Miracles are events that surprise and amaze. For example, the parting of the Red Sea was not something the children of Israel could have foreseen as they ran from the approaching Egyptian army. The Book of Mormon has many miracles and wonders listed in its pages. I recently found one that I have never heard anyone talk about. I was amazed that the event has been right in front of me all these years, but I never recognized it for the miracle it is. I’ll actually show you two ways the Lord rid the people of the Gadianton robbers.
Just so you know what you are getting into, I’ll let you know what I am going to do here. First, to appreciate the magnitude of the miracle the Lord grants the Nephites we need to see how long and how much trouble the Gadiantons were to the people. Then we need to see how the Lord got rid of them the first time, and under what dire conditions. Finally, we’ll look at how bad life got and how scary their situation was before the Lord stepped in and handed them complete victory over the Gadiantons the second time. If you don’t want the abbreviated version of the scriptures, I suggest you read the full scriptural references provided.
Background of a miracle
To appreciate a miracle, you first have to appreciate what makes the miracle so wondrous. The Nephites and Lamanites had dealt with the Gadianton robbers for many years. They were a scourge upon their country. It seemed that no matter what they did, they just couldn’t get rid of them. Here is how it began.
Our account of the Gadianton robbers begins in the first chapter of Helaman (about 52 B.C.) when Kishkumen forms a secret society and murders Pahoran while he is on the judgment-seat (Helaman 1:7-9). Kishkumen is in disguise so he is able to escape without being caught.
The very next year Kishkumen is sent by the new leader of his band, Gadianton, to murder the new Chief Judge, Helaman’s son, Helaman. When Kishkumen goes to murder Helaman he is stabbed to the heart by Helaman’s servant.
When Kishkumen doesn’t return in a timely manner, Gadianton takes his followers and they flee into the wilderness. This happens about 50 B.C. in the 42nd year of the reign of the judges. This is the last we hear of the Gadianton robbers for a while.
The Gadianton influence
For about a quarter of a century, we hear nothing about the Gadianton robbers. Remember why they were founded. Pahoran’s brother, Paanchi, wanted to be chief judge, but the people voted for Pahoran instead. When Paanchi’s followers tried to stage a rebellion to make Paanchi their new governor, Paanchi was taken and tried for treason and condemned to death. That is when they got together and formed a secret society and had Kishkumen kill Pahoran. See Helaman 1:7-9.
Their purpose in this society was to commit murder and get gain, power, and influence, without having to answer to the government’s laws for their behavior. Everything was done in secret. They had secret meetings, secret signs, and secret handshakes. Unless you were part of the band, it was very difficult to find the whole group.
In the ensuing 25-35 years after Kishkumen’s initial murder, the band operated in the background. We don’t know exactly what they were doing, but we do know that they were looking for ways to spread their influence. In Helaman 4, when many dissenters left the Nephites and went over to the Lamanites to incite them to war, you have to wonder how much influence this band of robbers may have had in the process. This was right up their proverbial alley.
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but when I read Helaman 4:22, I have to wonder how much of this damage came because of the influence of this band of robbers.
22 And that they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people; and they saw that their laws had become corrupted, and that they had become a wicked people, insomuch that they were wicked even like unto the Lamanites.
While it is true that they might have had absolutely nothing to do with the corruption of the Nephite legal system or the turning of the people to wickedness, I have to wonder. Satan doesn’t work that way. He uses every tool in his belt to accomplish the downfall of the Lord’s people. Surely they had at least a small influence in what was happening to the Nephites at this time.
In Helaman 6:15-19 the work of murder pops up again. Mormon blames these murders, and all the murders that follow among the people on the Gadiantons.
15 And it came to pass that in the sixty and sixth year of the reign of the judges, behold, Cezoram was murdered by an unknown hand as he sat upon the judgment-seat. And it came to pass that in the same year that his son, who had been appointed by the people in his stead, was also murdered. And thus ended the sixty and sixth year.
17 For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain.
18 And now behold, those murderers and plunderers were a band who had been formed by Kishkumen and Gadianton. And now it had come to pass that there were many, even among the Nephites, of Gadianton’s band. But behold, they were more numerous among the more wicked part of the Lamanites. And they were called Gadianton’s robbers and murderers.
