Several issues combine to cause a major change in governance among the people of Nephi.
First, the sons of Mosiah have left on a mission to the Lamanites of indeterminate length. There is no one for Mosiah to leave the throne to. Traditionally, the kingdom had always been ruled by a direct descendant of Nephi (Mosiah 25:13). Nephi was given the power to rule by God. Now, however, there were other possible claimants to the throne. Mulekites were direct descendants of King Zedekiah of Israel, and therefore direct descendants of King David. They may have believed they also had a divine right to rule, now that Mosiah had no heir apparent.
It is possible that children of King Limhi may also have felt they had a right to the throne. It may be that other non-Nephite groups that were under Nephite rule also desired to gain the throne. One of these groups probably were Jaredites that escaped with the people of Zarahemla from the final Jaredite wars. From the point where King Mosiah I discovered Zarahemla and on, we see Jaredite names and tactics enter into the Nephite story. Jaredites often sought to overthrow the governments and kings of the nation, and we'll see their secret combinations, priestcrafts, and wickedness spring up in the Nephite realm in the Book of Alma and later.
For King Mosiah II, he had to find a solution that satisfied the various factions by giving them some power, but leaving the government in the hands of trusty Nephite leaders. He developed a system of judges, where lower levels of judges were elected by the people. So, Mulekite people could have their own local leadership, while Limhites or Jaredites could also have their own. Meanwhile, the chief judge was appointed to the position by King Mosiah. This specific position was given to Alma the younger, a descendant of Nephi and a proven faithful follower of God.
That the majority of the people appreciated this additional freedom and personal power is evident from the Nephite record. Still, there is an underlying current of dissatisfaction from some groups with the strict Nephite rule. Remember in the last lesson that King Mosiah mandated special dispensations to Alma's churches that do not seem to have been given to any other churches or groups. How does one create a state religion? By mandating its existence, giving it preference over all other religions, and ensuring it is not persecuted.
In Egyptian history, there was a period when one Pharaoh rejected the multiplicity of gods and focused worship throughout the kingdom on just one god. The Pharaoh Amenhotep IV rejected the God Amun (whom he was named for) and renamed himself Akhenaten ("Living Spirit of Aten"). He moved away from the Egyptian capitol, where all the gods had temples, and built a new city in the desert called Amarna, where only the worship of Aten was allowed. This religion grew greatly in his lifetime rule of 17 years. However, after his death, Aten worship was no longer protected nor nurtured, and the older religions quickly returned to fill the vacuum. Akhenaten and Aten were removed from the face of temples and statues everywhere. The city of Amarna was buried and the secret remained buried for almost 3000 years.
Here we see a similar issue for King Mosiah. He knew once he was gone, other forces would attempt to grab the power and bury the Christian faith forever. It would require skillful politics to keep the Christian faith and Nephite rule in power. In giving limited power to the other groups ensured the continuing of Nephite rule for at least another generation. However, that new freedom would open up new problems for Alma as he became both prophet and chief judge.
Alma's first challenge as chief judge and prophet come in the first year of the judges. Nehor was a descendant of the Jaredites, culturally, if not literally. His name is Jaredite in origin (Ether 7:4-9), and the religion he preaches is reminiscent of Jaredite philosophy.
"And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life" (Alma 1:3-4).
Here is a clear distinction between Alma's and Nehor's teachings. Alma gave strict direction that priests should labor for themselves; that not all would be saved, only those that exercised faith unto repentance. Nehor is teaching that no matter what a person does in this life, God will save him or her. His teachings justified a form of anarchy against the government, as well as anarchy against Alma's established religion. For Nehor, his preaching encouraged people to commit sexual sin, to not be humble or repent, nor believe in the coming Savior to save people from their sins. Instead, his teachings taught that they would be saved regardless, and so they may as well live riotous lives and toss out all rules. Nehor tested the current system by killing Gideon. When Nehor was not able to convince Gideon with words, he went to other resources in his anarchic toolbox. Since all would be saved, murder was justified.
In future lessons, we will study secret combinations and priestcrafts. One of their main goals is to do whatever necessary to get gain and power. For Nehor, gaining religious and political power required him to slay Gideon. We will see that in the future, most wicked men will murder only in secret, avoiding the death that Nehor would face for breaking the laws of the land.
