Human history is filled with impactful individuals who shape society and who lead and push people in one of two basic directions—toward evil or toward righteousness. In terms of their psychological size, three Jaredites—Shiz, Coriantumr, and Ether—were giants. Each had tremendous influence and impact in very different ways in this drama, some of which is played out on the Hill Cumorah countryside.
Ether is a classic example of a prophet who devoted his whole life to the cause of the Savior. “In the days of Coriantumr” Ether reached a point in his spiritual development when, as a prophet, he “could not be restrained because of the Spirit of the Lord which was in him.” (Ether 12:2.) Because his righteousness removed the restraints that otherwise hold each of us back, Ether actually saw high points of the future—centuries before these were to occur. He foresaw the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. (Ether 13:4.) He also saw the rebuilding of the Old Jerusalem:
“And he spake also concerning the house of Israel, and the Jerusalem from whence Lehi should come—after it should be destroyed it should be built up again, a holy city unto the Lord; wherefore, it could not be a new Jerusalem for it had been in a time of old; but it should be built up again, and become a holy city of the Lord; and it should be built unto the house of Israel.
“And that a New Jerusalem should be built upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph, for which things there has been a type.” (Ether 13:5–6; italics added.)
Thus the visions presented to him also carried him far enough forward in human history so that he saw the New Jerusalem to be built on the western hemisphere.
Other things Ether saw were simply too “great and marvelous” for Moroni to record. (Ether 13:13.) How marvelous these must have been—in view of the great things Moroni was able to record!
Ether had a special perspective in his life. A fellow prophet, Moroni, paid Ether this compliment: “And now I, Moroni, proceed to finish my record concerning the destruction of the people of whom I have been writing.
“For behold, they rejected all the words of Ether; for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof;
“And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord.” (Ether 13:1–3; italics added.)
Ether’s degree of disclosure to those he taught no doubt made for sweeping sermons.
Ether was born of a kingly line, but at one point his family was in captivity. Ether’s father “dwelt in captivity all his days.” (Ether 11:23; see also Ether 1:6–33, Ether 6:22–27.) Someday when we have the fulness of such episodes, we may see clearly how Ether’s excellence arose out of adversity.
So far as we can tell, Ether, like Joseph in Egypt, was not consumed by resentment or bitterness as a result of his captivity. It is so easy for us to overlook how Ether might have been disabled by this early experience, but he refused to let himself become emotionally crippled. Yet here was someone born of a royal line who spent much of his time living and writing in a cave.
Moroni observed: “And I was about to write more, but I am forbidden; but great and marvelous were the prophecies of Ether; but they esteemed him as naught, and cast him out; and he hid himself in the cavity of a rock by day, and by night he went forth viewing the things which should come upon the people.
“And as he dwelt in the cavity of a rock he made the remainder of this record, viewing the destruction which came upon the people, by night.” (Ether 13:13–14.)
Later, courageous Ether prophesied face to face to King Coriantumr when Ether was directed by the Lord to do so: “And in the second year the word of the Lord came to Ether, that he should go and prophesy unto Coriantumr that, if he would repent, and all his household, the Lord would give unto him his kingdom and spare the people—
“Otherwise they should be destroyed, and all his household save it were himself. And he should only live to see the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance; and Coriantumr should receive a burial by them; and every soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr.
“And it came to pass that Coriantumr repented not, neither his household, neither the people; and the wars ceased not; and they sought to kill Ether, but he fled from before them and hid again in the cavity of the rock.” (Ether 13:20–22.)
Ether’s resilience in spite of rejection and his sweetness amid violence are powerful examples to those of us who will experience, on our smaller scale of life, similar responses.
Courage that flows even in the presence of prestigious but dark power is a marvelous thing to behold. Those with the Prophet Joseph Smith in Richmond Jail saw righteous courage when he rebuked his profane captors. Paul displayed it before King Agrippa. Peter and John displayed sweet boldness before Annas, Caiaphas, and the Council.
