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If ever there were a profile in courage, it is the prophet Abinadi, testifying boldly before the court of King Noah with its elaborate trappings of wealth and importance. From our vantage, all these centuries later, it is clear that Noah and his court are the epitome of pride and evil, that malevolence oozes from every priest. But to Abinadi, standing alone in chains, he was a minority of one, standing off against the power and authority of society.
One writer said, “Undoubtedly you [are] impressed with Abinadi’s courageous stand before King Noah and his wicked priests. But think beyond that for a moment. Think beyond the man in chains. While we know nothing of Abinadi’s personal life, surely he had loved ones, an occupation, a home, and friends. Most of us see in the prophets men of courage and bravery, but do we also think of them as human beings with the same kinds of feelings that we have? Do we see men who like people and who want to be well thought of by their fellowmen? Do we see men who love life and who would be happy to live it out in some measure of security with their wives and children? What is it that leads them to forsake all these, to endure ridicule and abuse and, often, death?”
There is a power and majesty about Abinadi as he prophesies and then is burned to death. He knows his Father in Heaven and he is about his errand. He has come to testify of Christ and to quote and clarify scripture to those who claim they already know it. The court of Noah may drip with self-importance, but Abinadi’s situation is like Elisha’s described in the book of 2 Kings 6. In this chapter the king of Syria has surrounded Israel with chariots and a great host. “And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! How shall we do?
“And he answered, “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:15,16).
Despite appearances, Abinadi was not alone in his confrontation with the court-and neither are we when we are willing to stand for the gospel of Jesus Christ and follow the Spirit that leads us. Abinadi was buoyed and surrounded by unseen hosts who protected him until he had fulfilled his mission.
King Noah and King Benjamin
Those who have studied literature know that authors will often place characters side by side in plays or novels to serve as a study in contrasts. Each character’s attributes stand out in bold relief when a character so opposite them is also in the story. This is the idea, too, behind the kind of art called chiaroscuro which is a rich interplay of light and dark. The light is emphasized, the viewer is drawn to it, because it plays against the black.
King Noah and King Benjamin play against each other this way as we study the Book of Mormon. They are nearly mirror opposites and paint for us the stark difference between a wicked and a righteous king. Consider some of their differences:
King Benjamin did not want to burden the people, so he labored with his own hands to support himself. King Noah taxed the people grievously for his living.
King Benjamin lived simply, with an eye to serving his people. King Noah lived garishly, taking everything to excess. In his mind, his people were there to serve him.
King Benjamin recognized God’s power and that in contrast he was a frail mortal. King Noah pretended to know God, but in his own eyes, he was the most important.
King Benjamin entertained an angel. King Noah killed a prophet.
King Benjamin preached of the coming of Christ to his people and invited them to take his name. King Noah rejected Christ.
King Benjamin’s people became righteous and prosperous. King Noah’s people became wicked and oppressed.
Impact of a Wicked King
King Noah’s negative impact upon his whole society was succinctly described by Mosiah: “For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction! Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage (Mosiah 29: 17,18).
One commentary said, “The history of [Noah’s] reign is a composite of crime and cruelty. It is one of the most perplexing sections of Nephite annals. As people they had, more than once, been delivered by the Lord from the vengeance of Lamanite hatred and bloodthirstiness. They prospered when they kept the Laws of God; they grew in numbers, and the fat of the land sustained them. They were happy when they ate of the labor of their hands. They were a righteous people, and the Lord delivered them in the day of evil. Their paths were in the light when they heeded the voice of God’s holy servants. The Church of God was established among them, and Zeniff had appointed priests to act in the ordinances of the Law of Moses, in which form of worship the Nephites were most zealous.
“Human nature being as it is, the example set by wicked King Noah lured many of his people to forget the goodness of the Lord to their fathers and to follow him in evil practices. The king who was also traditionally the spiritual leader of his subjects, replaced the good priests Zeniff had consecrated by others of his own ilk. He caused those with whom he associated to surround themselves, as he had done, with wives and concubines and encouraged his people to commit all ‘manner of wickedness.'”(1)
It is incumbent upon a people to choose their leaders carefully because of the broad influence they have upon society. It is difficult for a society to rise above its leadership.
Why Were the People of King Noah so Mad?
When Abinadi preached to the people, he didn’t mince words. He was told by the Lord, “Go forth, and say unto this people, thus saith the Lord-Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger….I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies; yea and they shall be brought into bondage” (Mosiah 11: 20,21).
