BMGD #19: Mosiah 18-24

May 7, 2012 | 4 comments
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CHAPTER 18

 1 And now, it came to pass that Alma, who had fled from the servants of king Noah, repented of his sins and iniquities, and went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi—

Are “sins” and “iniquities” two different things or two different ways of saying the same thing?

Why “privately”?  (See v3 for more on this.)

I love the idea that he is a fugitive.

From the FEAST wiki:  “Why is it that Alma has success in preaching where Abinadi didn’t?”

Do you interpret all of Abinadi’s teaching differently if you think of their purpose as the raw material for Alma’s teachings instead of for a show-down between Abinadi and Noah’s priests?

Why don’t we get any meat here for Alma’s conversion story?

  2 Yea, concerning that which was to come, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and the redemption of the people, which was to be brought to pass through the power, and sufferings, and death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven.

I’m curious about the tripartite division of Christ’s work into “power, suffering, and death”?  Why this formulation?  (Or, you could call it a five-partite division if you wanted to add in resurrection and ascension.)

Why “that which was to come” as opposed to being more specific about what Alma taught?

  3 And as many as would hear his word he did teach. And he taught them privately, that it might not come to the knowledge of the king. And many did believe his words.

Is the moral here that it is OK to subvert the will of a government to teach the gospel?  (We usually want to couch every issue in terms of AoF #12, but I think D&C 134:2-4 implies a duty to sustain only those governments that protect basic rights.  I dunno, tho.)

Are you  surprised by the word “privately” here?

Are you surprised that “many” would listen to him, after these people had been so wicked that Abinadi had to appear in disguise to get past them?  (I am wondering if the spectacle of Abinadi’s death may have touched some hearts.)

  4 And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.

Why are the wild beasts important enough to mention?  (Is the point that they are putting themselves in danger not just from Noah but also from wild animals? Hemmed in on every side, as it were.)

Why is the name of the place important enough to mention?

Do you assume that “the king” who named the place was Noah?  Or that that phrase means that there was a king Mormon who gave his name to this place? Why is it significant enough to tell us that the king named the place (why bother mentioning it?) but not significant enough to tell us which king?   We are reading the abridgement made by a man who was named after this land; how might that be significant?

Compare v30, where we get more on the space.  I wonder if these verses are making some overtures in the direction of appreciating sacred space (that is not a temple).  It is worth noting that Noah has a temple.

Now it is infested not by wild beasts (who we don’t hear anything more about), but by secret followers of Jesus.  Is that supposed to be ironic?

Do you get the impression that they live out there, or just go there for church?

Is the wilderness idea a significant component of what is going on here?  (I don’t know how strong it is in this particular passage–which ends ultimately with everyone back in a city [Zarahemla], but in the Bible, cities are usually pretty bad places.)

  5 Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the daytime from the searches of the king.

This is a lot of scene-setting and stage directions; why were they included?

Is the idea of pure water related to the baptisms that will follow?

  6 And it came to pass that as many as believed him went thither to hear his words.

  7 And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.

Is there a difference between teaching and preaching in this verse?

Given that we know that their community of origin did not teach or live by the law of Moses, is it significant that the law of Moses is not mentioned here?  Did they teach and live by it?  (I know this is speculative, but I am thinking of Abinadi’s “if ye teach the law of Moses” [Mosiah 16:14; emphasis added] and wondering if Alma didn’t teach it.)

  8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

What work is “for thus were they called” doing, especially since we already know that?

What does the image of a fold (presumably, a sheepfold) suggest about the community of God?

Why the emphasis on bearing burdens?

If we were on a hike and we all switched gear, it would not make our burdens lighter, it would just redistribute them.  I think this verse is describing something that is contra-factual.  What might be the point of that?

The obvious meaning of “light” here would be “not heavy,” but could you also make a case for “not dark”?

  9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

What is mourning with someone not an example of comforting them?  (In other words, why is it mentioned separately?)

Advice on “how not to talk to someone in mourning” is a veritable (and necessary) cottage industry.  Can you glean any advice from this passage on how to do that?

In what ways is this verse different from or the same as the Golden Rule?

Does “even until death” suggest that this does not need to go beyond mortal life?

From the FEAST wiki:  “It is also interesting to note the way verse 9 introduces the themes that will then be played out in the narratives of chapters 19-24. If we look at the two main stories of trial and deliverance—the people of Limhi and the people of Alma—we have both an example of a people who mourn and a people who stand in need of comfort. The people of Limhi will fight battle after battle, both in their defense and in their pursuit of freedom. Their losses are extremely numerous (enough so that in Mosiah 21:17 Limhi has to command the remaining men to help support the widows and their children): throughout this process they are truly a people acquainted with mourning. The people of Alma will be persecuted by Amulon: they will be in bondage, they will carry impossibly heavy burdens, they will be refused the comfort of vocal prayer. As such, they will truly be a people who stand in need of comfort.”

I’m thinking that this verse would have had a particular resonance with people who had just seen (or heard about) the death of Abinadi.

I’m curious about how very focused on life-in-a-community these promises are, as opposed to a baptismal covenant focused on faith-prayer-repentance, none of which require you to interact with another human being in the same way that mourning, comforting, and standing as a witness do.

Joseph B. Wirthlin:

Alma explained to his followers that baptism requires that we serve others, that we “bear one another’s burdens, … mourn with those that mourn; … comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and … stand as witnesses of God at all times.”[Mosiah 18:8–9.] We cannot work out our salvation alone. We cannot return to the presence of our Father in Heaven without helping our brothers and sisters. Apr 98 GC

Harold B. Lee:

I call your attention to one of these requirements, particularly that which has been stressed by direct and indirect words in this conference: “are willing to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light.” If I were to ask you what is the heaviest burden one may have to bear in this life, what would you answer? The heaviest burden that one has to bear in this life is the burden of sin. How do you help one to bear that great burden of sin, in order that it might be light? Apr 73 GC

Virginia H. Pearce:

In truth, the surest way to increase our love for someone is to listen with patience and respect. I believe that our baptismal covenant demands this. How can we “mourn with those that mourn” and “bear one another’s burdens” (Mosiah 18:8–9) if we don’t listen to know what those burdens are? Oct 93 GC

Dallin H. Oaks:

When Alma spoke to a group of prospective members at the Waters of Mormon, he instructed them on the duties of those who were “desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people.” (Mosiah 18:8.) One of those duties was “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.” (Mosiah 18:9.)

How do members become witnesses? The original Apostles were eyewitnesses to the ministry and resurrection of the Savior. (See Acts 10:39–41.) He told them, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8; see also Acts 10:42–43.) However, he cautioned them that their witnessing would be after they had received the Holy Ghost. (See Acts 1:8; see also Luke 24:49.)