The endurance and the energy of Ether are likewise special. We read that he spoke in exhortation “from the morning, even until the going down of the sun.” (Ether 12:3.) He had to deal with the agnosticism of a society who rejected his prophecies of impending things and would “not believe, because they saw them not.” (Ether 12:5.)
The parallels are there also between Ether and the exceptional Enoch. A young Enoch described himself as “but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech.” (Moses 6:31.) Of Ether it is recorded that the vast majority of the people “esteemed him as naught.” (Ether 13:13.)
One can only speculate as to how Ether must have felt on many occasions when he had been preaching truth to the people and had been rejected, and then had to make his way back to hide, once more, in the cave before going forth again on the morrow. For those of us who are concerned that our words be taken seriously and that we be listened to when we speak the truth to others, the example of Ether is like that of Enoch: patience and persistence in well doing.
It must have torn at Ether’s emotions to see the people he loved move relentlessly toward anarchy. This was actual physical and political anarchy. Eventually, the situation deteriorated into one in which “every man with his band [was] fighting for that which he desired.” (Ether 13:25.) Anarchy was the “order” of the day! That strange and sad state is in some ways like that foreseen by Orson Pratt which could befall our latter-day America and bring circumstances of great unrest and strife among factions—with people seeking refuge across the landscape of this beloved land. (See Masterful Discourses and Writings of Orson Pratt, Bookcraft, Inc., 1962, p. 156.)
Ether’s great love for the people reflected a selflessness and lack of concern for his own life. Ether said, “Whether the Lord will that I be translated, or that I suffer the will of the Lord in the flesh, it mattereth not, if it so be that I am saved in the kingdom of God.” (Ether 15:34.) The willingness to die which is born of a despair and a disdain for life is not the same thing as Ether’s courage, in which he was willing to suffer before death and then to die, if necessary—even though he loved life.
We see in the book of Ether intimations that this very special prophet might have been translated, but we never do learn what actually happened to him. The silence concerning his circumstance is not unlike the disappearance of Alma the Younger, of which it was written, “And when Alma had done this he departed out of the land of Zarahemla, as if to go into the land of Melek. And it came to pass that he was never heard of more; as to his death or burial we know not of.
“Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man; and the saying went abroad in the church that he was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses. But behold, the scriptures saith the Lord took Moses unto himself; and we suppose that he has also received Alma in the spirit, unto himself; therefore, for this cause we know nothing concerning his death and burial.” (Alma 45:18–19.)
In contrast to Ether’s righteousness, Shiz and Coriantumr, Ether’s contemporaries, are classic examples of ruthless military rivals who finally reached the point where they did not care for their own lives or for the lives of their people.
Shiz was the brother of Lib, a previous military leader who was killed by Coriantumr’s forces. Our first encounter with Shiz in the scriptures introduces his insensitivity, for he “did slay both women and children, and he did burn the cities.” (Ether 14:17.)
We see in the rivalry of Shiz and Coriantumr, as in other Book of Mormon episodes, an awful cycle of family vengeance. Those who are caught up in revenge lose all perspective concerning the sanctity of life.
Shiz swore to “avenge himself upon Coriantumr of the blood of his brother.” (Ether 14:24.) That Shiz was an intimidating individual is made perfectly clear by the quailing question, “Who can stand before the army of Shiz?” (Ether 14:18.)
There are some lyrical lines from a twentieth century musical, Kismet, that remind us all of the transitory nature of human power as seen in men like Shiz and Coriantumr.
There are some men at arms who—unlike Shiz and Coriantumr—learn from war and can distill immense, important lessons from the terrors of war. One such modern man was Douglas MacArthur, general of the United States armies and veteran of three great wars. In May of 1962, at age eighty-three, he spoke movingly and eloquently without notes of any kind to young soldiers at West Point. Significantly, General MacArthur noted in his benedictory address some of the things he had distilled from his experiences “in twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires,” such as how we must “master self before we seek to master others,” how important it is to “have a heart that is clean,” how divine help is needed to sustain the soldier, and of right and wrong. Reading of Shiz and Coriantumr, one has difficulty envisioning them learning such lessons from their many battles. As he recounted the lessons of life he had learned amid “the strange mournful mutter of the battlefield,” General MacArthur also spoke of the “judgement seat of God” and of man’s being created in the image of God. While the soldier pines for peace, MacArthur knew human nature well enough to cite Plato’s comment that “only the dead have seen the end of war.” (Reminiscences, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964, pp. 423–26.)
