Alma Chapter 22
Alma 22 Aaron and the conversion of the father of Lamoni who was king over all the land
1 Now, as Ammon was thus teaching the people of Lamoni continually, we will return to the account of Aaron and his brethren; for after he departed from the land of Middoni he was led by the Spirit to the land of Nephi, even to the house of the king which was over all the land save it were the land of Ishmael; and he was the father of Lamoni.
2 And it came to pass that he went in unto him into the king's palace, with his brethren, and bowed himself before the king, and said unto him: Behold, O king, we are the brethren of Ammon, whom thou hast delivered out of prison.
verse 2 The phrase "whom thou hast delivered out of prison" modifies, of course, "we . . . the brethren" and not Ammon.
3 And now, O king, if thou wilt spare our lives, we will be thy servants. And the king said unto them: Arise, for I will grant unto you your lives, and I will not suffer that ye shall be my servants; but I will insist that ye shall administer unto me; for I have been somewhat troubled in mind because of the generosity and the greatness of the words of thy brother Ammon; and I desire to know the cause why he has not come up out of Middoni with thee.
verse 3 "we will be thy servants" This willingness to serve is an earmark of the followers of Jesus Christ. See the commentary for Alma 17:25.
"I will not suffer that ye shall be my servants; but I will insist that ye shall administer unto me" Obviously the heart of Lamoni's father had been softened and prepared since his initial encounter with Ammon and his son Lamoni. Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines the word administer as "to contribute; to bring aid or supplies; to add something; as, a shade administers to our comfort." To administer, in this context, would also include to teach.
"I have been somewhat troubled in mind because of the generosity and the greatness of the words of thy brother Ammon" Obviously the king is still wondering and marveling over the incident on the road to Middoni when Ammon gained a clear advantage over him and could easily have killed him, yet he only asked for favors for Lamoni, the king's son, and for Ammon's brethren (Alma 20:20-24). He asked for nothing for himself, though clearly he was in a position to do so.
4 And Aaron said unto the king: Behold, the Spirit of the Lord has called him another way; he has gone to the land of Ishmael, to teach the people of Lamoni.
5 Now the king said unto them: What is this that ye have said concerning the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, this is the thing which doth trouble me.
verse 5 "this is the thing which doth trouble me" It seems likely that when Ammon and Lamoni encountered the old king on the road to the land of Middoni, that Lamoni's account or his own conversion included reference to the Spirit of God (Alma 20:12), a concept with which the king was completely unfamiliar. This had troubled him, or caused him to wonder and seek for more knowledge, as the Spirit is often inclined to do to any spiritually responsive person.
6 And also, what is this that Ammon said-If ye will repent ye shall be saved, and if ye will not repent, ye shall be cast off at the last day?
verse 6 We do have record of Ammon's making reference to the concept of salvation and damnation when Ammon and Lamoni encountered the king on the road to Middoni (Alma 20:17-18). We also have record of Ammon's warning the king he should not kill his son Lamoni lest he lose his soul. We do not, however have record of Ammon's specific warning to the king that if he did not repent he would be cast off. Obviously, though, the record we do have is an edited version of all that happened.
The "last day" is a term for the formal day of judgment.
The reader may wish to notice the example of antithetic parallelism contained in this verse (see the supplemental article, The Hebrew Language and the Book of Mormon):
If ye repent ye shall be saved,
and if ye will not repent, ye shall be cast off at the last day
7 And Aaron answered him and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God? And the king said: I know that the Amalekites say that there is a God, and I have granted unto them that they should build sanctuaries, that they may assemble themselves together to worship him. And if now thou sayest there is a God, behold I will believe.
verse 7 It should not be surprising to learn that the Amalekites, in a pattern characteristic of apostate religion, continued to worship God in their own way. They maintained the "form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof" (JS-H 1:19).
While the king here implies that he has not previously believed in God, we will learn that he does in fact believe in a "Great Spirit" according to Lamanite tradition (verse 9-11).
8 And now when Aaron heard this, his heart began to rejoice, and he said: Behold, assuredly as thou livest, O king, there is a God.
verse 8 In this setting Aaron's testimony was undoubtedly most poignant and powerful.
9 And the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem?
10 And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in heaven and in earth. Believest thou this?
verse 10 Again, we may ask whether or not Aaron is misleading the king by agreeing that God is that "Great Spirit." At the time of this episode, Jesus Christ or Jehovah had not yet been resurrected and was, in fact, "a Great Spirit."
11 And he said: Yea, I believe that the Great Spirit created all things, and I desire that ye should tell me concerning all these things, and I will believe thy words.
12 And it came to pass that when Aaron saw that the king would believe his words, he began from the creation of Adam, reading the scriptures unto the king-how God created man after his own image, and that God gave him commandments, and that because of transgression, man had fallen.
verse 12 "he began from the creation of Adam, reading the scriptures unto the king" Again, we are reminded that Ammon and his fellow missionaries carried with them copies of those scriptures found on the brass plates of Laban.
13 And Aaron did expound unto him the scriptures from the creation of Adam, laying the fall of man before him, and their carnal state and also the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, through Christ, for all whosoever would believe on his name.
verse 13 "laying the fall of man before him, and their carnal state" A careful study of the Book of Mormon text, infrequently reveals a grammatical inconsistency. If the word "man" in the first sentence of this verse is used in its singular sense, then the phrase ought to read "laying the fall of man before him, and his carnal state. If a plural meaning was intended, then this verse is correct, but the next verse should begin: "And since man had fallen they could not merit anything of themselves."
14 And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king.
verses 12-14 Aaron used the same "missionary discussions or lessons" in teaching the king that his brother Ammon had used with the king's son Lamoni. That is he explained the creation of the earth, the fall of Adam, and the atonement of Jesus Christ (see Alma 18:36-39).
verse 14 Here in one verse is an eloquent explanation of the doctrines of the fall and the atonement. Keep in mind the dual meaning of the fall of man. It refers to the fall of Adam and the fall of each individual man. Here in this verse, the latter meaning is intended. Every man save one, who has lived on the earth, has sinned. Every man has violated the law of justice and is therefore unqualified, on his own merits, to return to God's presence. He may repent, but without help his repentance cannot fully satisfy the demands of the law. He is inextricably bound by the "bands of death." He is in a hopeless state. However help is available. Through the atoning process, Christ was enabled to "make up the difference" between what the law demands and what man can do for himself. Our "works" are insufficient. Only through the grace of Christ-his willingness to bail us out when we are not fully deserving of his help-are we exalted. What must we do to qualify? We must believe on his name, repent constantly of our sins, join his church, accept his doctrine, and strive to live the commandments that are a vital part of his doctrine. Then we must endure to the end.
"the grave shall have no victory" This terminology-that of Christ's having "victory" over the grave-likely originated with the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 25:8). If the grave were victorious, then man would never be resurrected, but would remain a spirit forever.
15 And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
verse 15 In this verse the king asks a vital question then answers it himself! The question: "What shall I do that I may be born of God?" The answer: Forsake all things of the world and concentrate instead on matters of the eternities.
"having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast" To root out is to eradicate; to extirpate; to remove; to exterminate.
"I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom" Do you recall the important concept or doctrine known as the "doctrine of Christ"? Take a few minutes and review this concept in the introductory comments for 2 Nephi 31. One of the important principles of this doctrine is desiring "with full purpose of heart . . . with real intent" to live in the celestial kingdom. See also the commentary for 2 Nephi 31:13. What a powerful lesson we can learn from the story of the conversion of Lamoni's father! Previously the king had been willing to give up half of his kingdom to Ammon to save his physical life (Alma 20:23). Now that he understands the concept of eternal life, he is willing to give up all his kingdom and all his possessions to obtain it. We will later learn that he was also willing to give away all his sins (verse 18). How often are our commitments to spiritual things cautious, tentative, measured, half-hearted, and wavering. Consequently the blessings received by these half-committed individuals are only a shadow of what they might have been. Contrast this experience of Aaron's with the Savior's experience when he was approached by the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30).
