Prospering in the Land: The Covenant Blessings of Obedience
Michael Smith was a senior studying biophysics when this paper was presented.
As one of the seminal covenants made between the Lord and the Israelite people, the initiation and adherence to the Mosaic covenant plays a major role not only in the Old Testament but also in the Book of Mormon. The covenant of Moses joins with the law of Moses in constituting the religion of Moses, which is the “doctrines, beliefs, covenants, sacrifices, and rituals associated with . . . the gospel as it was taught by Moses to his rebellious followers.” The resurrected Lord was sure to tell the ancient Americans that “the covenant which I have made with my people is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me” (3 Nephi 15:8). This verse rests in apparent contrast to Hebrews chapter 8, which speaks of the future when the Lord will make “a new covenant with the house of Israel . . . not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (Hebrews 8:8–9). Joseph Smith clarified this by explaining how God has been willing to establish a new covenant with the house of Israel, but as both Israel and the Gentiles were unworthy and unwilling to enter into and continue in the covenant, God has not yet entered into this new covenant. Thus the law of Moses was ended by Christ’s atoning sacrifice—the event to which it pointed—but the covenant of Moses remained in force as a means whereby God could continue to temporally bless his children. In this light, an in-depth examination of the Mosaic covenant provides greater insight into its use in scripture and its latter-day application.
The Mosaic covenant stands out among other covenants found in scripture and modern religious worship. It differs from other covenants in regards to the party with whom God makes this covenant and the scope of the blessings received by the covenant maker. Most covenants are made between God and an individual. This is evidenced in the Abrahamic covenant (see Abraham 2:6–11), the baptismal covenant (see D&C 20:72–74, 77, and 79), and the temple covenants. The Mosaic covenant differs in that God is making this covenant with a community, not one-on-one with individuals. The Hebrew denotes this difference in audience much better than does the modern English. A second significant difference is that no eternal blessings are promised to those who enter into the covenant; it is mainly focused on temporal affairs and blessings. This covenant is comparable to the Aaronic Priesthood in its concern for the things of this world and aim to bring about a moral people. In contrast, it is the higher Abrahamic covenant and the higher Melchizedek Priesthood that prepare their adherents for the higher blessings of eternity. Understanding these main differences and other key attributes of biblical covenants allows us to put the Mosaic covenant in proper context.
The Mosaic Covenant
Among the appearances of the Mosaic covenant within the Pentateuch is the eloquent description of the terms of this covenant found in Leviticus 26. After the conditional “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them” (Leviticus 26:3), the Lord outlines several promised blessings. These include “the land . . . yield[ing] her increase” (26:4), being able to “eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely” (26:5), having “peace in the land” (26:6), the Lord “hav[ing] respect unto you, and mak[ing] you fruitful, and multiply[ing] you” (26:9), and being with the Lord, who “will walk among you” (26:12). The ideas of this covenant hearken to the idea of keeping the commandments of God and prospering in the land, an oft-repeated concept in the Book of Mormon. The prophet Alma summarized it well: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land” (Alma 36:1). Although the exact wording of this phrase varies, its intent of conveying the central concept of the Mosaic covenant remains true throughout the scriptural canon.
Obedience and Prosperity in the Book of Mormon
The clearest way to trace the use of this covenant throughout scripture is through following the appearance of the words “prosper” and “commandments” in the same verse of scripture. Using this measure, this covenant appears a total of twenty-three times in the Book of Mormon, significantly more than any other book of scripture. This connected word pair appears only seven other times throughout the scriptural canon: six times in the Old Testament and one time in the Doctrine and Covenants. These suggest that the Old Testament peoples understood a covenantal connection between keeping the commandments and prospering. However, this understanding did not lead them to include it so frequently and explicitly in their record as did the Book of Mormon peoples. The careful use of this phrase is unique to the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon record supports the phrase “if ye keep the commandments, ye shall prosper in the land” as a covenantal one. Of the twenty-three times this word pair appears in the Book of Mormon, nine of them are spoken by the Lord. It is worthy to note that not once does Jesus Christ use this phrase, nor is the word “prosper” found once in his teachings recorded in 3 Nephi. Covenants are made with the Father but are done through the Son, the “messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1). Thus, the Lord as the principal speaker of this phrase points to its nature as a covenant. Also, this, as a covenant, is supported by the appearance of the word “promise” with the prosper-commandments word pair. Lehi speaks of having “obtained a promise” from the Lord (2 Nephi 1:9). Mormon recounts “the promise of the Lord [being that] if they should keep his commandments they should prosper in the land” (Alma 48:25). King Benjamin also refers to this as a promise in speaking both to his sons and to his people (see Mosiah 1:7; Mosiah 2:21). That this covenant is so often and clearly stated throughout the Book of Mormon supports the role of the Book of Mormon in helping the children of Israel “know the covenants of the Lord,” as indicated in the title page of the Book of Mormon. Further examination of the Mosaic covenant, including how it was initiated and followed by the Book of Mormon people, outlines a pattern whereby this covenant of obedience and prosperity can be more fully manifest in the lives of modern-day Israel.
