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Mosiah

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah

Subpages: Chapters 1-6 Chapters 7-10 Chapters 11-19 Chapters 20-24 Chapters 25-29

                                                                 Next page: Chapters 1-6


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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Book of Mormon. Mosiah relates the history of the Nephites from about 130 BC to 91 BC under the reigns of Benjamin and his son Mosiah II. Mosiah follows the period of about 300 years since Jacob during which we know very little about the Nephites. Mosiah begins the history of the "classical Nephite period" that continues in great detail through Alma, Helaman, and Third Nephi. The relationship of Mosiah to the Book of Mormon as a whole is discussed at more length at Book of Mormon: Unities.

Story. Mosiah consists of five major sections:

  • Chapters 1-6: King Benjamin. King Benjamin's speech, conversion of people, names written, transfer of kingship.
  • Chapters 7-10: King Zeniff. Zeniff leads two groups to occupy land of Nephi, pride.
  • Chapters 11-19: King Noah and Abinadi. Abinadi preaches to Noah, Alma converted.
  • Chapters 20-24: King Limhi and Alma. Alma and Limhi lead two groups escaping land of Nephi, humility.
  • Chapters 25-29: King Mosiah II. Church organized and names written, Alma Younger converted, transfer of power to judges.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Mosiah include:

  • Christ is the only name by which people can be saved. There is no other name.
  • One problem with monarchy (or unaccountable government) is that it can abuse those to whom it is not accountable.

Historical setting[edit]

This heading should be brief and explain facts about the historical setting that will help a reader to understand the book. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Editorial comment[edit]

Kingship: thesis and antithesis[edit]

Though Mormon seems to have been following the plates of Nephi in his division of the Book of Mormon into books, there is reason to believe that he also found ways to structure each book so that each embodies on a rather grand scale some rather poignant themes. The Book of Mosiah is perhaps the easiest in which such grand themes can be read. The book, as a whole, is structured as a giant parallelism that resolves itself by cancelling the separation implied in the parallelism. Some detail is in order.

The small plates report (and one can only imagine that Mormon's parallel text in the missing manuscript reported it as well) that Benjamin's reign was marked, before his great speech, by a rather odd split in his kingdom. A group of people, under the direction of Zeniff, decided to move to the South in an attempt to reclaim the original lands occupied by Nephi after he fled from his brothers. Though this departure is only noted in few words, it must be recognized that it was likely a major political event: to reclaim former territory in the name of the Nephite kings is certainly a daring undertaking, and to establish a kingship there, one parallel to Benjamin's own power, could only have been understood as a relativization of Benjamin's power. In other words, that Zeniff felt to establish a kingship in a more originary sense than Benjamin's monarchy suggests that the movement to reclaim the land of Nephi was fueled in part by a sort of mild defiance, a rejection, to some degree, of Benjamin's place. There does not seem to have been a great deal of concern on Benjamin's part about all of this, and there seem to have been amicable relations between the two groups (Mosiah II sends out parties to search for them, etc.), and so whatever "defiance" is implied in the action was certainly quite mild. But it should be recognized that there were inevitable implications and overtones bound up within Zeniff's zeal to obtain the land of Nephi.

What all of this seems to suggest is that the Book of Mosiah opens on the note of a major political split. When the book opens, the split is already complete, and the majority of the book deals with the parallel kingdoms this split creates. The first part of the book (Mosiah 1-6) deals with things in the land of Zarahemla; the second part (Mosiah 7-24) deals with things in the land of Nephi. The last part of the book (Mosiah 25-29) works out the collapse of the split, the collapse of the parallel kingdoms, and the reconciliation of two rival worldviews. In other words, the Book of Mosiah reads almost like a Hegelian syllogism:

  • Thesis: Benjamin's/Mosiah's Kingdom (Chapters 1-6)
  • Antithesis: Zeniff's/Noah's/Limhi's Kingdom (Chapters 7-24)
  • Synthesis: Mosiah's/Alma's Kingdom/Judgeship (Chapters 25-29)

This broad structure in the book suggests the incredibly political theme of the Book of Mosiah ("political" understood in the sense it was used among, say, the Greeks--not in the debates and power struggles of today). The book reads into a series of parallel kings (and the prophet Abinadi, as a parallel to Benjamin in a powerful way) in order to think the institution of kingship and to think its relation to salvation. The radically separatist voice of Abinadi ultimately calls for a sort of rebellion under the radically separatist authority of Alma. When Limhi returns to Zarahemla ready to give up the institution of kingship, and when Alma returns to Zarahemla quite convinced that the kingdom of God should be understood as superceding any earthly kingship, the ideals Benjamin had taught in such incredible power have quite clearly been compromised by the parallel history. Mosiah II is forced to make a decision that results in the institution of the judges. The whole book, it seems, sets Mosiah II's grand speech in Mosiah 29, then, against Benjamin's grand speech in Mosiah 2-5. These two speeches are set in parallel, and the great irony is that the first speech (Benjamin's) is specifically the speech given as Mosiah II was enthroned. The book really is the Book of Mosiah, since it centers on the events (almost all of which happen outside the boundaries of his kingdom) that lead Mosiah from a most glorious equation of the Nephite kingdom with the kingdom of God, to a radical rejection of the very concept of kingdom.

In the end, the Book of Mosiah must be read as the process of Mosiah's realization of these difficulties, and as the situation in which he was able to hand over to the Nephites an entirely different era. The book is, in other words, a transition from the cyclical nonsense of the political situation of the small plates to the cyclical nonsense of the political situation of the Book of Alma. The transition is focused on one person alone: Mosiah.

Free agency, political accountability, and separation of church and state[edit]

At the end of the book of Mosiah, King Mosiah II explicitly draws for us one of the major lessons of the book. He points back to his father Benjamin and says that if one could always count on kings to be as good as Benjamin, then the ideal political system would be monarchy (29:13-15). But he then points back to Noah as an example of how much damage can be caused by a king who is bad (29:16-18). In the final chapters of Mosiah, Chapters 25-29, Mosiah II introduces two significant social reforms that help to limit the amount of damage that a single wicked individual like Noah can inflict on an entire society.

The first reform, in Chapter 26, is the separation of church and state. In Zarahemla, Mosiah I, Benjamin, and Mosiah II were all priest-kings who served as both the religious and political leaders of their people. Down south in the land of Nephi, Noah had similar power to put down all the priests who had been consecrated by his father King Zeniff and appoint his own priests (11:4-5). But Mosiah II deprives future Nephite political leaders of the ability to meddle in religious affairs. Although it is Mosiah II who appoints Alma to succeed him as the supreme religious leader over the church (26:8), he also sets Alma up to do this independently of the king. Thus when difficulties soon arise in the church, King Mosiah II refuses to meddle and tells Alma to resolve the matter himself (26:11-12). And, though this is not spelled out explicitly in Mosiah 25-29, we are not informed of even one attempt over the next 125 years by a Nephite political leader to influence the appointment of a religious leader.

The second reform introduced by Mosiah II, in Chapter 29, is democracy. Mosiah II institutes a system of elected judges, including an elected chief judge or governor who is accountable for his conduct in office by the need to periodically stand for re-election (Alma __:__). We are never told about internal checks on the power of government through a system of checks and balances, or separation of powers, such as the division of powers among legislative, executive, and judicial branches. But we are clearly told on several occasions that the judges who rule over the Nephites are accountable through the mechanism of periodic elections.

These two reforms can be seen to grow out of fundamental gospel principles. In Lectures on Faith, faith is identified as a principle of action on the rationale that a person would not act to plant in the spring unless he first had faith that he would be able to harvest in the fall. But faith is not the only principle or determinant of action:

  1. Head. If your neighbor offers to pay you $25,000 for mowing his lawn, it will not happen because the offer is way too high and you do not believe that your neighbor intends to fulfill his promise.
  2. Heart. If your neighbor instead offers to pay only 25 cents, you believe that he would in fact fulfill the promise to pay such a small price, but the lawn still does not get mowed because you do not desire such a small amount badly enough to go do the work.
  3. Hands. If your neighbor offers $25, then you might well mow his lawn — unless you are physically unable because just broke your arm and are leaving to go to the hospital.

