Abinadi: The Man and the Message (Part 1)
I would like to welcome you here today to our discussion of Abinadi and the Book of Mormon. I might say, by way of introduction, that once there was a man who was teaching a Sunday School class about the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:48), and he said, about where Christ teaches, "Be ye therefore perfect": "Is there anybody here who feels like they are perfect?" A man in the back of the room stood up. The teacher said, "Excuse me, do you mean to tell me that you think you are perfect?" And the other man said, "No, I am just standing in proxy for my wife's first husband." Well, I feel kind of like that here today. I don't pretend to be an expert on Abinadi, but I have done some research and have studied the words of some people I think are experts, and so I am kind of standing in proxy for them. I will try to guide you through the scriptures with some help from what these other brethren have said.
Let's start with Mosiah 11. This is where Abinadi comes on the scene in the Book of Mormon. Notice in Mosiah 11:20, it says, "It came to pass that there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi." We don't know a lot about him. He just kind of shows up here in the land of Lehi-Nephi, but his name is interesting. Are you familiar with names in the scriptures? Many of the names mean something. Isaiah's name means "Jehovah saves"; Elijah, "My God is Jehovah." There is some symbolism in names. Remember the man who was released in place of Jesus after the trials of Jesus? What was that man's name?
Student answer: Barabbas
Do you know what that name means? Bar means "son of," ab means "father," and abba means "daddy" (it is a more personal form of ab). So Barabbas means "son of daddy." If you think about it, Barabbas is the lying criminal guilty of sedition and murder. He is let go and then the real Son of the Father, who comes to establish truth, build the government of God, and save life, even Christ—he is then crucified.
Now, let's look at the name Abinadi. These people had Hebrew background. In Hebrew, ab means "father," abi means "my father," and nadi is "present with you." So the name Abinadi may reflect his mission; it may mean something like "my father is present with you." That is actually why they said they killed him—because he said God would come down and would be with man. That was the charge of blasphemy that they finally used to put him to death. Let's just take a look at Abinadi's message here.
Let's take a look at the setting. We have a chart to get the time period (see Figure 1). Notice, down in the footnote, the little asterisk by Abinadi's name. This takes place at about 150 B.C. If we look at the first chart, we notice the time line at the top. It goes from 200 B.C. down to 100 B.C. The top part of the chart is Zarahemla; the bottom is the land of Nephi. There were two concurrent Nephite kingdoms going at that time. Up in the land of Zarahemla, there was Mosiah1, Benjamin, and Mosiah2. (The chart lists the chapters of the Book of Mormon that cover that period of time—Omni 1:24—30, the Words of Mormon, and then the first few chapters of Mosiah. It goes from Mosiah1 up to the time of Benjamin, but then notice the dotted line. The story goes back in time. It goes back to tell about the years from 200 B.C. to 121 B.C. in the other Nephite kingdom. The other kingdom was lead by Zeniff and Noah, and then Abinadi comes on the scene before Limhi. And so Abinadi lives at about 150 B.C.
Now, just a little overview of what Abinadi does. Some of his actions are similar to those of a man in the New Testament whom we know as John the Baptist. Those similarities are listed on the chart in Figure 2: Both ministered to people committed to the law of Moses; both preached repentance and warned of impending judgments; both opposed religious leaders of their day; both were victims of priestcraft; both denounced the immoral conduct of their kings and consequently died violent deaths; and both were transitional prophets, linking together the old and the new covenants (i.e., the law of Moses and the law of Christ). So, in these senses, Abinadi is kind of the 'John the Baptist' of the Book of Mormon.
Now, since we mentioned this, let's go to Mosiah 11. Notice that the leader's reaction to Abinadi is just like the reaction to John the Baptist. "Now when king Noah had heard of the words which Abinadi had spoken unto the people, he was also wroth; and he said: Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him, or who is the Lord, that shall bring upon my people such great affliction?" (Mosiah 11:27). Do any of those words sound familiar? "Who is Abinadi?" "Who is the Lord?" Have you heard those words before? Who else said that, before the people of Israel got out of bondage? Remember the movie with Charleton Heston and Yul Brenner? "Let my people go!" What was Pharaoh's reply? It is in Exodus 5:2. Pharaoh says: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." You can go back even farther in time to Moses 5:16 and see where Cain said the same thing: "Who is the Lord that I should know him?" King Noah's reply here is the same as some of the devil's most distinguished servants of the past.
