“No Kings Upon the Land”: A Note on 2 Nephi 10

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1867) by Édouard Manet.

Embedded in Jacob’s discourse on the scattering and restoration of Israel is this prophecy:

But behold, this land, said God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land. And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles. And I will fortify this land against all other nations. And he that fighteth against Zion shall perish, saith God. For he that raiseth up a king against me shall perish, for I, the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king, and I will be a light unto them forever, that hear my words. (2 Nephi 10:10–14)

Some of the language of this prophecy is reminiscent of 1 Samuel 8 (particularly v. 7), suggesting a similar theological outlook. In any case, The land of which Jacob spoke was the land promised to Lehi and his seed (cf. 2 Nephi 1:5). The prophecy, as pertaining to the fate of latter-day Gentiles upon this land, foretold: (1) the Gentiles should be “blessed upon the land”; (2) the land would be a “land of liberty” to the Gentiles; (3) there “shall be no kings upon the land”; (4) the land would be “fortified” against other nations; and (5) that whosever attempted to raise up a king against God on this land “should perish.” As for the remnant of Lehi’s seed, the land spoken of in vv. 10–14 would be “consecrate[d]” unto the same, it being “a choice land . . . above all other lands” (v. 19).

The question naturally arises as to whether this prophecy pertains broadly or only partially to the North and South American continent(s). Book of Mormon Heartlanders, for their part, are eager to make these verses pertain solely to the United States of America in order to maintain their nationalistic hermeneutic.1 “The one latter-day Gentile nation that qualifies as the promised land of the Book of Mormon should be self-evident,” goes the Heartlander argument, with the (self-evidently) obvious answer being the United States.2 After all, what other Gentile nation in the Americas can boast of being a land of liberty that has never been ruled by a king?

A selective reading of past statements by General Authorities would seem justify the Heartlander contention that the United States solely qualifies as the land described in 2 Nephi 10:10–14.3 While it is true that 2 Nephi 10:10–14 has been applied to the United States by General Authorities, there yet remain other Latter-day Saint leaders who have applied these same verses to New World lands ranging from Canada to Brazil.

As far as I can determine, the earliest Latter-day Saint leader to interpret 2 Nephi 10:10–14 was Elder Orson Hyde. Ordained to the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1835, Hyde discussed these verses in a Fourth of July speech given in 1853. “‘There shall no king be raised up on this land; and whosoever seeketh to raise up a king on this land shall perish.’ ‘This Land,’ means both North and South America,” he explained, “and also the families of Islands that geographically and naturally belong and adhere to the same. There are promise and decrees of God, in relation to ‘This Land,’ of an extraordinary character. No other land can boast of the same.”4

Hyde’s interpretation that “this land” referred to “both North and South America” was followed by missionary Elder George C. Ferguson in 1880. Writing in the Millennial Star, Ferguson saw the violent overthrown of the would-be monarch Maximilian I of Mexico as direct fulfillment of the prophecy in 2 Nephi 10. “[The Book of Mormon] speaks of the American continent as the land of Zion,” Ferguson informed his readers. After quoting 2 Nephi 10:10–14, Ferguson went on to write, “Very likely the Emperor [Napoleon III, who propped up Maximilian] had no idea that he would be running in the teeth of providence in this affair.”5 For Ferguson, the attempt by Napoleon III and his monarchist allies to establish an imperial regime in Mexico by backing Maximilian was doomed to failure precisely because the Book of Mormon foretold that no kings would be raised up to the Gentiles on the American continent. The bloody downfall of the short-lived Second Mexican Empire was nothing less than the result of Napoleon III “ignoring this sacred record,” since Jacob had explicitly foretold that “Mexico was not a place wherein to set up kings.”6