An eyewitness was not enough. Even the witness and testimony of the original Apostles had to be rooted in the testimony of the Holy Ghost. A prophet has told us that the witness of the Holy Ghost makes an impression on our soul that is more significant than “a visitation of an angel.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954, 1:44.) And the Bible shows that when we testify on the basis of this witness, the Holy Ghost testifies to those who hear our words. (See  Acts 2; Acts 10:44–47.) Oct 90 GC

M. Russell Ballard:

We are asked to stand as a witness of Him “at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). This means that we must be willing to let others know whom we follow and to whose Church we belong: the Church of Jesus Christ. We certainly want to do this in the spirit of love and testimony. We want to follow the Savior by simply and clearly, yet humbly, declaring that we are members of His Church. We follow Him by being Latter-day Saints—latter-day disciples. Oct 11 GC

Dallin H. Oaks:

Those who have a testimony of the restored gospel also have a duty to share it. The Book of Mormon teaches that we should “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in” (Mosiah 18:9). One of the most impressive teachings on the relationship between the gift of a testimony and the duty to bear it is in the 46th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In describing different kinds of spiritual gifts, this revelation states: “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (vv. 13–14; see also John 20:29). Apr 08 GC

Bruce R. McConkie:

When we Latter-day Saints pass through the waters of baptism, it is with a covenant that we will stand as witnesses of Christ at all times and in all things, and in all places that we may be in, even until death, that we may be redeemed of God, numbered with those of the first resurrection and gain eternal life (Mosiah 18:9), by which we mean life in the celestial kingdom of heaven. Oct 48 GC

Dieter F. Uchtdorf:

As disciples of Jesus Christ, our Master, we are called to support and heal rather than condemn. We are commanded “to mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”[ Mosiah 18:9.] It is unworthy of us as Christians to think that those who suffer deserve their suffering. Easter Sunday is a good day to remember that our Savior willingly took upon Himself the pain and sickness and suffering of us all—even those of us who appear to deserve our suffering. Apr 10 GC

This entire passage but v9-10 especially seem to enjoy an enormous popularity in the church.  Why do you think this might be?

I love this story in connection with thinking about this verse.

We’re so used to these verses that we might forget how different they are from modern LDS practice.  Think about what our missionaries now teach people as being the requirements for baptism; how do they differ?  In what ways are they the same?

  10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

Note the emphasis on desire.

Why is this verse phrased as a question?   Is it rhetorical?

In what ways is baptism a witness?

The law of Moses does not include baptism per se (although there is an ancient Jewish tradition of ritual washing, and this is probably the basis for John the Baptist’s baptism).  This appears to be an innovation here.  (Baptism is mentioned in 2 Ne 31:17, but it isn’t performed in the BoM before this, as far as we know.)  It seems to come out of nowhere, particularly since (as far as we can tell) Abinadi is the sole source for Alma’s religious education and he didn’t say anything about it.  What’s going on here?

Daniel Peterson:

It would be foolish to argue that baptism was unknown among the Nephites before the time of Alma. References to baptism are not uncommon in the small plates. Indeed, Moses 6:52–53, 64 informs us that the ordinance was known to Adam. Although baptism is said to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:13–15), to open the gate for salvation (2 Nephi 31:17), and to enable us to obtain a remission of sins (Mark 1:4), no text in the small plates describes baptism as an initiatory rite for entrance into a church. It is also important to bear in mind that the Church and the priesthood are not inseparably linked. It is possible for the priesthood to exist without a church, although it is impossible for the true church to exist without priesthood. The Church today is simply the essential but temporary scaffolding which surrounds an eternal structure of family and priesthood. Until we are worthy, the priesthood is mediated through and associated with the Church. Although Nephi makes it clear that baptism is the first step on the path toward eternal life (2 Nephi 31:9, 18), it is not self-evident that baptism has always signified entrance into a church, or that entrance to a church has always been a part of that path. I propose that before the ordinance of baptism signified membership in the Church the early Nephites found their primary social and religious identification in the very fact that they were Nephites. In the earliest days of the Nephites in the New World, following Nephi required a deliberate commitment which demanded sacrifice from those who made it. Baptism was preached, and, indeed, stressed to these early Nephites as something pleasing to God and as a necessity for salvation in his kingdom-but it would be easy for unbaptized Nephites to think of themselves as members of God’s people strictly because of their heritage. Eventually, however, it became apparent that being a Nephite had become merely a matter of lineage, that it involved no deliberate personal commitment to serve the Lord (Jacob 1:13–14; Omni 1:1–2; W of M 1:12–13). It was obvious that the Nephites, as such, were not “the Lord’s people.” A more precise definition of that phrase, and a marker for who was to be counted among the Lord’s people and who was not, became necessary. Citation

What is the difference between serving God and keeping his commandments, or is that two ways of saying the same thing?

More on the innovation of baptism as a covenant/community entrance thingie:  here is what I am wondering:  is there something about the wickedness of King Noah that made the idea of a ritual that marked one’s entry into the community necessary?  I know this is speculative, but I am wondering if the complete corruption of the priesthood made it seem that they needed some marker of individual choice in entering the community and that geography and position just weren’t going to cut it anymore.

What does “pouring out” suggest about God’s Spirit?

  11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts.

Clapping is odd.  Here are all of the other scriptural references.  What’s going on here?

Groups of people generally do not all spontaneously say the same thing, suggesting that this might be a ritual here.  If so, do you read it differently?

Question:  How has your baptismal covenant brought you joy?

  12 And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying: O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.

Why haven’t we been properly introduced to Helam?  Why is his name given?

Of what is Helam one of the first?  From the FEAST wiki:  “Who is this Helam, and why does he have the same name as the royal Mulekite and brother of Ammon sent later to inquire about the whereabouts of the Zeniff colony?”  We might think “one of the first to be baptized,” but that doesn’t quite fit since he is THE first to be baptized.

Note that modern baptismal ritual does not include a statement like this; why?

Does the pouring out of the Spirit relate in some way to the water of the ritual?

Is the servant in this verse Alma or Helam?

  13 And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.

Is the “him” who the Spirit is on Alma or Helam?

FEAST wiki:  “Why does this baptismal prayer differ from the one we use today?”

Where did Alma get this authority?  There’s been a lot of discussion on this topic!  Theories:

–Abinadi ordained him. (But when and how?)

–An angel ordained him. (Why not record it?)

–He got it direct from God–as this verse suggests.

–He was ordained before Noah. (But Noah deposed priests.) (Joseph Fielding Smith supported this one.)

–He was ordained by Noah. (Would it be valid?)

–He held it as a part of Nephi’s line. (But when ordained?)

–He gets his authority in verse 12 and is baptized in v14 (cf. JS-H 1:70-71) (But there is no precedent for self-baptism.)

While the “he already had the authority” theories seem compelling, to me they don’t offer a good explanation as to why Alma is also buried in the water with the first baptism.

In JS-H 1:70, we learn that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were commanded to baptize each other.  Perhaps something similar is happening here, although then one wonders why that was not explained more clearly.

Daniel Peterson:

We have to assume Alma and his one-time colleagues were ordained validly by Noah (Mosiah 11:5), who was also ordained validly by his father, Zeniff. The fact that Noah was not righteous after he was ordained and that Alma himself was part of Noah’s priestly group during his early ministry has nothing to do with Alma’s priesthood authority. Until superior priesthood authority withdraws permission to exercise priestly functions, a legitimately ordained holder of the priesthood continues to hold valid priesthood-however unrighteous he may be, however dead to spiritual promptings, and however unlikely it may be that he will ever actually exercise his priesthood. Citation

I think we get so dug in on explaining where his authority came from that we might miss a more trenchant question:  The text could have been clear about the source of his authority, but it is not.  The text is clear that he had authority.  What is accomplished–what effect does it have on the reader–to not be clear on the source of his authority?

