff, he continues to use that source for his information.
Why does Mormon stop quoting? A plausible answer is that an official record would put the next king, Noah, in a favorable light, and Mormon doesn’t see him favorably at all. Mormon narrates so that he can paint his own picture of Noah.
That picture begins in the first verse where Mormon notes that Noah “did not walk in the ways of his father.” Mormon then creates a catalog of the things that Noah has done contrary to the commandments of God. The first is that he had many wives and concubines. This is contrary to the law given to the Nephites, as recorded in Jacob 2:26–27. As noted in the comments on Jacob 3:12–14, one of the mechanisms for gaining wealth was based on family production that was enhanced by larger families, including more wives.
The idea for how this might work was likely the result of witnessing other peoples in the land. Thus, the people of Zeniff had moved into a very Lamanite land and would have had the examples of both wealth and how to obtain it all around them. The desire for multiple wives and concubines is more likely to have been related to wealth and prestige than to any other motivation.
3 And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain.
4 And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.
The first problem is that Noah lays upon his people what Mormon considers a heavy tax. A 20% tax on income doesn’t seem excessive for modern taxpayers in the United States, and even less excessive compared to other modern states. For Mormon, it was not simply that the taxes were levied, but that they were levied in support of a system supporting social inequality. The taxes were not directly beneficial to all but were to support the socially inequitable lifestyles of the elite.
That is the reason that Mormon mentions that this tax was to support himself and his wives and concubines. Contrast this use of public funds to king Benjamin’s declaration that he had not sought riches from his people (Mosiah 2:12). The fundamental issue is the use of the funds, not the level of taxation. In the case of king Noah, taxation was not used to improve all lives, but to specifically enhance the social segregation into at least an upper and a lower class.
5 For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.
6 Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.
7 Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering things unto them.
In addition to altering the social organization, Noah also altered the religious organization of his people. Putting down his father’s priests simply indicates that his father’s priests were removed from their positions so that Noah could replace them with priests more favorable to Noah’s interests.
Mormon indicates that Noah also instituted a social segregation of the priesthood, apparently tying it to the government. This is not an unusual political move and was seen in Old World Israel with the elevation of the Hasmonean priests. When Mormon indicates that they were supported in their laziness, we must read that statement with a little historical caution. Mormon intends it to sound bad when he says that they are lazy. However, the definition of their laziness is that they do not work with their own hands for their support but are funded by the taxes. This is also not unusual, and usually follows with more complex societies. Nevertheless, it violates Mormon’s understand of the goal of social equity.
Finally, Mormon accuses the priests, and the people, of being idolatrous. That term typically means worshipping idols, and that is certainly possible based on the cultures that would have surrounded them. However, when we see Abinadi before the priests of Noah, we see the priests espousing the law of Moses, which, of course, prohibited idols. Thus, it is also possible that the term idolatrous is simply intended as an unusual synonym for apostate.
What will be seen from the arguments of the priests with Abinadi, they appear to espouse what will later be a religious idea associated with Nehor. They cannot be connected to Nehor because of differences in time and space, but they do appear to have a similar reinterpretation of Nephite religious ideals.
8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;
9 And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things.
10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.
11 And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people.
Mormon’s catalogue of Noah’s sins continues with his construction projects. It appears that much of the taxes of the people went for the construction of what might be called public building projects. Mormon would argue that they benefited Noah and perhaps the priests, but they were the kinds of sumptuous building projects that characterize the rise of important cities in Mesoamerica. Along with the other issues Mormon points out, we can read between the lines and see Noah adopting the principles and trappings of the surrounding cultures. It is possible that it is just this kind of prosperity signaling that Zeniff had seen in the former city of Nephi when he saw that there was much good there and that the people not only should not be destroyed, but also that Zeniff and others might move there (Mosiah 9:1–2).
For many people, these building projects would have been signs of prosperity and a city that was increasing in wealth and influence. Public projects have been used for such purposes throughout history. Mormon has no desire to give them any semblance of good. Contrast this description with Zeniff’s statement that “we began to build buildings, and to repair the walls. . . of the city of Lehi-Nephi and the city of Shilom.” Zeniff also built, but it is Noah’s buildings that are described as part of his wickedness.
Mormon is painting his own picture of Noah and Noah’s reign, and Mormon makes certain that his readers do not have a good opinion of king Noah. That attitude will be justified as we learn more of Noah’s story, but it does contrast with what must have been written on the plates by a scribe in the employ of King Noah.
12 And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof and overlook the land of Shilom, and also the land of Shemlon, which was possessed by the Lamanites; and he could even look over all the land round about.
13 And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom; and he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom, which had been a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land; and thus he did do with the riches which he obtained by the taxation of his people.
14 And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.
15 And it came to pass that he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people.
These comments end the catalogue of Noah’s public sins. It continues with the building of a tower and the enlarging of the lands of Shilom. Although part of the list of bad things Noah did, the tower will play an important part in the protection of his people as the story progresses. This should remind us that the purpose of the list is to paint a picture of Noah as excessive, not that each and everything was necessarily bad for the people.
For example, the enlargement of the city of Shilom would have been seen as progress. The good results were not the issue, but rather the means by which they were achieved. That problem is encapsulated in verse 14 where it says that Noah “placed his heart upon riches.” The real problem here, and which will continue to be the issue for hundreds of years to come in Nephite society, is social inequality.
