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Abinadi Returns in Disguise
1 And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people, for they have hardened their hearts against my words; they have repented not of their evil doings; therefore, I will visit them in my anger, yea, in my fierce anger will I visit them in their iniquities and abominations.
Abinadi had unsuccessfully preached to the people in Lehi-Nephi only two years before. He is called to preach to them again. In this occasion, he comes in disguise. Then, the first thing we see him saying is “the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi”! Of what value is a disguise if you identify yourself at the first opportunity?
There is no answer given in the text, so we are left to supposition. Since Abinadi had preached before, it was possible that he might have been recognized. Perhaps he would not have been allowed into the city. Whatever the case, what Abinadi does is enter the city in disguise and put himself in a very public place. It is in that public place that he begins to preach and make his accusations.
Since it was the Lord who had commanded that Abinadi preach, the Lord certainly understood what the result of that preaching would be. From the standpoint of making a difference in the lives of the people of Lehi-Nephi, Abinadi would make only a single convert. However, that single convert would be Alma1 the Elder, and Alma1 the Elder’s contributions to the rest of Nephite history would be significant.
Therefore, we may surmise that the Lord, knowing the importance of that one convert, needed to place Abinadi in a position where he would speak before the priests of Noah, one of whom was that very Alma2. Identifying himself in a public place probably assured that he would be taken to be tried before King Noah and the judges. Once Abinadi had entered the city, there was no longer a need for the disguise because it was the goal to stand before the king and his priests.
2 Yea, wo be unto this generation! And the Lord said unto me: Stretch forth thy hand and prophesy, saying: Thus saith the Lord, it shall come to pass that this generation, because of their iniquities, shall be brought into bondage, and shall be smitten on the cheek; yea, and shall be driven by men, and shall be slain; and the vultures of the air, and the dogs, yea, and the wild beasts, shall devour their flesh.
3 And it shall come to pass that the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace; for he shall know that I am the Lord.
4 And it shall come to pass that I will smite this my people with sore afflictions, yea, with famine and with pestilence; and I will cause that they shall howl all the day long.
5 Yea, and I will cause that they shall have burdens lashed upon their backs; and they shall be driven before like a dumb ass.
In the beginning of Abinadi’s discourse before the people, he declared that, since they had not repented, Yahweh would visit them in his anger. These verses continue that condemnation. This is no longer an opportunity to repent, but a rendering of judgment.
What comes is a description of the fate that awaits the people of Noah. This isn’t a conditional fate, but a prophesied fate. They will be brought into bondage, and many will be slain. There will be sore afflictions, even pestilence and famine. Abinadi specifically prophesies that King Noah’s life “will be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace.” While that is a simile, it is also a foreshadowing of Noah’s shameful death.
A comment can be made about the language in verse 4. That the people come into bondage is elaborated with them having burdens lashed upon their backs. Carrying burdens on backs is a very Mesoamerican way of carrying heavy loads, assisted by a tumpline, which is a rope or cloth that goes under the load and is fixed onto the forehead.
The idea that the people would be “driven before like a dumb ass” is an understandable metaphor for English readers, but there were no asses in the Americas. Thus, the metaphor with that meaning on the plates must have been somewhat different while conveying the same notion of being a beast of burden. Perhaps it was a further reference to the people who might be treated as a beast, while burdened.
6 And it shall come to pass that I will send forth hail among them, and it shall smite them; and they shall also be smitten with the east wind; and insects shall pester their land also, and devour their grain.
7 And they shall be smitten with a great pestilence—and all this will I do because of their iniquities and abominations.
The catalogue of calamities continues. Just as with the prophecy about King Noah that came to pass, these calamities likely came to pass even though they are not specifically mentioned in the text. John L. Sorenson noted that in order to be considered a real threat, these calamities would have been possible and perhaps historically known, but rare enough that they could be seen as the result of prophecy. Sorenson specifically mentioned that hail has occurred in the highland Guatemala region where he located this Lamanite city.
Kerry Hull wrote an important paper discussing the east wind. Although that is a harbinger of evil in the Bible, he found that it was a similar sign in the New World region where this action was to have taken place.
The importance of this condemnation is both that it is not conditional, and that it was realistic. The power of the promised afflictions was increased by being known possibilities. Perhaps the conjunction of the possibilities also intensified the condemnation.
8 And it shall come to pass that except they repent I will utterly destroy them from off the face of the earth; yet they shall leave a record behind them, and I will preserve them for other nations which shall possess the land; yea, even this will I do that I may discover the abominations of this people to other nations. And many things did Abinadi prophesy against this people.
Finally, there is a slight bit of hope. Abinadi gives a final condemnation that does allow for repentance. If they repent, they will not be utterly destroyed. The bondage and other calamities were to come based on the past unrepentant condition, but the people of Noah could stave off utter destruction.
It is interesting that, even if they were to be destroyed, they would have a record left. The destroyed Jaredites left a record, and if the people of Noah were to be destroyed, they too would have a record. Based on the way Mormon used that Jaredite record, Mormon would certainly have included Noah’s people as a bad example of how disobeying Yahweh would lead to destruction.
There was sufficient repentance that they were not destroyed. They did have, and did give to King Mosiah2 (son of King Benjamin), a record. That record would not be of a destroyed people, but rather of one who repented sufficiently to avoid the prophesied destruction.
Abinadi is Cast into Prison
9 And it came to pass that they were angry with him; and they took him and carried him bound before the king, and said unto the king: Behold, we have brought a man before thee who has prophesied evil concerning thy people, and saith that God will destroy them.
10 And he also prophesieth evil concerning thy life, and saith that thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire.
11 And again, he saith that thou shalt be as a stalk, even as a dry stalk of the field, which is run over by the beasts and trodden under foot.
12 And again, he saith thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land. And he pretendeth the Lord hath spoken it. And he saith all this shall come upon thee except thou repent, and this because of thine iniquities.
The result of Abinadi’s preaching to the people is that he was taken before the king. That is certainly what the entire experience had been designed to do. Taking Abinadi before the king placed him in a position where he could argue his case and touch the heart of the one man whose conversion would perhaps become the salvation for all of his people from the ultimate penalty of destruction.
To make sure that the king would hear Abinadi and judge him, the people reported that it was not a generic prophesied doom, but one directed against the king himself. That would certainly have caught his attention. In addition to repeating the prophecy that King Noah’s life would be as a garment in a furnace, there is an additional prophecy that was not recorded earlier. It is reported: “thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land.”
Those are some very specific conditions. Mark A. Wright looked for what kind of dry stalk that might have been. After some searching, he found a particular thistle (Argemone Mexicana) that is native to the area that dries and can be blown around in strong winds. It is also poisonous to animals that might attempt to eat it. Thus, there appears to be a specific thistle that is in the right area that has the very conditions that were part of the prophesied calamity.
13 And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?
14 And now, O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you, and he has prophesied in vain.
15 And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also prosper.
16 Behold, here is the man, we deliver him into thy hands; thou mayest do with him as seemeth thee good.
Although Mormon paints a picture of Noah as a greedy and terrible king, we have seen that he engaged in city building that is typically lauded. In fact, the reaction of the people is that they appear to support King Noah. They say, “what great evil has thou done, or what great sins have the people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?” The people appear to be supportive of both King Noah and their general circumstances.
These aspects of the text continue to suggest that the city was economically prosperous, and that the people were enjoying that prosperity. They were sufficiently comfortable that they couldn’t imagine that there was anything about their city that would be contrary to God’s will. They even allude to the promise of the land in verse 15, saying “thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also prosper.” Didn’t the promise of the land include prosperity upon righteousness? If they were prosperous, didn’t that equate to righteousness?
The evidence of the people is that it is possible to prosper without adequately obeying God’s commandments. However, God declares that it will not last and that they will fall from prosperity to bondage. That was the message Abinadi delivered. As with Lehi in Jerusalem, it was rejected, and rejected with a very similar argument: “behold, we are strong, we will not come into bondage.”
Noah’s Priests Question Abinadi
17 And it came to pass that king Noah caused that Abinadi should be cast into prison; and he commanded that the priests should gather themselves together that he might hold a council with them what he should do with him.
18 And it came to pass that they said unto the king: Bring him hither that we may question him; and the king commanded that he should be brought before them.
19 And they began to question him, that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him; but he answered them boldly, and withstood all their questions, yea, to their astonishment; for he did withstand them in all their questions, and did confound them in all their words.
The priests request the ability to question Abinadi. Undoubtedly, the king could imprison Abinadi forever, and perhaps execute him, without any reason more than what the people had suggested. However, the priests desire to question him. This suggests that the rejection of Abinadi’s message was not universal. Indeed, the numbers of people who later follow Alma1 suggest that there was sympathy to his message.
The trial would allow the priests to paint him in a different light. They were apparently certain that they could entrap him with religious blasphemy, and that would be a point that could be used to quash any support that Abinadi’s preaching might have had.
Thus, they bring him to court. What we get in verse 19 is Mormon’s foreshadowing of what will happen. He will show it to us in dialogue, but lest we miss it, he will show Abinadi getting the upper hand in all of the arguments.
20 And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our fathers, saying:
21 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;
22 Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion;
23 Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem;
24 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?
The test case is the explanation of Isaiah 52:7–10. Although most modern readers would quail at having an explanation of any part of Isaiah determine their fate, Abinadi is undaunted. The question here, however, is why this passage?
The answer is complicated, and cannot be fully answered until the full evidence of the discussion has been seen. However, just as Mormon could foreshadow what Abinadi would do before recording it, we too can suggest the reason for this passage based on what will come.
The religion in the court of Noah has many corollaries to what will be known as the Order of the Nehors. One of the important aspects of that religion is adherence to the law of Moses, but rejection of the coming atoning Messiah. That will be the essential message of Abinadi’s trial.
The passage from Isaiah deals with salvation, and declares that: “the Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God?” Thus, the priests of Noah will be arguing that the scriptures have already declared that salvation comes through Yahweh. That would mean that there was no need for a future atoning Messiah. Not entirely without reason, the priests would see the phrase “he hath redeemed Jerusalem” as the redemption of the people, not the city. Hence, they have scriptural proof that Yahweh has already redeemed his people.
25 And now Abinadi said unto them: Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?
26 I say unto you, wo be unto you for perverting the ways of the Lord! For if ye understand these things ye have not taught them; therefore, ye have perverted the ways of the Lord.
27 Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise. Therefore, what teach ye this people?
Abinadi does not begin with the answer, but rather with an attack. He uses the fact that they have asked a question to pretend that they have asked, because they want an answer. Thus, it says, “Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?”
Of course, Abinadi surely knew that they were not asking for the explanation. The priests already had an explanation in mind, and chose that question to entrap, not to be enlightened. Nevertheless, Abinadi attempts to turn the tables on them. Abinadi had preached against King Noah, and now he declares that the priests of Noah are “perverting the ways of the Lord.”
After declaring that the priests clearly don’t understand the scriptures, Abinadi asks, in essence, “what are you teaching this people anyways?” If they are not teaching true principles, what are they teaching?
28 And they said: We teach the law of Moses.
29 And again he said unto them: If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches? Why do ye commit whoredoms and spend your strength with harlots, yea, and cause this people to commit sin, that the Lord has cause to send me to prophesy against this people, yea, even a great evil against this people?
30 Know ye not that I speak the truth? Yea, ye know that I speak the truth; and you ought to tremble before God.
31 And it shall come to pass that ye shall be smitten for your iniquities, for ye have said that ye teach the law of Moses. And what know ye concerning the law of Moses? Doth salvation come by the law of Moses? What say ye?
32 And they answered and said that salvation did come by the law of Moses.
The answer to “what do you teach?” is “we teach the law of Moses.” That should be uncontroversial. Abinadi certainly believes the scriptures, and certainly believes, as did Nephi and his religious descendants, that the Nephites should follow the law of Moses.
Abinadi does not argue against the law, but against the priests. He asks, “if ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it?” What Abinadi declares as evidence that they do not keep the law of Moses, however, is not clearly a violation of the law of Moses. It is contrary to Nephite interpretation of the law, but not necessarily to the law. Still, as Abinadi noted, these were the things that he had condemned them for.
Note that Abinadi has also temporarily avoided explaining the verses from Isaiah. He is setting up a framework in which his answer can be provided and be seen as complementary to the scriptures, rather than as the assumption that the priests had, which was that Abinadi could not reconcile his teachings with those verses.
What Abinadi asks is about salvation, demonstrating that the reason for the verses was indeed the issue of salvation. He gets them to commit to the statement that “salvation did come by the law of Moses.”
33 But now Abinadi said unto them: I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved; yea, if ye keep the commandments which the Lord delivered unto Moses in the mount of Sinai, saying:
34 I am the Lord thy God, who hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
35 Thou shalt have no other God before me.
36 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing in heaven above, or things which are in the earth beneath.
37 Now Abinadi said unto them, Have ye done all this? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not. And have ye taught this people that they should do all these things? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not.
Abinadi knows that he cannot separate the law of Moses from salvation, for the law is given to bring people into alignment with Yahweh. Thus, living the law of Moses is important. Abinadi picks up on his condemnation of the actions of the priests, and by extension the king and all the people, that they did not obey the law of Moses. He begins with the first law, as given in Exodus 20:3, “thou shalt have no other God before me.” He declares that they have not obeyed that law.
There is no information in the text to tell us how King Noah’s people had violated that commandment. It appears that they had accepted other gods and images of gods. In a Mesoamerican context, this might suggest that there was some acceptance of the gods that other peoples around them believed in. Clearly, Yahweh continued to be their god, but they may have accepted other lesser gods, even if only in a cultural sense, rather than a religious sense. Historically, Christianity has often appropriated various gods that were among the peoples they encountered, incorporating them with perhaps different names or titles, but retaining sufficient similarity as to ease the new people into Christianity from their previous religions. There are numerous examples from the later Christian conquest of Mesoamerica where this very thing happened.
There is no chapter break here in the 1830 edition. It appears that Orson Pratt added this chapter break because there is a shift from Abinadi speaking to the reaction of the king to his words.
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