The senseless slaughter of which Shiz was a part is described with poetic vividness: the armies marched “from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood.” (Ether 14:22.)
Coriantumr was a king who apparently had been tutored for the trials of combat, for we read of him: “And now Coriantumr, having studied, himself, in all the arts of war and all the cunning of the world, wherefore he gave battle unto them who sought to destroy him.” (Ether 13:16.) Coriantumr’s kingdom was torn by insurrection and conspiring dissenters. (Ether 13:15, 18.) We also learn that he was not righteous. “But he repented not, neither his fair sons nor daughters.” (Ether 13:17.) Coriantumr’s followers were sorely dependent upon him. Once when he was sidelined for two years with a severe thigh wound, things got out of hand, and there was near civil war among his people. (Ether 13:31.)
It was to Coriantumr that Ether, the prophet of the Lord, made a special plea, which was rejected. Not only was Ether’s entreaty declined, but “they sought to kill Ether,” and once again he made his familiar exit and hid in a cave. (Ether 13:22.)
Coriantumr later sought to make a truce, but as that effort failed, the spasms of slaughter began once again. The combative Coriantumr apparently was engaged in personal combat with Shiz, and he received “many deep wounds, … lost his blood, fainted, and was carried away as though he were dead.” (Ether 14:30.)
As Coriantumr recovered he almost underwent another kind of healing, for he “began to remember the words which Ether had spoken unto him.” (Ether 15:1.) This grizzled veteran began to reflect upon the loss of two million of his people, and there were the beginnings of sorrow. “He began to repent of the evil which he had done; he began to remember the words which had been spoken by the mouth of all the prophets, and he saw them that they were fulfilled thus far, every whit; and his soul mourned and refused to be comforted.” (Ether 15:3.) But sorrow which is compelled only by casualty figures is not enough. Coriantumr’s sorrow must have been the “sorrowing of the damned” (Morm. 2:13), because he was still locked into a way of life from which he seemed unwilling to disengage fully. Coriantumr did offer in an epistle to Shiz to “give up the kingdom for the sake of the lives of the people.” (Ether 15:4.) Shiz countered by offering to spare Coriantumr’s people if Coriantumr would give himself up to Shiz to be slain. A moment of truth passed unused, and then there was anger and counteranger and more war. Coriantumr again wrote Shiz desiring truce in return for giving Shiz his kingdom. We do not read of any response.
Unlike the selfless Ether, Coriantumr was not willing to give up his own life to save his people. “And behold, the Spirit of the Lord had ceased striving with them, and Satan had full power over the hearts of the people; for they were given up unto the hardness of their hearts, and the blindness of their minds that they might be destroyed; wherefore they went again to battle.” (Ether 15:19.)
The combatants slept in exhaustion upon their swords, and “they were drunken with anger.” (Ether 15:22.) This may be an extreme example of the poison of anger that can flood through our systems until we are no longer able to be effective users of our free agency. So exhausted were the dwindling forces (thirty-two in Shiz’s surviving band and twenty-seven in Coriantumr’s) that in the final encounter Coriantumr leaned upon his sword and rested in order to gather sufficient strength to decapitate Shiz. (Ether 15:30.)
Again it is difficult to resist trying to imagine the scene in which this lonely combatant, Coriantumr, is discovered by the people of Zarahamela, with whom he then dwelt for the space of nine moons. (Omni 1:21.)
There appear to be certain demarcation points in decadence. Obviously, the Jaredites reached essentially the same behavioral benchmarks as were reached centuries later by the depraved Nephites during their wars of extinction. Readers will recall the listing of such lamentable characteristics in the ninth chapter of Moroni:
“They have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge.” (Moro. 9:5.)
