Mosiah 7:12-18 — LeGrand Baker — meaning of ‘comfort’
As I suggested last week, there must have been something other than Ammon’s claim that he had come out of the land of Zarahemla that inspired the complete confidence of king Limhi. I speculated that it might have been their use of a sacral language. But I wonder if, in place of, or in addition to their conversing in priestly/royal language, some other token of recognition might have been exchanged between Ammon and Limhi.
12 And now, when Ammon saw that he was permitted to speak, he went forth and bowed himself before the king; and rising again he said: O king, I am very thankful before God this day that I am yet alive, and am permitted to speak; and I will endeavor to speak with boldness;
13 For I am assured that if ye had known me ye would not have suffered that I should have worn these bands. For I am Ammon, and am a descendant of Zarahemla, and have come up out of the land of Zarahemla to inquire concerning our brethren, whom Zeniff brought up out of that land.
Ammon approaches king Limhi with courtesy, but not deference. He defines himself as an equal, and king Limhi acknowledges him as such. In fact, turning tables on him, Limhi pays deference to Ammon, suggesting that he, Limhi, should be the slave. Whether he meant that is hard to say, because his statement is typical of the kind of self-depravation one finds in ancient Near Eastern diplomatic correspondence. What is certain is that in this conversation Limhi has defined himself as being subservient to the Nephite king, if not to Ammon himself.
14 And now, it came to pass that after Limhi had heard the words of Ammon, he was exceedingly glad, and said: Now, I know of a surety that my brethren who were in the land of Zarahemla are yet alive. And now, I will rejoice; and on themorrow I will cause that my people shall rejoice also.
15 For behold, we are in bondage to the Lamanites, and are taxed with a tax which is grievous to be borne. And now, behold, our brethren will deliver us out of our bondage, or out of the hands of the Lamanites, and we will be their slaves; for it is better that we be slaves to the Nephites than to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites.
16 And now, king Limhi commanded his guards that they should no more bind Ammon nor his brethren, but caused that they should go to the hill which was north of Shilom, and bring their brethren into the city, that thereby they might eat, and drink, and rest themselves from the labors of their journey; for they had suffered many things; they had suffered hunger, thirst, and fatigue.
17 And now, it came to pass on the morrow that king Limhi sent a proclamation among all his people, that thereby they might gather themselves together to the temple to hear the words which he should speak unto them.
18 And it came to pass that when they had gathered themselves together that he spake unto them in this wise, saying: O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted; for behold, the time is at hand, or is not far distant, when we shall no longer be in subjection to our enemies, notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made.
The phrase “lift up your heads and be comforted” needs a closer look.
Our use of the word “comfort” is different from the way the word was used when the King James Bible was translated, and also different from the use of the word in Joseph Smith’s day.
A case in point: The US Constitution defines treason as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” That does not mean that treason is giving the enemy as aspirin or patting him on the head and saying “There, there.”
Oxford English Dictionary has two first definitions: COMFORT (verb) “Strengthening; encouragement, incitement; aid, succour, support, countenance.” (substantive) “To strengthen, (morally or spiritually); to encourage.”
So when “the voice of the Lord came to them [Alma and his people in the wilderness] in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.” (Mosiah 24:13) the Lord was not just encouraging them, he was promising them strength to overcome.
That sheds an interesting light on “comfort” in Psalm 23, Isaiah 40:1-2, and Isaiah 61:1-3. In the latter case, the phrase “to comfort” is shown to refer to receiving the enthronement rites: wash (remove ashes), anoint, clothe, new name, crown. In all three of those scriptures, to comfort means to give royal/priestly power – to strengthen, to empower.
It also sheds an interesting light on the Holy Ghost’s being called “the comforter,” and on a possible meaning of the phrase, “Second Comforter.”
In our Book of Mormon story, then, the king’s command “lift up your heads and be comforted” apparently means, “Lift up your heads and take strength.” It is apparently a command to get ready.
The kings words are reminiscent (and may have been deliberately so) of the 27th Psalm: “And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.”
The phrase “lift up your heads” is interesting also. Its most famous use is in Psalm 24, in what some people have called a temple recommend. After declaring that those who enter the temple must have clean hands and a pure heart, the psalm commands: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.”
Jacob seems to have had the 24th Psalm in mind (His ideas certainly carry the same message) when he told the people: “Behold, my beloved brethren, I speak unto you these things that ye may rejoice, and lift up your heads forever, because of the blessings which the Lord God shall bestow upon your children.” (2 Nephi 9:3) (the similar ideas being Kingship and heirship/kingship)
The phrase is also used by an angel (one who appears to have been Alma’s guardian angel) when he said,
15 Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you. (Alma 8:15)
And the Lord himself said to Nephi,
13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets. (3 Nephi 1:13)
It is interesting to me that our present notion of “comfort” – that is to make one feel better – is associated with lifting the head in each of these last scriptures, but the word “comfort” is not used in any of them. That suggests to me that when king Limhi said to the people at the temple, “lift up your heads and be comforted,” he was evoking all of his authority as king: that is, he was officially functioning as priest and commander. “Lift up your heads” seems to be a formal sacred promise that they would be blessed; and the “be comforted” seems to be a command to take strength from the encouragement which Ammon brought. It was a command to prepare for battle.