Mosiah 23:15-20 — LeGrand Baker — ‘Prosperous’ as a codeword

Mosiah 23:15-20 — LeGrand Baker — ‘Prosperous’ as a codeword

Mosiah 23:15-20
15     Thus did Alma teach his people, that every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them.
16     And now, Alma was their high priest, he being the founder of their church.

In our Church, the Presiding High Priest and the Prophet are the same man. But in the ancient world that was not necessarily so. A prophet is – has always been—one who communes with God and teaches the people what God instructs him to teach. In ancient Israel, during the time of Solomon’s Temple, that was the king, with the Aaronic Priesthood High Priest being in charge of the temple on a daily basis. At the time of King Hezekiah the king appears to have been presiding high priest and Isaiah was the prophet. After the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem, they had no king, and the Aaronic High Priest assumed the temple prerogatives of the king, which included the authority to function in the Holy of Holies.

The Nephites had no king until they built a temple, then a king became necessary because he was the chief actor in the temple drama. Nephi was king and appointed his brothers Jacob and Joseph to be priests and teachers. At the time of King Benjamin the king was both prophet and presiding high priest.

So Mormon’s statement in verse 16 is precisely correct. Alma who lived away from Zarahemla received authority from God to preside over church in that area and to perform the ordinances. He had organized their church, instituted baptism into that church, and had done whatever else was required. Just what that was, Mormon explains in encoded language. He does not intend to say too much, but wants to say enough to make his point.

17     And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men.
18     Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness. [“Righteousness” is zedek = the correctness of high-priestly / temple things.]
19     And it came to pass that they began to prosper exceedingly in the land; and they called the land Helam.
20     And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam; and they built a city, which they called the city of Helam (Mosiah 23:15-20).

Here, what appears at first glance to be a redundancy seems to me to be Alma’s carefully worded explanation of what Alma was instructing his people. The code word is “prosper.” To understand that, I use Psalm 45 as background. This Psalm can be read as a three-act play that takes place at the Council in Heaven where Jehovah has just been anointed to be the eternal King of Israel. Now the king is receiving an ordinance and a blessing (see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord for a complete analysis of the Psalm). The blessings reads:

3     Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.
4     And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things.
5     Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee. (Psalms 45: 1- 5.)

Now the examination:

3     Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. [Glory and majesty are names of two separate sets of clothing. One representing priesthood, and the other representing kingship. For example, in Isaiah 61: 10, they are called “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness.” In Job 40: 10. They are first called “majesty and excellency,” then “glory and beauty” (in Hebrew poetry the same idea is often repeated in two different ways)]

4     And in thy majesty [royal robes] ride prosperously [that’s the word we are looking for] because of truth [“truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” In other words, truth is what one knows in sacred time.]

…. and meekness [In Psalm 25 the meek are described as those to whom the Lord has revealed his “secret” (sode), and those who keep their eternal covenants.]

…. and righteousness [righteousness is zedek, which I understand to be absolute correctness in temple things: having the right authority, wearing the correct clothing, doing and saying what one ought to say and do with the right words, in the right place, and at the right time];

…. and thy right hand [note which hand] shall teach thee terrible [awesome] things. [Now that one has received those blessings, one has come to know the kind of peace that transcends pain and sorrow, and is thereby invulnerable to the evils of this world. In the blessing in Psalm 45, as in most psalms, that strength is described in military symbolism:]

5     Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.

This blessing bestows: 1) the powers of sacral kingship, 2) priesthood authority, and 3) the absolute assurance of God’s protection. That’s all there is. This blessing incorporates a comprehensive covenant, embracing all of the powers and blessings of sacral kingship and priesthood – and there is nothing left to be added except a promise about his posterity, and that is reserved for the conclusion of the psalm.

The first use of “prosper” in the Book of Mormon is when the Lord promised Nephi:

19    And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
20     And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
21     And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
22     And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher [king and priest] over thy brethren (1 Ne. 2:19-22).

Here, to prosper is not just an economic blessing, but a spiritual one. Being cut off from the presence of the Lord is the opposite of prosper, so one may deduce that prosper means being brought into the Lord’s presence.

