The Spy Who Became King: Zeniff

A soldier by the name of Zeniff acted to disobey orders from his commander to destroy their enemy the Lamanites began a history that culminated in the creation of a spiritual heritage of the Nephite nation for centuries. Zeniff's actions would lead to the creation of the cultural cradle for the rise of Mosaic Christianity.
A small army of spies/operatives were deployed from Zarahemla, the capital city of the Nephite government who employed Zeniff, to gain intelligence on the Lamanite confederacy. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ chronicles the lives of key historical figures who helped to bring the culture, religion and records of their society into existence. 

Though a minor contributor to the record at large, Zeniff's decisions provided the cultural context from which great men rose to power and shaped Nephite society.  Zeniff received orders from his commanding officer, who is not named in the record translated by Joseph Smith,  to find weaknesses in Lamanite society to destroy them.
After being among the Lamanites for some time, Zeniff and like-minded operatives decided that there was hope for the Lamanites and did not want to act in a way to destroy their society. Zeniff disobeyed a direct order by way of conscious and took with him a large number of followers leading to a war among the Nephite operatives! Zeniff's action was akin to a revolt in the US military by a low ranking operations officer against his commander!
From the record, it appears that Zeniff did not actively solicit followers, but he did not relent and submit to the command of his leader. Zeniff describes his leader's title as ruler. Saying,
he being an austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain...(Mosiah 9:2).
Zeniff and his followers prevailed in the battle and returned to Zarahemla to relate the tale to the citizens--especially the families of the dead operatives. Zeniff wanted "that our ruler should make a treaty with them," the Lamanites (Mosiah 9:2). The unnamed leader declined, and the aforementioned battle commenced.
After Zeniff returned to Zarahemla with his report, he and his group recruited others to return to the Land of Nephi, as they called it, to inherit that land--as it once belonged to the Nephites but was lost through intrigue and war to the Lamanites.

Zeniff was a man of faith 

He established an oasis kingdom of Nephites among the Lamanites. Amaleki may have mentioned that Zeniff was a stubborn soul, however. Amaleki kept the records as the custodian before discharging them to King Benjamin as recorded in the Book of Omni in the Nephite history. 

In his brief entry in the gold record of Nephi, Amaleki accused Zeniff of being a stiffnecked man. Now, it could be the actual leader of the contingency of troops who went to seek intelligence that Amaleki spoke of as "being a strong and mighty man, and a stiffnecked man, wherefore he caused a contention among them," Omni 1:28. However, Zeniff refers to himself as a zealous person in attempting to regain his claim to the lands of his inheritance. Assuming that Zeniff used less harsh words to describe his desire to obtain title to lands the Nephites abandoned in flight from the Lamanites, both Amaleki and Zeniff agreed that rash action led to the petition from Zeniff to King Laman to obtain the land of Nephi as an inheritance.

The fact that Zeniff willingly admits that he has a fault in his character demonstrates a level of humility beyond the stubborn epitaph suggested in the record about this stiffnecked ruler. Zeniff may not be the subject of Amaleki's accusation of stubborn. Zeniff's return to Zarahemla to inform the residents of the skirmish that killed all but fifty people could have colored the perception of Amaleki to agree that the unknown ruler was a difficult person. 

Zeniff admitted that he contended with team members about the possibility of entering into a treaty with the Lamanites because he had a change of heart about destroying them by noticing their humanity. The ruler did not want to deviate from the mission to destroy the Lamanites leading to a termination order for Zeniff. Forces split in support of Zeniff and their leader. 

God favored Zeniff because of a blessing placed upon the Lamanites by their ancestor, Lehi. In his last act as Patriarch of his united family, Lehi pronounced blessings on all of his posterity and warnings. 

Declaring that "Inasmuch as ye shall keep [God's] commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep [God's] commandments ye shall be cut off from [God's] presence," 2 Nephi 4:4. was a death sentence for the Lamanites. God's presence, as described in the reference, includes His protection, among other things, from ANY type of extermination and still holds valid upon the Americas.

The record of Nephi is replete with Lamanites breaking the laws of God, especially since they were never taught the laws due to their parents' rebellion following Nephi and his follower's flight to found the City of Nephi. So a provision was made for the children of Laman and Lemuel, which God approved.

Lehi informed them, "I know that if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it. Wherefore, if ye are cursed, behold, I leave my blessing upon you, that the cursing may be taken from you and be answered upon the heads of your parents. ...because of my blessing the Lord God will not suffer that ye shall perish; ...he will be merciful unto you and unto your seed forever," 2 Nephi 4: 5-7. 