Does “until you are dead” suggest that the baptismal covenant is for this life only?  (If so, how does that relate to proxy baptisms?)

What does it mean to say that Christ was prepared from the foundation of the world?

  14 And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit.

What does “buried” and “arose” suggest to you about this ritual?

Why was Alma also buried (cf. v15, where he is not)?

Note that the immediate result of baptism is rejoicing.

Does “filled” relate to the water of the ritual in some way?

  15 And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.

Why is this person not named?

Why doesn’t Alma bury himself this time?

  16 And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon; and they were in number about two hundred and four souls; yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God.

Saying “about” and then “204” is weird–why not just “about 200″?

V14 said filled with the Spirit as a result of baptism; this verse says filled with the grace of God.  Is that the same thing?

What does it suggest to say that grace is something that can fill you?  (What else can fill you?)

  17 And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.

Is “church of Christ” a correction or clarification of “church of God”?

Are power and authority two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?  (And, again, where did this authority come from?)

Daniel Peterson:

Another consequence of Noah’s iniquity was the establishment of a Nephite church. It is striking that the small plates of Nephi do not record a single reference to any church actually existing in the New World, while such references are quite common in and after the book of Mosiah. The small plates refer to only one actually existent church at Jerusalem with which Laban was thought to be affiliated (1 Nephi 4:26). Laban’s link with that church is perhaps almost enough in itself to account for the strange neglect of the term throughout the small plates-a neglect broken only by occasional references, the majority of which are negative. Again, it is striking that no mention occurs of an actually existent New World church, despite the fact that the small plates cover nearly the first five centuries of Nephite history.  Citation

  18 And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

NB the reference to Alma’s authority–it is important enough to mention numerous times but not important enough to tell us where it came from.

Is the 1:50 ratio significant?

Why 1:50 when they have 204 people?  (“You get 50, you get 50, you get 50, you get 50, but you get 4.”) Seems weird.  The only idea I can come up with is that it anticipates growth, and is prepared for it.

Under the law of Moses, priests don’t preach, they perform temple sacrifices.  Why is it different here?

Are preaching and teaching two different things in this verse?  If so, how are they different?

I find it interesting how closely we feel obligated to hew to the idea of priests not getting paid, but we feel absolutely no obligation to ordain one priest to every 50 members.  Clearly, their church organization is not identical to ours.  (It looks like their “priest” is halfway between a bishop and a home teacher, or a Gospel Doctrine instructor, maybe.)

  19 And he commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.

What access does this group have to sacred writings?

I like the idea that he is trying to keep the doctrine pure (ask me how I feel about the guy who went off on Nancy Pelosi during Church today . . .), but a little uncomfortable with the implications of “don’t teach anything I didn’t teach” in the way that it sets him up as the ultimate authority and seems to deny continuing revelation.  Thoughts?

How literally do you take a verse like this one?

  20 Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.

Is this literal or hyperbole?

  21 And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.

Is this just directed to the priests, or to everyone?

Does the second half of the verse explain how to avoid contention?

There’s an echo of Ephesians 4:5 here:  “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”  What might we learn from comparing them?  Is the allusion deliberate and, if so, what might that imply about sources and/or translation?

Is this verse related to the one before it?  (I think it is.  If we only taught the basics, we’d have much less room for contention because people would be leaving their crazy stuff out of the equation.)

I think Numbers 27 (the daughters of Zelophehad) and 1 Samuel 1 (Hannah before Eli’s crazy accusations) is a great story for thinking about avoiding contention.

What does it mean to “look forward with one eye”?

What does the image of knitting suggest about their hearts?

  22 And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God.

What do you make of them “becoming” children of God (instead of just being children of God)?

  23 And he commanded them that they should observe the sabbath day, and keep it holy, and also every day they should give thanks to the Lord their God.

Does this verse suggest that observing the sabbath and keeping it are two separate things?

What does it mean to make a day holy?

Normally, the sabbath command does not mention other days; why does this one?

  24 And he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support.

Note that the law of Moses is different in this regard, where the priests are given a portion of the offerings for their own use.  Why would this be different?

We are not surprised to see Alma making a big deal of this principle after his experience with Noah and his priests.  (More interesting, I think, is what a theme it was for King Ben, who didn’t come to this topic out of the same background.)

Given that they have a 50:1 priest ratio, I wonder to what extent we are getting a universal rule about priest support here as opposed to a rule relevant to their own situation.  (Even today in denominations that pay their clergy, a priest probably couldn’t survive if she expected her [only] 50 parishioners to completely support her.)

If you do not conclude from this verse that priests are required to do manual labor (“with their own hands”), how do you decide how literally to read the scriptures?

Wanna see the fur fly in Sunday School?  Ask whether full-time employment in CES or the GA stipend violates this rule.  Go ahead–I dare you!  (Just kidding.  Please do not do this.)

  25 And there was one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together.

Is this the sabbath?  If so, why is it not specified?

Are the assemblies different from the weekly meetings?  What do they do at these assemblies, and why is that not specified the way that the one day per week meeting is?

  26 And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God.

Why is this idea of the priests’ support repeated?

Wouldn’t you have thought that the priests would have gotten money for their labor?  Why mention the grace of God?

What does the metaphor of waxing (not that kind!) tell you about the Spirit?

What does having the knowledge of God mean–knowledge from God, knowledge about God, etc.?  Regardless, isn’t that more of a continuum than a having or not having situation?

Note what this verse lays out as the requirements for teaching with power and authority.

  27 And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.

I’m struck by how frequently care for the poor is mentioned in the BoM.

You can’t help but see the profound similarity between what Alma is teaching here and what King Ben said in his address, which is all the more interesting given that there is no way that Alma had heard/read Ben’s address.  I think that one of the points that the BoM is making here is that this is the core of the gospel, not something just relevant to one community or place or time, but something that would be preached wherever the gospel was preached.  (By contrast, we have Alma as anti-monarchy and Ben as, well, a king, so we might conclude that form of government is not an essential characteristic for living the gospel.)

  28 And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.

Does the image of poor priests surprise you?

Why are the poor described as “naked”?  Why as “souls”?

  29 And this he said unto them, having been commanded of God; and they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants.

Why is walking a good metaphor for being righteous?

What do you make of needs and wants?

I’m curious about the jump from temporal things in the previous verses to spiritual things in this one, and what that might be saying about the link between the two.

  30 And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever.

Again, why so much emphasis on the place?  This is rare up to this point in the BoM?

Here’s a representation of this verse:

in Mormon,

yea, by the waters of Mormon,

in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon;

yea, the place of Mormon,

the waters of Mormon,

the forest of Mormon,

how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer

Notice the repetition of waters/forest/place, except that in the second iteration, place is re-placed [ha!] by the “how beautiful” line.  I suspect this is significant, and meant to suggest something about the sacredness of this place, not as a place per se but because it is a place where people came to the knowledge of their Redeemer.  I also think it is interesting that it is a natural place, not a temple or a family tent or whatever.

