Book of Mormon Lesson 26: “Converted unto the Lord”
We continue the missionary story of Ammon, his brethren, and the converted Lamanites. The king of the Lamanites, Lamoni's father, converted in chapter 22 in an event that can be described as an endowment, now expands missionary work throughout the land of Nephi. It is something to note that while he is the "king of the Lamanites" it seems they are still limited to the land of Nephi, or the area the people of Lehi originally settled centuries before.
"Now, these are they who were converted unto the Lord:The people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Ishmael;And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Middoni;And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the city of Nephi;And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Shilom, and who were in the land of Shemlon, and in the city of Lemuel, and in the city of Shimnilom.And these are the names of the cities of the Lamanites which were converted unto the Lord; and these are they that laid down the weapons of their rebellion, yea, all their weapons of war; and they were all Lamanites.And the Amalekites were not converted, save only one; neither were any of the Amulonites; but they did harden their hearts..." (Alma 23:8-14).
As we note the cities and lands that convert, we find that it is a very limited group that actually convert. The land of Ishmael is under king Lamoni. The land of Middoni is ruled by Lamoni's brother, who will soon be renamed Anti-Nephi-Lehi. Besides this, the lands of Shilom and Shemlon are the only to convert. A few key cities also convert, which would include Nephi, Lemuel, and Shimnilom.
It appears that between the time of King Noah's priests (led by Amulon, see Mosiah 24) and Ammon's day, the descendants of Amulon have gained great power in other areas of the land. The Amulekites are believed to be the descendants of Amlici and his people (Alma 2), and so we have two groups of Nephite apostates that control major areas of the Lamanite lands.
How did these gain such power? The Amalekites sought political power, even a kingship. In joining the Lamanites, it seems they were able to gain much political power. For the Amulonites, the descendants of Noah's priests seem to have built synagogues throughout much of the land, and used their religion as a form of political power, teaching the people their own world view. We see that radical ideas can take hold through such religious institutions. For centuries, Islam was relatively stable in its main forms of Sunni, Shi'a, and Sufi. However, in the 19th century, a radical form arose named Wahhabism. This form taught jihad and a radical push of their beliefs. They arose with the Saud family in Saudi Arabia, and were guaranteed great power, as long as the supported the royal family. For more than a century, Wahhabism built schools and mosques throughout the Middle East, and then into Europe and America, teaching their radical form of Islam. Today's world war on radical islam is a result of the training given in those religious and educational buildings. It all came to a head when many Arab nations joined with the liberal Western nations, leading the radicals to proclaim war not only against the West, but also against Islamic rulers that supported the West.
The moderate Lamanite king found himself confronted by a radical form of "Lamanite-ism" created by Amulon and Amlici's descendants' hatred of the Nephites. So intense was this division, the new converts sought a new name for themselves to distinguish themselves from the radical Lamanites. They chose the name, "Anti-Nephi-Lehi".
While today we normally use the term Greek/Latin "Anti" to mean "opposed', the Nephites used the word "Anti" in many names (Antiomno, Ani-Anti, Antipus, etc). Given the Book of Mormon was written in Reformed Egyptian, we may actually find the term 'Anti' to be from the Egyptian term "nty:", meaning "one of". So it is probable that it means "One of Nephi and Lehi". This makes sense as a group that would seek to precede their fallen Lamanite heritage to that of faithful Lehi, while recognizing their new bond with the Nephites.
Not only does this become the name of the people, but the king of Middoni, son of the king of the Lamanites and brother of Lamoni, also takes the name as his own. This may be to establish a new lineage for him and his people, just as the children of Amulon called themselves Nephites and renounced their fathers' name (Mosiah25:12).
Pacifism or War Mongers?
We often look at the Anti-Nephi-Lehies as a group of pacifists, but that thought is premature. Later, we will see that they will send their own children to war against the Lamanites. Surely, pacifists would not send their children to war. Instead, this is an issue of retaining their salvation. One thing learned by those who serve in war is that killing people tends to harden hearts, increase hatred, and leaves the individual with stresses that often cannot be seen. From their own description, the Lamanites were a violent people. Lamoni and his people thought Ammon was sent to punish them for the murders they had committed (Alma 18:2).
