Potential Literary Patterns in Helaman 5
I was reading the words that Helaman taught to his sons, Nephi and Lehi and noticed some potential patterns. Helaman appears to have taught many things to his sons but we only have a few of these words recorded in Helaman 5:6-12. Whether these patterns were intended or not is unknown. Literary patterns breathe life into mere words by incorporating techniques that produce vivid imagery and emotional effects. Chiasmus is a tool used to draw attention to a particular point or theme and there appears to be some use of it by Helaman.
Usually when I see a word repeated many times or patterns of identical or contrasting text I stop and widen my scope to see if there is a pattern and how far it extends. It certainly causes me to spend more time with a particular section of text whether or not any legitimate literary patterns are being used or not. We don’t know for sure what the author was thinking and some of these patterns may just be coincidental. Nevertheless, they can provide an interesting way of playing with the text and examining the message.
There appears to be a larger pattern to these verses with the crux of the message being an encouragement to do good by following the example set by ancestors. This chapter features the word “remember” about 14 times and in these verses we find it heavily used. Doing good requires remembering and correct intentions with the result being the gift of eternal life which was also given to the “fathers.”
I have given unto you the names our first parents…
you remember your names
ye may remember them; and
when ye remember them
ye may remember their works;
when ye remember their works
ye may know how that it is said,
and also written,
that they were good.
…ye should do that which is good,
that it may be said of you,
and also written,
even as it has been said
and written of them.
desire of you…
ye may not do these things that ye may boast, but that
ye may do these things to lay up for yourselves a
treasure in heaven, yea, which is eternal,
precious gift of eternal life,
hath been given to our fathers.
I thought this verse deserved some individual focus as well. Helaman desires that his sons will enjoy eternal life and is intent on making sure they have pure intentions. One is reminded of Jesus’ teachings here about not doing things to be seen of men.
desire of you…
that ye may not do these things that ye may boast,
but that ye may do these things to lay up for yourselves a
treasure in heaven, yea, which is eternal, …
precious gift of eternal life, …
We see the word redeem mentioned 7 times in the following verses. That caught my attention so I took a look at text involved and noticed some potential patterns there as well. It’s clear here that Christ received power from the Father to redeem people from their sins and not in them. The conditions or repentance are important and angels are sent to declare these things. In fact, Alma teaches this particular doctrine 4 times in Alma 13:22,24-26.
Jesus Christ, who shall come
redeem the world.
redeem his people,
not come to redeem them in their sins,
but to redeem them from their sins.
he hath power given unto him from the Father
redeem them from their sins
because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance,
power of the Redeemer,
rock of our Redeemer, who is
Christ, the Son of God
We have some of the same verses here but this is another way of organizing some of these sub-patterns if you can call them that. The first and last lines contrast sin and salvation and include the themes of power and redemption. Repentance flanks the core theme of angels declaring tidings again so this is an important theme to Helaman.
power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins
because of repentance;
therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings…
conditions of repentance,
which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.
Here remembrance seems associated with building a sure foundation which is called a rock. Christ and the devil are contrasted and flank the theme of building a foundation. It is pretty stark here, you must build a foundation and if you do, it will be on the rock of Christ; if you don’t then you are subject to all the chaos of the devil. Note that all of his weapons are weather and nature-related. Wind, hail, storms, these are all terribly destructive and I personally witnessed this recently in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. Getting dragged down to a gulf is a terrifying thought as well. I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast and know the power of a riptide or undertow as they are called. It is much better to be secure on a stone jetty than getting sucked out to sea. The thing about water is that it prevents you from getting air, the breath of life. When you read about the “spirit” in the scriptures, in both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pnumea) it means “wind or breath.” Satan wishes to choke the breath of life from us, not just our physical breath but the true breath of life from the Holy Spirit. We see this in Nephi’s dream as well “And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building. And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain…” (1 Nephi 8:31-32)
And now, my sons, remember, remember…
rock of our Redeemer, who is
Christ, the Son of God,
that ye must build your foundation;
…the devil (shall send forth his mighty winds… shafts in the whirlwind… hail… mighty storm… drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo)
rock upon which ye are built,
which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
There is probably much more that can be explored as well but I thought this was a fun exercise. As I read the scriptures, I am always on the lookout for things like this. No matter what the results yield, it always has the positive effect of allowing me to focus very intently on particular areas of text that I might otherwise breeze through. If you find anything else of interest, feel free to post it in the comments below.