The Lamanites would not be utterly destroyed as a nation if they did not keep the commandments as would the Nephites, but continue on and receive blessings and sorrow at the hand of Gentiles who would appear after the Nephites' destruction. God would not have allowed the Nephites' preemptive strike against the Lamanites to prevail on the merit of that blessing from the patriarch of the warring nations.

Zeniff was a man of God, and it was the Spirit of God that drove him to speak up in defiance of his commanding officer to avoid destroying the Lamanites. It was probably the only time in Nephite history that the Nephites could have had the advantage to bring the Lamanite nation to an end. 

All Hail King Zeniff

Because the founding father, Nephi, laid the foundation of a city and a temple in the city of Nephi, Zeniff boldly requested the lands from King Laman. Laman provided graciously the lands of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom to the eager settlers, which included cities both with respective names as the lands. The Lamanites who inhabited those areas vacated peaceably to allow the return of the descendants of the original owners. Lehi-Nephi may have been the place of the temple Nephi constructed similarly to Solomon's temple 400 years earlier, but there is no indication from the records that is the case. The City of Nephi (presumably Lehi- Nephi) became the seat of the new monarch of Zeniff.

Zeniff recorded that he possessed a superior Nephite education, which included language education and a religious history. Knowledge of the Land of Nephi gave him power to negotiate properly for inheritance with King Laman, at least for those two parts of the land, Shilom and Lehi-Nephi. Being the foremost of the group of people who accompanied him to the Land of Nephi, he became the obvious choice for leader, for a king. 

The goodwill of King Laman came with subterfuge Zeniff related. Laman placed this group of settlers in a long con. After 12 years of living in peace and prosperity with the Nephites, Laman acted on his deception to take the possession of the Nephites. Apparently, Zeniff was udert the impression that Laman wanted to enslave them. Laman sent his people to attack the outlying areas of Shilom killing citizens and stealing property. Those who could flee ahead of the carnage sought refuge in the City of Nephi where King Zeniff resided.

As the righteous man he was, Zeniff rallied his people in prayer to the Lord for deliverance, which they received by repulsing the Lamanite attacks. Following this loss, King Laman abandoned his efforts to enslave the Nephites and left them in relative peace until he died 20 years later. Laman's son had designs on conquering the Nephites as he encouraged his people to oppose them. 

Espionage Saves the Day

Zeniff did not allow his experiences with Lama to go to waste. When first he went to the king he did so with trust. After 12 years when the truth of Laman's intentions fully matured, King Zeniff took measures to prepare against another surprise attack. Using the methods for, which he was known, espionage, Zeniff kept tabs on the Lamanites following the first war. 

When the son of Laman began his propaganda machine against the Nephites when he ascended to the throne, Zeniff was prepared to counter. Zeniff searched the cultural heritage of the Lamanites so that he could understand their mentality as a group. After his over twenty years of searching, he provided an assessment of their central philosophies to deliver to his people to motivate them to fight valiantly against their encroachment. 

The Lamanites felt wronged by the Nephites; so, King Laman planned to use his treaty with the Nephites, though a small group only, to exact revenge on them for 400 years of what he considered injustices! Mosiah 10:12-17 details the understanding of the Lamanites Zeniff provided, which has set the standard of belief about Lamanite aggression from that point forward.

Using his skills as a spy and his faith as a follower of Christ, Zeniff saved his people from the attacks of the Lamanites before the cold hand of death claimed him in his old age. Noah, his son, inherited the protected mini-kingdom of Nephites. The death of Zeniff ended the hastily structured kingdom as Noah undid all that his father accomplished. Noah was as zealous as was his father save that Noah reigned for the glory of the world and not the glory of God.

I, Refugee: Crestfallen Link to Part Three

The entire trip was a waste! At least that is what I thought on my way out of the Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My family and I had driven up from Phoenix to attend two of the five sessions of conference that weekend together but missed the opportunity. 

Go To Crestfallen

I, Refugee: Disquieting Accolades - Mini-biography

The entire trip was a waste! At least that is what I thought on my way out of the Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My family and I had driven up from Phoenix to attend two of the five sessions of conference that weekend together but missed the opportunity. We had to split up due to time issues and food issues. We drove for 16 hours just to miss viewing conference together. We could have done that at home! The only good thing I could see coming out of this trip was I would get to see Russ, the man who baptized me and introduce him to my family.

Walking from the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, I contemplated the last words of President Monson, the last speaker for the Priesthood Session I had just attended and the leader of our church. How would I be able to bless my family and follow his counsel to be a worthy priesthood holder? See, us Mormon men have the power of the universe at our fingertips.

