Thursday, December 22, 2011

Unexplained discord in Mosiah 19 and thoughts about threats

Mosiah 19 is about King Noah and his people and how all the consequences of the people’s wickedness begin to accumulate. There are some interesting events in this chapter that I have always wondered about.

If you remember, just before this chapter, King Noah’s armies return from trying to find and destroy Alma and his company. Then comes a host of unexplained events:

  1. The forces of the king were small, having been reduced. (v2) Reduced by what? Downsized? Or had some of the soldiers been converted and left with Alma? If they knew they had to go destroy Alma and company, they would certainly have warned them and left with them before being summoned to do the dirty deed.
  2. There began to be a division among the remained of the people (v2) with threatenings (v3) and great contention, and even a vendetta (by Gideon, v4). Why? We are given no explanation for any of it!
  3. Right when Gideon is about to kill King Noah, the Lamanite armies invade (v6). What were the Lamanites so bothered by that they sent their armies for? (You may be asking me, “Do the Lamanites ever really need a reason to come and invade?” Well, yes they do. They’ve been beaten several times by these Nephites, so it has to be a sufficiently good reason that they are willing to risk being beaten again. Plus, Lamanites armies always seem to be driven by greed or grievance.)
  4. When the Lamanites finally have compassion on the Nephites, along with the tribute of half Nephite goods (which satisfies any greed motive), they set as a condition of peace that King Noah be delivered into the hands of the Lamanites (v15). Why? What did King Noah do to them? Their request is the equivalent of requesting extradition of a criminal (which indicates a grievance motive).

The only thing that I can think of as a cause for all of this was that King Noah’s army must have been much more brutal in its search for Alma and company than stated in the account or ever thought of before. With a mission to destroy and a king-encouraged thirst for blood, they must have roughed up the friends, associates, and neighbors of the missing people. They must have done some nasty interrogations. They must have destroyed property, not just of the missing people, but of those who they might have suspected of helping them. Also, if King Noah thought Alma was conspiring against him, he might have suspected Alma fraternized with and conspired with the Lamanites. If so, maybe the Nephite army went to nearby Lamanite locales and roughed up some innocent Lamanites there and took spoil to try to discourage uprising from that direction.

When people feel like they aren’t safe from their own army, they get REALLY angry at the person sending the army out. (This would account for the Nephite threats against King Noah.) And when Lamanites living peacefully nearby feel like the nearby Nephite army isn’t going to let them alone, the only thing they feel is going to put a stop to it will be sending their own army in to destroy that Nephite army. And it follows that when they were charmed (by fair Nephite daughters) out of their intention to destroy the whole people, they would decide they could be happy with just killing the guy who called out the Nephite army—the king. Dispose of the king and the Nephite army would then be commanded by someone much better, right? That would make sense to them.

So it comes down to this: by sending out his army to destroy Alma and the people of the Lord, King Noah paved the way for his own destruction. Actually, we could go further back and say that the beginning of the end for him was executing Abinadi for “reviling” against him. If King Noah considered Abinadi a threat, then anyone who was on Abinadi’s side would be a threat, and then anyone that would meet together with someone who was on Abinadi’s side would be a threat. (We can see how King Noah lost the ability to discern what was really threatening and what was harmless.) It almost seems like growing paranoia. Then imagine his fear when confronted with Gideon, sword in hand…. And then seeing the army of the Lamanites invading. Threats coming from all directions. And then having his people turn on him when they were running away from the Lamanites. He never saw any of that coming because he was so fixated on Alma.

It must have become obvious to the Nephites through all this that King Noah was no longer fit to be king. Kings are supposed to protect their people from threats to the society, and he was seeing threats where they didn’t exist. If the army had harassed the Lamanites, and if the Nephites knew about that, it would be a further irritant, since it would seem like King Noah was purposely trying to pick fights with the Lamanites.

This is a lot of speculation of course, but it fits the facts. It adds a cautionary lesson too, showing us that if we choose to see calls to repentance as threats, we will become unable to tell the difference between real threats and things that are harmless. It will lead to overreactions that raise REAL dangers and we won’t be able to deal with any of it.

I suppose that this principle has a positive flip side to it too—if you are not threatened by calls to repentance, you will be able to handle the real dangers. We see an example of that in 3 Nephi 3 in which the chief judge Laconeus caused the Nephites (who were wicked at the time) to cry to the Lord for strength against the coming invasion of Gadianton robbers. He promised them that if they didn’t repent, they wouldn’t be delivered, and they believed him. They repented, they prepared, and they were able to stand against the huge threat that faced them.

We live in a world today that has some mixed up ideas of what constitutes a threat and what doesn’t. Calls to repentance are considered threatening. Having someone share the gospel or the commandments of God is threatening. But in reality, the real threat is sin and disobedience to the commandments of God. Let’s be a little better at defending ourselves against the real threats, remembering that Christ came to deliver us from them.