Alma Chapter 20
1 And it came to pass that when they had established a church in that land, that king Lamoni desired that Ammon should go with him to the land of Nephi, that he might show him unto his father.
verse 1 Recall that king Lamoni reigned in the land of Ishmael. Lamoni's father who was king over all the land reigned in the "land of Nephi." The term "land of Nephi" has two possible meanings. It refers to the general land south of the land of Zarahemla in which the Lamanites lived. It was made up the smaller lands of Ishmael, Shilom, Shemlon, Middoni, Mormon, Nephi, and others. The term "land of Nephi" also refers to the more specific land around the city of Nephi. Lamoni is here proposing that Ammon accompany him to the smaller land of Nephi from where his father reigned over all the general land of Nephi.
2 And the voice of the Lord came to Ammon, saying: Thou shalt not go up to the land of Nephi, for behold, the king will seek thy life; but thou shalt go to the land of Middoni; for behold, thy brother Aaron, and also Muloki and Ammah are in prison.
verse 2 Muloki and Ammah are presumably two of the "small number" that accompanied the sons of Mosiah on their mission (Mosiah 28:1). We will later learn that perhaps they were the only two who accompanied the sons of Mosiah (Alma 23:1).
For commentary on the derivation of the name Muloki, see the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
"Thou shalt not go up to the land of Nephi" As already mentioned, the Lamanite king over all the land, Lamoni's father, lived in the land and city of Nephi. See the commentary for Jacob 28:2 and for Alma 17:19 as to the plausible identity of this city and the identity of the former Nephite/Zeniffite city of Lehi-Nephi.
3 Now it came to pass that when Ammon had heard this, he said unto Lamoni: Behold, my brother and brethren are in prison at Middoni, and I go that I may deliver them.
4 Now Lamoni said unto Ammon: I know, in the strength of the Lord thou canst do all things. But behold, I will go with thee to the land of Middoni; for the king of the land of Middoni, whose name is Antiomno, is a friend unto me; therefore I go to the land of Middoni, that I may flatter the king of the land, and he will cast thy brethren out of prison. Now Lamoni said unto him: Who told thee that thy brethren were in prison?
5 And Ammon said unto him: No one hath told me, save it be God; and he said unto me-Go and deliver thy brethren, for they are in prison in the land of Middoni.
6 Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots.
verse 6 "make ready his horses and his chariots" If you wish to review the discussion of the "wheel" in the Book of Mormon, see the commentary for Alma 18:9.
7 And he said unto Ammon: Come, I will go with thee down to the land of Middoni, and there I will plead with the king that he will cast thy brethren out of prison.
8 And it came to pass that as Ammon and Lamoni were journeying thither, they met the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.
9 And behold, the father of Lamoni said unto him: Why did ye not come to the feast on that great day when I made a feast unto my sons, and unto my people?
verse 9 "Why did ye not come to the feast on that great day when I made a feast unto my sons, and unto my people" You will recall that at the time of the episode at the waters of Sebus, king Lamoni was preparing to go to his father's feast in the land of Nephi (Alma 18:9).
10 And he also said: Whither art thou going with this Nephite, who is one of the children of a liar?
verse 10 "this Nephite, who is one of the children of a liar" See the commentary for verse 13.
11 And it came to pass that Lamoni rehearsed unto him whither he was going, for he feared to offend him.
12 And he also told him all the cause of his tarrying in his own kingdom, that he did not go unto his father to the feast which he had prepared.
verse 12 All of the events surrounding the conversion of king Lamoni and his household occurred as Lamoni was preparing to go to his father's feast and prevented Lamoni from attending the feast.
13 And now when Lamoni had rehearsed unto him all these things, behold, to his astonishment, his father was angry with him, and said: Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property.
verse 13 Why did the father of Lamoni harbor such explicit negative feelings for the Nephites? We have discussed previously the concept of "the traditions of their fathers" in the commentary for Jacob 3:3-9. For the reader's convenience, we will repeat that discussion here.
It is probably a mistake to think of the Lamanites as a benighted, hardened, indolent, and by nature a ferocious people. Certainly many among them were basically good, loving, gentle, and morally upright. Why then do we tend to form a contrary opinion about them as we read the Book of Mormon? Why do we intuitively regard them as an evil and loathsome people who are almost without redeeming qualities? What is the quality of this people that makes us think so negatively about them?
To understand the answer to these questions, it is vital to understand the so-called founding myth of the Lamanites. The Lamanites had deeply rooted in their culture a tradition of hatred of the Nephites. This profound legacy of hatred began at the time of Laman, Lemuel, Lehi, and Nephi, and was passed along from father to son. From the Lamanites' point of view, this basic founding myth probably was told something like this: Our Father Lehi and our younger brother Nephi stole from us everything we ever wanted. We wanted to remain at home in Jerusalem, among our friends, and enjoy our cherished possessions. We didn't want to leave and embark on the rather ill-defined mission that our father Lehi had decided upon. Lehi and Nephi were oppressive and uncaring. They would not listen to us. They forced us to go with them. They virtually robbed us of our homes, and told us lies about some far-away supposedly "promised" Land. They would not allow us to decide for ourselves. They unjustly robbed us of the right to govern ourselves. When we arrived at the great ocean, they commanded us to help build a boat. We did not want to help because we were frightened to try to cross the great water. Again, we were forced, not only to help with the building but also to embark on this seemingly hopeless journey. Once on the boat, we tried to forget our fears by organizing a little lighthearted revelry. Nephi thought that this would offend the Lord and would not allow it! Again he tried to rule over us. We believed that Nephi was leading us to some wilderness where he might dominate us and subject us to his will and pleasure. Just as Nephi tried to take away our freedoms and govern us against our will, so will all Nephites do the same to us. The only way we can stop them from doing this is to use force against them-to smite and kill them. It is our only hope for happiness!
This Lamanite tradition of hatred for the Nephites is often referred to in the Book of Mormon as "the tradition of their fathers" or "the iniquity of their fathers." It dominated the relations between the two peoples throughout the Book of Mormon story. Lamanite children were doubtless indoctrinated with it from an early uncritical age. It was firmly imbedded in their very bones, and it dominated their feelings and thoughts about the Nephite peoples. It virtually represented the national identity of the Lamanites, and with it the Lamanite leaders could stir their people up to anger (see Alma 43:7). It fueled the virtually continuous wars the Lamanites made against the Nephites. As the Nephites experienced the expression of this tradition of hatred, they generally came to perceive the Lamanites as ferocious and hard. The Lamanites acted as if they felt nothing but hatred for the Nephites.
For an interesting exposition of this tradition of hatred uttered by a Lamanite king, read the letter written to Captain Moroni by Ammoron in 63 BC (Alma 54:15-24). Indeed, understanding the genesis of this heritage of hatred may even give us a measure of sympathy and understanding for the Lamanite peoples.
Perhaps king Lamoni was not a very apt pupil when all this indoctrinating was going on. Perhaps he had not learned to hate the Nephites quite as much as some other Lamanites did. Otherwise how would we explain his ready acceptance of Ammon, and why would he have been astonished that his father was angry with him for taking up with a Nephite?
14 Now the father of Lamoni commanded him that he should slay Ammon with the sword. And he also commanded him that he should not go to the land of Middoni, but that he should return with him to the land of Ishmael.
15 But Lamoni said unto him: I will not slay Ammon, neither will I return to the land of Ishmael, but I go to the land of Middoni that I may release the brethren of Ammon, for I know that they are just men and holy prophets of the true God.
16 Now when his father had heard these words, he was angry with him, and he drew his sword that he might smite him to the earth.