I know it sounds crazy for me just to out and say that, but it’s true. God shares his powers with every worthy man to bless his family. Since I was not feeling worthy much lately, I could not use the power effectively.

Oh, come off of it now! Every faith has mystical beliefs they espouse. Most of us Christians believe in the power of God given to men and women of faith. Mormon Christians believe it literally. Too bad I could not keep my thoughts on higher things, though.

My cell phone rang. It was Xavier, my eldest kid. I really did not want to talk to him because he was the reason I had to sit alone at Priesthood Session of General Conference.

See, I had been pining for months before that April conference began in the first place for a purpose to make me feel worthwhile. Attending conference with my family was a simple goal to accomplish, a purpose. But at it, I had FAILED!  All of my little prideful dreams of success and honors were over. No one was standing over me telling me how great I am anymore. I spent most of my time in public trying to look as handicapped as possible because I was embarrassed for being home during the regular work day because I was on disability. Other times, I was trying to look less handicapped than I was so that people would not treat me differently when I went to public places. I know, I wanted the best of both worlds—caring too much what I perceived others thought of me.

Unfortunately, I had issues, with having issues because I had issues! Look, people, I know I am not the only person who has ever gone through something like that! I have seen Life Time movies with less drama—I know somebody out here gets what I am saying.

Anyhow, let me be honest with myself—and you in the process. I was a brat because life was not fair. I was stuck in an emotional quagmire though I was bravely trying to pretend that I was humble—more like sanctimonious.

Apologies to the prophets, their message did touch me, but I was too involved in myself to fully benefit from the conference—any of it! Oh, I heard the words these spiritually gifted people spoke. I let them wash over me—glancing them with my smug pride—you know? I told myself I would read or listen to the session again to get a better understanding of what God wanted me to know later. Dismissive much? No wonder I had no priesthood power confidence!

So, yeah, the phone rang. I had deceived myself into thinking that I was filled with the Spirit of God because of the vibrating earnestness that came from my body. That zeal came from a desire not to give in to my disappointment. I knew better! The Spirit does not feel like that. I should have known it was a cheap imitation of the Devil! Where was the peace that is supposed to pass all understanding that I was accustomed to when I felt the Spirit‽ Where there is no peace, there is no Holy Ghost! I stake my life on that!

The phone… right? I get it. I did NOT give in to this fake devil spirit I felt because my feelings were hurt.

“Hello, Son,” I mushed out with a chipper twang.

“Dad, where are you? I have been looking for you!”

Oh, no he did NOT! The vibrating feelings I convinced myself were the Spirit started to help me form my rebuttal statement of righteous indignation.  “You know good and well where I have been boy, stop playing the fool.”

“No, I was looking for you at the meeting. I could not find you, and you were not answering your phone,” Xavier exasperated. True, true. I did not notice my phone had rung since I turned the volume off for the meeting. I would not have answered it anyway because I was still crying at Xavier letting me leave the Crown Burgers alone for the meeting—yes, immature MUCH I KNOW! I Thank GOD people could not read my thoughts!

WHAT! I screamed it in my mind; then I said it piously, “What? You were at the priesthood conference?”

“Yes, I left on my skateboard right after you left. I got the food and went looking for you to go to conference.”

“I bet the food was good. I am hungry,” I stated--pretending that I was fine with it all knowing I needed to get my Crown Burgers burger.

Pause. Pause. “I didn’t eat. I left it in the van and went to priesthood.”

“What!!!” The pent up emotion in me had to come out at some point; and at his last statement, it came out. “You put us through all of that and then did not eat the food! Boy, it's going to be cold now and ruined!”

“I just wanted to get the food. I was planning to….”

“You put up such a stink, and did NOT even EAT the food!” That made no sense to me at all. My fractured ego sought other reasons to become upset with him though there was a steady building inside of me of a calming and familiar balm—peace even.

“Dad, I wanted to wait for you to eat with me.”

“Oh,” is all I could muster.

You know how teenagers can be—I assume so anyway. That child put us through the ringer—our own personal torment equivalent to hell! It is one of his character traits. He goes big on everything, fully committing his faculties to any effort against us, his parents. You know, he is one of the kids that you had to pray NOT to execute as you raised him and wondered why God would bless you with such a strong willed and garish person to raise! Xavier is one of those people!

Now, he was sentimental and my whiddle heart just melted at his gesture. Yeah, sure he was laying it on thick because he knew that he hurt my feelings to the point where I could not even engage him. I know because my wife told me later how he ordered and obtained the food, but refused to eat until I could eat with him.

