At this stage in our lesson progression we have just closed the book named after Alma the Younger. Even though it contained the most number of pages, it only covered 39 years, but boy there was some wonderful doctrine about Christ taught in those chapters.
Starting today, we’re going to move on to the book named for the current record-keeper, Helaman the Younger, the son of Helaman, the son of Alma, the son of Alma.
This is an exciting book of scripture, particularly for our generation, because it contains an account of the people just prior to the coming of Christ. Therefore, I contend it contains many helpful lessons meant for us and our time because we are also living just before the coming of Christ.
So the messages we’ll find in the Book of Helaman this week and over the next two weeks should be extra meaningful if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. I’ll point out some lessons that really jumped out at me, but there are many others.
For today’s reading, we’re covering chapters 1 through 1 through 5. Hopefully, by the end of it, we will be able to tell what happens to people who build on weak worldly foundations, such as people who place their trust in government, wealth, and power, versus the people build their foundations on heavenly things—and more to the point—who build their foundations on the Savior and his teachings.
Helaman 1: Internal Strife
Let’s open up the scriptures and see how the story begins. The nation is in the middle of a presidential election. They need to elect their fourth chief judge, because the third chief judge, the good and mighty Pahoran, who led them through 15 nasty war years, passed away. So three of his many sons, Pahoran the Younger, Paanchi, and Pacumeni, offer up their services.
Isn’t it interesting how Nephite politics seemed to be based on elite ruling families. That sort of thing never happens in the United States of America. I can’t think of anyone, except maybe the Kennedys, the Clintons, and the Bushs’. But that’s our story, not the Nephite story. Or is it?
The people went to the polls and the winner was Pahoran the Younger. Well, that didn’t sit well with Paanchi. In verse 7 he got upset, blamed the loss on the media or hanging chads or the rigged system and began to “flatter away those people to rise up in rebellion against their brethren.”
Here’s a clear lesson for us. Number 1, beware of pandering politicians who will say and do anything to get power, even if they lose an election. And number 2, beware of politicians who prey on your anger and your fears and create divisions among the people—fostering an “us versus them” mentality.
Well, inciting rebellion against the government is the textbook definition of sedition and treason, and it was a capital offense, so his brother, the new chief judge, had no choice but to execute Paanchi.
This didn’t sit well with the minority who voted for Paanchi. They got together and hired an assassin, a man by the name of Kishkumen, who snuck into the white house, murdered Pahoran, then fled from the secret service and managed to escape.
In verse 11, the murderer went back to his group of like-minded radicals and they swore an oath, in the name of God, that they would never reveal that Kishkumen was the assassin who murdered Pahoran.
We call this a secret combination, and they have existed since the days of Cain, and Satan is always behind them. These conspirators always plot and initiate works of darkness for evil and selfish purposes. They have proven to be the undoing of most good governments throughout the history of the world. Secret combinations led to the ultimate destruction of the Nephite and the Jaredite civilizations. And according to the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 38:29) and the Book of Mormon (Ether 8:20-25) they are around us today. The only way they can be overcome is through righteous living and our full support of honest government. That is the only way.
The third lesson is that we should avoid groups or mobs who seek to subvert public virtue and legally-constituted authority. Do not support or vote for those who are dishonest, arrogant, proud, and manipulative. Shun those who defile, defraud, deceive, and destroy the elements of good government. These people always just want to seize power for themselves and destroy our freedom and agency.
So then what happened next? Another election was held and this time, the one remaining candidate, Pacumeni, was chosen to reign in Pahoran’s place.
After he became the chief judge, the Lamanites came to battle against the Nephites with an innumerable army of well-armed men led by Coriantumr, a Nephite dissenter who was made leader by the Lamanites over the Lamanite armies.
In verse 18 we see that the Nephites were unprepared to defend themselves against an outside attack from the Lamanites because their attention had been completely consumed by internal strife, contention, and disagreement within their own government.
Lesson #4. Contention always weakens nations and communities, and wards and stakes, and families and individuals by diverting our energy and attention from more important things.