The people did not take this as a friendly warning. In fact, the wicked take the truth to be hard. It cuts them to the very center and ignites anger. The people in Jerusalem were furious with Lehi and sought to kill him. Samuel, the Lamanite, was stoned. Christ was crucified. Joseph Smith was martyred. In each case, the reason was because they chose to speak the ungarnished truth-that their listeners needed to repent.
Consistently, in the Book of Mormon, the evil believe themselves to be good. They use their trappings of wealth, success, and social approbation to support their perfectly lovely self-image. They are “somebodies” in their world, and it is offensive to them to be told they need to change. The priests in King Noah’s court, after all, knew the scriptures and could ask pointed questions about them. They dressed well and attended their meetings. They were educated and eloquent. They had the right Nephite genealogy that would have impressed anyone. Who is to say they are not the righteous?
A verse in Mosiah 11 highlights the irony of the situation: “And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people” (Mosiah 11:11). All the gold in the world does not make a lie the truth.
A Set Time
As Abinadi preached to the king and his priests, they claimed he was mad and attempted to lay their hands upon him. Yet their power was nothing before God. Abinadi said, “Touch me not, for God shall smite you if ye lay your hands upon me, for I have not delivered the message which the Lord sent me to deliver; neither have I told you that which ye requested that I should tell; therefore, God will not suffer that I shall be destroyed at this time ( Mosiah 13:3). This did not mean that Abinadi would always be protected from death at the hands of his enemies, but that he would be protected until his mission was completed.
Joseph Smith was given a similar promise-that he would live to fulfill his stewardship.
Not long before his death, Joseph Smith, Sr. called his children to his bedside and gave each of them his final blessing. To Joseph , Jr., he said: “Joseph, my son, you are called to a high and holy calling. You are called to do the work of the Lord. Now, hold out faithful and you will be blessed, and your family shall be blessed, and your children after you. You shall live to finish your work.”
At this Joseph cried out, “Oh, Father, shall I?”
“Yes,” said his father, “you shall. You shall live to lay out all the plan of all the work that God requires at your hand. Be faithful to the end. This is my dying blessing on your head in the name of Jesus. I also confirm your former blessing upon you, for it shall be fulfilled. Even so, Amen.”(2)
Joseph was also told by the Lord, “Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever” (D&C 122:9).
A Shining Face
As Abinadi made his defense before Noah and the wicked priests “his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses’ did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord” (Mosiah 13:5). This statement is of particular interest because of the controversy among biblical scholars and translators concerning the facial appearance of Moses after he had talked with the Lord on the mount of Sinai. The King James Version renders Exodus 34:30 as follows: ‘And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.’ However, the Catholic translators of the Douay Version followed the pattern of the Septuagint Bible by translating the same verse as follows: ‘And he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation with the Lord. And Aaron and the children of Israel seeing the face of Moses horned, were afraid to come near.’ Because of this faulty interpretation, the great sculptor Michelangelo put horns on his famous statue of Moses! The Book of Mormon again comes to the support of its companion scripture, the Bible, and clarifies an area of controversy; the face of Moses ‘shone’ when he came off the mount.”(3)
The Importance of Abinadi’s Mission
As the flames leaped around Abinadi and he pled with God to receive his soul, he may have assumed that he had not converted a single soul. The people had reviled him, the priests collaborated in his execution. Like Abinadi, we may not realize the impact for good we have had in the life of others. There are days that we evaluate our efforts and count them fruitless. The parents who have worn out their lives on a child who forsakes their teachings. The best efforts that do not bring the expected result. The pioneer journey that does not make it to the promised land, but leaves a grave along the trail. Have these all been without worth? How can we measure the work of our life?
If Abinadi had been calculating the merit of his life as he gave it for his testimony, he might have been disappointed. Yet, unbeknownst to him, he had made a convert-Alma whose life and posterity would transform the entire course of Book of Mormon history. The testimonies of this family would influence generations to follow. What’s more, because Alma wrote down all of Abinadi’s words, they continue to convert people today. We do not know the extent of the good we can do by standing for the truth. Abinadi spoke and even though he may not have known it-somebody listened.
- Reynolds, George, and Sjodahl Janne M. Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Edited by Philip C. Reynolds. 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1955-61)
- Smith, Lucy Mack, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft. 1996) p. 434.
3. Ludlow, Daniel H. A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976.