  31 And these things were done in the borders of the land, that they might not come to the knowledge of the king.

How do you square this verse with the 12th A of F (“We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”)?

This verse seems to function as a bracket, since we have already been given this information.  If you read it that way, what difference does it make to this famous baptism and church-establishment scene to know that it is in the context of people who are basically outlaws?

  32 But behold, it came to pass that the king, having discovered a movement among the people, sent his servants to watch them. Therefore on the day that they were assembling themselves together to hear the word of the Lord they were discovered unto the king.

You know, I had been taking “a movement” completely literally as in “people coming and going,” but it occurred to me that it might be “a movement” like “the civil rights movement,” in the sense that Noah gets wind of the church, perhaps as people are sharing the gospel with neighbors and inviting them out to hear Alma.  This makes sense of “sending servants to watch,” since the servant could have been pretending to be golden investigators or whatever.

  33 And now the king said that Alma was stirring up the people to rebellion against him; therefore he sent his army to destroy them.

Do you think the king genuinely believed this, or was it a convenient story used to get the army to act?

Was Alma stirring the people to rebellion?  (To the extent that his preaching would have led people to believe that Noah was wicked, it might very well have had that effect, regardless of Alma’s intent.)  (Thought:  I wonder if the ‘preach nothing but the basics’ line from above was deliberately designed to avoid this type of accusation.)

  34 And it came to pass that Alma and the people of the Lord were apprised of the coming of the king’s army; therefore they took their tents and their families and departed into the wilderness.

Do the tents imply that the people of Alma were living near the waters of Mormon?

I’m wondering if the tents/families reference is meant to heighten the contrast between Benjamin and Noah:  Ben’s people put their families and tents facing Ben; Noah’s people have to get their families and tents and hide from Noah.  Ben’s people go to him; Noah’s away from him.

  35 And they were in number about four hundred and fifty souls.

Why bother telling us this?  (Is the point to show the growth of the community? That now that one priest who only had 4 people has a full compliment of 50?  That’s a nice idea that could be worked into its own ‘parable of the talents’ type story:  the poor guy only gets 4 people to start, but ends up with 50 by the end of the chapter.)

CHAPTER 19

  1 And it came to pass that the army of the king returned, having searched in vain for the people of the Lord.

Note that there is no chapter division here in the 1830 BoM, which strengthens the link between these two stories.  I think a huge point in this section of the BoM is that we are supposed to compare/contrast the fates of Alma’s and Limhi’s peoples and learn from them, so it is better no not have a full stop here.

I like how they are called “the people of the Lord” and not “the people of Alma” here.

Do you read this verse as serendipity, or divine protection?  (Given the setbacks Noah is shown to have suffered in the next few verses, it is possible that there was no direct divine intervention here.)

  2 And now behold, the forces of the king were small, having been reduced, and there began to be a division among the remainder of the people.

Why were they reduced?  (Could this be because Alma & Co. had taken off?  Why else might this have happened?)

What caused the division among the people–was it Alma’s teachings or something else?  (The info that we get about Gideon soon might imply that there was a falling away by military who no longer supported Noah.)

  3 And the lesser part began to breathe out threatenings against the king, and there began to be a great contention among them.

Given that this is a wicked king, is this contention good?  (Especially given the identification of Gideon in the next verse.)  Is contention ever good?

“Breathe out threatenings” sounds terrible, but we are on their side, right?

It seems clear that, regardless of the cause of the smaller army and civil unrest, things have really changed for Noah–when we first met him, he was very powerful.  Now, not so much.  The control of the priests over Noah (as shown in the Abinadi story) may have been a transition point.

  4 And now there was a man among them whose name was Gideon, and he being a strong man and an enemy to the king, therefore he drew his sword, and swore in his wrath that he would slay the king.

FEAST wiki:  “In Hebrew, the name Gideon means “hacker.” The root verb is used elsewhere to describe the hacking down idolatrous images or shrines (cf. Deut 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chr 14:3; 31:1). The Old Testament judge Gideon may have recieved this name as a likely foreshadowing of either hacking down of the altar of Baal in Judg 6:25-32, or the hacking down of Israel’s enemies depicted in Judg 7. The Book of Mormon Gideon is similarly a man of the sword; he draws it here in fighting King Noah, and is ultimately killed by the sword in Alma 1:9.”

Should we assume that Gideon is unrighteous because he wasn’t out with Alma?

  5 And it came to pass that he fought with the king; and when the king saw that he was about to overpower him, he fled and ran and got upon the tower which was near the temple.

Brant Gardner points out that Noah’s ability to go mano a mano with Gideon and not get totally slaughtered speaks against the Frieburg vision of Noah as a fat slob.

Going to a tower for protection seems weird, because then you would be trapped.  Why might Noah have done this?

Random thought:  we often look to people who share the same name in scripture as if their predecessor’s life might tell us something about their life.  Not surprisingly, no one ever does this with Noah.  ( I was in an Institute class once with an investigator who thought we were talking about what the BoM had to say about the biblical Noah when we discussed these chapters.  That was fun to sort out.)  Is there anything we can learn from comparing the two scriptural Noahs?

  6 And Gideon pursued after him and was about to get upon the tower to slay the king, and the king cast his eyes round about towards the land of Shemlon, and behold, the army of the Lamanites were within the borders of the land.

If this were a novel, we’d never believe the too-convenient timing.

 7 And now the king cried out in the anguish of his soul, saying: Gideon, spare me, for the Lamanites are upon us, and they will destroy us; yea, they will destroy my people.

Skousen reads “destroy them” here.

This story is an awful lot of action/adventure that could have been skipped; why do you think Mormon included it?

  8 And now the king was not so much concerned about his people as he was about his own life; nevertheless, Gideon did spare his life.

Was this the right thing for Gideon to do?

 9 And the king commanded the people that they should flee before the Lamanites, and he himself did go before them, and they did flee into the wilderness, with their women and their children.

Is it significant that they are, in a sense, recreating the fleeing into the wilderness that Alma’s people had done?

Brant Gardner:

A plausible reading of verse 18 [sic, I think, did he mean v9?]would be that Gideon was not one of those who fled with Noah before the Lamanite advance. Indeed, the character of Gideon as we glimpse it would have been antithetical to such a cowardly flight. The scenario that appears to best fit the description is that Gideon and those loyal to him would have remained to defend the city, and it was those loyal to Noah, and those who panicked who fled to the wilderness. The flight of an entire city would be a remarkably easy target, and while even this group was destined to be caught, it is most probable that the flight was of Noah’s loyalists and their families in the immediate vicinity of the palace.  Citation

  10 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did pursue them, and did overtake them, and began to slay them.

  11 Now it came to pass that the king commanded them that all the men should leave their wives and their children, and flee before the Lamanites.

Grrrr . . .

  12 Now there were many that would not leave them, but had rather stay and perish with them. And the rest left their wives and their children and fled.

I’m getting the feeling that one of the points of this story is the dividing into groups, according to the split-second but enormously important decisions that we make (and I’d include Gideon not killing Noah here).

  13 And it came to pass that those who tarried with their wives and their children caused that their fair daughters should stand forth and plead with the Lamanites that they would not slay them.