That reaction to Abinadi reminds me of 1 Nephi 16:2, where Nephi says, "The guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center." The reaction is not good when they are guilty. The reaction was the same for Nephi—they sought his life (see 1 Nephi 1). The reaction was the same for Samuel (see Helaman 13—14).
I would also like to point out some similarities between the two great prophets Benjamin and Abinadi. Figure 3 lists some gospel principles upon which both Benjamin and Abinadi focus. Now, Benjamin's teachings are in Mosiah 3, and Abinadi's are in Mosiah 13—16. Do you remember where Benjamin said he got his material? Do you remember that? He said he got it from an angel. Let's go back and see where he says that. Go back to Mosiah 3:2—3:
And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me.
And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.
Now I think that is very interesting. What was the first question the priest asked Abinadi? Remember, they said that they were going to cross-examine this man. What was their question? Let's go back to Mosiah 12:20:
And it came to pass that one of them said unto him: What meaneth the words which are written, and which have been taught by our [Old Testament] fathers, saying [quoting Isaiah 52:7—10]:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth;
Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice. . . .
Now think about that for a moment. Notice the correlation there. Go back to your chart (see Figure 3). Notice, we have twenty-five different things here that Benjamin and Abinadi say basically the same. They both teach that God will come down; he will do miracles; he will suffer temptation; he will be called Jesus; he is the Father of heaven and earth; he will bring salvation; he will be scourged and crucified; he will overcome death; he will do these things that men can be judged; his atonement redeems those who have ignorantly sinned; those who willfully rebel will not be redeemed; all prophets declare this same message; the prophets spoke as if things had already happened; because Israel was stiff-necked, the law was given them (the law of Moses); the law included types, or shadows, or symbols, of things to come; the prophets spake concerning his coming; Israel hardened their hearts against the prophets; the law of Moses is ineffectual without the atonement; the atonement provides eternal life for little children; salvation is in Christ, and there is no other way under heaven whereby man can be saved; the natural man is an enemy to God; the knowledge of Christ is going to spread throughout the whole world; receiving this message makes a person accountable; everybody is going to be judged; and the prophets' words stand as a testimony.
Notice, there is a reference out of chapter 3 and some out of 13, 14, 15, and 16 of Mosiah. Each one taught approximately the same thing. Is there any connection between these two prophets? Who came first? Benjamin or Abinadi? Abinadi came first. Abinadi is dead when Benjamin teaches this. An angel comes to Benjamin and says, "Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy" (Mosiah 3:3). Perhaps this angel has an affinity for these words. It's an example of the Bible's phrase "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy" (Luke 2:10). Is it possible that this angel is none other than our friend Abinadi? They certainly teach the same things. Notice what Benjamin says. He says, "The things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel" (Mosiah 3:2). In essence, he's saying, "I'm just giving you what the angel gave me," and it's almost scripted all the way through. Well, you can make your own decision there, but I think there's definitely a correlation between those two messages.
Now, remember, the priest is asking this question about Isaiah's writings, and Abinadi bases his whole speech on this question about a verse out of Isaiah: What does Isaiah mean by "how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet that bringeth good tidings"? That is the basis for the whole discussion. After a while, Abinadi is really emphasizing this scripture forcefully.
Now let's go to Mosiah 11:23; Abinadi will introduce the theme that he is going to reiterate here: "And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God." Abinadi brings this up over and over again. This is the theme. Actually, I think he is continuing the theme from Nephi. Basically, he says, "If this people won't repent, they will be brought into bondage." And then comes the lesson: Nobody can deliver them except the Lord their God.
Now, that same theme is put together by Nephi. I listened to Elder Holland some time ago go through 1 Nephi, chapter 1. Basically, he said that Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon is the keystone. It's the most correct of any book on earth. Then he said that if this is the most correct of any book on earth, 1 Nephi 1 has to be the most brilliant opening chapter of any book on earth.
