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An Expedition to the Land of Nephi
1 And now, it came to pass that after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years, he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla; therefore, they wearied him with their teasings.
2 And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted that sixteen of their strong men might go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi, to inquire concerning their brethren.
3 And it came to pass that on the morrow they started to go up, having with them one Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was also their leader.
After the repetition that there had been three years of peace, Mormon begins a completely different story. To this point, he has discussed Benjamin’s speech and noted that Mosiah2 was seated as king, but he has given nothing of Mosiah2’s actions. The very first event that he records for Mosiah2 picks up a story that had been lost with the first part of the book of Mosiah: the people from Zarahemla who had returned to the land of Nephi. We know the beginnings of this story only from the book of Omni, where Amaleki gave the basics of the story, perhaps because his brother was one of those to go (see Omni 1:27–30).
We do not have any textual dating to know when they left, but between the time they left and this indication three years after the seating of Mosiah2 as king, there was sufficient time for Zeniff to create his colony and pass away, for his son Noah to expand the city with large building projects, and for Limhi to take over after his father, Noah, had been killed. Later evidence will suggest that they left during Benjamin’s reign, which only serves to let us know that Benjamin had a relatively long reign.
King Mosiah2 picks sixteen men to go. If we accept a Mesoamerican background for the Book of Mormon, it is possible that the usage of the specific number sixteen (representing 4x4, with the number 4 being a sacred number) is intentional. Why mention the number rather than generically say that several men left, unless there was some meaning to the number?
This begins a complicated section of the Book of Mormon. It involves actions in the land of Nephi, not Zarahemla, and will cover both events in the narrative’s current timeline as well as extended flashbacks before both time and events return to Zarahemla in our chapter 25 of the book of Mosiah.
4 And now, they knew not the course they should travel in the wilderness to go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi; therefore they wandered many days in the wilderness, even forty days did they wander.
5 And when they had wandered forty days they came to a hill, which is north of the land of Shilom, and there they pitched their tents.
6 And Ammon took three of his brethren, and their names were Amaleki, Helem, and Hem, and they went down into the land of Nephi.
Verse 4 begins with the group not knowing the precise way, and therefore wandering forty days. The presence of forty days strongly suggests that the purpose of this sentence is to link it to the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness. This is certainly not a parallel experience, but it is intended to show that it is under Yahweh’s guidance, as the forty years wandering was directly due to Yahweh’s command. Perhaps there is some correlation as well to the rebelliousness of Israel that caused the forty-year journey in the wilderness to the rebelliousness of the former people from Zarahemla who returned to the land of Nephi.
When they arrive, we get the name of Ammon and his three brothers. We do not hear of these brothers again, which seems unusual. Why would Mormon make sure to mention them if they were never to be heard from again? There is no answer to that question. A speculation is that it isn’t the names, but the number four that is important. Sixteen men were chosen, including Ammon and his three brothers from the assumed leadership core.
7 And behold, they met the king of the people who were in the land of Nephi, and in the land of Shilom; and they were surrounded by the king’s guard, and were taken, and were bound, and were committed to prison.
8 And it came to pass when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.
The four brothers approach the city that they understand to be the city with the people who left Zarahemla. How they know that is not mentioned. The four probably come as a less threatening number than the full sixteen.
They happen to arrive when the king is outside his city. Even though there were only four, they were still surrounded and imprisoned. After two days they came before the king. In Mesoamerican art there are many representations of captives brought before the king, so this aspect of the story rings true. Similarly, the representations show the prisoners bound. Some are also unbound. Once in the presence of the king, the prisoners had no weapons and were certainly surrounded by the king’s guards, so it would have been safe to loosen their bands.
Meeting King Limhi
9 And he said unto them: Behold, I am Limhi, the son of Noah, who was the son of Zeniff, who came up out of the land of Zarahemla to inherit this land, which was the land of their fathers, who was made a king by the voice of the people.
10 And now, I desire to know the cause whereby ye were so bold as to come near the walls of the city, when I, myself, was with my guards without the gate?
11 And now, for this cause have I suffered that ye should be preserved, that I might inquire of you, or else I should have caused that my guards should have put you to death. Ye are permitted to speak.
The first order of business is the declaration of the name of the king and his authority through his lineage. This will be followed by Ammon’s declaration of name and lineage in verse 13.
The circumstances of Ammon and his brothers’ arrival at the time the king was outside of the walls of his city created this particular confrontation. Had they arrived at a different time they might have had a very different type of introduction to the city. It would likely have been much more difficult to obtain an audience with the king.
The reason for the caution is the protection of the leader. The modern world continues this tradition. Kings and other leaders are to be protected. The second reason will be part of the unfolding story. At this point, the only thing that is certain is that Ammon and his brothers approached a guarded king, and that, in and of itself, might have been punishable by death.
Fortunately for Ammon and his brothers, king Limhi allows them to explain themselves.
