Samuel was a prophet like Paul, Alma and Jonah who was not allowed to leave a wicked people – even though they had rejected him – without a proper warning. Like Jonah, he was compelled to return and complete the warning. God loves all His children, even the wicked ones, and wants to save them if at all possible. In Old Testament times, He wanted desperately to save the city of Sodom, and, if Abraham could have found even ten righteous souls, the city would have been left untouched. Heavenly Father and Jesus are on our team, cheering for us and wanting so much to see every last one of us return to live with Them.
Samuel the Lamanite had come to Zarahemla to call the Nephite people to repentance and had, in fact, spent several days there doing just that. But he came to the attention of the authorities and was run out of town. He was going to leave it at that and go home but “the voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people whatsoever things should come into his heart” (Helaman 13:3).
Upon his return to Zarahemla, “they would not suffer that he should enter into the city; therefore he went and got upon the wall thereof, and stretched forth his hand and cried with a loud voice, and prophesied unto the people whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart” (Helaman 13:4).
Part of what the Lord put into his heart was a detailed description of events in the New World at the time of Christ’s birth. In five years from that time, Christ would be born, and the Nephites would know when that event happened because there would be a day, a night and a day “as if it were one day and there were no night” (Helaman 14:4). There would be new stars and signs in the heavens as well.
Samuel the Lamanite also described the events at the time of Christ’s death – much more somber events than those at the time of His birth. Samuel clearly called the people to repentance and described the serious consequences if they chose to ignore his warning.
We Choose Our Consequences
Mark E. Petersen, a former member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, said of Samuel the Lamanite:
“One of the great prophets of ancient times was Samuel the Lamanite. I like the way he taught. He was plain and straightforward in his manner of speech. He did not mince words, nor did he leave the people wondering what he meant.
As he spoke from the walls of Zarahemla, calling the Nephites to repentance, he told them bluntly that if they refused to live the gospel, condemnation would come upon them, and he made it clear that they would have no one to blame but themselves.
‘Remember, remember,” he said, “that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself’ (Hel. 14:30).
Then he said that, since we have free agency, we can choose the good or the evil, life or death; but he declared that in the end we shall most certainly receive exactly what we ourselves have chosen.”
History of “Samuel Tells of the Baby Jesus”
This is such a delightful Christmas song, partly because it is simply delightful and partly because it is so unique. There are not many Christmas songs that deal with Christmas in the New World among the Nephites – in fact, this is the only one I know. Does anyone know any others? Please comment down below in the comment section if you do.
Mabel Jones Gabbott (1910-2004), writer of the text, was the chairperson of the Hymnbook Text Committee for the 1985 Hymnbook. She wrote the text for four hymns in that hymnbook and sixteen songs in the Children’s Songbook. She said, “I love to hear children sing” (Friend, Oct 1985, 14).
Grietje Terburg Rowley (1927-2015) wrote the music for this song. She said, “Every Christmas our family reads the Christmas story from the New Testament. We also read in the Book of Mormon about the first Christmas in America. We try to imagine how the people felt about Jesus’ birth. I tried to make the music sound a little like both Jewish and Indian music” (Graham, We Shall Make Music, 68). I think she achieved the sound she wanted very well. The minor key of the music in the verse section gives it a Jewish sound. The chorus moves back into the relative major key and has the drum beat flavour of native North American music. She has also said that she likes to write songs that are easy to sing, easy to play and easy to remember” (Friend, Oct 1986, 45). Like Sister Gabbott, she must have loved to hear children sing – she played the piano in Primary for twenty-five years!
I had the pleasure of speaking to Sister Rowley by telephone a year or two before she passed away. At that time, she was still writing a hymn every day.
Congregation Choir Arrangement of “Samuel Tells of the Baby Jesus”
Our Congregation Choir for Primary arrangement of this song includes an enhanced piano part and a countermelody that could be used for voice or any appropriate instrument.
Listen to it here with an oboe (more Middle-Eastern sound) playing the countermelody. PURCHASE it here.
Three Suggestions for Using this Arrangement:
- Use the enhanced piano to add a nice touch to Christmas singing of this song, either at home or in Primary.
- Add an instrumental countermelody to the children’s voices singing the main melody. Verse 1 could be just the children singing with the piano, followed by an interlude verse with just the instrumental countermelody and the piano, and verse 2 could have the children’s voices on the main melody, the piano and the instrumental countermelody all together.
- Some of the children or an adult soloist could sing the countermelody.
What a wonderful song to include in your Christmas repertoire! I am certain that nothing will help your children remember the story of Samuel the Lamanite better than this song. The lively, joyous chorus is a great time to bring out all your rhythm instruments – shakers, bells, drums, sticks, whatever – the children will love adding their percussion to the strong beat of the chorus. Great fun can be had by all as we remember Samuel the Lamanite!