Now go to Nephi's message in 1 Nephi and see if you get a familiar message here. In verse 5 a prophet prays; in verse 8 he sees a vision; in verse 9 heavenly beings come down; in verse 11 a prophet receives a book; and in verse 20 the prophet is rejected. Does that sound familiar? Is that Joseph Smith's message? Is that Lehi's message? Or is that the message? Do we have a prophet? Does he pray? Does he receive anything? Does he write it down? And then notice how Nephi summarizes it in verse 20:
And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you [with this book] that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.
All through the book we see types and shadows of people getting into bondage through their own sin and transgression and iniquity, and the deliverance can only come through the Lord their God, who is Christ.
There is a beautiful example of this theme of bondage and deliverance in Alma 36 (see Figure 4). I think you are familiar with the term chiasmus and the idea of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon (as discovered by John W. Welch). Chiasmus is an inverted Hebrew parallelism. Notice, we get the same bondage and deliverance theme in Alma 36. The whole chapter is a chiasm.1 Look at Figure 4. Notice in verse 1, he says: "My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land." And then he talks about the bondage in verse 2: "I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions."
He starts with that. Notice back at the end of the chapter, it is in reverse. In verses 28 and 29, he is talking about bondage again. So you see the idea of getting into bondage, but where is the deliverance? Where does the summary come? Right in the middle. In Alma 36:18—19, Alma writes: "Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more." And then he says he was born again.
Now this theme of bondage and deliverance runs throughout the Book of Mormon. If you are going to sin, you are going to come into bondage. The only way out of bondage is deliverance through the Lord your God. But except you repent, Christ can't deliver you.
Now let's go back to Mosiah 12. Watch what they are doing. Remember, these people were very conversant with the law of Moses; the law meant a great deal to them. Back in Mosiah 11:23, Abinadi comes on the scene and says, "And it shall come to pass that except they repent. . . ." Notice the conditionality of the repentance. Then in Mosiah 12:1, the conditionality is gone. Abinadi has been gone for two years, and he comes back in disguise (some people have been critical of this text because it says he comes in disguise). Verse 1 reads:
And [he] began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying —Abinadi, [Oh, he blew his cover! No, I think he used the disguise to get inside the city. Once in there, he says, "I'm back." Notice the change in the prophecy. Before it was "except you repent," but now he says:] go and prophesy unto this my people, for they have hardened their hearts against my words; they have repented not of their evil doings; therefore, I will visit them in my anger, yea, in my fierce anger will I visit them in their iniquities and abominations.
Yea, wo be unto this generation! And the Lord said unto me: Stretch forth thy hand and prophesy, saying: Thus saith the Lord, it shall come to pass that this generation, because of their iniquities, shall be brought into bondage. . . . [And in the next few verses, he gets into the bondage theme again and into what's going to happen to them.]
Notice their first charge. They want to get rid of Abinadi, because he is testifying of their iniquities. But they can't just pull a charge out of the air. They have to have a legal charge. The first legal charge comes in Mosiah 12:3: "And it shall come to pass that the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace; for he shall know that I am the Lord." We see the charge being made in verse 10: "And he also prophesieth evil concerning thy life, and saith that thy life shall be as a garment in a furnace of fire." Abinadi makes this prophesy about Noah—that he will suffer death by fire—and they bind him in verse 9, take him to the king, and say, "This man said this evil against you." This is the first legal charge.
I have summarized these legal charges—legal by the law of Moses—on a chart (see Figure 5). The first charge is that Abinadi has reviled the king, because the Mosaic law in Exodus 22:28 says: "Thou shall not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people." He has done it. He has violated the law of Moses, a deed worthy of death. (They formally bring up the charge in chapter 17.)
Let's go on to verses 12—13 to catch the second charge:
And again, he saith thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land. And he pretendeth the Lord hath spoken it. And he saith all this shall come upon thee except thou repent, and this because of thine iniquities.
And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?
Notice, in verse 12, the priests are telling Noah what Abinadi said about him, and in the middle of verse 12, they say, "And he pretendeth the Lord hath spoken it." Let's go to Deuteronomy 18:18 in the Old Testament. This gives the law out of the law of Moses that Abinadi is supposedly violating here. "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." That is the way the Lord works with Israel. He calls a prophet and speaks to him. Verse 19: "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him." Now here in verse 20 is the law they are leveling against Abinadi: "But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die."
It is the death penalty for someone who presumes to prophesy and is a false prophet. They are saying that Abinadi has pretended to say this stuff about King Noah and calls it prophecy. This deed is worthy of death, so they should kill him. They bring up those two charges initially, and then we go through the rest of the trial. Their final charge comes in Mosiah 17:7—8, where Abinadi says that God himself will come down. They said that is blasphemy. We will look at that one a little more closely, but first let's summarize the three major charges against Abinadi—sedition, false prophesy, and blasphemy. The priests say that those are the laws Abinadi has violated from the law of Moses.
Now, as we read on in verses 13, 14, and 15, you can see the rationale, why they are saying they aren't guilty:
And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?
And now, O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you, and he has prophesied in vain. [Of course, this is hypocritical, but they have something that they think indicates to them that they are doing all right. In verse 15 they say:]
And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also prosper.
Do you see what they are saying? The law of the land that the Lord gave them back in 2 Nephi 1 is that if you keep the commandments, you are going to prosper. They say, "We're prospering. This is proof positive. We're doing okay. We don't have any dark clouds on the economic horizon. Things look good. We're very prosperous. We are strong. We just beat the Lamanites. Everything looks good. God says, 'If you are righteous, you will prosper,' and we're prospering. This is positive proof that this man is lying." See what they are doing there? And so they say, in verse 16: "Behold, here is the man, we deliver him into thy hands; thou mayest do with him as seemeth thee good."
In other words, they say, "You do with him what you want, but we know he has violated the law. We know he's a liar, and we know what the law says." Understand? They put Abinadi in prison in verse 17 and leave him there a little while. They have to figure out what they are going to do with him. They get together and decide to question him.
So, that brings us back to the scripture we looked at earlier, verse 19: "And they began to question him that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him; but he answered them boldly, and withstood all their questions, yea, to their astonishment; for he did withstand them in all their questions, and did confound them in all their words."
Now these are priests in a court. This is supposed to be a legal trial, but you'll notice there's no effort to find truth or to establish any innocence here. The priests only seek to discredit, or refute, or confound, or destroy. It's kind of the spirit from the adversary that you sometimes see of those who oppose this book even today. They're not looking at it to find truth, but to discredit it.
The main question they ask him, then, is in verses 20—21. They say, "What does this stuff by Isaiah mean?" We already read those two verses, so let's just add to them verses 22—23 now: "Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion; Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem." This is Isaiah 52:7—10. There is kind of an irony here. Do you see the charge they are leveling at him? They said, "Well, what do you think Isaiah means, where it says, 'how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that publisheth good tidings'? That is what prophets are supposed to do—that is, publish good tidings. You are saying all these horrendous things about us." Back in verse 11 they listed what Abinadi said about them: "And again, he saith that thou shalt be as a stalk, even as a dry stalk of the field, which is run over by the beasts and trodden under foot. And again, he saith thou shalt be as blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land. You're going to be like a garment in a hot furnace. . . ." They say, "You're saying all this stuff when you're supposed to be publishing peace. You're not a prophet! You have to be false, because you've said all these things. All the indicators are that you are false, because we are prospering. Everything looks good."
See, that makes every prophet kind of look like a false prophet in the beginning, if you think about it. They come and prophesy because the people are wicked while the people are really prosperous. They are right at the peak of the curve of prosperity, and it isn't until after the prophet prophesies that they go down. So a prophet at first looks like a false prophet, but then the curve goes down and the bondage comes in on them.
Look at verse 22: "Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice"—they are quoting this, but if they were really aware of what they are doing, they'd see that in Ezekiel 33:6—7, it says that the watchmen are sent to declare a warning voice and that Abinadi is a perfect example of what that is supposed to be. But they say, "No, your news is bad, and we don't like bad news." It is kind of like Samuel's story in Helaman 13. If someone comes and says everything is fine and you are all right, you accept him. But if he testifies of your iniquities, you run him out of town.
Let's go on to verse 25. Watch what Abinadi does here:
And now Abinadi said unto them: Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?
I say unto you, wo be unto you for perverting the ways of the Lord! For if ye understand these things ye have not taught them; therefore, ye have perverted the ways of the Lord.