In 1838 Abraham Lincoln said:
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide. (Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address, January 27, 1838.)
By the way, if I were an enemy of the United States, I would help us commit suicide by contributing to the campaigns of divisive politicians or funding radical special interest groups and community organizations. Then, when the people are busy beating each other up, when mobs take control, when the police and military are no longer able control the chaos, that is when you unite with other enemy states and attack physically or economically with a large and overwhelming force.
So the take home assignment from chapter 1 is that we ought to spend some time working on ways to avoid or overcome contention. And actually folks, I believe is starts with us. Is what you actually do different than what you say you’ll do? Are you contending against yourself? If so stop it. Once you have done that, you can start turning outwards and help your family members. After that, your friends and neighbors. Then your community and city. Then your county and state and nation. Then the world. But we have to start with ourselves first.
Folks, please never forget that we are going to win this war against evil. Oh we’ll lose a few battles and a lot of soldiers along the way, but eventually we will win. We can’t lose if we’re on the side of Jesus.
By the way, Moronihah, the righteous Nephite general, after losing a few gnarly battles where thousands and thousands died, including the chief judge himself, managed to fortify the perimeters of the nation while the Lamanites were attacking the center of it. They then surrounded the Lamanites, killed the wicked Coriantumr, and the Lamanite armies surrendered. Not only was he a good general, but he was an even better man, so he set the prisoners of war free and allowed them to go back home. And that’s the end of chapter 1.
Helaman 2: Gadianton
It was also the end of the first year of the reign of the three politician brothers. Not a good year. And the next year didn’t look so good either.
You see, now we’re back to a nation without a leader. This time, the survivors chose Helaman the Younger, a noble and righteous man to be their chief judge. But Helaman soon had his hands full.
In chapter 2 verse 4 we learn about a profoundly wicked man by the name of Gadianton. He was “exceedingly expert in many words, and also in his craft,” which was the secret work of murder and robbery. He was part of Kishumen’s secret combination and quickly worked his way up to become the boss, the kingpin, the criminal mastermind, or, as he may have liked to be called, The Don. (Not, of course, to be confused with The Donald.)
The greedy Gadianton had his gang take a different approach this time around. Rather than simply killing the Nephite chief judge, like they had done before and were about to try to do again, they would also try to destroy the government from within. To do that, they started to run for and win local elections—perhaps like our school board, the city council, or the legislature. They then started to steal money and freedom is little bits. Extorting here, taxing there, awarding government contracts to their friends—little-by-little eroding the government from the inside out.
Gadianton was a magnetic mafia boss. He was so very, very smooth. He promised his followers money and power. And he was able to deliver it through fraud and subterfuge and murder. And his band grew larger and larger and more and more powerful day-by-day.
Fortunately, Helaman had his own intelligence agency and one of his spies (I think his name was Bondhonri, James Bondhonri) was able to infiltrate Gadianton’s gang and uncovered their secret plans. Helaman then ordered the gang to be captured and killed, but verse 11 tells us the robbers “took their flight out of the land, by a secret way, into the wilderness.” So they weren’t destroyed. They just went underground for a while. Over the years they would come back again and again until they eventually toppled the government.
I wonder if such a conspiracy is under foot today in our country. Nah. Couldn’t possibly. Surely that couldn’t happen to us. Corrupt and greedy politicians that spend billions trying to get elected? Mafia? Gangs? Never!
The lesson from this chapter was meant to be very clear. In fact, in verses 12 through 14 Mormon pauses his history lesson to tell the reader to specifically beware of secret combinations. In fact, he’s going to repeated talk about this nefarious group and expose their strategies in later chapters so that we can learn from the mistakes of the Nephites, so that it won’t happen to us.
Do you think we as a nation are learning these lessons? Or is it too late? Let’s move on.
Helaman 3: Migration
In chapter 3 we see a migration taking place. A fairly large number of the residents of Zarahemla, including many of the people of Ammon, didn’t like seeing the repeated ebb and flow of contention in the land, so they migrated to the lands northward.