All three of these principles or determinants of action must align before there is action. Any of these three is enough to prevent action.

Free agency can be understood in terms of these three principles of action. Samuel the Lamanite taught the Nephites that they were free to act because they had been taught the truth regarding the nature of the choices before them and because they were at liberty to act on those choices (Hel 14:30-31). In other words, they were free to act on their desires, or to follow their hearts, because their heads were filled with accurate information upon which to base their choices, and because their hands were free or at liberty to act on those choices.

The two institutions of church and state can in turn be understood in terms of this model of free agency. One of the key roles of the church is to provide, or to fill people's heads with, accurate information about the true nature of the choices before them, including eternal consequences. A key role of the state is to protect the liberty of its citizens so that they can, unless they seek to injure others, freely act on their desires in the manner informed by their beliefs. In other words, people such as the Nephites to whom Samuel was speaking enjoy the fullest free agency when the church provides them with accurate information and the state protects their liberty to act on that information. Not surprisingly, the two social institutions repeatedly denounced in the Book of Mormon are those that attack these same two elements of free agency: priestcrafts that seek gain by teaching false doctrine, and secret combinations that seek gain through murder and overthrowing government.

When the reforms of Mosiah II are viewed from this perspective, they can be seen as institutionalizing the protection of free agency, one of the central issues debated in the Council in Heaven (Moses 4:3), the only "right" claimed in the Articles of Faith (AF 10), and the one thing that the Book of Mormon repeatedly teaches will cause a society to be destroyed when denied to its members (Alma 10:22; Hel 13:14; also Hel 13:14). So the two reforms instituted by Mosiah II are not merely interesting historical facts. They are lessons about how a people can safeguard its free agency against the likes of Noah.

One of the key purposes of the earlier parts of Mosiah, in turn, is to use examples (King Benjamin in Chapters 1-6, King Noah in Chapters 11-19) to teach us the importance of safeguarding free agency so we can appreciate the importance of these reforms when they are finally enacted by Mosiah II at the end of the book (Chapters 25-29).

Complete outline and page map[edit]

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I. King Benjamin's speech, conversion of people, names written, transfer of kingship (1-6)

II. Zeniff leads two groups to occupy land of Nephi (7-10)
III. Abinadi preaches to Noah, Alma converted (11-19)
• king Noah's wickedness, Abinadi's public preaching (Chapter 11-12a)
• king Noah as a wicked king (11:1-15)
• Lamanite threat and Abinadi's warning to repent (11:16-19, 20-26, 27-29)
• Abinadi's second warning to repent (12:1-8)
• people are angry and deliver Abinadi to king Noah (12:9-16)
• Noah's priests interrogate Abinadi (Chapters 12b-16)
• Abinadi condemned, Alma pleads for Abinadi and flees (17:1-5)
• Abinadi stands by his testimony (17:6-10)
• Noah does not release Abinadi for fear of his priests (17:11-13)
• Abinadi's dying prophecy (17:14-20)
• those who do and do not follow Abinadi's message (Chapters 18-19)
• Alma preaches at the Waters of Mormon, those who follow (18:1-35)
• Fulfillment of Abinadi's prophecies on those who do not (19:1-29)
II. Alma and Limhi lead two groups escaping land of Nephi (20-24)

I. Church organized and names written, Alma Younger converted, transfer of power to judges (25-29)

  • Chapter 25: Mosiah II gives Alma authority over the church
  • Chapter 26: the church expels the wicked who will not repent
  • Chapter 27a: the state prohibits those who persecute the church
  • Chapter 27b: the Lord stops those who preach against the church
  • Chapters 28-29: Mosiah II gives the plates to Alma and the government to the people

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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Resources[edit]

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Previous editions.

The original 1830 edition of Mosiah was divided into only thirteen chapters (I-XIII). For the 1879 edition Parley Pratt further divided those thirteen into the twenty nine chapters (1-29) still used today. • I: 1-3 • II: 4 • III: 5 • IV: 6 • V: 7-8 • VI: 9-10 • VII: ch.11-13:24 • VIII: 13:25-ch.16 • IX: 17-21 • X: 22 • XI: 23-27 • XII: 28:1-19 • XIII: 28:20-ch.29

References cited on this page.

Other resources.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 1-6

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 1-6

Subpages: Chapters 1-2 Chapter 3 Chapters 4-6

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This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.


Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Mosiah. The relationship of Chapters 1-6 to the rest of Mosiah is discussed at Mosiah.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-6 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Unanswered questions[edit]

This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Prompts for life application[edit]

This section is for prompts that suggest ways in which a passage can influence a person's life. Prompts may be appropriate either for private self reflection or for a class discussion. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Prompts for further study[edit]

This section is for prompts that invite us to think about a passage more deeply or in a new way. These are not necessarily questions that beg for answers, but rather prompts along the lines of "Have you ever thought about ..." Prompts are most helpful when they are developed individually, thoughtfully, and with enough background information to clearly indicate a particular direction for further study or thought. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Resources[edit]

This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



Previous page: Mosiah                      Next page: Chapters 1-2


Mosiah 1:1-5

Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 1-6 > Chapters 1-2
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Summary[edit]

This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 1:6-10

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 1:11-15

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 1:16-18

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 2:1-5

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 2:6-10

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 2:11-15

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 2:16-20

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 2:21-25

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 2:26-30

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 2:31-35

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it might be implied that material security or success might attend such wisdom, it might be better to consider the OT (and Book of Mormon?) sense of prosperity to have more to do with obtaining wisdom and to successfully deal with complex situations, rather than to become rich or materially secure.
  • Mosiah 2:23: Grant: Because it might at first seem strange to suggest that a grant can result in indebtedness, the etymology of the word "grant" might be profitably explored. The word, in English, derives from the Indo-European root kerd-, meaning "heart" (the English prefix cardio- derives from the same root), and is thus related to (in fact derived from) the Latin credere, "to believe" or "to trust." To grant is, therefore, to entrust something to someone, to place something in trust—according to some kind of official agreement, usually a written deed. The OED makes this clear: to grant is "to bestow or confer (a possession, right, etc.) by a formal act. Said of a sovereign or supreme authority, a court of justice, a representative assembly, etc. Also, in Law, to transfer (property) from oneself to another person, especially by deed." This usage is nicely confirmed by the usage of the word in argumentation: "I grant you that point" does not signal some kind of absolute gift, but a hypothetical agreement in order to see what follows from the point granted ("to grant" is in such a circumstance something like "to suppose for the sake of argument"), and the interlocutor will yet be required to "deliver." In a word, nothing about the word "grant" suggests the absolute freedom of the "gift": the grant places one in a relation of indebtedness without question (the etymological tie to the word "credit," also from the Indo-European root kerd-, perhaps says it all).
  • Mosiah 2:23-24. These two verses are, by the "And now" that opens them and by the "And now" that brings them to their conclusion (in verse 25) set off from the remainder of the section in which they fall (verses 9-28; note that these are the only two instances of "And now"—a phrase that almost universally marks transitions in the Book of Mormon—in the section). Though verses 23-24 obviously remain, for all this, within the broader first section of Benjamin's speech—and hence, within the broader thematic of the section: kingship and creation—they must be read as making something of a departure from, or at least as standing somewhat independent of, the verses immediately surrounding them. Their internal logic thus deserves a bit of close attention. It is possible, as the commentary below makes clear, to see these two verses as a kind of anticipatory summary of the whole of Benjamin's speech. They may therefore be taken as a kind of aside meant to orient the reader/hearer early in the (rather lengthy) speech.
It could, of course, be objected that to privilege these two verses this way is a bit excessive: should there not be something more than the inclusio (the "And now" and the "And now") to confirm the quasi-independence of the passage? Indeed, and two other confirmations of this reading immediately present themselves. First, a kind of numerical logic structures the relationship between these two verses (the "in the first place" of verse 23 and the "secondly" of verse 24), but it does not extend, in either direction, beyond them. Not only does this fact serve as a confirmation of the quasi-independence of the passage, but it also determines in advance how a responsible interpretation of these two verses must proceed: the logic of the enumeration must be quite carefully considered. Second, it is only in this passage—in all of the standard works—that the word "indebted" appears. (The word appears also, of course, in verse 34, but it should be noted that it appears there only as an echo of this passage.) This two-verse sequence therefore draws theological attention to itself: it is here and here alone—that is, within the confines of these two verses uniquely—that any scriptural approach to the question of human indebtedness to God must be undertaken. This second confirmation, like the first, does more than merely confirm the relative independence of the passage in that it also determines in advance how any responsible interpretation of the passage must proceed: not only must such an interpretation give itself to the logic of the enumeration that structures the passage, it must also dedicate itself primarily to the idea of indebtedness.
If the relative self-sufficiency of verses 23-24 are secured by the above observations, the passage must not be taken, for that reason, as being somehow out of place in Benjamin's speech. Most of what is said in these two verses in fact appears in the verses surrounding them:
  "he hath created you" (verse 23)                       "him who has created you from the beginning" (verse 21)
  
