Sunday, June 28, 2020

Come Follow Me: Alma 23-29

Come Follow Me: Alma 23-29
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.   This suggests that they may have had other non-Nephite enemies on other sides, pushing for territory.
"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 and become the sovereign king in place of his father. Besides this, the lands of Shilom and Shemlon are the only ones to convert.  A few key cities also convert, which would include Nephi, Lemuel, and Shimnilom. 
Radical "Lamanite-ism" 
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.  They also taught the Lamanites about written language and trade, which gave them power. 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 they 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 are 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 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 reviewing Stephen Robinson's book, "Believing Christ", scholar 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 temple 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 ancient 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 turned their anger against the Nephites, as to attack the anti-Nephi-Lehies only created more converts. After destroying the wicked in Ammonihah, the Lamanites suffered 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." 
True Joy 
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, seeing the terrors of evil {as when the women and children were cast into fire at Ammonihah), the 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 stop living the status quo, 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: 
Julie M. Smith, "Point our Souls to Christ: Lessons from Leviticus" :

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Come Follow Me: Alma 17-22

Come Follow Me: Alma 17-22

This lesson focuses on a large portion of the mission of the sons of King Mosiah. We see from Mosiah 27-28 that after their miraculous conversion, the sons of Mosiah sought to redeem themselves by preaching the gospel and seeking to restore those they led away from the fold, back to Christ. After preaching to the Nephites, they sought to preach to the Lamanites that dwelt in the land of Nephi. The Lord promised King Mosiah to preserve his sons and bring them much success in their labor.

But many of the Nephites mocked them for wanting to serve a mission to the Lamanites, describing them in loathing terms. Often, we tend to dehumanize a group, just so we can justify how we look upon them as lesser or other than we are. We will find that the converted Lamanites become not as righteous as the Nephites, but even more righteous, showing that we do not know the inner workings of the human soul as God does.

“Men of a Sound Understanding”

Fourteen years after beginning their mission, Alma came across them as they returned home. It was a great reunion for all of them. We are told,

“Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:2-3).
This is an oft quoted scripture in LDS Sunday Schools for discussing the importance of scripture study, fasting and prayer. However, while we note it frequently, perhaps we do not liken it unto ourselves or ponder enough regarding it.

We get a chain of causation that occurs here. We find out that they “waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth.” This occurred because they were “men of a sound understanding.” What does it mean to have sound understanding? The word “sound” means “reliable”, “competent”, “reasonable”, “sensible”. Their perspective of things were reasonable and valid. Compare that with who they were in their rebellious period, and we can distinguish between those of sound and unsound understanding. A person can at one time be unsound, but then become enlightened, so that their understanding becomes sensible.

In order to be sensible, or have common sense, they had to expand their knowledge and ability beyond the basic senses, which had earlier led them down unsound paths. Their world view changed. They found that the “knowledge of the truth”, and particularly spiritual truth, did not come from the things of man. A spiritual person’s tools are different than that of an astronomer, but he still requires tools in order to find the truths of God. He must search the scriptures “diligently.” This means quantity AND quality of study. If we read the scriptures in the same way every time, we will not learn new things from them. To become a gospel scholar requires a pattern of getting ever closer to the true roots of not just the story-line, but each word. A child may enjoy the war stories in the Book of Mormon, but the true student seeks to understand the teachings on as many valid levels as one can. You do not just skim rocks across the ocean of spiritual knowledge. You must plumb the depths to fully understand the doctrines of the gospel.

For example, it is proper to teach a child that tithing means one dime out of a dollar. But to continually teach only that concept to an adult is to skim across the water, never broaching the deeper waters. But what if a person were to approach tithing from various angles? How does tithing relate to the Law of Consecration? What is the relationship between the Atonement of Christ and paying tithes? If tithing is a Terrestrial Law, why are we only commanded to live it right now?