12 And now, when Ammon saw that he was permitted to speak, he went forth and bowed himself before the king; and rising again he said: O king, I am very thankful before God this day that I am yet alive, and am permitted to speak; and I will endeavor to speak with boldness;
13 For I am assured that if ye had known me ye would not have suffered that I should have worn these bands. For I am Ammon, and am a descendant of Zarahemla, and have come up out of the land of Zarahemla to inquire concerning our brethren, whom Zeniff brought up out of that land.
14 And now, it came to pass that after Limhi had heard the words of Ammon, he was exceedingly glad, and said: Now, I know of a surety that my brethren who were in the land of Zarahemla are yet alive. And now, I will rejoice; and on the morrow I will cause that my people shall rejoice also.
Ammon begins to speak and explain why they are there. The important part of the beginning is to declare who he is. He gives his name, and then he notes that he is a descendant of Zarahemla, coming from the land of Zarahemla. This introduction is intended to provide a kinship link to Limhi. Even if Limhi were, as is likely, more a descendant of Nephi than Zarahemla, Limhi was still tied to a heritage that included the land of Zarahemla. There were probably those among Limhi’s people who had also been descendants of Zarahemla.
In the ancient world, kinship was an important means of determining how one was treated. Kin were to be considered part of one’s group, even if they were unknown. Thus, as strangers in the land, Ammon and his brothers could call upon the kinship ties to assure that they would be treated well, rather than be treated as enemies. This declaration of kin relationships fits well into the known customs of interaction for most ancient peoples.
Limhi’s reaction is immediate. Upon hearing that they are a type of kin, the imprisonment ends. In fact, Limhi declares that he will throw a party the next day. This is a very large family reunion, but one with overtones that will be discovered as the story is told.
King Limhi Speaks to His People
15 For behold, we are in bondage to the Lamanites, and are taxed with a tax which is grievous to be borne. And now, behold, our brethren will deliver us out of our bondage, or out of the hands of the Lamanites, and we will be their slaves; for it is better that we be slaves to the Nephites than to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites.
16 And now, king Limhi commanded his guards that they should no more bind Ammon nor his brethren, but caused that they should go to the hill which was north of Shilom, and bring their brethren into the city, that thereby they might eat, and drink, and rest themselves from the labors of their journey; for they had suffered many things; they had suffered hunger, thirst, and fatigue.
17 And now, it came to pass on the morrow that king Limhi sent a proclamation among all his people, that thereby they might gather themselves together to the temple, to hear the words which he should speak unto them.
The release of the brothers is recorded in verses 15 and 16, where those who were left on the hill are also brought to the city to join in the celebration. Limhi does indeed proclaim a gathering and requires that his people gather to the temple. This is another touch that conforms to Mesoamerican practice. The Mesoamerican temples were accompanied by a courtyard space in front of them where the people might gather to witness events on the temple. In many cases, these areas were acoustically designed to improve the ability of the gathered people to hear.
The most important information in these verses comes in verse 15, where Limhi gives the reason that they are so happy to connect with Zarahemla again. They are currently burdened with heavy taxes from the Lamanites and see the connection to Zarahemla as their salvation. The conditions are sufficiently bad that they assume that even being slaves among the Nephites would be better than their current conditions. That statement is probably hyperbole. We have learned that Benjamin had not suffered that the Nephites have slaves (see Mosiah 2:13), so Limhi could have been aware that there were no slaves among the Nephites.
18 And it came to pass that when they had gathered themselves together that he spake unto them in this wise, saying: O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted; for behold, the time is at hand, or is not far distant, when we shall no longer be in subjection to our enemies, notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made.
19 Therefore, lift up your heads, and rejoice, and put your trust in God, in that God who was the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; and also, that God who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, and caused that they should walk through the Red Sea on dry ground, and fed them with manna that they might not perish in the wilderness; and many more things did he do for them.
20 And again, that same God has brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, and has kept and preserved his people even until now; and behold, it is because of our iniquities and abominations that he has brought us into bondage.
The people were commanded to gather near the temple. This is most likely a standard practice for public declarations. We have already seen Benjamin do it, and we will see Mosiah2 do the same. Limhi addresses his people. In both verses 18 and 19 he tells the people to “lift up your heads.” Firstly, they lift their heads to be comforted, and then they rejoice. This is a reference to their difficulties with the bondage to the Lamanites.
Limhi sees Ammon and his brethren as their salvation, and it is a salvation that will require (or perhaps enable), an exodus from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla. Limhi likens this salvation to Yahweh’s saving Israel from Egypt. He expects Yahweh’s hand to provide perhaps miraculous intervention, noting that Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry land. Limhi declares “that same God has brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, and has kept and preserved his people even until now.” Yahweh has watched over his covenant people, and Yahweh continues to watch over this branch of Israel. However, just as Israel wandered forty years to learn to repent of their sins and perhaps to learn Egyptian practices, so the Limhites have had to suffer for their sins. They have been in bondage to Lamanites, rather than to Egyptians. Nevertheless, that same God will save them.
