Alma Chapter 18
Alma 18-19 Ammon and the conversion of King Lamoni and his household
1 And it came to pass that king Lamoni caused that his servants should stand forth and testify to all the things which they had seen concerning the matter.
2 And when they had all testified to the things which they had seen, and he had learned of the faithfulness of Ammon in preserving his flocks, and also of his great power in contending against those who sought to slay him, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Surely, this is more than a man. Behold, is not this the Great Spirit who doth send such great punishments upon this people, because of their murders?
verse 2 "Surely, this is more than a man" Here is a profound lesson. A person who truly renders selfless and Christlike service becomes a type or symbol of Christ. He or she will seem to be "more than a man" to those who are blessed by the example of that service.
3 And they answered the king, and said: Whether he be the Great Spirit or a man, we know not; but this much we do know, that he cannot be slain by the enemies of the king; neither can they scatter the king's flocks when he is with us, because of his expertness and great strength; therefore, we know that he is a friend to the king. And now, O king, we do not believe that a man has such great power, for we know he cannot be slain.
4 And now, when the king heard these words, he said unto them: Now I know that it is the Great Spirit; and he has come down at this time to preserve your lives, that I might not slay you as I did your brethren. Now this is the Great Spirit of whom our fathers have spoken.
5 Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit they supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants;
verse 5 Apparently this "Great Spirit," according to Lamanite tradition, was not a god to be loved and revered for his benevolence. Rather he was one to be feared for his supposed proclivity for seeking vengeance. They sought more to appease him than to worship him.
"Nowithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit they supposed that whatsoever they did was right" Even though these Lamanites believed in this "Great Spirit," that belief did not obligate them to any particular moral standard. This false God did not hold them to any particular standard of righteousness or wickedness. This pernicious belief may be referred to as the "we-are-above-sin" philosophy and existed at various time during Nephite history (2 Nephi 28:8; Alma 1:4; Alma 30:17; Mormon 8:31). Because they related to this false god, it is likely that Lamoni received little instruction from his parents during his childhood regarding questions of right and wrong. Yet, because of Ammon's Christ-like example, Lamoni was immediately moved by the Spirit to a sense of guilt or conscience over his past wrong doings.
6 For he had slain many of them because their brethren had scattered their flocks at the place of water; and thus, because they had had their flocks scattered they were slain.
7 Now it was the practice of these Lamanites to stand by the waters of Sebus to scatter the flocks of the people, that thereby they might drive away many that were scattered unto their own land, it being a practice of plunder among them.
8 And it came to pass that king Lamoni inquired of his servants, saying: Where is this man that has such great power?
9 And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.
verse 9 "Behold, he is feeding thy horses" We have already discussed the problem of the horse in the Book of Mormon. Please see the commentary for 1 Nephi 18:25.
"chariots" A potential problem is raised by this verse. Critics of the Book of Mormon in the past have pointed out that this verse implies that a "chariot" must have wheels, especially a chariot drawn by a horse, and there is no firm evidence that the wheel was ever used in the Americas prior to the time of Columbus. "Ah-ha!" they say, "this must be evidence that the Book of Mormon is not historically accurate." Because of this criticism, proponents of the Book of Mormon have scrambled for evidence that the wheel was used. Let us review a few points of fact. (1) First, there can be little doubt that Lehi and company were well acquainted with the concept of the wheel. In the Old Testament wheels and chariots were mentioned as early as the time of Moses in Egypt. There are several references to wheels and chariots in the book of Isaiah. (2) Just because the early Book of Mormon peoples knew about the wheel didn't necessarily mean that they made use of them. (3) There is only one mention of "wheels" in the Book of Mormon-in 2 Nephi 15:28 in a verse taken from Isaiah's writings. (4) While the "chariots" mentioned in the Book of Mormon probably had wheels, it is not possible to be certain. (5) It is interesting that several examples of wheeled figurines have been discovered in Mesoamerica dating to a period well before Columbus ("Wheeled Figurines in the Ancient World," John L. Sorenson, a FARMS reprint).
