They were a relatively small group of Nephites surrounded on all sides by a hostile enemy. There had been numerous skirmishes between these isolated Nephites and their Lamanite neighbors. Sure, the Nephites were victorious in these battles. But they had to know they could not endure this war of attrition.
These Nephites also seemed to lack an exit strategy should things get ugly. Their path back to the safety of Zarahemla was blocked. Not just by an sea of Lamanites, but by the time King Noah came to the throne, those who knew the way back were either dead or dying.
So, one would think with so many obstacles stacked against them there would be no way this people would lose focus of their dependence on God for survival. More than any other people in the Book of Mormon, they should have been constantly aware that the only way to prosper in the land was to keep the commandments.
Yet, the one constant in the history of mankind is our lack of logic.
In spite of the mounting risk to their very survival, in a matter of a few short years, the people of King Noah let their relationship with God become casual. This descent towards total apostasy didn’t happen overnight. Rather they distanced themselves from God gradually.
First, they stopped doing the small and simple things that served as a constant reminder that they needed God in their lives.
Next, they too easily succumbed to a masquerade of righteousness that made them feel good while blinding their eyes from the awful trajectory that was leading them to their eventual downfall.
From all outward appearances, all was well in Zion.
So comfortable had these people become, they too easily accepted the excesses of their culture. Temporal pursuits replaced spiritual restraint leading the people to celebrate financial successes above divine discontent.
They failed to see that humility was replaced by arrogance. They assumed that their national exceptionalism was enough to protect them. Didn’t God love the Nephites more?
As always, I am reminded that this is a book for our time. I can see in my mind’s eye, Mormon seeing our times in a vision and then pouring through his records to choose a story that would help us avoid the same mistakes his people made.
Are we not, like King Noah’s people, encircled about by forces of evil? Aren’t we warned to focus on the small and simple things that help keep us aligned with God? Don’t we run the risk of allowing our culture to invoke the feeling that all’s well in Zion?