Mosiah 5

 

Out of Bondage through Covenants

      Jarom -- Mosiah


 

 

Mosiah 5:7 Ye Shall Be Called the Children of Christ:

 

     According to Jennifer Lane, in the Old Testament Yahweh is described as the Redeemer of Israel. A redeemer in Israelite society was a close family member who was responsible to help his enslaved kinsmen by buying them out of bondage. A comparable family relationship is created between the Lord and individuals by the making of covenants and the giving of a new name. The adoptive covenant becomes the basis for the Lord's acts of redemption. This pattern of adoptive redemption can be seen in both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon identifies Yahweh, the God and Redeemer of the Old Testament, with Jesus Christ. It further explains that redemption from spiritual bondage comes through the ransom price of his blood and is available to those who enter into adoptive covenants, which create a familial relationship and allow the Lord to act as their redeemer.

     In both King Benjamin's address and in the response of the people we can see how the covenant renewal practices associated with the Feast of Tabernacles become a reenactment of the adoptive redemption pattern observed at Sinai, but with an additional, overly spiritual and Christian dimension. The people enter into a covenant with God (Mosiah 5:5), receive a new name which reflects this adoptive relationship (Mosiah 5:7-8), are made free (Mosiah 5:8), and, as a result of retaining the name in one's heart and keeping the covenant, receive the promise of complete redemption, being able to enter the presence of God (Mosiah 5:9-15). This pattern follows the connection between covenant, renaming, and redemption in the experiences of Abraham, Jacob, and the house of Israel in the Old Testament, but here the text makes it clear that the redemption is through Christ. King Benjamin tells the people that "because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters" (Mosiah 5:7). This description is one of the clearest examples that covenant creates an adoptive relationship. The element of renaming is equally clear. The people are told "that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God" (Mosiah 5:8). Likewise, King Benjamin explicitly explains that it is because of this relationship that the people are able to be redeemed, saying that "under this head [Christ] ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free" (Mosiah 5:8). Finally, they are told that those who "take upon [them] the name of Christ," having covenanted to "be obedient unto the end of [their] lives . . . shall be found at the right hand of God, for [they] shall know the name by which [they are] called; for [they] shall be called by the name of Christ" (Mosiah 5:8-9). This promise of being "found at the right hand of God" is a promise of complete redemption, to be able to enter the presence of God, as the Lord said to the brother of Jared "Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you" (Ether 3:13). When we recognize that a person's name and nature were intimately connected in ancient cultures, we can see that those people who "know the name by which [they are] called; for [they] shall be called by the name of Christ" (Mosiah 5:9) know the nature of Christ, like the brother of Jared, because they have that same nature themselves. These are the people who are fully redeemed from the bondage of this world and of the natural man "through the atonement of Christ the Lord" (Mosiah 3:19).

     This covenant-making procedure demonstrates that the biblical adoptive redemption pattern is followed in king Benjamin's speech, but with a clearer Christian dimension. [Jennifer Clark Lane, "The Lord Will Redeem His People: Adoptive Covenant and Redemption in the Old Testament and Book of Mormon," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 2/2, Fall 1993, pp. 39, 51-52]

 

Mosiah 5:8 I Would That Ye Should Take upon You the Name of Christ:

 

     In Mosiah 5:8 we find an interesting statement by Benjamin:

 

           And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. (emphasis mine)

 

     Catherine Thomas poses the question, "What does it mean to receive the name of Christ?" We remember that when we take the sacrament, we signify not that we have fully taken the name, but that we are willing to take the name (see Moroni 4:3; D&C 20:77); compare Mosiah 5:5).

     Elder Dallin Oaks emphasized the word willingness, pointing to a future consummation:

           . . . in the inspired dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked the Lord for a blessing upon "thy people upon whom thy name shall be put in this house" (D&C 109:26).

           . . . [B]y partaking of the sacrament we witness our willingness to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and to receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Savior when he chooses to confer them upon us. (Dallin H. Oaks, "Taking upon Us the Name of Jesus Christ," Ensign (May 1985): 81, emphasis added)

 

     Elder Bruce R. McConkie also wrote about the meaning of receiving the divine name: "God's name is God. To have his name written on a person is to identify that person as a god. How can it be said more plainly? Those who gain eternal life become gods!" (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 458)

[M. Catherine Thomas, "Benjamin and the Mysteries of God," in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom," p. 291]

 

Mosiah 5:8 There Is No Other Name Given Where Salvation Cometh:

 

     [See the commentary on Mosiah 6:1; Moroni 10:8-17]

 

 

Mosiah 5:10-12 (Chiasmus)