19 And it was they who did murder the chief judge Cezoram, and his son, while in the judgment-seat; and behold, they were not found.
Mormon explains how Satan used this band of murderers to seduce the Nephites so he could ripen them for destruction. See Helaman 6:21-23.
21 But behold, Satan did stir up the hearts of the more part of the Nephites, insomuch that they did unite with those bands of robbers, and did enter into their covenants and their oaths, that they would protect and preserve one another in whatsoever difficult circumstances they should be placed, that they should not suffer for their murders, and their plunderings, and their stealings.
The subsequent verses describe the historical background of the oaths used by the Gadianton robbers. Mormon then tells us the effect of dealing with this band in verse 31.
31 And now behold, he had got great hold upon the hearts of the Nephites; yea, insomuch that they had become exceedingly wicked; yea, the more part of them had turned out of the way of righteousness, and did trample under their feet the commandments of God, and did turn unto their own ways, and did build up unto themselves idols of their gold and their silver.
The effect of the oaths
The end result of people turning away from the commandments of God to seek gain and power, without consequence, is that they were destroying everything they stood for. They were weakening the church of God, and undermining everything their government stood for.
Their goal in the beginning was to control the government so they could have power and influence. In Helaman 6:38-39 we see that they finally got their wish. Note that we are still about 23 years away from the birth of the Savior.
38 … they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.
39 And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.
In Helaman 8:27-28 Nephi reveals that a fourth Chief Judge has been murdered by a member of the Gadianton band. It was the brother of the governor who did it, because he wanted to be Chief Judge. This is four governors of the land murdered in 30 years.
The first extinction
Nephi was given the sealing power by the Lord. He used that power to bring a famine on the land that lasted for years. The people began to see that they were going to die from the famine if they didn’t repent, so they swept away the oaths and the Gadiantons that went with them. They repented and pled with Nephi to end the famine, which he did.
Unfortunately, after only four years of peace, there were those who dissented and wanted power. They sought out the plans and the old oaths, and the Gadiantons were reborn. (Helaman 11:24-27) The difference this time is that the band hid in the mountains and raided instead of trying to mingle with regular society.
27 Now behold, these robbers did make great havoc, yea, even great destruction among the people of Nephi, and also among the people of the Lamanites.
Christ is born
We now jump ahead in time. It has been more than 50 years since the Gadianton band was first formed among the Nephites. They have taken to hiding in the hills. They were now unstoppable. No matter what the Nephites do they can’t kill them because they can’t fight them or find them.
Christ has been born and the Gadianton’s influence is increasing. In 3 Nephi 1:27-29 we learn that the people could not overpower the robbers because of their strongholds in the mountains. As more and more dissenters fled to them, they increased in strength. Even many of the Lamanite children, as they grew up, were seduced to join the band.
One more time
The first time the Gadiantons were destroyed because of the famine, it was only because they were causing so much bloodshed that Nephi asked the Lord to replace the bloodletting with a famine. Well, now the robbers had bumped up the killing spree a few notches, and it was worse than ever. The Nephites were afraid of being completely destroyed. (3 Nephi 2:11-13)
Set up for the miracle
In 3 Nephi 3 Giddianhi, the latest leader of the Gadianton band, tells the leader of the Nephites that if he doesn’t turn over the whole government, cities and all, to his Gadianton band that his men will come down from the mountains and wipe them from the face of the earth.
What Giddianhi wasn’t counting on is that the fear of the Gadianton robbers had caused the people to repent and turn to the Lord for protection. The governor, Lachoneus, a prophet, appointed Gidgiddoni, another prophet in his own right, to be the commander of their armies.
They used the prayers and repentance of the people to prepare for their defense against the coming onslaught from the massive armies of the Gadianton robbers. They gathered all the people of the land who were willing to call upon the Lord to come to the center of the country. They hastily threw up extremely strong fortifications, and brought all their gold, silver, food, animals, everything of value, into their fortified area to last until the robbers were gone. They brought enough to last at least seven years. It was actually more like nine years before they were able to go home again.
