Alma Chapter 15
1 And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek were commanded to depart out of that city; and they departed, and came out even into the land of Sidom; and behold, there they found all the people who had departed out of the land of Ammonihah, who had been cast out and stoned, because they believed in the words of Alma.
verse 1 For a proposed location of the "land of Sidom" and its relationship to other neighboring lands and cities, see the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
2 And they related unto them all that had happened unto their wives and children, and also concerning themselves, and of their power of deliverance.
verse 2 Don't read this simple verse without pausing to consider the excruciating grief which the account of Alma and Amulek produced among those men. They had been stoned and driven out of Ammonihah, and now they learned they had lost their wives and children.
3 And also Zeezrom lay sick at Sidom, with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness, for he supposed that Alma and Amulek were no more; and he supposed that they had been slain because of his iniquity. And this great sin, and his many other sins, did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat.
verse 3 "Zeezrom lay sick at Sidom, with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness" There can be no doubt that Zeezrom was suffering extreme physical agony and mental remorse. We are reminded that the process of repentance and conversion may be exquisitely painful depending upon the convert's behavior prior to his conversion.
As to the causative relationship between Zeezrom's obvious mental anguish and his "burning fever" or "burning heat," Mormon's formulation is noted with interest but also with skepticism. A word of caution seems appropriate here. It is certainly not church doctrine that physical illness suffered by mortals is the result of sin. Joseph Smith wrote: "It is a false idea that the Saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and 'the righteous shall hardly escape.' . . . It is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death; and the Savior has said, 'Judge not, lest ye be judged'" (TPJS, 162).
The term "harrow up" means to vex, or torment, or cause mental distress.
4 Now, when he heard that Alma and Amulek were in the land of Sidom, his heart began to take courage; and he sent a message immediately unto them, desiring them to come unto him.
5 And it came to pass that they went immediately, obeying the message which he had sent unto them; and they went in unto the house unto Zeezrom; and they found him upon his bed, sick, being very low with a burning fever; and his mind also was exceedingly sore because of his iniquities; and when he saw them he stretched forth his hand, and besought them that they would heal him.
verse 5 "he stretched forth his hand, and besought them" Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines besought as, "Entreated; implored; sought by entreaty." That same dictionary defines entreated as, "Earnestly supplicated, besought or solicited; importuned; urgently requested. Prevailed upon by urgent solicitation."
6 And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?
7 And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.
8 And Alma said: If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.
9 And he said: Yea, I believe according to thy words.
10 And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.
11 And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom.
12 And Alma baptized Zeezrom unto the Lord; and he began from that time forth to preach unto the people.
verse 12 We may make an interesting observation from this verse. As with the two Almas, the apostle Paul, and the sons of Mosiah, once a previously wicked person is truly converted and has repented, they have a strong desire to bring repentance to others.
13 And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.
verse 13 To "consecrate" means to set apart as holy. In our day we might say "ordain" rather than "consecrate."
We have discussed previously that there is no evidence that the Aaronic or Levitical priesthoods existed among the Book of Mormon peoples until the time of the resurrected Jesus's appearance to them in the land Bountiful. Thus these priests and teachers held the Melchizedek priesthood. The titles priests and teachers describe their church duties and functions and not offices to which they were ordained.
14 And it came to pass that they were many; for they did flock in from all the region round about Sidom, and were baptized.
15 But as to the people that were in the land of Ammonihah, they yet remained a hard-hearted and a stiffnecked people; and they repented not of their sins, ascribing all the power of Alma and Amulek to the devil; for they were of the profession of Nehor, and did not believe in the repentance of their sins.
verse 15 "of the profession of Nehor" Hopefully you have recently reviewed the commentary for Alma 8:8. If you have not, it would be well to do so now.
16 And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek, Amulek having forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred;
verse 16 Regarding the sacrifices Amulek had to make in order to accept the call to serve the Lord, please see the commentary for verse 18 below.
17 Therefore, after Alma having established the church at Sidom, seeing a great check, yea, seeing that the people were checked as to the pride of their hearts, and began to humble themselves before God, and began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar, watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction-
verse 17 "seeing a great check" This refers to Alma's and Amulek's having observed a great cessation of worldly attitudes and behaviors.
"the people . . . began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar" Here we learn that one of the Nephite places of worship was the "sanctuary." Altars for the offering of sacrifices were apparently found in both the temples and the sanctuaries. For a more complete discussion of the Nephite places of worship, see the commentary for Alma 16:13.
"that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction" A fascinating insight has been provided by David Bokovoy ("A Place of Deliverance: Altars in the Hebrew Bible and Book of Mormon," FARMS Update, number 43, volume 21, 2001). In addition to being places of sacrifice, altars in ancient Hebrew culture have also served as places of asylum. In ancient Israel a person accused of committing a serious offense could flee to an altar to avoid immediate death. The Old Testament refers to this tradition in the so-called Covenant Code of Exodus: "He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait [if he committed the crime unintentionally], but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die (Exodus 21:12-14).
Later variants of this statute make clear that the places of refuge were cities appointed for that purpose (cf. Deuteronomy 19:1-7; Numbers 35:9-28; Joshua 20). In a city of refuge an accused person could find housing, food, and employment-none of which could be had at the altar. The original place of asylum, however, was the altar of God (see 1 Kings 1:50-51 and 2:28).
This information proves significant insight to an understanding of altars in Nephite society. The Nephites were obviously heirs to the customs and traditions of ancient Israel which have been preserved for us in the Hebrew Bible.
Note that this particular verse invokes Israelite custom by identifying the altar as a location of deliverance, a subtlety that provides further evidence that the Book of Mormon clearly reflects the traditions of antiquity.
18 Now as I said, Alma having seen all these things, therefore he took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord.
verse 18 Mormon's use of the phrase "land of Zarahemla" here likely has reference to the city of Zarahemla.
The text does not mention that Amulek had any family with him in the land of Sidom and even suggests that in accepting the call to serve the Lord he may have even had to give up his wife, children, and other family (see verse 16 and Alma 10:11). If this be the case, then it is no wonder Alma "did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord." Making righteous decisions does not always protect one from pain and suffering. Indeed, it may even cause pain. In Amulek's case, he was a man of the world (Alma 10:4) who doubtless had to pay a painful price made necessary by his previous behavior. He had sacrificed everything-home, family, friends, wealth-for his faith.
19 And thus ended the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.