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.
he being an austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain...(Mosiah 9:2).
Zeniff was a man of faithHe 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.
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 Laman 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.