  "and granted unto you your lives" (verse 23)           "and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you 
                                                         breath, that ye may live and move and do according to
                                                         your own will" (verse 21)
  
  "ye are indebted unto him" (verse 23)                  "ye would be unprofitable servants" (verse 21)
  
  "he doth require that ye should do as                  "all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments"
  he hath commanded you" (verse 24)                      (verse 22)
  
  "if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;              "if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper
  and therefore he hath paid you" (verse 24)             you" (verse 22)
  
  "of what have ye to boast?" (verse 24)                 "can ye say aught of yourselves?" (verse 25)
This rather long list of parallels is worth displaying for two closely connected reasons. First, it makes clear that most of the major elements of verses 23-24 are not only employed in the verses surrounding the passage, but that they are employed there in the same order they appear in verses 23-24. Second, this almost perfect and perfectly ordered mapping up reveals what is ultimately so unique about verses 23-24: its elements that are not to be found in the surrounding verses immediately draw attention to themselves (really, just this: "ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever").
The question that must be asked, then, is this: What does all of the above suggest about the contextual setting of this quasi-independent passage? At the very least, it becomes clear, in light of the above comments, that the passage could be said to be fundamentally superfluous, were it not for the idea expressed in the sentence "And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever." Whatever justifies not only the quasi-independence but indeed the very existence of the passage here under consideration is to be found in the interpretation of that theologically unique statement.
Without yet undertaking to interpret the statement, it might be pointed out in advance that its theological intention is vital to Benjamin's broader purposes: though it can claim a kind of quasi-independence, it is nonetheless a part of Benjamin's argument. This is made quite clear by the beginning of verse 25: "And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay." Benjamin's (logical) "proof," by which his "Nay" is justified, is the statement ultimately unique to verses 23-24, the assertion of uncancelable (and therefore eternal) indebtedness. Benjamin's subsequent dependence on verses 23-24 (a dependence that will again be obvious, as pointed out above, in verse 34, with its mention of indebtedness) thus emphasizes the "quasi-" of quasi-independence: though the passage can (and perhaps must) be interpreted as a self-contained argument, any such interpretation must eventually be gathered back into the broader task of interpreting Benjamin's speech as a whole (or at least of interpreting this first stretch of Benjamin's speech, verses 9-28).
This clarified quasi-independence in turn clarifies what is anticipated in the suggestion above that verses 23-24 can be taken as a kind of orienting aside, as a brief lemma of sorts that draws on the broader scope of Benjamin's entire discourse. Here, almost between the lines, Benjamin allows the scope of his entire discourse to disrupt a particular (and particularly early) moment of it. This disruption serves as a dis/reorientation that redirects Benjamin's words: if talk of kingship and creation too easily collapses into a statist defense of legalism, a disturbing glimpse of something beyond creation keeps the early theme open, in fact allows it to open onto a second theme (one that will begin to assert itself as early as verse 29: the fall), and then onto a third (chapters 3-4: the atonement), and finally onto a fourth (chapter 5: the veil). But this overambitious anticipation deserves a bit of further comment, now more directly at the textual level.
The phrase "in the first place" appears four other times in the Book of Mormon (only once in the Bible but there with an entirely different sense): 2 Ne 32:9; Alma 13:3, 5; 32:22. While it is only in the present verse that the "first place" is caught up into an explicit enumeration (that is, that it is followed by a "secondly"), these other instances of the phrase are certainly relevant and interpretively helpful. In each case, the "first place" has reference to a kind of primordiality, almost a non-temporal (because pre-temporal, or at least pre-evental) before: the place of the "first place" seems, in each instance, to be the place marked out for some kind of an event (in Nephi, the event is a "performance"; in Alma 13, it is a "holy ordinance"; in Alma 32, it is an angelic visitation—all three events mentioned here, it might be noted, bear some connection to temple drama). Something similar can be seen in the present verse: in this "first place," the stage is set for the human drama in the broadest—in fact, cosmic—terms.
Of the parallel texts mentioned, one deserves further attention: Alma 13 (or rather, Alma 12-13, Alma's discourse to the people of Ammonihah). While the two instances of "in the first place" in Alma 13 are not caught up immediately, as mentioned above, into an enumerative logic, Alma's discourse there (making up much of Alma 12 as well as all of Alma 13) does—several times—employ a double enumeration very like that of the present passage. The relevance of the parallel is further strengthened by the fact that Alma describes the second part of the enumeration, precisely as Benjamin does here, as a question of commandments (see especially Alma 12:37: "these second commandments").
The key passage from Alma's discourse is perhaps Alma 12:31-32 (the italics are, of course, added): "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men [what verse 37, mentioned above, will go on to clarify as "these second commandments"], they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures [cf. Mosiah 2:21], whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption [from the first death], that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God."
Because these words—indeed, all of Alma's discourse—are in part a commentary on Gen 3:24 (quoted in 12:21 to Alma by Antionah), and hence, on Adam and Eve, "first" things are Edenic, while "second" things are post-Edenic. That is, "first" things stretch from God's act of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the garden, while "second" things pertain to the fallen world that calls for redemption and a return to the garden. The "first" things thus originate in a primordial situation in which God still dealt with human beings face to face, whereas the "second" things are always a question of angelic ministration: God, "in the first place," presses human beings beyond His reach, and then, "secondly," His angels are sent to redeem them through covenants and commandments (which is precisely what happens in Mosiah 3: an angel brings a message of redemption to Benjamin that the king subsequently shares with the people).
If this logic of firsts and second can be read back into Benjamin's words (one might, of course, suggest that Alma is drawing on Benjamin himself, though no such direct connection is necessary to see the profound similarity between the two discourses), it is possible to read verse 23 as roughly Edenic and verse 24 as roughly post-Edenic. That is, one seems justified in reading—if not called upon to read—verse 23 as articulating the creation (and/as fall: creation as completed by the full individualization of human beings brought about by the fall) and verse 24 as articulating the redemption (and/as veil experience: redemption as an orientation by/at the angels/veil).
It thus becomes clear what interpretation at the level of the verse must attempt to accomplish—what the commentary below for verses 23-24 must attempt to accomplish: interpretation of verse 23 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the creation and the fall, while interpretation of verse 24 must (begin to) articulate the complex relationship between the redemption/atonement and the veil. As the above comments make quite clear, this must be undertaken with an eye all the time to the interpretation of the unique theological contribution made by the two verses taken together: the idea of eternal indebtedness.
  • Mosiah 2:23. In articulating the creation, Benjamin describes God ("he") as having done two things or undertaken two actions. The tense of the verbs is of some importance: rather than employing the perfect tense (which would have looked like this: "in the first place, he created you, and granted unto you your lives"), Benjamin uses the present perfect tense ("he hath created you," etc.). The difference in meaning is striking in at least two ways. First, the events of creation is not irrecoverably past: though the actions of the verbs are complete ("perfect"), their reality does not disappear from the now ("present perfect"). The acts of creation Benjamin describes thus retain a sense of primordiality (already implied by the use of the phrase "in the first place"), but they do slip into inaccessibility. Second, because the verb "to have" is employed in the construction (at least in the English translation: Hebrew—if indeed Hebrew was still in use in any way by Benjamin's time—does not have a present perfect tense), a hint of possession characterizes the events of creation: their completion or execution is something God has, something that belongs to Him, almost as if they were objects. Rather than becoming absolutely past events in which God can claim He was somehow involved, the works of creation are something that are still possessed by God: He inhabits them, controls them, maintains them, and so speaks through them still. These two points might be gathered together thus: God's work of creation, for Benjamin, remains actual.
The two verbs that articulate the acts of creation themselves are, it should be further noted, both attached to the same "he hath" (the subject and first part of the verb tense construction are not repeated). At least to some extent, this construction marks a proximity of the two acts: one cannot too sharply separate or distinguish the act of creation from the act of granting life. Yet—of course—the "and" that lies between the two verbs nonetheless remains, placing some (albeit limited) distance between the two acts. It seems best, in light of this, to read the two acts as profoundly intertwined, as two aspects of a single, broader work. The work of creation is not a single act, but neither does it amount to two separate works: creation (in the broad sense) is a double act. One might say that creation (in the narrow sense) is completed as it is doubled by the granting of life, or that the granting of life issues directly from (and thus cannot be entirely separated from) creation (again in the narrow sense). Creation in the broad sense, as Benjamin understands it, must thus be explored through the interpretation of two acts taken at once as separate and inseparable.
