24 October 2016

"The Nephites in Their Wisdom," Alma 22:27-35

Alma 22:27-35

What appears to be mostly a lesson in geo-political borders during the time of the Nephites and Lamanites, has me searching for something deeper. The author (Mormon) takes a moment to explain in words the layout of the land so that the we can get an appreciation for how far out the proclamation of the king of Lamanites was circulated.

But I have to believe there is more here. As I approach my study of the Book of Mormon, there is this fundamental assumption: that everything included in the Book of Mormon is written to give a witness or testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ. So if that is true (and it is), what do I learn about Christ from these verses?

As the geography is described here, I get an image in my mind that the inhabitants of both the Nephite an Lamanite civilizations are located on the same continent. (Recent thoughts shared with me about the probability that the Lamanites and Nephites didn't literally have different skin colors, also supports the greater need for geographical boundaries.)

This southern continent appears to be separated into three general areas: '
  • The land of Nephi on the south
  • The land of Zarahemla in the middle
  • The land of Bountiful on the north
 The land of Zarahemla sounds to be surrounded on all sides by wilderness.

Those that were attempting to follow Christ are the ones who were imposing the borders. It was the more idle part of the Lamanites that were closest to the Nephites as well, living in the wilderness that surrounded the land of Zarahemla where the Nephites lived. So part of the effect of the borders that were being enforced was to create a separation between the idleness of the Lamanites and the industriousness of the Nephites.

It is also noteworthy that the Nephites did not allow the Lamanites to surround them on all sides. Rather, the Nephites kept the northern part of the wilderness open to give them access to the land northward. It was a place for their retreat.

I've studied this for several days now, and the more that I've come to consider this, there seems to be a spiritual parallel here in the fortified borders of the Nephites that made it so that they were still able to maintain their separation. The scriptures say that this was wisdom in the Nephites so that they wouldn't have to suffer from the afflictions of the Lamanites. (see vs. 34) So must every disciple of Christ build spiritual borders between themselves and the world. These individual, spiritual boundaries separate us from idleness and wickedness of the world. The need for a deliberate separation from the world is requisite for spiritual survival and protection.

But where else is this idea presented?

"And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." (D&C 38:42)

"Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." (Isaiah 52:11)

What is interesting is that there was a boundary to separate the wicked from the righteous, the Nephites from the Lamanites. However that dynamic had already shifted in certain parts of the land of the Nephites, and with the proclamation of the king of the Lamanites stretching throughout all the land of Nephi, boundaries and their purpose were about to change permanently.

This is perhaps the last time in Nephite/Lamanite history where a traditional border and division between these two groups existed, especially on spiritual terms. Perhaps it was for this purpose and the spiritual parallel that could be taken from such a system that the editor at this point in time took pains to include it in the spiritual record of their people.

15 October 2016

"As Though They Had Been the Cause," Alma 22:19-26

Alma 22:19-26

In these verses, it seems to be that that which is not written which offers the greater insights. This morning, I am asking myself: where is God in these verses? What about these particularly verses points me closer to Christ?

In verses 19 and 20, there is no mention or reference to God or Christ. But as I went back and re-read those verses, it appears to be what was not said that revealed Their influence. So the queen learns of the state of her husband, and discovers Aaron and his brother standing near by. The verse says, "as though they had been the cause of his fall."  The wording says so much without saying anything at all. Or in other words, Aaron and his brothers were NOT THE CAUSE of the king's fall. This is where God is hidden in the details of this verse. The power of God, or His influence upon the king (which was through the teachings and ministering of Aaron and his brethren) was the cause of the fall.

The next verse also says that the servants "had seen the cause of the king's fall." Again, no direct reference to Diety in this verse, but I am prone to see Christ as "the cause" of the king's fall. The power of God was with Aaron and his brethren. Whether the servants recognized God as that cause, they saw the power of God working through Aaron and his fellows, and it terrified the servants of the king.


What follows in the next six verses is very much a Pentecostal experience not unlike that which was recorded in the Book of Acts. As the queen realizes that this is no ordinary situation, she begins to be "exceedingly" fearful. (see vs. 21)  When Aaron sees the determination of the queen to destroy Aaron and his companions, he raises the king from his unconscious state. The king immediately begins to minister to the people. Now unfortunately, we do not have recorded what he said, or how he said it, but the impact of his ministering had the effect of converting his entire household unto the Lord. (see vs. 23)

In the same group of verses, there soon thereafter came a large company of Lamanite subjects, gathered to the house of the king. The king is able to pacify the multitude, and then place Aaron and his brethren in their midst!  There they were able to preach the word of God. Where only moments before, these same people were suspicious of these Nephite missionaries, suddenly they were now listening. 

No further details are offered than this, but from it, I am reminded that spiritual manifestations are how the Lord's work is done. Prayers and faith are always required. We cannot work without the Lord's unseen influence to accompany us, and we cannot automatically expect that this will always happen.

29 September 2016

"God, Wilt Thou Make Thyself Known unto Me[?]," Alma 22:17-18

Alma 22: 17-18

The king believes the words of Aaron, and immediately "the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees." (vs. 17)  Prostrated upon the ground, crying mightily unto the Lord, the king then offers this beautifully simple prayer:
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. (vs. 18)
 The end of verse 18 then explains that the king "was struck as if he were dead." This passing of state from consciousness to unconsciousness is reported at least three times in the Book of Mormon as part of miraculous conversion processes. It happened previously with this man's own son, King Lamoni, (see Alma 18:42-43) and then to his entire household (See Alma 19:13-16). It also happened to Alma the Younger (See Mosiah 27:19-20 and Alma 36:10-11). Alma the Younger's final account is the most vivid in explaining the purpose of this type of conversion event.

In reviewing Alma's account, I was also brought to consider vs. 24 for Alma 36. This seems to be something of a mission statement for Alma and I love the focus that this gives on his priorities after his conversion. It reads:
Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
Saul/Paul is one other example from the New Testament of a similar conversion experience. Perhaps what we see in common with all these men is the need for a quick turn around to protect and advance the work of the Lord. Their conversions were not for their benefit alone. Rather, we have in all four cases men who were in key positions of influence who needed a more powerful heavenly manifestation to adjust their course in an abbreviated time span.

This understanding is phenomenal! Typically, the conversion process of becoming a true Christian disciple is a process of years. (Take Peter, for example.) Elongated conversion processes are the norm. So understanding that the Lord has conversion tools in place to facilitate His work, when needed, makes a great deal of sense to me this morning.

22 September 2016

"What Shall I Do?" Alma 22:15-16

Alma 22:15-16

After the king had the plan of redemption explained to him by Aaron, the missionary, the king had only one question on his mind: "What shall I do...?" There is actually more to his question than this, but this is so profoundly similar to Peter's interactions with those at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. (See Acts 2:37)

What the king said in its entirety was this:
...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? (vs. 15, emphasis added)
The verse continues with the king making one final statement, which emphasizes the urgency of his inquiry, "Behold... I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom..." Is the grass really greener on the other side? By that, I mean, is having all of this world's goods, wealth, and power; is it really better, happier, more joyful, more (~fill in the blank~), than the peace, joy, and happiness that the Gospel of Christ affords? Here is a man who had all that this would could give him. It would seem that the king felt it was not "greener" on the other side. So here is a king, longing for eternal joy and asking how to find it.

It's even more important that the king was asking questions. I'd venture to add that these are inspired questions at that. By that I mean the Spirit of the Lord was probably responsible for planting these questions in his heart. The king acted on these questions and in the asking of questions, he is at the same time expressing the pure desires of his heart.

Aaron's response in the next verse is pivotal. Allowing the king to confirm his motives, Aaron states: "If thou desirest this thing..." and then he goes on to give detailed instruction on what the king needed to do:
  1. "Bow down before God"
  2. "Repent of all thy sins" 
  3. "Call on his name in faith" 
  4. "[Believe] that ye shall receive"
Four simple steps to explain in word; yet, how hard to embrace. In fact, the king's ability to readily act on these simple instructions seems to be entirely proportional to the urgency of his desire. By that I mean, our ability to act on the plan of happiness (or the plan of redemption that brings lasting peace and happiness) is completely predicated upon how important we feel this to be  It's utterly dependent upon the desires of our heart as to whether or not we are able to accomplish the requirements of happiness. Happiness does have a price, and its name is Faith on the Lord Jesus Christ and Repentance.

Then, after Aaron's succinct explanation, there was one final statement of assurance: "then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest." Aaron speaks from testimony in this statement when he promises the king that it will work. These are the same steps that he had already experienced for himself. They are the same steps that anyone who honestly seeks for a better life must pass through. So it's not just  a vain, empty wish. No, the promise is sure.

He (or she) who humbles himself before God, walks the thorny road of repentance, and calls out to the name of Jesus Christ in faith, believing it will happen, the hope of joy will come! I know this as well as Aaron did when he declared it to the king. It's been good to be reminded of this again.

19 September 2016

"Believest thou that there is a God?," Alma 22:1-14

Alma 22:1-14

The start of this chapter takes pains again (see previous chapter) to explain that the Spirit of the Lord did lead Aaron and his brethren to the house of the king over all the land of Nephi, except that part which the king had recently separated and given to his son, Lamoni. The geo-political details are not nearly as important here as the fact that it was the Spirit of the Lord that led them there. They didn't go because they were directed to go by Ammon, though Ammon was the one who relayed the referral. They didn't go because there was nothing else for them to do, and they felt like shooting for the stars. They went because the Spirit of the Lord led them there. (see vs. 1)

They may not even have known that this was where they were headed, like Nephi trying to get the brass plates, taking one step at a time. On the other hand, maybe they did fully know exactly where they were going and in what context they were coming. Because after all, Ammon had just rescued them because of his interactions with the king. Either way, it requires courage to follow a prompting of the Spirit that would cause you walk straight into the palace of the king over all the lands of the Lamanites, and request audience with the king, but that's exactly what Aaron did. (see vs. 2)


At the initial contact with the king, Aaron and his brethren attempt the same approach (as did Ammon) to offer their services as servants to the king. However, the king would not permit them to be his servants. He had questions to be answered. The generosity of Ammon and "the greatness of his words" had left the king troubled in mind. There was no need to dig up the soil of the soul here, for the king had already been primed for learning.

The king had also inquired as to why Ammon didn't come with them. In a matter of fact declaration, Aaron states: "Behold, the Spirit of the Lord has called him another way;" and then explains that he had returned to the land of Ismael with Lamoni. (see vs. 5) These direct statements of doctrinal truth, because they were unfamiliar to the king, became the catalyst for his inquiry.

The king also inquires of them as to what Ammon meant when he said, "If ye will repent ye shall be saved, and if ye will not repent, ye shall be cast off at the last day." (vs. 6) This is possibly what the king was referring to when he said earlier that he was troubled because of the greatness of the words of Ammon.(see vs. 3)


With the foundation of inquiry laid before them (what is the Spirit of the Lord and what is repentance?), Aaron's approach at this point is very similar to Ammon's. And he starts by asking a question. In fact, Aaron asks the same question that Ammon had asked the king's son: "Believest thou that there is a God?" (vs. 7Alma 18:24)

Aaron's approach, like Ammon's, builds on common ground. The king himself doesn't believe in a "God," but he did acknowledge that some of his subjects did, and he was sympathetic to their requests to build synagogues.(vs. 7) In a spirit of edification, Aaron doesn't attempt to debunk the Amalekites' false form of worship towards God. He is focused on establishing a common foundation.

As Aaron reassures the king of the reality of a God, the king then begins to explore this idea. He asks: "Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem?" Again, not being negative or focusing on the false parts of the king's concept of God as a Great Spirit, Aaron confirms the king's connection that God guided their forefathers to the promised land. He used what the king was familiar with to build on the common ground that was already there.

Doing so, Aaron is then able to establish God as a creator. The king acknowledges the same, and then asks Aaron to give him more detail about these things. It is curious that Aaron never explained the details of the two specific questions that were on the king's mind. Rather, Aaron first established the reality of God's existence, then "[beginning] from the creation of Adam," he laid out the plan of redemption -- that beautiful, glorious plan that gives life purpose and meaning.


There is one final thought that impresses me as I contemplate the plan of redemption described in the verses at the end of this part of the chapter. Verse 13 states that the plan was "prepared from the foundation of the world, through Christ, for all whosoever would believe on his name." Or in other words, Christ the Lord is to be directly credited for the preparations of the plan of redemption, which preparations where made on behalf of any and all who would believe on His name, the name of Christ Jesus.

Then next verse goes further to detail Christ's intimate, unique, and absolute role in the plan, and man's utter dependence upon Christ. Because of his fallen state, man of himself could merit nothing. The verse goes on to explain that the sufferings and death of Christ atones for the sins of man. The same verse also goes on to explain how Christ broke the bands of death so that the grave could have no victory and that the sting of death would be completely consumed (or swallowed up) through the hope of glory.

Given the enormity of the Savior's part in the execution of the plan, all that man can do in reply is to have faith and repent and so forth. It seems like such a small and disproportionate requirement that God asks of us for our total participation in His plan.

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 tenet 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.