Reflections on Helaman 14
Posted by joespencer on August 2, 2013
Turning now to the next chapter of Samuel’s sermon (see my first post here), we begin to look at the series of “signs” Samuel provides for the Nephites as they near the events of Christ’s birth and death. The focus here shifts away from Nephite sinfulness. And the content of this chapter is, consequently, more intensely theological. We’ll have to see, of course, how it unfolds.
Helaman 14 opens with a note that sounds as if Mormon is done with his report of Samuel’s words—as if chapter 13 is sufficient. But then we get a great deal more directly drawn from Samuel in this chapter, and then even a bit more in chapter 15. The theme, as already mentioned, is a series of signs associated with events in the life of the mortal Christ. Two signs in particular help to organize the material in the chapter: a first sign concerning the birth of Jesus (verses 2-8), and a second sign concerning the death of Jesus (verses 14, 20-29). Between the discussion of the first sign and the first announcement of the second sign is a discussion of Samuel’s call to prophesy and of the reasons for his rejection. Between the first announcement of the second sign and its full exposition is a tangential discussion of atonement theology—introduced as a point of clarification regarding Jesus’ death. In the final two verses of the chapter—following, that is, the discussion of the second sign—is a brief word about freedom and justice.
Just from this outline, it’s possible to see how much more overtly theological this chapter is than so much of the Book of Helaman. Woven into this discourse on the signs surrounding the birth and death of Jesus is a series of theological clarifications: the status of the Lamanite prophet, the nature of the atonement, the weave of freedom and justice. And these theological clarifications appear alongside what must be said to be theological presentations of the signs as well—presentations clearly woven into the Hebrew prophetic tradition. The whole chapter is thus presented as a theological exposition.
Since chapter 15 will return to the call to repent, the question here is one of determining how the theological content of chapter 14, woven into a prophetic anticipation of two events in particular, helps to clarify the call to repentance. We’ll have to keep that question ready to hand.
Verse 1 – There’s something a little odd about the interruption of verse 1. It’s common enough in the Book of Mormon to announce that not everything could be written, and so to truncate a narrative report. (Note that the very words that appear here appear once more: 1 Nephi 9:1.) But it’s not at all common to do so, and then to go on providing a narrative. It’s not clear how this trope is functioning.
Verse 2 – The language of someone deliberately giving another person or persons a sign is uncommon. There’s talk elsewhere of signs being given, etc., but not of one person giving a sign to others. Except, that is, for Helaman 2:7, where Helaman’s servant gave Kishkumen a sign. That’s an odd parallel, but an intriguing one.
Verse 2 – The phrase “to redeem all those who shall believe on his name” is strikingly like Alma 19:13, though it’s not clear why there should be a connection with that verse alone.
Verse 3 – The phrase “at the time of his coming” appears a handful of times in the Book of Mormon, all in connection with Alma the Younger: Alma 13:24, 26; 16:16; 39:17. There seems to be a certain continuity between Alma’s preaching and Samuel’s prophecy.
Verse 3 – The phrase “great lights” appears elsewhere only twice, in Genesis 1:16 and Psalm 136:7. In each case, it refers to the sun and the moon. And at any rate, there seems here to be an allusion to themes of creation.
Verse 3 – The locution “appear … as if” is unique to this text, which is pretty remarkable. Nonetheless, it might be compared to Helaman 12:15. The connection is all the more important given the idea that night is day by appearance, etc.
Verse 4 – In just the last part of this verse, “ye” is replaced with “they” for a moment. This is odd, and it suggests that Mormon here inserted a bit of summary of things Samuel said. Or might there be other explanations?
Verse 5 – It’s of interest that Samuel (and Third Nephi after him) explicitly describes the appearance of a new star. The text of Matthew, where the wise men are guided by a star, never actually states that a new star appeared. The text says only that they were guided by a star, and that they were asked subsequently when the star appeared. There’s an implication, perhaps, that there was a new star, but it’s never explicitly stated. Here it is.
Verse 6 – The phrase “many signs and wonders” appears elsewhere twice: Acts 5:12 and Mosiah 3:15. It’s interesting that neither of these other appearances actually seems to be connected to the present text.
Verse 9 – Is there a tension in this verse between “this thing” and “these things”? How is the slight shift to be understood?
