A prison built with our own hands

Posted by Matthew Watkins on March 12, 2017


Captains Moroni, Teancum, and Lehi have just combined forces and decoyed the Lamanites out of the city of Mulek. The battle was fierce but short. Fortunately, the wearied Lamanites gave up quickly, with most of both armies left intact. When victory was certain, Moroni offered to end the battle with no more loss of blood. The Lamanites, most of whom readily surrendered their weapons, were marched to the land of Bountiful (Alma 52:39). There they were put to work. They dug ditches. They piled up dirt. They built a giant wall around the border of the city. When the Lamanite prisoners had finished fortifying the city, they became its new residents: “in this city [the Nephites] did guard the prisoners of the Lamanites; yea, even within a wall which they had caused them to build with their own hands” (53:5).

Built with our own hands

That idea of being imprisoned in “a wall [built] with their own hands” stuck out to me. It’s one thing to be a prisoner. But I imagine it’s another thing to be incarcerated in a prison that you yourself made. I wondered how that must feel. It reminded me of the story of Daniel– how the wicked men who got Daniel into the lion’s den in the first place ended up dying a gruesome death themselves in the same lion’s den (Daniel 6:24).

This irony of suffering a fate of your own doing is a pattern repeated in scripture. Speaking of how the devil and his supporters will be thwarted in the last days, Nephi prophesied:

And that great pit, which hath been digged for [the saints of God], … yea, that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it, unto their utter destruction.

1 Nephi 14:3

He continued along those lines a few chapters later:

And the blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.

And every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord.


We build our own spiritual prisons

But then again, in the eternal perspective, aren’t all the punishments we receive natural consequences of our own making? Aren’t all the loss of blessings we experience dealt to us from our own hand? Samuel the Lamanite tell us:

If they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation… whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself.

Helaman 14:29-30

Whatever spiritual prison we may find ourselves in the last day will be a prison we built for ourselves. We all know how the Lamanites felt being imprisoned in “a wall [built] with their own hands.” It’s what we feel every time we experience the consequences of our own sins. It’s the feeling of knowing we deserve every bit or ironic justice we get. The deliverance we need is not just deliverance from external problems like death and affliction– we need to be delivered from ourselves.

Breaking out

As for these Lamanites, I imagine many of them in that predicament frequently thought back on their fellow soldiers a few years earlier who had been offered the opportunity to walk free on the terms that they enter into a covenant of peace (which I wrote about a few months ago. I imagine after spending time laboring on and living in a prison they built for themselves, they wished they could join their brethren in the covenant of peace and liberty. Fortunately for them, they had a second chance. Towards the end of the war, they were granted the opportunity again to make a covenant of peace. Every single Lamanite prisoner joins the Christian converts of Ammon, to live out the rest of his life peacefully with the agrarian Nephites (62:27-29).

Like those Lamanites, we are blessed with another chance, too. Our war between good and evil is not over yet. We still have time to choose freedom. Every day we are offered the same terms as those Lamanites. Make a covenant of peace. Promise to obey. And enjoy the spiritual freedom of the Atonement. When we make and keep sacred covenants every week in partaking of the Sacrament, Christ breaks down the walls of sin that we build with our own hands every day, and invite us to live in freedom and peace.

PS: No, that’s not Tom Hanks in the picture (as far as I can tell).

This post first appeared on Power in the Book