Getting King Benjamin Wrong: Cart, Horse & One Big “If”

You’ve gotta love King Benjamin. He was a great king, but more importantly, he was a great prophet. As you know, before he died, he gathered his people together to give them a good talking to, to make sure nobody could claim he didn’t teach them right. (Mosiah 2)

The resulting discourse was on of the great documented prophetic discourses of all scripture. So much information, so much truth. In the short four chapters of Mosiah 2-5, we learn more about the Atonement of Jesus Christ than from reading the entire Bible. (My opinion.)

However, when you get to Mosiah 4, you run into some things that have jumped out at me. Not because his teachings aren’t awesome (they are) but because I think parts of that chapter are misunderstood, or misrepresented more than most any other passage of scripture in the canon.

It basically boils down to a problem of putting the cart before the horse, and one big “if.” (There are seven verses ahead, and it is worth it to plow through. But if you are feeling lazy, I made a bullet-point summary)

Mosiah 4:10 And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.

11 And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

Quick summary: 


In verses 10-11, Mosiah gives a great explanation of what we need to do to get started on “the path”.  (it’s OK if the sacrament prayers come to mind)

  • Be humble
  • Repent and forsake sins
  • Receive a remission of sins
  • Retain a remembrance of our relationship to God
  • Daily prayer

Part 2:

12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.

13 And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.

14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.

15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

In verses 12-16, King Benjamin gives us a list of shoulds, and should-nots.

  • Retain a remission of sins
  • Grow in knowledge of God and truth
  • Don’t injure one another
  • Don’t let your children go hungry or naked.
  • Don’t let your children quarrel, (thusly serving the devil)
  • Don’t let your children be disobedient to the commandments
  • Be charitable towards others
  • Teach your kids to walk in truth and soberness
  • Teach your kids to love one another and serve one another
  • Give your possessions to, and take care of the poor

That is a mighty serious checklist of things for us to do, and for any parent to teach their kids to do.

This is where I feel that a significant point is often missed: King Benjamin never instructs us to do those things. Nope. That is not what he is teaching. He does instruct us to do Part 1, but he does not instruct us to do Part 2.

Part one came first in versus 10-11. The big “IF” that I alluded to earlier is in verse 12. Let’s highlight it!

12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.

So, if you look back at verses 10-11, you will see a pattern for a Spirit-driven life. Verse 12 tells us that IF we do those things, THEN a bunch of good things will happen.

Part 2 is not a checklist of tasks. It is the promise of what can happen IF we do Part 1 correctly. Simply put, Part 1 is the horse. Part 2 is the cart. (In case you are fuzzy on this, the horse pulls the cart.)

I have heard countless talks and lessons where well-intentioned people take ideas from verses 12-16 and teach them as if they are stand-alone commandments. Not so.

Instead of the command of “thou shalt,” we see the much gentler prophetic promises of “ye will,” and “ye will not.” Whether that subtlety comes from the mouth of King Benjamin, or the translation by Joseph Smith, the phrasing does not feel like commandments.

Not convinced? Look at the first word in each of the scriptures 13-16: And, and, and, but, and. What kind of words are these? You know the song: “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?”

In this case, the conjunctions link the clauses together and back to the original sentence, which is verse 12. Accordingly, verses 13-16 all connect back to the preceding “if ye do this,” (Part 1) then the following things will happen (Part 2)

How does that look in practice?

IF we strive to be humble, repentant, clean and prayerful, THEN we will be more knowledgeable and more apt to do those things we need to do. We will also be more likely to teach our kids the right way to live as well.

It is cause and effect. And the effect is brought about because God loves us when we do what He asks. Christ taught:

“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)

How does Christ manifest himself to us? Through the Holy Ghost. It makes sense, right? When we are humble, clean, worth and prayerful, the Holy Ghost can enlighten us, strengthen us and teach us what we need to do next – and how to do it.

As Nephi taught, “For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5)

Over my lifetime, I feel that we, as a Church, have made huge headway in understanding that righteousness is not a “checklist” endeavor. It is about being right with God and letting Him guide us in what we should do.