Two phrases, gathered about two very different verbs, guide interpretation of the broader work of creation as Benjamin articulates it. The first: "he hath created you." The Hebrew verb br' is the one most often translated "to create" in the Old Testament, and it is possible (perhaps likely, given the Nephite adherence to the texts of Second Isaiah, which employ the word almost obsessively) that Nephite thinking about creation is rooted in this word, whether or not the Nephites were still speaking Hebrew in any recognizable form in Benjamin's day. The word is interesting because it is never used to describe the act or action of anyone except God: creation, in the Hebrew Bible, is always the work of God. Of course, it should be noted that there are other verbs used in the Hebrew to describe acts of creation, words meaning "to shape," "to form," "to order," "to mold," etc., but they all differ from br' in that while the latter verb is only used with God as the subject of the action, these others are often employed in non-divine contexts: a man or a woman can shape or mold something, etc. As such, these other creation verbs are metaphorical, whereas br' —"to create" pure and simple—is not.
Benjamin's emphasis would seem, then, to be on the uniqueness of the agent—that is, God—who is doing the work. His choice of words also suggests that he is not at all interested in the mechanics of the creation: Benjamin uses only the relatively abstract verb and avoids metaphorical terms that would get him involved in the "scientific" or "technological" details of God's creative work. The stark simplicity of Benjamin's statement, in fact, is almost striking: "he hath created you." There is no dwelling on detail, no exploration of what is implied by the act, no discussion of God's reasons for creation. Benjamin rather presents creation as a kind of abstract or absolute event, something unalterably divine and immemorial.
At least he does so in the first phrase he employs. In the second—"and granted unto you your lives"—much more is at work. At the simplest level, the idea conveyed by the phrase would seem to suggest little more than the phrase that precedes it: God has created Benjamin's people. However, the grammar of the phrase alone complicates things. In addition to a verb and a direct object (both found in the preceding phrase), this phrase uses an indirect object: what is "granted" (verb) is "your lives" (direct object), and these are granted "unto you" (indirect object). Significantly, the indirect object of the present phrase is identical to the direct object of the preceding phrase: what is directly created in the first phrase ("you") is what indirectly receives the action of the second phrase (again: "you"). There is thus a kind of distancing at work across the two phrases: while one is created as such in the first phrase, one is displaced to an indirect position in the second phrase. This displacement is all the more significant in that it is accomplished by the way the second phrase makes one's "life" something apparently autonomous: as the direct object (as what directly receives the action of the verb), one's "life" becomes an independent "thing," something over and against one (the one created).
This separation between "you" and "your lives" is also highlighted by the verb used in the second phrase: something must be granted to someone, and so there is marked some kind of split between oneself and one's life. Recognition of this split is vital to understanding what the verse actually seems to be saying: one is granted one's life, is given to possess it, is given dominion over it. One's life must be something semi-reified so that it can be taken in hand, can be controlled or claimed, can be said to be one's own. But so soon as this separation is clearly recognized, it must become quite obvious that there are two very different "events" described by the two phrases used here: if one is created or constituted by the first, one is made into a possessing self by the second. That is, if creation is a rather straightforward (albeit absolute) act, the granting of life is a much more complex and involved movement. This second "event" deserves extended attention.
In order to riddle out the meaning of this second phrase or this second "event," it is necessary to look more profoundly at two terms in particular: "grant" and "life." The second might be approached more fruitfully first.
What, after all, is the meaning of life? What does the word itself—"life"—have reference to? The modern reader perhaps too quickly provides scientific, even technological definitions: life is one's biological reality, the continuation of one's pulse or brain activity. But these hardly get down to the heart of the matter. Much more helpful is the parallel phrasing in verse 21, as laid out in the chart above: God is "lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will." (The parallel between the grant of the present verse and the loan of verse 21 will have to be considered below as well.) To live, it would seem, is to "live and move and do according to [one's] own will." Not only is there something of an emphasis on animation (one must "move"), but on self-animation, on the "will": life is a question of selfhood or self-will, of agency in the less than theological sense of the word (an agent is one who is granted the ability to determine how certain things will be done, albeit within certain boundaries).
Beyond mere creation, then, is this act of granting autonomy, of granting to the created being a will. This two-part work of creation might fruitfully be compared to the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in Gen 2: Adam is first made from clay, but he would remain more or less an adobe were it not for God's going on to breathe into his nostrils the breath of life, thereby making Adam a "living soul." The physical creation of a human being—the mere putting together of the human object—is only part of bringing it to "life"; there must also be some act of endowing that created being with an individuated agency, with a selfhood, or with an autonomous will. Or, put another way, the created human being must be separated from God (perhaps as much in the Freudian sense as in the theological sense). Separation: this would ultimately be the consequence, not of the creation taken quite narrowly, but of the fall: it is the fall that separates the human being and the human being's will from God, at least enough to make it autonomous. And this means in short that it is the fall that "completes" the creation, that brings it to its ultimate aim (cf. 2 Ne 2:12) by granting life.
What all of this means, oddly enough, is that God's granting life to human beings is accomplished, according to Benjamin, by His giving them the gift of death: it is the fall, with its promise—sure promise—of death that brings creation to completion. Death, as the one thing one must absolutely do for oneself, is ultimately what individuates one, what separates one from everyone else, what forces one to realize oneself. Strange as this perhaps sounds, the necessity of death for autonomy has long been recognized by philosophers. As early as Socrates, life was defined as "practicing death" or "caring for death," and Plato suggested that one lives most genuinely by having fought for one's city and thus by having faced one's own death. More recent philosophers have spoken of death as authenticating one, that is, as giving one individuality or selfhood: by living towards one's death—that is, by coming to grips with the eventual dissolution of one's being—one becomes oneself (the existentialists, especially in their literature, have popularized an almost radically suicidal ethics based on this idea). One is perhaps reminded of Alma 30, where Korihor teaches similar doctrines: it is as one realizes that death is one's end that one is freed (at last!) to claim oneself most radically. To grant life is thus to give death, a gift God offers through the fall as a completion of the creation.
Of course, the Latter-day Saint could (and should!) respond that it seems a bit grim and certainly out of place to compare Benjamin's teachings with those of Korihor! Indeed, even though life must be thought at least preliminarily as living towards death, life is, for Benjamin, always something granted, something that leaves one indebted: death may well be what gives one a will, but death (and so, life) nevertheless remains a gift. That is, the autonomous will given to human beings in order to complete their creation is not created absolutely, but, as a gift, it instead always bears reference to the endowing God who granted it: given the gift of death, the human will is only autonomous enough, is never absolute. Korihor's doctrine, of course, misses this point entirely: for Korihor, death is a fact and not a gift as it is for Benjamin. In order, then, to make clearer sense of the life that is granted to human beings in the fall, it is necessarily to look carefully at the other vital word in this verse: "granted."
A good point to start, as mentioned above, is the parallel between verses 21 and 23: the grant of the present verse is paralleled in verse 21 by a loan, specifically of breath. It is necessary, of course, since both the loan of verse 21 and the grant of the present verse result in indebtedness, to ask what the relationship between life and breath amounts to. On the one hand, loaning breath and granting life might be seen as two aspects of a single event: one is loaned breath, and precisely so one is granted life. On the other hand, it is possible—indeed, necessary—to question a facile equivalence of loaning breath and granting life: inasmuch as the grant of life is a gift (albeit of death), it would seem possible to contest or at least to critique its being described in specifically economic terms (such as must be employed in describing a loan). But even as a critique must be leveled against a reductively economic reading of the transaction, it must be noted that it is Benjamin himself who adds the final phrase of the present verse, "for which ye are indebted unto him."
