When the Lord’s people wanted religion, but were unwilling to accept the fullness, He accommodated their desire and gave to them the “law of Moses” to keep them busy. (Mosiah 3: 14.) It is the nature of “stiffnecked” people that they prefer religious ceremonies, and endless repetition of rituals to coming into the Lord’s presence. (Id.)
King Benjamin is reminded by the angel that the purpose of the “law of Moses” was not to redeem anyone. It was merely a way to keep the people busy.
In addition to the law of Moses, the Lord gave “signs and wonders” and also many “types and shadows” to acquaint the people with the fact of “his coming.” (Mosiah 3: 15.) These were not ends. They were all means.
Why give the law of Moses?
Why give “signs” and “wonders?”
The people confused the symbols with the real thing. They thought through the symbols they were chosen, elect, and holy. They thought they were a kingdom of priests, a royal priesthood. Instead, what they should have thought was that they were poor because the Lord was not dwelling among them, they considered themselves rich because they had “types and shadows.” They preferred the symbol to the reality. The true religion was only symbolized by the rites. By worshiping the symbols and not recognizing the truths which were their foundation, they became mere idolaters. It is one of the constant risks faced by God’s people, because the devil is always looking to convert the holy church of God into something perverted and evil. (See Mormon 8: 33-38.)
They could rejoice in their laws, rites, ordinances and rituals. They could consider themselves better than the nations around them because they had God’s program for salvation. All the program did was “harden their hearts” because they were proud rather than humble.
These religious and proud people did not understand that all their endless rites “availeth nothing” because it was the Lord alone who could redeem them. (Mosiah 3: 15.) They took their eyes off the Lord, and put them on the religion. They did not understand the religion was nothing, if it failed to point them to the Lord.
How oft might the Lord have gathered them, indeed! It is astonishing that men would prefer religion to God; prefer pride which alienates them from God to humility which could bring them into His presence.
Signs, wonders, types, shadows are nothing if they fail to get you to look at the underlying reasons for them. They are not the real thing. They merely point to the real thing; for that, it is left between you and the Lord.
Some few will see it as it really is. They will not be limited by the failures of the generation they live in. They can be saved in any generation because they see beyond the Lord in His types, shadows, signs and wonders. (Alma 12: 10.)
Salvation is and always has been individual. This is why there are prophets. Some will lay hold on the promises which others refuse to see.