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—Here King Limhi describes the process by which the Nephites in the land of Nephi got into their predicament of bondage and it is illustrative of the problem of over-zealousness. Taken simply, overzealousness, leads to being deceived by cunning craftiness, which leads to eventual subjection, which leads to bondage.
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…all we have or possess…or our lives. (Mosiah 7:21-22)
I think it is interesting too that he also describes another process to bondage, that of iniquity. (It is King Noah’s story in particular.)
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.Transgression leads to contention, which leads to violence. The Lord sends prophets to cry repentance, and if the people reject the message, they kill the prophets. Having killed the prophets, nothing stands in the way of greater evil, which eventually angers outside powers, who attack and prevail because the people have lost their moral backbone.
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….
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? (Mosiah 7:25-26, 28)
Over-zealousness on one side leads to bondage, and iniquity on the other side leads to bondage. Thus we see that the way truly is straight and narrow between them.
This lead me to this question: what is the difference between zeal and over-zealousness? (Feel free to chime in on this matter in the comments.) I checked the Topical Guide on ‘over-zealous’ and there wasn’t anything, so I looked up ‘zeal.’ From those scriptures listed it seems that zeal is manifested through righteous initiative and being anxiously engaged in a good cause and cheerfully doing all things that lie in our power. So maybe one part of over-zealousness is being reactive and not doing everything we can.
Over-zealousness is, of course, manifested in the Book of Mormon by Zeniff who is so over-eager to possess the land of his fathers that he ignores the dangers associated with living near the Lamanites and at the beginning he glosses over their desires to enslave and leach off of the Nephites. (Of course, later in his reign, he is much more realistic about it and even laments “we have suffered these many years in the land.” (Mosiah 10:18)) In my own life, over-zealousness has been manifest every time I act with impatience thinking that one dramatic and ‘heroic’ act will change things. It happens when I am so over-concerned with bringing an end about that I become less scrupulous about the means I employ to achieve it. I have seen how over-zealousness makes me vulnerable to deception.
As I considered this line of thought, I began to realize something I had never thought of before--that over-zealousness is really an insidious form of laziness. I know that sounds kind of contrary, but hear me out. As I said before, when I think one dramatic act will change things, it is usually because down at bottom I am impatient (and I have neglected to do the small diligent acts that would make the large heroic act unnecessary). Like when I suddenly feel fat and go out and run instead of diligently doing a little jogging every day. Like when I send a huge 10-page essay on doctrine to the inactive lady I visit teach instead of sending her a little something maybe every week. Like when I go for two months (and more!) without cleaning the bathroom and then do a marathon cleaning session. Further, I have learned through sad experience that in my church activity, my dramatic acts of over-zealousness easily become improper and self-vaunting or worse.
As I realized this, I started to read again through Zeniff’s story in Mosiah 9 and Mosiah 10 looking specifically to see if I could detect indications of over-zealousness leading to laziness.
There were some very subtle things that I noticed in his wording, which I hadn’t noticed before and probably wouldn’t have noticed unless I had been looking specifically for it. He starts out well in the land of Nephi saying, “we began to build buildings, and to repair the walls of the city” (Mosiah 9:8) and “we began to till the ground” (Mosiah 9:9). Note the use of “we” there. He’s involved in the day-to-day work. This is good, but it doesn't seem to last.
A little later we see an incident when his people working out in the fields are attacked by the Lamanites and “they fled, all that were not overtaken, even into the city of Nephi, and did call upon me for protection.” (Mosiah 9:15) It seems that Zeniff is no longer out in the fields working. He is in the city. What was he doing there? We have no idea. I begin to wonder if he had decided that manual labor was beneath him by this time.
Well, he’s roused to heroic efforts to arm his people and of course everyone is aflame with over-zealousness, so he says “I and my people did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, for we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers.” (Mosiah 9:17) This faith is reactive to their circumstances and even though he and his people were living so close to the Lamanites, he hadn't done everything to prepare them for battle until the Lamanites were actually breathing down their necks.
But Heavenly Father is merciful. So they slay the Lamanites and then we read this: “And I, myself, with mine own hands, did help to bury their dead” (Mosiah 9:19). He makes such a big deal about how he works with them doing this dirty job that it suggests that it is something now very unusual for him to help. Something else I noticed was that as they go back to peacetime, Zeniff says “I caused that there should be weapons of war made of every kind” (Mosiah 10:1) and “I did cause that the men should till the ground” (Mosiah 10:4) and “I did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work” (Mosiah 10:5). He causes them. This makes me think that he’s not involved in it himself and it also makes me think that their motivation to work diligently is starting to flag too.
Finally, I noticed that Zeniff seems to only mention the Lord in times of extremity. He points out at the beginning that the Lord smote his people with famine and afflictions because they were slow to remember the Lord. (Mosiah 9:3) The next time he mentions the Lord is when they are getting ready to fight their first big battle (see Mosiah 9:17-18). The next time he mentions the Lord is in a big pep talk he gives to his people in preparation for their second big battle twenty-two years later (see Mosiah 10:11-19). The final time he mentions the Lord is just as he ends his account: “And may the Lord bless my people” (Mosiah 10:22).
After studying the story of Zeniff and the beginnings of King Noah, I begin to see how it was that King Noah’s wickedness arose out of Zeniff’s over-zealous ways. If Zeniff parented like he did other things, there is no doubt that Zeniff’s children missed out on the foundational gospel teachings that come from consistent discussion. Even if Zeniff had a strong gospel foundation to return to when things got tough, his son Noah didn’t get acquire it because it appeared so rarely. And suddenly we can see why Noah, upon assuming the throne, would get rid of the priests and put new ones in their place. (He probably thought the new ones were more ‘hip’ and the old ones too restrictive.) We can see why Noah thought he had license to do whatever he wanted. We can see why Noah would have felt no problem with taxing his people to support himself and his priests. We can see how the people became idolatrous and deceived by flattering words.
If Zeniff is an example of over-zealousness, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis are examples of genuine zeal.
And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end. (Alma 27:27)I suppose their days would be very recognizable to us. We would see them having daily prayer apart and as families. We would see them reading and studying sacred records and discussing them. We would find them teaching and encouraging each other. We would find them working hard and doing their best. We would notice them being very watchful to make sure that neither they nor their children fell into transgression. We would notice them teaching and loving and sometimes warning their children.
Because their zeal was consistent in even the smallest day-to-day things, their children, among whom were the stripling warriors, grew up strong in the faith and were strict to keep the commandments. We get a small sample of it in this verse:
But behold, they have received many wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come. (Alma 58:40)Even when they were wounded, they were strict to remember their duty to God every day.
That’s the zeal we want to have--consistently remembering the Lord every day and consistently keeping the commandments every day.
What is your earliest memory of your parents teaching you to be consistently faithful?