Hence, though economy is unavoidable here, its place in the double transaction of the loan and the grant must be read quite carefully—and a most responsible interpretation will have to take the radicalization of indebtedness in verse 24 into account, something that cannot be undertaken until a preliminary critique in terms of the present verse has been responsibly undertaken. This task thus remains to pave the way towards an interpretation of verse 24.
The economic phenomenon of the loan is actually quite interesting. Perhaps the simplest thing that can be said about it is that it must be paid in full at some later date, and it thus opens up a kind of temporal space, perhaps a "probationary time" (Alma 42:4), a space or a time that is given by a particular lending agent (the loan differs from the gift at least in that it always must retain some kind of reference to the lender, while the gift may be given anonymously). This very way of stating things, though, is actually a bit more complex than it might at first appear: in that something is loaned, something else is given (for example: a sum of money is loaned, and a space of time is thereby given). This connection between a loan and its associated gift cannot be broken even by canceling the debt: though the day of reckoning may in reality never come, a loan is not a loan unless it is given at first with an at least assumed (even if vague) day of reckoning. It would seem, then, that a loan cannot be granted without a gift being given as well, though it is obviously possible for a gift to be given without a loan being granted.
It would thus seem best not to dissociate the loan of verse 21 from the grant of verse 23: the granting of life is inextricably intertwined with the lending of breath. Two questions, though, must then be addressed. First, is the indebtedness spoken of in verse 23 a consequence of the grant or of the loan? Second, what is owed and how would it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Because these two questions can perhaps only really be addressed in light of verse 24, it will be necessary to anticipate the interpretation of the latter verse a bit to begin to answer them.
The first of these two questions must be formulated a bit more carefully. On the one hand, it would seem that it is entirely from the loan that indebtedness results, since a gift or grant does not need to be paid back by definition (contemporary European philosophers have argued extensively that any economizing of the gift essentially cancels it as a gift). On the other hand, however, verse 23 is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the indebtedness derives from the grant itself: "he hath . . . granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Is there a way of thinking about the intertwining of the loan and the grant/gift that can recognize indebtedness as the consequence of the grant (instead of the loan) without compromising the giftness of the gift? Nothing short of such a way of thinking can ultimately do justice to the text as it stands.
What must be avoided, it must be clear, is an interpretation of the gift or grant such that it becomes inscribed in an economy of circulation: inasmuch as the grant has been economized, it will have never been given in the first place. The question that must be asked, then, is this: does indebtedness imply economy? Not necessarily. It is verse 24 that makes this abundantly clear: because of the way God handles the relationship set up by this loan-and-grant, the indebtedness mentioned at the conclusion of verse 23 is an eternal or infinite indebtedness, one that can never be canceled or paid back. That is, because God continually maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—infinitely maintains the indebtedness of the debtor—the gift or grant is never brought into the circulation of an economy. (It is absolutely vital, though the point must be discussed below in the context of verse 24, that the infinitude of the indebtedness is due entirely to the vigilant work of the faithful God.) It is thus clear, at the very least, that the indebtedness Benjamin seems to see deriving from the grant (rather than the loan) never inscribes the grant/gift within the circulation of an economy.
It is thus possible to see a major gap between the indebtedness caused by the gift and the indebtedness (that would be) caused by the loan. While the former is infinite (due to God's infinite fidelity), the latter is finite: because the loan must be paid back, the indebtedness it brings into being is only temporary, and can be canceled by the responsible work of the debtor. Only a gift has the power to bring infinite or eternal indebtedness on someone. And yet the marvel is that these two kinds of indebtedness, as made clear in the brief "phenomenology of the loan" above, are completely inseparable: it is the temporary indebtedness of the loan that gives or grants a space of time, that is, that opens the possibility of the infinite indebtedness maintained by the gift relation (of God to human beings). The temporary (essentially finite) loan (of breath) establishes the possibility of the eternal (essentially infinite) gift of life, though this is something that can only be made fully infinite in the infinitely faithful work of God.
It seems clear, then, that it is the grant or gift that brings about the indebtedness Benjamin is most concerned with here: the granting of life, intertwined with the loan of breath, is the origin (the starting point, perhaps the primal leap) of an infinite indebtedness. Infinite indebtedness: grace. But again, fuller exploration of what is at work in grace must be postponed until discussion of verse 24 where the indebtedness becomes explicitly infinite; in verse 23, indebtedness is only primordially incurred. And this is to say that the initial indebtedness of verse 23 is neither the consequence of solely the loan, nor the consequence of the grant alone: it is merely the ground, established by the loan-and-grant as an intertwining, of an infinite indebtedness to be inscribed on human beings by an infinitely faithful God. Verse 23 merely describes the granted space of time called "life," the temporal stretch from now until death, one's being-toward-death, the life of fallen human beings.
It might thus be possible to answer the second question asked above: what is owed and how might it (at least theoretically) be paid back? Of the two intertwined transactions—the loan and the gift—only the loan ultimately can be paid back, since (in light of verse 24) the gift will be infinitized and thus displaced from the power of the debtor to pay back. Since what is loaned, then, is breath, it is precisely breath that can and must be paid back. As breath comes to the flesh on loan, it must return (when death is given at last) to God (as in Alma 41:11: the spirit/breath must return to the God who loaned it) in payment of the debt. But the life—the possibility of a real agency—that has been granted in the meanwhile through the loan of breath can be infinitized or made eternal by the faithful intervention of God.
These comments at last make it possible to address verse 24 interpretively.
  • Mosiah 2:24. The commentary on verse 23, as well as the discussion of the semi-independence of verses 23-24 taken together, highlights in advance what must be taken as the vital theological point of the present verse: the radicalization—indeed, infinitization—of the indebtedness incurred through the grant/loan. But if this is, theologically, the focal point of the verse, it is arrived at in a rather surprising manner (infinite indebtedness is brought about through God's faithful adherence to a pay schedule!), and it allows Benjamin to ask an important theological question and thus to move allow the strict logic of verses 23-24 to lead somewhere new ("of what have ye to boast?"). Moreover, it must never be forgotten that this radicalization is, precisely, a radicalization, that is, that it is a seconding, a secondly, a doubling of a "first place." Hence, a serious theological interpretation of the verse must work through four tasks or respond to four interpretive questions: (1) How is the infinitization of indebtedness accomplished? (2) What must be said about an infinite indebtedness? (3) How does this infinite indebtedness function as a seconding, that is, in relation to the "first place" of verse 23? (4) Finally, how does this indebtedness release and provide an interpretive framework for the question that concludes the verse?
The continuity must be spelled out first, especially because it is somewhat more complex theologically. The requirement explained in the first part of this verse must, in the end, be a facet of the grant spoken of in the previous verse. This is not because the requirement concerning commandments needs any particular grounding—attached to the "secondly," it is of course quite possible for the requirement to be separate from anything preceding it, and there is nothing about requiring obedience that leaves it anchorless. Rather, it is because the act of granting is, as it is simply mentioned in verse 23, not grounded in anything. Though the act of requiring something can be a simple speech act, the act of granting selfhood or subjectivity is never so simple, especially as it forms a kind of modification or alteration of simply animated flesh: the grant is grounded in some kind of limiting movement, some kind of separative action. And this, it might well be argued, is best found in the laying out of requirements.
In other words, because verse 24 opens with a word of requirement ("he doth require..."), it describes the movement of limitation that is the very essence of granting subjectivity. It is perhaps Paul who best articulates this theme by his equating the law with death: law (requirement) parallels or perhaps even equals death in that it is the delimiting of one's individual life or existence (Romans contains the longest and most articulate discussion of this idea), in that it gives one one's self by defining (literally, giving an end to) life. Inasmuch as laws or requirements define one's way of being in the world—inasmuch as they impose limits and boundaries on one's ways of acting in or enacting the world—law gives life, but always life as living-towards-death (living-towards-the-boundary). That is, by drawing a line of delimitation on things (by dividing what one can and cannot do), laws and requirements impose a necessary order on the world, but one that just as necessarily splits the individual delimited thereby (Rom 7 is a rather complex discussion of this split: Paul is at once life and death, spirit and flesh). Ordered by (transgression of) the law, the split subject dwells in (according to) sin.
