Context and General Information
- Lehi finishes speaking to Joseph and now, shortly before his death, blesses his grandchildren – the sons an daughters of Laman.
- Lehi reminds them of the promise that the Lord has made concerning the promised land: if they keep the commandments, they will prosper in the land. If not, they will be cut off from God’s presence.
In this chapter, Lehi recites a promise given to him:
“For the Lord God hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.” – 2 Nephi 4:4
I grew up a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I have heard this promise repeated over the years. Or, I think that I’ve actually only heard part of it repeated over the years. In my mind, the beginning of this promised is often emphasized: If we will keep God’s commandments, then we shall prosper in the land.
Often, I feel that this promise is interpreted as, if we keep the commandments, then will will prosper in a material way. I don’t know. I don’t want to speak for everyone. But I know that there have been times when people who are faithful but who aren’t prospering financially feel frustrated. Why aren’t they prospering if they keep the commandments?
To add to the confusion that can sometimes come, when reading the Book of Mormon, we know that when the people – in general – were righteous, they did prosper materially. They made more money, their crops did better, they became wealthy.
Of course, then, came a problem. Their prosperity seemed to blind them from God and His commandments, and they became proud. Their pride and sin would last for a while – seemingly without consequence. But, eventually their pride would hit a critical point where they would self-destruct. (Or they were weakened to the point that destruction from an outside source was significantly easier).
These patterns in the Book of Mormon seem to affirm the idea that when God says “ye shall prosper in the land.”
And yet, there is something that is bothering me about this interpretation. I suppose that I’ve already illustrated the potential problem. If this promise is all about material prosperity, then it gives way to pride. Not only do we see this in the Book of Mormon, but I think that if we closely look inward, we may see it in ourselves, too.
One – When we go through financial struggles, do we think why am I having this struggle, when I’m righteous? I pay my tithing!
Two – When we see others who are not seemingly righteous do we end up wondering how they have been financially blessed even though they aren’t keeping God’s commandments?
Three – When we see others who are poor but seemingly righteous, do we feel smug, thinking that they must be committing some kind of sin, otherwise God wouldn’t let them suffer in such a way?
Al of these scenarios may be traced back to the incorrect interpretation of Lehi’s prophecy.
Now, I don’t think that we need to ignore this warning. I don’t think that God is lying. He is neither promoting nor justifying the sin of pride. So – we need to take a closer look at the warning.
One – Keep My Commandments
So, first and foremost, we must keep the commandments. Which means that, even if prosperity can often tempt us into pride, we are not justified in being prideful. That is breaking a commandment!
Of course, Satan wants our failure. It shouldn’t come as a shock that he would tempt us to misuse that with which God blessed us.
I think that it is okay for us to desire a measure of temporal blessings. We need to stay alive!!!! We have basic biological needs – food, clothing, and shelter. It is a part of our life on earth to obtain these needs and help others to do so, too.
Not only that, but I think that this promise offers us comfort. We can trust the Lord. If we will keep the commandments, then we will be taken care of. It reminds me of what the Lord said in the New Testament:
“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:25-33
It’s not that if we are keeping the commandments everything will be easy. Instead, the Lord is imploring us to trust in Him. We shouldn’t set our hearts on riches. That leads us away from God. Instead, we need to 1) Love Him and 2) Love each other. And He assures us that as we do so, our very real temporal needs will be met.
Two – Ye Shall Prosper in the Land
I don’t want to dwell more on this, but I would ask what is true prosperity? What is true wealth? Is it having a lot of money, a big house, fancy cars, nice jewelry?
Is it health?
Is it loving relationships?
Is it a testimony in the true and living Christ?
Is it having a Book of Mormon?!
Is it peace and contentment – no matter our circumstances?
I’ll let you think of your own answers, but I will share one thought. I’ve had my own financial struggles. Very difficult financial struggles, despite doing all I can to keep the Lord’s commandments with exactness. During these times of financial stress, I woke up one morning, and realized I have everything I need. I am so abundantly blessed. I have a husband that loves me, and I love him. I KNOW THAT THIS IS A BLESSING!!!!!! I was in a terrible relationship in the past, and yet Heavenly Father saw fit to bless me by delivering me from the one that would have destroyed me. I have lived as a working single mom. I understand the pain of betrayal and loneliness.
This knowledge was not lost on me as I looked at my husband that morning. Though we very little by way of material blessings, I truly had everything I needed. I realized that my wealth exceeded my expectations. I have a family that I love and they love me.
So…What is prosperity??? Are we prosperous without knowing it???
Three – Not Keep My Commandments
This is pretty self explanatory since we already discussed keeping the commandments. But let’s remind ourselves:
One – Love God
Two – Love One Another
We have other commandments too, but they all fall under these two basic commandments. Are we living the laws that the Lord has given us? Are we living the law of sacrifice, chastity, the gospel, etc.? Are we cultivating faith, hope, and charity? Do we live the higher law that the Lord taught both in the New Testament and to the Nephites in 3 Nephi?
Are we listening to the whisperings of the Spirit?
If not, then….
Four – Ye Shall be Cut off from God’s Presence
Okay. This stands out to me. The warning does not say that if we keep the commandments, we’ll prosper and if we don’t keep the commandments, then we won’t prosper.
If so, then we could make the assumptions as stated above about material prosperity and righteousness.
Instead, God says, that if we keep the commandments, we’ll prosper, and that if we don’t keep the commandments, we’ll be cut off from His presence.
That means that maybe we can keep God’s commandments, be poor, but still have the constant companionship of His Spirit.
It also means that maybe we can break God’s commandments, and be rich; however, we will not have His Spirit, His happiness, His contentment or joy with us.
Perhaps by thinking about this aspect of the warning and promise, we can better understand what God means by “prosperity.”
I need to end this. I don’t have a firm conclusion on anything, but that actually happens a lot when I study the scriptures. This concept will, no doubt, percolate in my mind and spirit for a while. This will give way to more studying and a better understanding of what God desires.
What I know right now is that I do want prosperity – as God defines and gives it. I’m grateful for the blessings that I already enjoy. I do not want to be cut off from the Lord or His Spirit. I’m grateful for the promises of God, and that we can learn about them in the scriptures.