16 But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.
verse 16 Here Aaron outlines the steps that the king must take in order to obtain a testimony of God and a testimony of the gospel.
There is a touch of irony in Aaron's counsel to the king. Undoubtedly the king has been bowed down to on numerous occasions but has never had to bow down to anyone.
"call upon his name in faith" This is a most specific command, and there is nothing vague about it. It means both to pray to him with the determined attitude to obey him.
"then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest" The hope of eternal life is a gift of the Spirit. It may be granted only by the Spirit through personal revelation, and it is given only to those who are deserving of it.
17 And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying:
18 O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead.
verse 18 Here is an example of a sincere prayer offered by an agnostic. He is praying to someone of whose existence he is not certain. He manifests the essential motivation which all who would be exalted must attain. They must want to be exalted so badly that they are willing to forsake all their sins to achieve it. To "give away all [one's] sins" is to take upon oneself a "broken heart and contrite spirit." For a discussion of this important concept, see the commentary for 3 Nephi 9:20.
"he was struck as if he were dead" For a discussion of this peculiar spiritual trance, see the commentaries for Alma 19:8 and Alma 19:34.
19 And it came to pass that his servants ran and told the queen all that had happened unto the king. And she came in unto the king; and when she saw him lay as if he were dead, and also Aaron and his brethren standing as though they had been the cause of his fall, she was angry with them, and commanded that her servants, or the servants of the king, should take them and slay them.
20 Now the servants had seen the cause of the king's fall, therefore they durst not lay their hands on Aaron and his brethren; and they pled with the queen saying: Why commandest thou that we should slay these men, when behold one of them is mightier than us all? Therefore we shall fall before them.
21 Now when the queen saw the fear of the servants she also began to fear exceedingly, lest there should some evil come upon her. And she commanded her servants that they should go and call the people, that they might slay Aaron and his brethren.
22 Now when Aaron saw the determination of the queen, he, also knowing the hardness of the hearts of the people, feared lest that a multitude should assemble themselves together, and there should be a great contention and a disturbance among them; therefore he put forth his hand and raised the king from the earth, and said unto him: Stand. And he stood upon his feet, receiving his strength.
verse 22 Again, this episode is symbolic of the death of the natural man and spiritual rebirth. The Spirit of God was the agent through which these things were accomplished.
23 Now this was done in the presence of the queen and many of the servants. And when they saw it they greatly marveled, and began to fear. And the king stood forth, and began to minister unto them. And he did minister unto them, insomuch that his whole household were converted unto the Lord.
24 Now there was a multitude gathered together because of the commandment of the queen, and there began to be great murmurings among them because of Aaron and his brethren.
verse 24 "Murmurings" are threats and complaints.
25 But the king stood forth among them and administered unto them. And they were pacified towards Aaron and those who were with him.
26 And it came to pass that when the king saw that the people were pacified, he caused that Aaron and his brethren should stand forth in the midst of the multitude, and that they should preach the word unto them.
verses 27-35 In these verses the prophet Mormon gives an overview of the geography of the lands of the Book of Mormon. While it is not possible to be certain of the exact location of the lands in absolute terms, it is instructive to learn of their relative locations. To assist in this, we have created the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands. See also the Notes on the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
27 And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west-and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided.
verse 27 The phrase "running from the east towards the west" refers to the narrow strip of wilderness and not to the river Sidon. This wilderness is usually referred to in the Book of Mormon text as "the wilderness." This is the only time it is referred to as the "narrow strip of wilderness." In what way was this dividing line "narrow"? Presumably it is narrow as one might view it on a map. The narrow strip of wilderness is described as running not only from "the sea east even to the sea west," but also "round about on the borders of the seashore." This apparently implies that rather than being simply a narrow band of wilderness, this area fans out on the seashores as illustrated on the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
Considerable effort has been expended in trying to correlate the lands of the Book of Mormon with the geography of the Americas and therefore attempt to locate a specific site that is most compatible with the lands of the Book of Mormon. At the time of this writing, the most widely accepted work is that of John Sorenson and his "limited geography" theory (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990]).
One objection to brother Sorenson's work stems from the fact that the specific land he designates as Book of Mormon land is situated along a northwest/southeast axis rather than north/south as described in the Book of Mormon. Dr. Sorenson's explanation of this "problem" may be capsulized as follows (please refer to the map Book of Mormon Lands, a Proposed Setting): Specific compass directions are obviously a problem as we deal with Dr. Sorenson's proposed Central American site for the Book of Mormon. For example as one proceeds from the area of Zarahemla through the narrow neck of land, one actually travels mostly to the west and northwest whereas the Book of Mormon text refers to that direction as "northward." The solution is probably found in the Hebrew convention of naming directions. The Israelites of Palestine derived directions as though standing with their backs to the Mediterranean Sea, facing the desert to the east. "Yam" ("sea") meant "seaward" or "west," for the Mediterranean lay in that direction, while "qedem" ("fore" or "front") meant "straight ahead" or "east." Then "Yamin" ("right hand") meant "south," while "shemol" ("left hand") denoted "north." In fact we don't know what Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi did call their directions since the first terms for directions appear only hundreds of years after their first landing (Mosiah 7:5; Mosiah 9:14). By the same convention as used in ancient Palestine, Lehi's party may have referred to directions based on the seashore which runs northwest-to-southeast. Thus by that convention, their directions would be forty-five or more degrees off the actual compass directions. What would they call "qedem," intending eastward, would actually mean northeast or even almost north and so on. It is interesting that in the Mayan languages of Mesoamerica, "south" meant "on the right hand" and north "on the left," corresponding to the Hebrew convention. Also in the ancient Mayan culture, the Gulf of Mexico was the "east sea" while the Pacific Ocean is the "west sea."
Other interesting observations have recently been reported. If nothing else, these illustrate the relativism of directions in the ancient Near East. For example, The Egyptians oriented themselves by facing south, toward the source of the Nile. Not only were the Book of Mormon plates written according to the "learning of the Jews" but also in the "language of the Egyptians." Thus, one of the terms for "south" (in Egyptian) is the term for "face," and the word for "north" is probably related to a word which means "back of the head." The word for east is the same as for left, and west is the same word as right (William J. Hamblin, "Directions in Hebrew, Egyptian, and Nephite Language," Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 183-85).
28 Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers' first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.
verse 28 "the place of their fathers' first inheritance" This refers to the place of disembarkation and the original settlement of father Lehi's family in about 589 BC.
Brother Hugh Nibley has added to our knowledge of the concept of a land of inheritance:
Eduard Meyer says that all [Israel's] power and authority went back originally to the first land-allotments made among the leaders of the migratory host [tribes of Israel led in the wilderness by Moses and later Joshua] when they settled down in their land of promise. Regardless of wealth of influence or ability, no one could belong to the old aristocracy who did not still possess "the land of his inheritance." This institution-or attitude-plays a remarkably conspicuous role in the Book of Mormon. Not only does Lehi leave "the land of his inheritance" (1 Nephi 2:4) but whenever his people wish to establish a new society they first of all make sure to allot and define the lands of their inheritance, which first allotment is regarded as inalienable. No matter where a group or family move to in later times, the first land allotted to them is always regarded as "the land of their inheritance," thus Alma 22:28; Alma 54:12-13; Ether 7:16-in these cases the expression "land of first inheritance" is used (Mormon 2:27-28; 1 Nephi 13:15; Alma 35:9; Alma 35:14; Alma 43:12; Jacob 3:4; Alma 62:42; Mormon 3:17). This is a powerful argument for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon both because the existence of such a system is largely the discovery of modern research and because it is set forth in the Book of Mormon very distinctly and yet quite casually (Approach to the Book of Mormon, 100).
29 And also there were many Lamanites on the east by the seashore, whither the Nephites had driven them. And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites; nevertheless the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful.
verse 29 Whither means "to what place?" Whithersoever has the same meaning.
"thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites" Because there were wilderness areas inhabited by Lamanites both to the east and west of Zarahemla, the Nephites were indeed nearly surrounded by Lamanites. See the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
30 And it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their first landing.
verse 30 "it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation" It, here, refers to the land Bountiful.
"Desolation" This land was so named not because it was geologically desolate, but because it had become uninhabited as a result of the great Jaredite civil war.
"it being the place of their first landing" Here we learn that the land of Desolation, probably along its eastern coast, was the disembarkation site of the people of Zarahemla or the Mulekites (see also Helaman 6:10). Apparently they did not settle in the north but traveled southward where they were eventually found by the Nephites (Omni 1:14).
31 And they came from there up into the south wilderness. Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food.
32 And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.
verse 32 "it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea" The "narrow neck of land" is an important geographical feature of the Book of Mormon. There has been considerable speculation as to exactly how wide the land is at its narrow neck. Was it in fact sufficiently narrow that a Nephite, by walking or running, could cross it, from the sea on the east to the sea on the west, in thirty-six hours? There is some ambiguity in this phrase from verse 32. What, for example, exactly is "the line Bountiful and the land Desolation." We might assume that it is the border between the land Bountiful in the south and Desolation in the north. Also, between exactly which two points is our hypothetical Nephite required to travel during this day and a half? The phrase does not say "from the east sea to the west sea." Rather, it says "from the east to the west sea." Let us consider a few facts that might be stirred into the speculation equation here.
1. First, one episode in the Book of Mormon story suggests that one might cross through the narrow neck and never realize that you are in, in fact, a narrow neck of land. At one point, when Limhi and his people were languishing in bondage in the land of Nephi, Limhi dispatched a group of men to find Zarahemla. In attempting to do so, they passed through the narrow neck without realizing they had done so. They assumed they were still on the route between the land of Nephi and Zarahemla (Mosiah 21:25-28). This suggests that the narrow neck was sufficiently wide that it was not immediately visually obvious how narrow it was.
2. Second, it is apparent that a well-conditioned human can travel considerable distances on foot in thirty-six hours. Dr. John Sorenson has reported instances of men traveling up to five hundred miles in six days, and even up to 161 miles in twenty-four hours! ("A Day and a Half's Journey for a Nephite," Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 187-88).
3. Finally, keep in mind that the distance across the narrow neck might be wider than the "day and a half's" distance, since we cannot be certain that the starting point on the east was at the sea. The journey might have begun some distance inland. See also the commentary for Helaman 4:7.
33 And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from the east unto the west sea, and thus the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south, that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward.
verse 33 "from the east unto the west sea" Here again is that same expression as expressed in the previous verse. Apparently the borders of the land Bountiful extend "from the east unto the west sea." This suggests that the eastern border of Bountiful was inland from the east sea coast. Also, could it have been this distance (from Bountiful's eastern border to the west sea) that was a day and a half's journey for a Nephite?
34 Therefore the Lamanites could have no more possessions only in the land of Nephi, and the wilderness round about. Now this was wisdom in the Nephites-as the Lamanites were an enemy to them, they would not suffer their afflictions on every hand, and also that they might have a country whither they might flee, according to their desires.
verses 33-34 Obviously the Nephites did not want to be completely surrounded by their enemies for military and political reasons. Thus the Nephite land Bountiful was fortified and did extend to cover all possible routes from the south (land of Zarahemla) to north (land of Desolation).
35 And now I, after having said this, return again to the account of Ammon and Aaron, Omner and Himni, and their brethren.
verse 35 We are reminded that the author or first person in these chapters is the prophet Mormon.