He says, "You're asking me, and you pretend to have the spirit of prophecy." In essence, he's saying, "Do you even know what the spirit of prophecy is?" For our benefit, I have located a statement by Joseph Smith that reminds us what the spirit of prophecy is. In the New Testament, in the book of Revelation, written by John, chapter 19, verse 10, it says that the spirit of prophecy is "the testimony of Jesus." Joseph Smith said:
What constitutes a prophet? . . . According to John, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy; therefore, if I profess to be a witness or teacher, and have not the spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, I must be a false witness; but if I be a true teacher and witness, I must possess the spirit of prophecy, and that constitutes a prophet; and any man who says he is a teacher or a preacher of righteousness, and denies the spirit of prophecy, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.2
So Abinadi says, "You pretend to have the spirit of prophecy." Now notice what Abinadi says.
Therefore, what teach ye this people?
And they said: We teach the law of Moses.
And again he said unto them: If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches? Why do ye commit whoredoms and spend your strength with harlots, yea, and cause this people to commit sin, that the Lord has cause to send me to prophesy against this people, yea, even a great evil against this people?
Know ye not that I speak the truth? Yea, ye know that I speak the truth; and you ought to tremble before God. (Mosiah 12:27—30)
This is like someone going on to the Senate floor today and saying, "Senator X, why do you go down to fifth avenue and spend your time with a prostitute?" This is a direct charge. It is very bold. He goes on:
And it shall come to pass that ye shall be smitten for your iniquities, for ye have said that ye teach the law of Moses. And what know ye concerning the law of Moses? Doth salvation come by the law of Moses? What say ye?
And they answered and said that salvation did come by the law of Moses. (Mosiah 12:31—32)
He said, "If you are so big on the law of Moses, why aren't you living it?"
Notice what he does next. He goes through the first two commandments.
But now Abinadi said unto them: I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved; yea, if ye keep the commandments which the Lord delivered unto Moses in the mount of Sinai, saying:
I am the Lord thy God. . . . [And skipping to verse 35:] Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. [Verse 36:] Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. [Now, he levels the charge against them again:]
Now Abinadi said unto them, Have ye done all this? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not. And have ye taught this people that they should do all these things? I say unto you, Nay, ye have not. (Mosiah 12:33—37)
He is saying that they are violating the two most important commandments.
Now let's go to Mosiah 13:1—3 and get King Noah's reaction:
And now when the king had heard these words, he said unto his priests: Away with this fellow, and slay him; for what have we to do with him, for he is mad.
And they stood forth and attempted to lay their hands on him; but he withstood them, and said unto them:
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.
Notice, that is kind of a foreshadowing. I think he knows what's coming. He's saying, "I'm will give the message. I know you're plan to kill me, but you can't do it until I'm done." In verse 3 he says: "I have not delivered the message which the Lord sent me to deliver."
Where appropriate I like to liken the scriptures unto us, and I heard a young missionary tell a story about a time he used those words.
I was in Tucson, Arizona, and this missionary was telling me about his roommate that he had while he was at Rick's College. Before his roommate was at Rick's, he was at BYU—Hawaii. He was a lifeguard out on the North Shore. He was getting ready to go home, and as he did, something told him to check the shoreline one more time. He got his binoculars and looked out and saw someone in trouble in deep water, way, way out. He radioed the Coast Guard and said to get a helicopter there because he was going out to save this person. He swam for all his might until he finally got to this person. It was a little girl, and she was just about to drown. He kept her afloat until the helicopter lifted her out. Then he swam back.
He came home from school, got called on a mission, and found himself serving in Seattle, Washington. He and his companion were tracting door to door. They knocked on a door and a man opened the door. They explained who they were and what their message was, but he said he would have no part in this and slammed the door in their face.
They left, but as they got down the street a little bit, the Spirit nudged this elder, and he said to his companion, "We need to go back there." His companion said, "Excuse me? You heard that guy. I'm not going back there." The elder said, "No, I know we are supposed to go back. We haven't finished our message." His companion said, "I'm not going." They went back, but his companion stood at the sidewalk. He didn't want to go up there. The other Elder, with fear and trembling (I think, a little like Abinadi), went up and knocked on the door again. The man came to the door and said, "I thought I told you—" and the Elder said, "I haven't given you my message yet."