 

     According to John Welch, an excellent instance of chiasmus is found in Mosiah 5:10-12. This was the first example of extended chiasmus discovered in the Book of Mormon (It was found in 1967 by Welch while he was serving as a missionary in Germany). It shows King Benjamin's literary mastery. It comes at the very center of section 7 of the speech in which Benjamin presents six ideas, first in one order and then in the exact opposite order. [John W. Welch, "A Masterful Oration," in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom," p. 70]

 

Mosiah 5:10-12 Except It Be through Transgression (Chiasmus):

 

     John Welch relates this story:

           While in Germany, I attended a series of lectures delivered by a prominent professor at the University of Regensburg, one of which was on chiasmus in Matthew and Mark. Chiasmus is an ancient literary art form, often used in the Bible. A chiastic passage is one that is arranged so that the first element in the passage parallels the last, the second parallels the next to last, and so forth into the center. . . . In his lectures, the professor made several strong statements about the way in which the presence of chiasmus, especially in Matthew, was evidence of Near Eastern rather than Western thought. Shortly after these lectures, I arranged a conference with the professor in his stone-walled office. My purpose was to show him four of the intricate chiastic passages I had located in the Book of Mormon. (Mosiah 3:18-19, 5:10-12; Alma 36, and the book of 1 Nephi, for example.) The meeting was brief since this evidence of ancient Near Eastern thought in the Book of Mormon needed little explanation, and the professor, openly frustrated by the inescapability of the conclusion for which he himself had laid the premises, was convinced and had little to say.

 

Chiasmus as seen in Mosiah 5:10-12:

 

a And now . . . whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ

    b must be called by some other name;

      c therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.

        d I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name. . . .

     e that never should be blotted out,

       f except it be through transgression. . . .

       f' therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress,

     e' that the name be not blotted out of your hearts. . . .

        d' I would that ye should remember to retain the name. . . .

      c' that ye are not found on the left hand of God,

    b' but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called,

a' and also, the name by which he shall call you.

[John W. Welch, "A Book You Can Respect," in The Ensign, September 1977, p. 48]

 

     Welch notes that King Benjamin is interested in contrasting those who remember the covenantal name with those who do not or contrasting those who know the voice by which they will be called with those who must be called by some other name. The structure of the chiasm in this text accentuates this sharp contrast, the either/or separating these two options (the basic inverted sequence is: name, called, left hand, remember, blotted out, transgression, transgress, blotted out, remember, left hand, called, name). This formal structure also places at the center the divinely decreed consequence, namely, the blotting out of their names in the event of transgression, which the covenanters are therefore sternly admonished to avoid. [John W. Welch, "What Does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove?" in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 206-207]

 

Mosiah 5:10-12 (Chiastic Form) [Illustration): The example here compares a chiasm in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Quiche Maya, with a passage from the Book of Mormon. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 177]

 

Mosiah 5:11 This [the Name of Christ] Is the Name That I Said I Should Give unto You:

 

     According to John Welch, since the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles fell at or around the same time in ancient Israel,114 it is possible to see influences from both of these holy days upon Benjamin's speech. . . . So holy was the Day of Atonement that on this day--but on this day alone--could the unspeakable name of God, YHWH, be pronounced; ten times (representing completeness and perfection) in all during the Day of Atonement service would the priest say this name out loud, and each time the people would fall prostrate on the ground (according to rabbinic sources).115 Just as hearing and receiving the name of God had profound impact on the people in Jerusalem, so it did on the people in Zarahemla, where this giving of "a name" was accorded holiness. Benjamin states that one of the main purposes of the assembly was to "give this people a name" (Mosiah 1:11-12). In great solemnity and emphasis,116 he reveals the name of "Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things," along with the name of his mother Mary (Mosiah 3:8). Finally, he gives the people the name and tells them that "this is the name that I said I should give unto you" (Mosiah 5:11).

     The ineffable name of God, YHWH, was never to be spoken lightly in ancient Israel. Just as the Jewish traditions allowed the priest to utter this name ten times during the Day of Atonement liturgy, it is interesting that in Benjamin's speech, the expanded name of God as "Lord God" (five times), "Lord God Omnipotent" (twice) and "Lord Omnipotent" (three times), appears a total of ten times. Seven of these utterances are in the words spoken by the angel to Benjamin (Mosiah 3:5,13,14,17,18,21,23). It seems more than coincidental because the number seven reflects "spiritual" perfection, and thus it is the spirit or angel that uses the name seven times, as well as the name "Christ" exactly seven times, and the root "atone' appears seven times in this seven-part speech.

