Even with the impending ministry of Christ among the Nephites, Mormon sees this section as the beginning of the end (Hel. 2:13). Helaman is a dark book with powerful highlights. This is a bad time to be a chief judge, and a bad time for the Nephites. The Nephites expand their territory, but wars divide the land–the Nephites to the north, Lamanites to the south. In this lesson and discussion we will cover:
- Lessons from Helaman to his sons
- A bright episode in dark chapters–the miraculous ministry of Lehi and Nephi
- The beginning of an extreme “pride cycle” and Mormon’s commentary
- Mormon’s provocative use of the term “church”
- The connection between adversity and sanctification
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Prepare yourself for a thoughtful and heartfelt discussion with Chelsea, Gwenevere, Whitney and Jonathan.
After you listen to the lesson and class discussion, please post your comments and questions here on the blog and continue the conversation!
You can access my Lesson Notes here.
Thanks again to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for postproduction.
Cynthia M says:
It’s kind of scary to be the first commenter. So for once I’ve had a chance to read through part of the chapters for this lesson before you’ve posted the podcast. I came up with a few questions. Some of them I’m not sure have answers beyond speculation….
* Beginning in Ch. 3 it states that essentially there was little to no contention in the 43rd-45th years. Then suddenly in the 46th year there is *much contention*. I wonder what was happening in the years prior that Mormon did not choose to include that led to there being much contention. It doesn’t seem plausible for peace to suddenly flip a switch and become contentious.
* When a part of the people left Zarahemla for the land northward there is a lot of descriptions about the desolation, lack of timber, etc. in that area being caused by the previous occupants. I’m not a great scholar of the scriptures, but I wonder do we know anything of these previous occupants? How did they live? Why did they use up all the resources of the land and leave it desolate? Where are they now? Is this all symbolic and not actually literary?
*I liked how the people who traveled to the land northward were resourceful and went from relying heavily in timber when they were in Zarahemla to becoming experts in cement. I feel like in many ways this describes our ancestors and perhaps us as a people in a way. Is this human nature or….? As they begin to prosper, multiply and spread in all directions I liked how they carefully tended the resources that had been scarce when they first came to the land. What can we learn from this? Are we maybe analogous to the people who were no longer in the land northward in depleting our environment? I also wonder what did they use for a heat source? Did the climate where they lived not require extra heat? What about food preparation?
*I wondered if the “cities of wood and cement” was a symbolic integration of their current and prior lives combining.
*I found it interesting that in the 47th and 48th year there was contention among the people and Helaman was a righteous leader and prospered. Often it seems that we blame contention or difficult times on our leadership or government. I’ve heard it said that a righteous leader = righteous people and prosperity and yet here is at least one record of that not being true (I’m sure there are others) What other causes could there be? Do we as the governed people have responsibilities for our own righteousness and prosperity separate from that of our leaders? (not an actual question just a thought exercise)
*Interesting that in the 50th and 51st year there is peace once again except for pride which began in the church. There is the pride cycle again as this is almost identical to that which was recorded in the 43rd year.
*I loved the wording of Helamen 3: 33-34. Pride was not in the Church but in the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church and in their pride they persecuted their brethren. I think we do this with the prevalent atmosphere of judgement, the whole modesty debacle, views on LGBT folk and same-sex marriage. My heart hurts and I wish that we could truly examine ourselves and could clearly see the damage we are doing as we persecute our brothers and sisters. Sadly I feel all too many are not willing to liken these scriptures to ourselves. I see the Church and the people who profess to belong to the Church echoed in these verses. What can we learn from the pride cycle? How can we have a change our heart? Are we doomed to repeat the past mistakes that are clearly recorded in front of us?
Helaman 5:8 – Laying up treasure in heaven. Is this focus on future other-worldly reward an appropriate motivation for moral action and patience in suffering? Is this the same “reward in heaven” spoken of by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? Notice that Helaman’s words to his sons Nephi and Lehi connect eternal treasure reward in heaven with atonement of Christ and forgiveness of sins and the Redeemer Jesus as the rock upon which our foundations are built. The sermon on the mount has no christological teaching, and although the concluding portion about the wise and foolish men who built their houses on different foundations has a clear parallel with Helaman’s words, Jesus doesn’t explain his metaphor of “the rock”. One other thing: as far as I’m aware, although there are plenty of references to God rewarding the righteous in the Old Testament, all of these reference rewards given to mortals here on earth; there are no references to a post-mortal reward given out by God to the righteous in the Old Testament. The eschatological concept of a post-mortal heaven with God didn’t exist until a couple hundred years before Jesus’ birth. And yet Matthew and Luke’s Jesus speaks of heavenly treasure, Paul does as well, as do the authors of Hebrews, Revelation, and James. Thoughts?
Helaman 4:12 – I love this verse. It shows how one of the first manifestations of pride from wealth is a loss of compassion for the poor and downtrodden. Now, I’m not willing to go so far as to accept that the verse outlines a progression that happens to all who become ensnared by pride, until ultimately they are committing whoredoms and murders and such. Rather I see these as societal statistics that rise as the society turns its back upon those who are most in need. I don’t necessarily believe that Nephi and Lehi’s decision to preach the gospel is the universal solution for those who see trends toward selfishness and pride in society and who want to try to make a difference. But I admire their decision to act, and not just lament the demise of their civilization. I guess the preaching things works, though, because one of the biggest miracles in the Book of Mormon (in Helaman 5) causes one of the biggest conversion movements in the history of the Nephites and Lamanites: first most of the Lamanites are converted, then the Nephites after the Lamanites give back Zarahemla and other lands recently won in war, then send missionaries of their own to Zarahemla to change the hearts and minds of the Nephites back to God. Remarkable to be sure.
Cynthia M says:
When I made my previous comments I had only read through Helaman Ch. 3; here are some additional questions I have as I’ve read through Chapter 4.
So Helaman 4:12 has this list of problems exhibited by those within the church that led to the weakening of and folk leaving the church. Why do these things not convict us as a church? As members? How do we, as members of the church, read these things (how do the leaders read these things) and not see that it is talking about the state of the church today? Why instead do the SS lessons talk about the Nephites as these ephemeral folk who are fallen rather than see ourselves echoed within these verses?
Can’t we learn from what is professed to be scripture and change a pattern that was supposedly acted out thousands of years ago? Clearly if this is scriptures it shows that we as a church are doomed to an ending akin to that of the Nephites! (If you’ve read the book before you know that did not end well at all) This makes me so FURIOUS! If the prophet is a prophet of god why isn’t the church being led differently? Sorry….just really angry about how folk are being treated by those who see themselves as righteous whilst persecuting their fellow beings and I know this whole discussion will be glossed over in my own ward I’ve read the Teachers manual and the correlated versions don’t even touch on this really.
Powerful episode. It got real around 50 minutes into the podcast with Jonathan’s plea for compassion and acceptance for those who “do not know”, and with Gwen’s story about her son’s health problems evinced from a comparison of Nephi and Lehi encircled in flames in contrast to the women and children put to death by flames in Alma 14. This is ideally where each of these podcasts could really do something special: here is where we see people speaking vulnerably from their personal truth and struggles, and where we all can reach out in support and love toward those people. Kudos to all.
Jared Anderson says:
Thanks Steve. I also was deeply moved by the vulnerability and sharing and realness during this discussion. It is precious and I am grateful to have been part of it. And yes, Gwen’s parallel is so powerful. Faithful encircled by flames–in one story missionaries are saved, in the other missionaries look on in horror.