17 But Ammon stood forth and said unto him: Behold, thou shalt not slay thy son; nevertheless, it were better that he should fall than thee, for behold, he has repented of his sins; but if thou shouldst fall at this time, in thine anger, thy soul could not be saved.
verse 17 "if thou shouldst fall at this time, in thine anger, thy soul could not be saved" Is murder, the malicious and intentional shedding of innocent blood an unpardonable sin for which there is no forgiveness? Certainly there is no complete forgiveness and exaltation possible for the murderer (1 John 5:16-17; D&C 42:79). It is, however, possible for the murderer to eventually repent and receive the forgiveness which allows them to inherit the telestial degree of glory (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 520). Murder is not the unpardonable son or the sin against the Holy Ghost; rather it is said to be the unforgivable sin. Only that individual who has received the "fulness of the priesthood"-who has had his calling and election made sure-is capable of committing the unpardonable sin. This latter individual is guilty of the unpardonable sin if he receives the "fulness of the priesthood" then turns altogether from the church and wars against it. For a more complete discussion of these sins, see Three Most Abominable Sins, volume 3, chapter 18 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
18 And again, it is expedient that thou shouldst forbear; for if thou shouldst slay thy son, he being an innocent man, his blood would cry from the ground to the Lord his God, for vengeance to come upon thee; and perhaps thou wouldst lose thy soul.
verse 18 To "forbear" means to stop what you are doing. This is not to be confused with a "forebear" which is an ancestor.
"his blood would cry from the ground to the Lord his God" The very act of his murder would demand that justice be meted out to his murderer.
19 Now when Ammon had said these words unto him, he answered him, saying: I know that if I should slay my son, that I should shed innocent blood; for it is thou that hast sought to destroy him.
verse 19 The king says, in effect: "I do not intend to slay my son. I realize that he is innocent. It is you, Ammon, who is guilty of trying to destroy my son."
20 And he stretched forth his hand to slay Ammon. But Ammon withstood his blows, and also smote his arm that he could not use it.
21 Now when the king saw that Ammon could slay him, he began to plead with Ammon that he would spare his life.
22 But Ammon raised his sword, and said unto him: Behold, I will smite thee except thou wilt grant unto me that my brethren may be cast out of prison.
23 Now the king, fearing he should lose his life, said: If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee whatsoever thou wilt ask, even to half of the kingdom.
24 Now when Ammon saw that he had wrought upon the old king according to his desire, he said unto him: If thou wilt grant that my brethren may be cast out of prison, and also that Lamoni may retain his kingdom, and that ye be not displeased with him, but grant that he may do according to his own desires in whatsoever thing he thinketh, then will I spare thee; otherwise I will smite thee to the earth.
25 Now when Ammon had said these words, the king began to rejoice because of his life.
26 And when he saw that Ammon had no desire to destroy him, and when he also saw the great love he had for his son Lamoni, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Because this is all that thou hast desired, that I would release thy brethren, and suffer that my son Lamoni should retain his kingdom, behold, I will grant unto you that my son may retain his kingdom from this time and forever; and I will govern him no more-
27 And I will also grant unto thee that thy brethren may be cast out of prison, and thou and thy brethren may come unto me, in my kingdom; for I shall greatly desire to see thee. For the king was greatly astonished at the words which he had spoken, and also at the words which had been spoken by his son Lamoni, therefore he was desirous to learn them.
verse 27 "For the king was greatly astonished at the words which he had spoken" The king was undoubtedly moved and intrigued not only by Ammon's obvious concern and affection for Lamoni and for his lack of personal greed (verse 24), but also by Ammon's accusing him of being a sinner in dire need of repentance (verses 17-18).
"and also at the words which had been spoken by his son Lamoni" Lamoni had had an opportunity to explain some gospel principles and bear his testimony when he explained the reasons for not attending his father's feast.
28 And it came to pass that Ammon and Lamoni proceeded on their journey towards the land of Middoni. And Lamoni found favor in the eyes of the king of the land; therefore the brethren of Ammon were brought forth out of prison.
