Alma Chapter 8
Alma 8-15 The ministry of Alma and Amulek
Alma 8:10 When Alma was rejected in Ammonihah, he labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer.
1 And now it came to pass that Alma returned from the land of Gideon, after having taught the people of Gideon many things which cannot be written, having established the order of the church, according as he had before done in the land of Zarahemla, yea, he returned to his own house at Zarahemla to rest himself from the labors which he had performed.
verse 1 "having taught the people of Gideon many things which cannot be written" Why could Mormon not write these things? It seems likely that he chose not to record some of Alma's teachings because of practical considerations such as time or limited space on the plates. His abridgment of the "large plates of Nephi" was certainly a constant process of discerning and prioritizing. It is also possible that some of Alma's teachings to the good people of Gideon included such sacred truths that Mormon was constrained not to include them. Isn't it tantalizing and exciting to ponder over additional spiritual truths that one day may be made available to us?
"having established the order of the church" Generally speaking the Book of Mormon text tells us little about the organization of the Nephite church (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 6:2).
"he returned to his own house at Zarahemla to rest himself" Modern scripture wisely counsels us: "Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength" (D&C 10:4; Mosiah 4:27).
2 And thus ended the ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
3 And it came to pass in the commencement of the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, that Alma departed from thence and took his journey over into the land of Melek, on the west of the river Sidon, on the west by the borders of the wilderness.
verse 3 It is helpful to have in mind a plausible geographic model as we follow the travels of Alma. For a suggestion as to the "lay of the land," see the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
"on the west by the borders of the wilderness" The reader should keep in mind that the word borders may refer to boundary lines or it may refer to mountains (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 2:5).
4 And he began to teach the people in the land of Melek according to the holy order of God, by which he had been called; and he began to teach the people throughout all the land of Melek.
5 And it came to pass that the people came to him throughout all the borders of the land which was by the wilderness side. And they were baptized throughout all the land;
6 So that when he had finished his work at Melek he departed thence, and traveled three days' journey on the north of the land of Melek; and he came to a city which was called Ammonihah.
verse 6 Alma arrives at the fourth city on his missionary travels. This will be the most difficult city which he will encounter on his missionary journey.
7 Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah.
verse 7 A statement on Mesoamerica by the 16th-century Mexican author Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl is pertinent in this context: "In each place where the Chichimecatl settled, whether it be a large city or a small village, it was their custom to name it according to the first king or leader who possessed the land. . . . This custom was prevalent in naming other cities and villages throughout the land" (Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, Joseph L. Allen, 41). See the commentary for Alma 4:17.
The record is silent about the first possessor of the land of Ammonihah whose name was apparently Ammonihah. See the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
8 And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them.
verse 8 The city of Ammonihah has particular significance. It was likely the center of a school of religious and political thought-the order of the Nehors (Alma 14:16; Alma 15:15). Its founder was Nehor the man who introduced priestcraft among the Nephites (Alma 1:1-16). For a review of the concept of "priestcraft" see the commentary on Alma 1:12 and 2 Nephi 10:5. Members of this order were purveyors of priestcraft and the arch-enemies of religious truth. We have met or will yet meet additional individuals belonging to this same order including Amlici (Alma 2), Zeezrom (Alma 11-15), Korihor (Alma 30), and Amalickiah (Alma 46). All of these individuals were learned in language, and they attempted to lead the people astray. They denied Christ and denied that any prophet can foretell the future (Alma 21:8). They believed that every priest and teacher ought not to labor with their hands but rather ought to be supported by the people (Alma 1:3). They believed that all people would be saved and hence there was no need for repentance (Alma 1:4; Alma 15:15; Alma 21:6). Apparently this order was popular among the Mulekites-particularly their learned and professional class (see Alma 14:18), though doubtless this order included many also of Nephite ancestry." These are the people who feel that the people should be governed by a king and not by the common people. They are the elite, the learned, the sophisticated, the aristocracy, those who seek for power. This religious order will later be given another name-the "king-men" (Alma 51:5). The common people who rise up against this malignant political movement will later be called the "freemen" (Alma 51:6). The conflict between people of these two movements will continue throughout the Book of Mormon and will yet be one of the most important factors that result in the destruction of the Nephite people.
9 Now Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah; therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma.
10 Nevertheless Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.
verse 10 This verse is a model for all missionaries who may have been called to work under difficult circumstances or who find little success.
11 Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts, saying unto him: Behold, we know that thou art Alma; and we know that thou art high priest over the church which thou hast established in many parts of the land, according to your tradition; and we are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions.
verse 11 "they hardened their hearts" See the discussion of hard-heartedness in the commentary for Alma 10:6.
12 And now we know that because we are not of thy church we know that thou hast no power over us; and thou hast delivered up the judgment-seat unto Nephihah; therefore thou art not the chief judge over us.
verses 11-12 The Mulekites were the dominant culture in Ammonihah. Notice the evidences of the rift that still exists between the Nephites and the Mulekites: "according to your tradition . . . we do not believe in such foolish traditions" and "we are not of thy church" (italics added). It is interesting to note that while they have openly disavowed the church, they still seem to recognize, at least publicly, the secular authority of the chief judge over them. We will learn that this "lip service" was probably offered to hide their seditious intentions (see verse 17). Generally speaking, they were not supportive of the idea of a chief judge, as predominantly they were "king men" and preferred to be ruled by a king.
13 Now when the people had said this, and withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city, he departed thence and took his journey towards the city which was called Aaron.
14 And it came to pass that while he was journeying thither, being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, it came to pass while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto him, saying:
verse 14 "an angel of the Lord appeared unto him" This is the same angel who appeared to Alma when Alma was converted (see the following verse). At least ten years had elapsed since Alma's miraculous conversion.
15 Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you.
verse 15 This marvelous message of comfort was certainly needed by the discouraged Alma.
16 And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city; yea, preach unto them. Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them.
verse 16 The message which the angel commanded Alma to deliver to the people of Ammonihah was a simple one: Repent or be spiritually damned and temporally destroyed! Clearly, the Lord intended that Alma's preaching serve as a witness against this wicked people.
17 For behold, they do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people, (for thus saith the Lord) which is contrary to the statutes, and judgments, and commandments which he has given unto his people.
verse 17 As has been mentioned previously, many of the people of Ammonihah were "after the order and faith of Nehor" (Alma 14:16) or "of the profession of Nehor." At this particular time they were actually plotting the political overthrow of the other Nephites.
Apparently the Lord had given to the Nephite people "statutes," "judgments," and "commandments" urging them to be submissive to the righteous secular authority placed over them. Why are three different words used here in referring to the Nephite secular law ("statutes," "judgments," and "commandments")? See the commentary for 2 Nephi 5:10.
18 Now it came to pass that after Alma had received his message from the angel of the Lord he returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah. And he entered the city by another way, yea, by the way which is on the south of the city of Ammonihah.
verse 18 Alma's face was known to many of the people of Ammonihah. He had to sneak back into the city.
19 And as he entered the city he was an hungered, and he said to a man: Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat?
20 And the man said unto him: I am a Nephite, and I know that thou art a holy prophet of God, for thou art the man whom an angel said in a vision: Thou shalt receive. Therefore, go with me into my house and I will impart unto thee of my food; and I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house.
verse 20 "I am a Nephite" Why did Amulek identify himself in this manner? Shouldn't it have been obvious to Alma? After all, Ammonihah was a Nephite city under Nephite control (verses 11-12, 24) in the land of Zarahemla. We might expect that it would have been largely inhabited by Nephites. If this were the case, we would not expect Amulek to say, "I am a Nephite." Clearly Amulek had recognized Alma as a Nephite, either by his speech, his appearance, or the content of his conversation. To what other social or ethnic category might Amulek have belonged? Amulek's statement makes sense only if most of the people of Ammonihah were not Nephites and also if Amulek's characteristics did not make it already apparent to Alma that he was a Nephite.
One possibility is that Amulek wanted Alma to know that he was a Nephite and not a Mulekite. Even though people of Mulekite origin who inhabited Ammonihah (see the commentary for verse 9) would have been loosely categorized as Nephites, they obviously did not really consider themselves Nephites in every sense. Another possibility is that Ammonihah was inhabited by a large number of unnamed people who were native to the land at the time the Lehites landed. For a discussion of this possibility, see the supplemental article, Book of Mormon Myths (see particularly myth number five).
21 And it came to pass that the man received him into his house; and the man was called Amulek; and he brought forth bread and meat and set before Alma.
22 And it came to pass that Alma ate bread and was filled; and he blessed Amulek and his house, and he gave thanks unto God.
verse 22 It is interesting to note that there exists an ancient Jewish practice of blessing God after eating. The basis for this practice is Deuteronomy 8:10: "When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee." Deuteronomy 6:10-11 and 8:12-14 warn against eating and being full and yet being ungrateful to God (Angela M. Crowell and John A. Tvedtnes, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 6, number 2  251-54).
23 And after he had eaten and was filled he said unto Amulek: I am Alma, and am the high priest over the church of God throughout the land.
24 And behold, I have been called to preach the word of God among all this people, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy; and I was in this land and they would not receive me, but they cast me out and I was about to set my back towards this land forever.
verse 24 "according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy" Alma's priesthood calling was to preach the word by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Note the colorful expression "I was about to set my back towards this land forever." It is found in no other place in all the scriptures.
25 But behold, I have been commanded that I should turn again and prophesy unto this people, yea, and to testify against them concerning their iniquities.
26 And now, Amulek, because thou hast fed me and taken me in, thou art blessed; for I was an hungered, for I had fasted many days.
verse 26 Do you suppose Alma had "fasted many days" on purpose for spiritual reasons, or had he gone without food because none had been offered to him? Perhaps the latter applies especially considering the reception he encountered in Ammonihah.
27 And Alma tarried many days with Amulek before he began to preach unto the people.
verse 27 Doubtless these "many days" were spent in tutoring Amulek. We will learn in Alma 10:6 that these "many days" were less than a month. Alma first encountered Amulek on the fourth day of the seventh month, and they went out preaching the same month.
28 And it came to pass that the people did wax more gross in their iniquities.
29 And the word came to Alma, saying: Go; and also say unto my servant Amulek, go forth and prophesy unto this people, saying-Repent ye, for thus saith the Lord, except ye repent I will visit this people in mine anger; yea, and I will not turn my fierce anger away.
30 And Alma went forth, and also Amulek, among the people, to declare the words of God unto them; and they were filled with the Holy Ghost.
verse 30 Alma and Amulek benefited from the gifts and powers of the Spirit as they preached. These might well have included personal revelation, discernment, and a feeling of charity or Christ-like love for the people. We will learn in the following verse that these also included marvelous physical powers.
31 And they had power given unto them, insomuch that they could not be confined in dungeons; neither was it possible that any man could slay them; nevertheless they did not exercise their power until they were bound in bands and cast into prison. Now, this was done that the Lord might show forth his power in them.
verse 31 Mormon previews a miraculous event that will be described in Alma 14:26-29.
32 And it came to pass that they went forth and began to preach and to prophesy unto the people, according to the spirit and power which the Lord had given them.