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3 Nephi 7


The Lord Confirms the Covenant Way

      Alma 45 -- 3 Nephi 10


3 Nephi 7:2 They Did Separate One from Another into Tribes:


     Between A.D. 26 and A.D. 30 the people became very wicked, and "the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith" (3 Nephi 6:10-14). The "chief judges and they who had been high priests and lawyers" entered into a covenant to destroy "the people of the Lord" and "to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto kings" (3 Nephi 6:21-30). This secret society did not succeed in establishing a king over the land; but "they did destroy upon the judgment seat, yea, did murder the chief judge of the land" (3 Nephi 7:1). The people were so divided they could not agree on a form of centralized government, so "they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and his friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land" (3 Nephi 7:2).


3 Nephi 7:2 They Did Separate One from Another into Tribes:


     In 3 Nephi 7:2 we find that after the murder of the chief judge in the thirtieth year, "the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land."

     According to John Sorenson, this picture is not of some new-fangled structure of social affiliation and governance that emerged all of a sudden when the government by judges collapsed. These [tribal] units already were deeply grounded in traditional Nephite society or they would not have emerged so universally; their existence is revealed at this point in time by default. Their earlier [importance] must have been limited by the national or state political structure. With the collapse of "the government of the land," the previously limited powers of decision-making and social control that the tribes had long exercised suddenly now expanded to fill the political vacuum. [John L. Sorenson, "The Political Economy of the Nephites," Nephite Culture and Society, pp. 217-218]


3 Nephi 7:2 They Did Separate One from Another into Tribes:


     According to John Tvedtnes, the fact that all people knew the tribe to which they easily reverted is strong evidence of the basic tribal nature of these people: "The people were divided one against each other; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends. . . . And every tribe did appoint a chief or a leader over them; and thus they became tribes and leaders of tribes. Now behold, there was no man among them save he had much family and many kindreds and friends; therefore their tribes became exceedingly great (3 Nephi 7:2-4). . . . We read in 4 Nephi 1:17 that there were no more "-ites" after the coming of Christ, but that all the people were united in the kingdom of God. However, this evidently has reference to political factionalism, rather than the abandonment of lineage ties. This is evidenced by the naming of these tribes in the 231st year of the Christian era as the "Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites and Ishmaelites" (4 Nephi 1:35-38). That this tribal structure never changed seems to be confirmed by the order in which these identical groups are listed from the time of Jacob in the 6th century B.C. (Jacob 1:13-14), to Mormon's day 320 years after Christ's birth (Mormon 1:8-9). [John A. Tvedtnes, "Book of Mormon Tribal Affiliation and Military Castes," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 308-309]


3 Nephi 7:8 Like a Dog to His Vomit, or Like the Sow to Her Wallowing in the Mire:


     Melissa and Taylor Halverson write that just three years before the coming of Christ to the American continent, secret combinations destroyed the stable Nephite government. Social chaos quickly followed as the society divided into numerous clans and tribes (3 Nephi 7). Only six years earlier the people had enjoyed great peace and prosperity because of their repentance and righteousness. But now, only darkness and the most dismal of times awaited them. Why would a blessed and prosperous people choose this destructive path?

     Mormon, the great prophet/historian, insightfully explained the whole situation using symbolic terminology, "And thus six years had not passed away since the more part of the people had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire." (3 Nephi 7:8). This is not a pleasant scene to paint upon the mind, yet Mormon wastes no time describing the people's iniquity nor does he make apologies for so doing. Mormon's use of this symbolism most likely derives from ancient Israelite society. For example, in Israel a sow (hog) was an unclean animal. Anyone who ate a sow became defiled according to the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 14:8 (3-8)). Similarly, a dog was not looked upon with high regard, often verbally being used as an insult of the basest sort (1 Samuel 17:43, 2 Samuel 16:9). By comparison to unclean animals, Mormon is labeling the Nephite society as intrinsically unclean.

     The Book of Mormon employs terms sometimes infrequently found in common speech, such as mire

 and wallowing, therefore brief definitions are due. Mire is deep mud that thwarts one's progress, and wallowing is heavy or clumsy movement often associated with a sow rolling it's body in the mire. A sow naturally "wallows in the mire" after being washed clean, becoming just as dirty as if the cleansing had never taken place (2 Peter 2:22). These ideas evoke images of uncleanliness, filth, and repugnance. Not only has Mormon labeled the Nephite society as defiled (unclean), he also has made an observation about their natural tendency to turn to filthy things after having repented and being washed clean by the atonement.

     Returning to the dog imagery, Mormon has placed one of his more powerful observations into a simple six-word phrase. Consider for a moment why a dog would ever have need to vomit in the first place. Vomiting is a natural biological defense system or process of protection that the body endures when we have consumed something harmful or disagreeable. The dog likely ate because he was hungry, but he chose poorly, consuming a harmful substance. Even after his body properly reacted to save him by ejecting the harmful substance, the dog's natural desires were not satisfied and he turned to something more revolting than his first meal: the harmful substance mixed with his vomit.

     The Nephite society, turned to even grosser iniquities, mixed with the first, because their appetite for wickedness could never be satiated. Thus they fell headfirst into a dizzy downward spiral of self-destruction "like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire." With this deft phrase, Mormon captures in a parallelism the cyclical pattern of wickedness and apostasy that is repeated throughout Nephite history in the scriptures. [Melissa and Taylor Halverson, "A Repugnant Phrase in Scripture: The Dog to Its Vomit," in Meridian Magazine, LDSWorld,,3940,38327,00.html]


3 Nephi 7:12 Jacob . . . Commanded His People (to) Take Their Flight into the Northernmost Part of the Land:


     In 3 Nephi 7:12 it says the following about Jacob, the leader of the Gadianton band:

           Jacob seeing that their enemies were more numerous than they, he being the king of the band, therefore he commanded his people that they should take their flight into the northernmost part of the land, and there build up unto themselves a kingdom, until the were joined by dissenters, (for he flattered them that there would be many dissenters) and they became sufficently strong to contend with the tribes of the people; and they did so.


     Inasmuch as Jacob's intent (at least for a while) was political autonomy, he might have headed for an area out of the reach of tribal jurisdiction, yet no farther than necessary, for he apparently harbored the idea of later becoming king over the combined peoples. In objective terms we do not know how far away he went. Perhaps a few hundred miles from Zarahemla might be a guess, especially if we have a Mesoamerican setting and the Teotihuacan area in mind. In any case, this may be the farthest point north settled by any group mentioned in the Book of Mormon. [See the commentary on 3 Nephi 4:23]