For us to become sound in our understanding, requires pondering and prayer. It means we must break down chapters into verses, and verses into phrases. We must ask why a certain word or phrase was used in a certain instance. Do we truly understand what the writer was trying to convey, or are we only applying it to our own personal need?

It seems that revelation and prophecy are the outcome for much prayer and fasting. For LDS, we fast as a Church once per month, in order to provide for the poor and needy. However, it seems that Ammon and his brethren fasted much more often. They seem to have fasted, in order to gain a better understanding of the scriptures and truth. Fasting and prayer seem to have opened their minds to the mysteries of godliness. To accomplish a fast, must a person always do what we would call an “official” fast, where we abstain from all food and drink for 24 hours? Or can we adjust some of our fasts? Is it fasting if we choose to go without a meal once a day for several days? What if one stops eating for a day, but continues to drink water? Is that a fast?

I would suggest that these can indeed be fasts, if they are entered into with prayer and purpose. Moses and Jesus fasted for 40 days (the scriptures do not tell whether they drank water or not). During the month-long spiritual journey called, Ramadan, Muslims eat before dawn and after sun-set, having no food during the day (water is allowed). How many Christians put such effort into fasting and prayer during an entire year? One stake president noted to me once that the Lord always provides answers to him when he fasts for three days straight.

Simply put, why do Christians, and specifically Latter-day Saints, not receive more personal revelation, which leads to a sound mind and a knowledge of the truth? They do not fast and pray intensely and frequently, in conjunction with an in-depth study of the scriptures.

Two Missionary Methods

During their mission, Ammon and his brothers split up to preach to various Lamanite towns. The Lamanites are set up similar to the ancient Mayan society, with vassal kings underneath a sovereign king. Ammon and Aaron visited different areas under vassal kings/brothers. Their methods are different, and so are the outcomes for both.

Ammon came into the land and presented himself to the king. When asked how long he would be staying, Ammon pleased King Lamoni by stating he may stay his entire life among them. Lamoni offered him one of his daughters to wife, perhaps hoping to improve his prestige in having a Nephite son-in-law, or as Brant Gardner notes, to have someone he can use as an outsider from the Mayan customs that restricted the king from directly using his power around other powerful clan members.

Ammon chooses to be a servant of the king, instead. This would allow Ammon to serve and teach, without being hindered by the politics of the royal family. Because of his diligence as a servant, the Lord was able to provide opportunities for Ammon to teach the gospel to those around him, after first prepared their hearts to listen. Ammon would convert the household of Lamoni, and later most of the people in the land of Ishmael.

For Aaron, we find that he directly preaches to the people in their synagogues and homes. He is not the servant, but the teacher. Unfortunately for him, no one asked him to be their teacher. Aaron would spend most of his time arguing with Lamanite priests over doctrine and teachings, with the contention in such debates hardening the hearts of the people. Aaron would convert no one with this method, and find himself cast into prison, along with several other missionaries.

After being released from prison, however, we see that Aaron is a quick learner. In going to see the sovereign King of the Lamanites, Aaron enters and offers to be his servant. Yet, this does not happen, because Ammon has already prepared the way and the heart of the Lamanite king to hear the gospel message.

And so we learn from these two missionaries that there is more success in missionary work, when we first offer ourselves as servants, and then become the teacher when the person’s heart has been prepared to listen to the gospel message.

Present Arms! The ancient Middle Eastern method of counting coup.

What kind of animals did Ammon and the servants of Lamoni watch over? Did you guess sheep? Let’s look at what the scripture actually tells us:

“Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites….Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon…” (Alma 17:25-27).

Nowhere does the story specify the kind of animal it was, but only calls them “flocks”. Anciently, there is no evidence of sheep being domesticated by Mesoamericans. Ancient Mayans did have flocks of turkeys and perhaps of deer, so it may be the flocks are very different from the famous Arnold Freiberg painting of Ammon and the flocks (with sheep). Again, for us to gain a sound understanding of the scriptures, we have to not question the scriptural text, but our interpretation of it, to ensure we are not adding to it things that may not be correct.

