Prophetic Course Changes in the Book of Mormon.

March 20, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 7:50 pm   Category: Scriptures

In Mosiah 2, it says, in a rather long sentence:

I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another— I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, 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, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments…

This scripture is classically discussed as an example of God’s amazing Grace. Here Benjamin is not saying that we have no value, and thus are unprofitable to God, but rather that we are so valuable that he gives us more than we could possibly ever give in return.

What I thought about this time, as I read it tonight, which had not occurred to me before was that this is basically saying if we thanked and praised and served God with our whole souls, We still wouldn’t be any better of than if we had just kept the commandments. (I’ll avoid my own threadjack of what it means to “keep the commandments” for now).

It is interesting to contrast this view with that of Amaleki, who game the plates to Benjamin. Amaleki wrote:

Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.

It is interesting to see a contrast in opinions between the two prophetic leaders, and one almost wonders if perhaps the latter is a soft course change of the former.

Of course, I’m a big fan of the concept of giving one’s will to God, so not sure what this means. Perhaps it just means that my second to last companion on my mission was right, and it’s a-ok to relax and have fun. (this was a big revelation to me at the time, as a new convert)

What do you think? When Benjamin is saying “All” you need to do is keep the commandments, is it that cut and dried, or are “the commandments” nebulous enough to mean giving our whole soul?


  1. If you spent every second and what?

    There are a lot of things that can be considered commandments.

    At times it seems what we do is a type of bottom line. Gratitude to God, understanding the gospel, faith, etic., should all ultimately lead to becoming more christlike in our behavior.

    Anyway, I really do not see that much of a contrast. Perhaps I am missing something.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — March 21, 2008 @ 5:51 am

  2. Eric, it may well be I am making up the distinction here. To me Amaleki is saying we must give our whole selves over to God. However, Benjamin is saying even if we gave our whole selves to God, it wouldn’t make us any better, and all he requires is keeping the commandments.

    I agree that “keeping the commandments” is an extremely nebulous term. Benjamin definitely does not define what he means by keeping the commandments within this speech, but leaves it open, as though the audience already knew God’s commandments. This Chapter begins (vs 4) and ends (last verse) with a statement that keeping the commandments leads to happiness. Somewhere in between (vs 20 or so) we have Benjamin saying all we need to do is keep the commandments, and that if we do so, we are “immediately” blessed. (ie- the commandments are for our benefit)

    Comment by Matt W. — March 21, 2008 @ 7:03 am

  3. We still wouldn’t be any better of than if we had just kept the commandments.

    I’m not so sure that is what Benjamin was saying, and it hangs on what “unprofitable” means.

    In a nutshell, I think “unprofitable” means that the servant, whose job it is to do whatever the master demands, has not gained anything to his “account balance”; i.e., the master may very well have profited from the servant’s labor, but he doesn’t owe the servant anything.

    In that light, I don’t see any conflict at all between Benjamin and Amaleki.

    Comment by BrianJ — March 21, 2008 @ 7:20 am

  4. Basically I agree with BrianJ. But, I think we are unprofitable servants because we give to the Lord that which belongs to him, and because of the fact that he immediately blesses us when we are obedient. This means we can never get out of his debt. It might be rather crass to compare this to a credit card company, but with the interest rates that they charge and the way that they collect the interest first it is not very far fetched to assume that it might be impossible to get out of their debt if all we do is pay the minimum. The difference lies in that in the case of keeping the commandments we automatically get more and so we cannot pay back what is owed by virtue of the Atonement.

    Comment by Stepheny — March 23, 2008 @ 6:17 pm

  5. Brian Stephany, yes that’s is a pretty accurate depiction of what it is saying about Grace, however, it is saying you can’t pay God back no matter how much you give, and “all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments”. ie- God is not asking you to pay him back.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 23, 2008 @ 8:30 pm

  6. God is not asking you to pay him back.

    Exactly! It is really hard for mortals used to market like arrangements to believe that we either can’t or are not expected to pay back anything good we receive. I can’t help but think of a statement by Tacitus “Good turns are pleasing only in so far as they seem repayable; much beyond that we repay with hatred not gratitude.”

    If this is true the idea that God doesn’t want us to pay him back makes us really uncomfortable. So we find it more desirable to believe that keeping the commandments is a form of payment; when, in fact it is not.

    Comment by Stepheny — March 24, 2008 @ 8:20 am

  7. Steph: Cool, glad we agree on that.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 24, 2008 @ 11:22 am

  8. Matt: I never intended to say that God wants us to pay him back—an idea Paul attacks in Romans 4:4. Rather, my point is that we can never, ever place God in our debt—demand something of him because he owes us. Any demand we place on God can only be in the context of the atonement; which is to say that we plead with Christ to make demands on our behalf.

    I was also questioning the statement “We still wouldn’t be any better of than if we had just kept the commandments.” If we were in a payment/debt relationship with God, then this would be true, but since we are not…. Praising God for his goodness and thanking him with our whole souls is still valuable to us in the “King Benjamin model” because gratitude is integral to the atonement relationship (which KB accepts) but has no place in the debt relationship (which KB rejects).

    Comment by BrianJ — March 26, 2008 @ 6:15 am

  9. As I was reading this I got to thinking that perhaps we could link King Benjamin’s comments to what the Lord said in Luke 7:21

    “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

    I think that we could read in Mosiah that in the end, doing the Lord’s will is all that matters. We may believe we are doing great locked in our rooms reading the scriptures and praying all day and pouring our souls in ‘thanks and praise’ but after all is said and done it wouldn’t profit us at all, if we are not doing what God has commanded, his will. I don’t think that is in conflict with Amaleki’s words because we read that:

    “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” D&C 59:8

    In the scriptures the heart is a symbol for our will, so we sacrifice our will to do what he would have us do, that is, keep his commandments. I believe that our form of worship consists in exactly that, as Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to love God and our fellow men, so the basis for the law, or the commandments is a sort of worship to God based on our love for Him. “If you love me keep my commandments”

    I also find that it ties into what is said in James 1:27 “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world”

    There is no progression in ourselves in worshiping without service to others and to ourselves through keeping the commandments out of love.

    Comment by adurango — March 26, 2008 @ 10:17 pm

  10. I submit that there is no contradiction between King Benjamin, Amaleki, Luke, Romans, James and the D&C. I think they basically all agree and that the above statements do not disagree in the essentials. The essentials being the need to be reconciled to Christ. There is an apparent divergence when it comes to identifying how this reconciliation comes about, how long it last, if it is unconditional or not and perhaps a few other details.

    I see no shift in emphasis, except as it relates to the language various preachers or prophets have chosen to communicate to their audience. Based on their understanding of the group they were addressing either by the written or the spoken word they chose those words that would convey the message most clearly .

    Comment by Stepheny — March 27, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

  11. It sounds about right. I’m about two-and-half-years post-Baptism now, I’ve been given a missionary calling in my ward and I teach Gospel Principles in Sunday School, but more than a little fatigue has set in, and there are times I envy the “less actives”. I’ve always approached religion as a kind of ‘User’s Manual’ for this life, and tried to use it to stay grounded and not get too lofty. So, “just keep the commandments” and “it’s a-ok to relax and have fun” is good advice for me right now.

    As I’ve told my son, the trick of religion is to find that place where you take it seriously, but not *too* seriously.

    Comment by V the K — March 28, 2008 @ 4:33 am