Alma and his followers
With the death of Abinadi, we are introduced to the new prophet, Alma the elder. We are told that Alma was a priest of Noah, who upon hearing Abinadi, recognized they were not living the law of Moses nor living righteously, and attempted to defend him. Alma was thrust out, and went into hiding, where he spent many days repenting of his sins.
We are not exactly told where Alma received his priesthood authority. It likely came from the ordination of priests under Noah - priesthood and religion were under the direction of the king. Later, we'll see that Alma 1 is authorized by King Mosiah to establish churches, even though Mosiah had his own priests. The pattern of kings approving of the priests' ordination, or perhaps doing them himself, are shown in Zeniff's and Noah's actions. This is a pattern we see with the kings of Israel, beginning with David and Solomon. However, it is interesting that Limhi does not seem to have the ability to provide priesthood ordination to anyone, as he hoped Ammon could baptize the people. The Limhites seem to recognize that Alma had the proper authority to baptize and wished to be with him to receive the ordinance. It is possible that with the death of Noah and his priests fleeing, the priesthood was no longer available. Limhi as king, was not anointed by his father nor by the priests, and so did not have authority to ordain new priests.
In chapter 18, Alma teaches on the border of the wilderness in a land called Mormon. Though it does not specifically state it, Alma teaches the "Doctrine of Christ" (2 Nephi 31, 3 Nephi 11). In verse 21 he encourages them to have no contentions among themselves, then teaches of faith in Christ, repentance, baptism and the Holy Ghost. He teaches them to be one. In his explanation of the baptismal covenant, he discusses the promise to be "willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (vs 8-9). Such promises tie the baptismal covenant directly to the Doctrine of Christ, which is to become one with each other. In this Doctrine, we also observe "to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death" (vs 9). We become one with God. Truly we learn the two great commandments here:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39).
In receiving baptism, we covenant to live by these two great commandments of loving God and man. In becoming one with our neighbors, we learn how to become one with Christ. Jesus then brings us into the presence of the Father, as well. As the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God (or Godhead), so we can also be one with them.
Alma then sets priests to teach and watch over the flocks. In his religious administration, he sets them up distinctly from the priests of Noah (which he once was). Each is given a group of people to watch over. They are to work with their own hands to provide for themselves. There is not a paid ministry, especially not one paid for out of the taxation of the people. For their spiritual pay, they receive the "grace of God" (vs 26) wherein they would have power and authority from God, and greater knowledge of spiritual things. They would be the servants. If a priest was financially struggling, he would be helped via the charity of the Church, just as any other member would be helped.
The People of Noah
While the people of Alma were one and living in peace and harmony, the people of Noah were in a constant state of contention and struggle. In chapter 19, we find that "there began to be a great contention among them" (vs 3). Here Mormon gives us our first major comparison between a chosen people and that of a fallen people. Those who chose to follow Christ and be humbled by the words of Alma had peace, prosperity, and hope; while the people of Noah found themselves up in arms in a civil war. Gideon takes his sword and rushes after Noah to take his life. Where are Noah's guards? Are they perhaps also contending against others in a civil strife? Are they secretly on Gideon's side, and so choose to look away when he comes charging in? Or is Noah so vain that he ignores the shouts and contentions around him, and believes he does not need protection?
As it is, we find that Noah's army is reduced in size. Perhaps it is smaller due to the belief that no Lamanite army can harm them. Remember, in judging Abinadi, the priests and Noah believed that Isaiah had prophesied of them, returning to the mountains to establish Zion and being blessed for doing so (Mosiah 12:19-30).
Perhaps budget problems hit Noah, as his excessive spending sprees have bankrupted the royal expense account. Maybe a bad crop lessened the amount he took in on his 20% tax rate. Did he choose to raise taxes higher (30-40%) in order to pay for his luxurious lifestyle, and thus cause the contention and ire of the people against him? Budget cuts would necessitate shrinking his army, leaving Noah unprepared for a civil war or an invading Lamanite army.
King Noah knows his army is in disarray or non-existent due to the uprising among his people, and so commands them to flee from the Lamanites. Where would they go? They are between the Lamanites on one side and the jungle wilderness (with its inherent dangers) on the other. As the Lamanites, fresh into battle, catch up to the battle weary people of Noah, the king commands the men to flee into the wilderness, leaving wives, children, sick and old to fend for themselves. These will slow the Lamanite army's advance, giving Noah time to escape.