Elder David A. Bednar taught, “The gospel is so much more than a routine checklist of discrete tasks to be performed; rather, it is a magnificent tapestry of truth “fitly framed” and woven together, designed to help us become like our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, even partakers of the divine nature.” (link)

When we are soaking in the words of King Benjamin, and we get to that challenging checklist, remember that it isn’t a checklist at all. It is a list of blessings, desires and ideas that the Lord will help us with, if we do our part, first.

Focus on the horse, and the cart will follow will follow.

About the author


  1. Elder and Sister Renlund make this exact point at women’s conference a few years ago.

    Sister Renlund: These fruits or consequences rest on the meaning of this. It is certainly desirable because if we do this, we will always rejoice, be filled with the love of God, always retain a remission of our sins, not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and will not suffer our children that they go hungry.

    Elder Renlund: Right. We need to go to the beginning of Mosiah 4 to really understand this. You will recall that King Benjamin had been instructed by an angel about the coming of Jesus Christ and of His Atonement. He explained to his people what their state would be without Christ’s Atonement… (read the rest to see how he explains it).

  2. I would love to hear you expound a little on verses 17-19 in this chapter. If you have in the past, please let me know the date/title of your post. I know this isn’t a political site and I don’t want to get into it but I’m fairly conservative in my views (whatever that means!) and I find some church members use those three verses to justify their whole political ideology. They ignore many, many other scriptures that put a different angle on this subject. I totally agree with the basic ideas expressed in those verses and I actually love that line “…are we not all beggars?…” but they use those verses to justify excessive welfare programs without any work requirements, handing money to homeless alcoholics, etc. It sort of makes me cringe and I wish I understood that better.

    1. My simple response is this: nowhere in King Benjamin’s speech, or in ANY of Christ’s teachings are we taught that we are to give money to a government to have it take care of our responsibilities to the poor. It’s our job, and we aren’t taught to pawn it off on government bureaucrats.

    2. I am a firm believer in the inspired Fast Offering program. If you want to help people, and not have your money wasted, that’s the way to go

  3. My family was focusing on v.27 this week with it’s famous “not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength,” but what had really stood out to me as we kept going over it from day to day was that the verse both begins and ends with the injunction that “therefore all things must be done in order.” Your cart/horse post here now has me better connecting that principle back to the rest of the chapter and seeing the importance of doing things in order throughout.

  4. You are in good company in teaching this. Elder Eyring taught this in our stake conference years ago.

  5. While considering this, we must also remember the “as if” principle. And while the check list is not a list of commandments, it can help us if we act “as if” by doing those things and utilizing them as a way to arrive at the ultimate goal.
    The balance is to not let the process become a substitute for the goal. President Abrea used to call this “substitutes for success”.

  6. I tried to share this post on Facebook because I think it is so good. Here is what Facebook said: “Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.”! I don’t know where they get the impression that this is in any way abusive! Shame on them! I submitted my objections to their assessment! Thank you for putting into words the thoughts I’ve had about these verses – much better than I can!

  7. I love this, and fully agree that the Church is making huge strides in teaching these truths. I sometimes wonder why the first part of King Benjamin’s teachings about how we are all “unworthy creatures” who could never get out of debt to our God was so motivating to his people, but I’m sure that his love for them was known and that they returned that love, making them more receptive to the Spirit — just as we love to hear our prophet and hopefully are open to his words during conference.

    1. I have noticed that when the Lord deals with his prophets, He often reminds them of their powerless status before Him, and gives them a good dose of humility before he begins teaching them. I think prophets also do the same. A humble congregation is much more teachable.

  8. Ah! Thank you for this! This chapter has always seen like one large, overwhelming, oppressive list of things I am doing wrong, especially when I hit the line about not letting my kids argue. (I mean, come on, who actually LETS there kids argue, it just happens on it’s own!) Now I see that the list of things I REALLY need to focus on is not so big, that the entire second set of verses is encompassed in the first small list of requirements.

    1. King Benjamin doesn’t say not to let your kids argue; he says not to let them quarrel. Arguing just means disagreeing. Quarreling means arguing with anger and most often with a temporary or permanent disruption of a friendly relationship. Teaching kids how to argue without quarreling is one of the best things you can teach.

Add your 2¢. (Be nice.)

%d bloggers like this: