King Benjamin explains something which ought to give us all pause. “[T]he Lord God saw that his people were a stiffnecked people, and he appointed unto them a law, even the law of Moses.” (Mosiah 3: 14.) Think about all that implies. The people who God claimed as “His” were nevertheless “stiffnecked people.”
He didn’t abandon them because of their spiritual stubborness. Nor did He reject them because they were suffering from their own pride and self-will. They were still “His.”
But, because they were unable or unwilling to really come to Him and be redeemed from the fall (See Ether 3: 13) He gave them something to trouble them: the law of Moses.
This set of rules, sacrifices, ordinances and observances included worship within a Temple or House of God. There, in rich symbolism, they were reminded about the real thing: His presence. They were taught about His real nature. They were shown symbols that foreshadowed His coming into the world to be the bread of life, the light of the world, the sacrifice for sin, and the one through whose blood it was possible to enter back into the Holy of Holies. They had symbolic clothing, sacred language, Divine ritual, and sacred space given them. All this because they were “a stiffnecked people” who were unwilling to enter into His actual presence.
These benighted and proud people then looked at all others and regarded them as less than “the chosen people” because the law of Moses given to them entrusted them with sacred space, sacred ritual, and sacred observances.
These stiffnecked people made the law of Moses an end in itself. It was their special set of rites, their sacred space, their hidden rituals participated in by only the “worthy” and “chosen few” that reassured them they were God’s chosen people. And they were chosen. But they were chosen to be an example of foolishness, an example of pride, and ultimately an example of those who reject God and kill His Son. They were chosen to show how to miss the mark while standing atop sacred ground dedicated to the God they claimed to worship. They were chosen to be foolish, so we might be wise. They were chosen precisely because of their stiff necks to show how God does not delight in the mere observances of outward rituals, but expects our hearts to be made righteous. They illustrate how God rebuked the ancient chosen people for their failure to follow Him in the heart, rather than just in their empty ordinances (1 Sam. 15: 22).
In King Benjamin we have the wisdom of a godly king. He is warning us about the foolishness of God’s people. It is a powerful insight into what God prizes and what God thinks of those who, because of their stiff necks, will not bow down in prayer to seek His presence. King Benjamin is not a fictional character. He is a prophet-king whose wisdom exceeded the young Joseph Smith’s when Joseph translated the record of this fallen people. It contains wisdom that still exceeds the grasp of those who claim to follow the religion restored through Joseph.