Instead of being pacifists, I would suggest that they saw the danger of returning to being a violent people. They feared offending God and returning to their sins, for which they worried they would not be able to be forgiven again. Indeed, Lamoni's brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi explained it this way:
"Now, these are the words which he said unto the people concerning the matter: I thank my God, my beloved people, that our great God has in goodness sent these our brethren, the Nephites, unto us to preach unto us, and to convince us of the traditions of our wicked fathers.And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit to soften our hearts, that we have opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins" (Alma 24:7-13).
There many doctrinal points in the king's speech. First, we are saved by the "merits of his Son", not our own efforts. Neither Lamoni, his servants, nor his father had to do any great work to be converted and saved. All that was required was for them to believe the words of the missionaries and repent. In fact, the king here notes that "it has been all we could do...to repent of all our sins." This becomes a key answer to what Nephi had in mind when he stated " it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" (2 Ne 25:23). All we can do is repent "sufficiently before God that he take away our stain."
In a series of wonderful blog posts on Robinson's book, "Believing Christ", Joseph Spencer notes that grace and salvation are always there for us to accept. We just have to stop pouting that we cannot have salvation and happiness in our own way, and accept the gift before us. The Lamanites needed to realize that their murderous ways would not lead them to happiness or salvation, but only in repenting could they experience the joy and hope of the Lord.
Burying their weapons becomes a covenant. Covenants are very important in the Book of Mormon, and is part of a theme of Creation, Fall, Atonement/Covenant, Restored to God's Presence. For the Lamanites, the Creation of a new people in a new land was shortly followed by the Fall of Laman and Lemuel. But there are many promises that in the future, the Lamanites would return as part of Israel and its covenant. This promise is partially fulfilled with the conversion of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. In repenting, they are renewed in the atonement of Christ, and renew the covenant of Israel and Lehi by burying their weapons of war. In doing so, the king notes that if the Lamanites slay them, "we shall go to our God and shall be saved" (Alma 24:16), essentially returning to God's presence. Interestingly, the covenant is not only to bury the weapons and not kill, but also to labor diligently and not be idle (vs 18). Perhaps there is a connection between idleness and violence, as we may see in our own culture today.
The Lamanites, led by the Amulonites, eventually turn their anger against the Nephites, as to attack the anti-Nephi-Lehies only tends to cause more converts. After destroying the wicked in Ammonihah, the Lamanites suffer a major loss to the Nephites. Most of the Amulonite leaders are dead, and the Lamanites turn against the remaining Amulonites. Many hearts are softened, and more join the ranks of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Realization sets in that their current lifestyle does not work, and they seek the happiness they see in the lives of the believers.
Law of Moses a type of Christ's Coming
We find that the new converts keep the Law of Moses, knowing it is a type that leads them to Christ (Alma 25:15-16). Julie M. Smith explains that the Law of Moses is mostly found in the book of Leviticus, and that one cannot understand the laws separately, but only analogous, or in conjunction one with another:
"In recent years, the study of Leviticus has been galvanized by the late Mary Douglas, an anthropologist. Douglas's central insight was that Leviticus relies on analogical thinking, which means that each part of the law cannot be understood on its own but only by comparing it with other parts of the law of Moses. She notes that in Leviticus, there are usually no explanations given for why something is done; rather, the explanation is to be found in comparing one part of the text with another part of the text. As Douglas explains, "If one asks, Why this rule? the answer is that it conforms to that other rule. If, Why both those rules? the answer is a larger category of rules in which they are embedded. . . . Instead of argument there is analogy." Analogical reading helps us make sense of a document that, relative to the rest of the Old Testament, has very few imperatives or commandments. Herein I will employ an analogical reading of Leviticus to demonstrate what the Book of Mormon prophets already knew: that the law of Moses, even in its details, points our souls to Christ."