Wise?

The idea of pleading women seems to be almost a theme in the BoM.  What to make of this?

I find it interesting that Noah regarded the women and children as baggage who would be more likely to get them killed.  However, and perhaps ironically, they end up using their daughters to save them.  (Reminds me of how Pharoah thinks that only males are a threat but it is a whole host of women, and not one man, who save Moses’ hide.) One could almost draw a feminist moral-of-the-story out of this, if only it weren’t the daughters’ charm and beauty that ultimately saved them.

  14 And it came to pass that the Lamanites had compassion on them, for they were charmed with the beauty of their women.

I don’t think “compassion” and “charmed” are quite the same thing; what’s going on here?

Brant Gardner:

It is hard to understand how a marauding army would be touched by beauty to the point of forgiveness.  Citation

  15 Therefore the Lamanites did spare their lives, and took them captives and carried them back to the land of Nephi, and granted unto them that they might possess the land, under the conditions that they would deliver up king Noah into the hands of the Lamanites, and deliver up their property, even one half of all they possessed, one half of their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites from year to year.

  16 And now there was one of the sons of the king among those that were taken captive, whose name was Limhi.

  17 And now Limhi was desirous that his father should not be destroyed; nevertheless, Limhi was not ignorant of the iniquities of his father, he himself being a just man.

How do you end up just with a dad like Noah?

I presume that Limhi was part of the group that fled the city and part of the group that left the women and children.  How does that comport with him being “just”?

Was Limhi right to not want his father to be destroyed?

  18 And it came to pass that Gideon sent men into the wilderness secretly, to search for the king and those that were with him. And it came to pass that they met the people in the wilderness, all save the king and his priests.

Should we see an echo of Alma in the secret-into-the-wilderness theme here?

I presume the “secretly” is so the Lamanites won’t find out about it, so if they find Noah, they can keep him away from the Lamanites.

  19 Now they had sworn in their hearts that they would return to the land of Nephi, and if their wives and their children were slain, and also those that had tarried with them, that they would seek revenge, and also perish with them.

  20 And the king commanded them that they should not return; and they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire.

And thus Abinadi’s prophecy comes to pass.

Why would Noah not want them to go back?

  21 And they were about to take the priests also and put them to death, and they fled before them.

  22 And it came to pass that they were about to return to the land of Nephi, and they met the men of Gideon. And the men of Gideon told them of all that had happened to their wives and their children; and that the Lamanites had granted unto them that they might possess the land by paying a tribute to the Lamanites of one half of all they possessed.

  23 And the people told the men of Gideon that they had slain the king, and his priests had fled from them farther into the wilderness.

  24 And it came to pass that after they had ended the ceremony, that they returned to the land of Nephi, rejoicing, because their wives and their children were not slain; and they told Gideon what they had done to the king.

Skousen reads “sermon” instead of ceremony here.  (Ceremony is weird, but sermon is weird, too.)

 25 And it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites made an oath unto them, that his people should not slay them.

What would motivate this oath?  (He already has them totally under his thumb.)

  26 And also Limhi, being the son of the king, having the kingdom conferred upon him by the people, made oath unto the king of the Lamanites that his people should pay tribute unto him, even one half of all they possessed.

I’m fascinated by “by the people.”  One would assume that the kingdom would be conferred because he was the son of the previous king, but “by the people” suggests that they had either a voice in the matter or a ritual role in selecting/consecrating the new king.

  27 And it came to pass that Limhi began to establish the kingdom and to establish peace among his people.

  28 And the king of the Lamanites set guards round about the land, that he might keep the people of Limhi in the land, that they might not depart into the wilderness; and he did support his guards out of the tribute which he did receive from the Nephites.

  29 And now king Limhi did have continual peace in his kingdom for the space of two years, that the Lamanites did not molest them nor seek to destroy them.

Just thought you should know that no part of ch19, 20, 21, or 22 has ever been quoted or referenced in General Conference.

CHAPTER 20

  1 Now there was a place in Shemlon where the daughters of the Lamanites did gather themselves together to sing, and to dance, and to make themselves merry.

We so rarely hear about women in the BoM, but we just had the daughters plead with the Lamanites, and now we get Lamanite daughters.  What’s going on here?

  2 And it came to pass that there was one day a small number of them gathered together to sing and to dance.

S. Kent Brown wrote an interesting article on this story. (Although I do wonder to what extent the laws related to marriage that we know from the OT would have been in force at this place and time.)

Perhaps a stretch, but the last chapter began with the note that there was only a small number of Noah’s army available.  Can we draw any useful parallels between the daughters of the Lamanites and Noah’s army?

Another article on this story.  Alan Goff explores the parallels between this story and the similar one in Judges 21 to conclude:

The story of the abduction of the daughters of Shiloh is the final story in Judges. One of the main purposes of Judges was to justify the establishment of a king. Judges described the evil the Israelites did in the Lord’s sight (see Judges 3:7; 4:1), explaining that they did evil because there was no king over the people (see Judges 17:6; 18:1). Judges ends with three stories about the tribe of Benjamin that illustrate this evil. The stories are preceded by a statement about the lack of a king over the land: “And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel . . . ” (Judges 19:1). The third story ends with a similar statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The topsy-turvy world described in Judges 17-21 demonstrates that doing what is right in one’s own eyes is often the same thing as doing what is evil in the Lord’s eyes. By emphasizing parallels to the kidnapping story in Judges, the author of the story in Mosiah seems to me to have strengthened the moral point. The wicked priests led by Amulon were also evil, doing what was right in their own eyes rather than following the Lord. Citation

What I find interesting about that parallel is this: In the BoM, this kind of child-abduction craziness is not seen as a justification for a king, but rather the opposite:  we get Alma’s anti-monarch speech in this section.  Remember that these were priests who had belonged to the court of a king!  The BoM seems to be making the point that having a king does not protect you from this kind of societal decay that ends up with abducted girls.

How does this story compare with the similar story of abducted girls in Judges 21?

 3 And now the priests of king Noah, being ashamed to return to the city of Nephi, yea, and also fearing that the people would slay them, therefore they durst not return to their wives and their children.

As Brant Gardner points out, they were unwilling to seek shelter with the Lamanites and therefore “without a nation.”  This is an interesting position for them to be in; they were originally ‘hired’ by Noah because they’d be a blank slate for his debauchery but they, with some poetic justice, end up as a real blank slate–without home or family.

  4 And having tarried in the wilderness, and having discovered the daughters of the Lamanites, they laid and watched them;

  5 And when there were but few of them gathered together to dance, they came forth out of their secret places and took them and carried them into the wilderness; yea, twenty and four of the daughters of the Lamanites they carried into the wilderness.

Is 24 significant?  (Do we assume that there is a similar number of Noah’s priests?)

Brant Gardner:

While twenty-four women were taken, we cannot be precisely certain that this was a single woman for every man, though that is most likely given the hardship of the land. However, these priests had been used to polygamy if not concubinage, and might have preferred to have more women to do more of “women’s work” which in agricultural societies was very important to survival. It is tempting to see twelve priests each taking two wives. This would suggest that they followed the Israelite penchant for honoring the twelve tribes, and had replaced Alma as a member of their group to return the number to twelve after his departure. Citation

I find it interesting that they were ashamed to go home (v3), but not ashamed to play peeping tom or to kidnap women.  What’s going on here?