Of course, it is not by any means necessary that the subject who is subject to law or requirement disobey, but, as the present verse points out, it makes little (perhaps no?) difference if one is obedient: if one fulfills the commandments given, God "doth immediately bless" her, having "therefore ... paid" her, and the debt remains. The structural pair obedience/disobedience is thus distracted: the massive indebtedness incurred by receiving the (deadly) gift of the law is so completely infinite—one will be indebted, as Benjamin says, "forever and ever"—that the difference between obedience and disobedience is effectively obliterated. Benjamin is essentially indifferent to this difference. One is hopelessly indebted, and so can avail absolutely nothing by works—especially since God responds to any work of obedience by further blessing the obedience individual so as to maintain the radical indebtedness imposed by the grant.
With this movement of further blessing, the full weight of the secondly that opens this verse can begin to be felt: the continuity between the grant and the gift of requirements is clear, but it is just as clear that the Lord moves beyond this first grant/gift by blessing the obedient again and again. That is, the Lord secondly grants and gives, distracting the individual's attempt to cancel the indebtedness imposed by the grant of life. This second work on the Lord's part is thus at once entirely separate from and yet a repetition of the first: it is a securing or a making sure of the "first place," a confirmation of the radical indebtedness implied by the grant. (Is this why there is a "first place" but no "second place," only the adverbial "secondly" that gives shape to the action of the Lord?)
This second work on the Lord's part—taking place in the same place as the first place, in fact securing that place as the place of the indebted individual—is thus to be found in a kind of tortured continuity with the first. If this "immediate blessing" that is poured out continually can be linked up with atonement (following the creation and fall themes of the previous verse), something rather interesting is being suggested here about the relationship between the fall and the atonement: Benjamin seems to understand the atonement to be in a far more complex relationship to the fall than one perhaps usually assumes. Rather than seeing the atonement as an undoing or a reversal of the fall, Benjamin would appear to understand it as a radical confirmation of it, in fact, so radical a confirmation of it that the opposition or set of differences it introduces into the creation (this, that, and the other individuals defined, for example) is struck with vanity, is rendered fundamentally indifferent. The atonement as radicalized fall: one becomes so hopelessly indebted that, to use Paul's phrase, boasting is excluded. As Benjamin puts it: "therefore, of what have ye to boast?"
This concluding question is fascinating, and it deserves extended attention. What is ultimately distracted by the radicality of the atonement—by its excessiveness of grace—is a form of discourse: boasting. Because all human difference is distracted, is rendered indifferent, the gaps and spaces necessary for boasting—which must always here be thought of as an oral or vocal discourse—are canceled. But this is as much as to say that all human discourse, as a discourse that proceeds from differences, is itself distracted. One is effectively silenced by the full weight of the atonement. Or, at least, one's earthly language is effectively silenced by this distraction: perhaps one is thereby freed to speak the heavenly tongue, a language that registers as silence for human ears, for those who hearing hear, but understand not. In other words, this final question, left as unanswered and thus as radically questioning the hearer—as radically calling the hearer into question—could appropriately be named the veil.
Creation, fall, atonement, and veil: Benjamin seems here to work through four steps, arranged in a particular order (cf. 1 Ne 1:1). The first two of these intertwine to provide the individual with selfhood; the third and fourth of these intertwine to distract that selfhood by providing the (fractured) self with an unaddressable discourse (boasting is excluded). And this little sequence, with all its richness, is set off, as argued above, by the "And now" that precedes and follows it: these two verses (23-24) seem to establish a kind of roadmap for Benjamin's entire discourse: he will speak of creation, then fall, then atonement, and finally of the veil.
  • Mosiah 2:28. We see in this verse Mosiah's conception of life after death. Interestingly he is focused not on the resurrection but where his spirit goes after his body is put in the grave. Also the defining characteristic that Mosiah uses to describe ending up where he wants is that his spirit will join the "choirs above singing praises of a just God."
  • Mosiah 2:33: Listeth to obey. The word list in Webster's 1828 dictionary means "to hearken; to attend." The KJV of John 3:8 and James 3:4 also use the word "listeth" with basically the same connotation. In the Book of Mormon, see Alma 3:27 and Alma 26:6. Interestingly, each of these other passages uses the word listeth—except for Alma 3:37—in a way that is related to the winds (esp. in a storm). The scriptural connotation then seems to be one that emphasizes differing directions that an object can be pulled in, as in a windstorm. While the doubled phrase "listeth to obey" seems almost tautological, it may be that the "listeth" is there to emphasize that there is a choice in the matter. When a force such as the wind acts on an object and the object responds to that force according to the laws of physics, it might be said that the object is obeying (the directio of) the force, but we would not normally think of the object choosing to obey that force. To "listeth to obey" implies that one willfully submits to and allows oneself to be influenced by the external force. List can also mean "to enroll; to register in a list or catalogue; to enlist." In this sense, when one lists to obey, he or she places themselves (or their name) on a roster of servants--in this case either the roster of "the evil spirit" or God.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11: How does the name that King Benjamin gives to the people, the name of Christ (see exegesis below), distinguish this people from all the other people that the Lord brought out of Jerusalem? Why don't those other peoples also take upon them the name of Christ?
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves. What can be learned by comparing this assembly before King Benjamin's death to other similar assemblies, esp. the assembly Jacob calls before his death in Gen 49:1ff (note esp. v. 6) and the assembly Moses calls as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy? In Deut 31:28, the so-called Song of Moses is apparently read to only a select group of "elders" and "officers." Were the rest of the Moses's words spoken to larger groups or were all of Moses's words spoken directly only to this select group of elders and officers? How might the inclusiveness of the assembly here be related to the later shift to a more democratic form of government?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why would King Benjamin go out of his way to dispel any fear the people might have of him? Why might they be afraid of a king?
  • Mosiah 2:10: Why did King Benjamin bother to explicitly state that he is nothing "more than a mortal man"?
  • Mosiah 2:11: With all the might, mind and strength. How does this consecration-sounding language set up the discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff and verse 34?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Qualifications for kingship. Why does Benjamin list a) selection by the people, b) selection by the proceeding ruler, and c) selection by the Lord as his qualifications for kingship? Why would it be necessary to meet all of these qualifications?
  • Mosiah 2:11: What does it mean to be "suffered by the hand of the Lord"? What is the "hand" of the Lord?
  • Mosiah 2:11: Service. Why does Benjamin emphasize that he has served his people with all his "might, mind, and stregth"? Why is it important to emphasize that he is a servant, rather than a dictatorial ruler?
  • Mosiah 2:15: That I might accuse you. Why does King Benjamin explicitly state that he is not saying these things to accuse his people? Why might the people have mistaken King Benjamin's words as an accusation? Given the lexical link between Satan and the word accuse (see, for example, the American Heritage entry on the Semitic root sn here), in what sense can we understand King Benjamin to be preemptively undermining or destabilizing a whole mindset or way of hearing King Benjamin's words? How might this "accusation" way of thinking be related or contrasted to the later discussion of economy and indebtedness in verses 21ff?
  • Mosiah 2:17: Does the inclusion of the word "only" in this verse affect its meaning?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does the phrase "from the beginning" refer to here? Is it talking about serving "from the beginning" or being created "from the beginning"? If it refers to being "created...from the beginning" isn't that a redundant? Or is creation an ongoing thing?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean that we are created? Aren't we eternal beings? Does creation here mean give us existence, organize us somehow, or something else entirely?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean for God to be "lending you breath"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: How does God support us "from one moment to another"?
  • Mosiah 2:21: What does it mean to serve with your "whole soul"?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Why are we required to keep the commandments? What does it mean to "keep" his commandments? Does that just mean doing what he says?
  • Mosiah 2:22: Of all the things to talk about or promise, why this bit about prospering in the land?
  • Mosiah 2:23: What does it mean that God God has "granted unto" us our lives?
  • Mosiah 2:23: How does creating and granting us lives make us indebted to God? Aren't we co-eternal with him?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why use the term "secondly" rather than "in the second place" to parallel vs. 23?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we "immediately" blessed if we obey a commandment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How does the blessing received through obedience constitute a payment?
  • Mosiah 2:24: How are we indebted to God, and why will this indebtedness last "forever and ever"?
  • Mosiah 2:24: Why do we have nothing to boast of? Is it because we can't create or give life to ourselves, or is it something else?