The robbers came down from the mountains and began to occupy the abandoned cities. It has now been about 70 years since the days of Kishkumen. But it wasn’t safe for them to begin planting because the Nephites could send their armies to destroy their crops. Their only recourse was to attack the Nephites directly.
Giddianhi ordered his men to attack the Nephites. The resulting battle was the bloodiest and most costly since Lehi left Jerusalem. Nothing had ever come close to this kind of slaughter. Yet the Nephites won the battle. They had food to eat, but the robbers had only a scanty supply of meat from the wilderness. They were in no condition to fight.
Giddianhi’s successor, Zemnarihah ordered a siege on the Nephites. It was a dismal failure, since the Nephites had enough food to last them for years, while his men were literally starving outside the walls of the Nephite’s fortifications. Month after month the Nephites attacked the robbers day and night and mowed them down by the tens of thousands.
Here is the miracle
In 3 Nephi 4:23-26 Gidgiddoni, the prophet, managed to surround the robbers as they tried to make their escape.
23 And it came to pass that Zemnarihah did give command unto his people that they should withdraw themselves from the siege, and march into the furthermost parts of the land northward.
24 And now, Gidgiddoni being aware of their design, and knowing of their weakness because of the want of food, and the great slaughter which had been made among them, therefore he did send out his armies in the night-time, and did cut off the way of their retreat, and did place his armies in the way of their retreat.
25 And this did they do in the night-time, and got on their march beyond the robbers, so that on the morrow, when the robbers began their march, they were met by the armies of the Nephites both in their front and in their rear.
26 And the robbers who were on the south were also cut off in their places of retreat. And all these things were done by command of Gidgiddoni.
Those who didn’t die in the battle were taken prisoners and taught the gospel. Those who repented were given lands and swore oaths of peace. Those who wouldn’t were punished as traitors.
3 Nephi 5:4 says, “And now it came to pass that when they had taken all the robbers prisoners, insomuch that none did escape who were not slain, they did cast their prisoners into prison …”
Did you catch it?
Did you catch the miracle? It happened so quickly that it is easy to miss it. The people of God were harassed by these robbers for almost 80 years. Their very nation was put in jeopardy because they had rejected the Lord and joined with these bandits. The only thing that had gotten rid of them before was a miracle, the famine sent by Nephi.
Now they had almost witnessed their own extinction, but the Lord inspired his servants and protected them because they defended themselves from the aggressors. The prophet knew to send his troops out to intercept the bandits as they sought to flee into the north country, and they were able in a 24 hour period to surround their armies and completely defeat them.
Those who were taken captive were given the opportunity to repent one last time. Those who did were welcomed back into Nephite or Lamanite society. Those who refused were taken care of.
The point is this, the Lord honors His promises. He told the Nephites all along that if they would turn to Him and keep His commandments that He would protect them. As long as their repentance was meager, they only had meager success. But when they turned to the Lord with full purpose of heart, their success was complete and miraculous, even against a foe that seemed unbeatable.
Who could have imagined, even days before their victory, that it was even possible for them to completely eradicate the Gadianton robbers, the scourge of their lives for the last 80 years? Yet here they were, with 100 percent success rate of getting rid of this poison to their society and to their church. Is it any wonder that they cried Hosanna to God, and wept tears of joy? 3 Nephi 4:30-33.
30 And they did rejoice and cry again with one voice, saying: May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection.
31 And it came to pass that they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies.
32 Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God. And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God.
33 And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction.
This great miracle of their deliverance from the Gadianton band is one of the unsung miracles of the Book of Mormon. But it stands as a great witness of the Lord’s faithfulness to his children when they turn to him with full purpose of heart and are obedient to his commandments.
Kelly P. Merrill
Kelly Merrill is semi retired and writes for https://gospelstudy.us. He lives with his wife in Idaho. His strength is being able to take difficult to understand subjects and break them down into understandable parts. He delights in writing about the gospel of Christ. Writing about the gospel is his personal missionary work to the members of the Church and to those of other faiths who are wanting to know more about Christ's gospel and His Church.