  6 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites found that their daughters had been missing, they were angry with the people of Limhi, for they thought it was the people of Limhi.

  7 Therefore they sent their armies forth; yea, even the king himself went before his people; and they went up to the land of Nephi to destroy the people of Limhi.

  8 And now Limhi had discovered them from the tower, even all their preparations for war did he discover; therefore he gathered his people together, and laid wait for them in the fields and in the forests.

Fields and forests strikes me as odd–wouldn’t they have had some kind of fortifications?

I’m wondering if we can learn anything from comparing Limhi on the tower with Noah on the tower (the last time the Lamanites attacked) or Ben on his tower (in a religious, not military, setting).

  9 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites had come up, that the people of Limhi began to fall upon them from their waiting places, and began to slay them.

  10 And it came to pass that the battle became exceedingly sore, for they fought like lions for their prey.

  11 And it came to pass that the people of Limhi began to drive the Lamanites before them; yet they were not half so numerous as the Lamanites. But they fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children; therefore they exerted themselves and like dragons did they fight.

This doesn’t make sense to me–the Lamanites were also fighting for their children, because they are seeking vengeance for (or the return of) their daughters.

First lions and now dragons–what’s up with the animal comparisons?

  12 And it came to pass that they found the king of the Lamanites among the number of their dead; yet he was not dead, having been wounded and left upon the ground, so speedy was the flight of his people.

This is an awful lot of detail for a highly abridged record . . . why do we get this?

  13 And they took him and bound up his wounds, and brought him before Limhi, and said: Behold, here is the king of the Lamanites; he having received a wound has fallen among their dead, and they have left him; and behold, we have brought him before you; and now let us slay him.

  14 But Limhi said unto them: Ye shall not slay him, but bring him hither that I may see him. And they brought him. And Limhi said unto him: What cause have ye to come up to war against my people? Behold, my people have not broken the oath that I made unto you; therefore, why should ye break the oath which ye made unto my people?

  15 And now the king said: I have broken the oath because thy people did carry away the daughters of my people; therefore, in my anger I did cause my people to come up to war against thy people.

  16 And now Limhi had heard nothing concerning this matter; therefore he said: I will search among my people and whosoever has done this thing shall perish. Therefore he caused a search to be made among his people.

  17 Now when Gideon had heard these things, he being the king’s captain, he went forth and said unto the king: I pray thee forbear, and do not search this people, and lay not this thing to their charge.

Why not search the people, just to be thorough?

  18 For do ye not remember the priests of thy father, whom this people sought to destroy? And are they not in the wilderness? And are not they the ones who have stolen the daughters of the Lamanites?

That’s pretty conjectural, no?  Is that why he phrases it as a question?

I want to like Gideon, I really do, but I’m kind of worried about his willingness to be so speculative here, particularly combined with his desire to not even search out the people (v17).  (Brant Gardner, more sympathetic that I, suggests that if Gideon is the captain of the guard, he would have known that no group had left the city and returned dragging a group of ticked-off women.)

  19 And now, behold, and tell the king of these things, that he may tell his people that they may be pacified towards us; for behold they are already preparing to come against us; and behold also there are but few of us.

Given that the guy is wounded, abandoned, and bound, one wonders if they could have just ordered him to tell his army to knock it off, without blaming Noah’s priests for the abduction.

  20 And behold, they come with their numerous hosts; and except the king doth pacify them towards us we must perish.

  21 For are not the words of Abinadi fulfilled, which he prophesied against us—and all this because we would not hearken unto the words of the Lord, and turn from our iniquities?

Why bring up Abinadi now?  Presumably neither Gideon nor Limhi was particularly sympathetic to him when he preached . . .

What’s really weird about v20-21 is that it suggests that the pacification of the Lamanite king (with the knowledge that Noah’s priests are to blame) will somehow prevent Abinadi’s prophecies from coming to pass, but I don’t think that is quite the right way to look at the situation.

  22 And now let us pacify the king, and we fulfil the oath which we have made unto him; for it is better that we should be in bondage than that we should lose our lives; therefore, let us put a stop to the shedding of so much blood.

Note repeated references to “pacify.”

Brant Gardner:

Notice how foreign this seems. We have the victors of a battle being concerned with honoring an oath with the man they have captured, and who is completely at their mercy. Notice also that the honorable fulfillment of the oath will place the Limhites again in “bondage.” Citation

  23 And now Limhi told the king all the things concerning his father, and the priests that had fled into the wilderness, and attributed the carrying away of their daughters to them.

This turns out to be right, but is it really fair when he doesn’t actually know who took the girls?

  24 And it came to pass that the king was pacified towards his people; and he said unto them: Let us go forth to meet my people, without arms; and I swear unto you with an oath that my people shall not slay thy people.

Is it realistic that the Lamanite king would believe Limhi’s story, when the Lamanite king has absolutely no reason to believe that Limhi is telling the truth but every reason to believe that he’s just trying to save his butt?

How much weight would anyone put in that oath when the reason they are in the situation that they are in is that he violated his past oath with the same content?

  25 And it came to pass that they followed the king, and went forth without arms to meet the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did meet the Lamanites; and the king of the Lamanites did bow himself down before them, and did plead in behalf of the people of Limhi.

We get a few references to pleading women in this section; what to make of the fact that a king is here doing the same?

Does it strike you as at all plausible that a king would plead before his own army on behalf of a people that they had just gone to battle against and were likely to conquer in the next round of fighting?

  26 And when the Lamanites saw the people of Limhi, that they were without arms, they had compassion on them and were pacified towards them, and returned with their king in peace to their own land.

Note that this is the second time in this story that refers to the compassion of the Lamanites.  Since this is the most frequent emotion attributed to Jesus in the gospels, that is even more significant.

Why would a Lamanite army have compassion on an opposing force without arms?

The last time the Lamanites had compassion on people who they were otherwise about to kill, it was the people escaping from Nephi-Lehi who sent their women out to plead.  In this case, their own king has pled.  What else do these stories have in common?  Are we supposed to compare them?  Also note that in ch23, we’ll get more pleading met with Lamanite compassion . . .

Larger question:  What was the point of this chapter?  Why was it included in the record?  What moral lessons might we draw from it?

CHAPTER 21

  1 And it came to pass that Limhi and his people returned to the city of Nephi, and began to dwell in the land again in peace.

  2 And it came to pass that after many days the Lamanites began again to be stirred up in anger against the Nephites, and they began to come into the borders of the land round about.

Why are they mad this time?

Does this mention of borders have any relation to the borderlands where Alma’s people met?

  3 Now they durst not slay them, because of the oath which their king had made unto Limhi; but they would smite them on their cheeks, and exercise authority over them; and began to put heavy burdens upon their backs, and drive them as they would a dumb ass—

Is this related to Alma’s words at the baptism re bearing one another’s burdens?

I can’t help but notice how good the Lamanites are a lot of the time–here, they clearly want to kill the people, but they don’t because they are loyal to the oath that they have made.  (Thought:  perhaps that was the point of the previous chapter, to show that the Lamanites were loyal to their oaths.)

