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 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.