The Book of Mormon contains multiple stories that seem to share a common idea. Each of these stories contains a man who, while acting righteously, employed deceitful tactics to obtain personal security or a righteous objective.
The first story is one with which we’re quite familiar. In 1 Nephi 4, we learn that Nephi decapitates Laban and then removes his clothes to “put…upon [his] own body”, see the full quote below:
19 And after I had smitten off his head with his own sword, I took the garments of Laban and put them upon mine own body; yea, even every whit; and I did gird on his armor about my loins.
20 And after I had done this, I went forth unto the treasury of Laban. And as I went forth towards the treasury of Laban, behold, I saw the servant of Laban who had the keys of the treasury. And I commanded him in the voice of Laban, that he should go with me into the treasury.
21 And he supposed me to be his master, Laban, for he beheld the garments and also the sword girded about my loins.
Nephi continues with the deceit in verses 23 and 24 where it states
23 And I spake unto him as if it had been Laban.
24 And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls.
At the conclusion of this story Zoram, the servant of Laban is effectively coerced to travel with the Lehite party. He later becomes a friend of Nephi and his posterity become “Nephites”. The deceit was required to obtain the sacred scriptures, and to prevent Zoram from alerting others to the Lehite plot of escaping to the promised land.
The next story of deceit ends nearly as quickly as it begins. In Mosiah 11, we read about Abinadi, a prophet sent to warn the wicked King Noah of pending destruction. His initial attempts at preaching repentance were met with malice by Noah who commanded his people “to bring Abinadi hither, that [he] may slay him.” Fortunately, Abinadi is not slain at this time, but is “delivered… out of their hands.”
Two years later, Abinadi works up the courage to return, but this time he begins his ministry in disguise, Mosiah 12:1 states:
1 And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people, for they have hardened their hearts against my words; they have repented not of their evil doings; therefore, I will visit them in my anger, yea, in my fierce anger will I visit them in their iniquities and abominations.
Unfortunately for Abinadi his cover is blown as soon as he reveals his name. He is captured nearly immediately by the people of the land who carry him to King Noah. Noah assembles his priests to determine what should be done. They ultimately conclude that he should be burned at the stake. His mission; however, was not in vain, Alma a priest of Noah recognized the wickedness of the people and later became a great prophet.
The next story within the chronology of the Book of Mormon is about a son of King Mosiah named Ammon. Ammon was wicked in his youth and had a tendency toward rebellion. However, he discovered his wickedness along with his brothers and Alma Jr. and repented sincerely of his evil work. After this dramatic change of heart he determines along with his brothers to become a life-long missionary with a special focus on the degenerate Lamanites.
His first real mission is found in Alma 17 and 18 where he begins as a servant to a tribal leader named King Lamoni. His initial work includes tending to the flocks of Lamoni, and bringing them to water. While leading these flocks to the waters of Sebus, Ammon and his fellow servants are attacked by a marauding group of thugs. They intend to steal the flocks of the King, and if necessary slay Ammon and his fellow servants. Ammon was strengthened by the Lord and successfully dispenses with these thugs.
Later in Alma 18, Ammon is brought before King Lamoni to explain how he managed to protect his fellow servants and the flocks of the King. He realizes that the King’s interest might be sufficient to accept whatever he is prepared to teach him.
22 Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.
23 And the king answered him, and said: Yea, I will believe all thy words. And thus he was caught with guile.
I find the use of the word guile, especially interesting given the circumstances. The scriptures effectively admit that Ammon preyed upon Lamoni’s state of mind in order to preach the word of God to him. The conclusion of the story results in the conversion of thousands of Lamanites and therefore the guile was for a worthy cause.
The final example of deceit for a righteous cause occurs in Helaman 2:6. During this period in Nephite history, the Nephites begin to embrace the secret oaths and combinations of a group named after one Gadianton. This secret society, much like mason, used signs to identify one another. In chapter 2 of Helaman, this wicked band had a plan to murder Helaman while he sat upon the judgment seat. Verse 6 states:
And it came to pass as he went forth towards the judgment-seat to destroy Helaman, behold one of the servants of Helaman, having been out by night, and having obtained, through disguise, a knowledge of those plans which had been laid by this band to destroy Helaman—
These four instances within the Book of Mormon demonstrate that the Lord condones an attitude of “the ends justify the means”. Why else might ancient prophets feel these stories belonged in the Book of Mormon? Does God actually condone deceit? Do the ends justify the means?