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Mosiah2 Establishes the Reign of the Judges
1 Now when Mosiah had done this he sent out throughout all the land, among all the people, desiring to know their will concerning who should be their king.
2 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: We are desirous that Aaron thy son should be our king and our ruler.
3 Now Aaron had gone up to the land of Nephi, therefore the king could not confer the kingdom upon him; neither would Aaron take upon him the kingdom; neither were any of the sons of Mosiah willing to take upon them the kingdom.
As noted at the end of the previous chapter, the final verse of our chapter 28 was originally at the beginning of this final chapter of Mosiah. It began with “after king Mosiah had done these things. . .” (Mosiah 28:20). The current first verse begins with “Now when Mosiah had done this.” This strange repetition was required to recover from the inserted aside about the translation of the plates of Ether. That information was important but is not the reason for this particular chapter. Thus, Mormon ends the transmission of the various plates and begins in earnest to tell the important story of the shift from monarchy to judges.
When Mosiah2 asks the people who should be their king, he is probably following a typical process. While we do not often see the full process, it appears that the voice of the people was a part of the change from one king to another, even when the presumptive heir was clear. Thus, in Mosiah 7:9 we see that Noah was made king after Zeniff by the voice of the people. As the son, it was clear that Noah was to become king. Nevertheless, the voice of the people came into play.
We see the same action in these verses. King Mosiah2 asks for the voice of the people, and as expected, Aaron is declared the rightful heir. The problem was that Aaron was gone. Not only that, but any other of Mosiah2’s sons, who might have fulfilled the role of heir, were also gone. Now the governmental succession was officially in crisis.
4 Therefore king Mosiah sent again among the people; yea, even a written word sent he among the people. And these were the words that were written, saying:
5 Behold, O ye my people, or my brethren, for I esteem you as such, I desire that ye should consider the cause which ye are called to consider—for ye are desirous to have a king.
6 Now I declare unto you that he to whom the kingdom doth rightly belong has declined, and will not take upon him the kingdom.
7 And now if there should be another appointed in his stead, behold I fear there would rise contentions among you. And who knoweth but what my son, to whom the kingdom doth belong, should turn to be angry and draw away a part of this people after him, which would cause wars and contentions among you, which would be the cause of shedding much blood and perverting the way of the Lord, yea, and destroy the souls of many people.
Mosiah2 sends a written word. Although modern readers easily see a leaflet or flier with the information that each person might read, that would have been unusual in the ancient world. Although Nephite society clearly had those who could read and write, it is quite likely that those talents were restricted to a few members of the society. What likely happened was similar to what occurred in the Old World. The written word would be taken by a person who could read, and it would be read out loud to the various groups.
We have seen the people of Zarahemla divided into at least two large groups, which likely represented descendants of Nephi and of Zarahemla (who were ultimately descendants of Mulek). However, inside those divisions it is probable that there were also tribal divisions, or at least great families, where those who were of a similar descent would live in general proximity to others. It is therefore likely that this proclamation was read to these large family groups.
The import of the message is that King Mosiah2 understood that the lack of a designated heir could lead to “shedding much blood and perverting the way of the Lord.” Therefore, he will propose an innovative solution.
8 Now I say unto you let us be wise and consider these things, for we have no right to destroy my son, neither should we have any right to destroy another if he should be appointed in his stead.
9 And if my son should turn again to his pride and vain things he would recall the things which he had said, and claim his right to the kingdom, which would cause him and also this people to commit much sin.
10 And now let us be wise and look forward to these things, and do that which will make for the peace of this people.
In this part of the message, Mosiah2 explains the problem created when his sons declined to become the designated heir. The problem was twofold. The first was that it would lead to someone else attempting to become king, with multiple factions struggling for supremacy. Then, when that man was selected as king, one of Mosiah2’s sons might return and claim the throne by right of inheritance.
Thus, there was the chance of civil unrest in order to select a new king, but further unrest was possible even when that was settled, should one of the sons of Mosiah2 return. Therefore, Mosiah2 requests: “let us be wise and look forward to these things, and do that which will make for the peace of this people.”
