King Benjamin struck the perfect balance on the subject of self-reliance. His example was his greatest sermon. King Benjamin refused to tax or oppress his people, although he could have done so as the monarch. Instead, he labored with his own hands and spent his life serving his people. He governed to end the servitude that had been allowed under the law of Moses. Long before Christ would do so, king Benjamin freed men from slavery. But it came at a social cost. Servitude was limited under Moses’ law to six years; in the seventh year, the servant was freed (see Exodus 13:1). So without servitude to repay debt, some were forced to beg. For the sake of the impoverished, king Benjamin taught his people to give to beggars. He expected his people to notice them and not allow them to petition in vain for relief of their needs. He forbade withholding from beggars because of the convenient thought that beggars deserved their direful condition. According to king Benjamin, all are beggars (see Mosiah 2). No one is (or can ever be) anything more than a beggar, dependent upon God. God gives everyone the power to live. He gives them the power to breathe and the ability to move and do what they will. God lends all of this to man so he can choose according to his own wishes. Since all are beggars, utterly dependent on God for their very existence, they have nothing to brag of and no legitimate claim to self-reliance. That recognition is what motivated king Benjamin, though a monarch, to humbly labor for his own support. In this modern day of abundance, men and women are easily misled into thinking the blessings of their productive society permit them to be self-reliant. Of course, abundance is only temporary. The principles upon which current society’s prosperity was built have been discarded. Therefore, one’s riches [will become] slippery (Helaman 5:8), as the fruit of true principles vanish from those who dishonor the foundation upon which that prosperity was conferred. In the coming scarcity of the last days, safety will only be found in Zion. Zion will require the laborer to labor only for Zion, not for himself (see 2 Nephi 11:17), and together all will perform the required great labor to build and sustain the society. No one can expect to eat or be clothed in Zion if he or she does not work to produce the necessities. Benjamin’s talk provides a framework for Zion.1
“The hopelessness of man’s presumed independence from God is stressed in His statement that by taking thought none of us can add one cubit unto his stature [Matthew 3:37; Luke 8:23; 3 Nephi 6:1]. Our lives are not ours. They belong to Him. We have no independence from Him. We are NOT self-existent beings. We borrow all we are and have from Him. Even, as it turns out, the dust from which we are made belongs to Him. If God gives us air to breathe, power to exist, the capacity to move, and sustains all of us from moment to moment, then how little faith is required to rely on Him to provide His disciples with food and raiment? The purpose of putting a man in such a dependent state before God is not to find out whether God can take care of him. God already knows what a man needs before he should even ask. But the man will, by becoming so dependent upon God, acquire a broken heart and a contrite spirit, always quick to ask, quick to listen, quick to do. Vulnerability makes a man strong in spirit. Security and wealth make a man incorrectly believe in his independence from God. He wants His disciples to be dependent upon Him. He wants them praying, and then grateful to Him for what He provides. He wants them, in a word, to become holy.”2
1 Preserving the Restoration, 209–210, “King Benjamin’s Self-Reliance,” Jan. 23, 2014, blog post.
2 “3 NE 13:26–32,” Oct. 25, 2010, blog post.