What was exactly the curse mentioned in Ether 14:1? Does it mean that things just disappeared?
I expect many of us have wondered how this curse works. Unfortunately, the scriptures only give us clues. I found five places where this curse is explicitly mentioned:
1. In Helaman 12:18-19, Mormon mentions this as one of the ways in which the Lord might exercise His power. It’s possible he mentions it here because he has seen it in his own day (see the references below).
2. In Helaman 13:17-23, Samuel the Lamanite prophesies that this curse will come upon the Nephites because of their wickedness (unless they repent). Remember that when the Jaradites and the Lehites arrived in the promised land, the Lord promised them blessings if they served Him, and cursings if they did not. (See 1 Nephi 2:20-23, Ether 2:8-11.)
3. In Ether 14:1-2, we read that this curse came upon the Jaredites because of their extreme wickedness.
In all these cases, we are told only that “no man shall find” the accursed thing “from this time henceforth and forever”, that anyone who hides treasures in the earth “shall find them again no more” and “none shall redeem it”, that “upon the morrow, he could not find it”, that these things “became slippery…that they could not hold them, nor retain them again”, and finally that “no man could keep that which was his own”.
From these clues, we see that in some cases, it’s not only the wicked person who hid the treasure who cannot find it, but that no one can. This might lead us to speculate that the item was removed from the earth, or altered – perhaps prematurely deteriorated. In other cases, it describes how the wicked could not find, hold, retain, or keep the thing in question. This might lead us to believe that the wicked person’s eyes or mind were blinded, so that while the thing might still be there, this person could not find it again. This “blinding” could be from the Lord, but is just as likely to be a natural consequence of a person’s choices, such as drunkenness, or hastily choosing a location that wasn’t as easy to remember as originally thought.
In Mormon 4:5, Mormon taught that “it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished”. This could mean that someone came after and stole the “hidden” treasure. There may also be other ways in which wickedness in a society might bring about this curse. (See my previous answer regarding “Slippery Treasure” for related thoughts.)
But all of this is speculation. We simply have no details of how this curse was executed among any given people. I believe any combination of methods could be at work here, simply because the Lord is able to do all things.
The more important lesson for us is to not set our hearts upon riches, and to keep the Lord’s commandments, so that we personally don’t find this curse applied in our own lives. (Though I have to admit, one of our 1 T measuring spoons does appear to have fallen prey to this curse.)