There are many morbid jokes that go along with Ammon defending the flocks by cutting the arms off of the attackers. “Do you need a hand?”, “The servants grabbed an armful”, “Ammon beat a handful of attackers”,  "that one cost an arm, but he kept his leg," etc.

We can perhaps imagine him cutting off those arms, but why would the servants of Lamoni then gather up the arms and take them to the king? Wouldn’t such seem odd, and out of place in such a story? It might, if there wasn’t evidence of this being an ancient Middle Eastern custom!

In 1918, World War I was raging. The war spread over much of the Middle East, where General George Allenby was in charge of the British army, battling in a region of Palestine known as Megiddo. The enemy was holed up in a very secure location, and would be difficult to defeat by any normal methods. However, General Allenby was an avid student of archaeology, and had read an ancient papyri regarding Pharaoh Thutmose III fighting a battle in the same area 3500 years before and in similar circumstances. Thutmose chose a daring attack up a steep ravine, believing it would not be well guarded. Thutmose III described his victory in a papyri entitled, the Battle of Megiddo. General Allenby easily conquered his German and Arab enemies by following Thutmose’s strategy.

What does this have to do with Ammon and severed hands being brought to Lamoni? In winning his victory, Thutmose noted that his men brought spoils to him, which included the following:

“Then were captured their horses, their chariots of gold and silver were made spoil, their champions lay stretched out like fishes on the ground. The victorious army of his majesty went around counting their portions. Behold, there was captured the tent of that wretched foe [in] which was [his] son [ … ]. The whole army made jubilee, giving praise to Amon for the victory which he had granted to his son on [this day, giving praise] to his majesty, exalting his victories. They brought up the booty which they had taken, consisting of hands, of living prisoners, of horses, chariots of gold and silver…. 340 living prisoners; 83 hands; 2,041 mares; 191 foals; 6 stallions; a chariot, wrought with gold, its pole of gold, belonging to that foe; a beautiful chariot, wrought with gold, belonging to the chief of [Megiddo]”

Here, the soldiers collected 83 hands to present to the Pharaoh, as evidence of the number slain among the enemy. Lamoni’s servants brought the hands as evidence of a great battle, as well.

Equally interesting is the Egyptian army “giving praise to Amon (the main Egyptian god) for the victory he had granted to his son (Pharaoh).” In the Book of Mormon, we find Lamoni and his servants praising Ammon as “Rabbanah” (great king) and “Great Spirit” (God). Incidentally, Egyptian hieroglyphics were not understood at the time the Book of Mormon was written. In fact, in 1829 when Joseph Smith translated the golden plates to English, the French scholar Champollion was just beginning to learn how to understand and translate Egyptian characters.

So, to have the Book of Mormon contain an ancient story that resembles the Battle of Megiddo with particulars such as cut off hands as a method of official counting of dead, and praising Amon/Ammon, is highly unlikely as a “coincidence.”

The Conversions of Lamoni and His Father as an endowment

Lamoni and his father, the sovereign king of the Lamanites in the land of Nephi, have similar conversion stories. A prophet/missionary comes to them, offering to be a servant. Both have a remarkable experience that causes them to want to hear the message these prophets give. For both Lamoni and his father, it is Ammon’s example that causes both to want to know more. While Ammon converts the land of Ishmael, in the case of Lamoni’s father, Ammon’s elder brother, Aaron, symbolizes Ammon as servant-messenger and hears from him.

As we learn in the temples today, both kings learn the gospel from the Creation and the time of Adam, through the prophets and apostles, until they come to their own time (Alma 18, 22) . The rebellion of Laman and Lemuel represents the fall of the Lamanites from the fullness of the gospel, with the redemption of Christ and the prophetic message representing a restoration to those who are caught in the anguish of the temporal and spiritual deaths awaiting all mankind. Both kings are convinced of their own sin, and the need to be purified in Christ.