When he raised his voice, he heard a little girl's voice saying, "Dave, Dave, is that you?" A little girl ran out and threw her arms around his legs, and he bent down and embraced her. It was the little girl he had saved from the North Shore in Hawaii. The father begged his pardon and said they would listen to the message. The whole family was baptized. So, just as the Spirit said to Abinadi, "You have to deliver this message, and don't quit until you do," the same happened with that elder.
Now, you have probably seen the picture of Abinadi shown before the priests of King Noah. Does anyone know who the artist was who painted that picture? What is his name?
Student answer: Arnold Friberg.
I have the picture here. Brother Friberg was interviewed by a lady named Margo Butler and was asked about this picture. From what he said, we know a little more about the background of this picture. I would just like to share his responses with you.
First of all, let me just ask you a couple of questions about the picture. Who is the central figure in the picture? Where is the main focus?
Student answer: Abinadi
How does the artist depict that? You don't know that this is Abinadi in the middle here. But as you look at this picture by Brother Friberg, the central focus in this picture is Abinadi. Friberg has tried to kind of call attention to Abinadi. How? Look closely at the picture. Look at the floor. What has he done there? Notice the concentric circles. They kind of focus on Abinadi. What moment do you think is being depicted here? It is Mosiah 13:2, the one we just read. They stood forth and attempted to lay their hands on him, but he withstood them. They couldn't harm him. Notice in verse 7, he says: "Ye see that ye have not power to slay me, therefore I finish my message."
All right. What else do you notice in this picture? Do you have any idea what would have inspired this painting by Brother Friberg? I would never have known this if he hadn't given this interview with Sister Butler. The scripture that inspired this was not a Book of Mormon scripture. It is a New Testament scripture. It's in the book of John, John 18:6: "As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground." This is when they came to take Jesus in Gethsemane. The previous verse when they are asking for Jesus says: "They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he, And Judas also, which had betrayed him, stood with them."
In the New Testament, as I think you are aware, when the King James translators had to add a word to make sense out of a verse, they put the word in italics. What word in verse 6 is in italics? He. Think about that. They came to get Jesus and said, "Where is Jesus of Nazareth? Who is he?" And then they came to him and he said, "I am he." The he was added. What was Jesus' answer? "I am." He is Jehovah, the great I Am. And it knocks them backwards. Brother Friberg uses that depiction to show the same thing happening here. They are knocked backward. Notice the broken sword; notice the fly swisher and the tipped-over cups—because these guys are wine bibbers—and the guards are pushed back.
Brother Friberg says he used the principle of the jewel in art. He says he uses it in reverse, though. Rembrandt uses it a lot to bring all the colors up to one main focus. Friberg does that in reverse by having all the brilliant colors, illustrating the world, on the outside and then having Abinadi here in his drab prison garb in the very center of this thing. Another thing that I found interesting, having been down to Guatemala myself, where very possibly this could have occurred, was the feathers on the fly swisher and on King Noah's crown. Do you know what kind of feathers those would be? What is the national bird of Guatemala? It is the Quetzal bird. The interesting thing about this bird, which is kind of an irony, is that that bird is a national bird because it can't live in captivity. It is a symbol of freedom. So, here are these guys enslaved to their passions, adorned with these feathers, while you have Abinadi here in chains but free. I think it is an interesting irony that Friberg has painted into this.
What kind of cats are these? They are jaguars. Friberg said he used those because they signify royalty. They are very sensitive to spiritual things. They can perceive this spiritual giant here.
What else do we know that is going on with Abinadi here, from Mosiah 13:5? "Now it came to pass after Abinadi had spoken these words that the people of king Noah durst not lay their hands on him, for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; and his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses' did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord." When Moses came off the mount, he glowed. Abinadi is glowing, even as Stephen. What do we call this state, when someone has this Spirit come upon them? He has been transfigured. He is being transfigured, and that's why they can't touch him. That's why these jaguars and others sense this power and authority. He is glowing, just as Stephen and Moses did.
