11 And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people.

 The architecture of the temple reflected the hierarchy.  The chief seats would be comfortable, regal, and lifted up.  The priests would, from their comfort, preach doctrines they knew to be incomplete, misstated, shallow, and flattering to the people.  They would teach doctrine that was vain, without the capacity to produce saving faith, to flatter the people into remaining loyal.  The priests were flattered by their own supposed authority. The people were flattered by the priests.  Everyone got what they wanted.

12 And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof and overlook the land of Shilom, and also the land of Shemlon, which was possessed by the Lamanites; and he could even look over all the land round about.

13 And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom; and he caused a great tower to be built on the hillnorth of the land Shilom, which had been a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land; and thus he did do with the riches which he obtained by the taxation of his people.

Such a vain society spares no expense to ensure their security.  Governments allocate astronomical sums to military defense and intelligence, and religions allocate more wealth to market research and public relations than to feed the hungry.   These mechanisms stem from the same impulse: a trust in man’s wisdom and strength to provide security in the face of the unknown.

14 And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.

Setting one’s heart upon riches is one form of idolatry.  As we will see in verse 22, one of the primary components of Abinadi’s message was to warn his fellow church members that God is jealous.  Our hearts must be set on him and nothing else, because only by choosing him do we open ourselves fully to his spirit (DC 88:66-67).

It would be easy to get the impression that Noah is being condemned for not being religious—essentially being “inactive” or “falling away” from the church—but that would be misreading the text.  In fact, he was the leader of the church.  He consecrated priests, adorned the temple, and maintained a veneer of righteousness and piety.

How can religious people, always inclined to see themselves as righteous, avoid the same delusion that Noah suffered?    There are some question we can ask of ourselves to determine in whom we trust:

-Do I assume people in high religious callings are righteous, and their opinions more reliable?

-Do I believe it is good for religious leaders to enjoy a high standard of living supported by donations from poor members?

-Do I sustain and uphold such a system, believing it is God’s way?

-Am I resentful of those who are more wealthy than I am?

-Do I believe (even subconsciously) that wealthy people are typically more righteous than poor people?

-Do I associate the skills needed to build wealth (social skills, communication skills, management skills, charisma, having white skin, having wealthy parents, high education)  with righteousness?

-Do I rely on excess wealth (and the entertainments it provides) to give me pleasure and maintain my mental well-being?

-Do I have a fear of want and scarcity (of money, food, etc)?

-Am I content with having food, clothing, and shelter, or do I spend my time and effort to gain more or better versions of those things?

-Do I actively look for opportunities to provide food, clothing, and shelter to the many who lack them?

-Do I give freely to beggers, or do I secretly blame them for their condition?

What we fear, we worship.  Do you fear want and hunger?  Do you fear the loss of your job?  Do you fear your television and internet turning off?  Do you fear not having fashionable clothing?  Do you fear potential ostracizing by church members for speaking the truth?  Only trusting in God can save us.  Setting our hearts on our wealth, our wisdom, our membership in a religious organization, our devotion to a religious leader, or any other earthly thing, can only damn us.

15 And it came to pass that he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people.

Properly used, wine has always been a sacramental drink (DC 89:5-6).  It is used in sacred meals and sacred gatherings such as weddings (Genesis 14:18 , Exodus 24:11 , John 2:1-11).  Failure to recognize the appropriate use of wine causes two forms of rebellion: 1. creating rules forbidding the use of wine (a product of the “temperence” movement of the 19th and 20th centuries), or  2. drinking it outside of it’s sacred context to become intoxicated.  At some point in the near future, the first error will have to be corrected, and any who hope to commune with Christ at his great wedding feast will have to repent of their mistaken abstinence (DC 27).  Both abstinence and over indulgence prevent a person from enjoying the spiritual blessings of wine, but the latter can bring the additional curses of alcoholism.

16 And it came to pass that the Lamanites began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.

17 And king Noah sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and the Lamanites came upon them and killed them, and drove many of their flocks out of the land; thus the Lamanites began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.

18 And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil.

19 And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.

 These events are a continuation of the harassment that began under Zeniff.    Zeniff had encouraged humility in the face of conflict, and a trust in God’s strength.   The people fought to preserve their freedom, only after being stimulated to battle by Zeniff’s rehearsal of the Lamanites’ aggression.  Under Noah and his priests, the same people boasted in their own strength. They delighted in the act of shedding blood and rejoiced in the spoils they took, rather than abhorring war and only fighting as necessary.