Book of Helaman

by Paul R. Cheesman

The book of Helaman chronicles one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the Nephites and Lamanites (52-1 B.C.). The narrative focuses on the unexpected difficulties (e.g., the Lamanites' invasion and unprecedented occupation of the land of Zarahemla narrated in chaps. 4 and 5) and unexpected resolutions that came from God (e.g., the withdrawal of the Lamanite occupation forces as the direct result of the missionary work of two sons of Helaman, Nephi2 and Lehi, in 5:49-52).

This book takes its name from its first author, Helaman 2, son of Helaman 1. Other contributors to the record were Nephi and Lehi, sons of Helaman 2 (16:25), and Mormon, the principal editor of the Book of Mormon, who added political and religious commentary.

The account opens after Helaman had received custody of the Nephite records from his uncle Shiblon (Alma 63:11) in the fortieth year of the reign of the judges (c. 52 B.C.; Hel. 1:1). The narrative falls into six major segments: the record of Helaman (chaps. 1-3); the record of Nephi (chaps. 4-6); the prophecy of Nephi (chaps. 7-11); Mormon's editorial observations on God's power (chap. 12); the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite (chaps. 13-15); and a brief statement about the five-year period before Jesus' birth (chap. 16). Several religious discourses are woven into the narrative, including Helaman's admonition to his sons (5:6-12), Nephi's psalm (7:7-9), Nephi's sermon from the tower in his garden (7:13-29; 8:11-28), Nephi's prayer (11:10-16), and Samuel's long speech atop the walls of Zarahemla (13:5-39; 14:2-15:17).

Perhaps the most prominent person mentioned in the book is Nephi2. After Nephi resigned from the office of chief judge, he and his brother Lehi devoted themselves fully to preaching the message of the gospel (5:1-4). His defense of God's providence affirmed the power of prophecy (8:11-28) and, on a practical level, led to the conviction of the murderer of the chief judge (9:21-38). The Lord entrusted him with the power to seal the heavens so that no rain would fall (10:4-11), a power that Nephi used to bring about the cessation of civil strife and wickedness (11:1-18).

The rise of the gadianton robbers (1:9-12; 2:3-11), a hostile and secret society within the Nephite and Lamanite polities, was perhaps the most disheartening and ominous occurrence during those fifty-one years. Mormon informs readers of both the organization's character (6:17-30) and its debilitating impact on society (2:13-14; 6:38-39; 11:24-34).

In contrast to these despairing observations is one of the book's central themes: the surprising ascendancy of the Lamanites in spiritual matters. After the Nephites were overrun by a Lamanite army led by Nephite dissidents in 35 B.C. and failed to regain lost territories (4:5-10), Nephi and Lehi went among the Lamanites to preach the gospel (5:16-20). Their remarkable success in converting listeners to Christ led to their imprisonment (5:21). But in an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit of God, all in the prison were converted, an event that led to a spiritual reversal among the Lamanites and the eventual withdrawal of Lamanite military forces from Nephite lands (5:22-52). Thereafter, Lamanites carried out the work of the Church, preaching to both their own people and the Nephites (6:1-8, 34-36).

Almost thirty years later (c. 6 B.C.), a Lamanite prophet named Samuel prophesied at Zarahemla. He condemned the decadence of Nephite society, warning of destruction of both individuals and society (13:5-39, esp. 38; 14:20-15:3). He also prophesied that signs to be seen in the Western Hemisphere would accompany both the birth and death of Jesus (14:2-25). He declared the power of the Atonement in redeeming mankind from the Fall of Adam and in bringing about the Resurrection. Finally, he spoke of the Lamanites' righteousness and the promises of God to them in the latter days (15:4-16).

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Jackson, Kent P., ed. Studies in Scripture, Vol. 8, pp 92-124. Salt Lake City, 1988.