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End of Benjamin’s Reign
1 And now, king Benjamin thought it was expedient, after having finished speaking to the people, that he should take the names of all those who had entered into a covenant with God to keep his commandments.
2 And it came to pass that there was not one soul, except it were little children, but who had entered into the covenant and had taken upon them the name of Christ.
The new covenant was not only an important religious occasion, but the inseparability of religion and politics made it a singularly important political occasion as well. In the aftermath of first a war with the Lamanites, then a civil war, Benjamin was not only asking for unity, but making people accountable for their decision to be united under this new name and new type of covenant.
The taking of the names was not simply a roster, but it was an indication of commitment. One might participate in a vocal exclamation as part of a crowd, but the individual accounting made it very personal. With the exception of the children who appear to have been exempted from the covenant, all had agreed. Benjamin had accomplished his goal. He had proposed that they become a new people, and each person committed to that new social contract.
The exception of the little children interestingly returns to comments made earlier. In Mosiah 2:34, Benjamin had indicated that all had been taught of the Messiah, save the little children. In Mosiah 3:18, he noted that “the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy.” Therefore, even at this early time in Nephite history, there was a doctrine of sin, or of culpability for sin, that excluded little children. This suggests that the idea is not that the little children did not desire to enter into the covenant, but rather they, according to their theology, were not sufficiently accountable to make that decision with proper individual agency.
3 And again, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of all these things, and had consecrated his son Mosiah to be a ruler and a king over his people, and had given him all the charges concerning the kingdom, and also had appointed priests to teach the people, that thereby they might hear and know the commandments of God, and to stir them up in remembrance of the oath which they had made, he dismissed the multitude, and they returned, every one, according to their families, to their own houses.
Surely the seating of Mosiah2 as the new king was filled with ceremony. The people had gathered for an occasion, and they had been given a spectacular occasion, with a new name for their people, and a new king to usher in the new covenant. That certainly provided the conditions for celebration. Mormon doesn’t mention them. Mormon doesn’t say much at all about the coronation. He simply indicates that Benjamin finished, made Mosiah2 the king, made sure there were teachers to reinforce the new covenant, and then everyone went home.
It continues to be an important social statement that they returned home “according to their families.” There continues to be an underlying kinship organization in Nephite society, probably underscoring the continued use of the lineages of the tribes of Lehi as an organizational structure, even while they were among the people of Zarahemla.
This information would have been the ending of the previous chapter according to modern thematic definitions of chapters. For Mormon, the testificatory Amen meant that the chapter ended, even though the event had not. Thus, here, and in other places, information that modern readers might think belonged in the previous chapter had to be added to the beginning of the next.
Mosiah2’s Reign Begins
4 And Mosiah began to reign in his father’s stead. And he began to reign in the thirtieth year of his age, making in the whole, about four hundred and seventy-six years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem.
5 And king Benjamin lived three years and he died.
6 And it came to pass that king Mosiah did walk in the ways of the Lord, and did observe his judgments and his statutes, and did keep his commandments in all things whatsoever he commanded him.
7 And king Mosiah did cause his people that they should till the earth. And he also, himself, did till the earth, that thereby he might not become burdensome to his people, that he might do according to that which his father had done in all things. And there was no contention among all his people for the space of three years.
Our modern chapter 6 in the book of Mosiah was a chapter in the 1830 edition. It is rather unusual in that it is so short and covers so little information. When the next chapter begins, it will begin telling the deeds of Mosiah2. In this chapter, Mosiah2 is mentioned, but nothing of what he did, other than that he “did observe [the Lord’s] judgments and his statutes, and did keep his commandments.” That is very generic information.
There is no simple marker to tell us why Mormon created a chapter break at this point, but it appears that this was the intended ending for the events Mormon discussed in chapter 5, but which were separated from that chapter due to the testificatory Amen.
The key to the conclusion is the last sentence. “And there was no contention among all his people for the space of three years.” The entire purpose of Benjamin’s speech and abdication was to counter the contention that had gone on before. This sentence functions as a testimony that it worked. In the timeframe of peace in the Book of Mormon, three years was a respectable amount of time. Years of peace will continue to be marked and are often shorter than these three years.
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