  4 Yea, all this was done that the word of the Lord might be fulfilled.

What in v3 led to the fulfillment of the word of the Lord?

  5 And now the afflictions of the Nephites were great, and there was no way that they could deliver themselves out of their hands, for the Lamanites had surrounded them on every side.

  6 And it came to pass that the people began to murmur with the king because of their afflictions; and they began to be desirous to go against them to battle. And they did afflict the king sorely with their complaints; therefore he granted unto them that they should do according to their desires.

Interesting that at the same time, people are complaining to Mosiah2 (“teasing” him) about these guys.

Usually you murmur “against” someone–does the phrasing “murmur with” suggest that the king was also murmuring.

I find it interesting that the “house arrest” and huge tax didn’t get them lathered up, but what was described in v3 apparently did.

  7 And they gathered themselves together again, and put on their armor, and went forth against the Lamanites to drive them out of their land.

Given that the last chapter told us that their military was much smaller, these seems like sheer stupidity.  (And Mormon’s editorial insertion of “there was no way” in v5 makes it look even more blindingly stupid to us.) Why would they have tried to do this and why would Limhi have permitted it?  (Thought:  I am wondering if their military [but not really military] success in the last chapter somehow made them think they could defeat the Lamanites.)

  8 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did beat them, and drove them back, and slew many of them.

  9 And now there was a great mourning and lamentation among the people of Limhi, the widow mourning for her husband, the son and the daughter mourning for their father, and the brothers for their brethren.

Again, the same language (mourning) as at the baptism.

Again, the unusual references to women.

What about the sisters?  Did they mourn?

  10 Now there were a great many widows in the land, and they did cry mightily from day to day, for a great fear of the Lamanites had come upon them.

More women!

The laundry list of grievers in v9 strikes the reader as odd.  But then note how in this verse, it is the widows who are the focus of attention.  I am wondering why the sons and daughters and brothers from the previous verse drop out of the story.  Wouldn’t they also have been afraid of the Lamanites (at least the daughters, if you need to be sexist about it)?

  11 And it came to pass that their continual cries did stir up the remainder of the people of Limhi to anger against the Lamanites; and they went again to battle, but they were driven back again, suffering much loss.

Is this stirring up good or bad?

Again, why just the widows and not the other relations from v9?

What include v9-11 in the record?  What are we supposed to learn from the story of why they went to battle the second time?  (I’m not sure, but I do think that it is very interesting that their motive for battle changes from one to the next.)

  12 Yea, they went again even the third time, and suffered in the like manner; and those that were not slain returned again to the city of Nephi.

At this point, they have tried three times to free themselves from Lamanite bondage by military means.  All three have failed (v8, 11, v12).  As you read the rest of the chapter, look for what was necessary to free them from bondage.  If you want to read this allegorically as being about freedom from bondage to Satan, what would the three military fails represent?

We get the reasons for battle #1 and battle #2, but not battle #3.  Why?

  13 And they did humble themselves even to the dust, subjecting themselves to the yoke of bondage, submitting themselves to be smitten, and to be driven to and fro, and burdened, according to the desires of their enemies.

This is a weird verse.  Are we to understand that they willingly chose this (see also v14) as a–what–self-inflicted pain for military loss?  Or that the Lamanites forced this on them?  (And, if so, there is a bit of irony that this is what they went to war to protest against in the first place.)

  14 And they did humble themselves even in the depths of humility; and they did cry mightily to God; yea, even all the day long did they cry unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.

To summarize:  they went on completely hopeless military ventures, got their trash kicked three times, and then decided to turn to God.  Moral of the story?  Should this be read metaphorically?  (If I wanted to be a cynic, I might suggest that we deliberately create experiences that people would fail at in order to humble them and turn them to the Lord.)

  15 And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage.

How do you feel about the Lord being slow to hear their cries:  is that the logical, natural consequences of unrighteousness, or is that the Lord being mean and unjust?

This verse pictures the Lord as fine-tuning trials and punishments.  Do you think that vision is universally true?

  16 And it came to pass that they began to prosper by degrees in the land, and began to raise grain more abundantly, and flocks, and herds, that they did not suffer with hunger.

  17 Now there was a great number of women, more than there was of men; therefore king Limhi commanded that every man should impart to the support of the widows and their children, that they might not perish with hunger; and this they did because of the greatness of their number that had been slain.

Grant Hardy has pointed to this incident as a righteous example of taxation to aid the poor (or, to use the parlance preferred by some, a righteous example of governmental theft to enable the moochers).

What’s interesting about this verse is that the sequence from v15 to 16 to 17 implies that what Limhi does here is evidence of increasing righteousness and increasing blessings from the Lord to his people.  The situation where Limhi did not tax them was a less righteous circumstance.

  18 Now the people of Limhi kept together in a body as much as it was possible, and secured their grain and their flocks;

Skousen reads “to secure” here.

  19 And the king himself did not trust his person without the walls of the city, unless he took his guards with him, fearing that he might by some means fall into the hands of the Lamanites.

Interesting, this is exactly the state that Ammon finds him in.

  20 And he caused that his people should watch the land round about, that by some means they might take those priests that fled into the wilderness, who had stolen the daughters of the Lamanites, and that had caused such a great destruction to come upon them.

  21 For they were desirous to take them that they might punish them; for they had come into the land of Nephi by night, and carried off their grain and many of their precious things; therefore they laid wait for them.

Do they actually know this, or is it more speculation?

  22 And it came to pass that there was no more disturbance between the Lamanites and the people of Limhi, even until the time that Ammon and his brethren came into the land.

Should we read this to say that the arrival of Ammon caused a disturbance, or just to say that we are now brought up to date on the story?

  23 And the king having been without the gates of the city with his guard, discovered Ammon and his brethren; and supposing them to be priests of Noah therefore he caused that they should be taken, and bound, and cast into prison. And had they been the priests of Noah he would have caused that they should be put to death.

And now we are back to the beginning, with the flashback having caught up to current events.  This is a good moment to pause and ask:  What was accomplished by telling the whole Zeniff and Noah and Abinadi stories in flashback that would not have been accomplished by presenting them in normal chronological order, which Mormon certainly could have done had he wanted to?  (My guess would be that the flashback puts certain stories adjacent other stories, and the point is to call our attention to the similarities and differences between those stories.)

Interesting that we find out here about him thinking that they were priests of Noah, but we didn’t know that before when we first got the story of Ammon arriving.  In fact, we see Limhi as something of a creep for how he treats Ammon, but here, his overreaction makes perfect sense.

  24 But when he found that they were not, but that they were his brethren, and had come from the land of Zarahemla, he was filled with exceedingly great joy.

  25 Now king Limhi had sent, previous to the coming of Ammon, a small number of men to search for the land of Zarahemla; but they could not find it, and they were lost in the wilderness.

  26 Nevertheless, they did find a land which had been peopled; yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed; and they, having supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla, returned to the land of Nephi, having arrived in the borders of the land not many days before the coming of Ammon.