1 Nephi 2: 19-24 are some of the most important verses in the Book of Mormon because they authorize Nephi to become the king and priest to his people and to establish a new dynasty. Those verses have the same pivotal importance to the Book of Mormon history as the story as Samuel’s anointing David to be king has to Old Testament history.

As part of that covenant to Nephi, the Lord said, “And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and be led to a land of promise….thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.”

When the Lord promised Nephi he would be a ruler and a teacher (king and priest), he used the word translated “prosper” to convey that promise. I presume the reason was because Nephi was familiar with Psalm 45, and the Lord was simply used language Nephi associated with the blessings of kingship and priesthood.

That assertion may not be as reckless as it sounds. One cannot know what Hebrew word was used in the Book of Mormon, but the word used in Psalm 45 is only used three other places in the Psalms and in four places in Isaiah, and all of them have a similar connotation as the promise given to Nephi. The Hebrew word translated ‘prosperously” in Psalm 45 has the connotation of success rather than of wealth. ( In the dictionary at the back of James Strong, ed., The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, #6734.)

One of the other places where it is used is Psalm 1. There it is in conjunction with a promise that is reminiscent of the blessings associated with the tree of life.

1     Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2     But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3     And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)

In the Book of Mormon, but there the phrase that is used to represent the Lord’s promise to Nephi is “prosper in the land.” The first example of that usage is Lehi’s exhortation,

19 O my sons, that these things might not come upon you, but that ye might be a choice and a favored people of the Lord. But behold, his will be done; for his ways are righteousness forever.
20     And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence. (2 Nephi 1:20)

A short time later, Lehi used the phrase again when speaking to his grandchildren:

4     For the Lord God hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence. (2 Ne. 4:4)

Alma used it several times. There is also an intriguing statement in Zeniff’s brief autobiography.

5     And I did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work, and work all manner of fine linen, yea, and cloth of every kind, that we might clothe our nakedness; and thus we did prosper in the land – thus we did have continual peace in the land for the space of twenty and two years. (Mosiah 10:5)

The thing that makes it intriguing is that in almost every other instance that the phrase “prosper in the land” is found in the Book of Mormon it has to do with either literally or symbolically being in the presence of God. Here he says: “that we might clothe our nakedness; and thus we did prosper in the land” That first is almost the same phrase the Lord uses when he instructs Moses about the priests’ ordinance clothing: “And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness.” ( Exodus 28:42) There, the clothing is used to symbolically come into the presence of God.

In both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, prosperity is an important part of the kingship covenant between Jehovah and Israel. God promises if they will serve him he will cause their flocks and fields to prosper. And it is also a part of the covenant that if they will serve him he will be their God and always be with them. Thus, if they prosper as a nation, their temporal prosperity may be an outward evidence that God is with them. But it is equally apparent from the way Alma uses the phrase that he understands its meaning quite literally. He began his testimony to his son Helaman,

1     My son, give ear to my words, for I say unto you, even as I said unto Helaman, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence. (Alma 38:1)

And he ended his testimony:

17     But behold, my son, this is not all; for ye ought to know as I do know, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and ye ought to know also, that inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence. Now this is according to his word.” (Alma 36: 30. see also Alma 9:13 and 50:17)

As I understand it, the 45th psalm the phrase: “And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness” literally means something like this: “In thy royal, priestly robes ride in the presence of the Lord, because you know the truth of the Council, you keep the covenants you made in the Council, and you keep those covenants in the correct high-priestly manner,” and thy right hand shall teach thee wonderful things.

Now lets return and look again at Mosiah 23:

17     And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men.
18     Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness. [zedek = temple correctness]
19     And it came to pass that they began to prosper exceedingly in the land [the same phrase that elsewhere connoted coming into the presence of God]; and they called the land Helam.
20     And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam [Here, “in the land” is modified by the preposition, “of Helam,” So it must be read, “in the land of Helam,” rather than just “in the land.” Their prosperity in Helam has to do with “multiply,” so apparently relates to the increase of their families, cattle, or harvests – but probably all three]; and they built a city, which they called the city of Helam.

It appears to me that there is no redundancy in Mormon’s description. Rather I read it as his very quiet way of saying powerful and beautiful things.

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