Book of Mormon Lesson 37 (3 Nephi 1–7)
THE BOOK OF MORMON—A RECORD FOR OUR DAY
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s Second Coming. . . . In the Book of Mormon, we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming. A major portion of the book centers on the few decades just prior to Christ’s coming to America. By careful study of that time period, we can determine why some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet. From the Book of Mormon, we learn how disciples of Christ live in times of war. From the Book of Mormon, we see the evils of secret combinations portrayed in graphic and chilling reality. In the Book of Mormon, we find lessons for dealing with persecution and apostasy. We learn much about how to do missionary work. And more than anywhere else, we see in the Book of Mormon the dangers of materialism and setting our hearts on the things of the world. Can anyone doubt that this book was meant for us and that in it we find great power, great comfort, and great protection?”1
THE PREDICTED SIGNS APPEAR
The Prophet Nephi Departs
Nephi departed and his son Nephi began to preside over the Church (3 Nephi 1:1–2). Where he went “no man knoweth” but we are told by Joseph Fielding Smith and other modern prophets that he was translated, just as was Alma the Younger, his great-grandfather (Alma 45:18).2
The Signs of Christ’s Birth Appear
When the time came as predicted by Samuel (5 years) and no signs had appeared, the wicked rejoiced and threatened to kill all believers (3 Nephi 1:4–9). When Nephi saw the wickedness of the unbelievers, he prayed to the Lord for his people (3 Nephi 1:10–14) The greatly anticipated day had arrived, and the Lord said to Nephi, “On the morrow come I into the world.”
All of the signs then appeared—a day and a night and a day without darkness, a new star in the heavens, etc. (3 Nephi 1:15–23). All of the people throughout the land fell to the earth in astonishment because they knew these things had been predicted by Samuel. Some tried to explain away the heavenly signs, but many were converted (v. 22). These same signs will appear at Christ’s Second Coming, including a night in which there will be no darkness (Zechariah 14:7).
Some Nephites began to preach false doctrine—that the law of Moses was fulfilled by Jesus’ birth—but were corrected in their error and converted (3 Nephi 1:24–26).
GADIANTON ROBBERS ATTACK THE NEPHITES
Wickedness Leads to Vulnerability
Gadianton robbers, entrenched in the mountains, continued to infest the land and cause much sorrow among the people (3 Nephi 1:27–30). Personal wickedness provided an opportunity for Satan to sow disbelief among the people as more and more time passed since the time the signs were given (3 Nephi 2:1–4).
The Nephite calendar system changed (3 Nephi 2:5–8). They began to reckon their time from the time when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ” (v. 8); this system was used for the remainder of their record.
The converted followers of Jesus Christ—both Nephite and Lamanite—had to unite together for their personal safety (3 Nephi 2:10–13).
The converted Lamanites had their curse removed from them (3 Nephi 2:14–16). We should not confuse “the curse” that was placed upon the Lamanites and the “dark skin” which came upon them as a mark of their heritage. These verses tell us that both things changed at this time. (1) The “curse” was taken from them, and (2) “their skin became white like unto the Nephites.”
Dr. Hugh Nibley said, “. . .there is nothing loathsome about dark skin, which most people consider very attractive: the darkness, like the loathsomeness, was part of the general picture (Jacob 3:9); Mormon prays ‘that they may once again be a delightsome people’ (Words of Mormon 1:8; Mormon 5:17), but then the Jews are also to become ‘a delightsome people’ (2 Nephi 30:7).”3
Alma wrote concerning the Lamanites, “They brought upon themselves the curse” (Alma 3:19). “The wickedness of this people caused the Spirit of the Lord to be withdrawn, bringing upon them . . . a curse, in contrast to the blessings of heaven so freely being poured out upon the heads of the righteous. All who live in a state of rebellion are heirs to such a curse [2 Nephi 5:21].”4 “Even so,” continued Alma, “doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation” (Alma 3:19). “Essentially we bring the cursings of God upon ourselves whenever we fail to qualify for the blessings—the protecting power of the Almighty and the guidance and direction of his Spirit.”5
The differences between Nephites and Lamanites were not racial but righteousness. Righteous Lamanites were numbered among the Nephites and inter-married with them freely, which would have made it difficult to tell the difference between them by this time in history.
A similar transformation is occurring in our own time with regard to the Lamanites, who will rise in power and righteousness to help prepare the Church for the return of Christ.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “As part of the Lord’s covenant people, a part on whom a curse fell because of the iniquity of their fathers, the Lamanites are yet to stand as a sign that the end is near. In March, 1831, the Lord revealed: ‘Before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose. Zion shall flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains, and shall be assembled together unto the place which I have appointed.’ (D&C 49:24–25).”6
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “The Lamanites must rise in majesty and power. We must took forward to the day when they will be . . . sharing the freedoms and blessings which we enjoy; when they shall have economic security, culture, refinement, and education; when they shall be operating farms and businesses and industries and shall be occupied in the professions and in teaching; when they shall be organized into wards and stakes of Zion, furnishing much of their own leadership; when they shall build and occupy and fill the temples, and serve in them. . . . ‘And in the day when their prophet shall come, one shall rise . . . mighty among them . . . being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders. . .’ (2 Nephi 3:24).7
Meanwhile, Nephite society was ripening in iniquity, as evidenced by the great numbers of Nephites committed to evil (3 Nephi 2:17–19).
