Joseph Smith taught that,
"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21).
All blessings from Heavenly Father whether in our pre-mortal, mortal, or post-mortal life are dependent upon our obedience to God. Bruce R. McConkie wrote,
“Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 539).
Three scriptural accounts—two from the Old Testament and one from the Book of Mormon—illustrate the importance of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. The first of these accounts is that of Joshua and Israel's fight with the people of Ai. In the battle for Jericho, the Lord commanded the Israelites, through the prophet Joshua, to destroy everyone and everything. Nevertheless an Israelite by the name of Achan decided to keep some silver, gold, and a Babylonish garment. Sometime later the Lord told Joshua to destroy the nearby city of Ai. Joshua thought that it would be an easy task so he sent a small army that ended up being badly beaten. Joshua was distraught with the defeat. The Lord told him that their defeat was because an Israelite kept what the Lord called the "accused things”—the silver, gold, and Babylonish garment. A search found the forbidden items in Achan's possession.
The phrase “accursed things” is interesting. There was nothing inherently evil in the silver, gold, or the garment. These were only accursed because the Lord wanted them destroyed. The flaw was in Achen's heart—he thought he knew more than God and chose not to follow the prophet and obey the Lord. Achen's disobedience cost him his life.
The second account is the story of King Saul and the Amalekites. In this account, the Lord commanded Saul, through the prophet Samuel, to destroy the Amalekites and all their possessions. Saul went to battle as commanded but spared the king of the Amalekites and the best of his herds and flocks. When Samuel confronted Saul about these disobedient acts, Saul first lied, then blamed others, and finally denied that he had done anything wrong rationalizing that he had spared the best of the sheep and oxen to offer for sacrifice.
Samuel identified Saul's pride as the cause of his disobedience. "And Samuel said, when thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?"(1 Samuel 15:17). Saul became king when he was humble but over time he grew proud to the point that he disregarded the commandments of the Lord and no longer followed the prophet. He mistakenly believed that he could lie and deceive his way out of the trouble he found himself in. Samuel told Saul,
“Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
"God delights in the willing heart” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 65). Achan's and Saul's hearts were filled with pride, stubbornness, and rebellion. Because they turned their hearts away from the Lord and ignored God's commandment, the Lord turned away from them. They made their choices and suffered lost blessings and tragic consequences.
Obedience is our choice. No one is going to force us to be obedient. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
“Choosing to be obedient is a choice. Jesus chose to let His will be ‘swallowed up in the will of the Father’. It was a deliberate choice—a choice, of course, that blessed all mortals mightily and everlastingly. Being obedient is a way of life, but it is also the way to eternal life.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Free to Choose,” BYU Devotional Address, 16 March 2004)
Nephi was a powerful example of choosing to be obedient. One of the earliest examples of his obedience was when his father, Lehi, told him that the Lord wanted him and his brothers to return to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban. Apparently Lehi had already told Nephi's older brothers of this commandment from the Lord but they murmured and complained because they thought it would be too hard. Lehi told Nephi, "I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord" (1 Nephi 3:5). Nephi then declared, " I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Nephi 3:7). With unbending determination in the face of severe opposition, Nephi was able to secure the brass plates from Laban. As a result he was "blessed of the Lord" (1 Nephi 2:22) and became both a "ruler and teacher" of his people (1 Nephi 3:8).
The accounts of Joshua and Achan, Samuel and Saul, and Lehi and Nephi teach the following valuable principles about obedience:
- The Lord's commandments most often come through a prophet. Amos said, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." (Amos 3:7) Today a prophet just like Joshua, Samuel, and Lehi leads us. We need to be like Nephi and be obedient and follow the prophet.
- Pride is the root of disobedience and humility the source of obedience. Achan, Samuel, Laman, and Leumel were prideful while Nephi was humble. We are commanded to be humble. As we are we will follow the prophet and in turn the Lord.
- We should not second-guess the Lord who said, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."(Isaiah 55:8-9) Achan and Samuel both pridefully thought they knew better than the Lord and second guessed His prophet. Elder L. Tom Perry said, "Obedience is a choice. It is a choice between our own limited knowledge and power and God’s unlimited wisdom and omnipotence." (L. Tom Perry, "Obedience Through Our Faithfulness," Ensign, May 2014)
- Blessings flow from obedience and tragic consequences result from disobedience. Achan lost his life, Saul lost the kingdom, and Nephi prospered. Numerous are the promises that if we obediently keep the commandments we will be blessed and prosper.
In my life, I have experienced the blessings that come when I freely choose to be obedient.