What appears to be mostly a lesson in geo-political borders during the time of the Nephites and Lamanites, has me searching for something deeper. The author (Mormon) takes a moment to explain in words the layout of the land so that the we can get an appreciation for how far out the proclamation of the king of Lamanites was circulated.
But I have to believe there is more here. As I approach my study of the Book of Mormon, there is this fundamental assumption: that everything included in the Book of Mormon is written to give a witness or testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ. So if that is true (and it is), what do I learn about Christ from these verses?
As the geography is described here, I get an image in my mind that the inhabitants of both the Nephite an Lamanite civilizations are located on the same continent. (Recent thoughts shared with me about the probability that the Lamanites and Nephites didn't literally have different skin colors, also supports the greater need for geographical boundaries.)
This southern continent appears to be separated into three general areas: '
- The land of Nephi on the south
- The land of Zarahemla in the middle
- The land of Bountiful on the north
Those that were attempting to follow Christ are the ones who were imposing the borders. It was the more idle part of the Lamanites that were closest to the Nephites as well, living in the wilderness that surrounded the land of Zarahemla where the Nephites lived. So part of the effect of the borders that were being enforced was to create a separation between the idleness of the Lamanites and the industriousness of the Nephites.
It is also noteworthy that the Nephites did not allow the Lamanites to surround them on all sides. Rather, the Nephites kept the northern part of the wilderness open to give them access to the land northward. It was a place for their retreat.
I've studied this for several days now, and the more that I've come to consider this, there seems to be a spiritual parallel here in the fortified borders of the Nephites that made it so that they were still able to maintain their separation. The scriptures say that this was wisdom in the Nephites so that they wouldn't have to suffer from the afflictions of the Lamanites. (see vs. 34) So must every disciple of Christ build spiritual borders between themselves and the world. These individual, spiritual boundaries separate us from idleness and wickedness of the world. The need for a deliberate separation from the world is requisite for spiritual survival and protection.
But where else is this idea presented?
"And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." (D&C 38:42)
"Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." (Isaiah 52:11)
What is interesting is that there was a boundary to separate the wicked from the righteous, the Nephites from the Lamanites. However that dynamic had already shifted in certain parts of the land of the Nephites, and with the proclamation of the king of the Lamanites stretching throughout all the land of Nephi, boundaries and their purpose were about to change permanently.
This is perhaps the last time in Nephite/Lamanite history where a traditional border and division between these two groups existed, especially on spiritual terms. Perhaps it was for this purpose and the spiritual parallel that could be taken from such a system that the editor at this point in time took pains to include it in the spiritual record of their people.