"Alma said unto him: Behold, this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among this people. And behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but hast endeavored to enforce it by the sword; and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction" (Alma 1:12).
We will see that priestcraft, or secret combinations, will eventually destroy the Nephite and Jaredite peoples. Interestingly, it isn't the existence of priestcrafts or sin that cause the destruction of a people, but the enforcement of such wickedness upon the people that causes the destruction. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, for example, it isn't that the cities were dens of sexual iniquity that ripened them for destruction, but that the citizens sought to impose their wickedness on others, such as seeking to rape Lot's visitors. If in our day, we get to a point where such great sins are enforced by government or the majority of the people, we may also see ourselves ripened for destruction, as well.
That Nehor was killed for murder is not newsworthy. What is interesting is the description of his death:
"And it came to pass that they took him; and his name was Nehor; and they carried him upon the top of the hill Manti, and there he was caused, or rather did acknowledge, between the heavens and the earth, that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death." (Alma 1:15)
Why take him to the top of a hill to slay him? Why would it be considered an "ignominious death"? If current LDS scholarship is correct and places the main events of the Nephite record in Central America, it is possible that the hill Manti was actually am active volcano. Imagine being carried to the top of the hill, and with the heat of the lava in your face, being forced to confess. The ignominious death would have been tossing the person into the volcano, as an example to others. Another possibility is that the hill refers to a special hill used for human sacrifice, where enemies of the state would be sacrificed.
It may be that by the time the Nephites had lived among the natives for 5 centuries, they began to use some of their methods for executing those who broke their laws. For example, we find that ancient Mayans used a variety of methods in human sacrifice:
"The common method for human sacrifice seems to have been for the "ah nacom" (a functionary) to extract the heart quickly, while 4 people associated with Chac, the rain/lightning god, held the struggling victim's limbs. Human sacrifices seem to have been made, as well, with arrows, by flaying, decapitation, hurling from a precipice, and throwing the victim into a limestone sinkhole." (N.S. Gill)
Nehor's Influence on the Nephites
So what comes of Nehor's time among the people? His religion gets a strong foothold among the people. While they are not allowed to break the laws of the land, they are free to believe as they choose. Many push the limits of the law, as they seek to live without boundaries set by man or God:
"For those who did not belong to their church did indulge themselves in sorceries, and in idolatry or idleness, and in babblings, and in envyings and strife; wearing costly apparel; being lifted up in the pride of their own eyes; persecuting, lying, thieving, robbing, committing whoredoms, and murdering, and all manner of wickedness; nevertheless, the law was put in force upon all those who did transgress it, inasmuch as it was possible" (Alma 1:32).
And what of the Church of God?
"And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth.And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.And thus they did prosper and become far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church" (Alma 1:29-31).
The Church actually prospered more than the world did. While they cared for the poor and needy, they also worked hard to make for a good living, and trusted in God. God made them prosperous. Some wonder why such a small church of just 14 million people can have so much power in the world today, perhaps it is because Mormons have also learned these principles and God is generally prospering the LDS Church today. As to our own work ethic and our caring for the poor and needy, the above verses should be our guide today, compared to the empty words given by those who are caught up in the worldliness of things today.
In the Church of God, we see the Doctrine of Christ (unity) compared with the Doctrine of Satan (contention), as we've studied before in 2 Nephi 31, and will study again in 3 Nephi. Those outside the church begin to contend with one another, a variety of beliefs appear, and they embrace chaos as a way of life. The Church offers order and a strong foundation.
Amlici is a man "after the order of Nehor", someone who believed in the religion and priestcraft of evil men. Note the terminology used here to describe Amlici: "after the order of Nehor". In LDS teaching, we use the term "after the order of" most frequently to denote true authority and power from God (after the order of the Son of God/Melchizedek/Enoch). We can get a feeling of a system, first religious and now political, that seeks to displace and replace the true order, after the order of Nephi.
Amlici believed he should be king. This great politician had the flattering tongue of the televangelist. He realized that Nehor could not have full power, as long as Mosiah's laws remained in place. Therefore, not only the religious, but also the political order had to be changed. It would be according to the voice of the people if they were to change the rule of judges, after only 5 years, with a new king.
"the people assembled themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against Amlici, in separate bodies, having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another" (Alma 2:5).
It seems that politics, as with religion, created huge contentions back then, even as it does today. While the rule of judges continued, the voting seems to have been very close. Clearly, there were many people, perhaps many of the non-Nephites, who desired a king. Politicians can often offer huge bribes, often things they will do for the people once they get into office. Unfortunately, such bribes and benefits require the loss of freedom. The people would have given up their ability to choose judges and vote had they chosen a king to rule over them.
Amlici was still anointed king by his followers, and took up arms to overthrow the government established by Mosiah. This is exactly how events occurred among the Jaredites. Wicked men desired to be king, and so started insurrections to overthrow the current government. While the wicked often succeeded among the Jaredites, this time Amlici failed in his violent bid to rule.
While the Nephite army handily beat Amlici's army on the first day, the surprise counter attack included a Lamanite army to supplement Amlici's troops. It reminds me of the Korean War, where North Korea invaded the South, but was pushed back. When the war was thought to soon be over, the North Korean army was suddenly reinforced by millions of Chinese soldiers flowing over the border, seeming "as numerous almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea" (Alma 2:27). Only fierce combat allowed South Korea and the Nephites to regain the edge and win the day.
Those Amlicites, who escaped into the Lamanite territories, marked themselves with a red mark on their foreheads, so as to distinguish themselves from the Nephites. We must note this is not a black mark, nor a skin of darkness, that was upon them, but a red one. The only curse upon them was one they placed upon themselves. They could also remove the curse. However, instead of being viewed as followers of Christ, they intentionally marked themselves as enemies of God and his people.
Today, it is interesting to see the many ways people mark themselves to signify which group(s) they belong with. Tattoos, rings, hair cuts, clothing styles, etc., all become external evidence of what is often going on inside the individual. Having worked as a hearing officer/judge inside a state prison system for several years, I learned to recognize the tattoos many of the offenders wore, and which gang each tattoo is connected with. There are tattoos for skinhead white supremacists, tattoos for a variety of black gangs, tattoos for Mexican gangs, etc. Even those who get tattoos unaffiliated with a gang, often do so to make a statement, often to separate the person from the norm or to express individuality (even though everyone else may also be doing it in their associated group).
Interestingly, Isaiah warned the daughters of Zion for doing this very thing of wearing a variety of styles and "walking haughty" as leading to their eventual downfall. "it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty" (Isaiah 3:16-26, 2 Nephi 13:16-26).
So, how should we look? In the next lesson, Alma will explain that we should have Christ in our countenances. When people see us, they should clearly see a follower of Christ. Our outward expression should show forth our inner expression of faith.
After the many wars, the Nephite people were humbled. They realized that only with God's help were they able to overcome the massive forces of the Lamanites. Because of their humility, they survived. However, because of their former sins, the Lord allowed tragedy to strike, so they would learn to be humble.
"And so great were their afflictions that every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed that it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations; therefore they were awakened to a remembrance of their duty" (Alma 4:3).
With such tragedy, many were baptized into the Church. We see such a cycle often in the Book of Mormon. 1. The people are humble and faithful. 2. The people are blessed by the Lord and prosper. 3. The people get too comfortable and forget God, returning to their former sins. 4. Destruction occurs, causing them to be humble. This Pride Cycle continues unless it is broken. Either the people must remain humble and faithful, or the destruction becomes complete, so that there are no more people to continue in the Pride Cycle.
We will note that when the people turn to the Lord, peace and joy seem to be the terms used to describe them. However, as the people become wicked, contention often becomes the main problem.
And so, after just a few years of peace, the non-believers return to their life of pride and contention, leading many in the Church to also stumble and struggle. Alma cannot rule the land and guide the church at the same time. He has no choice but to leave behind either politics or religion. Choosing to remain chief high priest, Alma appoints his replacement in the government, with the people sustaining the choice (no direct elections).
For several generations, the ruler was also the chief religious leader. Now, the people will learn how to deal separately between politics and religion. Alma will leave the government in stable Nephite hands, and go forth preaching the gospel.
Akhenaten at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhenaten
King Mosiah I and Zarahemla: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2012/03/book-of-mormon-lesson-14-for-wise.html
"Human Sacrifice Among the Mayan", by N.S. Gill: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/deathafterlife/qt/012709MayaScrfc.htm