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)

28 April 2016

"Supposing... It Would Cause Them to Beleive," Alma 19:14-30

Alma 19:14-30

Alma sees; the servants see; the lady servant of the queen, Abish, sees; all because of direct manifestations from the Holy Spirit based on correct understanding of eternal truth.

Verse 14 says that Ammon saw that the Spirit of the Lord poured out upon the Lamanites according to his prayers. It was in the seeing and the discerning of the significance of that outpouring of the Lord's Spirit upon the Lamanites, a group of people that had been the source of so much contention and conflict among his own people, that Ammon felt a profound sense of gratitude towards God for what was being done. So great was the joy that he now felt that it overpowered his physical body, just as had happened to the king and the queen moments before.

This leaves the servants of the king and queen, who upon seeing these three leaders overpowered with the Spirit also begin to pray because the fear of the Lord had come upon them. This causes them all to fall to the earth. Everyone in the king's house is now lying on the ground except for Abish, who we learn has already been converted to the Lord without making it known. 

When Abish sees what has happened, and understanding the cause of it, she sees an opportunity to bless the community around her as well. By inviting the people to come to the house of the king to see the king, queen, Ammon, and all the king's servants overpowered by the Spirit, Abish is hopeful that this "would cause them to believe in the power of God," (verse 17).

What resulted however was confusion, and instead of just saying that there arose a great contention among the people because of what they saw, the scripture account takes pains to articulate seven different conclusions that the people came up with to explain the scenario in front of them. None of them had a correct knowledge of the actual events that had transpired. None of them had the perspective of  eternal truths, and thus they devised many different reasons as to why they found the king and his household laying prostrate upon the ground.

Finally, Abish returns and having found the whole of the gathering in a confused uproar of contention, she immediately goes to the queen. The queen and king arise and begin to express testimonies of conviction and of having their hearts turned to the Lord, which things the multitude had no understanding of.

---

There is a parallel between this story and doctrines of the Apostasy and the Restoration. Men, when left to their own devices, are not equipped to understand the things of God. In the dark grays of this world, we grope for understanding and explanations of why things are. However, the knowledge that comes from God, like shafts of illuminating light, help us to understand correctly our very natures and the purpose of our existence.

The people that gather to the king's house, came without gospel light, and seeking for explanations they devised many probable causes, but none of them were the truth. So it was with the Great Apostasy which proceeded the Restoration. Many tried to reform the church of their day based upon what they were reading, but none had direct revelation from God to do so.

12 March 2016

"Being Overpowered by the Spirit," Alma 19:12-13

Alma 19:12-13

At the appointed time, king Lamoni awakens from his deep sleep, and there is his wife, the queen, waiting for him. The first words out of his mouth are these: "Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou." The first part of this statement makes sense. King Lamoni had just received a powerful witness of the reality of God, but he then gives the same blessing to his wife. Why?

I am reminded of the statement of Nephi's brother Jacob, "Behold, the Lamanites your brethren... their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children... and one day they shall become a blessed people." (Jacob 3:5-7)

King Lamoni goes on to testify that he had seen his Redeemer, and then emphasis three points:
  • "and he shall come forth,"
  • "and be born of a woman,"
  • "and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name." (vs. 13)
These are curious points of testimony for me: very simple and succinct. "He shall come forth," a statement of conviction, the reality of things to come. "Be born of a woman," another way of defining the condescension of God -- His humility and willingness to experience mortality. "He shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name," that is a fully-loaded statement. He shall accomplish the task of the redemption of man.  Redemption is all-inclusive, and no one is denied the privilege of such. Then finally, the way in which that redemption is access is through believing on his name. This is the qualifier but it is also the instruction on how redemption is acquired: "believe on his name."

These brief and succinct phrases, accompanied by the penetrating influence of the Holy Spirit, are enough for both the king and the queen to receive a personal witness, and subsequently are both overpowered by the Holy Spirit to such a degree that they cannot stand in their mortal, physical bodies for the moment.

29 February 2016

"The Light of the Glory of God," Alma 19:1-11

Alma 19:1-11

In this group of  verses, King Lamoni has been overpowered  by the influence of the Holy Spirit and has laid prostrate for 2 days. The queen summons Ammon to inquire of him the state her husband's well-being so that she could know what to do.

The queen explains to Ammon that the servants of her husband regarded him as "a prophet of a holy God" and that he had "power to do many might works in his name." On this premise, on the testimony of the servants of her husband, the queen asks Ammon for guidance.

Verse 6 reads as such:
Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God—
Though faith is not mentioned in this verse, it is at the very heart of what is being described here. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,"(Hebrews 11:1).  President Monson has said: "Fear not... the future is as bright as your faith." So we can say here that it is the substance of faith in the message of Christ that Ammon had presented to King Lamoni that had caused this "light of the Glory of God" to rest upon him. Such faith, as Elder Neil L. Andersen recently stated, "in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something ethereal, floating loosely in the air... Faith emits a spiritual light, and that light is discernible."

Having this testimony of the truth, Ammon subsequently counsels the queen to wait, because her husband was sleeping in God and on the morrow he would rise again. (see vs. 8) The queen believes his statement and he acknowledges her faith: "Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites." (vs. 10)

The queen then waits all the remainder of that day, all through the night, and is still found by the side of the king the following morning.