King Benjamin: The Man not the Money!
Confucius expressed the idea that order comes to society through the superior man who cultivates himself for the benefit of his family and society. King Benjamin taught in addition that such cultivation leads to divinity and a love of God.
His sermon set the mark for a standard of devotion to God that cultivates higher thought and directs human thought and behavior toward celestial things even within modern society.
About King Benjamin
King Benjamin began his reign during a perilous time in Nephi history, one of transitions. His father King Mosiah had passed away during a great period of peace and instruction. Mosiah fled from his native land, the Land of Nephi, being warned in a dream by God. At the conclusion of his flight, he found the people of the land of Zarahemla.
It is probable that the Lord instructed Mosiah to flee because the Lamanites were on the verge of taking the city of Nephi, in which he dwelled, presumably. There seems to have been an apostasy during the time the Nephites lived in what became known as their First Inheritance. The Nephites had fled initially to establish the city of Nephi in the beginning when the city's namesake received warning in a dream to escape his brothers Laman and Lemuel who planned to kill Nephi. The City of Nephi was rife with intrigue when Mosiah left with as many people as would accompany him into a new beginning.
Considering all that King Benjamin taught, he must have learned from his father who caused the Mulekites, a group of people who also sailed to the Americas, save they did during the destruction of Jerusalem, to learn the Nephite language and to unite under a Nephite banner in a new Kingdom in Zarahemla.
No mention of any internal problems appear in the record of The Book of Mormon, but then only one-third of it did Joseph Smith Translate. After a period of presumable peace, the Lamanites found the Nephites new location in Zarahemla just as they did with the City of Nephi to wage war. Benjamin had to step into his role quickly of monarch to take command of the situation.
From what Mormon writes of the situation, which is very little, the transition of power from King Mosiah was smooth and Benjamin stepped in his new role leading the Nephites to victory over their foes. His chief city, and that of the future Nephite leaders would remain Zarahemla for centuries.
There is no record of King Benjamin's wife, siblings or mother, but he had three sons named Mosiah, Helorum, and Helaman--the oldest named after Benjamin's father. Benjamin made sure that his family was educated as is evident of his eldest who eventually ascended to the throne as the last of the Legitimate Nephite kings, but that is another history. After the war with the Lamanites about 325.
Benjamin not only had to grieve for the loss of his people during the war, but the father who passed away while laboring to bring the people of his war-plagued nation back to peace-time status. After the war with the Lamanites about 325 B.C., there was great work to do.
What type of man was King Benjamin?
Mormon said that he "was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness."1 The fact that he was a holy man is significant.
- What does it mean to be a Holy Man in Nephite society?
- Does it mean the spirit of prophecy and revelations?
- Does it mean service and sheltering the poor?
- Does it mean laboring for self-support?
All of those things are attributes of King Benjamin. King Benjamin was the recipient of sacred records kept by the prophets, specifically Amaleki who, "knowing king Benjamin to be a just man before the Lord6," decided to entrust the records of his charge to King Benjamin before he died.
Good things about his character show in the record as he spoke to the subjects of his kingdom before he relinquished the throne to his son Mosiah who himself became a great King.
In this article are written a view of the history of King Benjamin and mention of several key doctrinal truths about conversion to Christ--points pertinent to all Christians who desire to convert to Jesus Christ.
After all, Mormon did include Benjamin's history and theology for the benefit of the modern reader.
All Hail King Benjamin!
After the battle with the Lamanites and the trials, convictions and punishment of war criminals among the Nephites, the people may have become hard in the hearts lacking the ability to turn to goodness readily. The people needed to be prodded.
There is no record among the people of Nephi of any organization that offered any type of outlet for spiritual growth, but King Benjamin had a duty to carry out and it cost him dearly to do so. Thankfully, he was not a solitary figure of holiness as Mormon records.
[T]here were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people—wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.2
King Benjamin did not have an easy time trying to bring stability to his kingdom following the war. What did he do to help to fortify his people? It is possible that he went about with the prophets speaking peace to the people and restoring their faith in the covenants of Jehovah and preaching the law given to Moses as the correct path to follow in life as God directed them towards the coming of Christ.
Benjamin and the prophets used much sharpness; so, it is possible that these men of God reminded them that destruction lay at their doors if they did not heed the statutes of Jehovah. God would not protect them if they did not turn away from base and wicked things; and He would allow the Lamanites to ravage them--being more numerous than the Nephites.
Mormon does not include any record of what was taught to turn the people from their sins and dark state. It is suggested the the term "sharpness" implies that he spoke to them with exactness and detail instead of what modern readers may assume.
The same usage occurs in Doctrine and Covenants 121:43. Kent P. Jackson and Robert D. Hunt, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU when this was written and master’s degree in ancient Near Eastern studies respectively noted the following:
Although the definitions of sharpness are broad enough to allow for “harshness” and “cutting,” such caustic responses are unlikely to correct a wayward person and are devoid of the spirit in which the counsel is given. Joseph Smith was explicit when he added that we reprove “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” which is not present when harshness and anger are used. 14
After bloody wars people become hard. There were no guns there. Hand to hand combat was the rule. Each strike intimately connected the warrior to his defeated victim as blood would splatter over the victor's face and body. The people became numb as dead bodies piled around them and death continued after the war as the wounded caught disease and perished.
Widows and grieving parents wailed about the loss of their warrior sons and questioned: why did the heavens allow it to happen. This is just as their modern counterparts do during times of war and its aftermath. The depravity the people witnessed is what constituted the reason King Benjamin and the prophets labored so to renew the hope of the people.
Because of the great labor that occurred to turn his people around, God granted King Benjamin a precious gift:
[T]here was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days.3
King of Peace
Peace in the land brought with it prosperity. Benjamin made sure that his family was cared for and educated the same way his forebearer Lehi did for his family. In the the Book of Mosiah, Mormon details how Benjamin made sure that his sons learned all that could be taught of the language of their forebearers--meaning the Reformed Egyptian and the Reformed Hebrew used among the Nephites.
Benjamin espoused the Confucian idea that education brings sound reason and understanding--though it was a concept instilled in him by his own father Mosiah. Benjamin wanted to pass those things on to his sons, which he did successfully pass on in his oldest son Mosiah, who eventually displayed great judgement when he afforded the kingdom his leadership.
With that education came a trust also. Benjamin instructed his sons in the writings of the ancient texts, the Plates of Brass and the Plates of Nephi and familiarized them with the artifacts such as the Liahona and the Sword of Laban.
The Liahona is a sacred object obtained by Lehi and his family when they journeyed in the wilderness before sailing to the promised land in the Americas. Nephi records,
And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.4
Nephi described the Liahona in his record which Mormon abridged as a compass-like device of "curious" or intriguing workmanship as is shown by the representation of it in the image above.
It contains spindles that were used to direct the family of Lehi on their course. It also had a screen where message were occasionally displayed according to the heed and faith of the person holding the artifact.
During the time of King Benjamin there is no indication that the Liahona was used as anything more than proof of the will of God in leading the original family of Lehi to the promised land.
The Plates of Nephi: A record of the spiritual dealings of the people of Nephi written by Nephi the son of Lehi who first sailed to the promised land in the Americas.
The Plates of Brass: A record that contains the prophesies of God from Adam up until Jeremiah similar to the Bible but more extent, which includes the books of Moses. It also contained family history information about Lehi the father of the Nephite nation and Lamanite confederacies..
Sword of Laban
Laban was a relative of Lehi who had possession of the Plates of Brass which God instructed Lehi to send his sons Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi to obtain. Laban would not accommodate the commandment of God through persuasion or purchase. Nephi was commanded to slay Laban with his own sword after finding him drunken in the streets of Jerusalem, which he did.
The Lord revealed to Nephi
Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.5
The Lord commanded Laban executed with his own sword! Nephi kept the sword and it was handed down generation after generation as a token of the judgement of God against all who would attempt to hinder His work.
And now, it came to pass that Mosiah went and did as his father had commanded him, and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla....
King Benjamin had accomplished with the help of his priests and prophets the hard task of handing off the kingdom in peace to his successor. It is a tremendous feat to do so in such a peaceable manner. He instructed his son Mosiah in his new role as king without a coup d'etat attempt by his brothers. Truly, the Lord blessed Benjamin for his efforts at the beginning of his reign and throughout.
Publicly, King Benjamin conferred the kingdom to Mosiah and provided a discourse of great magnitude, which had the effect of changing the hearts of his subjects to recommit to the law of Moses as a means to bring them closer to Christ. It was a Christian conversion through the Mosaic law.
General Conference in Zarahemla
The purpose that King Benjamin had in introducing Mosiah as the king was to solidify the approval of the people. The fact that Mosiah went among the people by decree of the king and called them together and they obeyed shows the love Benjamin's subjects had towards him.
Benjamin did not rule his kingdom as did Solomon and David. He did not tax his people for the support of his family or the building of costly buildings. The people loved their king because the king truly loved the people!
Not only was he their king, but he was also their prophet. There is no indication of an organization called a church or anything like unto it existed among these people at that point. As the leader and prophet of this people, Benjamin wanted to leave his witness and finally blessing to them before his death.