Resources[edit]

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  • King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom. By John Welch and Stephen Ricks. Articles from this book are available at the Maxwell Institute website here.
  • For more on Mesamerican divine kingship during the time of King Benjamin, see Ritual & Power in Stone by Julia Guernsey. You can get a taste of this by seeing Guernsey's Izapa site.

Notes[edit]

Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.



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Mosiah 2:36-41

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Summary[edit]

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Relationship to Chapters 1-6. The relationship of Chapters 1-2 to the rest of Chapters 1-6 is discussed at Mosiah 1-6.

Story.

Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapters 1-2 include:

Discussion[edit]

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  • Mosiah 1:11. In verse 11, Benjamin tells his son Mosiah that he will give unto the people a name that they may be distinguished above all people the Lord God has brought out of the land of Jerusalem. We learn later, in chapter 5:7-15, that this name is the name of Christ. (See particularly 5:11.) King Benjamin gives this name "because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." It is interesting that Benjamin is comparing these people to "all the people which the Lord God hath brough out of the land of Jerusalem." In saying "all other people" King Benjamin may be referring to the Lamanites and possibly those who went to the land of Lehi-Nephi Mosiah 7:1. This interpretation makes sense if we think that these are the only people that Benjamin is aware of who have been lead out of the land of Jerusalem. However, it is also possible that Benjamin is aware that the Lord has lead other people who they don't know. See 2 Ne 10:21-22. In any case, it is interesting that King Benjamin compares his people as "above" these other people. (Is this meant to be motivational for Mosiah, their soon to be King?) In any case, as soon as King Benjamin tells Mosiah of this honor for the people, he reminds him that thought these people are highly favored (because they are getting this blessing) that this only amounts to something so long as they are obedient. As soon as they are disobedient they will become "weak" like unto their brethren. It is also interesting that Moroni has only just todl us of the words of Mosiah to his three sons which tells them that their people and their fathers would have dwindled in unbelief (see Mosiah 1:4-5. So at the same time we are told that King Benjamin taught that his people were blessed above all others lead out of Jerusalem because of their obedience we are also told that King Benjamin taught that they were obedient not because they were so great, but rather because they had the scriptures.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Assembled yourselves together. Several related Hebrew words seem particularly interesting to consider in relation to the word "assembled" as used here: miqra ("convocation" is the most frequent KJV translation), qahal ("congregation" is the most frequent KJV translation), `edah ("congregation" most frequently; ), cowd (a private council), mow`ed (an appointed time or place, such as a meeting), and `atsarah ("solemn assembly"). Another issue to think about is the sense in which this assembly may be related to the historical development of a church community being established among the Nephites. Although a "church" is referred to in Jerusalem in 1 Ne 4:26, the only other previous use of the term church that we have a record of among the Nephites is in Nephi's visions (usually in relation to distantly future events) and in Jacob's eschatological vision of the gathering of Israel "to the true church and fold of God." At the least, extended consideration of how this assembly might be related to, typologically or otherwise, and informed by and informing of the divine council so frequently mentioned in theophanies is certainly called for.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Trifle. In LDS scripture, this word occurs in only 3 other verses: D&C 6:12; D&C 8:10; D&C 32:5. Webster's 1828 dictionary defines trifle as "To act or talk without seriousness, gravity, weight or dignity; to act or talk with levity." A Hebrew word that may be important to consider in this context is kabad which means means "to be heavy or honoured." Given the similarities of the phrase here of "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand" with Isa 6:9ff, it might be worth considering the use of the term kabad in Isa 29:13 (cf. 2 Ne 27:25) where the people are described as honoring God with their lips, but not their hearts. King Benjamin may be invoking a similar idea, if not explicitly alluding to Isaiah, admonishing the people to give great weight to the words which he will speak. This word, and this verse more generally, might be profitably considered alongside Mosiah 5:2 in contemplating the reasons why King Benjamin's words were able to effect such a miraculous "mighty change of heart" of the people.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Hearken unto me. The word hearken in the KJV of the Old Testament is often translated from the Hebrew word `azan. This is the same root for the word "ear" which had particular significance in ancient Hebrew culture in that masters would pierce their slaves' ear with an awl (cf. Ex 21:6; Deut 15:17; Ps 40:6; see also the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament pp. 56-57 for further discussion). Since service(/servanthood) becomes a very important theme in King Benjamin's sermon, this may be particularly significant to keep in mind. Also, King Benjamin's words here seem to emphasize the potential for change inherent in his words. It is not sufficient that his listeners give mere intellectual consideration of his words; rather, it seems he is calling for a kind of actual obedience, compliance or change in the souls of his listeners. However, the change in his listeners does not come about by some change effected by applying King Benjamin's words to their everyday lives. Instead, the change effected by his words is immediate (again, cf. Mosiah 5:2), before the listeners return to their "everyday lives."
  • Mosiah 2:9: Mysteries. The term mystery/ies does not occur in the KJV Old Testament, so it's difficult to know what connotations this word might've had to an ancient Nephite audience. One related Hebrew word that occurs frequently is cowd, usually translated "secret," which "refers to Yahweh's heavenly 'council' and his divine 'decision/plan/secret' and thus directly to his action and being" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 795). In this sense, the mysteries that King Benjamin unfolds may be referring to the pre-mortal plan of redemption in which Christ plays the central role--after all, Christ's mission of redemption seems to be the chiastic centerpiece of King Benjamin's sermon (see Welch, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom"). Nevertheless, it seems a bit strange to modern Church ears to hear this news of Christ being referred to as a mystery in light of the injunction to the proclaim the gospel far and wide. One reason Christ's redemptive mission might be referred to as a mystery (inasmuch as this is what "mysteries" here is referring to) may be because Christ's coming was a future event rather than a past event, so that future plans are mysteries, but past events are not. Another issue to consider regarding the mysteries of God is the sense in which there seems to be frustration or impatience expressed at God hiding himself from Israel (e.g., Isa 8:17) on the one hand, and yet praise for God's mysterious/hidden ways (e.g., Isa 45:15) on the other.
  • Mosiah 2:9: Unfolded. The term unfolded does not occur in the KJV Bible, though it appears frequently in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants, often in the context of mysteries being unfolded (cf. 1 Ne 10:19; Jacob 4:18; Mosiah 8:19; Alma 40:3; D&C 6:7; D&C 10:64; D&C 11:7; D&C 90:14). In D&C 88:95, we read "immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up." This phrasing here, then, might be suggesting the kind of unveiling that occurs when a scroll is opened or a curtain or veil is pulled back to reveal the (sacred) contents.
