Mosiah 29:26-27 — LeGrand Baker — The nature of government

Mosiah 29:26-27 — LeGrand Baker — The nature of government

Mosiah 29:26-27
26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

In a very unexpected way, this chapter is one more, very strong, evidence that Joseph did not write the Book of Mormon. The reason is this:

Joseph Smith and Thomas Jefferson were contemporaries. Jefferson died in 1826, only 4 years before the Church was organized. At that time most Americans believe God had supported the Americans in the Revolutionary War, and that he had a direct hand in creating the Federal Constitution–and, of course, that the government created by the Constitution was the best of all possible governments. Joseph was taught that from childhood, and he certainly believed it. That being so, if this young man were writing the Book of Mormon, and if he had wanted to demonstrate that his fictional prophets were great and wise men, he would have had them anticipate the inspired American Constitution, by creating a government that looked like it as was built on the same principles, of representation and separation of powers. But he did not. It is the fact that he did not, that constitutes another “evidence” that he did not write the Book of Mormon.

What the book’s author does instead, is what he says he is doing: dividing the powers of an ancient king into two parts, and creating two separate systems of government–one political and the other ecclesiastical. The ancient kings had two primary responsibilities. First, they were the religious leaders. It was they who represented the will and power of the nation’s gods. In Egypt the kings claimed to be gods. In Israel they were the adopted sons of God. (See Psalm 2) The king was always the highest of the High Priests. Mosiah had not surrendered that authority to Alma when he gave him permission to organize a church, any more than Solomon had surrendered his authority over the Temple when he acknowledged Zadok as High Priest. But in chapter 28, Mosiah did surrender those powers. The record does not give details. It only reports:

20 And now, as I said unto you, that after king Mosiah had done these things, he took the plates of brass, and all the things which he had kept, and conferred them upon Alma, who was the son of Alma; yea, all the records, and also the interpreters, and conferred them upon him, and commanded him that he should keep and preserve them, and also keep a record of the people, handing them down from one generation to another, even as they had been handed down from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem. (Mosiah 28:20)

Possession of the royal religious regalia and genealogies was much of what constituted the legitimacy of kingship and priesthood. That Mosiah’s “conferred them upon” Alma was not only a formal investiture of authority, but also the surrendering of some of the most important symbols of sacral kingship.

The second part of the king’s duties had to do with keeping his nation secure. This entailed: 1) responsibility for the nation’s diplomacy and military welfare and action. 2) responsibility for the citizen’s personal security. The latter involved both making and enforcing the laws, and being the court of final appeal. So far as the people were concerned, the king’s being a righteous judge (whether in religious, civil, or criminal matters) was his single most important duty. That was true of political kingship, just as it is always true of sacral kingship. In the sequence of the Beatitudes, being merciful is the critical juncture that separates what must do to attain salvation, and one’s being able to “see God” and being “called” a child of God. In that sequence, one may do and achieve many things, but if one does not judge righteously, one can progress no farther.

It was the second part of his duties that King Mosiah retained for himself until his death, then transferred to the new Chief Judge.

An interesting, but unemphasized part of the story, is that Mosiah made that division in his authority before he put the proposition to his people about a system of judges, rather than a king.

It is also interesting that, even though the government he proposed was quite different from the American Constitution, the rationale he used to support his proposal was the same used by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence to justify America’s separation from the British Empire.

King Mosiah wrote:

26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.
27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land. (Mosiah 29: 26-27)

In Jefferson’s day, there were two main political philosophies, just as there are today.

One was the idea that rule should be in the hands of the elite. John Locke believed this should be the aristocracy–the propertied class–thus his assertion that peoples’ natural rights were “life, liberty, and property.”

The Frenchman, Jean Jacquis Rousseau, believed differently. His philosophy was that people were innately driven by avarice, therefore, no government controlled by the masses could possibly be equitable or legitimate, because it would soon deteriorate into a system of rule by the strong. He used the Dark Ages as evidence to support his thesis. He wrote that only a self-defined and self-appointed moral elite who were above the desires for wealth and self-aggrandizement could dispense justice, and that it was the responsibility of this moral elite to get control of the government and impose equity upon society. Both Communism (which saw the working class as the moral elite) and Fabian Socialism (which saw the well educated upper classes as the moral elite) are offshoots of Rousseau’s thinking.

Thomas Jefferson represented the other school of thought. The very best book I know about Jefferson’s philosophy is Gary Wills, Inventing America, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, first published by Doubleday in 1978. Jefferson did not accept Locke’s “life, liberty, and property,” but rather believed that the rights of all people were “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The happiness of the citizenry, he believed, was the only correct criterion by which one could judge the legitimacy of a government. When he wrote that “all men were created equal,” he did not mean that there is a sameness in human ability, or aptitude, or even interests and desires. He and the Scottish thinkers he followed believed that all people are equal in that they share an innate sense of goodness and justice, and a conscience to help direct their thinking and actions. In this philosophy, any government that represents the masses would share that same sense of right and wrong, and its laws would reflect the conscience of the people. Therefore if a government were to be legitimate it must be chosen by the masses in order to ensure that it would support and defend that universal sense of right and wrong.

That was precisely King Mosiah’s rationale:

26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

And Mosiah’s warning is as relevant now as it was more than 2,000 years ago:

27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land. (Mosiah 29: 26-27)

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