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The People React to Benjamin’s Words
1 And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
3 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.
In Mosiah 2:1–8, Mormon narrated the setting for Benjamin’s speech. At this temporary break in the discourse, Mormon narrates again. While he quoted the speech itself, whatever information was on the plates that gave the information about the circumstances surrounding the speech was not copied, but rather told in Mormon’s own words.
The nature of the discourse was designed to generate a response from the gathered people. They had come with animals for sacrifice, indicating that they had come with the expectation of a religious event. They certainly received that, and more.
It is important to remember the social context of this speech. There had been a contention that appears to have become a civil war. The people were gathered after that difficult time, and the speech preached salvation through the Messiah who was to come. In the light of what we will see later in the Book of Mormon’s history of Zarahemla, the understanding of the coming Messiah must have been a point of contention, as it will become a dividing point for that same society in the years that will follow Benjamin’s speech. Therefore, Benjamin is preaching the Messiah to them not simply for the religious understanding, but for the unification of the people under the umbrella of the divine revelation of the coming Messiah.
Benjamin pauses in his discourse because he needs to assess how well the speech has motivated the people. It has succeeded. The people see themselves as needing atonement. This would not be surprising in the aftermath of a civil war. They seek atonement, now understanding that it will come not from the symbolic blood sacrifice of an animal, but through the atoning blood of Christ. Forgiveness of their sins allows them to renew themselves within Yahweh’s covenant with the people. They accept that forgiveness and appear to pledge themselves to the unifying belief in the coming atoning Messiah.
King Benjamin Explains the Means of Salvation
4 And king Benjamin again opened his mouth and began to speak unto them, saying: My friends and my brethren, my kindred and my people, I would again call your attention, that ye may hear and understand the remainder of my words which I shall speak unto you.
5 For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state—
6 I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—
7 I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world.
Benjamin begins again, using the phrase “I would again call your attention.” This is the same phrase he used in Mosiah 3:1, as he began to discuss the message the angel gave him. These are the only times the phrase is used and means more than a modern reader would associate with the phrase. For modern readers, we are used to “call your attention” to mean that something is being pointed out. In Benjamin’s case, it is not a reference to a thing or thought, but it is literally a call for attention. Something important is coming, and the natural tendency of crowds to speak among themselves is to be halted to properly concentrate on the coming message.
Verses 5 and 6 consist of a long “if” clause. Benjamin is speaking to an audience that has responded that they believe, and now Benjamin leads them to the result of that belief. He begins not with an “if” that indicates doubt but indicates the beginning of a new condition. Benjamin is not doubting but is rather describing.
If they have done as they say they have done, including all the conditions he lists, then (as verse 7 indicates), then “this is . . . who receiveth salvation, through the atonement.” Benjamin had set the stage to indicate that the atonement would occur no matter what. However, for it to be applied to a given person required personal repentance. Benjamin tells his people that if they have repented, then the atonement is applied. Unstated is that the atonement applies immediately for the people, even though the actual act of atonement lay in the future.
8 And this is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is none other salvation save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you.
9 Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.
10 And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.
Benjamin declared that there was no other name through which salvation would come. After describing the need for repentance in order to access the atonement, he declares that there is no other means by which salvation comes. Not only no other being, but no other method. This is the only way in which humankind can be reconciled to Yahweh and the covenant.
The reason that this statement leads directly to the command “believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things,” is because the name through which salvation is to come identifies the mortal mission of Yahweh on earth. There is a direct correlation. Nephite understanding was that Yahweh was their God, and that Yahweh himself would come to earth as the mortal who history will know as Jesus.
Thus, after commanding that they believe in God, or Yahweh, Benjamin reemphasizes that they “must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God.” These are the actions that they must take to make the atoning Messiah’s mission applicable to their own lives.
11 And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.
Benjamin has turned the subject from the need for atonement to the Messiah through whom it would be accomplished, to now discussing the personal results of atonement with God. Benjamin states that “as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God,” which might sound like simply understanding that there is a God; however, that is not his context. He commanded that they believe in God, and the context has been in God’s merciful condescension to become mortal and effect the atonement. Thus, this description of coming to the knowledge of God is integrally connected to accepting the atoning Messiah as that God, as Yahweh.
Benjamin describes the conditions of repentance, and the need to remain humble before the glory of God. Note that he specifically says that they could continue “standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come.” The atonement has not yet happened, yet they should act as though it has, steadfastly believing that it not only will, but that its benefits can also be applied to them in this life, even before that specific act.
The benefit is that “if ye do this ye shall always rejoice.” The promise of the land was that they would prosper. Benjamin extends that covenant to the individual. Their prospering would not be physical, but more importantly, spiritual. Benjamin declares that the knowledge of the glory of God is the same as the knowledge of “that which is just and true.” Yahweh is the very definition of that which is just and true.
All Are Beggars Before God
13 And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.
14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
Right after Benjamin declares that by coming to know God, they would know what is just and true, he begins to describe what being just and true would mean in their own lives. Specifically, he is interested in how the people of Zarahemla would treat each other. Again, we remember the conditions preceding this speech. The severe internal contention was a recent reminder of how the community should not treat others in that community.
