Why does God curse the land for my sake and preserve the land for the sake of a few? The scriptures show us there are a number of things God does for our sake, and there are also things he asks us to do for His sake.
What does the word “sake” mean?
In Websters 1828 dictionary and Strong’s concordance, it is defined as the final cause, purpose of obtaining, or on account of with regard to any person or thing.
In the scriptures the word sake appears 173 times, starting with the fall in Genesis 3:17 where God curses “the ground for [Adam & Eve’s] sake.” About 1,000 years later, Noah was born and his father Lamech said of him, “This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed” (Genesis 5:29). Then later after the flood subsided and Noah and his family offered sacrifice to the Lord, the Lord said, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake” (Genesis 8:21).
Noah was the 10th patriarch in the line from Adam. His name means “rest” and we can see after the earth was baptized and cleansed of the unrighteous, 8 souls were left, symbolic of a new beginning (see number symbolism article). The fall brought about the cursing of the earth, and the baptism and cleansing of the earth with Noah’s righteousness brought peace and rest to the land and God removed the cursing.
We know the cursing brought about a loss of spontaneous food growth at the fall and the coming forth of weeds and thorns to gum up the process even further, but I don’t think we really have much detail about how the ground was different after God removed the curse upon the land when Noah brought rest to the earth. We also don’t really have a record of God cursing the “ground” ever again, but he does curse the land which is different and geographic rather than the apparently global ground cursing.
Why did God curse the ground for man’s sake? The Lord only does things for a purpose and that purpose is to bring about the immorality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). Therefore, we know that the cursing was a blessing in disguise because he said he did it for their sake. It was an opportunity to struggle and always remember the Lord is the source of blessings. It was an opportunity for redemption and not to become fully ripe and destroyed as the people were in the days of Noah.
Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, we have the account in 1 Nephi 17 of Nephi constructing a ship to journey to the promised land. Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel, mock Nephi and denigrate his efforts. Nephi then reminds them of how the Lord leads the righteous into promised lands where he blesses the land (prospers it so it brings forth a bounteous harvest) or for the wicked, he “curseth the land unto them for their sakes” (1 Nephi 17:38).
Why does the Lord bless and curse the land? Across the scriptures we see that the land is blessed when people are righteous to keep them free and have all the blessings of prosperity (see this blog post on prosperity for a full list). When the people are wicked, the land is cursed and they are brought into various degrees of bondage (from high taxation, to natural disasters, to outright slavery).
One of the great promises of the Lord to the righteous is found in Alma 46:10. Mormon is writing a summary of events as the wicked Amalickiah is seeking to overthrow the Nephite nation and bring them into bondage. Mormon wrote:
Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake.
Two of the blessings of a righteous people are God giving them a foundation of liberty, and secondly, to establish the church of God among the people. We see this in the American republic today. Those people that came to this country for righteous purposes established a covenant with God and set up a foundation of liberty in the U.S. Constitution (D&C 101:77-80). That laid the framework so that God could restore the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith. The land was blessed and the people prospered.
The Lord further promised the saints that through this blessing,
D&C 38:18. “And I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey, upon which there shall be no curse when the Lord cometh;”
The Lord intends for his people to build up Zion, but when the land is cursed by the people turning to wickedness, the Lord must curse the land to try and redeem the people by causing them to turn back to him. This is the time when things become slippery and the people mourn because their precious things go missing (Helaman 13:31-33). The land becomes cursed and they are surrounded by demons who seek their souls (Helaman 13:35-37).
Remember when Lot was living in Sodom and the Lord let Abraham know he was going to destroy the city? Abraham understood the Lord doesn’t destroy the righteous. He only destroys the wicked for the righteous’ sake in order to preserve righteousness on the earth.
Abraham started to reason with the Lord to preserve these cities (in Genesis 18:24-33) and said, “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” If there be fifty righteous, will you spare the city? The Lord replied, “if I find in Sodom fifty righteous…I will spare all the place for their sakes.” Abraham recognized the Lord wouldn’t be determined to destroy the cities if there were than many so he drops the number. How about forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten? Each time the Lord says he will not destroy it if there are that many righteous in the city. Abraham gives up knowing their fate is sealed. There weren’t even ten.
We don’t know if Lot was considered righteous by the Lord, but for Abraham’s sake, his righteousness at least, the Lord sent messengers to retrieve Lot and his family out of Sodom before it was destroyed. The Lord probably knew Abraham was concerned for Lot and loved him as his relative. Abraham wasn’t ignorant of the wickedness in these cities but tried to plead with the Lord to spare them knowing Lot was there.
Salt is a preservative. Applying salt to meat draws the water out of it which denies bacteria the moisture to grow in. In modern times, refrigerators and local grocery stores with a flow of constant food production have replaced the need to preserve food so much as in times past, but salt and drying foods were a couple methods of preservation.
Christ told us to be the salt of the earth. We are to be a preservative. The righteous bring blessings upon the land and prevent the destruction of the wicked in a very real sense. Even, apparently, down to a figure of ten righteous within a city (Genesis 18:32). If they should be cast out or killed by the wicked, such as the city of Ammonihah did, their fate is sealed and their destruction is made sure (Alma 16:2, 3, 9, 11).
The same situations play out over and over in the scriptures. Sometimes the righteous suffer because the actions of others cause problems to come upon the people and they are caught in the cross-fire. But when the wicked are isolated and none are righteous, then is a time destruction comes upon them.
The Lord told Joseph and others:
D&C 93:46. “I called you servants for the world’s sake, and ye are their servants for my sake.”
We fulfill the Lord’s purposes (Moses 1:39), his sake, by being in the world, but not of the world. When we are of the world, we get contaminated. Salt never loses its savor, ever, except by being contaminated with other substances. To be a peculiar people means to be the salt, a preserving life force, of the world. If we become contaminated, we are “thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).
Thus we see, that without some righteous people maintaining their purity, the land is cursed and the people are brought into bondage or destroyed, for their sake and that of their posterity, in order to bring about God’s purposes in saving and exalting his children.
Ultimately, Christ gave his life for the preservation of the human family to provide a blessing upon all lands that would have righteous individuals act as he did, as salt of the earth. As the time comes for Zion to be built, and the wicked cast out the righteous, or persecute or kill them, the judgments of God will be unleashed in a cursing on the land that will cleanse and prepare the way for the second coming of the Lord.
D&C 101:35. “And all they who suffer persecution for my name, and endure in faith, though they are called to lay down their lives for my sake yet shall they partake of all this glory.
36. Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.
To do your own study on this topic, here are some searches you can do in Scriptures Notes.
"My sake" ground +curse* bless* +land curse* +land sake +land
Sacred Formulas: Obtaining Blessings by Obeying Laws
Book of Mormon Geography – Something to consider
Passing Under the Rod – Judgment and Tithing
How to Store Large Quotes with and without References
3 Ways to Ask Questions in Scripture Notes
The Time for Guided Spiritual Preparation is Now