The above discoveries have blunted the criticism of some Book of Mormon detractors. Let us admit, however, that we may never find irrefutable evidence of the use of wheels for transportation in the Americas at the time of the Book of Mormon.
10 Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished, because of the faithfulness of Ammon, saying: Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.
11 Now I surely know that this is the Great Spirit, and I would desire him that he come in unto me, but I durst not.
12 And it came to pass that when Ammon had made ready the horses and the chariots for the king and his servants, he went in unto the king, and he saw that the countenance of the king was changed; therefore he was about to return out of his presence.
13 And one of the king's servants said unto him, Rabbanah, which is, being interpreted, powerful or great king, considering their kings to be powerful; and thus he said unto him: Rabbanah, the king desireth thee to stay.
verse 13 Ammon is addressed by the title "Rabbanah" which is interpreted as meaning "powerful or great king." This title is identical to "Rabboni" meaning "master," which was used by Mary Magdalene to address the resurrected Lord (John 20:16). The servant who so addressed Ammon knew he was not a king of any worldly kingdom and likely was suspicious he was more than merely a worldly king. Rabbanah resembles Hebrew words that derive from a common Semitic root rbb meaning "to be big or many." Even though the Lamanites had strayed culturally from their Nephite cousins, they apparently still preserved elements of their Hebrew/Semitic language. See also the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
14 Therefore Ammon turned himself unto the king, and said unto him: What wilt thou that I should do for thee, O king? And the king answered him not for the space of an hour, according to their time, for he knew not what he should say unto him.
15 And it came to pass that Ammon said unto him again: What desirest thou of me? But the king answered him not.
16 And it came to pass that Ammon, being filled with the Spirit of God, therefore he perceived the thoughts of the king. And he said unto him: Is it because thou hast heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants; behold, is it this that causeth thy marvelings?
17 I say unto you, what is it, that thy marvelings are so great? Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant; therefore, whatsoever thou desirest which is right, that will I do.
18 Now when the king had heard these words, he marveled again, for he beheld that Ammon could discern his thoughts; but notwithstanding this, king Lamoni did open his mouth, and said unto him: Who art thou? Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?
19 Ammon answered and said unto him: I am not.
20 And the king said: How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly, and tell me concerning these things; and also tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms of my brethren that scattered my flocks-
21 And now, if thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee; and if it were needed, I would guard thee with my armies; but I know that thou art more powerful than all they; nevertheless, whatsoever thou desirest of me I will grant it unto thee.
22 Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.
verse 22 "Ammon being wise, yet harmless" The word "harmless" here carries the connotation of meek, quiet, and inoffensive. Though he was wise and possessed important spiritual insights with which he could bless most anyone he met, he was humble and not overly aggressive.
23 And the king answered him, and said: Yea, I will believe all thy words. And thus he was caught with guile.
verse 23 "he was caught with guile" Lamoni responded as Ammon had planned when Ammon asked the question in verse 22. Thus, Ammon had cleverly, or "with guile," committed the king to listen to him. Lamoni had been "caught" by Ammon's "guile." Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines guile as, "Craft, cunning, artifice, clever, with ingenuity." The word guile, at the time of Joseph Smith did not carry the negative meaning we may apply to it today.
24 And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
25 And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
26 And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?
27 And he said, Yea.
28 And Ammon said: This is God. And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?
verse 28 "And Ammon said: This is God." Ammon here is referring to the "Great Spirit" in verse 26. Some have felt that Ammon's statement here is misleading to Lamoni. He teaches Lamoni that the Great Spirit is God. Technically speaking, he is correct. At that time Jehovah did not have a body of flesh and bone, and he was a spirit.
29 And he said: Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.
30 And Ammon said unto him: The heavens is a place where God dwells and all his holy angels.
31 And king Lamoni said: Is it above the earth?
32 And Ammon said: Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.
33 And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?
34 Ammon said unto him: I am a man; and man in the beginning was created after the image of God, and I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people, that they may be brought to a knowledge of that which is just and true;
verse 34 "just and true" The word "just" means in accordance with God's law.
35 And a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God.
36 Now when Ammon had said these words, he began at the creation of the world, and also the creation of Adam, and told him all the things concerning the fall of man, and rehearsed and laid before him the records and the holy scriptures of the people, which had been spoken by the prophets, even down to the time that their father, Lehi, left Jerusalem.
37 And he also rehearsed unto them (for it was unto the king and to his servants) all the journeyings of their fathers in the wilderness, and all their sufferings with hunger and thirst, and their travail, and so forth.
38 And he also rehearsed unto them concerning the rebellions of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, yea, all their rebellions did he relate unto them; and he expounded unto them all the records and scriptures from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem down to the present time.
39 But this is not all; for he expounded unto them the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world; and he also made known unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and all the works of the Lord did he make known unto them.
verses 36-39 Using the scriptures, Ammon taught Lamoni the gospel including the concepts of the creation, the fall, and the atonement. Elder Bruce R. McConkie referred to these as "the three pillars of eternity" and the "greatest events that have ever occurred in all eternity." Elder McConkie went on to say, "If we can get an understanding of them, then the whole eternal scheme of things will fall into place, and we will be in a position to work out our own salvation . . .. These three are the foundations upon which all things rest. Without any one of them all things would lose their purpose and meaning, and the plans and designs of Deity would come to naught" ("The Three Pillars of Eternity," BYU Devotional, February 17, 1981).
Ammon's method of teaching Lamoni follows an astute logic: In order to realize the need for the Savior's atonement, one must understand from what it is we need to be saved. This is, of course, the fall of man. To understand the fall it is necessary to understand from what it was that Adam fell. This is the paradisiacal state in which all things in the garden were created-thus a need to understand the creation.
verse 39 "from the foundation of the world" The period here referred to as the "foundation of the world" is that period in the premortal existence when preparations were made for the great mortal experience of the family of Adam and the plan of redemption by which members of that family might eventually return to their celestial home.
40 And it came to pass that after he had said all these things, and expounded them to the king, that the king believed all his words.
41 And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people.
42 And now, when he had said this, he fell unto the earth, as if he were dead.
43 And it came to pass that his servants took him and carried him in unto his wife, and laid him upon a bed; and he lay as if he were dead for the space of two days and two nights; and his wife, and his sons, and his daughters mourned over him, after the manner of the Lamanites, greatly lamenting his loss.
verse 43 Lamoni's comatose state began when he realized the identity of his Redeemer and his urgent need for his Redeemer's mercy. This coma may be considered symbolic of the death of the natural man in preparation for being born again as a saint, a man of Christ. While Lamoni appeared to be in a coma for three days, his spirit was very much awake-all the time experiencing the pains of repentance and being taught the principles of salvation. Analogous experiences were had by the younger Alma (Mosiah 27:18-25) and by Paul who lost his sight for three days (Acts 9:8-9). Each of these three-day experiences may be considered symbolic of the death and resurrection of Christ whose body lay in the tomb for three days. An obvious difference between the experiences of these others and that of Christ, was that Christ was in no need of repentance and was the teacher and not the student.
Some have wondered about the dramatic conversion experiences of Lamoni, Paul, Enos, Alma, and the four sons of Mosiah. Can the rest of us ever hope for such an experience? Why can't we have such an experience? Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained, ". . . except in a few isolated instances that are so miraculous they get written up in the scriptures. As far as the generality of the members of the Church are concerned, we are born again by degrees, and we are born again to added light and added knowledge and added desires for righteousness as we keep the commandments" ("Jesus Christ and Him Crucified," Speeches of the Year, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Publications, 1976, 399). Though the dramatic experiences described in scripture "are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule (see the commentary for Alma 19:8; Alma 19:34). For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are thousands and hundreds of thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle-much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life" (Benson, Ezra Taft, "A Mighty Change of Heart," Ensign 19 [October 1989]: 2-5).