The People of Limhi

Summary: After the Lamanites had attacked the people living in the city of Nephi, the people lived in bondage to them, along with Limhi, their king. Because of their afflictions, they went against the Lamanites three times but each time the Lamanites did beat them and slew many, which caused great mourning and lamentations among the people. The reason for this failure was because the people of Limhi made three mistakes. This article examines what these mistakes were and how they apply to us.

After the Lamanites had attacked the people living in the city of Nephi, King Noah and his priests fled into the wilderness. Those who remained lived in bondage to the Lamanites under Limhi, their king. Afterwards, because of their cowardice, the priests of King Noah feared returning to their city, and one day when they saw some Lamanite women alone in the woods, they captured them.

When the Lamanites discovered their women were missing, they assumed the people of Limhi had taken them and went with their army to destroy them. However, in this battle, it was the Nephites who defeated the Lamanite army.

“And it came to pass that after many days the Lamanites began again to be stirred up in anger against the Nephites, and they began to come into the borders of the land round about. Now they durst not slay them, because of the oath which their king had made unto Limhi; but they would smite them on their cheeks, and exercise authority over them; and began to put heavy burdens upon their backs, and drive them as they would a dumb ass” (Mosiah 21:2,3).

“And now the afflictions of the Nephites were great, and there was no way that they could deliver themselves out of their hands, for the Lamanites had surrounded them on every side. And it came to pass that the people began to murmur with the king because of their afflictions; and they began to be desirous to go against them to battle. And they did afflict the king sorely with their complaints; therefore he granted unto them that they should do according to their desires. And they gathered themselves together again, and put on their armor, and went forth against the Lamanites to drive them out of their land. And it came to pass that the Lamanites did beat them, and drove them back, and slew many of them.”

This happened three times. “And now there was a great mourning and lamentation among the people of Limhi, the widow mourning for her husband, the son and the daughter mourning for their father, and the brothers for their brethren. Now there were a great many widows in the land, and they did cry mightily from day to day, for a great fear of the Lamanites had come upon them” (verses 9,10).

The reason for this was because the people of Limhi made three mistakes.

The first was, when the Lamanites first attacked, the people of Limhi fought back as an act of self-defense. “They fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children; therefore they exerted themselves and like dragons did they fight” (Mosiah 20:11). In the language of football, they were playing defense. However, in the other three incidents, they were the aggressors, meaning they were playing offense.

In football, playing offense is crucial to winning, but in life, that’s not always true. In fact, in many cases, it’s the one initiating the conflict who loses. It may not happen initially, but generally speaking, it happens eventually. This was true for the people of Limhi.

This happened because of their second mistake.

“And it came to pass that the people began to murmur with the king because of their afflictions; and they began to be desirous to go against them to battle. And they did afflict the king sorely with their complaints; therefore he granted unto them that they should do according to their desires” (Mosiah 21:6).

It’s understandable why they didn’t like how the Lamanites were treating them, but after pleading with their king to let them fight against their oppressors, he finally agreed to their demands. However, what they didn’t do was to put up their petition to God and ask him what he wanted them to do.

Instead of going forth with the approval and blessing of God, they went forth in the power of their own might. Since they had previously defeated a Lamanite army who was twice their size, they were confident they could rout a small group of harassing Lamanites. However, their efforts were met with disaster. Each time they attacked, many of their men were slain, resulting in many women becoming widows, and many children becoming fatherless.

Then why didn’t their efforts succeed? Because of their third mistake.

The reason why the people of Limhi were in bondage to begin with was because of their wickedness while living under the rule of King Noah. Abinadi tried to call them to repentance, but when they didn’t heed his message, he prophesied what would happen to them. And so, “Yea, all this was done that the word of the Lord might be fulfilled” (verse 4).

However, if they had first gone to the Lord before acting on their own, he would have told them to endure their suffering rather than fight back. In fact, when they later did cry unto him for relief, that was his message to them. Had they listened to that counsel, they would have saved themselves unnecessary grief and pain. Although they would still have been in bondage and still harassed, their wives wouldn’t be widows and their children wouldn’t be fatherless.

But the mistake they made was thinking they could keep the prophecy from being fulfilled. If it was God’s will that they suffer for their sins, then there was absolutely nothing they could do that would prevent that from happening.

Although this story took place thousands of years ago, there are people today – even within the Church of Jesus Christ – who continue to make these same three mistakes.

In America, we enjoy a level of freedom that hardly anyone in history has had available to them, and in the past, our country has fought in many wars and has been victorious in all of them. As a nation we have enjoyed a level of prosperity that others could only dream about. Yet, because we have been born and raised in an atmosphere of guaranteed rights, we tend to take all of these blessings for granted.

However, as we enter into the last days, we see wickedness in high places, with its attendant loss of freedoms. To some, this seems like a terrible burden to bear. To them, it seems as if they’re being harassed by their own government. To them, it seems this is an intolerable situation.

Interestingly, America has been through all of this before when the English colonists suffered under the “intolerable acts” of their king. The choice they faced back them was to either submit themselves to this injustice or “to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Today, there are some who feel that the time has come for us to do the same. There is a prophecy among members of the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints that the time will come when the Constitution of the United States will hang, as it were, by a thread, and that if it is to be saved, it will be saved by the elders of Zion.

