10 August 2016

"He Did Exhort Them Daily, with All Diligence," Alma 21:18-23

Alma 21:18-23

Now there is a curious thing that transpires in these verses. In returning to the affairs of his own kingdom, Lamoni subsequently establishes the rule of a free people through his land. It is an interesting sequence of events:
  1. The king Lamoni and his household is converted to the gospel of Christ. (chapters 18-19)
  2. Ammon and Lamoni are confronted by Lamoni's father, king over all the land, which results in Lamoni obtaining full freedom and autonomy to govern over his own kingdom as he pleased. (chapter 20)
  3. Lamoni subsequently (in these verses) returns to his own land, and declares freedom for all in his kingdom. 
In considering this freedom, a footnote has brought me over to Doctrine and Covenants 134:1-4, which reads in part:
We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life...
We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.
 Finding this set of verses from Doctrine and Covenants validates the importance of religious freedom and its place as a core tenant of free society.

Surrounding the establishment of freedom in the land of Ishmael, the question of what the role of Ammon would be is brought to consideration. King Lamoni would not permit that Ammon remain a servant. So we read in the end of the chapter about his modified duties.

Verse 23 reads in part:
And Ammon did preach unto the people of king Lamoni; and it came to pass that he did teach them all things concerning things pertaining to righteousness. And he did exhort them daily, with all diligence;
 We talk a lot about the miraculous conversion of the Lamanites pointing to Ammon's labors at the beginnings: chopping off arms, converting the king, etc. We also like to reference the evidences of their profound conversion pointing to the army of Helaman, the 2000 stripling warriors, and their amazing mothers. Yet between point A and point B, we get a glimpse here of how this mighty conversion was maintained and how it was that a nation was built to produce such an unified conversion to the Gospel of Christ among the people of Lamoni.

Daily, Ammon was found teaching the people concerning the things pertaining to righteousness, with all diligence. There is nothing glamorous about this type of consistent dedication, but the results are almost guaranteed to produce the desired outcomes of deep and abiding conversion to the truth. This is where the bulk of Ammon's missionary labors were spent, in establishing and then maintaining the Church among the people of Lamoni for 14 years!

05 August 2016

"And They Went Forth Again to Declare the Word," Alma 21:15-17

Alma 21:15-17

What surprises me about this set of verses is that in a sense, nothing had changed. Their external circumstances had not changed. After Aaron and his brethren had been released from prison, they went back to the synogogues of the Amalekites and into any assembly of the Lamanites that would let them come in. The venues did not change.

What did change was this: "And they went forth whithersoever they were led by the Spirit of the Lord," ( vs. 16). I went back and looked for any reference to the Spirit of the Lord guiding their previous efforts, and there was none. Imprisonment and the subsequent sufferings that resulted seems to have been the humility catalyst needed to prepare this particular set of missionaries for the work that lay ahead of them.

Now verse 17 states that:
...the Lord began to bless them, insomuch that they brought many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, they did convince many of their sins, and of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.
There is a footnote on the word "convince." There is a longing as I read this, and the other passages connected to this footnote, to want to be this kind of instrument in the hands of the Lord. 

01 August 2016

" And Few Believed," Alma 21:1-14

Alma 21:1-14

At the beginning of the chapter, Aaron and his brethren first arrive at a land named Jerusalem, named by the Lamanites in remembrance of the land from which they came. The Lamanites built this city with the help of those who had dissented from among the Nephites, the Amalekites and the people of Amulon (making the city then probably less than 50 years old at the time that Aaron and his brethren visit it).

Now an interesting phenomenon is observed here. For the Lamanites were already of a hard heart, but these other groups which had only recently dissented from the Nephites, were even more hardened in their hearts. I suppose this is because for the Amulonites and the Amalekites, they were this way of their own choice, whereas the Lamanites had inherited their hardheartedness as a tradition from their forefathers. The mixture of the two seems to have had a more damaging effect, causing the Lamanites to be more wicked. (see vs. 3)

Aaron discovers that in the span of one generation, one man's false beliefs (remember Nehor slew Gideon in Alma 1) have now expanded into a religious lifestyle among this people, with synagogues being built after the order of the Nehors. Wickedness is permitted to be cultivated and strengthened among the Lamanites in their hardened state.

So Aaron begins to preach the word of God in this setting, a synagogue of the Nehors. Almost immediately, like an angry hornet disturbed in its nest, an Amalekite begins to contend with Aaron, throwing it all back into his face. The Amalekite concludes his initial comments with this statement:
Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men. (vs. 6)
Then in verse 7, Aaron asks the centering and decisive question: "Believest thou that the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind from their sins?"

It seems to have been a common tactic of the unbelievers to refute the teachings of the missionaries and prophets during the time before the birth of Christ by saying: "We do not believe that thou knowest of things to come," (vs. 8). Korihor, an anti-christ, made very similar claims (see Alma 30:13).

So here Aaron begins to lay out the scriptures that illustrate the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, "and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood." (vs. 9) Aaron used scriptural proofs to back his claims. Of this thing I am not very good at.

His tactics did not have immediate effect for good upon the crowd assembled. In fact, it was as if a hornet's nest had been stirred and Aaron saw that he could no longer work among the people of that city. There is, however, a footnote on verse 9 that points to another passage of scripture that helps illustrate the long-term effect of their teachings.

The footnote leads to an account of some of the Lamanites, that must have present in Aaron's and his brethren's first failed attempts to preach the gospel, when they  finally came to believe on their words (see Alma 25:6). So while the immediate consequences were fruitless, seeds were planted among the Lamanites, and later on they began to grow.

---
The remainder of this section recounts how similar efforts were repeated in other towns with similar results. They finally arrive at the land of Middoni. In their preaching, the record states that "few believed on the words which they taught." There is a reminder of the Savior's words when he said "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matthew 7:14)

It is at Middoni that Aaron and some of his brethren are imprisoned. "And those that were cast into prison suffered many things." Their sufferings had already been addressed elsewhere, it was not without purpose. Rather it became the means of their preparation. It is notable that their deliverance was miraculous

15 June 2016

"Into the Hands of... a More Stiffnecked People," Alma 20:28-30

Alma 20:28-30

( I appreciate the forced focus that this segmented study of smaller groups of verses causes me to have. What otherwise might just appear as a concluding note to this particular chapter, these final three verses on their own convey some important truths.)
"And, as it happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people;" (vs. 30)
The wording in this verse causes me to consider this situation, and many others like it, differently. I am confident as I read this that in different circumstances, the missionaries that fell into the hands of such depraved individuals could have experienced as much success as did their brother Ammon. This reminder is important: to not condemn the poor or unfortunate for their circumstances.

To me it seems that the larger message is one of succor and relief. These two disciples of the caring Christ go to rescue their brethren who "had suffered hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions." Ammon was "exceedingly sorrowful" to find his brethren in this condition. (vs. 29)

And yet, as I dig deeper into the footnotes, I realize that this suffering appeared to have served a purpose as well. A cross reference takes us to the next chapter (Alma 21:14, see also vs 15-17) where it addresses their suffering in Middoni. It seemed that their suffering was a precursor to their success. The last line in 20:29 appears to be the key: "nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings." The line is linked to a promise made to them at the beginning of their ministry:
...yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls. (Alma 17:11)
Had Ammon and Lamoni not rescued their brethren out of prison, had Aaron and his fellow servants not suffered the thing that they had suffered in prison, a significant portion of their success would not have been realized.


See also Refuge from the Storm

08 June 2016

"In Thine Anger, Thy Soul Could Not Be Saved," Alma 20:8-27

Alma 20:8-27
  • "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." James 1:20
  • "Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away." 3 Nephi 11:30 
These twenty verses contain the account of Ammon and Lamoni's encounter with Lamoni's father, the king over all the land. Without introduction or explanation, Lamoni's father immediately labels Ammon as "one of the children of a liar." (vs. 10)

Respecting his father, Lamoni gives the cause for his delay.  Then, "to his astonishment, his father was angry with him." (vs. 13, emphasis added) There are two directions that I want to address with this verse.

First, it astonished Lamoni that his father responded to him with anger. I'm not sure if it was because his father had always been a peaceful man towards him as his son, or if it was rather because Lamoni had hoped to have received a different reaction upon hearing of the miraculous events of his conversion. So why was Lamoni astonished? We really don't know, but maybe it also had something to do with the freshness or newness of his conversion to the gospel of Christ, and his lack of experience with opposition to the work of God.

Secondly, everything that the king says in response to Lamoni is skewed by his anger:
Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property.
This is the second time that the king references their stereotyped belief that all Nephites were liars. The king then commands Lamoni to slay Ammon, to which Lamoni refuses. This provokes the anger of the king even more -- to the point that the king draws his sword, ready to slay his own son.

Ammon, who is neither astonished like Lamoni, nor angry like his father the king, stands forth and begins to instruct the king. Ammon wastes no time in getting to the core of the issue. "if thou shouldst fall at this time, in thine anger, thy soul could not be saved." (vs. 17)

The king rejects Ammon's counsel and instead turns his focus on trying to kill Ammon, whom he feels is the root cause of all his present troubles anyways. However, Ammon changes the dynamics of the situation with a few swift moves, placing himself in a position to slay the king should he please. Yet this is not Ammon's intention nor motive.

Suddenly, placed in a position of vulnerability, pleading for the preservation of his own life, the king is now ready to give Ammon anything he pleases. Ammon, however does not change course, does not pause to pray about the bribe of ultimate power in the Lamanite realm. Undeterred and unchanged by the king's pleas, Ammon's request are to free his brethren and for Lamoni to retain his place as king in his own land.

It was ultimately the demonstration of Ammon's love for Lamoni that caused the heart of the old king to be softened toward him. Wonderous, amazing love that doesn't seek for pride or vain fulfillment. The principle was so foreign to the king.

I, too,  find this to be a fascinating point! It wasn't the testimony of Lamoni's experience that softened the heart of his father, thought it provided a foundation. It wasn't an equally enraging, or angry reply to the threats of the king that softened his heart. It was an act of charity and selfless defense that provided the substance of conversion -- teaching coupled with action:
And when he saw that Ammon had no desire to destroy him, and when he also saw the great love he had for his son Lamoni, he was astonished exceedingly... For the king was greatly astonished at the words which he had spoken, and also at the words which had been spoken by his son Lamoni, therefore he was desirous to learn them. (vs. 26-27)

 

31 May 2016

"No One Hath Told Me, Save It Be God;" Alma 20:1-7

Alma 20:1-7

King Lamoni invites Ammon to accompany him up to meet his father the king. I am impressed by how clearly Ammon is able to receive divine directives, or what we might more commonly call personal revelation.The record doesn't state the timing in which the revelation came to Ammon, whether it came immediately after Lamoni's invitation, or perhaps later on in moment of quiet reflection and prayer.

It is also impressive how quickly Lamoni responds to this divine directive once he learns of its source.(see vs. 5-6) Then in verse 7, there is also a change of attitude on Lamoni's part. Where at first, Lamoni thought to flatter the king of the land of Middoni, who was a friend of his, now Lamoni states that he will plead with the king for the deliverance of Ammon's brethren. Something about knowing that the directive was actually a divine mandate changed Lamoni's attitude and sense of urgency. Suddenly it wasn't just a social injustice that was needing to be remedied; it was rather the word of God directly to his appointed servant. Lamoni both recognized and reverenced it as such.

(The Spirit of the Lord has validated this final point in my mind this morning, causing me again to consider how much of the ways of the Lord this holy volume of scripture has benefited me.)

In contemplating Lamoni's response, it causes me to consider also the depth of his conversion as accounted for in the previous chapter.

---

The one thing that I haven't touched on in this group of verses, is the simple little statement at the beginning of the chapter, which could have encompassed a book in itself. Verse 1 reads: "And it came to pass that when they had established a church in that land." The end of the last chapter states that they did establish a church among those who had believed. It seems to me as something that didn't just happen instantly but required a bit of effort on the part of Ammon and all those involved. 

10 May 2016

"He, Immediately... Began... to Teach Them" Alma 19:31-36

Alma 19:31-36

The king has now awoken from his trance and verse 31 says this:
And he, immediately, seeing the contention among his people, went forth and began to rebuke them, and to teach them the words which he had heard from the mouth of Ammon; (emphasis added)
This is reminiscent of Nephi's attitude towards and faith in the power of the word of God.
 ...I, Nephi, did speak much unto my brethren... for they had humbled themselves because of my words; for I did say many things unto them in the energy of my soul. (1 Nephi 16:22,24)

Mormon makes a similar observation about Alma's confidence in the word of God:
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5)

Back to the account of king Lamoni, Ammon and the king's servants also add their voices to the king's witness. The wording of how the people responded to their teaching is thus. It says "as many as heard his words believed, and were converted unto the Lord."(vs. 31Verse 35 also reads, "that there were many that did believe in their words; and as many as did believe were baptized;"

--

The next verse reads like so: "But there were many among them who would not hear his words; therefore they went their way." (vs. 32, emphasis added) There is a footnote on the word "many" that cross-references to the topic of Man, Natural, Not Spiritual Reborn from the Topical Guide.  A brief review has taken me to the books of Jonah, Luke, John, and the Romans.  Here are some highlights:
  • Jesus said, "Ye must be born again." (John 3:7)
  • He also said, "Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." (Luke 16:15)
  • "There is none righteous, no, not one." (Romans 3:10)
Then there is an abundance of scriptural references to the carnal or natural man in the Book of Mormon, especially in the books of Mosiah and Alma. The overall effect of this leads me to remember that many in the world are lost to the things of God.

At the end of this chapter, the King, Queen, and all their servants were testifying before the people that their hearts had been changed, that they had no more desire to do evil. (see vs. 33) What a contrast from the attitude of the natural man!

--
At the very end of this group of verses is a summary of the past two and half chapters, which concludes with this simple observation: "and we see that his arm is extended to all people who will repent and believe on his name." (vs. 36) Oh how I love this particular doctrine! God is merciful to all who will believe. He doesn't not exclude or make exception for any man, but the standard is the same for all: " Repent, and I will receive you." (Alma 5:33)