This providential reading of the downfall of Maximilian I, who was executed in 1867 by Mexican republicans after a short, contested, and unpopular 3 year rule in Mexico, proved influential amongst contemporary Latter-day Saints. President George Q. Cannon, successive counselor to Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow in the First Presidency, delivered a sermon in 1881 in which he spoke directly on the fate of Maximilian. “[God] has said in the Book of Mormon, that so long as the inhabitants of this land serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ—they shall prosper and no nation shall have power over them,” said Cannon. “The Lord has also said that there shall be no kings upon this land. The attempt of Maximillian is an evidence of the truth of it. Backed as he was by the power of France and Austria, particularly by France, he was killed for his attempt; for the Lord has said there shall be no kings upon this land, and that it shall be a land of liberty unto the inhabitants thereof as long as they serve the Lord.”7 For Cannon, the prophecy in 2 Nephi 10 concerning the destiny of “this land” was broad enough to include not only the United States but other American nations such as Mexico.

Near the turn of the century, the influential Latter-day Saint writer and secretary to the First Presidency Elder George Reynolds, in an 1899 article in the Church’s Improvement Era, broadened the scope of 2 Nephi 10 to include Central and South American states including Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru. “In all these cases, except in Brazil, a republic was declared, fashioned more or less after the pattern of the United States. In Brazil an independent empire was proclaimed,” he wrote. Reynolds then explicitly applied the prophecy in 2 Nephi 10:10–14 to Brazil. “Even that empire has perished in God’s own time and a republican form of government now controls the land.”8 Napoleon III’s bid for control of Mexico, however, Reynolds singled out as “a case that most terribly fulfills the malediction contained in [2 Nephi 10:10–14].” Not only the pitiful fate of the executed Maximilian but also the tragic end of many of his own Hapsburg family members was all the proof Reynolds needed to see “the wonderful fulfillment of this one prediction [2 Nephi 10:10–14] alone.” The failed attempt to establish a monarchy in Mexico, for Reynolds, “stamp[ed] the Book of Mormon as divine, for the prophecy was uttered in the name of the Lord, and he has brought it to pass most marvelously.”9

Not many years later, Elder B. H. Roberts interpreted 2 Nephi 10:10–14 in a manner congruous with his predecessors. “There are many decrees of God concerning America as a choice land,” Roberts wrote in 1909, including “that the land of America (both continents) is consecrated to liberty, and there shall be no kings upon the land ‘who shall rise up unto the Gentiles.'” For Roberts, the fulfillment of his prophecy vindicated the divine calling of Joseph Smith, as this was “a rather bold prediction” to have made in 1830. Anticipating objections to his argument, Roberts emphasized that the “two notable attempts to establish monarchies in the New World by European governments, one in Brazil, the other in Mexico,” did not constitute disproof of his claim, since both attempts ended in failure. After summarizing the relevant history, Roberts concluded,

The foregoing attempts in Brazil and Mexico to found monarchies in the New World cannot properly be regarded as proving the failure of the Book of Mormon prophecy. The monarchies existed for a short time only, and were so precarious while they lasted, and ended so disastrously for those making the attempt to establish them, that they emphasize the force of the prophecy rather than prove its failure. They are as slight exceptions tending to prove a rule. It is not said in the Book of Mormon that attempts would not be made to set up kings, but that such attempts should end disastrously for those making them; and that no kings should be established, that is permanently established, in the new world. Surely no candid mind will read this prophecy and consider all the facts involved in the attempts to establish monarchies in America, but will say that they have ended disastrously, and that this prophecy has been verily fulfilled.10

Precisely the same line of argumentation would be taken up by Nephi Lowell Morris in 1920 and Apostle John A. Widtsoe in 1937.11 Quoting 2 Nephi 10:10–14 and pointing to the downfall of Napoleon and Maximilian’s imperial Mexico (with an approving citation of Roberts), Widtsoe reasoned that “this prophecy has been fulfilled from Alaska on the north to the straits of Magellan in the south continent, the ‘new world,’ under the consecration of God, is blessed with freedom, and republican, not monarchical institutions.” Immediately thereafter Widtsoe reaffirmed the hemispheric scope of this prophecy by including the United States along with Mexico as part of the prophesied “land of liberty.”12