Intertextual Use of the Mosaic Covenant
The common use of the words “prosper” and “commandments” in the phrase “if ye keep the commandments, ye shall prosper in the land” allude to a homology shared by all uses of this phrase in scripture. An increased awareness of these relationships assists the reader in understanding more fully the Mosaic covenant, its importance to the ancient Israelites (in both the Middle East and America), and its present application. An examination of this phrase with the lens of intertextuality considers four guidelines for determining if scriptural allusions were intentional:
1. Source. It is very plausible that later Old Testament and Book of Mormon authors would have had access to records containing the covenant as initially given to Moses (see 1 Nephi 5:10–11).
2. Uniqueness. With only thirty appearances in scripture, it can be strongly assumed that this phrase was quoted or referenced from prophetic predecessors.
3. Length. When appearing together, the words and short passages such as “keep the commandments” and “prosper in [the land, actions, etc.]” create a phrase substantial in length to be considered for intertextual studies.
4. Context. As explained further in detail hereafter, this covenantal phrase was frequently given in the same context as the scripture to which it alluded.
Figure 1. Intertextual use of the Mosaic covenant in the Old Testament and Book of Mormon.
Figure 1 is proposed as a visual means of connecting the uses of this covenantal phrase throughout the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. This figure illustrates how a prophet or father figure teaches, establishes, or renews the covenant to others both directly (in person or through direct communication) and indirectly (through records passed down). When the descendants of the prophets received their scriptural stewardship, they also received this Mosaic covenant along with it, for the covenant was contained on the scriptures. Frequently, authors or speakers will remind their audiences about God establishing or renewing the covenant with their predecessors. This is the case with many instances referring to the promise that was made to “their fathers” (see Jarom 1:9; Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:7). Early on in the Book of Mormon, “the fathers” refers specifically to the Old Testament Israelites (see 1 Nephi 4:2; 17:23, 40). However, later on in the Book of Mormon, “the fathers” refers to Lehi, Nephi, and others who came from Jerusalem to America (see Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:4). With all of this in mind, the following usage patterns of this covenant throughout the scriptures can be more fully considered.
Lord initiating the covenant. Moses was the first but not the only individual to whom this covenant was established. After the translation of Moses, the Lord was clear to renew this covenant with Joshua, Moses’ successor. The Lord told Joshua to “be . . . strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee . . . that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:7). Not only is this a renewal of the Mosaic covenant, but it includes direct allusion to the commandments given from Moses, which were given to him by the Lord.
It can be presumed that Lehi was the first of the Book of Mormon peoples to receive the Mosaic covenant from the Lord. Lehi speaks of receiving this promise from the Lord (see 2 Nephi 1:9), but it is not clear whether he received it personally from the mouth of the Lord or from the scriptural record. The words of Alma clarify this ambiguity. To the people of Ammonihah he asked, “Do ye not remember the words which he [the Lord] spake unto Lehi, saying that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land?” (Alma 9:13). Nephi also received the Mosaic covenant directly from the Lord. It followed his believing “all the words which had been spoken by my father,” along with his “faith, for [he had] sought [the Lord] diligently, with lowliness of heart” (1 Nephi 2:16, 19). Although the Lord’s initiation of this covenant with Nephi appears first in the present Book of Mormon record, it appears consistent with the pattern of Nephi’s theophanies that Lehi would have received this covenant and taught it to his children (see 1 Nephi 2:16), and then Nephi would have sought the Lord for a personal confirmation of this covenant. This order mirrors the vision of the tree of life which was first received by Lehi (see 1 Nephi 8) and then by Nephi (see 1 Nephi 11–14). Scholars have identified specific elements associated with covenant-making in the Old Testament.  The present study did not identify these elements in the instances of God initiating this covenant with these four individuals, but further study might be done to elucidate such elements and relationships. In short, the Lord follows a clear pattern of establishing this covenant with certain individuals, all of whom serve as leaders among their people.
Fathers to sons. Shortly before his impending death, King David chose his son Solomon as his successor and counseled him regarding the Mosaic covenant. David taught Solomon to “keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself” (1 Kings 2:3; emphasis added). David surely would have had access to records containing the Mosaic law and covenant. The importance of the Mosaic covenant is highlighted by its being included among the last things David taught Solomon.