This isn’t the first migration that occurred. There were a number of groups mentioned in the Book of Mormon that left the main body and journeyed elsewhere, perhaps mingling with the other “indigenous” peoples who had found their way to the Americas.
Some have speculated that if the land of Zarahemla was centered in Central America, that these emigrants may have spread out up into North America, perhaps to Mexico or even to the Great Lakes area where there were certainly large bodies of water and many rivers as mentioned in verse 4.
The place where they went is sometimes called the Land of Desolation, called that because of the civilizations that had once lived there, and since perished, like the Jaredites. It was also fairly devoid of trees, which caused the emigrants to live in tents and learn how to make structures out of lime cement, some of which are still found in 2,000-year-old structures throughout Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.
In verse 13 and 14, Mormon tells us that there were hundreds of record books that were written which documented the history of this people. That brings to mind what Brigham Young once said. He said:
Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates…. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day.
They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls.
The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: “This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ.” (Journal of Discourses 19:38.)
Meanwhile, back in Zarahemla, the righteous Helaman the Younger was governing the remaining people, and he did it with “justice and equity” (verse 20). By the way, he had two sons, which we’ll learn more about later; the oldest was named Nephi, and the youngest was named Lehi. During the time of relative peace, the people became prosperous again and many joined the Church. Verse 26:
26 And it came to pass that the work of the Lord did prosper unto the baptizing and uniting to the church of God, many souls, yea, even tens of thousands.
27 Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.
28 Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.
But, a couple of years later, pride began to enter into the hearts of some of the members of the church. And they began to persecute their humbler brethren and afflict them. But how did the humble respond? Let’s see. Verse 35:
35 Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.
So there’s another lesson for us. When the time comes that we are being persecuted by those who think they are better than us, then we respond with increased faithfulness. We fast more, we pray more, we become more diligent. As we intentionally surrender our hearts to God, he will fill our souls with joy and sanctify or purify us with his Holy Spirit.
Well, that takes us to the end of this chapter, and, unfortunately to the end of the life of Helaman the Younger. His righteous son Nephi now becomes the new chief judge.
Helaman 4: Dissention
Now I’m going to quickly skim over chapter 4, not because it isn’t important, but because it is so very, very sad. In chapter 4, the Lamanites and a group of Nephite dissenters defeat the Nephites and capture the entire land of Zarehemla.
Why? Mormon says it is because of the Nephite’s pride in their riches, their oppression of the poor, their obvious lack of charity and compassion, their denial of the spirit of prophecy and revelation, not to mention their murders, immorality, and other crimes. As a result, the Spirit of the Lord was grieved, and the spirit of protection left them.
Good old General Moronihah comes to the rescue yet again and leads the people into battle and recovers about half of the cities that were lost. Then, working with Nephi and his brother Lehi, the three leaders preached and prophesied and many repented. But it was not enough. The majority of the people remained wicked and half of the kingdom remained in the enemy’s hands.
I don’t like this chapter because it reminds me so much of the modern world we live in. Could it be the Mormon is warning us that half of us might be lost during the last days? Is he inferring that half of the virgins will be wise while half are foolish when the bridegroom finally arrives? Or am I just projecting something not yet in evidence.
Helaman 5: Preaching the Word
In chapter 5, we see the repeat of another familiar motif. As we’ve seen before, when the majority of the people in a nation choose evil, the righteous leader of that government, in this case it was Nephi, grows frustrated with the iniquity and decides to give up his leadership position so he can devote his entire time to the only thing that can truly improve society—and that is preaching the words of Christ to those who are ready to listen.
Let’s read verse 2-4 of chapter 5:
2 For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.
3 Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction.
Is there a lesson in there for us today? You betcha. Do you think we are at the point in the history of our nation where those who choose evil are more numerous that those who choose good? Are we starting to lose the rule of law and justice?
4 And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days, and his brother Lehi also, all the remainder of his days;
Why did they do this? Because their father had taught them that nothing was more important than bringing people to Christ. You can read Helaman’s marvelous counsel in verses 6 through 12.
So these two brothers preached the gospel from city to city throughout the entire Nephite nation, including the cities that the Lamanites recently captured. Thousands of Lamanites repented and were baptized into the church.