Some have interpreted this to mean that our country will go through a second revolution, when its citizens will rise up in revolt against their corrupt government and overthrow it as our founding fathers had done. There are those who say we should follow the example Captain Moroni set when he called his people to rise up and fight “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children” (Alma 46:12).

However, our founding fathers were not the aggressors. They didn’t institute the fighting. They merely sent King George a letter saying they could no longer accept his rule over them, and then listed their reasons why. It was when King George sent troops to attack the colonists that they fought back in defense of their lives, their country, their freedom, and their people.

In the case of Captain Moroni, a man named Amalickiah wanted to be king, and he gathered those who supported him to wage war against those who opposed him. “And now, behold, they were exceeding wroth, insomuch that they were determined to slay them (the believers in God)” (Alma 46:1-4). Moroni’s call to action was not to rise up in rebellion against a corrupt government but to inspire people to defend themselves against an army that was threatening them with destruction. As such, his action was defensive, rather than offensive.

Those who advocate taking action to reclaim our rights from a corrupt government, like to quote the Lord when he said “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:26-28).

There are those who interpret this to mean that God expects us to make our own decisions of what we think is good and then take action, rather than sitting around doing nothing until God has to tell us what to do. Therefore, they feel that it’s not necessary to “ask of God” in all things. In their mind, they think God is waiting for us to act on our own, before he blesses our efforts.

However, this is a misinterpretation of what God said. Throughout this entire section, God is giving many instructions of what he wants done, and one of them is “Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land. Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet” (verses 21,22).

Those who feel they can act against their government without first asking for and receiving divine guidance are making the same mistake the people of Limhi made.

In addition to this, from the time of Isaiah, Daniel, Jesus, and the apostles, we’ve been told there would be great evil in the last days, and so, when we see this happening, we’re witnessing prophecy being fulfilled. Since God has the power to overthrow the wicked but instead allows them to succeed, then we have to conclude that this is what he wants to happen. Therefore, any attempt by man to alter what God has decreed is doomed from the beginning.

However, the question then becomes, do we sit and do nothing while evil grows, or do we stand up and fight back? As someone once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” But if we are to do something, the question becomes, what should we do?

As a young boy, Joseph Smith found himself in a similar situation. As he attended the various churches of his day, it became obvious he needed to be saved, but with everyone preaching something different, Joseph didn’t know what he needed to do to gain salvation.

He found his answer in the words of James who said, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). That same advice applies to knowing what we should do about evil. The question isn’t “What should WE do?” Rather, the question should be, “What does God want me to do?” And the only way to know that answer is to “ask of God… in faith, nothing wavering” (verse 6).

But what if God tells us to do nothing? Then what?

The answer is found in what the people of Limhi did. “And they did humble themselves even to the dust, subjecting themselves to the yoke of bondage, submitting themselves to be smitten, and to be driven to and fro, and burdened, according to the desires of their enemies” (Mosiah 21:13).

For some people, that is a hard thing to accept because our natural instinct is to be free and rebel against anyone who tries to take our freedom away, but in the scriptures we’re told, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” (Colossians 3:22, NIV). As we’ve already seen, in our day the Lord has commanded us to “Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.”

Some have misunderstood this scripture to mean that we are to only obey the laws of the land as long as they don’t conflict with the laws of God, but that’s not what this says. The law of God is that we are to obey those in authority over us, whether they be government officials, masters, leaders at work or church, parents, elders, and most especially our Father in heaven.

But that is not all the people of Limhi did. “And they did cry mightily to God; yea, even all the day long did they cry unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions. And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless, the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage. And it came to pass that they began to prosper by degrees in the land, and began to raise grain more abundantly, and flocks, and herds, that they did not suffer with hunger.” (verses 14-16).

When we do as the Lord asks, he blesses us. Even when we are called upon to suffer, he helps strengthen us to endure what we must go through.

But there is something else we can learn from what the people of Limhi experienced. We’re told that “the Lord was slow to hear their cry,” and that’s because they were slow to hear God when he cried out for them to repent. However, there’s another sense in which God is slow to hear our prayers.

The people of Limhi didn’t want to be in bondage. They wanted to be free and even sent some men out to find a way to escape back to the land of Zarahemla. When that effort failed, they prayed for deliverance. The Lord heard their prayers, but the answer was slow in coming, not because he was punishing them, but because it was going to take time to bring about the answer they wanted.

At the very time the people of Limhi were praying for relief, God was inspiring a man named Ammon to find out what happened to those who left Zarahemla with a man named Zeniff. Ammon had no idea where these people had gone nor where they were, or if they were still alive. But as he went forth, not knowing where he was going, somehow, he managed to find himself safely going through hostile Lamanite territory and arriving at the very place where Limhi and his people were praying for help. And it was through the aid of Ammon and those that came with him that Limhi and his people were eventually able to be delivered out of bondage and led safely back to Zarahemla.

The lesson to be learned here is that sometimes when we think God isn’t answering our prayers, it’s not because he doesn’t hear us, but because he’s working behind the scenes, busily putting things in place that will bring about the results we’re hoping for. When that’s the case, it takes patience and faith in God as we wait for his answer to our prayers.

There are two ways to learn – the easy way and the hard way. Fortunately, today we can learn the easy way from studying the lessons learned the hard way by the people of Limhi.



Related articles can be found at The Nature of Man  and The Book of Mormon