If you have a chess game, it might be a good eye-catcher to display on the classroom table.
Although the Jaredite civilization overlapped the Nephite civilization timewise, they had a totally different society. They did not come from Jerusalem. They did not even descend from Abraham. They moved to America a couple of hundred years before Abraham was born. They, of course, spoke an entirely different langauge, the Adamic language. It is interesting to note that the names of the people in the book of Ether are quite different than the names in the rest of the Book of Mormon. And the way their civilization was governed and the way they warred was different as well.
Many kings are mentioned as Moroni gives his rapid-fire history of the Jaredites. Among them, there is an interesting phenomenon: kings serving in captivity. Seven of the kings mentioned were overthrown and, rather than being killed in the coup, were captured and imprisoned. Some of them managed to rise up and gain their kingdoms back; some of them spent the rest of their lives in captivity; one line of kings spent six generations living as captives (Hearthom in chapter 10). This is similar to the Asiatic civilizations.
"Such is the practice...of keeping a king prisoner throughout his entire lifetime, allowing him to beget and raise a family in captivity, even though the sons thus brought up would be almost sure to seek vengeance for their parent and power for themselves upon coming of age....It seems to us a perfectly ridiculous system, yet it is in accordance with the immemorial Asiatic usage....Benjamin of Tudela tells how the khalif, the spiritual ruler of all western Asia, arranged for 'the brothers and other members of the khalif's family' to live lives of ease, luxury, and security: 'every one of them possesses a palace within that of the khalif, but they are all fettered by chains of iron, and a special officer is appointed over every household to prevent their rising in rebellion against the great king.'...It was the custom of Turkish kings, as was long doubted by scholars but has recently been proved, to allow their defeated rivals to sit upon their thrones by day, but lock them up in iron cages for the night!" (Hugh Nibley, quoted in Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon, p. 495, originally printed in Lehi in the Desert, p. 201-203)
And why did they do this? Brother Nibley explains:
"Moving back to the earliest records of all, we find a large class of legends all over the ancient world telling how a victorious god in the beginning bound and imprisoned his rebellious relatives--not killing them, since they partook of his own divine nature..."
The last of these captive kings mentioned was Coriantor, who was born into his father's captivity and spent his whole life a captive. Into this environment was born his son, Ether. (See Ether 11:23.) We know Ether, not as a captive king, but as a mighty prophet of God.
"And Ether was a prophet of the Lord; wherefore Ether came forth in the days of Coriantumr, and began to prophesy unto the people, for he could not be restrained because of the Spirit of the Lord which was in him." (Ether 12:2)
Ether had a vital message for his people:
"For he did cry from the morning, even until the going down of the sun, exhorting the people to believe in God unto repentance lest they should be destroyed, saying unto them that by faith all things are fulfilled--Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God." (Ether 12:3-4)
Moroni stopped his narrative of history right here and took this concept Ether so wanted his people to understand--by faith all things are fulfilled--and expounded upon it for us in his own words.
FAITH PRECEDES THE MIRACLE
"And now I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." (Ether 12:6; see also verse 12)
In this chapter, Moroni gives twelve examples of faith preceding miracles:
- Christ's resurrection [v. 7]
- The bestowal of the Holy Priesthood [v. 10]
- The Law of Moses [v. 11]
- Alma and Amulek [v. 13]
- Nephi and Lehi [v. 14]
- Ammon and his brethren [v. 15]
- Disciples who are unnamed [v. 16]
- The Three Nephites [v. 17]
- The brother of Jared [v. 20]
- Many others like him [v. 19]
- The coming forth of the Book of Mormon which hadn't yet happened [v.22]
- The disciples who saw Christ in the Book of Mormon [v. 31]
FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY BRING US UNTO CHRIST
Moroni expressed his worries to the Lord that those who read the Book of Mormon might notice flaws in the writing (verse 25), but the Lord did not say he would fix them all. Instead, he said, "Behold, I will show until the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me--the fountain of all righteousness." (verse 28)
The Lord told Moroni that the important thing was to have charity. Whether or not the gift of the Book of Mormon was received well, all that mattered was that Moroni had completed his own mission and prepared it with the pure love of Christ. "If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore, thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father." (verse 37)
On the way to Carthage Jail, Hyrum Smith read verses 36-38 aloud to Joseph Smith, and turned down the page corner (Class Member Study Guide). This scripture has lent strength to the greatest of our dispensation.
BACK TO THE HISTORY
The world that Ether lived in was bloodthirsty and vengeful. There were two warring factions. Coriantumr was the king of the one, and the other had several kings, but in the end was led by King Shiz. Ether prophesied to Coriantumr that all his household but himself would be killed if he would not repent (Ether 13:20-22). But Coriantumr said, "No thanks. I can handle this myself." Until he realized he couldn't, and two million of his men had been killed, as well as their wives and children. He finally wrote an epistle to his enemy, offering to surrender his kingdom in order to save the lives of the rest of his people. That wasn't enough for King Shiz. He offered to spare the people if Corantumr would give himself up. Coriantumr didn't want to do that, and the battles resumed (Ether 15:1-6).
This Jaredite society had a system of warfare different than most in the world today, and different than the Nephites, but similar to that of ancient Asia. This type of warfare is where we the game of chess comes from. Again, Hugh Nibley explains:
"The insane wars of the Jaredite chiefs ended in the complete annihilation of both sides, with the kings the last to go...This all seems improbable to us, but two circumstances peculiar to Asiatic warfare explain why the phenomenon is by no means without parallel: (1) Since every war is strictly a personal contest between kings, the battle must continue until one of the kings falls or is taken. (2) And yet things are so arranged that the king must be the very last to fall, the whole army existing for the sole purpose of defending his person. This is clearly seen in the game of chess, in which all pieces are expendable except the king, who can never be taken" (Quoted in Latter-day Commentary, p. 507).
And so the war continued, killing millions of people, until only the two kings remained, and Shiz had fainted from loss of blood, allowing Coriantumr to chop off his head (Ether 15:30).
In your scriptures you may want to write at the end of the Book of Ether, "The Rest of the Story: Omni 1:20-22; Mosiah 21:25-28; Mosiah 28:11-19"
THE WARNING FOR US
Although the Jaredite society was very different from the Nephite society, which was very different from our societies, the same evil ruined both of them and can ruin us. The warning of the book of Ether to us is found in chapter 8:
"Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain--and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction" (Ether 8:23).
This verse applies to us who are not actively involved in secret combinations, but who "suffer [allow] these things to be," who let them "get above you."
Do we have secret combinations in our world today? Yes! Any kind of organized crime or corrupt government or unethical business practices involve secret combinations where getting gain is more important than the good of the people being served. Even gossip is a type of secret combination, isn't it? What is the antidote? The gospel of Jesus Christ!
These chapters of Ether contain two opposing philosophies and their outcomes: 1) relying on secret alliances with men (secret combinations), and 2) relying on sacred alliances with God (faith). It was through their reliance on God that both Ether and Moroni survived the horrific ordeal of watching the complete annihilation of their civilizations due to the secret combinations set up there for greed and power. Secret combinations always deal in fear: the fear of loss of power or money or social standing, or the fear of not having a "father" figure or a gang "family" for protection, or even the fear of physical danger if a person does not comply with the rules of the secret combination. But the Lord always offers his hand of help, if we will reach out for it. It is our choice: Do we choose faith, or do we choose fear?
You may want to share the example of one who chose faith after a life of secret combinations, Mario Facione, a mafia member who converted to the LDS church. Follow this link to MormonWiki.com for the story.