Both have similar conversions:

“And it came to pass that after he had said all these things, and expounded them to the king (Lamoni), that the king believed all his words.
And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people.
And now, when he had said this, he fell unto the earth, as if he were dead” (Alma 18:40-42).

“ And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the (sovereign) king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.
And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying: O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead” (Alma 22:15-18).

Once taught everything concerning the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption, and the future gifts of God, both kings bowed and prayed fervently for their own sins. In praying for their sins, both fell down, as if they were dead. We can presume they were at least in a coma, if not having passed into the Spirit World in a Near Death Experience (NDE, cf Alma 36). In falling into a form of death, both passed through the veil of life, and into the realm of the spirits.

We do not learn much of what the sovereign king of the Lamanites experienced, but know that when he stood again, he immediately ministered to his entire house until they were converted. However, with Lamoni, we do get a more detailed experience. As both kings are dead, their queens become very involved in the events going on. Imagine being the wife of Lamoni, when he raised up, the first words he would speak:

“ And it came to pass that he arose, according to the words of Ammon; and as he arose, he stretched forth his hand unto the woman, and said: Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou.
For as sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. Now, when he had said these words, his heart was swollen within him, and he sunk again with joy; and the queen also sunk down, being overpowered by the Spirit.” (Alma 18:12-13).

Joseph Spencer has blogged on the experiences of the queen and Abish in this account, and I highly recommend a close reading.

Here, Lamoni sees (as did Nephi) that Christ would be born of a woman, and blesses his wife for also being a woman like Mary. Then, in passing through the veil, the worldly king sees the heavenly king, Jesus Christ. With this experience, Lamoni, his wife, his servants, and Ammon all pass beyond the veil, “being overpowered by the Spirit.” They have returned back into the Lord’s presence.


As we can see, there is a lot going on in these few chapters. In truth, this blog post has just scratched the surface. Hopefully it has given some new insights in reading these events.

For all people seeking spiritual truth, we can follow the pattern given here: first, seek and study the gospel truths. Second, pray intensely to know the truth. In doing this, we must be ready, even as the Lamanite King, to give up our worldly kingdom, power, and wealth, in order to be redeemed and know God. We were told in Alma 17 that Ammon and his brethren were men of “sound understanding”, knowing the truth, filled with prophecy and revelation, and spoke with power and authority of God. We see how intense searching can bring people, not only to belief and repentance, but to experience the presence of God and His redemptive grace.

As the LDS apostle, Elder Bruce R. McConkie once wrote:

“We have yet to gain that full knowledge and understanding of the doctrines of salvation and the mysteries of the kingdom that were possessed by many of the ancient Saints. O that we knew what Enoch and his people knew! Or that we had the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, as did certain of the Jaredites and Nephites! How can we ever gain these added truths until we believe in full what the Lord has already given us in the Book of Mormon, in the Doctrine and Covenants, and in the inspired changes made by Joseph Smith in the Bible? ….
“We have yet to attain that degree of obedience and personal righteousness which will give us faith like the ancients: faith to multiply miracles, move mountains, and put at defiance the armies of nations; faith to quench the violence of fire, divide seas and stop the mouths of lions; faith to break every band and to stand in the presence of God. Faith comes in degrees. Until we gain faith to heal the sick, how can we ever expect to move mountains and divide seas?
“We have yet to receive such an outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord in our lives that we shall all see eye to eye in all things, that every man will esteem his brother as himself, that there will be no poor among us, and that all men seeing our good works will be led to glorify our Father who is in heaven. Until we live the law of tithing how can we expect to live the law of consecration? As long as we disagree as to the simple and easy doctrines of salvation, how can we ever have unity on the complex and endless truths yet to be revealed?
“We have yet to perfect our souls, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, and to walk in the light as God is in the light, so that if this were a day of translation we would be prepared to join Enoch and his city in heavenly realms. How many among us are now prepared to entertain angels, to see the face of the Lord, to go where God and Christ are and be like them?” (Bruce R. McConkie, “This Final Glorious Gospel Dispensation,” Ensign, Apr. 1980, 21).