Verse 10 – The language of “hard against” appears elsewhere in scripture only in Nephi’s record. See 1 Nephi 16:2-3; 2 Nephi 9:40.
Verse 11 – The word “intent” appears a remarkable number of times in this chapter. It appears here for the first time, but it appears also in verses 12, 28, and 29. Why is there such an emphasis on intent here?
Verse 12 – Half of this verse is a lengthy quotation of Mosiah 3:8, the words of the angel to Benjamin that announce the coming of the Christ. This is just another of so many allusions to Benjamin’s speech that it begin to amaze. Why so many connections to that sermon specifically?
Verse 15 – Though the ideas appear elsewhere, the language of “surely must die, that salvation may come” is unique to this passage. Similarly unique to this verse is the coupling of “behooveth” and “becometh expedient.”
Verses 15-16 – Phrases along the lines of “to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead” and “bringeth to pass the resurrection” appear often in the Book of Mormon. There are unique theological claims here, but the language is familiar and precedented.
Verse 19 – The coupling of “knowing” and “doing” echoes (but with a replacement of belief with knowledge) Mosiah 4:10, another bit from King Benjamin.
Verses 21 and 26 – Much of the talk of destruction opens with talk of “thunderings and lightnings” in verse 21. Then a number of other details are discussed. Then verse 26 comes back to “thunderings and lightnings.” It would almost seem as if these two things are the key to the rest, as if they were the larger framework of all the destructions. Why is that so?
Verse 28 – The claim that “many shall see greater things than these” draws quite directly on the language of John 1:50. How might a comparison of the two texts be productive?
Theological Points of Interest
1. Giving Two Consecutive Signs
There’s nothing terribly surprising about the existence of parallels between Samuel and Nephi. Not only are they the only two prophets we have in the second half of the Book of Helaman, they’re work is clearly intertwined. We’ll see Samuel’s converts going off in chapter 16 to find Nephi for baptism, for instance. We’ve already seen a few parallels, and there are unquestionably more to be expected. And here in chapter 14, in rather broad outlines, we see a parallel between them that deserves a bit of thought. Both Nephi and Samuel present themselves in their respective stories as giving the people of Zarahemla two successive signs. It’s worth asking about what differences there are between their respective understandings of this gesture, and it’s worth asking what role these two presentations play in the larger Book of Helaman.
Nephi, it’ll be remembered, presented his first sign in the form of an announcement of the chief judge’s murder. He then presented his second sign when that first sign proved too slippery to secure his prophethood: an announcement of the true murderer, and in a way that exonerated himself of the crime. Even that sign ultimately proved slippery, since, although it initially convinced all the people of Zarahemla that he was indeed under some kind of divine influence (or even was divine himself), nothing really changed about the behavior of the people in response to that conviction. Samuel’s two signs are rather different in nature. They are given long in advance, and neither is meant to prove the prophetic status of the speaker. They’re both about the Christ—His birth and His death—and not about mere human beings. And they serve, in Samuel’s apparent understanding, to secure belief (a curious detail about which I’ll say more below).
Interestingly, Samuel’s two signs will prove slippery as well. Although the sign of Jesus’ birth will result in widespread belief at first, that belief will fade rather quickly. And the sign of Jesus’ death will result in so much destruction that it’s only the believers who survive—not exactly a forced conviction concerning the Christ. Throughout the Book of Helaman, signs remain a complicated affair.
2. Specified Advance Signs, Unspecified Subsequent Signs
The first sign Samuel gives to his listeners is actually a kind of complex of signs. He begins with “great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before [Christ] cometh there shall be no darkness,” but then he goes on to mention a new star arising as well. And then he adds this odd detail: This is not all: there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven” (Helaman 14:6). This complex of signs, then, is a weave of specified signs, given in advance of the events in question, and of unspecified signs, also given in advance. There’s perhaps little surprising, in a certain way, about the specified signs—the people know what to expect, and they know what it means to believe in light of the signs being given. But what on earth (or in heaven!) is to be made of unspecified signs being given? How is that supposed to help Samuel’s hearers?
Of course, we might simply claim that there’s a different sense to “signs and wonders,” something different at work there from what we have in “a sign.” To give “a sign” is to specify in advance something that, because it couldn’t be known in advance, signifies the truth of a set of claims put forth by the sign-giver. For there simply to be “signs and wonders” is for there to be all kinds of strange things going on, all of which collective signify that God is at work in things, regardless of any prophetic announcement. That distinction can be granted, and yet it’s fascinating to have “signs,” with whatever significance, presented side by side with a determinate “sign” or two, given for the express purpose of convincing people of the truth of a prophetic project.
How are these two sorts of sign to be thought together, since they appear together? And how does their appearing side by side complicate or clarify everything else that’s said about signs here in this discourse, or indeed in the whole Book of Helaman?
3. Signs and Belief in Samuel’s Sermon
Already in connection with the first of his two major signs, Samuel outlines a theology of signs-leading-to-belief. Verses 7-8: “ye shall be amazed and wonder, insomuch that ye shall fall to the earth, and it shall come to pass that whosoever shall believe on the Son of God, the same shall have everlasting life.” This passage is a little ambiguous, because it might just be that whoever already believes on the Son of God will have everlasting life, regardless of any given signs, but the flow and logic of the passage suggests that there’s more going on here. The implication seems to be that the signs will make a certain space for belief, or even that the signs, through their affective power, will drive many to belief. This is, of course, surprising to find in this text, since there’s so much on offer in scripture claiming that belief doesn’t come by signs—not only in, say, the New Testament, but also and in complex and interesting ways in the Book of Mormon. (See, for instance, the developments of Alma’s thinking on this question over the course of Alma 31-32.)
The connection between signs and belief is stronger a few verses later. Samuel says that he has come “that ye might know of the signs of [Christ’s] coming, to the intent that ye might believe on his name” (Helaman 14:12). Here it seems that the link is unmistakable. Those who know the signs of Christ’s coming will apparently develop believe when those signs come true—thus being prepared to meet Him at His coming. Of course, one might point to context, and suggest that here again there’s a possibility that Samuel meant to say this only to those who were already righteous and believing—that because he’s here summarizing the “glad tidings” of his first, rejected message (more on that in a minute), he’s actually saying something about the way that signs should work for those who receive him as a true messenger. And maybe that’s right. And yet the bald statement of verse 12 seems pretty straightforward.
Perhaps all this is brought to a kind of culmination in verse 28: “the angel said unto me that many shall see greater things than these, to the intent that they might believe—that these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men.” The first half of this verse perhaps again could be contextualized along the lines just suggested (he mentions here the angel, who was associated with his earlier glad tidings), but the second half of this verse seems unmistakable: there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men. Robert C. has done some interesting work on this passage, exploring the implications of its use of the word “cause” and what Samuel’s apparent theology of belief-by-signs means in connection with Alma’s critique of signs in Alma 32. I’ll leave further discussion of that problem for another occasion. Here it’s necessary just to recognize how odd it is to find Samuel making this kind of claim. At the very least, it’s necessary just to see how the negative construction of this most explicit link may be important: no cause for unbelief doesn’t amount to caused belief. And maybe that nuance is crucial.
4. Re-Staging the First Preaching
As Samuel concludes his discussion of the first sign to be given—the sign associated with Jesus’ birth—he makes reference to his source: an angel. This is interesting because in chapter 14, Samuel has indicated that his two attempts at teaching in Zarahemla—first a preaching mission that ended in rejection, and second, now, a prophetic intervention that will be delivered miraculously—began from two rather distinct sources. His original preaching mission seems to have been launched by an angelic visit (see Helaman 13:7), and it consisted in the announcement of “glad tidings” (see the same verse). When the Nephites wouldn’t receive him, however, he left off glad tidings and the angel’s words to give rather directly “whatsoever things should come into his heart” from God (Helaman 13:3)—and his message at that point was one of destruction.
That seems relevant to the first part of Helaman 14, since here, with talk of Jesus’ birth, Samuel addresses himself to what would seem to be glad tidings—indeed, the phrase “glad tidings” is rather closely associated with Jesus’ birth in scripture. And then in verse 9 he tells his audience that what he’s been announcing in these first verses are what “the Lord commanded me by his angel that I should come and tell.” (It would seem that his additional mention of prophecy in that verse, especially because it is further coupled with a cry of repentance, has reference to his second intervention.) All this seems to be confirmed in verse 10, when Samuel then goes on to describe the reasons for his being rejected: it would seem that he can only follow up his talk of good tidings with a kind of recounting of how those good tidings were rejected when he came among the people of Zarahemla the first time.