That the prophecies and promises of the Book of Mormon (including specifically 2 Nephi 10:10–14) extended beyond the borders of the United States was affirmed by multiple Church leaders later into the twentieth century. Elder (later President) George Albert Smith in the October 1940 General Conference of the Church, for instance, taught:

I recommend that not only you Latter-day Saints read the Book of Mormon, but that our Father’s other children read it. They will find that it contains, in addition to what the Bible has told us about the world, what the Lord has said about this Western Hemisphere—that this should be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles and that no king should dwell upon this land, but that He, the God of Heaven, would be our King and would fortify this land against all the nations, that this should be a land of peace and happiness, on condition that we would honor the God of this earth, the Father of us all. The factor controlling this promise is that we must keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father or it cannot be realized.13

This was repeated by Elder (later President) Ezra Taft Benson in an area conference in Mexico City, Mexico in the early 1970s. “It should be comforting to all Latter-day Saints that the Lord has given great promises in that sacred volume, the Book of Mormon, promises that should give us comfort and assurance on the condition that we live the gospel. How I wish that every person in my country, in your country [Mexico], in all of the Americas on this entire continent would read the Book of Mormon, and in it the prophetic history of these lands and the clear warnings for the future. Read what Father Lehi said in 2 Nephi 1:6–8. Read what his son Jacob said in 2 Nephi 10:10–14.”14

Finally, President Spencer W. Kimball, speaking at an area conference in Monterey, Mexico, similarly taught:

One of the first efforts of the Prophet Joseph Smith was to take the gospel to the Lamanites. Continuing until now, we have preached the gospel to the Lamanites. There are probably sixty million Lamanites in America. They are all happy for the gospel as it comes to them. . . . In many natural resources, the land of America is rich and will produce abundantly. This is for you, for us, and for all the good people who live upon the land of America. Protection against enemies has been promised. In all the Americas, neither kings nor emperors will combine to take the land. Great promises are given us, if we live the commandments God has given us.15

To summarize, beginning with the earliest readers of the Book of Mormon, the prophecy in 2 Nephi 10:10–14 has, naturally, been applied to the United States, but also to lands throughout the North and South American continents. The blessings promised in this passage have been granted hemispheric scope by multiple Latter-day Saint General Authorities (prophets and apostles) and scriptural exegetes. Book of Mormon Heartlanders, out of loyalty to some bizarre nationalist political ideology, are free to restrict the blessings promised in 2 Nephi 10 to the United States if they please, but in doing so they are rejecting the teachings of the prophets. By continuing to insist that the United States alone “self-evidently” qualifies as the “land of liberty” spoken of in the Book of Mormon, they are, likewise, guilty of attempting to persuade others to disbelieve the prophets.

But the point of this post is not to attempt to refute Heartlanders by some misplaced appeal to authority (as they themselves are fond of doing). Rather, it is to stress that 2 Nephi 10:10–14 can easily be accommodated under a Mesoamerican, South American, or even Hemispheric theory for Book of Mormon geography. In other words, Heartlanders don’t own the interpretation of 2 Nephi 10:10–14, and they certainly don’t own some notion of prophetic precedent or preference for their reading of this passage.

Ultimately, I think Roberts has the best exegesis of this passage when he wrote, “It is not said in the Book of Mormon that attempts would not be made to set up kings, but that such attempts should end disastrously for those making them [‘he that raiseth up a king against me shall perish’]; and that no kings should be established, that is permanently established, in the new world.” Whether you apply this prophecy to North, Central, or South America, the outcome is the same: to date there is no reigning absolute monarch in any of the Americas. There yet remain constitutional monarchies in the Americas, most notably Canada, to be sure, but such are emphatically not the same as absolute monarchies. (Canada has been a liberal parliamentary confederation with its own democratically elected officials since 1867.)