Brant Gardner discusses how Ammon’s story fits in with the ancient Mayan political structure, and actually makes better sense when placed in a Mayan setting:

The Battle of Megiddo:

Bruce R. McConkie, “This Final Glorious Gospel Dispensation,” Ensign, Apr. 1980:

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Come Follow Me: Alma 13-16

Come Follow Me: Alma 13-16

Alma 13 
In the previous lesson, we saw that the teachings of Alma and Amulek in Alma 9-12 were oriented toward the temple endowment and the focus of returning to the presence of the Lord.  Here in chapter 13, we find the culmination of their teaching. 
All good endowments have a story that takes us from the pre-mortal existence, through creation and fall, and then, through Christ's atonement lead us back into God's presence.  We've seen some of these components in the previous chapters, including the discussion of Adam and the Fall, and how all mankind will resurrect through Christ's atonement and enter back into God's presence (Alma 11).  For the wicked, the glory of God will cause them great pain of conscience and they will wish the rocks would fall and cover them up (Alma 12). 
For Alma 13, we will begin in the pre-mortal existence, even prior to the Creation, back to the great Council of Heaven, where God's children are offered a great gift: the priesthood.  We learn that the priesthood is "after the order of his Son" (Alma 13:1-2).  This holy and high priesthood preceded this earth, where righteous men were foreordained to the priesthood after the order of the Son of God,  This foreordination was performed in God's heavenly temple, and its next partial fulfillment occurs in the holy temples here on earth, with a final anointing occurring with our Calling and Election. 
"And this is the manner after  which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation  of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their  exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose  good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising  exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that  holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory  redemption for such. 
And  thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their  faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the  hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had  not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their  brethren" (Alma 13:3-4). 
Here we learn about events prior to this earth's creation.  God's spirit children existed prior to this earth.  There is no creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing). In this pre-mortal existence, the spirits of men were left to choose good or evil.  Some chose good and exercised great faith, and so were entrusted with the holy priesthood in mortality.  The difference between those foreordained and those who were not is based on their level of faith. Those not ready to exercise great faith were not ready for such a foreordination.  In connection to the covenant with Israel, we would consider that Israel was foreordained to be the covenant people.  LDS understanding is that the Melchizedek Priesthood primarily falls to the tribe of Joseph and his son, Ephraim, as the right to rule the spiritual kingdom (as Judah has the right to rule the physical kingdom of Israel). 
Whether foreordained or not, any man can become worthy through exceeding faith in Christ, to receive this priesthood in mortality.  But for those who harden their hearts, there will be no priesthood given unto them.  In fact, we learn in D&C 121:33-46 that the priesthood only works on the principles of righteousness, and when a man attempts to rule wickedly, it is "amen" or the end to that man's priesthood. 
Note that the priesthood is a "privilege" and not a right.  It is not something we earn or demand as a right, but is a gift given to those who prepare themselves to use it.  That preparation requires great faith, repentance, and good works.  If a man is ordained to the priesthood, while lacking the preparation, he may hold the priesthood, but will not have the power that comes with it. 
"Or in fine, in the first  place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy  calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as  would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the  Only Begotten Son, who was prepared— 
And  thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high  priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the  children of men, that they also might enter into his rest" (Alma 13:5-6). 
All spirit children of God were born equal.  It is what we did in our pre-mortal existence and here that determines whether we are ready to receive any gifts from God. It is not an issue of meriting such gifts, but of being ready and able to receive it.  Why give the gift of the Spirit to a man, who refuses to listen to it?  The priesthood is given to help us help others enter into God's "rest" or presence. 
"This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was  from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without  beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all  eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things" (Alma 13:7). 
Here we get an interesting definition of some terms.  "in other words" notes we are to receive a definition or meaning of a term.  "without beginning of days or end of years" and "eternity to all eternity" does not necessarily mean forever into the past and future, but that it began with the foundation of the world!  In the Book of Mormon, we thrice find the term "eternal round" (1 Nephi 10:19, Alma 7:20, 37:12. see also D&C 3:2, 35:1).  Interestingly, Alma uses the term twice, once just prior to going to Ammonihah to preach, and the other in teaching his sons.  Such view of time is in keeping with ancient Israel, which did not see time as linear, but as a cycle. 