Mormon described the multitude as so great that King Benjamin caused a platform or tower to be erected so that his voice could carry to more people; and it was still insufficient!
This great gathering is comparable to the great gathering of their ancestors from the 12 Tribes before crossing the river Jordan and inheriting the land of Canaan from the Canaanites during the time of Moses.
The peace of King Benjamin lasted for so long that the people prospered to the point that they were not numbered because of the mere masses that gathered for conference with the King. With peace came stability to grow the kingdom.
A stroke of fortune for a historian like Mormon, Benjamin caused that the words that he spake during the conference to be recorded so that all the people who did not hear his words could have them also.
It is possible that the sons of Benjamin could have presided at other conference locations near the temple reading the words of the king. Maybe priests consecrated by the king read his words to them as they became available.
The conference most likely lasted for several days if not longer because of all the things that were done and said. Each family that could, placed its tent with the door facing the temple from which King Benjamin gave his address. The fact that these people attended conference with tents suggests that the time could have been longer than just one day of meetings.
Animals were brought and sacrificed in similitude of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ under the Mosaic law. This conference was a great cultural and religious occasion for the people of Nephi.
This great gathering is comparable to the great gathering of their ancestors from the 12 Tribes before crossing the river Jordan and inheriting the land of Canaan from the Canaanites during the time of Moses.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses details all the events that transpired to the House of Israel from the time he led them out of Egypt up until he relinquished control of the leadership of Israel to Joshua.
King Benjamin in like manner detailed to his group the the blessings that occurred for them before relinquishing his reign to Mosiah.
What do you think?
Is it right to obey God just because you think you will get a reward in the end?
When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God!
Benjamin began his discourse speaking about the service that he provided to his people. He did so with the intent to remind them that if he would serve them as their king that they should serve each other. He further taught that they should serve God even more so since he, their king, was just a man--mortal as were they; but God is perfect.
He described all the things that God does for humanity daily that many people take for granted-- such as the air to breath and the earth upon which to live. God serves humanity by providing the basics of life and then blesses those who keep His commandments rewarding them more!
King Benjamin instructed the people to serve each other in order to serve God. Benjamin left the cycle of service open as he stressed that God blesses those who serve him putting all humanity always in His debt. In payment, all that God requires is that humanity follow His commands for which He continues to bless them.
Moses also taught his people to serve God with all there might. Since Benjamin had access to the words of Moses, and a better translation of them also, it is plausible that he drew spiritual direction from Deuteronomy, though being of the House of Israel he would have called it by the Hebrew title, which consists of the first words of the record, Eileh Hadvareem, translation: These be the Words!14
The elements of Judeo-Christian-Islamic doctrine permeate the teachings of Moses in that record to the Jews and supports the idea that Mosiah also claimed the Law and Prophets but with the further clarification that all pointed to the advent of Jesus Christ..
I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.
Spencer W. Kimball in an address he gave at Weber State in 1977 said,
Service to others deepens and sweetens this life while we are preparing to live in a better world. It is by serving that we learn how to serve. When we are engaged in the service of our fellowmen, not only do our deeds assist them, but we put our own problems in a fresher perspective. When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves! In the midst of the miracle of serving, there is the promise of Jesus that by losing our selves, we find ourselves!7
Kimball and Benjamin express the same sentiment that service brings with it rewards and blessings that ultimately benefit the person who serves.
King Benjamin teaches:
I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.8
Benjamin emphasis that his teachings are true by appealing to the common thought and belief of the people that God is the source of all truth. As a just man who had always performed his duty with the interests of the people in his heart, these people could trust that he did not deceive them because of his appeal to the source of his knowledge.
His great service to the people as their king was to direct the glory and honor to God--removing the focus from himself. He was a type of the Savior Jesus Christ in that Christ also removed the glory of His work from Himself to the Father.
Benjamin let the people know that the office of King was one of service to the people, who then reciprocated by serving each other and glorifying God in the process. Jesus Christ is the King of heaven and also performed a service for humankind with the intent that they serve one another and appeal to Heavenly Father for direction.
Every thing that King Benjamin attempted to do for his people fit in line with what the Savior did for the world, which makes King Benjamin a true disciple of Jesus. He looked forward to His appearance in mortality and lived his life as if Christ had already arrived as a pre-atonement Christian.
Vision of Christ's Salvation
Following his introductory Words to his people, he announced to them his retirement and introduced Mosiah as their new king before he continued this final public address.
King Benjamin revealed to the group that an angel appeared to him in answer to his supplication to the Lord to reveal the good news of the approaching birth of Jesus Christ to fullfill the Law of Moses.