11 Therefore I will be your king the remainder of my days; nevertheless, let us appoint judges, to judge this people according to our law; and we will newly arrange the affairs of this people, for we will appoint wise men to be judges, that will judge this people according to the commandments of God.
12 Now it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgments of God are always just, but the judgments of man are not always just.
13 Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.
King Mosiah2 proposes that he will continue to be king, but that he will be the last. Changing to a system of judges would give the nation the opportunity to avoid the issue of continuity of succession by creating a new system and establishing a government that would not be beholden to the possible return of one of Mosiah2’s sons who might claim kingship.
What is interesting is the set of arguments Mosiah2 provides for this change. The first is that it is better that a man should be judged of God. We recognize that this is a truism, but why is it part of Mosiah2’s argument? Note that in verse 13 he says, “therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings. . . it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.” The essential argument is that a good king ruled under and by the authority of Yahweh. Thus, a just king was just in that he followed the law of Moses and the understanding of the prophets.
The argument was not simply that it was good if the king were a good person, but that kings were to be preferred if and when they were in accord with, and perhaps in communication with, Yahweh, or at least Yahweh’s will.
14 And even I myself have labored with all the power and faculties which I have possessed, to teach you the commandments of God, and to establish peace throughout the land, that there should be no wars nor contentions, no stealing, nor plundering, nor murdering, nor any manner of iniquity;
15 And whosoever has committed iniquity, him have I punished according to the crime which he has committed, according to the law which has been given to us by our fathers.
After declaring in the previous verses that a just king should follow Yahweh’s precepts, Mosiah2 declares that he has done so. The particular Nephite elaboration of what a just king should be was declared in King Benjamin’s discourse. Mosiah2 learned from his father and declares similar evidence that he has ruled righteously. The evidence is that he has labored to teach Yahweh’s commandments and sought peace in the land. He has not condoned plundering nor murdering. We have seen in other locations that those are terms that are associated with other kings in the Mesoamerican world and are used as specific ways to differentiate Nephite kings from the other kings in the region.
Most importantly for what follows is that Mosiah2 has instituted laws that he follows. Kings have the right to execute judgment, and it is possible that they could do so in a case by case basis. Mosiah2 indicates that he has followed laws against which people could be judged, thus assuring that all would be judged equally according to the laws governing all the Nephite nation. He will be pronouncing further laws that are appropriate to the change in the nature of rulership.
16 Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.
17 For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!
18 Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage.
The influence of Alma1 the elder is clear in the arguments that Mosiah2 is presenting. In the previous verses Mosiah2 had indicated that if a people always had righteous men as kings, that it would be best to have a king. Nevertheless, as Mosiah2 points out, the example of King Noah proves that this does not always happen.
Alma1 personally experienced the problem of an unrighteous king. When his people asked him to be their king in Helam, note how similar his argument was to that we are seeing from Mosiah2:
“7 But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.
8 Nevertheless, if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your kings it would be well for you to have a king.
9 But remember the iniquity of king Noah and his priests; and I myself was caught in a snare, and did many things which were abominable in the sight of the Lord.” (Mosiah 23:7–9)
Although Mosiah2 does not credit Alma1 with this perspective, it is clear that Alma1 had an influence on Mosiah2’s thinking. Therefore, not only did Alma1 influence the creation of churches, which changed the religious landscape in Zarahemla, but he also influenced the political landscape. Perhaps more than any single person since Nephi himself did one man so dramatically affect the nature of Nephite society.
19 And were it not for the interposition of their all-wise Creator, and this because of their sincere repentance, they must unavoidably remain in bondage until now.
20 But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.
21 And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.
Mosiah2 continues with the bad example set by Noah. Because of Noah’s actions, his people were brought into bondage to the Lamanites. It was a long and difficult process of repentance that was required before the Lord delivered them from bondage. The point is not so much the bondage, but the way in which that might have been prevented.
Mosiah2 declares that the problem is trying to remove a king. Since a king rules by the presumption of inherited right, there is no mechanism to remove a bad king that does not result in the “shedding of much blood.” Thus, the cure is possibly as bad as the consequences of remaining under the rule of such a king as Noah.