Did these guys really know they were wrong? Now look at verse 7: "Ye see that ye have not power to slay me, therefore I finish my message. Yea, and I perceive that it cuts you to your hearts because I tell you the truth concerning your iniquities." He's saying, "I can discern by the Spirit that you know I'm telling the truth, because you feel guilt." The guilty take the truth to be hard. Guilt is to the Spirit what pain is to the body. If you are playing basketball and come down on an ankle, you feel pain. The message is that you had better quit doing this behavior. You are going to damage yourself. If you are doing something wrong spiritually, you feel guilt. The message is that you had better stop this or you will further damage yourself spiritually—and you may even die spiritually if you don't stop. Abinadi can perceive that in the priests. It takes us back to the words of Nephi in 2 Nephi 2:5, where Lehi says, "Men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil."
Verse 10: "But this much I tell you, what you do with me, after this, shall be as a type and a shadow of things which are to come." When we get over into Mosiah 17:15, we'll look at that, but let's go on for a minute now. Notice verse 11, where he says: "And now I read unto you the remainder of the commandments of God, for I perceive that they are not written in your hearts." I think he has probably got them memorized, but he is reading on purpose. Because they are accusing him out of the law, he will read the law to them. In verses 12—13, he says: "And now, ye remember that I said unto you: [he's referring back to what he said earlier in Mosiah 12:34—35] Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of things which are in heaven above, or which are in the earth beneath, or which are in the water under the earth."
I don't know if we know that they are bowing down to worship idols, per say, but they're not really worshipping the Lord their God. They are worshipping material things. Now, to make a modern application of this, consider a statement from President Spencer W. Kimball wherein he talks about how we in our day may either consciously or unconsciously worship some false gods. He says:
Modern idols or false gods can take such forms as clothes, homes, businesses, machines, automobiles, pleasure boats, and numerous other material deflectors from the path to godhood. What difference does it make that the item concerned is not shaped like an idol? Brigham Young said: 'I would as soon see a man worshipping a little god made of brass or of wood as to see him worshipping his property.'
Intangible things make just as ready gods. Degrees and letters and titles can become idols. . . .
Young married couples who postpone parenthood until their degrees are attained might be shocked if their expressed preference were labeled idolatry. . . .
Many worship the hunt, the fishing trip, the vacation, the weekend picnics and outings. . . . These pursuits more often than not interfere with the worship of the Lord and with giving service to the building up of the kingdom of God.3
President Kimball lists several gods that we might unknowingly worship. Have you ever been trying to find a parking place in a very crowded lot and you think you've found a place, but you find instead that someone has parked their "god"—that is, their automobile—across two parking stalls, because they don't want you to touch their tin god? I have been sorely tempted to put Mosiah 13:12 on their windshield, but I haven't.
But anyway, Abinadi goes through the rest of the commandments. I don't think our purpose here is to discuss the ten commandments, other than to make a comment or two about them. In verse 16, Abinadi says to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. The Lord created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants, it says that the earth's temporal existence is going to be about seven thousand years. We are on the six thousand-year span, and then we are going to have a thousand-year millennium, which will be kind of the rest of the earth, or the Sabbath of the earth. The earth is in a telestial state now. During the Millennium, it will be in a terrestrial state. After the Millennium, it will be celestialized and become a body of light and become the celestial kingdom, and the meek shall inherit the earth.
We have a six-day week, and on that seventh day, we need to change some things. What should we do on the Sabbath? We should do something to move up from the telestial kind of world in which we are living. Instead of a list of do's and don'ts, we should move up to a kind of terrestrial law to get us ready for the celestial where we are going to live. I think that is what Elder Bruce R. McConkie had in mind when he made the following statement about the Sabbath Day.
The law of the Sabbath is so basic, so fundamental, that the Lord Jehovah named it as number four in the Ten Commandments themselves. The first three commandments call upon men to worship the Lord and reverence his great and holy name. The fourth gives us the Sabbath day as the weekly occasion on which we perfect our worship and put ourselves in tune to the full with Him by whom all things are. It is in no sense an exaggeration nor does it overstate the fact one whit to say that any person who keeps the Sabbath, according to the revealed pattern, will be saved in the celestial kingdom.4
See, he is saying that if you understand the Sabbath, it answers the kinds of questions—such as, Should I watch TV? What about this and what about that?—about what you should do on the Sabbath. We want to be unspotted from the world. We want to fast from the world (see D&C 59). We leave the world behind and take a day to kind of elevate us up to prepare us for the celestial glory. I think that is what Elder McConkie had in mind.