Benjamin told his people, as recorded in Mosiah Chapter three, that Jesus would be born to a virgin by the name of Mary and that he would be a healer and caster out of unclean spirits. He taught them that the angel revealed Jesus would suffer for all the sins of mankind to the point were blood would seep through his pores!
These people had just performed the Mosaic sacrifices with their animals and could see the significance of this great suffering and sacrifice that their coming Lord would make on their behalf.
Benjamin explained the purpose of the Law of Moses as a type for the sacrifice that Christ would make for them since the law in and of itself was without effect without the Atonement of Christ. There is no salvation in the law of Moses, but there is in the atonement to which the law of Moses points.
This spiritually intimate story that Benjamin was commanded by the angel to declare to his subjects was very poignant in the lives of those religious displaced Israelites in ancient America.
They believed their king.
King Benjamin instructed them on what happened to those who do not believe and what the unbelievers would do to the Savior. He blamed the unbelief on human frailty and their penchant to give into weakness on the natural man. Said Benjamin,
[T]he natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
The natural man is an enemy to God because he instinctively concerns himself only with what brings him pleasure. To become a saint, people must rise above the natural desires of the body to satisfy itself.
People must learn to control those desires and use them for the purposes that God instructs. Why? Benjamin teaches that God wants to reward all mankind, which He can only do if they follow the formula He has provided through His holy prophets.
Such desires as selfishness stares directly in the face of serving fellowmen, which is in reality serving God as King Benjamin taught in his opening remarks to the people at conference.
Why should people submit to anything the Lord sees fit to inflict on them?
President Deider F Uchtdorf answers this question with the following statement from the September 2013 First presidency message:
Our Heavenly Father has given His word through His prophets—precious knowledge designed to lead us through the challenges of difficult seasons toward the unspeakable joy and brilliant light of eternal life. It is an important part of our life’s experience to develop the strength, courage, and integrity to hold fast to truth and righteousness despite the buffeting we may experience.10
All things that God allows benefit the individual eternally. The purpose of suffering may not be evident in mortality, but will prepare those who endure the suffering with patience, love, submission and the lot for the reward of eternal life with God.
After King Benjamin told his people of the things that the angel instructed him. he gave a warning. The people were now witnesses of the teachings of Christ and were subject to live their lives according to the knowledge that they had received.
The Lord intended Benjamin to bear witness of eternal truths about the atonement so that the people could have choice to accept or reject their God. Benjamin reported that the Lord said, referring to the responsibility of the people in reference to the words revealed by the king:
They [the words] shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.
And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.
Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.
And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever.9
Each Person Will Be Judged By Their Works Related To Their Knowledge.
Benjamin warned what will happen to those who do not heed the words that God gave to him to deliver, which still apply to humanity today regarding Jesus Christ and putting off the natural man to become a saint.
Shame will cause an unquenchable burning in the souls of all people who have heard the laws of God and refused to follow them when they stand before Him at the day of judgement. Mercy, or the atonement will not be able to save them from themselves if they refuse to accept the suffering of Christ on their behalf.
There is Healing and Hope in Christ
President Thomas S. Monson has taught:
At times there appears to be no light at the tunnel’s end—no dawn to break the night’s darkness. We feel surrounded by the pain of broken hearts, the disappointment of shattered dreams, and the despair of vanished hopes. … If you find yourself in such a situation, I plead with you to turn to our Heavenly Father in faith. He will lift you and guide you. He will not always take your afflictions from you, but He will comfort and lead you with love through whatever storm you face.”11
We Believe In Jesus Christ
King Benjamin had delivered an epic address. He announced Mosiah as the new king and he revealed to his people the Gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that it had an overwhelming and astonishing effect on them.
After he finished speaking, he noticed that all the people were convicted of their nothingness before the Lord, or their dependence on Him for all that they have and are and had fallen to the earth in astonishment.
These people are recorded to express this sentiment:
O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.12
No sooner had they expressed themselves as believers, Christians, than
the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.13
The hope that President Monson spoke of was alive and well in this august group of Pre-atonement Christians. King Benjamin had achieved his goal of warning the people for the first part of his discourse at the great conference in Zarahemla.
Jesus Christ lives. He was born as prophesied by the holy prophets, including King Benjamin. He suffered and died for the sins of the world bringing salvation to all who are willing to accept His suffering. He rose from the dead having no sins of His own for which to suffer; therefore, having no reason to die or remain in such a state. He paid the price for sin, death, and now all people will rise from the dead because of His triumph over it.
Read these things.
- King Benjamin
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© 2013 Rodric Johnson