All this suggests that the first part of Helaman 14 is a kind of summary of Samuel’s earlier preaching. The question that’s left for us as interpreters is why he interrupts his prophetic sermon with a kind of reiteration, however brief, of his earlier preaching. Why is that necessary? Or why is that productive? Is there anything in particular about the earlier preaching that needs to be included here? Is it necessary to reiterate this first sign before going on to talk about the second—which has a much less savory set of consequences and so is associated with the prophetic message of destruction? There are many details here that deserve further attention.
5. The Conditions of Repentance
In verse 11, Samuel says that part of his “intent” in coming up on the city’s walls is to ensure that his hearers “know the conditions of repentance.” When that phrase—“the conditions of repentance”—is thus first introduced, it’s meaning is ambiguous at best. Its meaning is presented as already known by his hearers, since he doesn’t say anything immediately about what constitute the conditions of repentance. Are the conditions in question a set of conditions for the possibility of repentance? Or are we talking here about those things that have to be done if repentance is to result in a remission of sins? Or what else might this phrase mean? Given the rather tight context in the surrounding verses, one would suppose that “the conditions of repentance” in question are specific to the Nephites’ then-current situation—that Samuel was coming to deliver a message of destruction, but that he was willing to provide them with the conditions that had to be fulfilled if they would avoid destruction.
Interestingly, the phrase appears again in verse 18, and here it seems to be quite general—entirely unconnected with any particular context. The resurrection, verse 18 explains, “bringeth to pass the conditions of repentance, that whosoever repenteth, the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire.” Here the conditions of repentance—whatever they actually are—are tied to the resurrection of Christ, and in such a way that they are fully generalized. There would seem to be conditions of repentance that simply exist, always and unchangingly. What the phrase refers to still remains obscure, though there’s the possibility that the rest of the sentence quoted above is meant to explain the conditions in question: “whosoever repenteth, the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire.” If that is meant to be an explanation, then the “of” in “the conditions of repentance” seems to be doing something a little odd. It’s not that there are conditions that allow for repentance; it’s that repentance itself is the condition for avoiding destruction. That may be, but there’s reason still to wonder about the meaning of the phrase.
One might, of course, look elsewhere in scripture for other instances of this phrase, and it turns out that it appears a handful of times. Instances in Alma would seem to confirm the possibility just mentioned—that repentance itself is the condition for avoiding destruction (see Alma 17:15 and 42:13), as do the two references in the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 18:12; 138:19). The phrase appears once elsewhere in Helaman as well (see Helaman 5:11), though in a passage the meaning of which is remarkably obscure. Its meaning is difficult, to say the least. From all this, it would indeed seem as if “the conditions of repentance” is meant only to indicate the role repentance plays as a condition for the possibility of avoiding destruction. But then this leads to a series of theological questions as well. How might we think further about the idea that repentance is a condition? And is it always that? Is this just an occasional theology of the nature of repentance?
6. Samuel’s Doctrine of Resurrection
In verses 15-19, Samuel works through an aside about the resurrection—all set off by his introduction of the sign of Jesus’ death. This is the last in a series of studies of atonement theology to be found in the Book of Mormon. And it’s a somewhat unique conception, short as it is. Of course, it has elements that have appeared elsewhere: the resurrection brings people back into God’s presence, the fall cuts human beings off from God’s presence, etc. But it’s the unique elements here that deserve some attention. And chief among them is the instrumentalized notion of death on offer.
From verse 15: “it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead.” Or again, from verse 16: “this death bringeth to pass the resurrection.” In both of these snippets, it seems clear that death—specifically Christ’s death—is somehow the means through which the resurrection is effected. Where the emphasis elsewhere in the Book of Mormon is on how Jesus’ peculiar nature allows Him to rise from the dead (see, for instance, Mosiah 15), here the emphasis is unmistakably on how Jesus’ death itself effects the resurrection. It would almost seem that a certain conception of Jesus’ nature is presupposed here, and in such a way that His death alone “automatically” leads to the resurrection. The emphasis here, then, seems to be on the way that Jesus joins with us in His death. The point isn’t to make clear that, in rising from the grave, Jesus’ conquered death for Himself and then derivatively for us. The point is apparently to make clear that He joined with us in death, and so made for the possibility of all of us rising from the dead. Just in that He took on Himself what all human beings experience, He made universal resurrection possible.
So it seems. There may be a good deal more to think about here. And certainly all this has to be read along with or even in the light of what Samuel has to say about death more generally—this talk of first death and second death, for instance. For the moment, what’s basically unique in his discourse is clear.
7. First Death, Second Death
In the course of his brief remarks on the resurrection and the atonement, Samuel says a few very surprising things about the first and second deaths. Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, there seems to be a rather consistent use of “first” and “second” when it comes to speaking of death. The first death is generally understood to be the death that comes on human beings as a result of the transgression in Eden. Having transgressed the first commandments, Adam and Eve and their posterity face a first death—the death of their bodies as a fulfilling of God’s word. The second death is then generally understood to be a metaphorical death that comes on human beings as a result of further transgression, that results from sinfulness in the world inhabited by human beings after the fall. If we transgress the second commandments, those given to us here in the prolonged state of probation, then we’re going to face a second death, an everlasting but metaphorical death, according to which we’re cut off from God’s presence forever. The first of these deaths is called temporal rather consistently (its clearest exposition is in Alma 12, I think), and the second is called spiritual rather consistently (I’d probably say that its clearest exposition is in Alma 40-42).
If all that is clear, then we’re set up nicely for the surprise of verse 16: “this death bringeth to pass the resurrection and redeemeth all mankind from the first death, that spiritual death—for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead.” Here, rather clearly, the first death is presented in spiritual terms rather than temporal. What’s interesting is that the same should be said for the second death. Verse 18 states that “whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire, and there cometh upon them again a spiritual death—yea, a second death—for they are cut off again as to things pertaining to righteousness.” Here the second death is also a spiritual death, as is emphasis by the twice-repeated “again.” Both deaths, on Samuel’s account, are spiritual. (We might note that the first death is also described as regarding “things temporal” and “things spiritual.” But that’s a relatively minor detail at this point.)
How are we to make sense of this double focus on the spiritual? It would seem that the first death is still the death associated with the Garden of Eden and the transgression that took place there. But here it’s regarded as a spiritual death—and not, it seems, in a metaphorical sense. That first death is regarded as spiritual simply in that the reality of temporal death cuts human beings off from God’s presence in a rather straightforward way. The second death is then spiritual in exactly the same way—not as metaphorical (as it is elsewhere), but simply in that it cuts human beings off, again, from God’s presence. Either it’s the case that neither death is metaphorical, or it’s the case that both deaths are metaphorical. Either way, there’s a kind of flattening of the difference that appears elsewhere. Above all, then, what seems to mark Samuel’s development of atonement theology is his privileging of the idea that death amounts to separation from God. Why that should be privileged in particular isn’t clear, but it’s of obvious importance.
8. Samuel’s Classic Prophecy
Beginning in verse 20, Samuel takes up the mantle of classic Hebrew prophecy. That might not seem surprising, but it’s actually quite unique in the Book of Mormon. He says that “the sun shall be darkened and refuse to give his light,” as well as “the moon and the stars” (verse 20). He says also that “there shall be many mountains laid low like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains whose heighth thereof is great” (verse 23). And he says, finally, that “many highways shall be broken up, and many cities shall become desolate” (verse 24). The first of these several prophecies rather directly echoes Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10; 3:15. The second echoes Isaiah 40:4; Micah 1:4. The third, finally, echoes Isaiah 6:11; 27:10; 33:8; Jeremiah 9:11; 33:10; 48:9; Ezekiel 29:12. Quite clearly, Samuel takes on a kind of classic prophetic role here.
Of course, it should be noted that these classically prophetic motifs (sun, moon, and stars being darkened; mountains and valleys replacing one another; highways being broken up and cities made desolate) are woven in Samuel’s sermon into a series of more classically Nephite sounding prophecies—direct and straightforward announcements of things to come, without metaphor. The result is that what appears in classic prophecy as largely metaphorical, as largely imagistic, seems here not at all to be so. Thus there’s a kind of echo of classic prophecy even as the classically prophetic gesture is slightly changed. The point here isn’t to lay out a kind of apocalyptic scenario through exaggeration, etc., but to explain exactly and in rather straightforward terms what’s coming. There’s something most fascinating about the literalization of the prophets: what elsewhere isn’t supposed to be taken literally, here is presented literally.
What’s all this supposed to teach us? We might, in a historical-critical vein, play around with the possibility that Samuel is quite acquainted with the brass plates, and so that he borrows from the prophets of that record, etc. But what’s most striking here is the transformation of that prophetic legacy. Does the Book of Mormon, at least through Samuel, recommend a kind of literal reading of the prophets? Or is this a conscious transformation, one that leaves the metaphorical and imagistic nature of Hebrew prophecy more or less in tact apart from the borrowing? Or what? How are we to think about classic prophecy after Samuel?
9. Samuel’s Matthean Fix-Up Job
Verse 25 is actually quite striking and important, though I can’t claim any of the insight connected to it for myself. I heard a paper given at a conference earlier this year—given by Grant Adamson, to give him his due—in which this passage, in connection with a few others in the Book of Mormon, was analyzed. The basic gist is as follows.
The classically secularist book of the era in which the Book of Mormon came out was Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. In it, he criticizes the Gospels in terms of historicity. One of his criticisms in particular is that only the Gospel of Matthew mentions that many saints rose from the grave and went into the city and visited people at the time of Christ’s resurrection. Paine raises two major objections. First, such a remarkable event, should it have happened, would have been recorded by all the evangelists, and not just by one. It’s too astounding an event to be addressed by only one person. Second, such a remarkable event, if it’s to be believed, would have been prophesied of by the prophets. It’s too important an event not to have been prophesied of, since it’s occurrence would be proof beyond doubt regarding the truth of the prophets. That the event isn’t in the prophets, and that it’s only recorded by one of the Gospels Paine takes as evidence against the historicity of the event.
In the Book of Mormon, we see an attempt at explaining that problem. First, we get Samuel actually prophesying of the same sort of event: “And many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their death—and many saints shall appear unto many” (Helaman 14:25). Second, however, the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy isn’t actually recorded, just as in the New Testament (where it’s only barely recorded). But then Jesus comes to visit the Nephites and Lamanites, and he calls them on this detail: Why didn’t you record the fulfillment of this prophecy? They remedy this point then. But what’s striking is that there’s an implicit explanation of the absence of the prophecy and of the widely reported fulfillment of the prophecy: these were left out of the record most likely because Samuel was a Lamanite! The marginalized were ignored, and so this crucial prophecy was ignored. The implication is that the Bible screws things up for the same reason—because of the way the marginalized are handled.
10. A Righteous Judgment
Chapter 14 closes with an unmistakable echo of Benjamin’s sermon—another among so many echoes of that sermon. This one’s a bit peculiar, however. Samuel says that signs and wonders will remove “cause for unbelief among the children of men” (verse 28), and that “to the intent that . . . a righteous judgment might come upon them” (verse 29). This seems to be a direct echo of Mosiah 3:10: “all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.” Although Samuel’s emphasis is on signs removing cause for unbelief and Benjamin’s emphasis is on Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, the basic idea seems to be the same: it’s necessary to ensure that the judgment is fully just. Samuel is perhaps a little quicker to emphasize what this implies: “if they are condemned, they bring upon themselves their own condemnation” (verse 29). And it’s this further development on Samuel’s part that leads him into his final words in the chapter, clearly drawn from Lehi (in 2 Nephi 2) and Alma (in Alma 40-42). This deserves attention.
After reiterating (“whosoever perisheth perisheth unto himself, and whosoever doeth iniquity doeth it unto himself”), Samuel states the following: “ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves—for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge, and he hath made you free” (verse 30). This couldn’t be a much clearer allusion to 2 Nephi 2, to Lehi’s great sermon to his son Jacob. This is clearly recognized to be the background of every idea of restoration to one’s own wonted state. And that idea of restoration is worked out most clearly—and also with constant allusion to 2 Nephi 2—in Alma’s talk with Corianton in Alma 40-42. As if to make this connection all the clearer, Samuel provides in the next verse a weave of 2 Nephi 2 and Alma 40-42: “He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death. And ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you, or ye can do evil and have that which is evil restored unto you” (verse 31). The first half of this verse is unmistakably drawn from Lehi, and the second half is unmistakbly drawn from Alma.
Why is Samuel’s attention rather suddenly on all that? How does this use of Lehi and Alma help to clarify what he’s saying about signs and cause for unbelief? That remains an open and important question, one I’m happy to leave open at the end of these notes.
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