They then decided to move further south, into the Lamanite Kingdom, where people weren’t so happy about the preaching of the word. At one point, they were captured by Lamanite soldiers and thrown into prison. They were about to be killed when something miraculous happened. I don’t want ruin this story for you. So when you get time, you may want to check out the rest of the chapter starting with verse 22. It is one of the most moving stories in the Book of Mormon about the parting of the veil.
The Three Little Pigs
Now before I end today, I want to focus on one more verse. But before I do that, let me tell you a little fairy take.
Once upon a time, there were three little pigs, Telly, Terry, and Cecil. They were raised by good parents, although their dad was a bit of a boar. They were taught the gospel and were baptized and were given their own copies of the scriptures with their names engraved on the covers. When they received them, they had squealed in delight.
When they were older, and had graduated from Orem high school, they decided to move out of their parents’ home and went out into the world to pursue their dreams. They found a lot of success out in the world, made lots of friends, and had no problem bringing home the bacon.
But as they found success, not all of the pigs maintained the good habits and standards that their parents had taught them in their youth.
Telly, the first little pig, had a telestial testimony built out of straw. It was weak and flimsy and easily swayed by his friends and he was easily influenced by the demands of the world. He was more concerned with fitting in with the telestial world’s standards and seeking fame and fortune than studying his scriptures and attending church. His copy of his Book of Mormon quickly gathered dust and he didn’t even think about the Savior anymore. But boy, did he like rolling around in the filthy mud. Sometimes, he stayed outside too long, and ended up bacon in the heat. But he sure had some funny stories to tell—he was quite the ham. His favorite joke was, “What do you call a pig in a rickshaw? Pulled pork.” Although personally, I like this one: A ham walked out of the hospital and said “I’m cured!” (Boy, I never sausage bad puns.)
Terry, the second little pig, had a terrestrial testimony built out of sticks. It was a little stronger than his brother’s. It wasn’t as easily swayed, but it was not strong either. He tried to attend church a couple of times a month, but he spent most of sacrament meeting playing on his smartphone and texting his friends. During Gospel Doctrine, if he stayed for Sunday School, he was busy checking his Facebook feed. By the time it came for priesthood meeting, he was so bored and hungry he would just go home to his sty to eat and sleep. But he was never quite in or quite out of the church, but kind of wishy-washy, or as we could say, ham-strung. He was very disgruntled.
Cecil, the third little pig, had a celestial testimony built out of bricks. He kept up the good habits taught to him by his parents. He faithfully studied the Book of Mormon and prayed every morning and night. He actively participated in his church meetings and made every effort to attend the temple. He learned everything that he could about the Savior’s Atonement and how it applies to his life. He chose to live celestial laws as best as he could.
Now in the original version of this story, we all know what comes next. The Big Bad Wolf comes around looking for some tasty sausage. He was able to huff and puff and easily blow down the flimsy homes of the first two little pigs and gobble them up (unless, of course, you are reading the Disney version where they narrowly escaped). Something he wasn’t able to do at the brick house of the third little pig. It just wasn’t kosher, you see.
So the moral of this story is pretty obvious. The Big Bad Wolf represents Satan, who sends forth everything he can to capture and destroy his tasty prey. The first and second little pigs had testimonies and surroundings that could withstand the huffing and puffing of Satan. They simply weren’t prepared to stand against him. But the third little pig was able to survive. And he lived happily ever after.
Now if you don’t believe my fractured fairy tale, my little bit of hogwash, then please believe the words of Helaman. Let’s go back to verse 12, a scripture mastery verse, which pretty much sums up the point of today’s lesson.
12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
May each of us choose to build our testimony one solid brick at a time. Of course we shouldn’t take our time doing it, by the way, because the Big Bad Wolf is right now—at this very moment—devouring many of our friends and loved ones. He will most certainly come for us, and he’ll do it sooner than later. But if we put our full faith in the Savior and are consistently faithful, he will, most assuredly save us and we too, will live happily ever after. And this is no fairy tale.