22 For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;
23 And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.
24 And now behold I say unto you, it is not expedient that such abominations should come upon you.
Mosiah1 explains why the removal of a bad king typically leads to the shedding of blood. Such a king protects himself, surrounding himself not only with guards, but with those who benefit from the king’s policies. The king then enacts laws that promote his particular ways of deviating from Yahweh’s social laws.
Mosiah2 had declared in verse 14 that he had led his people to peace, and here indicates that the opposite of his righteous rule would be a king who led his people into war. The result of this series of arguments is that “it is not expedient that such abominations should come upon you.” The solution will be a change in the way that the Nephite government operated.
25 Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.
Mosiah2 declares that they would use the voice of the people to establish judges who would judge “according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.” Thus, Yahweh would continue to be their lawgiver, and the judges would be in place to govern in accord with established law.
It is important to understand that this is not a declaration that Mosiah2 established voting and elections. We will see that judges will also become hereditary positions, and the voice of the people never functions as a vote. We remember that the voice of the people was a mechanism that functioned under the monarchy as well, so there isn’t a major change. The difference is that there would no longer be a king who was presumed to speak with and for Yahweh directly in the way laws were enacted. The judges would tend to work within the laws which the fathers received from Yahweh.
26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.
28 And now if ye have judges, and they do not judge you according to the law which has been given, ye can cause that they may be judged of a higher judge.
29 If your higher judges do not judge righteous judgments, ye shall cause that a small number of your lower judges should be gathered together, and they shall judge your higher judges, according to the voice of the people.
The voice of the people does perhaps become more important in the reign of the judges because it becomes a method for the removal of an unrighteous judge. Mosiah2 had indicated that it was difficult to remove an unrighteous king without bloodshed, and it is that context that provides the background to this part of his instructions. The people typically desire that which is right, therefore they would support righteous judges.
Nevertheless, it is possible that the people would not desire righteousness. That can occur, but that is a case of apostasy and will invoke the negative aspect of the promise of the land. When the people are no longer righteous, they not only lose their divine protection, but will be visited with destruction.
The method of removal is to be orderly, however. A judge who does not judge according to established law would be brought to a higher judge. Even the higher judge could be removed with the combined judgments of lower judges. Thus, there is an established way that the people could remove an unrighteous judge without resorting to bloodshed.
30 And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.
31 For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.
32 And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land.
The voice of the people has been elevated to a more important status; thus Mosiah2 admonishes the people that they too have the responsibility to act “in the fear of the Lord.” One of the consequences of the greater responsibility is a shift in the nature of how the community is perceived. When there is a king, the people follow the king and the king’s unrighteousness is laid at his own feet for leading his people astray.
With the increased importance of the voice of the people comes an increased responsibility. Because the people have been more empowered, they are also potentially more culpable. They are not to blame if leaders fall into sin, but only if they allow those leaders to remain in positions where they can influence the people to also stray from Yahweh’s commandments.
Mosiah2 finishes this section with a renewal of the promise of the land. It continues to be a land of liberty, but only upon principles of righteousness. Although the nature of the government is changing, the essential covenant remains. The people are simply even more responsible for social righteousness that will allow all to prosper.
33 And many more things did king Mosiah write unto them, unfolding unto them all the trials and troubles of a righteous king, yea, all the travails of soul for their people, and also all the murmurings of the people to their king; and he explained it all unto them.
34 And he told them that these things ought not to be; but that the burden should come upon all the people, that every man might bear his part.
35 And he also unfolded unto them all the disadvantages they labored under, by having an unrighteous king to rule over them;
36 Yea, all his iniquities and abominations, and all the wars, and contentions, and bloodshed, and the stealing, and the plundering, and the committing of whoredoms, and all manner of iniquities which cannot be enumerated—telling them that these things ought not to be, that they were expressly repugnant to the commandments of God.
Mormon has been quoting from the document Mosiah2 sent to be read to the people. Now he summarizes. Apparently, Mosiah2 felt that the greatest need was to justify the change; therefore, he provided even more discussion of why it could be disadvantageous to have a king. Both the Nephites and Zarahemlaites had kings from their beginning, and the shift was a major change in the way the people thought. Thus, it was probable that multiple arguments were required. Mormon lived long after the change and did not see the need for further discussion of those problems. Therefore, he summarized, rather than quoted, that part of the document.