As such, we can safely agree with Elder Roberts that, regardless of whichever Book of Mormon geography theory you prefer, “surely no candid mind will read this prophecy [in 2 Nephi 10] and consider all the facts involved in the attempts to establish monarchies in America, but will say that they have ended disastrously, and that this prophecy has been verily fulfilled.”

  1. Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America (New York: Digital Legend Press, 2009), 86–94; Rod Meldrum, Exploring the Book of Mormon in America’s Heartland: A Visual Journey of Discovery (New York: Digital Legend Press, 2011), 14–21.
  2. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 87.
  3. See for instance Brigham Young, “Confidence and Influence of the Saints,” Journal of Discourses 8:67; George Q. Cannon, “Importance of Our Sunday Schools and Mutual Improvement Associations,” Journal of Discourses 26:142; Charles A. Callis, Conference Report, April 1944, 133; Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report, April 1950, 65; Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, October 1961, 31; Delbert L. Stapley, Conference Report, October 1963, 111; Ezra Taft Benson, “Our Divine Constitution,” General Conference, October 1987, online at https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1987/10/our-divine-constitution.
  4. Orson Hyde, “Speech of Honourable Orson Hyde, Delivered in Great Salt Lake City, July 4, 1853,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 15 (29 October 1853): 706.
  5. George C. Ferguson, “Book of Mormon and Napoleon III,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 42 (4 October 1880): 637.
  6. Ferguson, “Book of Mormon and Napoleon III,” 636–637.
  7. George Q. Cannon, “Prosperity of the Saints,” Journal of Discourses 23:102.
  8. George Reynolds, “‘He Shall Perish’,” Improvement Era 2, no. 11 (September 1899): 801–802. The Empire of Brazil lasted from 1822–1889. The empire was finally abolished in 1889 when, after reigning for 58 years, the emperor, Pedro II, was overthrown in a coup, paving the way First Brazilian Republic of which Reynolds spoke.
  9. Reynolds, “‘He Shall Perish’,” 806.
  10. B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1909), 3:276–280.
  11. Nephi Lowell Morris, Prophecies of Joseph Smith and their Fulfillment (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1920), 136–140; John A. Widtsoe and Franklin S. Harris Jr., Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing Company, 1937), 167–168.
  12. Widtsoe and Harris, Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon, 167.
  13. George Albert Smith, Conference Report, October 1940, 108.
  14. Ezra Taft Benson, Official Report of the First Mexico and Central America Area Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in the National Auditorium Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, Mexico August 25, 26, 27, 1972 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1972), 131.
  15. Spencer W. Kimball, Official Report of the Monterey, Mexico Area Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Monterrey Mexico, February 19 and 20, 1977 (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 3.

3 thoughts on ““No Kings Upon the Land”: A Note on 2 Nephi 10”

  1. I would submit that the second half of verse 11 is impossible to interpret clearly and unambiguously:

    “. . . and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.”

    The comma in that statement originates with John H. Gilbert, who typeset the 1830 Grandin first edition. The sentence seems to make more sense without it, however:

    “. . . and there shall be no kings upon the land who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.”

    If the comma is errant, then it qualifies the statement about kings: It doesn’t say there would be no kings upon the land, period; it says there would be no kings who would raise up unto the Gentiles.

    Even if the latter reading is correct, what does “raise up unto the Gentiles” mean? Go to war with them? Raise up a church? Declare themselves to be divine?

    I think there’s a lot of questions we need to ask ourselves before we hang our interpretive hat on this verse.

    • I read that “unto” as the Hebrew preposition le or the Egyptian equivalent r , both of which have a broad range of meaning and sense: “to, towards, on account of, for, on behalf of,” etc.

      So I take it as “there shall be no kings upon the land who shall raise up [to for for] the Gentiles,” meaning raised up on their behalf as a monarch.

      I wonder if Skousen has discussed this at all from an Early Modern English linguistic perspective

  2. What an excellent article! Well researched and wonderfully executed. It seriously clarified a lot for me regarding these scriptures/prophesies.

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