It seems that an eternal round is a period or a cycle of time, during which there is a Creation,  a Destruction, followed by a new Creation.  During this period, God's work is performed to create spirit children, send them to a newly formed earth, allow them to Fall, offer them an Infinite Atonement, and bring those who will follow Christ back into His presence. 
"they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only  Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of  years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen" (Alma 13:9). 
This ordination to high priest is an eternal ordination. It does not end with death, but continues on into the eternities.  It is the priesthood which Jesus Christ had (Hebrews 5-7), as well as his apostles. It is the priesthood that Moses held, and desired to use to bring Israel back into the presence of God at Sinai (D&C 84:19-26).  We will now see that it is also the priesthood that Melchizedek the King of Salem held. 
"Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified,  and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their  garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look  upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly  great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord  their God" (Alma 13:11-12). 
Here we see the ancient guidance given by God to Moses in preparing Aaron and his sons to serve as high priests in the Tabernacle.  They were to be sanctified, washed clean, and made pure in order to enter into God's presence.  So it is with us if we want to see the face of God and live in His kingdom.  Mormons attending the temple dress in white clothing to symbolize such purity, as they seek to be sanctified by the Holy Ghost and purified in the blood of Christ (sanctification and justification). The grea t purpose of the temple is for us to symbolically learn to be pure and enter into God's rest. 
Alma begins speaking of Melchizedek, his people, and the priesthood and ordinances that led them into God's presence. According to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the people of Melchizedek were a wicked people, but repented and became righteous and sanctified (made holy) to where their city was caught up to the city of Enoch in a state of paradise (JST 14). 
Melchizedek is a name that is two words: Melchi (King) and Zedek (Righteousness), or the King of Righteousness.  Being King over the city of Salem (Peace), he is also the Prince of Peace (Alma 13:18). Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and the King performed great miracles throughout his life as a priesthood holder.  As with Enoch and Moses, he becomes a symbol of the future Christ.  Today, the priesthood after the order of the Son of God is nicknamed the Melchizedek Priesthood, or the Priesthood of the King of Righteousness! 
As Melchizedek is a great king and priest under God, so we can also be.  The highest form of this priesthood is found in the temple ordinances.  When man and woman are sealed in eternal marriage, they receive together the Patriarchal Priesthood.  This priesthood was given to Abraham, and through this priesthood all the nations of the world are blessed with the gospel and the binding ties (Book of Abraham 1).  In the temple, man and woman learn to become kings and queens and priests and priestesses under the tutelage of Jesus Christ.  As Melchizedek becomes a symbol of Christ, so too do those who receive the fullness of the priesthood become a symbol of the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. 
Alma tells the people of Ammonihah that it is now the time to repent, for  "angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is  for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to  receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory" (Alma 13:24).  Alma and Amulek are two witnesses of the coming of angels, who prepare all of us for the coming of God in glory.  Alma concludes his sermon telling them that, 
"Having faith on the Lord;  having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God  always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and  enter into his rest. 
30 And  may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his  wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell,  that ye may not suffer the second death" (Alma 13:29-30). 
Alma 14
We will find in this chapter that the few righteous among the people will be cast out or burned in the fire (along with the holy scriptures), showing (as noted in the previous lesson) the people of Ammonihah were inhospitable and sought to impose their wickedness upon the righteous. Bible scholar Harold Bloom noted that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they were inhospitable. We will see the same extreme inhospitality here. Alma and Amulek are cast into prison, and tortured for days, also a sign that the city was ripened in wickedness.  Even the miraculous rescue of the prophets from prison did not cause the people to repent.  All that was left was for the Lord to allow the Lamanites to destroy them (Alma 16), and allow them to "suffer the second death" (Alma 13:30) out of the presence of God. 
In Alma 14, we find that many accept the teachings of Alma. However, many not only reject it, but violently reject it. Some LDS scholars suggest that what happens next will haunt Alma for the rest of his life.
Zeezrom and many of the new believers, are cast out of Ammonihah. They go to a nearby city, where they are taken in as refugees. Their wives and children do not fare well.  They are cast into a fire, along with the scriptures.
Alma and Amulek are set before this scene, where they can see the faces of terrified women and children, and hear their screams as they are burned alive. Alma will never again teach about fire and brimstone (Alma 12:17), after the chief judge smites him on the cheek and demands, "After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?" (Alma 1414). 
The chief judge has simulated the lake of fire and brimstone and tossed innocent women, children and holy scriptures into the pit. Three days later, the fire is still burning hot, as the judge questions Alma in prison:

"And it came to pass that the judge stood before them, and said: Why do ye not answer the words of this people? Know ye not that I have power to deliver you up unto the flames?" (Alma 14:19).
 In Alma 12, Alma taught that the wicked would fear God's presence so much that they would wish the mountains would fall upon them and cover them up, so they would not be in the presence of God.
"...we [the wicked] would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence. But this cannot be; we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just..." (Alma 12:14-15)
 Here in prison (Alma 14), the prophets are mocked and beaten daily. Finally, Alma calls forth the power of God to deliver them. The cords binding Alma and Amulek are broken, they stand up. Fear falls upon the wicked and they wish to flee from God's power. Before they can escape, however, the rock walls fall down upon them, covering them up. Yet they did not escape the presence of God, nor his judgment.

Alma 15

Traveling over to Sidom, Alma and Amulek find Zeezrom sick with a burning fever, caused by his guilt. It is possible this is another representation of the lake of fire and brimstone that occurs several times as a theme in this story. It is only the power of God that can rescue a person from this fire. It is interesting to contrast Zeezrom's painful conversion to that of the Lamanite kings Lamoni (Alma 18) and his father (Alma 22), and compare it with Alma's own conversion (Alma 36). 

Generally, Alma has preached the gospel for about ten years, and finally returned to his own house, thankful for the converts in many cities, but, along with Amulek, is traumatized by the fiery deaths in Ammonihah.

Alma 16

We find that the cycle of iniquity in Ammonihah is complete when the Lamanites destroy the city. The city is so completely devastated that the bodies are heaped up, and it becomes a new land of Desolation, the Desolation of Nehors. This is another fulfillment of Alma's teachings. As with the chief judges in the prison, when Alma taught the wicked would be covered up with rocks and mountains, the mass grave is a rock covering that attempts to hide the wicked from the presence of the Lord here in the Promised Land.

This shows some of the complexity of the Book of Mormon. While Alma is preaching to Ammonihah, the Lamanite converts of Ammon and Aaron are attacked by the wicked Lamanites (prodded on by Nephite apostates of the Amalekites and Amulonites). When the righteous Lamanites refuse to fight and many are slain, there are many more converted to God. The rest of the Lamanites refuse to slay their unarmed friends, and decide to blame the Nephites for the civil unrest. Their first target? Ammonihah (Alma 24-25).

We also see the end of the Nehor religion and priestcraft that has plagued the Nephites for about a decade, ever since Alma's first year as chief judge (Alma 1). So, we see several story lines emerge here: the Jaredite and Nehor Desolations are compared, Ammonite conversions lead to the destruction of the wicked in Ammonihah, Alma's lake of fire and brimstone literally occurs, and so forth.

With this tragic end to a decade of ministry for Alma, we are ready to see the triumphant story of his former companions, the sons of Mosiah.

Joseph Smith Translation of Bible on Melchizedek: