an organization would arise which would exercise dominion over the righteous
And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church
which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God,
yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down,
and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.
Now the angel has shifted the vision across the Atlantic and is showing Nephi a view
of the Gentiles. Nephi may not know why that matters; I would imagine he was shocked
and traumatized by seeing the demise of his own people. But we know why: Because
Nephi is our introduction to the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Mormon was written
for our day.
He sees that there are saints of God in the midst of this history. He no longer
speaks of Twelve, for the organization is not there, but there are righteous individuals
– people who are made holy by their faith in Christ and His redemption. And he sees
a church – some sort of organization with great power – which exercises all kinds
of abuse on these saints: they kill them, torture them, bring them down into captivity.
1 Nephi 13:9
They destroy the saints of God
The Book of Mormon teaches that the world
will praise the organization which exercises dominion
And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God,
and bring them down into captivity.
I have found these verses about the Great and Abominable Church problematic.
On the one hand, I remember hearing a talk in sacrament meeting where the speaker,
discussing some current situation, mentioned the Great and Abominable Church in Rome.
I remember it distinctly because that Sunday I had happened to bring a Catholic
friend to church with me.
On the other hand, there are those who spiritualize it away, saying it has nothing
to do with a specific church, but is a generalization of organizations which persecute
The whole vision is very chronological and literal, except for the Tree of Life portions,
which are interpreted by the angel and illustrated by history. The vision is presented
in true Nephi-fashion – plain and simple. It comes some time after the fall of the
Nephite nation, and just before the first European voyages to the New World. Obviously
this is a description of the Reformation period. Vast information is available about
this era, written from varying points of view. This short account is from the Lord’s
point of view, who sees into the hearts. In its simplest form, the forces who kill
the saints are reduced to a few base motives: wealth, social appearance, and sexual
license (verses 6-8). We may find these motives on both sides of the Reformation
aisle, as we can find sincere Christians trying to worship God according to their
best understanding on both sides. And, simplifying even further, the angel says
that the foundational reason for the persecution and destruction of the saints is
for the praise of the world. Thus the varying viewpoints even today: Each group
continues to emphasize what’s right about their position, and wrong about the others.
Whatever the various levels of reasoning are behind religious persecution, Nephi’s
vision also makes it clear that “the devil is the founder of it.” Joseph Smith,
speaking of persecution based on familial tradition, wrote, “It is an iron yoke,
it is a strong band, they are the very handcuffs and chains and shackles and fetters
of hell” (Doctrine & Covenants 123:8).
The devil is not the founder of the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ was the founder
of His church, and the Catholic Church was descended from that original church, after
undergoing modifications in structure, practice, and doctrine. There is no other
point at which the Catholic Church was “founded.” However, even in the first few
hundred years of the Christian church, church power became consolidated in a structure
not found in the New Testament, and those in power used military and judicial measures
to eliminate Christians who did not believe and practice as they prescribed. The
apex of this persecution was of course during the Reformation.
No Catholic today – member, priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope – is responsible for
the brutality of the Inquisition, just as no Latter-day Saint today is responsible
for the carnage of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The devil can sometimes develop
a greater or lesser foothold in organizations founded with the best of intentions.
We understand through the historical context that these “saints of God” did not yet
have the fullness of the gospel. In fact, their sacrifices were part of the great
prologue which prepared the world and specifically the United States for religious
freedom, so that the fullness of the gospel could be restored there. Nevertheless
they were saints.
Religious persecution happens even today, generally in communist or Islamic countries.
Our Christian brothers and sisters are denied education, denied employment, harassed,
beaten, driven from their homes, imprisoned, and killed. The persecutors – neighbors
gathered together as mobs, local police and bureaucrats, armies, governments - may
or may not share the same base motives. They may be seeking the praise of the world
as they see it. We certainly can say that they are guided by the devil.
This is not an indictment of all Muslims, or even all communists. No doubt there
are many sincere followers of these belief systems who are people of good will. But
at this period in history the devil has found them useful in his ongoing persecution
of the saints of God.
Joseph Smith said we should diligently seek out information on persecution and make
it public (Doctrine & Covenants 123). There are organizations which do just that,
and also offer other ways to help the persecuted saints throughout the world, including
the Voice of the Martyrs. http://www.persecution.com/
Paul advised, "Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them, and them which
suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body." (Hebrews 13:3)
1 Nephi 13:11
The wrath of God
The Book of Mormon teaches
that sometimes the wrath of God comes upon a nation
And it came to pass that the angel said unto me:
Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren.
Thus far in the Book of Mormon we have seen the power and glory of God, the deliverance
and intercession of God, the commandments of God, and the love of God. Nephi now
presents us with an apparently opposite characteristic of God: the wrath of God.
In this day of officially-prescribed tolerance no one speaks much of the wrath of
God. It is a point of criticism by non-believers, generally taken uncomfortably
Some ministers have dared to write about it. Their ideas are, of course, taken solely
from a Biblical perspective. Here are samplings from the first page of a google
“God is love, and God does all things for his glory (Romans 11:36). He loves his
glory above all (and that is a good thing!). Therefore, God rules the world in such
a way that brings himself maximum glory. This means that God must act justly and
judge sin (i.e. respond with wrath), otherwise God would not be God. God’s love for
his glory motivates his wrath against sin.” – Joseph Scheumann.