When the prophet Lehi was in a similar circumstance as David, he gathered together his posterity to teach them. In an apparent chiastic manner, Lehi begins and ends his discourse to his posterity with this reminder of the Mosaic covenant. He eloquently taught,
Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever. (2 Nephi 1:9, emphasis added)
This counsel was repeated two other times in this same discourse (see 2 Nephi 1:20; see also 2 Nephi 4:4). Lehi would have had specific knowledge of the counsel David gave to Solomon pertaining to this covenant, most likely through the brass plates (see 1 Nephi 5:10–13). By repeating this counsel to his sons during his old age, perhaps Lehi is alluding to the farewell practice of David, the king who preceded Lehi by only four hundred years. Support for this allusion comes from similar phrases found in both 2 Nephi 1–4 and 1 Kings 1–2.
Approximately 450 years after Lehi gave this counsel to his posterity, King Benjamin continued this pattern by giving nearly the same guidance to his sons Mosiah, Helorum, and Helaman. In a similar setting, shortly before he was to pass away, he taught, “And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers” (Mosiah 1:7; emphasis added). The nature of this counsel, in regards to context, length, and uniqueness, suggests that it is an allusion to the words and actions of David and Lehi. This idea is strongly supported by Welch and Hague in their examination of ancient farewell addresses. As part of their argument, they cite that King Benjamin would have had access to the records of both the brass plates, containing the records of David, and the plates of Nephi, containing the records of Lehi.
Lastly, we see Alma give this same counsel to his sons. To Helaman, he simply and succinctly taught, “My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land” (Alma 36:1; emphasis added). This was repeated again to Helaman (see Alma 36:30; see also 37:13) and to Shiblon (see 38:1). It is interesting to note that in instructing Helaman, Alma’s use of this phrase also followed a chiastic style, similar to Lehi’s counsel to his sons. Thus, Alma teaches this covenant to his sons in a similar manner by which David, Lehi, and King Benjamin taught their sons. This pattern of passing the covenant from fathers to sons hearkens to the patriarchal order of the priesthood that is found throughout the Old Testament. It also highlights the importance of teaching covenants to posterity so that they might receive the blessings that come from them.
Large assemblies. This Mosaic covenant is easily observed as being taught to two large audiences. Both of these support the nature of the covenant being a communal one. The first of these is King Benjamin in his general conference–type address. His four iterations of this covenantal phrase during this relatively short speech indicate its importance. Forty years later, Alma included this covenant in his exhortations to the people of Ammonihah. Although it is not included here, a perfunctory examination of the sermons at these two larger assemblies suggests additional intertextuality between them, Alma likely referring to the words of King Benjamin. Future exploration into these two sermons could identify additional similarities between them.
Influence on communities. The above discussions refer to the Mosaic covenant being given to individuals or groups of people. Regardless of how it was passed down (individually or communally), the covenant comes to have an influence on communities. All four individuals mentioned above who received this covenant directly from the Lord—Moses, Joshua, Lehi, and Nephi—along with those who received it from their fathers, including Solomon, Mosiah, and Helaman, all eventually led large groups of people. Certainly, the ideas of obedience and prosperity would have shone through their teaching and example to impact the communities they led. The communal teaching of this covenant done by King Benjamin and Alma supports this as well. This is all consistent with the nature of the Mosaic covenant to bless communities, not necessarily individuals.
Fulfillment of covenant. The conditional “inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land” was often accompanied by the inverse “and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (2 Nephi 4:4). In a similar light, the Old Testament poses the question “Why transgress ye the commandments of the Lord, that ye cannot prosper?” (2 Chronicles 24:20; see also Numbers 14:41). This inverse frequently appears in conjunction with this covenant being instituted or taught (see Leviticus 26:14–46; Deuteronomy 28:15–68; Alma 36:30; 38:1; 50:20). In some cases, the consequences for disobedience appear more dramatic than the blessings that come from obedience. This shows the importance God places on his commandments and the obedience of his people to them.
The scriptures are replete with the accounts of individuals and communities who, after receiving this Mosaic covenant, prospered in proportion to their obedience. The Book of Mormon records how Helaman “did observe to keep the . . . commandments of God . . . insomuch that he did prosper in the land” (Helaman 3:20). This verse, along with 2 Chronicles 31:21, which speaks of Hezekiah personally prospering, appears inconsistent with the Mosaic covenant being solely a communal one. Under this covenant, individuals may not have always prospered, even when their community did. These instances record when individuals did prosper because of their own obedience and most likely reflect the overall obedience of their community.
The prosperity of groups can also be easily observed. The Old Testament speaks of the elders of the Jews keeping the commandments and thereby prospering (see Ezra 6:14). The two Book of Mormon assemblies previously mentioned and their subsequent responses to this covenant being taught clearly illustrate the effects of both obeying and not obeying the commandments of God. King Benjamin’s people kept the commandments, so they prospered (see Mosiah 6:7). In contrast, the people of Ammonihah rejected the words of Alma and Amulek (see Alma 14:2–24), continued in wickedness (see Alma 15:15), and were eventually destroyed (see Alma 16:1–3). Thankfully, this was not the case for all people. The prophet Mormon so simply and eloquently summarized the end result of adherence to the Mosaic covenant among the Nephite peoples: “And insomuch as the children of Lehi have kept his commandments he hath blessed them and prospered them according to his word” (3 Nephi 5:22). The covenants are straightforward and the evidence is clear. If a people are to prosper, they must keep the commandments of God. If they reject the commandments of God, they will be temporally and spiritually cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Lord seeks to bestow grand blessings of prosperity upon his children. All that is required for them is to “keep the commandments.”