“They are without order and without mercy.” (Moro. 9:18.)
“They have become strong in their perversion; and they are … brutal; … they delight in everything save that which is good.” (Moro. 9:19.)
“They are without principle, and past feeling.” (Moro. 9:20.)
Such are the encrustations of evil!
Just as living the gospel gentles us, tames us, and sweetens us, evil makes us more coarse, more rude, more violent, and more selfish. It is difficult to assign with precision the respective accountability of leaders and subjects; they influence each other. Leaders may play to the cruelty of the crowd, but the crowd may be intimidated by the insensitivity of the wicked ruler. In any event, when wickedness becomes institutionalized in a regime, as another Book of Mormon prophet said, alas, “how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!” (Mosiah 29:17.)
In the interplay of these three contemporary Jaredite personalities are immense clues. At first the wicked are lost because they ignore the commandments. At a later stage, we sense that they seem almost to celebrate their alienation and to insist on playing out the decadent drama to the depths. Perhaps theirs is in some strange way, a descending search for the bottom, which, when finally touched, might somehow provide them with some modicum of upward momentum.
When societies veer toward violence, the violence becomes self-reinforcing: they may seek at first to punish others because they hated them; but later they hate others all the more because they have punished them. Gross guilt feeds upon itself so crudely and so publicly at times. Excess begets excess.
The anger written of in these episodes is as addictive as alcohol.
We also see the chilling scene of evil at the end of its journey, when Satan “had full power over the hearts of the people.” (Ether 15:19.) No wonder another prophet said of Satan that he does not finally support his own. (Alma 30:60.) The adversary is the ultimate loner and a loser; he is no brother, and those who follow him will finally be deserted by him.
There for us to ponder also is a clear case in which personal pride and rage kept two principals from acting for the welfare of their people. Shiz insisted on “getting his man,” even if it meant the destruction of his own people; and Coriantumr offered his kingdom but not his life for his people. Each said, in effect, that the ultimate object of his selfishness was nonnegotiable! Neither was willing to play the role of the intervenor and say of the circumstances, “This has gone too far—enough is enough.” How often on a lesser scale in human affairs do tinier tragedies occur for want of this selfless intervention? How often do we withhold the one thing that is needed to make a difference?
Though the central characters bear heavy and awesome responsibility for the unfolding tragedy, each of their followers is culpable to a degree. Each of those who heaped their hostility to further fuel the flames was likewise accountable. Each man had a choice, each time, as to whether or not to take up or to lay down his sword. Major mistakes by wicked leaders are usually surrounded by a bodyguard of smaller mistakes by lesser souls. Others are responsible for their failings, but so are we responsible for our reactions and responses to those failures.
Finally, reading and abridging the tragic history of the Jaredites must have been an almost overwhelming experience for Moroni, the editor. The reader quickly notes how often Moroni makes an editorial comment here and there. He both needed and was inspired to say certain things. Some things were said in praise of a fellow prophet, Ether. Other times Moroni distills great lessons for us from the history spread before him.
One of the most powerful insights in all of scripture is given to us by Moroni when he commented on the agnosticism of the culture of Coriantumr: “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; italics added.) How consistent the prophets are! How like the words of Peter are the words of Moroni, for Peter said, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” (1 Pet. 4:12.) We must not say as we pass through our trials of faith, “Why me?” “Why this?” and “Why now?” And if in our agony we do say such things, then we must be willing to be comforted as was Joseph Smith (in transit through trial), when the Lord said to him, “Thine afflictions shall be but a small moment,” and further, “All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 121:7, D&C 122:7.)
Moroni was correct. The warming witness, the confirming clarity as to “why” something had to be—these come after the trial of our faith!
A great prophet, Ether, prophesied great things “unto the people” but “they did not believe because they saw them not.” Such is the recurring and fatal flaw of the faithless. Such, also, is the love of prophets, like Ether, who nevertheless continue to strive lovingly with their fellowmen “from the morning, even until the going down of the sun.”