Helaman the Keeper of the Covenant
Who is Helaman
Helaman, the son of Alma the Younger, the son of Alma the founder of the Church of Christ among the Nephites, would have the opportunity to carry on the spiritual legacy of his grandfather.
In the 19th year of the Reign of Judges, or judge leadership of the Nephite democracy, Alma called a personal worthiness interview for his son Helaman. During this interview, Alma would hear Helaman's allegiance to the teachings of the church and his convictions about the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by Abinadi and handed down from high priest to high priest. It is significant because Helaman needed to continue the traditions of his fathers based on the belief that a Savior would come.
Helman was a missionary. He was on the errand of the prophet Alma when he received his first instructions regarding his own prophetic calling. He was a young man full of potential who had to mature quickly during a time in Nephite history when turmoil seemed to be the rule of law.
From reading the Nephite history, though, it would seem there was never a time when a Nephite did NOT need to mature quickly! However, the Book of Mormon is a condensed version of their thousand-year history.
A Little Family History & Culture
On the cusp of the defeat of the Lamanites in the nineteenth year (73 B.C.), an enemy that had vowed never to return to aggression, the Nephites turned their attention to the social needs of a recovering society. And they had much from which to recover. About the sixteenth year of the reign of Judges, the Nephites had just absorbed a group of refugees after a terrible battle with the Lamanites. Thousands of Lamanites converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and sought asylum among the Nephites. Public authorities provided for the welfare of these people, but it did create a cultural and social strain on the population. Toward the end of the seventeenth year, a self-identified antichrist entered the nation creating no small stir for the Church of Christ before he met an unfortunate end. Nephites were at a high due to the unyielding efforts of Alma and his supporters. While Chief Captain Moroni offered all his devotion to the physical preparation of the Nephites to defend themselves, his support of Alma doing the same for their spiritual welfare did not waiver.
Alma had a different front on which to wage his battles than Moroni. The army that sought to destroy the Nephites that Alma prepared his armies belonged to an evil source of an inhuman kind, the devil, and his angels.
Nephi religious and cultural practices at that time hemmed on an understanding that the Law of Moses was a preparatory function of the higher manifestation of Christianity that would occur after the Atonement of Jesus Christ, one who had been prophesied for centuries among the Nephite prophets.
The devil attacked the Nephite nation on all fronts. He attacked the freedom of the Nephites, just like he attacks the freedom of democratic nations in modern times. God provided the Nephites with a warrior to thwart the physical destruction of the Nephites, but only because their spiritual resolve was high.
The key to destroying any great society is to attack their guiding philosophies. Alma, the son of Alma, had guided the cultural and religious aspects of the Nephites for decades. He was the chief judge, the highest civilian office in the land and similar to a US Supreme Court Justice with Executive powers. Alma relinquished that power to focus on his other title, High Priest of the Church of Christ.
During Chief Captain Moroni’s public administration, Alma was an older man. He had to pass on the authority to officiate for the church, which he planned to so to his son, Helaman. It was a custom among the Nephites to pass not only offices of religion to their sons but public offices also—a real nepotistic society. This type of culture created no small stir of ambitious men who wanted a piece of that power structure, a cultural climate that the Adversary used to his advantage.
Changing of the Guard
Alma the Younger, must have sensed his time among his people as high priest was drawing to a close, so he received the gratification of hearing his chosen son say when asked if he believed the teachings provided him his entire life and if he would keep them, “Yea, I believe all the words which though hast spoken,” Alma 45:5. And “Yeah, I will keep thy commandments with all my heart,” Alma 45:7.
This came as a pleasure to Alma thinking back to his own sorted past of rebellion against the gospel tradition. Though his road led eventually to salvation after many prayers on his behalf by the church, specifically his father Alma the First, it was the product of a severe repentance process.
With Helaman, there would be no delicate process to endure before he could lead. Alma told Helaman of the struggle he had as a youth rebelling against the gospel with the warning to learn from his errors, and he did. The changing of the guardians of the Church of Christ would go smoothly. Alma the II, could have confidence that the records of the Nephites and the spiritual heritage started by Alma the First would not die.
Alma gave Helaman his charge of the church and blessed him, the church, and the land for righteousness sake. Alma understood that Helaman faced an uphill battle due his own revelations of the secret prophecies handed down from the days of Nephi centuries before. The prophecies were not to be revealed to the Nephites by command of God that the Nephite nation would be destroyed due to its rejection of the theological teaching of Jesus Christ four hundred years in Helaman’s future.
As the new high priest, Helaman had to bear the weight of that knowledge, while helping as many of his flock find peace and joy in the teachings that would listen.
He had his work cut out for him. Helaman had to reorganize the church’s leadership positions after he was installed. He called new priests and teachers throughout the nation just in time to witness a dissension rise within and without the church among the Nephites. With the prophecy of total destruction of the Nephites looming over his head, it is conceivable that he saw the division among his people with added apprehension.
Oh, Remember My Son
Before Alma left Helaman with the burden of the church, he shared his view of the gospel message as a father to his son, and as a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ. It comprises chapters 36 and 37 in the record of Alma.
The first thing Alma gave Helaman was a solemn oath. Said he, “give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land,” Alma 36:1.
Alma continued to counsel his son and spiritual heir with the same instructions repeatedly in both chapters. Alma understood the temptations of the world and wanted to make sure that Helaman did not for a second cast the desire that Satan wanted to bring him down aside.
…thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day, Alma 36:2. …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.
If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land—but if ye keep not his commandments ye shall be cut off from his presence, Alma 37:13.
…be diligent in keeping the commandments of God as they are written, Alma 37:20.
…learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God, Alma 37:35.
Alma did not want Helaman to experience the sheer dread and horror associated with being the means of some person falling away from God. Alma experienced that. He also understood that he was the means of pulling many souls off the path to happiness.
Alma understood the plan of salvation. He understood that all people on this earth followed God at one point to gain admittance to this life.
He contributed to the separation of people from God because of his behavior. He said. “I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror!” Alma 36:14
Murder is a serious accusation. Alma effectively stopped the further progress of the souls of people by his bad behavior, which is spiritual death. He could not live in that knowledge. He did not want his son to have that experience.
He loved the peace and forgiveness that followed when God absolved his sins. If he would have listened to his own father he would not have experienced such psychological pain. The most important lesson Alma wanted to impart during that time with Helaman is to keep the commandments of God and trust in Him. Helaman’s job was to preserve the spiritual integrity of the people through teaching and preaching. The only way he would fulfill his charge was to be free from the devil’s psychological traps by keeping God’s commandments. Alma left never to be heard from again after Helaman took the reins of the church.
Trials of Leading
Giving him the element of humanity that is excluded from the record, Helaman could have wondered, “What if the prophecy is now about to occur? Maybe I misunderstood my father’s words!”
While most prophets did not include their fears or insecurities in the record of The Book of Mormon published presently, they were human. Nephi had moments of weakness that he recorded.
Jesus Christ had a moment of reflection, temptation, weakens where he asked God to choose another way, if possible than suffer for the sins of humanity in the manner He did! Surely, this man Helaman had some thoughts that caused him pause. He, just like Nephi and Jesus, did not waiver if he did have those thoughts.
Many people would not listen to Helaman and his new clergy. “But they grew proud, being lifted up in their hearts, because of their exceedingly great riches; therefore they grew rich in their own eyes, and would not give heed to their words, to walk uprightly before God,” Alma 45:24.
Helaman worked tirelessly to dissuade the people from sin. During the what I call the war years among the Nephites, Helaman’s missionary efforts to reclaim the lost and sure up the faithful are sprinkled here and there with the suggestion by Mormon that those efforts gave the Nephites to psychologically survive the dissensions and wars. In fact, Mormon, with his 20/20 view of history and prophetic mantel wrote that during this time there was “prosperity in the church because of their heed and diligence which they gave unto the word of God, which was declared unto them by Helaman,” and his brethren Alma 49: 30.
A Different Kind of Leading
Helaman would build up the church upon the works of his father without the need to repair the destruction he caused before his conversion like Alma. Helaman did not have souls lost on his conscience due to his bad example. No, his souls that would be lost would be because they died without accepting the gospel—not just that.
The battles with the Lamanites grew in intensity to the point where not even the High Priest Helaman could sit by without intervening after a while. Helaman, who was a youth when his father gave him the charge of the sacred items and records of the Nephites, was now a man of God and an able leader of not only a spiritual army, but a fighting army. Unfortunately for Helaman, and to the hurt of Alma, Helaman would be the means of unprepared souls leaving mortal life. In the next article regarding Helaman, I will discuss his leadership of 2060 young men who changed the meaning of holy war among the Nephites.
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