3 Nephi 7. A Reflection Upon Human Unrighteousness

Just three years before the coming of Christ to the American continent, secret combinations that opposed faithful prophets proclaiming repentance destroyed the stable Nephite government.  Social chaos quickly followed as the society divided into numerous clans and tribes (3 Nephi 7).  Only six years earlier the people had enjoyed great peace and prosperity on account of their repentance and righteousness.  But now only darkness and the most dismal of times awaited them.  Why would a blessed and prosperous people choose this destructive path?

Mormon, the great prophet-historian, insightfully explained the whole situation using symbolic terminology: “And thus six years had not passed away since the more part of the people had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire” (3 Nephi 7:8).  This is not a pleasant scene to paint upon the mind.  Yet Mormon wastes no time describing the people’s iniquity, nor does he make apologies for so doing.  Mormon’s use of this symbolism may derive from ancient Israelite society.  For example, in Israel a sow (hog) was an unclean animal.  Therefore, anyone who ate a sow became defiled, according to the Mosaic Law (Deut. 14:3-8).  Sows were not typically well regarded.  Similarly, as is the case today in many societies, in ancient Israel calling someone a dog was an insult of the basest sort (1 Sam. 17:43; 2 Sam 16:9).  By comparison to unclean or base animals, Mormon is labeling the Nephite society as intrinsically unclean and base.

The Book of Mormon employs terms sometimes infrequently found in common speech, such as mire and wallowing, therefore brief definitions are due.  Mire is deep mud that thwarts one’s progress and wallowing is heavy or clumsy movement often associated with a sow rolling itself body in the mire.  A sow may “wallow in the mire” after being washed clean becoming just as dirty as if the cleansing never took place (2 Peter 2:22).  These ideas evoke images of uncleanliness, filth, and repugnance.  Not only has Mormon labeled the Nephite society as defiled (unclean), he also has made an observation about their natural tendency to turn to filthy things after having repented and been washed clean by the atonement.

Returning to the dog imagery, Mormon has placed one of his more powerful observations into a simple six-word phrase.  Consider for a moment why a dog would ever have need to vomit in the first place.  Vomiting is a natural biological defense system or process of protection that the body endures when something harmful or disagreeable has been consumed.  The dog likely ate because it was hungry, but he chose poorly, consuming a harmful substance.  Even after his body properly reacted to save him by ejecting the harmful substance, the dog was not satisfied and desired something more revolting than his first meal—the harmful substance mixed with his vomit.

The Nephite society, like the dog, had “hunger pangs” and sought to fill them with the fruits of iniquity.  These fruits are entirely unsatisfying leaving one longing for fulfillment.  The Nephites reaped the consequences of their folly by spewing out the wickedness they consumed.  The Nephites then turned to even grosser iniquities mixed with the first because their appetite for wickedness could never be satiated.  Thus they fell headfirst into a dizzying downward spiral of self-destruction “Like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire.”  With this vivid metaphor Mormon succinctly captures in parallelistic form the cyclical pattern of wickedness and apostasy that the Nephite repeated through their history.

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About Taylor Halverson

Dr. Taylor Halverson received a B.A. from Brigham Young University in Ancient Near Eastern Studies in 1997, an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Yale University in 2001 and an M.S. in Instructional Technology from Indiana University in 2004. He completed Ph.D.s in Instructional Technology and Judaism & Christianity in Antiquity—both from Indiana University in 2006.

Dr. Halverson focuses his teaching, research, and professional work on helping others become lifelong learners. He does so through several core areas

  • Improving teaching and learning
  • Educational technology, including technology integration into teaching and learning
  • Innovation, design, and creativity, including entrepreneurship
  • Literary and comparative studies of the Book of Mormon, the Old and New Testaments and other ancient literature, ancient kingship and authority, and Judeans during the neo-Babylonian period

Dr. Halverson currently works at BYU full-time at the Center for Teaching and Learning. He is also the founder and co-chair of the Creativity, Innovation, and Design group, acting associate director of the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, and has taught a variety of courses at BYU including: “Old Testament,” “Book of Mormon,” “History of Creativity,” “Innovation Lab: The Design Thinking Experience,” and “Illuminating the Scriptures: Designing Innovative Scripture Study Tools.” Dr. Halverson is a contributor to the popular LDS Bible Videos project and the LDS Scripture Citation Index site and a columnist for the Deseret News. He and his wife Lisa lead travel tours to Israel, the Mediterranean, and Mesoamerica.

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