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The Book of Alma

The Son of Alma

The account of Alma, who was the son of Alma, the first and chief judge over the people of Nephi, and also the high priest over the Church. An account of the reign of the judges, and the wars and contentions among the people. And also an account of a war between the Nephites and the Lamanites, according to the record of Alma, the first and chief judge.

The book of Alma consists of the writings of three different writers: the younger Alma (chapters 1-44) and his sons Helaman (chapters 45-62) and Shiblon (chapter 63). It covers the period of time from approximately 91 BC to 52 BC. Therefore the book chronicles about forty years of Nephite history-years of growth, internal contention, and war. The book also contains some of the most important doctrinal discourses in the Book of Mormon.

In making the abridgment, Mormon at times entered the original discourse into his narrative. Sometimes he condensed and summarized, and at other times he provided transitional commentary.

Chapter Outline of Alma

A brief outline of the book of Alma worth committing to memory is as follows:

Alma 1 The beginning of the reign of judges. The anti-Christ Nehor

Alma 5 The process of spiritual growth

Alma 8-15 The ministry of Alma and Amulek

Alma 11-15 Alma and Amulek contend with the clever and wicked lawyer Zeezrom, and Zeezrom is eventually converted.

Alma 13 The priesthood

Alma 16 The city of Ammonihah is destroyed by a Lamanite invasion.

Alma 17 In the land of Nephi, Ammon, while working for the Lamanite King Lamoni, protects the king's flocks at the waters of Sebus and drives off those who attempt to steal them.

Alma 17-26 The mission of the sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites in the land of Nephi

Alma 18-19 As a result of Ammon's example and preaching, King Lamoni and his household are converted.

Alma 22 Aaron preaches to Lamoni's father, the king over all the land, and he is converted.

Alma 24 The Anti-Nephi-Lehies bury their weapons and covenant not to make war. They are attacked by their fellow Lamanites and 1,005 are slain.

Alma 30 The anti-Christ Korihor

Alma 31-35 Alma leads a mission to the apostate Zoramites.

Alma 32 Alma's lecture to the Zoramites on faith

Alma 34 Amulek discourses on the infinite atonement of Christ.

Alma 36-37 Alma counsels his son Helaman.

Alma 38 Alma counsels his son Shiblon.

Alma 39-42 Alma's Counsel to his Son Corianton on Sexual Sin and Other Subjects

Alma 39 Alma's Counsel on Sexual Sin

Alma 40 Alma's Counsel on the Spirit World and Resurrection

Alma 41 Alma's Counsel on the Law of Restoration

Alma 42 Alma's Counsel on Atonement, Justice, and Mercy

Alma 43-62 A period of war-the account of the remarkable chief captain Moroni

Alma 46 The title of liberty

Alma 53, 56-58 The two thousand stripling warriors

Alma 59-61 Captain Moroni and Pahoran exchange letters

Alma chapter 1 begins the account of the fourteen-year ministry of the younger Alma (Alma 1-16) which occurred simultaneously with the fourteen-year ministry of the sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites (Alma 17-26).

Alma Chapter 1

Scripture Mastery

Alma 1 The beginning of the reign of judges. The Antichrist Nehor kills Gideon and is executed on top of Hill Manti.

1 Now it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, from this time forward, king Mosiah having gone the way of all the earth, having warred a good warfare, walking uprightly before God, leaving none to reign in his stead; nevertheless he had established laws, and they were acknowledged by the people; therefore they were obliged to abide by the laws which he had made.

verse 1 This verse essentially states: From the first year of the reign of judges onward, the people were obliged to abide by the laws of Mosiah. All other material in the verse is simply parenthetical. We will subsequently learn that the governmental system of judges will be referred to as the law of Mosiah. The set of laws codified by Mosiah, which are based on the law of Moses, are referred to as the laws of Mosiah.

"in the first year of the reign of the judges" This era began 509 years after the departure of Lehi from Jerusalem (see Mosiah 29:46-47) and will extend for one hundred years. This era will run concomitantly with the era based on Lehi's departure from Jerusalem (see 2 Nephi 5:28; 2 Nephi 5:34). Both will end nine years after the signs of the Messiah's birth were seen. After that, the Nephites began to reckon time from the time of the sign of the Savior's birth (3 Nephi 2:5-8).

2 And it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of Alma in the judgment-seat, there was a man brought before him to be judged, a man who was large, and was noted for his much strength.

verse 2 Here we are introduced to Nehor, one of the arch-enemies of religious truth in the Book of Mormon. We have already met the anti-Christ Sherem (Jacob 7), and we will yet meet additional individuals whose characteristics are similar to those of Nehor. These are Amlici (Alma 2), Zeezrom (Alma 11-15), Korihor (Alma 30), and Amalickiah (Alma 46-51). Though we will not meet him in person, we will encounter the adherents of another anti-Christ, Zoram (Alma 31-35).

It is of interest to note that the name Nehor likely has Jaredite origins See the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.

All of these individuals are learned, fluent in language, charismatic, and aggressive. They attempt to lead the people astray, deny Christ, and deny that any prophet can foretell the future. Their stories are also strikingly similar in that they are confronted by the Nephite leaders, are hesitant to answer when asked about their belief in scripture, ask for a sign, are accused of blasphemy, finally offer a confession, and all but one eventually suffer an ignominious death (Zeezrom eventually repents of his sins and is converted). After their deaths, the people return to righteousness.

How do we explain the apparently similar religious and political philosophies of these men? The matter turns out to be quite simple. All belonged to the same religious order founded by Nehor-the order of the Nehors. It was apparently based in Ammonihah (which was known as the "desolation of Nehors" after its destruction) and was popular among the Mulekites-particularly their learned and professional class (see Alma 14:18). These are the people who feel that the people should be governed by a king and not by the common people. They are the elite, the learned, the sophisticated, the aristocracy, those who seek for power. It is specifically stated that Zeezrom belonged to this order (Alma 14:16). Although it is never specifically mentioned that Korihor was of this persuasion, it seems likely he was. When Korihor decried Nephite traditions, for example, he did not refer to them as the traditions of "our" fathers. Rather, he called them traditions of "your" or traditions of "their" fathers (Alma 30:27; Alma 30:31). This religious order will later be given another name-the "king-men" (Alma 51:5). The common people who rise up against this malignant political movement will later be called the "freemen" (Alma 51:6). The conflict between people of these two movements will continue throughout the Book of Mormon and will yet be one of the most important factors that result in the destruction of the Nephite people.

Brother S. Michael Wilcox, a CES instuctor, has shed interesting insight onto the anti-Christs whom he prefers to call "faith shakers." He sees four Book of Mormon characters as the principle anti-Christs or faith shakers, and he characterizes each slightly differently:

1. Sherem (Jacob 7) feels that the law of Moses is adequate and there was no need for a Savior or a new law.

2. Nehor (Alma 1) teaches that everyone will be saved.

3. Korihor (Alma 30) is the professed atheist who claims that sin is a relative thing and that no one really has a need to be saved from their sins.

4. Zoram (Alma 31-35) will teach that "We are saved, but you are not."

Brother Wilcox feels that the secret to understanding and neutralizing these trouble makers lies in the following five steps:

1. The first is to understand the strategies or tactics they use in tearing down the truth. These strategies are:

a. The "first-temptation" strategy. This is the same tactic used by Satan in tempting Eve in the garden. In introducing Adam and Eve to the Garden of Eden and in outlining the "house rules," the Father said, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Moses 3:16-17). Notice how the Father emphasized the many trees in the garden of which they were allowed to partake. Then he gave a warning of that one forbidden tree. His emphasis was clearly on the many trees. Lucifer, on the other hand, was not inclined to mention the many trees of which they could partake. Rather, he focused only on the forbidden tree and focused Eve's attentions on it by asking, "Hath God said-Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" (Moses 4:7). He wanted Eve to feel restricted or bound down by the one tree in the garden of which she was commanded not to partake. In a similar way, the faith shakers or anti-Mormons today make no mention of the many wonderful blessings and opportunities afforded by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their wont is rather to point out those commandments which warn us of danger. They want us to focus our attentions on those few. It is then easy for them to imply or directly say, "Isn't this a restriction of your freedom? They want us to feel that those few commandments are an intolerable infringement on our rights. "Aren't you mature enough to decide what is best for you without having some else tell you what to do?" A good example is the law of chastity which they may well challenge as being old fashioned. "After all," they may say, "isn't each of us capable of deciding for ourselves how we should live without having someone else prying into our lives and counseling us in these very private matters? As long as two mature adults agree and do not offend anyone else by their actions, is it anyone else's business?"

b. The debunking strategy. To debunk is to ridicule, scoff, scorn, or make fun of. If something is wonderful or sacred, the debunking anti-Mormon tries to take all the glory out of it through a patronizing, scornful attitude.

2. Learn thoroughly and cling to your doctrine. The prophet Joseph Smith said, "Truth will always cut its own swath." A person's righteous behavior is best underpinned by true doctrine. Remove the doctrine, and a person's behavior suffers. Ask yourself this question: If you had no belief in an afterlife or in religion, would your behavior deteriorate? For most of us, our knowledge of the doctrine and the principle of accountability helps us live more righteously. Consequently, Satan and his minions, the faith shakers, will consistently attack the doctrine.

3. Be wise. You don't always have to give audience to, or reply to the faith shaker. We will read that when Korihor took his faith-shaking strategies among the people of Ammon, they wisely refused to listen. Instead, they bound him and carried him before Ammon who was a high priest. The false doctrines of the faith shakers are often pleasing to the carnal mind, and it may at times be dangerous to pay close attention to them.

4. Turn the tables on the faith shaker. Go on the offensive. A good question to ask is, "What evidence do you have that there is no God?" Put the burden of proof on the other guy. The simple fact is that there exists no evidence that there is no God or that the Book of Mormon is not true.

5. Make certain that your own testimony is firmly based on both a spiritual witness, and also on evidence or "substance." The apostle Paul so counseled when he wrote, "Now faith is [in part] the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). The evidence you acquire for yourself will be based on experiences, study, and reason. You will then be able to speak with authority.

3 And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.

verse 3 "every priest and teacher ought to become popular" "they ought to be supported by the people" Nehor preached that teachers of religion ought to be recognized, acknowledged, and paid by the people for their preaching. Today we would refer to this as "priestcraft." For a definition of priestcraft, see the commentary for verse 12.

4 And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.

verse 4 Nehor preached two separate ideas here:

1. The first is that one need not worry. You're going to be all right in the end. God did not put you here to fail. You're going to be saved. A version of this idea is found today in the Evangelicals' doctrine that all one need do is confess Christ, and you will be saved. For a thorough discussion of this idea see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 4, chapter 10, The Afterlife and chapter 11, Faith and Works.

2. The second is the humanistic and insidiously hedonistic philosophy that all individuals should be free to gratify their own carnal desires, to set their own moral standards, to live for the pleasure of the moment, and to do all of this without guilt, so long as other people are not injured by your thoughts, words, and actions. What you think, speak, and say is no one else's business and cannot be considered a sin. It is not difficult to understand how this erroneous philosophy might appeal to many people.

"the people . . . need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice" According to this philosophy, people need not feel obligated to follow the strict commandments of God. If one is careful not to injure others, there is no sin or need for repentance. One need only rejoice.

Regarding a need for man to repent of his sins, there are two philosophical extremes seen in the world today, both of them false:

1. God loves us and will forgive us for whatever we do that is "only human." Those who espouse this philosophy tend to ignore God until they want something. Then they feel free to call upon God to fulfill whatever desire they possess at the time. Repentance, if it should be ever needed, is taken care of with an "I'm sorry." If their self-perceived breach of the laws of God is serious, they may add, "I'll never do it again." And they won't, that is until circumstances warrant. God is a god of mercy, and repentance is a slap on the hand.

2. The opposite false view of repentance sees God as a stern taskmaster who sets up laws that violate all natural instincts. His laws are strict and arbitrary, and he eagerly awaits the opportunity to punish those who sin. According to this view, the laws of God are merely an obstacle course which tests our obedience. God is angered by anyone who would dare break the law, and he metes out punishment to them to frighten them into forsaking sin. Repentance satisfies or placates God and thus frees the sinners from further punishment. The trick is to learn those actions that offend God, and avoid them. Then hopefully repentance is unnecessary. Those who fail in this approach are consigned to the everlasting fires of hell, a fate that mollifies God. God is a God of justice and vindictiveness, who intends to instill fear into the hearts of men so that they will obey him.

As is true with most false doctrines, there is in these two extreme views a mixture of truth and error. God loves his children beyond their ability to comprehend, and he wants nothing more than to see them return to him, to possess all that he possesses, and to become as he is. His laws exist to allow his people to grow and progress so that they may be happy in his presence forever. He is a God of justice, as no unclean thing can exist in the presence of God. He is also a God of mercy who is willing to extend forgiveness to his people but only after they have earnestly strived to live the law and repent of their sins. He is patient and long suffering with his children, but if they ultimately fail in their obedience, he takes no delight in the suffering they will inevitably encounter.

God's laws are not arbitrary rules designed to test our obedience. They are guidelines by which we may achieve the ultimate happiness in this life and in the life to come. If obeyed, his laws help us enjoy the abundant life Christ promised to those who adhere to his gospel and ultimately they help us to become like him. We read in scripture that "there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (D&C 130:20-21). God's law provides us access to his blessings, and obedience to those laws assures us of these blessings. God knows us intimately, and he knows perfectly the potential vicissitudes of this mortal experience. His laws are designed to protect us, to uplift us, to enlighten our minds, and to enlarge our souls. God's laws then are not arbitrary rules. Nor are they merely helpful suggestions which can be disregarded at will. "And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same" (D&C 88:34-35). Mae Blanch provides us with an instructive analogy of this principle. Speaking personally about herself, she writes:

I am a diabetic; my doctor gives me certain laws-do's and don'ts-which I must obey to control my illness. I must avoid excessive fats and sugars in my diet and eat only moderate amounts of other foods. I must exercise regularly. I must take insulin injections twice a day and test my blood sugar three times a day. I must avoid undue exertion, get proper rest, and watch carefully for any minor infections, especially on my feet. I need to check in with my doctor on a regular basis to monitor the progress of my disease. If I follow these "commandments," I may control my illness and receive the blessing of health. If, however, I yield to the temptation of a hot fudge sundae or a Kara chocolate truffle, or decide to stay in bed an extra hour rather than rise and jog, I do not say my doctor is punishing me when my blood sugar climbs to unacceptable levels. And if I continue to ignore his instructions and wind up in the hospital, I don't expect to say, "I'm sorry; please forgive me; and have my health immediately restored. My repentance must involve both ceasing to break the doctor's "laws" and changing my attitude, not resenting the restrictions placed on my license to do as I please. . . .. Thus . . . the laws . . . are given to me for my well-being and to help me achieve my goals, not to complicate my life or deny me pleasure ("Repentance: The Gift of Love" in The Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 9-30, This Is My Gospel, 76-77.)

5 And it came to pass that he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words, even so many that they began to support him and give him money.

verse 5 Nehor obviously made some converts among the Nephites. His doctrines were "pleasing unto the carnal mind" (Alma 30:53).

6 And he began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart, and to wear very costly apparel, yea, and even began to establish a church after the manner of his preaching.

7 And it came to pass as he was going, to preach to those who believed on his word, he met a man who belonged to the church of God, yea, even one of their teachers; and he began to contend with him sharply, that he might lead away the people of the church; but the man withstood him, admonishing him with the words of God.

verse 7 "he met a man . . . and he began to contend with him sharply" Apparently Nehor accosted Gideon and engaged him in a public debate hoping to humiliate the older man in front of the people and thus "lead away the people of the church."

8 Now the name of the man was Gideon; and it was he who was an instrument in the hands of God in delivering the people of Limhi out of bondage.

verse 8 Gideon was an old and greatly respected member of the Nephite society. He is the same Gideon who chased king Noah onto a high tower and would have killed him if a Lamanite army had not been seen marching upon the Nephites in the land of Nephi. He also chased the wicked priests of Noah when they deserted their wives and families and when they fled into the wilderness to save themselves. He later became king Limhi's captain, and he saved his people from the Lamanites' wrath when the Nephites were accused of kidnaping the daughters of the Lamanites. It was also Gideon who conceived the plan of getting the Lamanite guards drunk so that Limhi and his people could escape from the city of Nephi.

9 Now, because Gideon withstood him with the words of God he was wroth with Gideon, and drew his sword and began to smite him. Now Gideon being stricken with many years, therefore he was not able to withstand his blows, therefore he was slain by the sword.

verse 9 "he was wroth with Gideon" Nehor had a lot to lose if Gideon were successful in exposing him for the false teacher he was. He would lose his wealth and his popularity which were the basis of his power and influence. Apparently Gideon had begun to "carry the day" in their public debate.

If Nehor had not murdered Gideon, he would have been allowed to continue his wicked proselyting, since under the Nephite law, no one could be condemned for preaching his or her beliefs.

10 And the man who slew him was taken by the people of the church, and was brought before Alma, to be judged according to the crimes which he had committed.

11 And it came to pass that he stood before Alma and pleaded for himself with much boldness.

12 But Alma said unto him: Behold, this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among this people. And behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but hast endeavored to enforce it by the sword; and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction.

verse 12 "priestcraft" This colorful word has a specific definition. If a man represents himself as a priesthood or church leader, yet his primary motive is personal popularity, power, or financial gain rather than the selfless serving of his fellow man, then he is guilty of practicing priestcrafts or priestcraft (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 10:5).

"thou hast endeavored to enforce it by the sword" This accusation certainly applies to Nehor's actions relative to Gideon. It is logical to suppose that Nehor was guilty in other instances of trying to force his beliefs on to others so that they would strengthen his numbers and contribute financially to his cause.

"were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction" If sufficient people were forced "by the sword" to join in Nehor's movement, it would result in the destruction of the people. It is easy to see why spiritual destruction of a people would result from involvement with Nehor. The practitioner of priestcraft sets himself up in competition with the Lord. For those who would adhere to their teachings, they define the terms of salvation for man. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, "Priesthood and priestcraft are two opposites; one is of God, the other of the devil" (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, 593).

13 And thou hast shed the blood of a righteous man, yea, a man who has done much good among this people; and were we to spare thee his blood would come upon us for vengeance.

14 Therefore thou art condemned to die, according to the law which has been given us by Mosiah, our last king; and it has been acknowledged by this people; therefore this people must abide by the law.

verse 14 "the law which has been given us by Mosiah . . . has been acknowledged by this people" By acknowledging the law, the people committed themselves to obey it and to accept the consequences established for disobedience of the law. Obviously capital punishment is a tenet of the law of Mosiah (see verse 18).

15 And it came to pass that they took him; and his name was Nehor; and they carried him upon the top of the hill Manti, and there he was caused, or rather did acknowledge, between the heavens and the earth, that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death.

verse 15 "he . . . did acknowledge . . . that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God" The concept of having a condemned man confess his sins before being executed is intriguing. Since the man is doomed, why would he cooperate with the authorities by detailing his crime? With no hope of leniency for confessing, what could he possibly gain? The answer may lie in the regulations followed by Jewish religious authorities in the time of Christ. The Mishnah is a collection of Jewish teachings compiled by Rabbi Judah the Prince from oral traditions in AD 137-219. One of the tractates of the Mishnah describes in detail the procedures used by the Sanhedrin in capital cases. A major provision concerning confession is described thus: "When he [the condemned man] was about ten cubits from the place of stoning they used to say to him, "Make thy confession," for such is the way of them that have been condemned to death to make confession, for every one that makes his confession has a share in the world to come" (M Sanhedrin 6.2). The passage then cites Joshua 7:19 as precedent for this provision. When Achan was condemned to be stoned for his sin, "Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done."

The Mishnah makes it clear that although the confession would not alter the decision of the court, it would be taken into consideration in the final judgment that would be made by God. Because the Mishnah was not compiled until the second century AD, it seems clear that we should not expect all of its provisions to have existed in the ancient kingdom of Judah, from which the prophet Lehi fled more than seven centuries earlier. But the close parallels between these Book of Mormon accounts and the Mishnah suggest that the legal procedures discussed here may have predated the Babylonian captivity.

This seems to be the reasoning in another Book of Mormon account, in which Sherem was guilty of teaching falsehood (see the commentary for Jacob 7:16-19).

"between the heavens and the earth" The location of Nehor's execution atop a hill may be behind the statement that he made his confessions "between the heavens and the earth." But this expression may also have something to do with calling heaven and earth to witness.

"Ignominious" is defined in this context as shameful, dishonorable, reproachful, or infamous. We do not know the nature of the ignominious death that Nehor suffered, but in view of the Mishnaic requirement that the place of stoning be at least twice as high as a man so that the culprit could be pushed over the edge before being stoned (M Sanhedrin 6.4), it is interesting that Nehor was brought to the top of the hill to be executed. Of the various approved methods of execution, stoning was required for him "that beguiles [others to idolatry], and [him] that leads [a whole town] astray" (M Sanhedrin 7.3).

16 Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.

verse 16 Unfortunately the priestcraft Nehor had introduced did not end with his execution, but it continued to spread throughout the land.

All worldly things are "vain things" including material possessions, physical pleasures, desire for power, and popularity or influence. Vain things have no enduring or eternal value.

17 Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief.

verse 17 "they pretended to preach according to their belief" Here we are taught that the preaching of "religious principles" by the purveyors of priestcraft is more a function of their business than a reflection of the beliefs of their hearts.

"the law could have no power on any man for his belief" The Nephite law guaranteed them freedom of conscience. It protected the right of personal belief. A person could not be punished for his beliefs regardless of how far from the truth their beliefs were. A person was also allowed to teach his beliefs to others as long as others were not forced or injured.

18 And they durst not steal, for fear of the law, for such were punished; neither durst they rob, nor murder, for he that murdered was punished unto death.

verses 17-18 Apparently the basis of Nephite law, the laws of Mosiah, was the Mosaic law since lying, stealing, robbing, and murder were forbidden, and the penalty for murder was death. Again, we see evidence a conceptual difference between stealing and robbing. Stealing, theft, or thieving involved an individual's taking things that belong to his neighbor. This is a civil crime and is dealt with by the judge. Robbing or plundering involved attacking an individual for the purpose of obtaining things of value.

19 But it came to pass that whosoever did not belong to the church of God began to persecute those that did belong to the church of God, and had taken upon them the name of Christ.

verse 19 We will learn that this persecution of the church from without the church will turn out to be both a curse and a blessing to the church depending upon how the members responded to it. Some of the members will be led away from the church (verses 22-24), while others will be strengthened (verse 25).

20 Yea, they did persecute them, and afflict them with all manner of words, and this because of their humility; because they were not proud in their own eyes, and because they did impart the word of God, one with another, without money and without price.

verse 20 All pronouns in this verse except the first "they" refer to the members of the Church of Jesus Christ.

21 Now there was a strict law among the people of the church that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church, and that there should be no persecution among themselves.

verse 21 Here is the secret for dealing with persecution. It is simply to be living examples of Christ's teachings, to love their enemies, to return good for evil. Also the church members were to forgive and support one another in times of persecution.

In our day the First Presidency has counseled us in dealing with persecutions from without the Church (First Presidency letter 1 December 1983). They have suggested that we not "challenge" or "enter into debates" with those who are critical of the Church. We are advised to deal with our detractors "without resentment and without malice." We should prepare to answer them with "prayer" and "humility." Our approach should be to explain the doctrines and practices of the Church in a "positive" manner, pointing out "the high standards expected of members of the Church." We should stress positive values such as "temperance . . . morality . . . fidelity in marriage [and] . . . worthy citizenship." We should also emphasize the "dedication and faithfulness of members . . . [in] taking care of [members] who are in need, in service to others, in missionary work, in the payment of tithes, [and] in keeping their covenants and obligations. "Above all [we should] . . . bear testimony of the restoration of the gospel, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, and that 'There is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we may be saved.'"

It seems that we are to look upon external persecution of the Church as a blessing and opportunity to teach the doctrines and practices of the gospel.

22 Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists.

verse 22 Even though the members of the church were committed not to retaliate against those without the church who were persecuting them, the pressure of persecution was too much for some of them. Rather than remain humble and submissive, they became "proud," and they began to fight back. As we will learn in verse 24, this resulted in the excommunication and apostasy of many members of the church.

23 Now this was in the second year of the reign of Alma, and it was a cause of much affliction to the church; yea, it was the cause of much trial with the church.

24 For the hearts of many were hardened, and their names were blotted out, that they were remembered no more among the people of God. And also many withdrew themselves from among them.

verse 24 "the hearts of many were hardened" See the discussion of hard-heartedness in the commentary for Alma 10:6.

"their names were blotted out, that they were remembered no more among the people of God" They were excommunicated from the church.

"many withdrew themselves from among them" Many also left the church of their own accord.

verses 25-31 Those who were able to successfully endure "with patience the persecution" heaped upon them, however, were strengthened and blessed. They "began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need."

25 Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them.

verse 25 Oh that we could all be "steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God"!

26 And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.

27 And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.

verses 26-27 When the people saw that their priest was just like them-a working man who labored just like they did-they were inclined to also leave their labors to hear and consider his preachings. They identified with him. There is a natural human tendency for people to separate themselves into socioeconomic and intellectual strata. If the preacher is thought by his congregation to live on a separate and higher spiritual and intellectual plain, then his preachings may not be considered applicable by his hearers. These verses imply a warning that is pertinent in the church today.

"Comely" implies attractive but appropriately so-not gaudy or ostentatious.

28 And thus they did establish the affairs of the church; and thus they began to have continual peace again, notwithstanding all their persecutions.

29 And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need-an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth.

verse 29 "silk and fine-twined linen" This phrase has invited some comments from Book of Mormon critics who maintain that neither silk nor linen was known in pre-Columbian America (see also the commentary for Alma 4:6).

Linen is defined as a cloth, usually quite stiff and hard-wearing, made of fibers from the flax plants prepared by soaking and pounding. Although the flax plant is apparently not known in pre-Spanish America, several fabrics were made from vegetable fibers that look and feel like European linen. These include fabrics made from the leaf of the maguey plant; from the fibers of the yucca plant; and bark cloth, made by stripping bark from the fig tree and soaking and pounding it.

Most commonly silk is defined as "a fine, lustrous fiber produced by the larvae of certain insects," especially an Asian moth, Bombix Mori. However, there are several ancient American cloths that provide a close parallel with silk. These include silk from cocoons gathered wild in Mexico and spun into expensive cloth at the time of the Spanish conquest; cloth made from the silk-like fiber from the pod of the Ceiba (or "silk-cotton") tree found in the Yucatan; cloth from the silky fiber of the wild pineapple plant; a silk-like fabric made by the Aztecs from fine rabbit hair; and even a cotton cloth was found by the Spaniards at Teotihuacan was characterized as being "of irreproachable evenness, woven . . . exceedingly fine," and "of gossamer thinness." ("Possible 'Silk' and 'Linen' in the Book of Mormon," based on research by John L. Sorenson, November 1988, in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 162-64).

"Homely" implies plain and functional.

30 And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.

verse 30 "they were liberal to all" They were generous or gave liberally.

31 And thus they did prosper and become far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church.

32 For those who did not belong to their church did indulge themselves in sorceries, and in idolatry or idleness, and in babblings, and in envyings and strife; wearing costly apparel; being lifted up in the pride of their own eyes; persecuting, lying, thieving, robbing, committing whoredoms, and murdering, and all manner of wickedness; nevertheless, the law was put in force upon all those who did transgress it, inasmuch as it was possible.

verse 32 One gains the impression that the Nephites had become a widely diverse group given to various excesses, yet the secular law was able to keep them in check-though with some difficulty.

"in idolatry or idleness" Actually idleness is a form of idolatry. See the discussion on idolatry in the commentary for Omni 1:20.

"wearing costly apparel" For a discussion of this universal inclination of the proud and worldly, see the commentary for Jacob 2:13 (cf. verse 4).

"being lifted up in the pride of their own eyes" For a discussion of the concept of pride, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 5, The "Natural Self" and "Spiritual Self."

33 And it came to pass that by thus exercising the law upon them, every man suffering according to that which he had done, they became more still, and durst not commit any wickedness if it were known; therefore, there was much peace among the people of Nephi until the fifth year of the reign of the judges.

verse 33 "they became more still" When the wicked were forced to suffer the consequences of their wickedness according to the law, the effect was for them to become even more wicked. So it is in mortality. When the forces of evil and the forces for good operate along side one another, the tendency is for the good to become stronger in their commitment, and for the wicked to become more so. Herein lies the essence and the very purpose of this mortal trial in which we are now involved.

During the first five years of the reign of judges, the majority of the people were righteous. Thus Alma as chief judge was able to deal with the problems that arose and maintain the form of government Mosiah had instituted. When the people living under the rule of judges were righteous, then the judgments rendered were just and fair and allowed the people to live in peace and security. When some of them began to be wicked, as in this verse, the law could still control them. We will learn that when the majority of the people become wicked, then the government will become corrupt and fail.

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