Perhaps it is in that light that we note Benjamin suggesting that parents should not suffer their children to fight and quarrel one with another. Note that right after that comes the declaration that neither should they suffer their children to serve the devil, or the evil spirit. Benjamin had noted that their contentions had come from their listening to obey the evil spirit in Mosiah 2:32 and 37. Thus, it seems that Benjamin is not counseling that children should not quarrel in the way that children in families might but is concerned with the kinds of contentions that had recently divided the community.
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon 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—
18 But 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 forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, 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 the riches which we have of every kind?
Benjamin spends more time discussing the beggar than the other social interactions because it will be an important transition for his discussion of their relationship to God. He will move from the relationship of one with another in the community to each person’s relationship to God.
First, he notes that we are obligated to help those in need, rather than judge them. The background for this part of the speech depends upon the social interactions of a primarily agricultural community. Even though Zarahemla was a city, it was not a modern city. Its people were overwhelmingly agrarian. They had to come to the city with their sacrificial animals. The nature of an agrarian society places a different understanding of how they should treat the beggar. In a society where all grew their own food, a beggar was most likely one who had suffered misfortune and his crops had failed. The United States had a similar ethic of helping the needy when it was also primarily agricultural and rural. It was accepted that a stranger might come to the door looking for food and shelter, and there was an understanding that they should be assisted.
Benjamin asks, “are we not all beggars?” That would echo with those who understood that through the vagaries of nature, each person would understand that it might be themselves who next needed assistance. Benjamin turns that understanding of the horizontal ethics of helping the needy in the community to becoming the needy who present themselves to God.
Just as there might be times when we are hungry in a worldly sense, there will be a time when we are spiritually hungry. Then we turn to God, and God nourishes us. Yahweh covenants that we are his people, and Yahweh blesses us spiritually. According to the covenant of the land, he also allows the Nephites to prosper in the land.
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
Benjamin continues to reinforce the nature of the relationship of humankind and their God. Although we spiritual beggars do not merit Yahweh’s blessings, yet blessings are freely given. Benjamin does not emphasize the covenant here because it is assumed. He will later make a new covenant within the known one.
Using the relationship to God as the model, Benjamin returns to his people. This is a speech whose focus is on transforming his people. Although that means that they need to accept their unique understanding of the atoning Messiah, it also means that they are to alter their behavior. Certainly, Benjamin intends to prevent the kind of disastrous contentions from which they are probably still recovering.
Thus, God becomes the model for social interaction. If God provides when we are unworthy, then merit should not factor into our willingness to share. With what we have seen of the development of Nephite society in the book of Jacob, and of things which will be clear later, the tendency for the Nephite people to fall prey to the thought that they were better than others of their own community was one of the most persistent evils that beset the Nephite nation.
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.
The Book of Mormon establishes social equality as an ideal. This is not social equalness. There is no suggestion that all people are the same, only that we should not act as though we are superior to others. The damage is not in the difference, but in the attitude of separation. Therefore, Benjamin notes that if one does not share his or her substance because of selfishness, their “substance shall perish with [them].” Of course, that is true of all, but the point is that when one thinks of oneself as valuable because of their possessions, when they leave those possessions behind in death, there is nothing left of value because of the poverty of character.
This is emphasized by noting that it is even possible for those without means to be selfish. The solution is that when one is asked for help, the desire to help even in the absence of ability is superior. That development of character cannot be removed through death.
26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
The emphasis on giving substance to the poor is stronger in this sermon that anywhere else in the Book of Mormon. It is worth considering why that might have been. Knowing that social inequality was beginning even in Jacob’s day, and that whenever we see the Nephites wearing costly apparel as a sign of their wealth, we know that apostasy is on the way; this tells us that the probable reason for the contention that split apart Nephite society must have been fed by desires for social stratification. The reason Benjamin speaks so strongly about fostering social equality is precisely because it had been one of the root causes of the recent contentions. Similarly, the emphasis on the atoning Messiah suggests that the particular Nephite understanding of Yahweh’s future earthly mission must have been another of the reasons for the division.
Remembering that Zarahemla consisted of two peoples who had developed religion differently, even though they began from the same location and culture, tells us that the divisiveness that will plague Nephite society in future years was a continuation of the differences that created the civil war that preceded Benjamin’s speech.
28 And I would that ye should remember, that whosoever among you borroweth of his neighbor should return the thing that he borroweth, according as he doth agree, or else thou shalt commit sin; and perhaps thou shalt cause thy neighbor to commit sin also.
29 And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.
30 But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.
This concludes a chapter in the 1830 Book of Mormon and appears to represent a break in Benjamin’s speech. Benjamin has been speaking of the need for social equality, not in sameness, but in respect. Returning what was borrowed is part of that respect for others. Even though Benjamin had listed many things, he notes that he cannot describe them all. The point was to provide examples from which they could extract the principles.
Benjamin had declared that the people could beg salvation of Yahweh, who was uniquely able to provide it. Qualifying for that grace required action on their part that showed that they were willing to keep their part of the covenant. If they would do so, they would have the promised blessings. If not, neither law nor mercy could apply, as was discussed in Mosiah 2:38–39.
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