21 And ye all are witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being over-zealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about—
22 And all this he did, for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage. And behold, we at this time do pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites, to the amount of one half of our corn, and our barley, and even all our grain of every kind, and one half of the increase of our flocks and our herds; and even one half of all we have or possess the king of the Lamanites doth exact of us, or our lives.
23 And now, is not this grievous to be borne? And is not this, our affliction, great? Now behold, how great reason we have to mourn.
Limhi recounts a very brief account of the history of his people. It becomes a type of public confession of sins that will be forgiven and reconciled through the renewed connection to the people of Zarahemla. This is history that will be recounted in greater detail later, but Mormon gives it from Limhi’s perspective, where it is accomplished history, before he takes a flashback to pull information from different documents which give the information as it occurred. One of the reasons that we have this particular duplication is that Mormon is using three discernible sources for this story. The first is the large plates. On that record, we may assume that he found Ammon’s record. Thus, the events that Ammon would have participated in are recorded from the large plate source into which they were certainly entered after they returned to the city of Zarahemla.
The next two sources come from the land of Nephi. The first is the record of Zeniff. Mormon quotes what Zeniff wrote but narrates what must have been the official additions to that record which tell of Noah and Limhi. Finally, there is a separate record Alma1 kept, and Mormon similarly quotes from that. It is possible that all these records were written into the large plate record, but the way that Mormon uses them suggests that they were indeed separate records.
The result of history led to the need to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites. This condition of paying tribute is considered bondage. It is also called “robbing” in later texts. This relationship between a conquering king and a defeated one is also very typical of the Mesoamerican economic system. Conquests typically did not create incorporation of the conquered people. The conquered people were allowed to continue with their separate government but were required to pay tribute. The flow of goods to the conqueror was the desired effect, not the annexation of land.
24 Yea, I say unto you, great are the reasons which we have to mourn; for behold how many of our brethren have been slain, and their blood has been spilt in vain, and all because of iniquity.
25 For if this people had not fallen into transgression the Lord would not have suffered that this great evil should come upon them. But behold, they would not hearken unto his words; but there arose contentions among them, even so much that they did shed blood among themselves.
26 And a prophet of the Lord have they slain; yea, a chosen man of God, who told them of their wickedness and abominations, and prophesied of many things which are to come, yea, even the coming of Christ.
27 And because he said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth—
28 And now, because he said this, they did put him to death; and many more things did they do which brought down the wrath of God upon them. Therefore, who wondereth that they are in bondage, and that they are smitten with sore afflictions?
The Nephite promise of the land is not specifically invoked, but it is the underlying assumption of Limhi’s discussion. They are under bondage because they have sinned against Yahweh’s law. Note that Limhi says: “if this people had not fallen into transgression the Lord would not have suffered this great evil should come upon them.” The promise of the land is protection and prosperity upon being faithful to that covenant, but the negative aspect of the promise is that a cursing would fall upon the people were they to breach the covenant. Limhi lists some of the important ways in which they have breached their covenant.
The most important of these transgressions was the killing of a prophet. This refers to Abinadi, whose story is yet to come. At this point, Limhi mentions that fact without any explanation, just as he should. At this point in their story, the people were well aware of what he meant and did not need an explanation. Mormon thought that the explanation was very important, and so he will add that information as a flashback, using different sources.
It is important that Limhi mentioned that the problem with the here unnamed prophet is that he preached that the Messiah was Yahweh in a mortal mission. This had been a Nephite teaching, but one that was most frequently challenged by apostates. The evidence that we will see for Noah’s reign is that this was also denied by Noah’s priests.
29 For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them.
30 And again, he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the chaff thereof in the whirlwind; and the effect thereof is poison.
31 And again he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the east wind, which bringeth immediate destruction.
32 And now, behold, the promise of the Lord is fulfilled, and ye are smitten and afflicted.
33 But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage.
The phrase “hedge up their ways” echoes the language from Hosea 2:6. Hosea was a prophet from the brass plates, and Limhi appears to expect that many in the audience will associate that phrase with scripture. This continues to link their experience to scripture and to Yahweh’s covenant with them.
The parallelism in verses 30 and 31 also uses phrases from scripture. The chaff in the whirlwind probably echoes Hosea 13:3. There is a similar phrase in Isaiah 17:13, but since Hosea was the previous reference, it is probably the reference here as well.
The east wind is an Old Testament phrase indicating the source of misfortune. Dr. Kerry Hull examined that metaphor and found that it would also resonate with Mesoamerican peoples. This was not a dead metaphor, but one that would continue to hold a similar meaning.
Verses 32 and 33 provide a contrasting parallel, but one that has both sides of the contrast being supported by the statement that “the promise of the Lord is fulfilled.” The first is that the people are “smitten and afflicted,” because they have not been faithful. The reversal is that the Lord will deliver them, if the people “put [their] trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind.”
The original chapter did not end here, but continued immediately to the next verse, now separated into chapter 8.
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