We may be throwing around the word ‘honor’ without a proper appreciation for what it means. The Book of Mormon gives us some illumination on this subject.
After Nephi killed Laban and took the brass plates, he tried to flee Jerusalem, but Laban’s servant Zoram was about to reveal what Nephi had done. It was crucial that Nephi and his brothers escape quietly, so Nephi overpowered Zoram and forced him to promise to go into the desert with them. Zoram’s word alone was enough to allay Nephi’s fears.
Hugh Nibley explains in his book, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, that this was most likely due to laws and culture among Middle Eastern people of the time. Oaths were to be taken with extreme seriousness, and violating them would result in fines, jail time, ostracization, and even death.
This cultural norm crossed the ocean into the Americas with the Lehites and even survived the split between the Nephites and the Lamanites for a time. In the book of Alma when Captain Moroni led his armies against the Lamanite leader Zarahemnah, the Nephites had the Lamanites pinned against a river and told them to surrender. If the Lamanites promised not to raise weapons of war against them, they could leave with their lives.
Zarahemnah, however, refused. He specifically would not make an oath he knew he would break. And Moroni, who had already promised to kill the Lamanites if they didn’t comply, said he couldn’t take back the words he had already threatened. So it was a done deal: surrender, promise peace, or be slaughtered. Ultimately, the Lamanites complied and the conflict ended.
Then the Gadiantons came along.
Do you know what was the most dangerous thing about them?
They didn’t care about keeping their word.
Secret combinations. Lies and smiles. Tell people one thing, leverage their trust against them, then do something else. Their lack of honor was such a perversion that it corrupted the entire culture.
The Book of Mormon actually holds two accounts of nations succumbing to this shift, wherein the masses discarded their honor. It happened to both the Nephites and the Jaredites, who had come to the promised land some 1800 years prior. Both nations were obliterated in civil wars and there was a curse upon the land to the point of people sleeping with their treasures and weapons in their very hands or they would be gone when they awoke.
There’s nothing supernatural about this. It’s pretty plain, actually: people just couldn’t be trusted. And they didn’t respect each other or one another’s property. This happened on such a huge scale that it might as well have been a ghostly curse from beyond the veil.
Such is the cost of abandoning the honor and respect for our own words.
God puts this level of stock in His honor and His own words. That is why our covenants are made with authority, with specific methods, and with specific words. He has the same expectation of us that Nephi had of Zoram that night in Jerusalem: Zoram made an oath, and from then on, Nephi trusted him. It’s worth noting that Zoram went with Nephi and Sam when Laman and Lemuel split from the family in the promised land.
Brothers and sisters, let us be good for our word. Let us do what we say we are going to do. We know God will hold up His end. All we have to do is hold up ours.
Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, pp 103-105