Since ancient times, the words of the Lord to “keep the commandments and prosper in the land” have served as counsel and covenant for the house of Israel. The Old Testament establishes this as a covenant from God and begins to call attention to it as a means of securing the temporal salvation of Israel and the preparation for the eternal salvation of this people. The Book of Mormon heavily emphasizes the Mosaic covenant of obedience and prosperity. The repeated treatment of this covenant by prophets and fathers to their congregations and posterity causes the Book of Mormon to become a form of messenger of this covenant to the ends of the earth (see title page of the Book of Mormon). The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ fulfilled the law of Moses, but it left the covenant of Moses still in force (see 3 Nephi 15:8). The application, therefore, can extend from the ancient times into the modern. This is clearly seen in the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Lord tells Oliver Cowdery to “do this thing which I have commanded you, and you shall prosper” (D&C 9:13). As modern-day Israel reads these holy records, they learn about individuals and communities that kept the commandments and prospered and about others who disobeyed and were “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (1 Nephi 2:21). From these, Israel can more fully achieve the purpose of the covenant of Abraham—or preparing them for exaltation—by adhering to the temporal commands inherent in the covenant of Moses. President Gordon B. Hinckley was quoted as saying, “The happiness of the Latter-day Saints, the peace of the Latter-day Saints, the progress of the Latter-day Saints, the prosperity of the Latter-day Saints, and the eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience to the counsels of . . . God.” Regardless of the form it takes, the obedience and prosperity inherent in the covenant have the potential to bless all individuals and communities who embrace it. May these blessings of prosperity rest upon all those who continue in obedience to these divine laws and commands.
Lauri Hlavaty, “The Religion of Moses and the Book of Mormon,” in The Book of Mormon: Jacob through Words of Mormon, to Learn with Joy, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 1990), 104.
This passage of scripture is described more in David Rolph Seely, “The Restoration as Covenant Renewal,” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 311–36.
Letterbook 1, 27, The Joseph Smith Papers, http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/letterbook-1?locale=eng&p=27#!....
Elder James E. Talmage wrote, “The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,—the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions.” James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), 100.
Hlavaty, “Religion of Moses,” 108.
Hlavaty, “Religion of Moses,” 108.
The Mosiac and other biblical covenants are discussed in William D. Barrick, “The Mosaic Covenant,” The Master's Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (1999): 213–34.
Other appearances and elaborations on the Mosaic covenant include Exodus 19–20 and Deuteronomy 27–28. See Grant Hardy, “The Book of Mormon’s Missing Covenant,” Meridian Magazine, December 27, 2010.
 These instances include 1 Nephi 2:20, 4:14; 2 Nephi 1:9, 1:20, 4:4; Jarom 1:9; Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:7, 2:22, 2:31; Alma 9:13, 36:1, 36:30, 37:13, 38:1, 48:15, 48:25, 50:20; Helaman 3:30; and 3 Nephi 5:22.
 The Lord relates this covenantal phrase in 1 Nephi 2:20, 4:14; 2 Nephi 1:20, 4:4; Jarom 1:9; Omni 1:6; Alma 9:13, 37:13, and 50:20. In these passages, the main voice, a prophet, is quoting the direct words of the Lord. The nine times the Lord says this phrase contrast to the five times this phrase is spoken by each King Benjamin and Mormon, the three times used by Alma, and the one time spoken by Lehi.
For example, see Mosiah 18:10.
See John Hilton III, “Approaching Allusions in the Book of Mormon,” unpublished paper.
See Seely, “Restoration as Covenant Renewal,” 314–16, 330–31; and Barrick, “The Mosaic Covenant,” 213–32.
Shared phrases include “I go the way of all the earth” (1 Kings 2:2; 2 Nephi 1:14) and “the Lord hath redeemed my soul” (2 Nephi 1:15; see also 1 Kings 1:29).
See John W. Welch and Daryl R. Hague, “Benjamin’s Sermon as a Traditional Ancient Farewell Address,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom,” ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 104.
The chiasmus in Alma 36 was first identified by John W. Welch in “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 10, no. 1 (Fall 1969): 69–84.
Gordon B. Hinckley, “If Ye Be Willing and Obedient,” Ensign, December 1971, 125; quoted in Thomas S. Monson, “Obedience Brings Blessings,” Ensign, May 2013, 90.