Kings and Judges in the Book of Mormon


Jacob spoke about the latter days in 2 Nephi 10.  In verses 10, 11, and 14, he states: “But behold, this land, said God, shall be a land of thine [Nephites] inheritance, and the Gentiles [settlers from the old world] shall be blessed upon the land.  And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles ….  For he that raiseth up a king against me shall perish, for I, the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king, and I will be a light unto them forever, that hear my words.”  Here is a prophecy by one of the first in the newly settled Promised Land about the future of America, that it would have no kings.  I find it interesting in the next verse, 15, that the Lord states “I must needs destroy the secret works of darkness, and of murders, and of abominations.”  This appears to be a correlation – kings and “secret works of darkness,” or the lack of kings and much less of it.  Note that in the book of Ether, chapter 6, another earlier people in the promised land asked for a king and got one, after being warned of its curses by a prophet – and ultimately suffered destruction.  And this had everything to do with their kings and “secret works of darkness.”

The account of Alma, having been a wicked priest of a wicked king, Noah, is instructive.  He is converted through the preaching of a captive prophet, Abinadi, who was burned at the stake by Noah and his other wicked priests.  Alma repents, preaches, baptizes, then leads the converted band of over 400 people away from King Noah and his army after being warned by the Lord of their approach.  Mosiah 23: 6–9 states:

And the people were desirous that Alma should be their king, for he was beloved by his people.  But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.  Nevertheless, if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your kings it would be well for you to have a king.  But remember the iniquity of king Noah and his priests; and I myself was caught in a snare, and did many things which were abominable in the sight of the Lord, which caused me sore repentance;

This is quite a warning from their new prophet about why it’s such a bad idea to have a king.  He then added in verse 13:

And now as ye have been delivered by the power of God out of these bonds; yea, even out of the hands of king Noah and his people, and also from the bonds of iniquity, even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.

Those same people had just come from a despotic and wicked king, but were still asking Alma to be their king.  You can’t really blame them, it’s all they ever knew!  They didn’t know of another way to be governed.  Alma used the still fresh example of who they were running from to show there was another way.  He called it “liberty,” being “made free,” and that they “trust no man to be a king over [them].”  He was telling them, in other words, about the other end of the spectrum – where they could govern themselves.  They would soon see just what that meant.


Alma and his people are later held captive by Lamaintes, miraculously delivered, and then join the main body of Nephites in the central city of Zarahemla.  The king of the Nephites at that time was the third king in the line of three: his grandfather Mosiah, Mosiah’s son Benjamin, and Benjamin’s son, again named Mosiah.  All these men were exceptions to the rule, and were righteous, worked for their own support, and were very close to the Lord.  Benjamin, in particular, had a revelation of the future birth of The Savior and gave a magnificent sermon to his people shortly before his death.  His son, Mosiah, was king when Alma and his people joined them.  Mosiah decided to slide the people down the spectrum to where the Lord preferred.  In Mosiah 29: 21–25, he stated:

And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.  For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;  And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.  And now behold I say unto you, it is not expedient that such abominations should come upon you.  Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.

Not only was Mosiah changing the nature of their government, but he also elaborated on the theme of liberty, rights and privileges and how they tie into personal responsibility.  Verse 32 reads:

And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land.

Mosiah points out to them the inequality that arises under kingly government, which follows from Alma’s earlier words about esteeming “one flesh above another,” or one man “thinking himself above another.”  Rather, the liberty of having rights and privileges, free from anyone esteemed above the other, like a king, would facilitate the kind of society the Lord prefers – freedom and liberty.  In verse 34, Mosiah adds that this change will do well so that “every man might bear his part.”  Verse 38 reads:

Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.

This shift away from having a king, esteemed above others, engendering inequality and most likely resulting in iniquity, would result in real liberty and its accompanying personal responsibility.  Recall the congregation of Israel when speaking to Samuel at the end of 1 Samuel 8: “Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the anations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.”  Those people didn’t want to be responsible, or fight battles any more.  Mosiah 29:39 adds that “they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them.”  This contrast between a people shifting to judges away from kings, with the earlier people begging to move away from judges toward kings, highlights just how important individual responsibility is to the idea of freedom and liberty.  Now that they would have judges, “every man might bear his part” and “answer for his own sins.”

The big takeaway:  The very nature of the people, and their willingness to self-govern is one, if not THE determining factor as to whether they can bear living free with individual responsibility.  Consider yourself for a minute.  Where do you fall individually?  Would you fit in better with those demanding a king in 1 Samuel 8, or those ready for judges and individual liberty in Mosiah 29?  What likely comes to mind at this point are all the current government entitlement programs that are allegedly solutions for us.  Do these programs encourage “every man to bear his part” or allow us to “answer for our own sins.”  Does any entitlement program like this really support liberty at all?  Do we support or depend on these?  Contrast these with the Welfare Program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Its theme is to “help members help themselves.”  Self-sufficiency, independence, and provident living are the goals of the Lord through His Church Welfare Program.  It is not designed to allow those receiving assistance to perpetuate themselves in the system; it is designed for exactly the opposite.

Part I:  No Kings in Israel – An Essay on Gravitation toward Kingly Government

Part II:  No Kings in Israel – The One True King

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