     The other three utterances of the expanded name of God are in Benjamin's own words (see Mosiah 2:30,41; 5:15). Three is the number of "real" completeness; thus Benjamin himself, a mortal, pronounces the name three times. Moreover, it is significant that these three utterances come at important ceremonial breaking points in the speech, not merely at random or in inconsequential places. The holy name is given at the end points of three of the chiastic sections of Benjamin's speech.

     1. Mosiah 2:30 is the breaking point between the first two sections of the speech. It is quite plausible that the people would have fallen down at this point as they heard Benjamin pronounce the holy name of God as well as while he announced his son Mosiah to be their new king (see Mosiah 2:29-30).

     2. Mosiah 2:41 is another clear breaking point in the speech. I think it likely that the people would have fallen down as they heard Benjamin pronounce the holy name on this occasion and as he imposed the judgment of God upon the people.

     3. In Mosiah 4:1, Benjamin observes that the people "had fallen to the earth," but the text does not say when they had done so. Since the sacred name is mentioned seven times in rapid succession in Mosiah 3:5-23, it is possible that the people remained in a fallen state throughout Benjamin's words about the fall of Adam (Mosiah 3:11,16,19) and the atonement of Christ (Mosiah 3:13,17-21). In Mosiah 5:15 is found the final utterance of the holy name, the final verse of the speech. Although the text is silent on this point, the people may have fallen down again as they heard Benjamin praise God and as he "sealed" the people to God.

[John W. Welch, "The Temple in the Book of Mormon," in Temples of the Ancient World, pp. 352-353, 357-359]

 

Mosiah 5:14 [He] Will Drive [the Ass] Away, and Cast Him Out:

 

     According to John Welch and Stephen Ricks, in typical ancient Near Eastern covenant-making fashion, and in accordance with Deuteronomy 11:26-28 and 27:14-26, Benjamin ends his covenant ceremony by pronouncing a blessing and a curse. Here, Benjamin compares the fate of the disobedient person with that of an ass that tries to live and eat where he does not belong:

           And again, doth a man take an ass which belongeth to his neighbor, and keep him? I say unto you, Nay; he will not even suffer that he shall feed among his flocks, but will drive him away, and cast him out. I say unto you, that even so shall it be among you if ye know not the name by which ye are called. (Mosiah 5:14)

 

     To what extent can Benjamin's reference to the ass in this ritual context be connected with any other ancient ceremonial practices? If Benjamin had spoken of a goat instead of an ass, a connection with the Israelite Day of Atonement ritual would have been obvious (Leviticus 16:10). Benjamin does not, however, speak of a goat. Nor does he say that the ass, which shall be driven away and cast out, shall bear the sins of the people. Undoubtedly he does not make use of the traditional scapegoat for the simple reason that using an animal to carry away the sins of the people would be inconsistent with the understanding now revealed through Benjamin that only the blood of Christ (Mosiah 3:18-19, 21) atones for sin.

     The scapegoat ritual, although probably remaining symbolically meaningful to Benjamin, had been superseded. Thus it is suggested that Benjamin intentionally avoided any reference to a goat in this context but spoke instead of an ass, as several reasons may elucidate:

     1. Benjamin may have felt a need to refer to some kind of animal in the place of the scapegoat, and the ass proved more suitable than other candidates, such as sheep, which were symbols of obedient followers, and even of the Lord himself (1 Nephi 10:10)

     2. The fabled stubbornness of the ass could have been, in Benjamin's mind, a good characterization of the rebelliousness of sinners, those that "remaineth and dieth an enemy to God" (Mosiah 2:38). Other traditions however, could have led Benjamin to consider the ass to be adequately endowed with strong innate virtues, enabling the ass to please his master, but at the same time to be characteristically foolish, foreign, and stubborn.

     3. The ass appears to have had significance among the Israelite descendants of Joseph who was sold into Egypt, and perhaps it therefore had particular meaning to the posterity of Lehi who was from that lineage. The Hebrew word l'hi means "jawbone" or "cheekbone," words which have many direct associations with asses.

     4. That the ass was used in covenant rituals in the ancient Near East generally is addressed in Hiller's book, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea, 1969, 40-41.

