“Beware Lest Thou Forget the Lord,” Ensign, May 1991, 10
We welcome the Brethren whom you have sustained this morning as new members of the Seventies Quorums. They are men of faith and devotion with a broad background of experience in Church leadership. Their call is a reflection of the continuing growth of the Church worldwide.
As the tribes of ancient Israel prepared to cross over Jordan to enter the land of Canaan, Moses gave them his final counsel and instructions. They were about to enter a land that Joshua and Caleb had described as “a land which floweth with milk and honey.” (Num. 14:8.) It would be a dramatic change in the circumstances of Israel. For a full generation they had known only the desolation of the desert places, depending upon the Lord for their daily subsistence.
Moses felt some concern for the capacity of his people to cope with the abrupt transition they were about to experience. “Hear, O Israel,” he said. “Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven.” (Deut. 9:1.)
“And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,
“And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full;
“Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” (Deut. 6:10–12.)
The concerns expressed by Moses for his people have been repeated by other prophet leaders through all of the gospel dispensations. It has seemed that one of the inevitable side effects that occurs as people apply gospel principles in their lives is that their material circumstances also improve. This does not suggest that it should be the right nor the expectation of all who accept the gospel of Jesus Christ to become wealthy in the possession of the world’s goods. The Lord has made it clear, however, that when his people are obedient, he desires to bless them with the necessities and the comforts of life so that none should live in want.
To the Prophet Joseph Smith the Lord said: “I have made the earth rich, and behold it is my footstool, wherefore, again I will stand upon it.
“And I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey, upon which there shall be no curse when the Lord cometh.” (D&C 38:17–18.)
Historically, the abundance with which the Lord has blessed his people has proved to be one of their greatest tests. The cycles of their acquiring worldly wealth and their subsequent spiritual decline are well documented in scriptural and historical records.
Moses’ concern for his people proved to be justified in the years following their entry into the land of Canaan. It was when they became settled in this goodly land that they began to take their abundance for granted and to forget the real source of these blessings. Moses had counseled them: “For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
“A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
“A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.
“When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
“Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:
“Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
“And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied;
“Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. …
“And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.” (Deut. 8:7–14, 17.)
Not long after the early Latter-day Saints had entered the Salt Lake Valley, and as they struggled in their poverty to establish homes and to survive in a land that had been a wilderness, reports came of the discovery of gold in northern California. The news spread to all parts of the country, and fortune hunters passing through the Salt Lake area en route to the gold fields spoke of their hopes for striking it rich in the newly discovered bonanza. It was a great temptation to some of the Saints who were so destitute in their own circumstances.
Brigham Young, sensing feelings that circulated among some of the people, said, “I hope that the gold mines will be no nearer than 800 miles. … Prosperity and riches blunt the feelings of man.” (Journal History of the Church, 8 July 1849.)
And then, in his customary candor, he added at a later time: “The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear … is that they cannot stand wealth.” (James S. Brown, Life of a Pioneer, Salt Lake City: Geo. Q. Cannon and Sons Co., 1900, pp. 122–23.)
In his inspired wisdom, President Young felt some of the same apprehensions for his people that Moses had felt for the tribes of Israel.
His counsel to the early Saints reflects the sentiments expressed by Jacob in the Book of Mormon. These men felt there was nothing inherently wrong in acquiring wealth. The danger lay in its obscuring the need for acknowledging the Lord’s hand in these blessings, and in failing to use the abundance to bless others and to accomplish the Lord’s purposes. Jacob said, “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
“But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
“And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:17–19.)
The coveting of wealth so often has resulted in avarice, dishonesty, and greed. The acquisition of wealth has frequently produced pride, self-satisfaction, and arrogance.
An episode during the time of Alma in the Book of Mormon illustrates the cycle that has so often occurred when people are blessed materially by the Lord and then turn away from him. In the instance referred to, the Nephite people were struggling to overcome the effects of a devastating civil strife and a Lamanite invasion.
Not only had there been great loss of life; the destruction to lands and to property had been sufficient to seriously jeopardize the prospects of recovery. Alma describes conditions in these words:
“But the people were afflicted, yea, greatly afflicted for the loss of their brethren, and also for the loss of their flocks and herds, and also for the loss of their fields of grain, which were trodden under foot and destroyed. …
“And so great were their afflictions that every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed that it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty.
“And they began to establish the church more fully; yea, and many were baptized in the waters of Sidon and were joined to the church of God.” (Alma 4:2–4.)
This spiritual reawakening among the people had a dramatic effect. Peace returned to the land. The Church prospered in its rapid growth. Not surprisingly, the people soon began again to enjoy an abundant life.
The spiritual blessings granted by the Lord were accompanied by the acquisition of material wealth. Unfortunately the Nephites failed to meet this test. Within three years from the time of their earlier tragedy, Alma describes his people in this way: “The people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes.” (Alma 4:6.)
History repeatedly confirms that the abundance of earthly possessions can be both a blessing and a curse, depending upon the way these things are viewed and used. When we consume them on our own lust, we invoke tragedy.
Wealth is a relative thing. Conditions vary dramatically from place to place in the world today. That which some consider to be the necessities of life, to others would be abundance, and even extravagance. In any set of circumstances, the challenges related to an improvement in material prosperity remain the same. The message that echoes to us from the pages of history and from the counsels of the Lord and his prophets is clear:
Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven.
Seek not for riches to consume them on your own lusts.
Thou shalt not covet.
Clothe the naked.
Feed the hungry.
Relieve the sick and the afflicted.
Pay tithes and offerings.
In all things acknowledge the Lord.
The words of Moses to the tribes of Israel have appropriate application for us:
“Fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, … thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged.
“Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.” (Deut. 6:2–3.)
And “when thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good … which he hath given thee.” (Deut. 8:10.) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.