What kind of man sacrifices women and children to save himself? We shudder to think how sick, depraved, and wicked Noah is. But then, look at the world around us. How many men walk away from their families and into the arms of a younger woman? How many spend all their hours at work, on the golf course, or playing video games, instead of spending time with their kids? How many men daily walk out on their families, even if it is just to walk into the den and tell them to leave him alone? How do we justify such behavior-by saying we've provided for them financially, we should be able to do anything else we want? Do we sacrifice our wives and children out of selfishness?
Why did it require the remorseful men to slay King Noah and seek to kill his priests, just so they could return to their families? The Lamanites stopped killing when they saw the fair beauties among the Limhite daughters. Why would they stop when they did? Were they allowed to take the girls with them as war trophies, concubines, Lamanite wives? Why would grown men hide behind their daughters' dresses for safety?
Aftermath of Noah's Reign
Under Noah's evil reign, the people had forced servitude, including paying 20% of their earnings in taxes. Now, humbled into near slavery, the Lamanites would force them to pay 50% tribute. The Limhites would be forced to bear burdens, beaten and humiliated by the Lamanites.
Limhi has kingship suddenly thrust upon him. He seems to be a good man, but one wonders why he said or did nothing when Abinadi was slain, or Alma was setting up his church in the wilderness of Mormon.
In chapter 20, things get worse for the Limhites. The notorious priests of Noah have not only stolen food from the Limhite people, but stolen 24 Lamanite virgins. Perhaps this becomes a poetic justice for the Lamanites attraction to the Limhite daughters? Of the evil priests, were there 24 of them as well? Interestingly, when a Lamanite army stumbles upon them, the Lamanite daughters will plead for the lives of their new husbands. Why a change? Were the girls willing to run off with the priests in the first place, or did they learn to love their husbands over a period of just a few years? The priests stole from the Limhites at night, and it is possible they stole nice items to please their young brides with. Else, why would so many young women not try to escape earlier and get help for the group? Clearly there is more behind this story. It may also be possible that the evil priests frequently visited the place where the girls danced, flirting with some of them, and then these 24 girls, flattered by the attention, ran off with the priests.
Struggling under the burden of slavery, the Limhites go to war three times against the Lamanites. Each time they are hit with a bigger loss, until they are forced to be humble. Later, in Alma 32, Alma the younger will note to the poor Zoramites that they are blessed for being forced to be humble, but more blessed are they who are humbled just by hearing the word. It may be Alma the younger was directly referencing the different experiences of the contentious Limhites versus the humble followers of Alma the elder. As the Limhites do humble themselves in their humiliation, the Lord slowly lightens their load, and increases their crops to alleviate hunger.
In chapter 21, we do see the Limhites have reached the point where they are ready to believe in Christ, repent, and be baptized. In not having anyone able to baptize them, they decide to hold off on creating a church. Obviously, baptism was tied to membership in a church. One could not have an official organization to administer the teachings, covenants and ordinances without first being baptized. As noted before, Limhi did not see himself able to choose and set apart new priests, as did Zeniff and Noah before him. It may be that he was king, but never was ordained to the priesthood himself.
In chapter 22, Limhi discusses with Ammon and Gideon a plan to escape. Theirs is a natural plan: getting the Lamanite guards drunk, and then sneaking out at night. Interestingly, the pursuing Lamanite army loses track of the Limhites after just two days. How does one lose an entire city of people and flocks (perhaps as many as 30-40,000 people)? In the jungle, afternoon weather can produce monsoons that can wipe out all traces of those who have gone before. In wandering through the wilderness, trying to find such a people in a major storm, one could easily get lost. And this is probably how the Lamanite army became lost in the jungle.
Compare the struggles of the Limhites to those of Alma and his people in chapter 23. Alma is warned of King Noah's men marching towards them. They wander several days into the jungle and establish a city. After a few years, the Lamanite army that was lost in the jungle chasing Limhi's people, first stumble across the priests of Noah, and then the people of Alma. While the Lord was slow to hear the prayers of Limhi's people, he is quick to hear those of Alma's people. While God lessened the burdens placed on the people of Limhi, he actually made the burdens placed on Alma's people seem light to them. He protected them and kept them safe. Then, when the Lord prepared all things, HE caused a deep sleep to fall upon the Lamanites, and allowed Alma and his people to escape. God continued to be with them, as he commanded them to continue on their escape and would stop the Lamanite army in the valley of Alma.
The Limhites had to find their own solutions. God helped Alma and his people, providing several miracles along the way to provide for them and protect them. Clearly, the baptismal covenant provided greater blessings and miracles that were not offered to the stubborn.