I was not trying to guilt trip him into doing what I wanted him to do, but he did so—seeking earnestly my company so that we could go to conference together. A win for me! We did not sit next to each other, but we still went to priesthood session together! Yay, I reached my goal! One of them anyway.

We finished our phone conversation with the plan to meet at the van and eat the ambient temperature food. You know what? It was tasty! Our next job was to head to Russ’s home and plan what time we would set out for Phoenix.

So, Russ is rich. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little. Russ and Melinda’s house is like a work of art with their timber framed vaulted ceilings swallowing us up as we entered their foyer. Yeah, the house has what I call a foyer. I did not expect that. I know that he had great financial prowess from what I learned of him from his first wife, but I had NO idea he and Melinda were so well off.

I was extremely proud of him! It was like I was showing off my parents to my family—me saying to my kids “look where my missionary lives!”

We sat and talked that night about anything that came to mind. I goo-goo eyed over Russ a bit for introducing the gospel to me, we talked about hardships, marriages, family, health issues—it all. I could tell Russ was not fond of the attention I kept giving him—the hero worship I earnestly attempted to contain as we socialized. His graciousness about it made me love him more. I could tell though it was a bit hanky—don’t ask. I thought that word belonged for some reason. Just go with it.

I met Russ’s family. Melinda married him after her first husband’s passing bringing with her a beautiful daughter Brooke, full of vigor and vim. Don’t judge me, it fits, okay?

Russ brought Kaden, a strapping lad to the union who was as dashing as his father was at that age. Together, Russ and Melinda produced a sweet girl, Ivy, to their family who entertained my two youngest while we stayed there—his, hers and theirs!

This is the heaven of my journey. This is my iron rod experience as described in my favorite story about following the gospel as related by Lehi in the Book of Mormon. Read it when you get the chance—not going into that now. You are supposed to hold on to the iron rod, which is the word of God. Apparently, my purpose in going to Utah was to see Russ since everything else failed. I DID get to see Russ. That did not fail. Finally tasting some success in my journey—unfetter success. There were no fights or arguments to get to Russ. There was no getting lost. Peace. Fear was gone. Welcomed love from Russ, Melinda, and family—with no buts this time!

After the love-fest with my hero, Russ and his family, we all went to bed. Russ and Melinda have a basement apartment that we used for the night. Concern that Afryka and I would not be able to negotiate the stairs gave me a little fear, but we managed.

This was one of the happiest nights I have had because we went to bed together. Normally, I would stay up half the night and morning trying to fight insomnia by watching TV. Don’t laugh. I know it is silly to think by stimulating my brain I will get tired. What you don’t know is that I sometimes sit in the dark for hours on end not being able to sleep. I think it is psychological because I did not suffer like that at Russ and Melinda’s house.

The room in which we slept was like a suite at a hotel. I fancied it being a real vacation because of where we stayed. The fact that Russ likes to kill things displayed all over the house in the form of animal heads, bones, and hides. These trophies did not elicit disgust or fear, but a level of cozy that hinted at romance. The room had a fire producing heater that sealed the pleasant ambiance of the chamber. We held each other, Afryka and I until we fell asleep.

The next day, after a sumptuous breakfast, Melinda, Russ, and Brooke took the kids and me to the ski resort right above where they lived so that my babies could see some snow! Being from Phoenix, snow was not something they saw more than once. Mosiah and Ephraim saw snow one time when we did a father and son campout in 2015 with our ward (congregation).

I suppose I could mention it because it is a funny story, but that would take away from THIS story. I will write about it one day. Let’s just say, we ended up in a blizzard in Northern Arizona. I love the idea of camping rather than the actuality of it is all.

Anyhow, Russ took us up the mountain in his vehicle while Brooke and Melinda took some of us in another vehicle. Afryka stayed at the house, and Kaden had to go to work. I had some more hero worship to do, so I insisted on riding with Russ. Immediately the memories flooded back of when he first taught me about the gospel and the day we parted at the Missionary Training Center before I followed in his footsteps to teach others.

The love I have toward him is more akin to that of a son who loves his father though he is only four years my elder. As we talked in the car, I could only think about how I wish I could be more like him and express to him the love that resided in my heart for him. I figured if I said too much it would become awkward, but Russ was like Jesus Christ to me because he saved me from a life of misery. 

Odd that I should say that since I was going through hell trying to feel adequate as a father and husband now that I was on disability. Life would have been unlivable without the gospel in mine, though. Going to Utah to see Russ gave a boost of confidence. I could tell the man cared for me.