“God is holy; he totally and completely distances himself from sin, evil, corruption,
and the resultant filth and guilt. He maintains his purity and rejects, fights against,
and destroys that which would offend, attack, or undo his holiness and love. Hence,
God's anger and wrath must always be seen in relation to his maintaining and defending
his attributes of love and holiness, as well as his righteousness and justice. The
emotion or passion that moves God to this maintaining and defending is expressed
by the terms "displeasure, " "indignation, " "anger, " and "wrath." A consequence
of his wrath is vengeance, punishment, and death.” – Gerard Van Groningen.
“The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure
and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred
into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He
passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against
His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against
God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to
feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened
wrath which they so little regarded.” – Arthur W. Pink.
The LDS Bible Dictionary has no entry for the wrath of God, which probably means
there is no official interpretation or understanding of that phrase and idea. This
verse in 1 Nephi is the first mention of the wrath of God in the Book of Mormon,
but we will see it again throughout the book, as well as in the Doctrine and Covenants.
This mention by Nephi presents a hint that there is more to the wrath of God than
what we can find in the Bible. The hint is in the timing. A thousand years had passed
since the wicked Lamanites had destroyed the wicked Nephites. There are some histories
available of the indigenous people of Mesoamerica during this time, though very little
about heartland America. In either case, is there evidence that their culture worsened
in the late 1400’s or 1500’s, justifying that God manifest his wrath against them
at that time?
The context of Nephi’s vision narrative reveals that the wrath of God was not so
much in consequence of the Lamanites’ current wickedness as it was to further His
purposes with the other group of people – the gentiles. He was preparing a land
for them to fulfill His plan which would include the restoration of the fullness
of the gospel, which would in turn bless all the earth, including the children of
Lehi on the American continent.
A scripture from the Restoration brings unity to the Biblical perspective and the
added insight from the Book of Mormon: “This is my work and my glory, to bring to
pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)
His wrath is indeed to uphold His glory, but His glory is our salvation. The Master
Weaver understands and sees the ebb and flow of history and intervenes according
to His wisdom to maximize the eternal opportunities of His children.
“God has a plan for our salvation. He created the earth so we could experience a
life where we could prove ourselves to Him and prepare for eternal life. God gave
us our agency to learn how to choose between good and evil. Because the people in
Noah’s day were doing “only evil continually,” the children had no chance to learn
good from evil. Thus, God’s plan went unfulfilled and He determined to start again.”
This reminds me of Sam Way, a minister friend who responded to the worshipful Christmas
expression “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” He explained, “We are the reason
for the season! Jesus came and died to save us, not himself!”
1 Nephi 13:12
The Spirit of the Lord wrought upon the man
The Book of Mormon teaches
that Christopher Columbus was directed by the Holy Ghost to the Promised Land
And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles,
who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters;
and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man;
and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren,
who were in the promised land.
Nephi is shown in vision a basic American history event, one that it would be easy
to gloss over as common knowledge. Yet the important, divine connection that is
the focus of this verse was not known to historians until recently.
“Everyone” knows that Columbus sailed the ocean blue to find a trade route to the
Indies. It was an economic venture, but the Book of Mormon presents it as a spiritual
quest of some sort.
Although difficult to fathom, one of Christopher Columbus’s writing projects was
unknown to scholars and the world until the late 1800’s. In 1877 his Book of Prophecies
was published in Spanish, but not until 1991 was it translated and published in English
(private English translations were available earlier).
The next year, Kevin A. Miller, editor of Christian History magazine, published an
article, “Why Did Columbus Sail?” He writes,
“There may be many things we don't know about history’s most famous mariner. We don't
know exactly what Columbus looked like. We don't know the precise design of his three
ships. And most bizarre of all, we don't know—and will probably never know—the spot
where he came ashore.
“But we know beyond doubt that Columbus sailed, in part, to fulfill a religious quest.
Columbus’s voyages were intense religious missions. He saw them as the fulfillment
of a divine plan for his life.”
In Columbus’s own words:
“Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also the Holy Spirit who encouraged
me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Scriptures, . . . urging
me to press forward? ”
“With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would
be possible . . . and he opened my will to desire to accomplish that project. . .
. The Lord purposed that there should be something miraculous in this matter of the
voyage to the Indies.”
Through the years, Columbus had made a serious study of Isaiah, which led him to
his spiritual conclusions. He also cited John 10:16: “Other sheep I have, which
are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there
shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
Columbus felt that he was part of that prophecy, as he, “Cristobal,” or “Christ-bearer,”
would bring the native peoples unto the Lord.
The Spirit of God led others out of captivity across the sea
The Book of Mormon teaches that the Holy Ghost led others to the Promised Land
And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God,
that it wrought upon other Gentiles;
and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
it is easy to say that the English colonists, particularly the Pilgrims, Puritans,
and Quakers would have been led by the Holy Spirit, and were leaving a state of captivity.
It is not so easy to claim the same for the Spanish conquistadors or the French fishermen