The Reign of the Judges Begins
37 And now it came to pass, after king Mosiah had sent these things forth among the people they were convinced of the truth of his words.
38 Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.
39 Therefore, it came to pass that they assembled themselves together in bodies throughout the land, to cast in their voices concerning who should be their judges, to judge them according to the law which had been given them; and they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them.
Verse 37 reminds us that the text we have just seen, that quoted Mosiah2, was quoting a document, not a speech. He sent that document to his people. They responded favorably. Notice that one of the consequences of this change in the way the government worked was to shift communal responsibility from the king to the community itself. Therefore, it became critical that “every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.” While answering for one’s own sins might seem out of place in a political discussion, given the conjunction of politics and religion in Nephite society, it was precisely the point.
The selection of the first judges appears to have had more communal participation than later judges would have. After establishing this set of judges, the positions appear to return to the assumption of inherited service. In order for that assumption to have been acceptable, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the lower judges were selected from the tribes or clans that would be governed by those judges.
40 And they did wax strong in love towards Mosiah; yea, they did esteem him more than any other man; for they did not look upon him as a tyrant who was seeking for gain, yea, for that lucre which doth corrupt the soul; for he had not exacted riches of them, neither had he delighted in the shedding of blood; but he had established peace in the land, and he had granted unto his people that they should be delivered from all manner of bondage; therefore they did esteem him, yea, exceedingly, beyond measure.
41 And it came to pass that they did appoint judges to rule over them, or to judge them according to the law; and this they did throughout all the land.
King Mosiah2 continued as king, but also appears to set the government of judges in motion. It is speculation, but it would have been prudent to institute the reign of judges while he was yet king, so that any issues could be brought to him as the king and recognized leader. When he sorted out the issues, they could be claimed to come through his divine authority.
The remembered legacy was the one that Benjamin had desired. Mosiah2 was remembered for not delighting in the shedding of blood and the establishment of peace. As with Benjamin, he took credit for things he did not do, such as not exacting riches from them. Mosiah2, as did his father, represented the best of Nephite governing ideals.
42 And it came to pass that Alma was appointed to be the first chief judge, he being also the high priest, his father having conferred the office upon him, and having given him the charge concerning all the affairs of the church.
43 And now it came to pass that Alma did walk in the ways of the Lord, and he did keep his commandments, and he did judge righteous judgments; and there was continual peace through the land.
44 And thus commenced the reign of the judges throughout all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who were called the Nephites; and Alma was the first and chief judge.
To this point, Mormon has described the beginning of the reign of judges generically, without reference to anyone filling the positions. Now we find that the first chief judge is Alma2. Where the government and religious leadership had been split between Mosiah2 and Alma1, they were now reunited in Alma2.
The confirmation that this change was divinely ordained comes in the form of the standard statement that things were well after a major change. In this case, Alma2 always “did walk in the ways of the Lord, and he did keep his commandments.” This is the statement that shows that the Nephites prospered, and that the prosperity came as a result of aligning themselves with Yahweh’s laws and desires.
45 And now it came to pass that his father died, being eighty and two years old, having lived to fulfil the commandments of God.
46 And it came to pass that Mosiah died also, in the thirty and third year of his reign, being sixty and three years old; making in the whole, five hundred and nine years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem.
47 And thus ended the reign of the kings over the people of Nephi; and thus ended the days of Alma, who was the founder of their church.
Mormon ends the book of Mosiah with the passing of the two most important men discussed in the book, King Mosiah2 and Alma1. In terms of ancient lifespans, both men were aged, but Alma1 was impressively older, passing away at eighty-two years of age.
As noted at the beginning of our book of Mosiah, we do not have the original beginning of the book. It certainly began with the establishment of the change from a solely Nephite king to a king over both Nephites and Zarahemlaites. It ended with another political change with the beginning of the reign of the judges. Although a modern reader sees both religion and politics in the chapter, they were anciently so closely related as to be difficult to separate. Thus, while there were religious ramifications, the book of Mosiah has been a story of political change.
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