Jacob 1:9-16 — LeGrand Baker — Nephi as king
It is useful, before we look at this passage, to examine the Book o f Mormon use of the phrase “according to.” In my everyday life, I usually use those words to point to a source: “According to such and such a person…” They are used that way in Alma 3:27 & 4:20, but the Book of Mormon authors tend to use the words according to their other meanings, which are: in agreement, or corresponding with; in compliance with; in conformity with; and in proper relationship or proportion; in harmony with. Thus we have Lehi saying, “And not choose eternal death, according to [in compliance with] the will of the flesh…”(2 Nephi 2:29) And Alma reporting that “Amlici… was executed according to [in conformity with] the law-” (Alma 2:1)
I think the most powerful use of the phrase is this: “But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people.”(Alma 13:18) Here, I don’t know what “according to” means. It probably means in the proper relationship, proportion, or harmony with. The reason the phrase and its idea are is so awesome is that I do not know the laws, prerequisites, powers, or ordinances associated with one’s receiving “the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God.”
Jacob uses the phrase three times in today’s verses, and always within the same larger phrase, “according to the reigns of the kings.”
The second and third instances of the three are:
11 Wherefore, the people were desirous to retain in remembrance his name. And whoso should reign in his stead were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth, according to the reigns of the kings; and thus they were called by the people, let them be of whatever name they would (Jacob 1:11).
14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings (Jacob 1:14).
In these two instances the phrase seems to be a kind of historical footnote, drawing a parallel time line between the reigns of the kings, and their names or their wars; thus the meaning is probably: “corresponding to the reigns of the kings.”
It is the first time Jacob uses that phrase which is by far the most interesting to me. It reads, Now Nephi began to be old, and he saw that he must soon die; wherefore, he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings. (Jacob 1:9)
In this instance, Jacob is telling us about the anointing of the first Nephite king. So, unless he is using the phrase incorrectly to suggest precedent (in accordance to the way kings will be anointed thereafter), he is saying that Nephi anointed the king in accordance to the way kings had been anointed in the past. The past, in Nephi’s case, can only refer to the coronation ceremonies in Jerusalem from which he came. “According to” is not a wishy washy idea, but suggests careful compliance. So if we can take Jacob to mean what he seems to be saying, it means that Nephi anointed his successor king in the same way, and within the same ritual context, in which kings were anointed in ancient Jerusalem. If that is so, Jacob’s statement is another evidence that the Nephites practiced the rituals and ordinances of the ancient Israelite New Year’s festival. (The most dramatic part of the New Year’s festival was the 7-day Feast of Tabernacles and the “Great Feast” with which the festival was concluded. The most famous evidence that the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated by the Nephites is in the story of King Benjamin, where the people gathered in tents [rather than the temporary structures called tabernacles in the Old Testament] to hear the old king and to acknowledge the legitimacy of the new king.)
If Nephi anointed his successor according to the pattern by which Israelite kings had been anointed since the time of David and Solomon, then the events surrounding that first Nephite coronation were probably as follows (This is discussed if full in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord):
First day: Blowing of horns and sacrifices in celebration of the new year. Days 2 – 9: fasting and prayer in preparation for the Day of Atonement
Day 10: The Day of Atonement, when all the sins of the nation were transferred to a goat which then was driven from the community. Thereafter the people were ceremonially clean, so they could participate in the rituals and ordinances, and enter the temple.
Day 11- 14: preparation for the Feast of Tabernacles
Days 15 – 21 The feast of Tabernacles. During this time a dramatic presentation (perhaps in appearance, something like our Hill Comorah pageant) was presented by the priesthood leaders (including the king), and viewed by the people. This pageant portrayed the king and queen’s role in the Council in Heaven; the War in Heaven; the creation; the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden (scholars guess that the Genesis account was either read, enacted, or both); then followed history through the expulsion of Adam and Eve, the covenants of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David, to the then present king. After that the pageant showed the human struggle with the forces of evil in this world. In that struggle Jerusalem (in this case it would be the city of Nephi) and its temple were symbolically destroyed to be restored again three days later. During those three days the king, who had been killed in the struggle with evil, remained in death and hell until Jehovah himself descended into hell and brought the king out again. On the morning of the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles (day 21 of the festival) the king is restored to his people. Then there was a great procession in which the king, the Arc of the Covenant [one would suppose the Nephites also had a box in which they kept their sacred things], and the people returned to the restored city and temple. There the veil of the temple was opened, the king was dressed in sacred robes and anointed. Some scholars suggest it was a dual anointing, in which the king was formally adopted son of
God, and he was also anointed king of the people. As the legitimate son, he could then sit upon the throne in the temple and deliver a lecture on the law (probably drawn from Deuteronomy). That day ended with sacrificing and a feast.
Day 22, the final day of the festival was the “Great Feast.” It was a day full of joyful sacrifice, feasting, and celebration that all was right again with the world, and all of the covenants were restored, and everything in its proper order.
If that is what Jacob meant when he wrote that Nephi “anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings,” then Jacob has told us a great deal about the religion and customs of the people of Nephi.
A second evidence that the Nephite notion of kingship was in accordance with that of the other Israelites, is Jacob’s observations about what a good king Nephi had been, implying he was both just in his judgments and diligent in defence of his people.
10 The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence, and having labored in all his days for their welfare–
11 Wherefore, the people were desirous to retain in remembrance his name. (v.10-11a)
In the ancient world, a king (even God as King) had two major responsibilities: 1) To act as the general of the armies and defend the people (this included his responsibilities in international relations), and 2) to act as judge and establish and maintain internal peace and justice in the land. Theoretically, for both king and God, when the enemies were all subdued, then his responsibility as general of the armies would no longer be necessary, but his responsibility as judge (being responsible for the welfare of others) is an eternal responsibility. (I suppose that is the reason that the quality of being a righteous judge is so frequently associated with the eternal nature of sacral kingship. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.”)
Jacob’s testimony seems to be that Nephi was a great king when judged by both of these standards.