29 And when Ammon did meet them he was exceedingly sorrowful, for behold they were naked, and their skins were worn exceedingly because of being bound with strong cords. And they also had suffered hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions; nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings.
verse 29 From our comfortable armchairs, as we read the scriptures, we sometimes misconstrue, misinterpret, and misunderstand the persecutions heaped upon the Lord's servants and, indeed, even upon the Lord himself. In a subtle way we tend to glamorize these persecutions, assuming and picturing in our mind's eye that the Lord and his servants somehow maintained their dignity in their time of suffering. These, we imagine, were noble sufferings in the way they were dealt out and in the way they were endured. The real truth is that these afflictions were demeaning and insulting and degrading. During the Savior's mortal sojourn, many took the opportunity to embarrass and humiliate him. The Roman soldiers, the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the common people, and even one of the thieves who was crucified beside him jeered at him, spat on him, hit him, and spoke blasphemously against him and profanely to him (Matthew 27:29-31; Matthew 27:39-44; Luke 22:63-65; Luke 23:35-39).
"they were patient in all their sufferings" Aaron, Muloki, and Ammah had been faithful and steady and longsuffering in their trials. They did not allow their sufferings to embitter them.
30 And, as it happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people; therefore they would not hearken unto their words, and they had cast them out, and had smitten them, and had driven them from house to house, and from place to place, even until they had arrived in the land of Middoni; and there they were taken and cast into prison, and bound with strong cords, and kept in prison for many days, and were delivered by Lamoni and Ammon.
verse 30 "it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people" They had fallen into the hands of the Amalekites and the Amulonites (see Alma 21:1-4).
The Amulonites were the devotees of the late Amulon, one of the priests of king Noah and a Nephite dissenter (see Mosiah 23:31-32). They were thus of mixed parentage. They had Nephite fathers (the priests of Noah) and Lamanite mothers (the Lamanite maidens whom these priests kidnapped and took to wife). Because of their superior education, they became leaders among the Lamanites. We have discussed previously the observation that Nephite dissenters tended to be more hard hearted and refractory to the truth than were the Lamanites (Alma 24:30).
The text is silent concerning the origin of the Amalekites. We have encountered two "Amaleki's" thus far in our study of the Book of Mormon. One was the prophet-custodian of the plates at the time of King Benjamin (Omni 1:12; Omni 1:23; Words of Mormon 1:3; Words of Mormon 1:10). The other Amaleki was one of the men who traveled from Zarahemla with Ammon to rescue the people of king Limhi (Mosiah 7:6). It is unlikely the Amalekites descended from either of these Nephites. We have learned, through the efforts of modern scholars, that the Amalekites are the same as the Amlicites (see an important discussion of the Amalekites in the commentary for Alma 21:2). Both the Amalekites and the Amulonites were of the order of the Nehors (Alma 21:4; Alma 24:28-29). For a discussion of the order of the Nehors, see the commentary for Alma 8:8.
Camille Fronk has concluded in her article "Show Forth Good Examples in Me" (Studies in Scripture, Volume Seven, 1 Nephi to Alma 29, 328-29), that Ammon may well be seen as a type of Christ. She points out that the temptations placed before Ammon were similar to those which would later be placed before Christ by Satan. Ammon was offered gifts which would satisfy his carnal appetites-Lamoni's daughter and a life of ease (Alma 17:24). In an analogous way, so will Satan tempt the fasting Christ to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:2-4). The Lamanites mistakenly thought that Ammon was a God. He could have taken advantage of their ignorance and become their ruler (Alma 18:21). Christ was tempted to show his power and gain instant popularity and worldly glory (Matthew 4:5-7). Ammon was offered worldly riches by the king over all the Lamanites (Alma 20:23). So did Satan offer Christ the wealth of all the earth if Christ would but worship him (Matthew 4:8-10). Obviously both Ammon's and Christ's eyes were fixed on a larger mission.