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Alma Chapter 17

An account of the sons of Mosiah, who rejected their rights to the kingdom for the word of God, and went up to the land of Nephi to preach to the Lamanites; their sufferings and deliverance-according to the record of Alma. Comprising chapters 17 to 26 inclusive.

Scripture Mastery

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

Alma 17:2-3 Alma encounters the sons of Mosiah returning from their mission and rejoices exceedingly to see his brethren.

Alma 17 Ammon at the waters of Sebus

One of the things about the BOM that is fun but can be a bit confusing is just how some of the stories relate to one another. Let me give you an example. In Alma chapter 1 through 16, we have just read of Alma's ministry in the Land of Zarahemla. Alma, you will recall, dealt with the murderer Nehor, fought with the Nephite dissident Amlici, fought wars with the Lamanites, and then preached to the people of the city of Zarahemla. He then traveled to preach in Gideon. He returned to Zarahemla to rest, but soon left to teach in Melek and then in Ammonihah. There, he first preached alone, became discouraged, tried to leave, but was turned back by an angel. He then preached with Amulek in Ammonihah and had an experience that was both wonderful and awful. He and Amulek then preached to the lawyer Zeezrom who, you will remember, was converted. Alma's ministry lasted about fourteen years from 92 BC to 78 BC.

Beginning here in Alma 17, we are now going to begin to study an entirely different story. It is that of the sons of Mosiah traveling up to the Land of Nephi and preaching among the Lamanites. Their ministry also lasted fourteen years from 92 BC to 78 BC. Most readers of the Book of Mormon fail to realize that these two stories-that of Alma's ministry in the Land of Zarahemla and that of the ministry of the sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites in the land of Nephi-occurred simultaneously. That fact is not immediately apparent as you read through the BOM. I have created a diagram that illustrates the temporal relationship of both of these stories. Please see the illustration, Book of Mormon History Diagram Alma 1 through Alma 26. Note that the story of Alma's ministry in Alma 1-16 occurs simultaneously with the account of the ministry of the sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites in Alma 17-26. Most readers of the Book of Mormon fail to notice the few important interactions between these two stories.

I will describe one interaction by giving you a preview of an event we will encounter in Alma 24. There, we will read of the conversion of many Lamanites who will covenant to never again take up weapons of war and will begin to call themselves the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Their fellow Lamanites will become so furious over their conversion to the gospel that they will attack them. Rather than fight or flee, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies will simply lie prostrate on the ground before their attackers, and 1,005 of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies will be slain. The attacking Lamanites finally realize they have been killing their brother Lamanites and, predictably, they become furious at the Nephites for "making them" do such a reprehensible thing. As we might expect, they swear vengeance against the Nephites. They summon an army and set out for Nephite lands to seek revenge. Rather than marching to Zarahemla by the usual route-heading straight up through the wilderness and down the River Sidon basin, they skirt the wilderness on the coastal plain to the west and enter the land of Zarahemla from the northwest. Doubtless they wanted to fool the Nephites and make a surprise attack (see the illustration, Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands). It just so happens that the first city they come to is Ammonihah. They destroy the city and slaughter everyone in it. But, wait a moment! We have already read of the destruction of Ammonihah in Alma 16! Now you know the story behind the destruction of that city by the Lamanites.

1 And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.

verse 1 "journeying towards the land of Zarahemla" It is likely that Alma and the sons of Mosiah encountered each other in the greater land of Zarahemla. Therefore the expression "land of Zarahemla" here refers to either the local land of Zarahemla immediately surrounding the city of Zarahemla or it refers to the city of Zarahemla itself.

Who would have accompanied the sons of Mosiah as Alma encountered them on the road between Gideon and Manti? They were accompanied by the "few" Nephite missionaries who accompanied them on their mission to the Lamanites (see verse 8). Even though the sons of Mosiah had brought a group of their Lamanite converts, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies or people of Ammon out of the land of Nephi, they had left them in the wilderness near the city of Manti while they journeyed on to inquire about the appropriateness of bringing into the land of Zarahemla a large group of Lamanites (see Alma 27:14-16).

2 Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.

verse 2 "at the time the angel first appeared unto him" (italics added) Recall that the same angel who appeared to Alma and the sons of Mosiah as they traveled about persecuting the church (Mosiah 27) later appeared to Alma to encourage him and send him back to the city of Ammonihah (Alma 8:14-15).

"Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren" There appears to be a uniquely joyful reunion that occurs between servants of the Lord who are reunited after a period of being apart. The unusual joy is contingent upon both parties having remained true in the faith. One example that comes to mind is a reunion between Joseph Smith and several elders on the banks of the Missouri River. Joseph was returning from Independence, Missouri, to Kirtland, Ohio. The elders were traveling toward Independence, preaching the gospel as they went. After a joyful reunion, Joseph received a revelation from the Lord directed to the faithful missionaries. In it the Lord told them: "ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you" (D&C 62:3). It would seem that this type of joyful earthly reunion is but a type of the greater reunion we will have one day with our Father in Heaven, with our Lord Jesus Christ, and with cherished friends and family members who have preceded us in death. In these reunions, the joy that may be experienced depends upon our ongoing faithfulness to the principles of the gospel.

"they had searched the scriptures diligently" The sons of Mosiah had been in the land of Nephi for fourteen years. Did they have the scriptures with them on their missionary journey? They certainly must have had copies with them. But in what form? Written on what kind of material? Your author is aware of no information that might help to answer these questions, but obviously the Nephites of that day had access to fully portable paper-like materials onto which copies of the scriptural materials from the brass plates of Laban were written.

3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.

verse 3 "they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting" Fasting under these circumstances may be referred to as preparatory fasting and is done in preparation for obtaining blessings from God (cf. Alma 17:9; Alma 5:46; Alma 8:26). There is a biblical precedent for this type of fasting. Moses fasted on the mountain for forty days before receiving the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9).

"they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation" These are really one and the same. They both refer to the influence of the Holy Ghost which is invariably associated intimately with a testimony of Jesus. When the Spirit is teaching us spiritual truths, we are said to have the "spirit of revelation." When we teach these truths to others, and they receive our teachings by the influence of the Spirit, then we are said to have the "spirit of prophecy." With this latter spirit we are able to teach "with the power and authority of God." Note how verses 2 and 3 together provide us with the formula for obtaining the "spirit of prophecy": (1) Search the scriptures diligently. (2) Pray and fast frequently. (3) Obey the Lord's commands. This obedience was evident among all those who encountered each other while on the Lord's errand.

4 And they had been teaching the word of God for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites, having had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him.

verse 4 "many were brought before the altar of God" Mormon may have had either a figurative or a literal meaning in mind here. The altar was a place where an individual could enjoy the presence of God, perhaps in a temple or sanctuary (see the commentary for Alma 16:13). These were places of prayer, confession, covenant-making, safety, and sacrifice.

5 Now these are the circumstances which attended them in their journeyings, for they had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue, and also much labor in the spirit.

verse 5 "also much labor in the spirit" This expression apparently refers to spiritual trials. The process of acquiring spiritual strength is not an easy one. In mortality we are not buoyed up by the Spirit's influence constantly. The required "labor" includes patience, long suffering, and doing good when we know in our minds that we should, but we may not necessarily feel like it in our hearts.

6 Now these were their journeyings: Having taken leave of their father, Mosiah, in the first year of the judges; having refused the kingdom which their father was desirous to confer upon them, and also this was the minds of the people;

verse 6 "having refused the kingdom which their father was desirous to confer upon them, and also this was the minds of the people" The text does not state explicitly until this verse that it was Mosiah's desire that one of his sons accept his kingship. It was previously made clear that the people wanted Mosiah's son Aaron to be their king (Mosiah 29:2).

7 Nevertheless they departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and took their swords, and their spears, and their bows, and their arrows, and their slings; and this they did that they might provide food for themselves while in the wilderness.

8 And thus they departed into the wilderness with their numbers which they had selected, to go up to the land of Nephi, to preach the word of God unto the Lamanites.

verse 8 "with their numbers which they had selected" We don't know who or how many accompanied the four sons of Mosiah on their journey. We only know that it was a "small number" (see Mosiah 28:1).

9 And it came to pass that they journeyed many days in the wilderness, and they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth, to the knowledge of the baseness of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.

verse 9 "they journeyed many days in the wilderness, and they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would . . . abide with them" Though it is not stated in this verse, subsequent verses suggest that at this time the missionaries were experiencing misgivings, discouragement, depression, and they were even considering turning back (see verses 10, 12; Alma 26:27).

"portion of his spirit" This expression, which is used commonly in our LDS culture today, originated largely in the Book of Mormon. Indeed, it is found only once in the Bible (2 Kings 2:9) and once in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 71:1). Other Book of Mormon references include Alma 18:35; Alma 24:8; and 40:3. It refers simply to the influence of the Spirit.

"the baseness of the traditions of their fathers" See the commentary for Enos 1:14. Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines baseness as, "Meanness; vileness; worthlessness."

We have learned that the Lamanites maintained a set of "traditions of their fathers" which included the idea that father Lehi exercised unrighteous dominion over his family in leading them out of Jerusalem. Later, Nephi treated Laman and Lemuel unfairly as they traveled in the wilderness and while they were crossing the sea. The Lamanites believed that the right to govern, the birthright, rightfully belonged to Laman and not to Nephi (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 16:37). They felt that when Nephi moved out of the land of their first inheritance and took with him the records of the people and the plates of Laban, he had robbed the Lamanites of what was rightfully theirs (see also Mosiah 10:12-17).

10 And it came to pass that the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted. And they were comforted.

11 And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; 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.

verse 11 Here is a pertinent illustration of what we all might expect during our mortal sojourn. Obviously the Lord was mindful of the sons of Mosiah, and obviously the Lord's Spirit was with them and would protect them against mortal danger. Yet they are warned that they will experience hardship and affliction. So it is with all of us and even the most righteous among us.

12 And it came to pass that the hearts of the sons of Mosiah, and also those who were with them, took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites to declare unto them the word of God.

13 And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken.

verse 13 "when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites" We have made the point previously that the borders of the land may refer to the mountains of the land.

"great was the work which they had undertaken" This statement refers to the immense challenge that lay before the sons of Mosiah and their companions.

14 And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.

verse 14 "And assuredly it was great" It was likely the prophet Mormon who inserted this subtle editorial comment. Referring to the phrase in the previous verse, "great was the work which they had undertaken," Mormon betrays his admiration for these missionaries by saying, in effect, "They really had taken on themselves a formidable challenge!"

15 Thus they were a very indolent people, many of whom did worship idols, and the curse of God had fallen upon them because of the traditions of their fathers; notwithstanding the promises of the Lord were extended unto them on the conditions of repentance.

verses 14-15 It is interesting to observe how the Lamanites' hatred of the Nephites festered over the centuries. While this hatred may have had its foundations in the false teachings of the Lamanites' ancestors, it seems likely that its flames were fanned anew by each generation of Lamanites as they observed the Nephites' superior culture and felt an inevitable inferiority. Also, it seems that evil is obliged to justify itself. The Lamanites justified their own greedy and evil deeds by pointing to a variety of supposed past wrongs done to them. See additional discussion of the Lamanites' "traditions of their fathers" in the commentary for Enos 1:14 and Mosiah 10:12-17.

verse 15 Again, the "curse of God" was not the dark color of their skin. Rather it was the loss of the gospel and the priesthood with its attendant blessings, including the opportunity to associated with others who were committed to the Lord and his gospel.

The "promises of the Lord" unto the Lamanites included:

1. the extraordinary mercy which the Lord was willing to extend to the Lamanites because of the incorrect traditions passed on to them by their forbears;

2. a promise that they will not be annihilated as a people-their days will be "prolonged in the land"; and

3. an eventual opportunity, especially in the "latter times," to accept the gospel and receive their salvation (Alma 9:16-17; Helaman 7:24; Helaman 15:11-12).

16 Therefore, this was the cause for which the sons of Mosiah had undertaken the work, that perhaps they might bring them unto repentance; that perhaps they might bring them to know of the plan of redemption.

17 Therefore they separated themselves one from another, and went forth among them, every man alone, according to the word and power of God which was given unto him.

verse 17 "every man alone" The reader should not pass by this verse without pausing to consider the fear that must have been in the heart of each of these missionaries as they ventured forth among these savage people without a companion!

18 Now Ammon being the chief among them, or rather he did administer unto them, and he departed from them, after having blessed them according to their several stations, having imparted the word of God unto them, or administered unto them before his departure; and thus they took their several journeys throughout the land.

verse 18 We have speculated previously that Aaron, and not Ammon, was the eldest of the sons of Mosiah (see the commentary for Mosiah 29:2). When the sons of Mosiah are listed, Ammon is usually mentioned first. Whether or not he was the eldest, he was certainly the natural leader of the group.

"according to their several stations" Ammon perceived their individual needs and blessed and taught or "administered" unto them accordingly.

19 And Ammon went to the land of Ishmael, the land being called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites.

verse 19 There has been some interesting speculation regarding the land of Ishmael. Let us pose a question: What ever happened to the land and city of Lehi-Nephi after king Limhi and his people escaped from Lamanite bondage and abandoned it? It is clear that the Lamanites took it over. It may have become the Lamanite city of Nephi. Another idea, though, is that the Lamanites already had another chief city called the city of Nephi quite apart from the former Nephite city Lehi-Nephi (see the commentary for Jacob 2:28). They thus would not be likely to continue to call this abandoned Nephite city the city of Nephi. They would be more likely to change its name. Perhaps it became known as the land and city of Ishmael. It was a choice land, so the Lamanite king in the chief Lamanite city, the city of Nephi, may have given this land to his son Lamoni (who was a descendant of Ishmael) for his inheritance. So when the four sons of Mosiah on their missionary journey came into the land of Nephi some thirty-one years after king Limhi and his people departed, Ammon, like Zeniff in 200 BC, may have headed straight for the "land of our father's first inheritance," the former land and city of Lehi-Nephi-now the land of Ishmael. He found this land now occupied by king Lamoni. This land will later be referred to as "the land of their inheritance," referring to Ammon and Lamoni (see Alma 21:18).

20 And as Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands, and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them into prison, or to cast them out of his land, according to his will and pleasure.

21 And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael; and his name was Lamoni; and he was a descendant of Ishmael.

22 And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.

23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.

verse 23 I have regarded this verse as suggestive evidence that Ammon had not left behind a wife and children in Zarahemla. Though no mention is ever made, it is certainly also possible that the missionaries were accompanied by their wives and perhaps their children.

24 And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife.

verse 24 "King Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon" On initially reading this verse, one may gain the impression that part of the story must have been left out here. In one moment a Nephite prisoner is brought before King Lamoni, and in the next moment Lamoni is offering him one of his daughters to marry. Ammon is offered the opportunity to become part of the royal family! It seems likely that the Spirit had a role here in witnessing to the heart of Lamoni the true goodness of Ammon, but there may have been omitted occurrences which endeared Ammon to Lamoni.

"he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife" Again, the question of whether or not Ammon was accompanied by his wife surfaces. It is certainly possible that Lamoni had more than one wife, and he assumed that it would be appropriate for Ammon to take one of his daughters to wife.

25 But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

verse 25 "Nay, but I will be thy servant" Now it's easy to become inappropriately light-minded here and say something like, "Naturally he would refuse-you should have seen his daughter!" Yet, a significant message is taught here. Positions of power and notoriety are not pursued by those who truly seek to emulate Christ. Rather, they seek ways to serve which will never attract public attention, avoiding the public eye. Even the Lord Jesus Christ, in the hour of his extremity on the eve of his crucifixion, washed his disciples' feet. Such service has a profound influence on those who are privy to it, including the beneficiary, because the very service testifies of Jesus Christ!

26 And after he had been in the service of the king three days, as he was with the Lamanitish servants going forth with their flocks to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus, and all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water-

verse 26 Dr. Hugh Nibley has pointed out (in a lecture to the Sunstone Symposium delivered May 10, 1988) that there are Egyptian words similar to "Sebus" that have such meanings as "bandit" or "to divide property between two parties" or "to take a drink" or "a mingling, a rumble, or a gang fight." Any of these meanings would offer an interesting parallel to the story which took place at the waters of Sebus.

27 Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, behold, a certain number of the Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon and the servants of the king, and they scattered them insomuch that they fled many ways.

28 Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already.

29 Now they wept because of the fear of being slain. Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words.

30 And now, these were the thoughts of Ammon, when he saw the afflictions of those whom he termed to be his brethren.

31 And it came to pass that he flattered them by his words, saying: My brethren, be of good cheer and let us go in search of the flocks, and we will gather them together and bring them back unto the place of water; and thus we will preserve the flocks unto the king and he will not slay us.

verse 31 "he flattered them by his words" Ammon was able to convince the king's servants and gain their confidence.

32 And it came to pass that they went in search of the flocks, and they did follow Ammon, and they rushed forth with much swiftness and did head the flocks of the king, and did gather them together again to the place of water.

verse 32 "they did head the flocks" Obviously, in this context, to head the flocks is to herd, drive, or lead them.

33 And those men again stood to scatter their flocks; but Ammon said unto his brethren: Encircle the flocks round about that they flee not; and I go and contend with these men who do scatter our flocks.

34 Therefore, they did as Ammon commanded them, and he went forth and stood to contend with those who stood by the waters of Sebus; and they were in number not a few.

35 Therefore they did not fear Ammon, for they supposed that one of their men could slay him according to their pleasure, for they knew not that the Lord had promised Mosiah that he would deliver his sons out of their hands; neither did they know anything concerning the Lord; therefore they delighted in the destruction of their brethren; and for this cause they stood to scatter the flocks of the king.

36 But Ammon stood forth and began to cast stones at them with his sling; yea, with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them insomuch that they began to be astonished at his power; nevertheless they were angry because of the slain of their brethren, and they were determined that he should fall; therefore, seeing that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with clubs to slay him.

37 But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished, and began to flee before him; yea, and they were not few in number; and he caused them to flee by the strength of his arm.

38 Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword; and he smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him, and they were not a few.

39 And when he had driven them afar off, he returned and they watered their flocks and returned them to the pasture of the king, and then went in unto the king, bearing the arms which had been smitten off by the sword of Ammon, of those who sought to slay him; and they were carried in unto the king for a testimony of the things which they had done.

verses 26-39 Brother Hugh Nibley wrote of this episode at the waters of Sebus:

All the Lamanites would drive their flocks to a particular watering place (verse 26). And when they got there, "a certain number of Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the . . . [king's] flocks." After the flocks of the king "scattered . . . and fled many ways," the servants lamented that as a matter of course, "now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren" (verse 28). And they began to weep. What insanity is this, the king kills his own servants for losing a contest that had been acted out before? In fact, "it was the practice of these Lamanites to stand by the waters of Sebus and scatter the flocks of the people," keeping what they could for themselves, "it being a practice of plunder among them" (Alma 18:7). . . . It should be clear that we are dealing with a sort of game; a regular practice, following certain rules. . . . All this reminds us of those many ceremonial games in which the loser also lost his life, beginning with an Aztec duel in which one of the contestants was tethered by the ankle and bore only a wooden mace while his heavily armored opponent wielded a weapon with sharp obsidian edges. Then there were the age-old chariot races of the princes in which one was to be killed by the Taraxippus, and the equally ancient game of Nemi made famous by Frazer's Golden Bough. Add to these such vicious doings as the Platanist, the Krypteia, and old Norse brain-ball, the hanging games of the Celts, and so on. But the closest are those known to many of us here, namely the bloody fun of the famous basketball games played in the great ball courts of the ceremonial complexes of Mesoamerica. In these games either the captain of the losing team or the whole team lost their heads (Prophetic Book of Mormon, 539-41).

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