Alma Chapter 27
1 Now it came to pass that when those Lamanites who had gone to war against the Nephites had found, after their many struggles to destroy them, that it was in vain to seek their destruction, they returned again to the land of Nephi.
verse 1 "after their many struggles to destroy them" It is interesting that the original text of the Book of Mormon rendered this phrase "after their many struggles for to destroy them" (italics mine). This latter form is actually better Hebrew (see Matthew 23:5).
"it was in vain to seek their destruction" The Nephites as a nation still enjoyed the protection of the Lord. They were a covenant people living in a promised land. As such they could not be destroyed as long as they were obedient to the Lord.
2 And it came to pass that the Amalekites, because of their loss, were exceedingly angry. And when they saw that they could not seek revenge from the Nephites, they began to stir up the people in anger against their brethren, the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi; therefore they began again to destroy them.
verse 2 As verse 1 mentions, the war-party of Lamanites is now back home-in the land of Nephi. As we might expect, there was no softening in the hearts of the apostate Nephites, the Amalekites. Their very obsession and purpose becomes to war against the things of God. They began to make military raids on the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.
3 Now this people again refused to take their arms, and they suffered themselves to be slain according to the desires of their enemies.
4 Now when Ammon and his brethren saw this work of destruction among those whom they so dearly beloved, and among those who had so dearly beloved them-for they were treated as though they were angels sent from God to save them from everlasting destruction-therefore, when Ammon and his brethren saw this great work of destruction, they were moved with compassion, and they said unto the king:
Verse 4 You will recall that the Lamanite king is Anti-Nephi-Lehi, the brother of Lamoni.
5 Let us gather together this people of the Lord, and let us go down to the land of Zarahemla to our brethren the Nephites, and flee out of the hands of our enemies, that we be not destroyed.
6 But the king said unto them: Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.
7 And Ammon said: I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?
8 And the king said unto him: Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them.
9 But Ammon said unto him: It is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should be any slaves among them; therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.
verse 9 "It is against the law . . . established by my father, that there should be any slaves" Ammon's father Mosiah had said: "I desire that this land should be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike" (Mosiah 29:32).
10 But the king said unto him: Inquire of the Lord, and if he saith unto us go, we will go; otherwise we will perish in the land.
11 And it came to pass that Ammon went and inquired of the Lord, and the Lord said unto him:
12 Get this people out of this land, that they perish not; for Satan has great hold on the hearts of the Amalekites, who do stir up the Lamanites to anger against their brethren to slay them; therefore get thee out of this land; and blessed are this people in this generation, for I will preserve them.
13 And now it came to pass that Ammon went and told the king all the words which the Lord had said unto him.
14 And they gathered together all their people, yea, all the people of the Lord, and did gather together all their flocks and herds, and departed out of the land, and came into the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla, and came over near the borders of the land.
verse 14 And they (the anti-Nephi-Lehies) gathered together all their people . . . and departed out of the land (of Nephi).
"the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla" See the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
15 And it came to pass that Ammon said unto them: Behold, I and my brethren will go forth into the land of Zarahemla, and ye shall remain here until we return; and we will try the hearts of our brethren, whether they will that ye shall come into their land.
verse 15 "we will try the hearts of our brethren" This charming phrase means, "We will inquire as to the willingness of our people to allow you to enter and live among them."
16 And it came to pass that as Ammon was going forth into the land, that he and his brethren met Alma, over in the place of which has been spoken; and behold, this was a joyful meeting.
verse 16 "over in the place of which has been spoken" See the account of this reunion between Alma and the sons of Mosiah in Alma 17:1-4
17 Now the joy of Ammon was so great even that he was full; yea, he was swallowed up in the joy of his God, even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth.
verse 17 "Now the joy of Ammon was so great" The joy spoken of here is a specific spiritual experience that can only be provided to man through the agency of the Spirit of God-it is a gift of the Spirit. It is not an experience of the world. It is distinct from happiness, pleasure, enjoyment, fun, or gratification. It can be experienced in its fulness only by exalted beings (D&C 93:33). Yet as is obvious in this verse and in the two verses that follow, there are remarkable degrees of joy a man may experience in this life. As we might suppose, it may only come in conditions of righteousness, during active striving to be obedient.
"even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth" Apparently the process of being in tune with the Spirit can be physically enervating (see also 1 Nephi 1:7; 1 Nephi 19:20; Daniel 10:8; Moses 1:9-10; JS-H 1:20).
18 Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.
19 Now the joy of Alma in meeting his brethren was truly great, and also the joy of Aaron, of Omner, and Himni; but behold their joy was not that to exceed their strength.
20 And now it came to pass that Alma conducted his brethren back to the land of Zarahemla; even to his own house. And they went and told the chief judge all the things that had happened unto them in the land of Nephi, among their brethren, the Lamanites.
21 And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
22 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.
verse 22 Plays on words, especially with names, are very common in the Hebrew Bible. That such plays on words found their way into the Book of Mormon, seems evident from the name Jershon in this verse. Jershon appears to be derived from the Hebrew root meaning to "inherit," the root being yro. Thus, Jershon could mean "inheritance." If this line of reasoning is correct, then a wonderful play on words in this verse is developed: "This land Jershon [namely, inheritance] is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance." There are other references to Jershon as a land of inheritance in the Book of Mormon-see also Alma 35:9 and Alma 35:14.
The -on ending of Jershon is typical of other place-names belonging to the ancient Near East. Wilhelm Boree, in his outstanding study, The Ancient Place-names of Palestine, cites fully eighty-four ancient Canaanite place-names with the ending -on in biblical and extrabiblical sources. The Book of Mormon place-name Jershon, then, is right at home with a number of other biblical and extrabiblical place-names.