     5. The ass was uniquely "redeemable"; see Exodus 13:13 and 34:20.

 

     If any of these ideas has merit, Benjamin might have drawn upon these traditions in creating a powerful analogy here, leading to this interpretation: if Joseph is associated with the ass, then his descendants would constitute the "flock" to which Benjamin refers. Thus the sinner is likened to a foreign or wild ass, who is not permitted to eat with the asses of the master. The idea that the "flock" here is a flock of asses is consistent with the verse which immediately precedes Benjamin's expulsion simile (Mosiah 5:13). This implies that the "flock" is not a flock of passive animals, but must be a group of animals capable of rendering useful service to the master. A group of asses would symbolize such a group of servants bearing the burdens of the master. The concept of feeding another man's animals when they stray into your land is part of the law. [John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, "Appendix--Complete Text of Benjamin's Speech with Notes and Comment" in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom," pp. 607-608]

 

Mosiah 5:14 An Ass:

 

     According to John Welch, since the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles fell at or around the same time in ancient Israel,117 it is possible to see influences from both of these holy days upon Benjamin's speech. . . . Leviticus 16:7-10 prescribes the well-known Day of Atonement scapegoat ritual, one of the strongest symbols in the Old Testament of the expiation of sin through the atonement of Jesus Christ. In this ritual, the high priest took two goats, one for Jehovah and the other for Azazel (apparently the name for the prince of the devils). The goat for Jehovah was sacrificed, but upon the other the high priest placed his hands and symbolically transferred to it all the sins of Israel. That scapegoat was then taken into the desert to remove sin from the covenant people of Israel. Perhaps Benjamin had a similar consequence in mind when he said that anyone who did not make and keep God's covenant would be driven away and cast out, as a man would drive out an intruding ass from among his flocks:

           And again, doth a man take an ass which belongeth to his neighbor, and keep him? I say unto you, Nay; he will not even suffer that he shall feed among his flocks, but will drive him away, and cast him out. I say unto you, that even so shall it be among you if ye know not the name by which ye are called. (Mosiah 5:14).

 

     Benjamin might have preferred the ass over the goat for several reasons:

     1. Availability.

     2. For the symbolic value of its fabled stubbornness.

     3. From connections between the ass and the Nephites' ancestor Lehi (whose name means "jawbone [of an ass]"--cf. Judges 15:15-17).

     4. From connections between the ass and the Nephites' ancestor Joseph (Speiser's translation of Genesis 49:22 sees Joseph as a wild ass colt).

     5. Because the ass was uniquely redeemable by the slaying of a lamb (see Exodus 13:13; 24:20).118 The difference between an ass and goat is not critical; among Israel's neighbors it made little difference what kind of animal was used.

 

     The Rabbis taught that the scapegoat's atonement was effective only when accompanied by repentance.119 From this developed a tradition of "asking forgiveness of one another on the eve of the Day of atonement."120 Benjamin likewise implores his people to settle up with their neighbors: to "live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due," and to "return [any]thing that he borroweth" (Mosiah 4:13,28). [John W. Welch, "The Temple in the Book of Mormon," in Temples of the Ancient World, pp. 352-353, 355-356]

 

Mosiah 5:15 That Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent May Seal You His:

 

     In his farewell address to his people, King Benjamin admonished his people: "Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life" (Mosiah 5:15)

     According to John Gee, Hebrew seals from before the Babylonian exile (and thus in use during Lehi's time) provide helpful insight into King Benjamin's phrase "seal you his." Many of those seals contain a formulaic inscription reading "belonging to," followed by the owner's name.121 To seal a document or an object, a person would wrap string or twine around it, place a daub of mud on the knot, and press the seal into the mud. Affixing this sort of seal marked the object as the possession of the person in whose name it was sealed.

     It is this cultural milieu that underlies the seemingly peculiar usage in the Book of Mormon and clarifies its meaning: our actions allow either Christ or the devil (see Alma 34:35) to place his seal on us to indicate to whom we belong. [John Gee, "Book of Mormon Word Usage: 'Seal You His'," in Insights, Vol. 22, 2002, p. 4]

 

Mosiah 5:15 That Christ . . . May Seal You His:

 

     According to Catherine Thomas, in connection with being born again, Benjamin's people may have received something of a temple endowment. In fact, we find in Benjamin's discourse essential temple themes pertaining to the creation, fall, atonement, consecration, and covenant making. Benjamin's last words pertain to being "sealed" to Christ and receiving eternal life:

           Therefore, I would that ye should stand steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice , and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen. (Mosiah 5:15)

 

     Of course, important endowment elements are missing from the record, but had they been administered on this occasion, or at some later point, they would not, because of their sacred nature, have been included in our present Book of Mormon account. Nevertheless, King Benjamin's people received an endowment of spiritual knowledge and power which took them from being good people to Christlike people--all in a temple setting. What they experienced through the power of the priesthood was a revelation of Christ's nature and the power to be assimilated to his image. [M. Catherine Thomas, "Benjamin and the Mysteries of God," in King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom," p. 292]