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TitleMosiah 21
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsGardner, Brant A.
Book TitleBook of Mormon Minute
PublisherBook of Mormon Central
CitySpringville, UT
KeywordsMosiah (Book)

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Mosiah 21

Renewed Conflict with the Lamanites

Mosiah 21:1–4

1 And it came to pass that Limhi and his people returned to the city of Nephi, and began to dwell in the land again in peace.

2 And it came to pass that after many days the Lamanites began again to be stirred up in anger against the Nephites, and they began to come into the borders of the land round about.

3 Now they durst not slay them, because of the oath which their king had made unto Limhi; but they would smite them on their cheeks, and exercise authority over them; and began to put heavy burdens upon their backs, and drive them as they would a dumb ass—

4 Yea, all this was done that the word of the Lord might be fulfilled.

Comments

Mormon continues his interest in conflict. In this case, he notes that the people of Limhi live in peace so that he can contrast that peace with the conflict which is coming. What Mormon does not say about this new conflict is that it is probably simply a continuation of the conditions that created the peace prior to the abduction of the Lamanite daughters. The people of Limhi had an oath of peace with the Lamanites that had included a heavy burden of tribute. Those conditions had not changed, and perhaps individual Lamanites still harbored resentment and suspicions about the abduction of the young women. Thus, the heavy burdens placed on the people of Limhi were a continuation of the previous requirement to surrender half of all that they owned or created.

What is important for Mormon is that this condition of subservience came as a fulfilment to prophecy, and a confirmation that Abinadi was not only a prophet, but a prophet who had taught as Yahweh had required.

Mosiah 21:5–8

5 And now the afflictions of the Nephites were great, and there was no way that they could deliver themselves out of their hands, for the Lamanites had surrounded them on every side.

6 And it came to pass that the people began to murmur with the king because of their afflictions; and they began to be desirous to go against them to battle. And they did afflict the king sorely with their complaints; therefore he granted unto them that they should do according to their desires.

7 And they gathered themselves together again, and put on their armor, and went forth against the Lamanites to drive them out of their land.

8 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did beat them, and drove them back, and slew many of them.

Comments

The heavy burdens were sufficient that the people of Limhi rebelled against them. Mormon’s statement that they could not deliver themselves because they were surrounded suggests that they were willing to abandon their lands and escape. While not mentioned at this point, it is clear that they were looking to return to Zarahemla.

At this point, however, they could see no way to escape. Therefore, they desired to obtain some independence through force of arms. That would break their oath. Perhaps surprisingly, they were willing to do so. That suggests that the conditions were indeed onerous.

They do attempt to fight, but they are driven back. The previous encounters had them victorious, but subtly involved in those victories is that they were defensive. This was an offensive military movement. It did not succeed.

Mosiah 21:9–12

9 And now there was a great mourning and lamentation among the people of Limhi, the widow mourning for her husband, the son and the daughter mourning for their father, and the brothers for their brethren.

10 Now there were a great many widows in the land, and they did cry mightily from day to day, for a great fear of the Lamanites had come upon them.

11 And it came to pass that their continual cries did stir up the remainder of the people of Limhi to anger against the Lamanites; and they went again to battle, but they were driven back again, suffering much loss.

12 Yea, they went again even the third time, and suffered in the like manner; and those that were not slain returned again to the city of Nephi.

Comments

The results of war are typically terrible, even in victory. However, in defeat there is little to comfort the terrible losses. In this case, the loss of life was great, and great enough to increase the desperation to escape from the Lamanites. Sadly, they chose the same failed method, and attempted to fight their way free. They were defeated. They tried again. They were defeated again.

Limhi’s People Humble Themselves

Mosiah 21:13–15

13 And they did humble themselves even to the dust, subjecting themselves to the yoke of bondage, submitting themselves to be smitten, and to be driven to and fro, and burdened, according to the desires of their enemies.

14 And they did humble themselves even in the depths of humility; and they did cry mightily to God; yea, even all the day long did they cry unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.

15 And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage.

Comments

In verse 13, Mormon indicates that they were being “driven to and fro.” Mormon intentionally echoes language from Abinadi’s curse that was recorded in Mosiah 17:17. Mormon continues to emphasize the awful fulfillment of prophecy upon this people. Modern readers must understand that many ancient cultures understood sin to be assessed communally as much, and perhaps more, than individually. Thus, although not every individual was guilty of desiring Abinadi’s death, as a people they were culpable. Therefore, the curse was applied to the community.

However, even though that dire curse was relentlessly and terribly applied, it was not permanent. In verse 14 Mormon begins the process of showing the people’s repentance. Under the pressure of their trials, they humbled themselves. They had no other option. They finally turn to Yahweh for deliverance.

What is interesting is that Mormon says that the Lord “was slow to hear their cry.” That should be seen as a literary reference with the meaning that God did not immediately grant their request. It would not be actually true that God did not hear, but rather that God’s purposes perhaps worked with human time and circumstances. There was a process that began to answer their prayer, rather than a transcendent miracle for which they were doubtless hoping.

Mosiah 21:16–17

16 And it came to pass that they began to prosper by degrees in the land, and began to raise grain more abundantly, and flocks, and herds, that they did not suffer with hunger.

17 Now there was a great number of women, more than there was of men; therefore king Limhi commanded that every man should impart to the support of the widows and their children, that they might not perish with hunger; and this they did because of the greatness of their number that had been slain.

Comments

That the redemption of the people of Limhi had begun is testified in the statement that “they began to prosper by degrees in the land.” The covenant of the land declared that the righteous would prosper. That also suggests that prospering was evidence of righteousness. In this case, the degrees of improvement in their prosperity are to be seen as parallel to the degrees of improvement in their righteousness.

Further indication that they were truly humbled and changed is that they began to impart of their substance to others. These were the people who, under King Noah, had been happy in a worldly sense. While Mormon did not discuss the people, the worldliness of Noah and the priests was intended to be representative, not exceptional. The Nephite ideal was egalitarianism, and when the text describes the Nephites becoming more socially stratified, it is always a prelude to a form of apostasy. The opposite, as revealed in the people of Limhi, proves the case. Righteousness sees people care for each other and does not have them deem one person above another.

Mosiah 21:18–22

18 Now the people of Limhi kept together in a body as much as it was possible, and secured their grain and their flocks;

19 And the king himself did not trust his person without the walls of the city, unless he took his guards with him, fearing that he might by some means fall into the hands of the Lamanites.

20 And he caused that his people should watch the land round about, that by some means they might take those priests that fled into the wilderness, who had stolen the daughters of the Lamanites, and that had caused such a great destruction to come upon them.

21 For they were desirous to take them that they might punish them; for they had come into the land of Nephi by night, and carried off their grain and many of their precious things; therefore they laid wait for them.

22 And it came to pass that there was no more disturbance between the Lamanites and the people of Limhi, even until the time that Ammon and his brethren came into the land.

Comments

These verses serve to close one story and begin another. It is a subtle transition because it uses the events of the previous story as the background for the next. The tensions with the Lamanites were high, and after three significant defeats, the confidence of the people of Limhi was low. Not only was there fear of the Lamanites, but the former priests of Noah had created deadly mischief before, and there were missing grains and other things that were ascribed to the thieving priests.

All these events will explain how it was that when Limhi was outside the city that he had armed guards when Ammon and his brethren came into the land. At this point, the record of Zeniff catches up with the events that Mormon had already recorded using Ammon’s record, perhaps as entered into the large plates of Nephi.

Ammon Meets Limhi

Mosiah 21:23–25

23 And the king having been without the gates of the city with his guard, discovered Ammon and his brethren; and supposing them to be priests of Noah therefore he caused that they should be taken, and bound, and cast into prison. And had they been the priests of Noah he would have caused that they should be put to death.

24 But when he found that they were not, but that they were his brethren, and had come from the land of Zarahemla, he was filled with exceedingly great joy.

25 Now king Limhi had sent, previous to the coming of Ammon, a small number of men to search for the land of Zarahemla; but they could not find it, and they were lost in the wilderness.

Comments

Verses 23 and 24 reprise the scene Mormon told earlier from Ammon’s perspective. The Limhite side of the story explains why the first impulse was to capture Ammon, rather than celebrate his arrival. That certainly happened when they knew who he was, and verse 24’s statement that Limhi was “filled with exceedingly great joy” was displayed in both versions of the account.

This story is told according to a different perspective and from a different record. However, Mormon is editing the material from both records, and repetitions of events are typically intentional. In this case, much of the story he has told about Limhi’s people sets up this next event.

Because of all the burdens placed upon his people, Limhi and his people had tried to escape. One attempt resulted in three military defeats. Another failed attempt was to have Zarahemla come to their aid. That attempt is the next story to be told. Limhi sent “a small number of men to search for the land of Zarahemla, but they could not find it.” Perhaps as a part of God’s plan to soften their hearts and to encourage repentance, even that attempt failed.

Although it failed to find Zarahemla, what they found became very important in Mormon’s construction of the remainder of Nephite history.

Mosiah 21:26–27

26 Nevertheless, they did find a land which had been peopled; yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed; and they, having supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla, returned to the land of Nephi, having arrived in the borders of the land not many days before the coming of Ammon.

27 And they brought a record with them, even a record of the people whose bones they had found; and it was engraven on plates of ore.

Comments

The small party of men attempted to find Zarahemla but failed. What they did find was the land of a destroyed people. They brought back souvenirs from that destroyed land. The most important of which was a record. That record we learn later was a record of Ether, last of the Jaredites.

The story of the men getting lost is an interesting geographical conundrum. The land of Nephi is at a higher elevation than Zarahemla, and Zarahemla was built near the river Sidon. The clues in the text suggest that the river may have had its headwaters in between the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla. The people of Limhi are only a generation separated from the people of Zarahemla, and it is possible that there were some alive who had made the journey. The instructions from those elderly might have been something like “go up to the mountains, and find the river, follow the river to Zarahemla, you can’t miss it.” They missed it.

Scholarly consensus has the land of Nephi in highland Guatemala. There is a mountain range that they might go to that just so happens to contain the headwaters of two major rivers that are about thirty kilometers apart. The best explanation for how this party could possibly get lost suggests that they simply followed the wrong river. No matter which of the two they would have followed, they would end up in a territory that had belonged to an older civilization that had been destroyed by Limhi’s time.

Mosiah 21:28–30

28 And now Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.

29 Yet Ammon and his brethren were filled with sorrow because so many of their brethren had been slain;

30 And also that king Noah and his priests had caused the people to commit so many sins and iniquities against God; and they also did mourn for the death of Abinadi; and also for the departure of Alma and the people that went with him, who had formed a church of God through the strength and power of God, and faith on the words which had been spoken by Abinadi.

Comments

The earlier version of the story of the lost expedition is given in Mosiah 8:9–13. The important overlap is the question of translation. There was a record that must have information, but no one could read it. In Mosiah 8:11–12 Limhi twice asks if Ammon knows of anyone who can translate it. In both retellings, Ammon declares that there is such a one. King Mosiah2 had the means wherewith he could translate.

The flashback history is complete. Mormon has caught up to the story with which he began this flashback. Now, Mormon must move the story forward. As a transition, Mormon declares the communal sorrow for their sins, and importantly, for the communal sin that led to Abinadi’s death.

Limhi’s People Covenant

Mosiah 21:31–32

31 Yea, they did mourn for their departure, for they knew not whither they had fled. Now they would have gladly joined with them, for they themselves had entered into a covenant with God to serve him and keep his commandments.

32 And now since the coming of Ammon, king Limhi had also entered into a covenant with God, and also many of his people, to serve him and keep his commandments.

Comments

Mormon told of the conditions that led to the people’s repentance. He wrote of the beginnings of prosperity that witness to the sincerity of that repentance. Now he declares the final stage of their change of heart. They enter into a covenant.

The covenant appears to be repeated. In verse 31 “they themselves had entered into a covenant with God to serve him and keep his commandments.” In the very next verse, we again have “entered into a covenant with God. . . to serve him and keep his commandments.” The only difference is that in verse 31 the people are more generic. In verse 32 it is specifically Limhi as the king and, therefore, representative of his people. Perhaps the repetition is for emphasis. Perhaps the addition of Limhi emphasizes that it is an official act on behalf of the people.

The phrase “also many of his people,” seems to exclude some from the covenant. There is no indication that there were any who resisted, and the hope of temporal salvation was much more likely to have been universal. I suggest that the intent was to focus on Limhi and his people, not to suggest that there were any who dissented.

Mosiah 21:33–36

33 And it came to pass that king Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God. And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant.

34 Therefore they did not at that time form themselves into a church, waiting upon the Spirit of the Lord. Now they were desirous to become even as Alma and his brethren, who had fled into the wilderness.

35 They were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts; nevertheless they did prolong the time; and an account of their baptism shall be given hereafter.

36 And now all the study of Ammon and his people, and king Limhi and his people, was to deliver themselves out of the hands of the Lamanites and from bondage.

Comments

The result of the covenant was to desire baptism. Interestingly, Ammon declines. The important background to this story is made clear in verse 34 where Alma1’s people are referenced. Alma1 had created something that is here called a church, and used baptism as a declaration of the entrance into the covenants associated with that congregation. Limhi’s people contrasted themselves with Alma1’s people in that they had perhaps consented to Abinadi’s death, and had suffered the consequences. Alma1’s people had repented and had escaped. That was not both the temporal and spiritual desire of the people of Limhi.

In addition to Ammon’s declaration that he was an unworthy servant, it is probable that Ammon hesitates because he is unfamiliar with what Alma1 has done, and creating this kind of a covenant rightly belongs to his king, and not to him.

This ends the chapter than began with our chapter 17. There is no particular reason evident for the end of the chapter. The next chapter begins the story of this people’s return to Zarahemla. I suggest that the change in chapter was due to Mormon returning to the large plate account. He has been working with the record of Zeniff, but has now returned to the point where he clearly had Ammon’s account. Mormon does not indicate when he returns to the large plates, but only when he uses a different source. Therefore, it would be consistent with his practice to create a new chapter when he moved to a different source, and it would be unmarked because it was a return to the large plates as the source for the story.

Scripture Reference

Mosiah 21:1-36