23 And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.
24 And now behold, this will we do unto our brethren, that they may inherit the land Jershon; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.
verse 24 The Anti-Nephi-Lehies would be taxed, undoubtedly a reasonable and fair amount, to assist in defraying the extra cost of protecting them.
The granting, by the Nephite government, of an exemption from military duty to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies is consistent with ancient Israelite law (John W. Welch, in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, 357-61).
Normally, ancient peoples were absolutely obligated to take up arms in defense of their tribe or nation. Saul called upon "all Israel" to take up arms against the Ammonites and the Amalekites (see 1 Samuel 11:1-11; 1 Samuel 15:4). Threats and curses were pronounced upon anyone who would not join in the battle. Saul once sent messengers to marshal the troops after he symbolically cut a yoke of oxen into pieces in view of the people and proclaimed. "Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen" (1 Samuel 11:7).
The same basic duty to serve in the army existed in Nephite law and society. Indeed, Moroni had power to punish any person in the land of Zarahemla who would not "defend [his] country" (Alma 51:15; see 46:35). Like Saul, he symbolically portrayed the brutal fate of those who would not fight (see Alma 46:21-22). Under extreme and desperate circumstances, this duty fell even upon old men, women, and children (see Mosiah 10:9; Alma 54:12).
How, then, could the able-bodied people of Ammon be granted exemption? There may be several reasons. Their reasons for not fighting were obviously righteous and bona fide. But beyond that, the justification of their military exemption may have been based on four specific provisions in the law of Moses:
1. The absolute duty to go to war applied only in fighting against an enemy. Deuteronomy 20:1-2, which instructs the Israelite leader to speak to his troops in a holy tongue when they go up to battle against an enemy, was interpreted in the Talmud as not applying in a conflict against other Israelites, for as the scripture says, "Against your enemies but not against your brethren, not Judah against Simeon nor Simeon against Benjamin" (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah VIII, 1, 42a). Of course, the Talmud was written long after Lehi's departure from Jerusalem, yet it often reflected older oral material.
2. The laws of Deuteronomy also afforded humanitarian exemptions for those who had recently married, built a new house, planted a new vineyard, or were "fearful and fainthearted" (see Deuteronomy 20:5-9; Deuteronomy 24:5; compare Judges 7:3). Since everyone going into battle was likely "fearful and fainthearted," the exemption undoubtedly had a narrower meaning in actual practice. Otherwise, nearly everyone would have been exempt. Indeed, as the Talmud explains, this expression in Deuteronomy "alludes to one who is afraid because of the transgressions he had committed" (Ibid., 3, 4a, italics added). If a soldier would cower in the face of enemy battle because of his previous sins (fearing that his sins prevented God from defending him or that he might die a sinner), he was deemed unfit for battle. Certainly the Nephites would have recognized that the profound fears of the people of Ammon who were afraid to break their oath rendered them unsuitable for military duty under such a rule.
3. The Talmudic rabbis further limited the exemption for the fearful and fainthearted to voluntary exploits of the king. In a compulsory war of national defense, however, even the fainthearted were obligated to go into battle. A similar distinction may have contributed to the people of Ammon's feeling, several years later, that they could no longer claim their exemption in the face of the extreme compulsory war then threatening the Nephites' entire existence. Moved by compassion and no longer afraid, they were willing to take up arms (see Alma 53:13). Only Helaman's fear that they might lose their souls if they were to violate their oath stopped them. So they sent their sons into battle instead. See the account of the military excursions of the sons of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies-the sons of Helaman-in Alma 53, 56-58.
4. The men who remained at home, however, continued to support the war behind the lines. Their exemption was granted only "on condition that they will give us [the Nephites] a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies" (Alma 27:24). This arrangement is especially noteworthy because the Talmud likewise holds that those who are exempted from military service under the law of Moses are "only released from actual fighting, but not from serving in the rear: They must furnish water and food and repair the roads" (Ibid., 2, 43a).
The rare exemption granted to the Ammonites was logical, religiously motivated, and consistent with ancient Israelite law.
25 Now, it came to pass that when Ammon had heard this, he returned to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, and also Alma with him, into the wilderness, where they had pitched their tents, and made known unto them all these things. And Alma also related unto them his conversion, with Ammon and Aaron, and his brethren.
verse 25 Can you imagine how many times Alma must have told the story of his conversion in his years of service as high priest of the people. Perhaps one day we will be honored to hear the story from his own lips!
26 And it came to pass that it did cause great joy among them. And they went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after.
27 And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end.
28 And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence; and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it.
verse 28 "death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it" This terminology seems to have originated with the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 25:8) and was repeated in the writings of Paul (1 Corinthians 15:54). Usually the idea implicit in this phrase as used by Isaiah and by Paul is held to be that Christ claimed victory over death, as his atonement guarantees resurrection for all men. Thus, death can claim no victory over men. This verse suggests an additional meaning. An abiding faith and hope in Jesus Christ helps to comfort the fear of the individual who faces the proximate inevitability of his own death.
Neal A. Maxwell taught: "When we have appropriate hope of receiving eternal life (Alma 13:29), and we retain that hope through faith (Alma 25:16), then we will-even though we love life, family, and friends have 'no terror of death' 'because of [our] hope and views of Christ and the resurrection' (Alma 27:28). Indeed, true hope springs directly from our 'views of Christ'" (Notwithstanding My Weakness, 44).
29 Therefore, they would suffer death in the most aggravating and distressing manner which could be inflicted by their brethren, before they would take the sword or cimeter to smite them.
verse 29 What is a "cimeter"? It is probably a curved sword which is today referred to as a scimitar or scimiter. This form of the word "cimeter" is unique in the scripture to the Book of Mormon. See the commentary for Enos 1:20 for information on the cimeter.
"Them" refers to their Lamanite brothers.
30 And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord.