Times of the Gentiles
The history in the book of Helaman contains extensive and sobering similarities with the present day and near future. The conditions of wickedness described seem prevalent in the world today, especially among the Gentile nations. Because of the Nephites' abominations during this period, several punishing destructions came upon them.
In Helaman 1, the Lamanites launched a surprise attack on the city of Zarahemla, slaying many Nephites and taking many cities and strongholds before Moronihah drove them out. In chapters 4 and 5 the Lamanites again came against the Nephites. This time Zarahemla, along with half of the Nephites' other territories, remained under Lamanite control. Then, because of a miraculous conversion experience, the Lamanites gave the lands back to the Nephites. In chapter 11, contentions and wars broke out among the Nephites, and a widespread famine took the lives of many among the more wicked part of the land. Not until the people humbled themseleves in sackcloth did the Lord rescue them.
Are these three major incidents going to find manifestations in our day? We know that the prophecies talk of wars, widespread captivity, civil conflict, and famine. They also promise deliverance for the righteous. However, are these events going to transpire in the same order they did in the Nephite record?
A search of the prophecies suggests that the answer is to the contrary. They seem to indicate that these things are closely interrelated and will not come as separate events. These three events in Book of Mormon history apparently overlap in their application to our day. Each event provides valuable perspective regarding both the causes and the effects of that which is to come.
First let us consider the causes. Pondering these, a most sobering realization settles upon us: the situations that brought these catastrophes upon the Nephites appear to be among us today.(1) This seems to be one of the primary themes that the ancient prophet-compilers wished to bring to our attention. The Book of Mormon's direct description of our degenerate condition matches, as if on purpose, its depiction of the depravity of its own people during this period of its history.(2)
Both the regressing Nephites and the modern declining Gentiles were charged with (1) denying the spirit of prophecy and revelation (Hel. 4:23 compare Morm. 9:7; 3 Ne. 29:6), (2) seeking the praises of the world more than the praise of God (Hel. 7:21; compare Morm. 8:38), (3) committing all manner of wickedness and abominations (Hel. 4:12; compare Morm. 8:36,40; 3 Ne. 16:10), (4) giving in to the enticing of the evil one who seeks only the misery of his victims (Hel. 7:16; compare Morm. 8:38), and (5) allowing Satan to rage in their hearts (Hel. 7:15; compare 2 Ne. 28:20).
The Book of Mormon prophets' lamentations concerning the ancient and the modern situation are even similar. "O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die? Turn ye, turn ye unto the Lord your God," they cried. (Hel. 7:17; compare Morm. 8:41; 9:6.) Included in their woeful lamentations was the warning, "...Except ye repent ye shall perish...." (Hel. 7:28; compare 2 Ne. 28:19.)
Pride was another condition about which the prophets seemed particularly concerned. They beheld that the Nephite civilization, like our society, had "set [their] hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world..." and that they "began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up above another...." (Hel. 7:21; 6:17; compare Morm. 8:37.) Nephi, son of Helaman, warned his people, "...Wo shall come unto you because of that pride which ye have suffered to enter your hearts, which has lifted you up beyond that which is good...!" (Hel. 7:26; 4:12.) Prophesying of our day, Jesus said that not only would we, the Gentiles, "be lifted up in the pride of [our] hearts," but that we would be lifted up "above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth...." (3 Ne. 16:10; Morm. 8:36.) No wonder President Benson recently addressed the topic of pride.(3) He introduced his remarks with this statement: "...Lest we miss that momentous Book of Mormon message from that fallen people, the Lord warns us in the Doctrine and Covenants, `Beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.' (D&C 38:39.)"(4)
The Nephite record holds no reservations in condemning even the members of the church. It states that this pride and its accompanying wickedness and abominations were also "among those also who professed to belong to the church of God." (Hel. 4:11.) Moroni saw that the members of God's church in the latter days would likewise be penetrated with pride. (Morm. 8:36-38.) In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord declared that if the time should come that the Saints (speaking collectively) cease being "a light unto the world and...the saviors of men," they will be "good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men." (D&C 103:9,10; 3 Ne. 16:15.)
Another characteristic attribute of this period of Nephite history is that "they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction...." (Hel. 5:2,3.) Abundant indicators around us today sadly profess that we too have reached this point.(5) Our prophet recently testified that "wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before."(6)
Also in this era of Book of Mormon history, a dramatic transition took place. The Nephites, who had been such a highly favored people of the Lord, became increasingly entrenched in wickedness; they had "sinned against that great knowledge which [they had] received...." (Hel. 7:24.) On the other hand, the previously pagan Lamanites were converted as a nation to the gospel, and their righteousness eventually exceeded that of the Nephites. (Hel. 6:34:34-36.) "...The Lord will be merciful unto them," Nephi (son of Helaman) said, "yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed...." (Hel. 7:24.) Prolonging life and multiplying posterity are key elements of the Abrahamic covenant. (Exo 20:12; Gen. 22:17.) Could this ancient occurrence betoken that time in the latter days when the Lord will fulfill the covenant he made with the House of Israel?
A closely analogous transition is prophesied to happen in the latter days. "...The Gentiles," said Christ, "shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel...." (3 Ne. 16:10.) As we discussed above, that seems to be what is taking place today. Christ continued, "And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them." (3 Ne. 16:11.)
The parallels between the Nephites and the latter-day Gentiles and between the Lamanites and the latter-day House of Israel seem to be highly significant.(7) In many places Mormon's choice of wording, when he describes the Nephites or Lamanites, creates a strong prophetic image for the destiny of the latter-day counterpart. This correlation is extremely valuable, for most prophecies speak in terms of the House of Israel and the Gentiles.
For example, in the following reference, if the word "Gentile" were to be used in place of "Nephite," and "House of Israel" in place of "Lamanite," it would become a perfect description of the latter-day transition just mentioned.
This correlation actually begins as early as the book of Mosiah. The church founded by Alma went first among the Nephites, just as the restored gospel was taken first among the Gentiles in the latter days. The Lamanites did not join the church in a major way until nearly a hundred years later. This reflects the belated acceptance of the gospel by the House of Israel in the latter days.
The condition of the Nephites during this ancient era matches that of the Gentiles from the time of the restoration up to the present day. After the establishment of the church, both the Nephites and the Gentiles experienced great blessings. (Alma 16:21; compare 3 Ne. 20:15,27; 1 Ne. 14:2.) The Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon them (Alma 16:16; compare 3 Ne. 20:27); "the word of God [was] preached in its purity in all the land..." (Alma 16:21; compare 1 Ne. 14:34); and they were "a highly favored people of the Lord...: above every other nation, kindred, tongue, or people..." (Alma 9:20; compare 1 Ne. 22:7; 3 Ne. 20:15,27).
Many similarities can also be drawn between the ancient Lamanites and the latter-day House of Israel during this same period of time. Both had remained cut off from the presence of the Lord as a result of their transgressions. (Alma 9:14; compare Isa. 59:2.) The curses of God were upon them. (Alma 17:15; compare Deut. 28:15.) And it was "because of the traditions of their fathers that [had] caused them to remain in their state of ignorance...." (Alma 9:16; also Alma 17:15; compare Matt. 14:3.) Nevertheless, notwithstanding their state of unbelief, "the promises of the Lord were extended unto them on the conditions of repentance." (Alma 17:15; compare 3 Ne. 24:7; Mal. 3:7.) Indeed, the prophets testified concerning both that "at some period of time [they would] be brought to believe in His word, and to know of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers; and many of them [would] be saved, for the Lord will be merciful unto all who call on his name." (Alma 9:17; compare 3 Ne. 22:7,8.)
While the blessings of the Lord were extended to the Lamanites (symbolizing the House of Israel), the Nephites (symbolizing the Gentiles), on the other hand, because of the great blessings which they had received, were under a different status. To them the Lord anciently decreed that if they would "rebel against him," that they would "utterly be destroyed from off the face of the earth." (Alma 9:19-24; compare 1 Ne. 14:3.) Nephi (son of Lehi) reinforced this correlation between the Nephites and the Gentiles when he proclaimed, "...Wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!" (2 Ne. 9:27.)
Therefore, inasmuch as we live during a time when the Gentile nations are seething in wickedness, while the House of Israel nations yearn for freedom and independence, we have reason to worry for the Gentiles and rejoice for the House of Israel. There is no doubt the Lord has been pouring out his Spirit upon those who are in captive nations as they cry out for freedom. Alma said, "...The Spirit of God...is also the spirit of freedom." (Alma 61:15.) It is likely that he is priming them for the great blessings that will soon issue forth to quench their longing hearts' desires. Their mass demonstrations against their heavily armed governments could be another fulfillment of Joseph Smith's "Civil War" prophecy. In it he foresaw a time when "slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war." (87:4.) Significantly, the very next verse in this prophecy speaks of that time when the remnant who will be left shall vex the Gentiles. Below we discuss this vexing in greater detail. According to the scriptures, the reason this will come upon the Gentiles will be because they will harden their hearts against the Lord and his gospel. Christ taught that in that generation when the Gentiles will no longer receive the gospel, "for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the precepts of men..., the times of the Gentiles [will] be fulfilled." (D&C 45:29.)
1. Elder Mark E. Petersen said, "The extinct civilizations of the past now speak to us out of the dust of the ages, giving warning against the same conditions which brought them down to oblivion. Listen to what they say!" (Ensign, June 1971, p. 48.)
2. Nephi's rebuke of his people in Helaman 7:15-29 is a prime example.
3. President Benson's urgency in proclaiming this message on pride was manifest when he said, "I know the Lord wants this message delivered now." (Ensign, May 1989, p. 4.)
4. Ensign, May 1989, p. 4.
5. Joseph B. Wirthlin, Ensign, May 1989, p. 9. (Used by permission.)
6. Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 87.
7. Appendix H briefly discusses the possible identity of the modern Gentile and House of Israel nations.
"Would God that ALL the Lord's People Were PROPHETS"