Russ is uncanny, though. Not the weird that creeps you out or anything. He is just so, I don’t know, reserved. That is weird to me. The night we sat around talking about things Melinda related how Russ has a funny way of doing things. It works for him. He has a way of keeping you guessing about what he thinks until he says it—no gesticulatory cues at all! I should not be surprised at it since I did not know about his entrance into another marriage until I met his wife!

In addition to his cryptic nature, as I call it, it was interesting to see how differently we lived the gospel. Typically, Afryka and I do not approve of outings like the one I accompanied Russ and Melinda on with the kids on a Sabbath day. We went literally for the kids to play in the snow at a ski resort. The way I interpreted the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy meant that we should not do pleasure things like play in the snow on Sundays. I have been known to be a stick in the mud.

Keeping the Sabbath holy is not about avoiding to have a fun time. I have fun on the Sabbath all the time. It is about making Sunday different from the other days because it represents the Lord’s day. It did not feel wrong to go with Russ and Melinda to the slope so the kids could play in the snow, but I would not be adding that to my Sunday activities any time soon.

Russ never intimated it, but I wondered if he was disappointed with the way things turned out for me. I wondered that because of issues I had with the way things progressed for me. The fact that I had seven kids and a wonderful wife seemed like too little at that time. I believed Russ was a great man, not only for teaching me the gospel but because the way his wife and kids looked at him.

Melinda loves that man! It was hard not to compare the love in his family to the love in my family. I wondered if I deserved the love of my wife because she looks at me the same way Melinda looks at Russ. I am nowhere near as great as that guy, I thought. I could not even work a job at that time without passing out! I got over it. Russ is sort of contagious with self-confidence. If he was being fake, he is such a good actor!

So, we went to the ski lodge to play in the snow. Debate occupied my mind if I would actually go into the snow with the rest of them. I hid the fact from Russ that I could not walk well. When he and Melinda told us that we could use their apartment downstairs, I did not want to be a burden by telling them that I might not be able to get back up the stairs. In prideful earnest, I prayed that I would be able to power through it. Thankfully, I was able to get up the stairs, but it took LOTS of effort.

Snow was different. Snow can move under your feet as you walk on it due to weight displacement and the compactness of the snow. If it is not flat, I go splat!

As soon as Russ and the others exited their vehicles they took off up a large snow embankment. I was a bit upset at my kids because they threw snowballs at me when they knew I could not run away or retaliate without falling in the snow, the stiff wet snow at that.  I pretended to be cool about it so that I did not sour their mood. In fact, this is the first time I admitted that it distressed me. 

Melinda, Ivy, Mosiah, Ephraim, Naomi and Sariah all took turns using me as a target. I did enjoy it eventually. When I realized that I could maneuver a bit without falling, I started to toss snowballs back. Sariah, my second oldest girl, began to throw huge boulder-sized chunks of snow from the mini-mountain they had climbed at me; so, I decided to walk away before I was killed.

We spent some time before the Sunday Session of Conference in the snow. I had chanted a mantra the entire time after I stepped on the snow. It was: Please don’t fall. Please don’t fall.

I knew that I would not be able to get up without help. I did it. I walked toward the road with triumph in my heart, braggartly preparing to admit to Xavier that I made it without tumbling. As I triumphantly took my last step to the road, my left leg disappeared into dirty gray snow, and I landed on my keister. 

I laughed, but no one else did. I could not get up at all! I didn’t want Russ to see me. I hoped that Xavier was close by to help since I ventured out without a walker or a cane, but he was nowhere close. I flopped around in the snow for a minute in shame until a good Samaritan ran to my aid picking me up to my embarrassment. I should say he more snatched me off the ground than picked me up, but it was embarrassing either way because he had to hold me up. I did not want to be a burden on those around me—an invalid.

In his eyes what I saw was concern. I did not see judgment like I expected. I did not get those feelings from any of the people I saw. I was dirty. Russ did not cringe at me getting back in his car. Wait a minute! Were these behaviors I expected my OWN? Maybe I am the shallow person who judges people so much that I expected it in return.

I, Refugee, had done it again. Instead of letting myself be the hero of my life-story, I had alienated myself emotionally from those around me who could help me because I did not want to appear like the invalid I was. Even Superman had a team to help him. Heck, Jesus had HIS own team, and He is God! At Russ’s house, up until that point, I was free. Loving myself as God loved me seemed closer until I started to want to pretend I did not need support walking. I clammed up all over again and thought of myself as a failure. Russ’s influence had not lasted long on me. That meant that God would have to go more drastic. 

I, Refugee - Here you will find all the parts of the drama of Rodric and his family's trip to Utah and how they survied with the Lord's help.