  • Mosiah 2:9. Benjamin opens his massive discourse with the summoning phrase, "My brethren." Though it is common in modern translations of the Bible to render such phrases in gender inclusive language (here one might translate the phrase as "My brethren and sisters," for example), there is reason to think carefully about why ancient scriptures so seldomly speak in inclusive ways. Of course, one can simply suggest that the texts come from patriarchal cultures in which a phrase like "My brethren" was meant to cover the whole ground, and this is often the reasoning behind translating these kinds of phrases inclusively. But there might be more to the story than just that. Though the phrase first appears in the Book of Mormon in a public address much like Benjamin's speech, it is quickly thereafter taken up by the writers of the small plates as the addressee of the written prophecies as well. Interestingly, once Mormon's editorial voice intervenes, the phrase only appears in spoken addresses quoted by Mormon: he, as editor, never addresses his audience with "my brethren." (It is perhaps important to note that he does use the phrase "my brethren" a few times in his own public address in Moroni 7, though he never uses it in his written addresses.) The importance of this "cultural" point is obvious: because the phrase "My brethren" is used, outside of the small plates, as a function of public address, it may well reflect the nature of Nephite public assemblies. That is, though it is clear in this circumstance (and others as well) that women at times were present at public gatherings, the event was understood as one of exchange between males. Whether or not this is unfortunate is something for modern thinkers to debate, but it is suggestive of how this discourse and its situation might most fruitfully be interpreted: Benjamin likely understood himself to be addressing fathers, and in a double sense. On the one hand, fathers are in such a society complete political units as summary representatives of the family (cf. verse 5). On the other hand, fathers are messengers to or leaders of the family. Benjamin was thus (as so many other speakers do throughout the Book of Mormon) addressing himself to fathers as mediators, so to speak. The importance of this point will become evident by the end of verse 9.
The phrase "all ye that have assembled yourselves together" is clearly meant to clarify "My brethren." At first, the phrase seems only rhetorical, a kind of flourish for the occasion. However, the phrase anticipates verse 28 of this same chapter: "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." In this later verse, Benjamin sets up an interesting parallel between the circular assembly gathered around him at the temple and the circular assembly gathered around the throne of God, in the tradition of 1 Ne 1:8 (where Lehi sees God on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of singing angels). This parallel is, in itself, of major importance: Benjamin understands the convocation at the temple to be an imitation of a heavenly order, and one that will apparently allow him to be (eventually) transferred from one assembly to the other. That is, Benjamin somehow sees the assembly as being connected with his own apotheosis. There are echoes here, of course, of both the ancient gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman (as well as the still-future gathering there): "the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever. And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation" (D&C 107:54-56). Gathered in solemn assembly, the enthroned though now quite feeble king is proclaimed a prince forever and exalted to a position in the heavens.
Moreover, because this phrase quite clearly connects to verse 28, it forms a sort of inclusio, a marker that helps the reader recognize breaks in the text's structure. The word "assemble" appears in Benjamin's speech only here and in verses 27-29, where it actually appears three times. The three instances there clearly mark a transition in Benjamin's speech: it is over the course of those three mentions of assembly that Benjamin shifts to his announcement of Mosiah's ascendancy (and from a focus on creation and wisdom to a focus on abandonment and sin). This inclusio thus suggests that verses 9-28 be read as a single unit of the text, that one look carefully at these twenty verses for a particular thematic. Such a thematic, of course, can only emerge as careful study of the verses is undertaken in the following.
In verse 9 King Benjamin tells his people of four things they must do in order for the mysteries of God to be unfolded to them: 1) listen to what King Benjamin is going to tell them, 2) open their ears that they hear, 3) open their hearts that they may understand, and 4) open their minds.
  • Mosiah 2:10. King Benjamin makes an explicit claim here that he is not "more than a mortal man". In the Pre-classic Mesoamerican societies surrounding the land of Zarahemla, rulers impersonated gods through dance and rituals, that may also have included human sacrifices. Benjamin explicitly rejects this Mesoamerican view of divine kingship by telling the people not to fear--he isn't going to ritually sacrifice any of them!--and by affirming that he is not an immortal divine king.
  • Mosiah 2:11-15: Kingship. While we refer to Benjamin as a king, we need to be careful to make sure that our preconceptions of that term do not color our understanding of what kind of leader Benjamin is, or the level of political organization at Zarahemla. As he outlines here, Benjamin is not a king in the traditional sense as the leader of a city state or larger political body. He does not tax or demand corvee labor to build monuments. He does not seem to have any political influence outside of the immediate land of Zarahemla, and seems to tend his own subsistence garden. In anthropological terms, he may be closer to what we would term a Big Man--a non-hereditary leader of a rank or nearly egalitarian tribal society. Chosen by the people to succeed his father Mosiah, Benjamin may be seeking to establish a hereditary claim to the throne by consecrating his son Mosiah to succeed him. But this line, and form, of rulership will apparently fall apart at the end of the Book of Mosiah when the "rightful" heirs refuse the throne and leadership is reorganized to incorporate the larger groups of people and separate cities (Alma and Gideon's groups) into the growing Nephite polity.
  • Mosiah 2:11: Suffered by the hand of the Lord. This curious phrasing seems to mean that the Lord "permitted" (cf. Webster's 1828 definition 3) King Benjamin to be king. However, given that King Benjamin is emphasizing his own mortal infirmities, it seems not wholly unjustified to read "suffered" here with a connotation of imperfectness. Given the later discussion in this book about kings vs. judges (e.g., see Mosiah 29:13ff), this connotation might have a peculiar significance, at least in how it affects King Benjamin's son Mosiah. That is, rather than a simple modest or self-deprecating way of referring to the divine approbation inherent in King Benjamin's call, the "suffering" phraseology here may be indicating a fault in the political order which King Benjamin is himself aware of, if only unconsciously--a fault that later has significant consequence for the political changes that occur among the Nephites, and should be studied quite carefully in light of Samuel's warnings about Israel's adoption of a monarchical form of government in 1 Sam 8:1ff and 1 Sam 10:17ff.
  • Mosiah 2:13: Slavery and the Law of Moses. In verse 13, King Benjamin says, "Neither have I suffered that . . . ye should make slaves one of another." This statement is striking in light of the fact that the Nephite writers insist that they keep the law of Moses. Indeed, the narrative of King Benjamin's sermon itself begins with burnt offerings according to the law of Moses. (See verse 3) Yet the law of Moses, at least as we have it in the current Pentatuach, allowed slavery, including the enslavement of Hebrews (e.g. Ex 21:1-6). One might note that King Benjamin only talks about the method by which one is made a slave, rather than the institution of slavery itself. Later, in the Book of Alma, however, Ammon notes that there are no slaves according to Nephite law, although he attributes this rule to his father, King Mossiah II. At the same time, slavery is clearly a practice in the world of the Book of Mormon. Limhi, for example, offers to make his people slaves to the Nephites. Hence, if we interpret Benjamin's words as a prohibition on slavery, then they would seem to run counter to "the Law of Moses." This raises severals questions. First, what exactly are the Book of Mormon authors referring to when they talk about "the Law of Moses" and what might it mean for them to say that they keep the Law of Moses? Is the Law of Moses a kind of ritual law or do the stories of the Book of Mormon suggest that the Law of Moses was the municipal law (i.e. the law enforced by the political and legal authorities) of the Nephite kingdom? What specifically do the various terms "slavery" and "servant" mean in the Book of Mormon as translated for us by Joseph Smith?
  • Ths first two suggest that when we serve others we are doing nothing more than serving God. The point of saying we "only serve God" is to show that such a person has no reason to boast (see verse 16). We are not to think that in serving others we have done some good that we can attribute to ourselves and take pride in. Mosiah is telling us that we are simply serving our creator and, as Mosiah is about to tell us, we will never be able to repay the debt we have to him (see verse 24).
  • The third definition from the 1828 Webster's reads, "This above all others. He is the only man for music." This definition suggests interpreting the verse to mean that "God is served above all."
  • Mosiah 2:22: Prosper. Hebrew: sakal, can also be translated as to be wise, prudent, or circumspect. While it mig