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The People Enter a Covenant
1 And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them.
2 And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.
The specifics of how this event worked are unclear. King Benjamin pauses, and waits. The text says that “he sent among them,” suggesting that people were dispatched into the various parts of the crowd. It is probable that they were already in place, knowing that the question would be asked.
One question that arises is how these separate inquiries might yield people crying with one voice. That might appear to be an exaggeration, but in the ancient world this kind of thing happened. There would be those in the crowd who might coach the specific words. Perhaps like unified clapping, it would begin in disunity, but would become one voice. This is not to suggest that there was no agreement with the words. That agreement is the essential part of this section of Benjamin’s discourse. However, it does help to understand that this is not a fanciful description, but rather one that is entirely plausible in ancient group dynamics.
Benjamin has spoken of the important underpinnings of how they should be as a society. Religion was an important, and, typically, almost a universal aspect of those interactions. The people accept what he has to say. Most importantly, they say that there has been a change in their hearts. It is easy to read this from a modern perspective and see that they gave up sins, but that is simply a different color on the same question. Of what did they repent?
Once again, the previous civil war is the missing clue. There had been severe divisions over both religion and the nature of politics. There had been many who had espoused social inequality and desired to exalt themselves over others. These were the social ills that Benjamin was countering. Hence, this people recognized that message, and vowed to change their hearts so that they did not retain those elements that had recently so divided the people.
3 And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things.
4 And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.
5 And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.
When the people proclaim that they have “great views of that which is to come,” the reference is to the atoning mission of the Messiah. Benjamin explicitly declared, in Mosiah 3:1, that “I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come.” Benjamin spoke of the mortal mission of the Messiah. The people are echoing that focus.
The important part of their unified verbal declaration is that they are “willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will.” This is an interesting concept for the descendants of Israel. There was a covenant in place. That covenant continued. What is suggested here is that there is a new covenant being instated. There is an explicit desire to redefine their community. Perhaps it only reinforces the Israelite covenant, but the nature of this covenant will focus not only on Yahweh as God, but Yahweh as the Messiah.
Benjamin Gives the People a New Name
6 And now, these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them; and therefore he said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant.
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
Benjamin accepts their declaration of a willingness to enter into a new covenant. He provides a little more definition of that covenant. They are no longer just the children of Israel, they are children of the Messiah. Their understanding of the future atoning mission has given them a larger view that the children of Israel, and, therefore, Benjamin, extends the covenant to cover this new understanding. They are spiritually born through their acceptance of the covenant, and the covenant requires understanding and acceptance of the future mission of the Messiah.
Just as seeing the word Christ in this verse tells us that it was translated in a Christian world, so may the presence of the word faith. That concept is elaborated in the New Testament, but translates the older understanding of allegiance, or perhaps faithfulness. Thus, they are changed through faith in that they have accepted, and declared allegiance to, a new covenant.
The two phrases in verse 8, “under this head,” and “no other name,” echo Benjamin in Mosiah 3:17, where he declared that there was “no other name given, nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come.” Benjamin had earlier explained that there was only one other way, and now repeats that declaration as part of the acceptance of the covenant they have made.
9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
10 And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
11 And I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name that I said I should give unto you that never should be blotted out, except it be through transgression; therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress, that the name be not blotted out of your hearts.
12 I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.
In the Comments on Mosiah 3:17, the concept of the bonding between the name and the essence of the person was discussed. It becomes relevant here because the name of the Messiah is now applied to a people covenanting with and through that Messiah. Benjamin declares that his people shall be known with a new name, and that implies a new beginning, and a new character infused with the principles Benjamin outlined in his speech.
Why does Benjamin rename his people? The change in the name is intended to provide a change in identity. There were people of Nephi and people of Zarahemla. It would hardly be surprising to find that much of the internal division was along lines following the previous religious and political understandings of those two separate peoples. Benjamin is anxious for a new beginning after that terrible civil disruption. He attempts to change the discourse from separate Nephites and Zarahemlites to a single new people where all follow, and are named, for the coming Messiah.
Benjamin desires that they “should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts.” It is an ambitious political move and a very optimistic one. Unfortunately, Benjamin’s desire that they always remember their new identity as one people dissolves during his son’s reign.
13 For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?
14 And again, doth a man take an ass which belongeth to his neighbor, and keep him? I say unto you, Nay; he will not even suffer that he shall feed among his flocks, but will drive him away, and cast him out. I say unto you, that even so shall it be among you if ye know not the name by which ye are called.
15 Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.
Benjamin had earlier used the social concept of master and servant to describe his relationship to his people. He then moved that relationship to describe the relationship between Yahweh and his people. Here, Benjamin has declared that they have covenanted to have a renewed relationship to Yahweh as their master. They now have obligations. That obligation is service, for they will not understand Yahweh’s covenant with them if they do not serve Yahweh, the same as any other servant attempting to master the relationship with which they have been acquainted.
Right after stating that they should serve Yahweh, Benjamin returns to the statement that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). He describes how they are to serve their master, and the descriptions are of their service to one another.
In verse 15 he asks the people to be ‘steadfast and immovable.” These are covenant words and meanings which later will be described as faith. Here the clear meaning is more “demanding of action.”
In the end, this new covenant provides benefits: “that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life.” The testificatory Amen closes the chapter and the record of the speech. From here, Mormon moves to a narration of the aftermath of the speech.
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