In Alma 26, Ammon boasts of the Lord's greatness in working such a marvelous work through the sons of Mosiah. In chapter 27, it is decided that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies must move to the land of Zarahemla for their safety against a still very dangerous and radical Lamanite nation. As they travel, they encounter Alma.
"Now the joy of Ammon was so great even that he was full; yea, he was swallowed up in the joy of his God, even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth.Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness" (Alma 27:17-18).
Whether reading Nephi, King Benjamin, Alma or Moroni, the Book of Mormon is very consistent on this concept, true joy comes from those who fully repent and humbly seek the type of happiness God offers. The proud insist on having happiness on their own terms, not understanding that true happiness only comes by humbly and fully accepting the atonement and grace of Jesus Christ. Again, noting Joseph Spencer, we often are like spoiled children who pout because the bike we are offered by our parent is not exactly what we want. We may want the cool bike with a banana seat and a card in the spokes. However, God is offering us 18 speeds, quality suspension, and the softest seat imaginable, because he knows we've already outgrown the kiddy bike. When we're ready to wake up and realize what will truly make us happy, we can then take the bike offered, and find real happiness.
Today, we seek happiness in temporary things and relationships. We think money, wealth, a big car and house, a super model wife/husband, drugs, sex, or something else will bring us happiness. Many years ago, my youngest son told me that if I bought him the new Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtles video game, he would be happy. So, as a good father, I purchased it for him. After about a week, I found him playing other games instead. I asked him why he wasn't playing his new game. He said he'd already beaten the game several times, and was bored with it. No longer did it make him happy. Today, he is sealed in the temple, with an eternal soul mate, and a faith in God, which bring true value and meaning into his life that are lasting.
Oh That I Were an Angel
After more than a decade of experiences, beginning with his personal rebellions, conversion of himself and others, wars, priestcrafts, good and evil, Alma exclaims:
"O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth" (Alma 29:1-2).
While Alma wishes this, we may find that often in his life he DID speak with "the trump of God" as an angel would. Nephi noted that angels "speak by the power of the Holy Ghost" and that we can "speak with the tongue of angels" (2 Nephi 32:2-3). In the prison of Ammonihah, the power of the Lord shook the earth and the prison walls until they collapsed upon the wicked, freeing Alma and Amulek.
Here is a key: sorrow is upon the earth because people do not repent and come unto Christ. When we truly learn to stop rebelling against the grace and atonement of Christ, and humbly accept the gift, we shall experience the exceedingly great joy that Alma, Ammon, Lamoni, the converted Lamanites and others have all experienced. Until we do, there shall be "sorrow upon all the face of the earth."
"For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true" (vs 8).
For Latter-day Saints, we seek exaltation and eternal life. This is a fullness of salvation, wherein we receive all the blessings and gifts of God, becoming "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17).
But the happiness offered by Christ is offered to all those who are saved. God provides as much of the gospel as each group of people is ready and willing to hear. For some, it may mean hearing a portion of the gospel from a Christian minister, for others a Buddhist monk, and others from the Light of Christ or conscience. To the amount of light and truth we accept, we will find that amount of joy and happiness. Even for LDS, we must not rest on our laurels, thinking we have the gospel and the priesthood, and so we have enough.
Instead, as with the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, we must covenant to be actively engaged and working out our salvation, until we obtain a fullness and the Lord says, "it is finished." Our responsibility is to seek out each of our sins, one by one, and eliminate them through repentance and faith, so that the atonement and grace of Christ may abound in us. We must go from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace, until we receive a fullness (D&C 93:12-13).
It is for each of us to decide if we truly wish to be happy or not. Some may be so trapped by Satan that they need help from professionals, parents, and Church leaders. However, none of us can be truly happy without Believing Christ, repenting, and being a "humble seeker of happiness."
Joseph Spencer, "Believing Christ Revisited", in a series of blogs (still on going at the time of this writing). The link is to the first post: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2012/06/01/_believing-christ_-revisited-0-context/
Julie M. Smith, "Point our Souls to Christ: Lessons from Leviticus" : http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/studies/?vol=1&id=30