3 Nephi 1 – The Sign of His Birth
Helaman ends with the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite, prophecies that had unprecedented specificity, laying out the precise timelines for Christ’s coming and how they would know of his birth based on a night that doesn’t grow dark. Somehow, Samuel and his prophecies have a surprisingly harsh and divisive affect on the people. Perhaps, the trigger is that Samuel an outsider, comes into Nephite lands, calls them to repentance, seemingly without any authority and then some number of them actually believe in these prophecies? For some reason this is all too much for them to bear, so the non-believers set a day apart that “they should be put to death except the sign should come to pass.” (3 Nephi 1:9).
Nephi, the prophet and spiritual leader, prays for his people, “all that day” (verse 12). His prayer is answered remarkably by Jesus himself, who declares that on that very night “shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world.” I imagine the mother Mary and her husband Joseph large with child. And using a science I can only imagine, this very Jesus has the ability to answer Nephi’s prayer directly, while his body remains in the womb. “on the morrow come I into the world”.
The sign appears, destructive plans are thwarted, causing an almost universal shock so extreme that people en-masse fall to the earth, a response that mirrors Alma the younger or King Lamoni’s conversion. When your narratives are shown to be false with incontrovertible evidence, the shock and pain can almost be too much. Hard hearts need to be softened and making hard things soft can sometimes be painful. But still people struggle with their narratives, verse 22 describes how “lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen;” Nonetheless, many hearts were softened and many believe and were converted and baptized.
Despite this remarkable sign, the resulting peace proves temporary, only a couple of years later, the Gadianton robbers, held up in the mountains this entire time, grow in their ranks. What conversion appeal they had on the people, the text does not say. Dissension is especially acute in the rising generation possibly not aware of Samuel’s prophecies and less impressed by the earlier heavenly sign. Somehow the verse connects Zoramite philosophy with the Gadianton band and those words are convincing casuing many dissent.
3 Nephi 2 – Disbelief and War
A big part of their unbelief is not only the temporal distance away from signs but also simple callousness. The people began to be “less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts.” And the people did persist in their wickedness, despite “the much preaching and prophesying which was sent among them”. As the numbers increased for the Gadianton robbers, their power to inflict real pain on those in the cities increased as well. The robbers “did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage” that the Nephites and Lamanites joined forces to try to beat down the Gadianton robbers. Their common enemy united them at last.
Chapter two ends with this reference to the Lamanite “curse” being lifted, noted by their “dark skin”. I find this reference troubling given the long, troubled history of justifying racism by attempting to correlate skin color with righteousness as is done here. The most straight forward interpretation of this passage is incredibly problematic and should be rejected and the Book of Mormon gives us a number of ways to do so without rejecting the entire text. The reader can take a more apologists route and try to find alternative interpretation – that it’s not literally talking about skin color. You can accept the Book of Mormon’s own admission that if there are mistakes in this record they are the mistakes of the human beings authoring it and assume this is one of those human mistakes, or you can accept translation, even revelatory translation that came through Joseph Smith can never be perfect and that Joseph Smith through the imperfection of language injected some 1800’s racism into the text. It’s impossible to say with certain which of these interpretations is most correct, but I can say with certainty, righteousness and skin color are absolutely not and never have been correlated.
3 Nephi 3 – The Motivations and Ideas Behind the Gadiantons as noted in the letters exchanged
Analyzing the letter quoted in this chapter by Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadiantons provide some clues to their philosophy and motivations, notably at the very end, “that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government,…”
The Book of Mormon doesn’t spend a lot of time on details or backstories, but one common strand of difference is that righteous leaders who obtain power, at times voluntarily yield it, but hold it as a way to serve and benefit those they lead whereas wicked leaders who seek for power as if they are entitled to it, that it’s their right, and any action is justified in obtaining it.
Another idea to note is the transition into righteousness by the united Lamanite and Nephite people. I think a lot of it had to do with the righteousness of their leaders in verse 12, “Now behold, this Lachoneus, the governor, was a just man, and could not be frightened by the demands and the threatenings of a robber; therefore he did not hearken to the epistle of Giddianhi.”
Lachoneus is righteous but he also appoints righteous military leaders to lead them, who would rather orient themselves in a defensive posture rather than to pursue the robbers in the mountains, verse 21, “The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us…”
3 Nephi 4 – Robbers Cannot Subsist without Something to Plunder
The Nephites and Lamanites prepared themselves at the center of their civilization with seven years of provisions. The Gaddianton robbers came down without scouting it out in a rush, confident in their “unconquerable spirit” only to find much of the land deserted. The robbers did not want land, they wanted the civilization. To plunder they needed a vulnerable population that was plunderable.
Their only choice was to take on the people in battle. They did and were slaughtered as a result. Verse 10, “But in this thing they were disappointed, for the Nephites did not fear them; but they did fear God and did suppliate him for protection; therefore when the armies of Giddianhi did rush upon them they were prepared to meet them; yea, in the strength of the Lord did they receive them.”
This chapter describes two attempts at Gadianton subjugation, the first was open confrontation, the second was a siege. Both attempts fail. In the end, their suffering drew them in to repentance, drew them into a united defense and gave them the strength and wisdom to eliminate the Gandianton threat, verse 33, “And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction.”
3 Nephi 5 – A Moment of Mormon Commentary
With the victory over an incredibly ominous threat complete, Nephite society enters a time of peace, prosperity, and righteousness. Verse 3, “Therefore they did forsake all their sins, and their abominations, and their whoredoms, and did serve God with all diligence day and night.” In this chapter, Mormon takes a step out of the narrative and perhaps filled with gratitude and the love of God, explains his role in composing this history, declaring his hope for his descendants in verse 26, “And then shall they know their Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of god; and then shall they be gathered in from the four quarters of the earth unto their own lands…”