In verse 15 it notes that Noah engaged in the production and, therefore, consumption of wine. The words used are for viticulture, or terms surrounding grapes, and there is some evidence that there were grapes in Mesoamerica. However, as a text in translation, it is also probable that these terms come from the influence of the Bible, particularly in the description of Noah as a winebibber, a term found in Proverbs 23:20, Matthew 11:19, and Luke 7:34. Mesoamerica had its own plants from which alcoholic drinks were made.
Conflicts with Lamanites Begin Again
16 And it came to pass that the Lamanites began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.
17 And king Noah sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and the Lamanites came upon them and killed them, and drove many of their flocks out of the land; thus the Lamanites began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.
18 And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil.
19 And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.
In Zeniff’s personal account, recorded in Mosiah 9:14, Zeniff describes a Lamanite raid on the people of Zeniff while they were in their fields. That raid sparked a retaliation that was successful. In these verses we have virtually the same historical event but recorded very differently. In Zeniff’s account, the record was recorded from Zeniff’s perspective. The original from which Mormon took this account undoubtedly was similarly positive from Noah’s perspective.
However, Mormon is writing this account, not Noah’s scribe. Therefore, it reports a victory, but that victory merely serves to exacerbate the Noahite sins. The people “were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength.” For Mormon, the result of the victory did not result in their praising God for their deliverance, but rather in distancing themselves from God and claiming the victory only on their own efforts.
Abinadi Warns the People
20 And it came to pass that there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi; and he went forth among them, and began to prophesy, saying: Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, Go forth, and say unto this people, thus saith the Lord—Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.
21 And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.
22 And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people.
The story of Abinadi begins. Abinadi’s story is important for the rest of the story that Mormon will tell. Mormon began telling the story with the mission of Ammon and his brethren to find the people who had left so long before. That timeline will pick up at the end of this flashback when the people of Limhi and the people of Alma1 return to Zarahemla. In between we have this long flashback. Mormon had a reason for including so much information from the record of Zeniff and subsequent kings. That reason was heavily weighted on the story of Abinadi and the conversion of Alma1.
Abinadi comes to the people as many Old Testament prophets do. He did not have a position of authority in the government or current religious structure. Perhaps he was one of the deposed priests, but the text gives us no information about his background. Certainly, he was educated in the scriptures, leading to the hypothesis that he was a deposed priest, but he comes as an outsider to cry repentance. He is very much in the mold of most of the Old Testament prophets.
The message Abinadi begins with is an invocation of the promise of the land. While not stated in the standard phraseology, that would have been unnecessary for a people who would have understood that implicitly. The promise of the land was protection and prosperity if they obey the covenants, and destruction if they do not.
Abinadi makes it clear. The Lord has seen their wickedness, meaning their departure from the true way of God. Therefore, unless they repent, says God, “I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.” That is not only a very clear invocation of the negative aspect of the promise of the land, but it is also a prophecy that will sadly come to pass. This story will not have a Jonah-like ending with a repentant people, but rather the very clear bringing to pass of that very penalty.
23 And it shall come to pass that 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.
24 Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.
25 And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions; and thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me.
In many prophesies of doom, there is hope that repentance might be available. That happens here as well, but it is a tempered salvation. There is hope in salvation if they “repent and turn unto the Lord their God.” However, Yahweh also says that “it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.”
This part of the prophecy will also come to pass. The people will eventually turn to their God. They will eventually repent. They will eventually be saved. However, they will also come under the penalty. They will suffer bondage sufficient that Limhi declared that he would rather be a slave to the Nephites than in bondage to the Lamanites (see Mosiah 7:15).
Is the Lord slow to hear his repentant children on earth? The intent of the word hear in this context is to take action, rather than to simply hear. The Lord hears prayers. We must assume that they are always heard as they are offered. However, actions based upon those prayers comes in God’s time, not our time. The nature of our life on earth is one where agency is a primary principle. There are times when agency requires more time to respond to our prayers than we wish. The more rapid answering of some prayers might require a miraculous answer that would too obviously contradict agency.
Miracles are most often the small events that make the corrections necessary to answer our prayers, rather than the single majestic event that would make things happen as fast as we wish they would. God is God over all his children. That includes each of us and our individual prayers, but also the prayers, intentions, actions, and agency of all his other children. God is not slow to hear our prayers because he isn’t listening, but because he has purposes greater than we understand at any given time.
Noah and the People Reject Abinadi’s Words
26 Now it came to pass that when Abinadi had spoken these words unto them they were wroth with him, and sought to take away his life; but the Lord delivered him out of their hands.
27 Now when king Noah had heard of the words which Abinadi had spoken unto the people, he was also wroth; and he said: Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him, or who is the Lord, that shall bring upon my people such great affliction?
28 I command you to bring Abinadi hither, that I may slay him, for he has said these things that he might stir up my people to anger one with another, and to raise contentions among my people; therefore I will slay him.
29 Now the eyes of the people were blinded; therefore they hardened their hearts against the words of Abinadi, and they sought from that time forward to take him. And king Noah hardened his heart against the word of the Lord, and he did not repent of his evil doings.
The result of Abinadi’s preaching is animosity rather than repentance. Abinadi’s life is endangered because he spoke against Noah. The wickedness of Noah is highlighted by his refusal to consider Abinadi’s call for repentance. Instead, Noah calls for Abinadi’s life. Not only does King Noah turn against Abinadi, but so do the people. The stage is being set for the invocation of the negative promise of the land.
There was no chapter ending at this point in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. The story continues without break with the first verse in our next chapter.
Items in the BMC Archive are made publicly available for non-commercial, private use. Inclusion within the BMC Archive does not imply endorsement. Items do not represent the official views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of Book of Mormon Central.
Get the latest updates on Book of Mormon topics and research for free