Threats from the Gadianton Robbers
In the 16th year from the time of Christ’s birth, Lachoneus, the governor and chief judge of the Nephites, received a letter from Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadianton robbers (3 Nephi 3:1–8). Giddianhi was capable of much flattery (v. 2). He was a braggart (vv. 3–4). He insisted he was full of sentiment and concern for the Nephites but his other words belied this (vv. 5–6). He offered the Nephites a partnership if they would give in to his demands (v. 7). He threatened to destroy them if they did not join with him (v. 8).
Righteous Political and Military Leaders (3 Nephi 3:11–24)
The Gadianton robbers, terrorists that they were, “spread much death and carnage throughout the land” (v. 11). Lachoneus, the governor, was a just man, and could not be frightened by the robbers’ threats (v. 12). He was also righteous, and counseled his people to gather together in one place and build fortifications, repent, and “cry unto the Lord.” The Lamanites united with the Nephite armies for protection against the robbers. His people exerted themselves to do as he suggested (vv. 12–16).
Lachoneus chose Gidgiddoni, who was a prophet and a man filled with the spirit of revelation, to be chief captain of the army (vv. 17–19). Gidgiddoni did not send his armies forth to attack the Gadiantons, but remained “in the center” of Nephite lands and fortified the land against attack, waiting for the Gadiantons to come against them (v. 21). This policy agrees with the law of God reiterated in our own day—that our nation should not go out unto battle unless the Lord commands them (D&C 98:33).
The twofold nature of Nephite preparations were these: (1) They repented of all their sins, and (2) they were also “strong with armor.” (3 Nephi 4:25–26).
The Nephites prevailed over the Gadianton robbers in the greatest battle ever known in the 600 years since Lehi’s family arrived there (3 Nephi 4:11–14). The Gadiantons tried to lay siege against the Nephites, but their strategy failed because of their wise preparation of storage and supplies. In the end, it is the robbers who ran out of provisions, and they withdrew (3 Nephi 4:16–22). The Gadiantons tried to march northward but were cut off. The Nephites were victorious, and the robbers were either converted or punished. The Nephites credited God for their victory (3 Nephi 4:23–33).
ANOTHER CYCLE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PRIDE
First, A Season of Peace (AD 21–28; 3 Nephi 5:1—6:1–9)
For several years after the defeat of the Gadianton robbers, the Nephites enjoyed great peace and prosperity as they forsook their sins and served God “with all diligence” (3 Nephi 5:1–2).
The Nephite system of justice, as manifested in their approach to the captured Gadianton terrorists was remarkable (3 Nephi 5:4–6). They preached the gospel to the robbers to see if they would be converted. If converted, the Gadiantons were freed. If the Gadiantons refused to repent, they “were condemned and punished according to the law” (v. 5).
During this season of peace, the people served God “with all diligence.” (3 Nephi 5:3, 7; AD 21–26). There was great order, prosperity and peace. Many cities and an impressive highway system were built (3 Nephi 6:1–9; AD 26–28).
Then, Righteousness Turns to Pride (AD 29–33)
Disputings, pride, and boasting created inequality among them and “a state of awful wickedness” (3 Nephi 6:10–18). Under these conditions, “Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world” (v. 15). He was also able to “lead away the hearts of the people to do all manner of iniquity” (v. 16).
By 30 AD “the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil . . . were in a state of awful wickedness” (v. 17). We are told they did not sin in ignorance, but “wilfully rebelled” against God (3 Nephi 6:10–18). Prophets preached repentance and a few people repented, but most of them rejected and killed the prophets (AD 31–33; 3 Nephi 6:19–23). Secret combinations increased and people divided into tribes. The central government broke down entirely (3 Nephi 7:1–5).
Mormon commented on how quickly people return to evil (3 Nephi 6:27—7:5). Daniel H. Ludlow said, “When the central government was destroyed, the people divided ‘into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends’ (3 Nephi 7:2). The strong family ties indicated here are reminiscent of the emphasis of the early Hebrews on the family. After the appearance of the resurrected Jesus Christ to these people, they again have a strong central government for over three hundred years. However, after that time, the government begins to disintegrate and by the close of the Book of Mormon almost complete anarchy exists. Apparently, after A.D. 400 the people divided into tribes again; this is the system of government they had when the white man came almost 1,000 years later.”8
Nephi continued to cry repentance and perform great miracles—healing and raising the dead, but this only made some of them angry (3 Nephi 7:15–20). Nevertheless, both Nephi and his converts continued to baptize those that were converted (3 Nephi 7:21–26).
Elder Delbert L. Stapley said, “This account of wickedness and contentions among the Nephites prior to the Lord’s birth in the meridian of time is duplicated in the wickedness, contentions, and deceptions of our day as we approach the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Prophecies concerning these days are also being fulfilled and Satan is stirring up the hearts of men to do iniquity continually: and to thwart, if possible, faith in the great event of Christ’s Second Coming to earth, which I testify is sure to come to pass. Satan is alert and active. We must be more alert and perceptive of the false and insincere schemes of his agents among us.”9
MORMON DESCRIBES HIMSELF AND HIS RECORD (3 Nephi 5:8–19)
“I am a disciple of Jesus Christ,” he said (v. 13). “I am . . . a pure descendant of Lehi”(v. 20). He abridged his record from the records of those who came before him (v. 16). He then included the things which he had seen with his own eyes (v. 17). He testified that his record is true, but it contains only a small part of what took place (v. 18). He also prophesied concerning the House of Israel (3 Nephi 5:20–26).
1. In Conference Report, October 1986, 5–6; or Ensign, November 1986, 4–7.
2. Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. , 5:38.
3. Since Cumorah, 2nd ed. , 216.
4. Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, 1:224.
5. Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 3:17.
6. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 731.
7. In Conference Report, October 1947, 22.
8. A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon , 238.
9. In Conference Report, October 1961, 22.