So, Abinadi goes through the rest of the commandments, and then he gets down to verses 27 and 28:
And now ye have said that salvation cometh by the law of Moses. I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you, that the time shall come when it shall no more be expedient to keep the law of Moses.
And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.
Now, you have to remember why the law was even given. I think you are aware that Paul talked about it that in Galatians 3:19—20, but to get it right, let's go to the Joseph Smith Translation in the back to see how that scripture in Galatians 3 reads:
Wherefore then, the law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made in the law given to Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first covenant, (the law.)
Now this mediator was not a mediator of the new covenant; but there is one mediator of the new covenant, who is Christ, as it is written in the law concerning the promises made to Abraham and his seed. Now Christ is the mediator of life; for this is the promise which God made unto Abraham.
Can you see how much that adds about Christ being the mediator of the new covenant, where Moses was the mediator of the old?
And then in Galatians 3:24 (which isn't in the appendix there; it's on page 1476 in the LDS King James Version of the Bible), it says: "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ." Notice the italics. The Joseph Smith Translation, in the footnote for 24b, says: "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster until Christ." That is what Abinadi was saying. He said, "Keep the law. That's good, and that brings you to Christ. But there will be a time when we will have no more law of Moses. We will have a Christ, and all things point to Christ.
Now, let's go to verses 29 and 30:
And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God;
Therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him.
What kind of law did he say it was in verse 30? A law of performances and ordinances, day to day, to keep them strictly in their duty. Now think of the law of Moses. It involved all kinds of day to day performances. In Deuteronomy 22, for example, it says, "If your brother's sheep falls in the pit, you do this." And it says, "Don't run over a bird's nest." It tells you how to build a house. It goes through all kinds of things, and it gives lots of specifics. That was to teach them that all these things were to teach them types and shadows of something to come. It was to teach them a principle. All these specifics taught them a general principle. They were supposed to deduce this principle.
I want to illustrate this with a little object lesson here. This last week we had some Japanese students staying with us. They fixed dinner for us, and we ate with chopsticks. And they were very good at this; we were not so very good. I have done this before where I have a group of people try to pick up this golf ball with chopsticks. So we don't spend a lot of time doing this, I'll just play a little bit here. I can't do it. But I got a Japanese student to do it, and he just picked it right up like that. How? He had done performances day to day to the point where he knew the principle of how to use this. These Japanese students fed us soup, and they got every little noodle with these chopsticks. But we were all cheating on the soup.
So, how does this work? Figure 6 shows the difference between the law of Moses and the law of Christ, and it shows how these two fit together. The law of Moses was daily performances. By performing these things, you would deduce a principle. Christ said, "Plant your crops in rows. Separate your corn and your beans and your other stuff." And he would say, "Don't mix your fabrics. Have just wool, just silk, just cotton." Every time they did these specifics, it was supposed to teach them a general principle. The principle here was that you don't mix with those outside of Israel. You only marry Israelites. So every time they kept that corn, the beans, and the other stuff, they kept it separate. They got that principle out of it.
But Christ comes along, and the law of Christ is just the reverse. Look at the chart. Christ comes and gives you the principle. He says, "Love your neighbor." And so, then we are supposed to induce the daily performances that go along with that principle. We are supposed to go and help them. We take them zucchini bread. We take them other things they need. We do these daily kinds of things to help these people out. Okay? That is what Abinadi is saying, but notice what he says when we get to verse 31. He says:
Behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come.
And now, did they understand the law? I say unto you, Nay, they did not all understand the law; and this because of the hardness of their hearts; for they understood not that there could not any man be saved except it were through the redemption of God.
For behold, did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah, and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have they not spoken more or less concerning these things?
Everything prophesies or testifies of Christ. Nephi said the same thing in 2 Nephi 11:4. He said that is the intent. The law was given. All things bear record of Christ. All things in the law of Moses bear record of Him.
As the wicked Nephites should have listened to Abinadi, we need to listen to our modern prophets and apostles, who teach us what we should do and teach us about the Atonement. I leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. See John W. Welch, "A Masterpiece: Alma 36," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 114—31.
2. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 269.
3. Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 40—1.
4. Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 391.