Dry strikes me as sort of a redundant adjective for bones.  (Wet bones?  Unlikely.) So I suspect that it is meant to tie to the only biblical usage of the phrase, which is Ezekiel 37:4:

 4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

 5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

What’s interesting about this is that if we are meant to compare the two, we see that the “resurrection” of the Jaredites seems to happen through the translation and distribution of their record, not through a literal physical translation (which is how most, if not all, people read Ezekiel).  What is interesting to me about this is not going down the path of denying or even of minimizing physical resurrection, but rather of suggesting that records can have a similar sort of power.

  27 And they brought a record with them, even a record of the people whose bones they had found; and it was engraven on plates of ore.

What’s really trippy about v25-27 is that they are (1) another flashback and (2) redundant for us–we’ve already heard all about this.  So–why are these verses in the record?  It seems to me that you either have to think that Mormon was being sloppy, or you need to find something significant going on here.

  28 And now Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.

Skousen reads “king Benjamin” here.

Why “again”?  (Is the first instance of joy figuring out that Ammon is there to save them?)

Interesting that in the original iteration, we never get the name of King Mosiah as the seer, but we get it here.

Again, I am fascinated at the use of “interpret” instead of “translate” and what this might imply for various acts of interpreting/translating in the Restoration (BoM, JST, papyri, etc.)

Why did Ammon rejoice?

Why is rejoicing such a big theme?

  29 Yet Ammon and his brethren were filled with sorrow because so many of their brethren had been slain;

I’m fascinated by the fact that we just heard about Ammon’s joy but here we get his sorrow.  Does that suggest some sort of relationship (but an inversion) between the interpretation and the loss of the people?  (This is also perhaps interestingly related to the idea of records as resurrection . . .)

  30 And also that king Noah and his priests had caused the people to commit so many sins and iniquities against God; and they also did mourn for the death of Abinadi; and also for the departure of Alma and the people that went with him, who had formed a church of God through the strength and power of God, and faith on the words which had been spoken by Abinadi.

Interesting that this is faith in Abinadi’s words and not Alma’s words.

Can someone cause someone else to sin?

Are sins and iniquities two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

Did they mourn for Alma’s departure?  (There is no verb there.)  Why would that be a cause of mourning?

  31 Yea, they did mourn for their departure, for they knew not whither they had fled. Now they would have gladly joined with them, for they themselves had entered into a covenant with God to serve him and keep his commandments.

Then why didn’t they join them before?

What did this covenant look like–was it also baptism?

  32 And now since the coming of Ammon, king Limhi had also entered into a covenant with God, and also many of his people, to serve him and keep his commandments.

  33 And it came to pass that king Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God. And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant.

Such an interesting contrast with Alma, where the text very clearly tells us that he has authority, but doesn’t give its source.

Was Ammon unworthy or is that just hyperbole? (If we was unworthy, do we need to re-read that whole conversation about seers and wonder if he might not have been teaching true doctrine?) Does this mean that Ammon had been given the authority, but was unworthy to use it?

Why do you think the Lord arranged things so that there would be no one available to perform baptisms for people who wanted them?

  34 Therefore they did not at that time form themselves into a church, waiting upon the Spirit of the Lord. Now they were desirous to become even as Alma and his brethren, who had fled into the wilderness.

What does this verse suggest about the relationship between a church and the Spirit of the Lord?

Why mention “who had fled into the wilderness” when we already know that?  What does the repetition accomplish?

  35 They were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts; nevertheless they did prolong the time; and an account of their baptism shall be given hereafter.

This idea of being patient and waiting is interesting, given that the root of their society and all of its problems is Zeniff’s lack of patience.

Why hereafter?  Why not tell us now?

I’m curious about the intrusion here that speaks directly to the reader of the abridged record.  What might have been Mormon’s motivation in drawing us directly into the text at this point?

“Prolong the time” is an awkward phrase; is it just infelicitous, or does it mean something special?

  36 And now all the study of Ammon and his people, and king Limhi and his people, was to deliver themselves out of the hands of the Lamanites and from bondage.

“Study” is a little weird–does that mean our study of the stories as readers?  Does it mean the keeping of the record?  Does it mean Ammon and Limhi’s own study?

How does this verse relate to what comes before?  (A difficult reader might say that they deliberately decided to shelve the whole baptism and church formation business because they prioritized their temporal salvation instead of their spiritual salvation.)

CHAPTER 22

  1 And now it came to pass that Ammon and king Limhi began to consult with the people how they should deliver themselves out of bondage; and even they did cause that all the people should gather themselves together; and this they did that they might have the voice of the people concerning the matter.

Was this some sort of democracy?  Why did they consult with the people?  Is there perhaps a contrast to the repeated references to King Noah consulting his priests?

“Deliver themselves out of bondage” should strike us as, in a biblical sense, a completely inappropriate phrase since it is the Lord who does the delivering.  Is that how we should read it here?

Why was it important to Mormon that we know that the people were involved in planning the escape?

Brant Gardner writes, “This tells us first that it was probably not the normal form of government, else it would not be necessary to mention.”  Citation.  Does that seem like a reasonable conclusion?  If so, then why would they have consulted, contra the usual practice, in this case?

  2 And it came to pass that they could find no way to deliver themselves out of bondage, except it were to take their women and children, and their flocks, and their herds, and their tents, and depart into the wilderness; for the Lamanites being so numerous, it was impossible for the people of Limhi to contend with them, thinking to deliver themselves out of bondage by the sword.

Does it strike you as odd that they would want to take all of their “stuff”?  Wouldn’t it have been safer to leave without all the baggage, and just start over in Zarahemla?

Pro forma note that I hate it when women are lumped in with animals and possessions.

What is the purpose of this verse?

Does this verse show a lack of faith in the Lord?  (Compare numerically unlikely biblical victories when the Lord was on their side.)

  3 Now it came to pass that Gideon went forth and stood before the king, and said unto him: Now O king, thou hast hitherto hearkened unto my words many times when we have been contending with our brethren, the Lamanites.

Is the implication that he is a trusted adviser, or is it that he’s really messed up several times (since the Lamanites defeated them 3x?)

  4 And now O king, if thou hast not found me to be an unprofitable servant, or if thou hast hitherto listened to my words in any degree, and they have been of service to thee, even so I desire that thou wouldst listen to my words at this time, and I will be thy servant and deliver this people out of bondage.

What’s with all of this bowing and scraping when Limhi invited audience participation?

Is there a prideful edge to this?  (Crazy speculation alert:  Does this sorta kinda remind you of Satan stepping up to offer a plan?)

  5 And the king granted unto him that he might speak. And Gideon said unto him:

  6 Behold the back pass, through the back wall, on the back side of the city. The Lamanites, or the guards of the Lamanites, by night are drunken; therefore let us send a proclamation among all this people that they gather together their flocks and herds, that they may drive them into the wilderness by night.

That triple repetition of “back” feels significant.

I don’t care how drunk they are, I can’t really imagine a decent-sized group of flocks and children getting past them.  Has Gideon ever actually spent any time with a three-year-old who has been woken up in the middle of the night and taken out (“Where are we GOING?  Why do I have to BE QUIET?  IS THAT A MONSTER?”)?  And they couldn’t even give them Benedryl!

  7 And I will go according to thy command and pay the last tribute of wine to the Lamanites, and they will be drunken; and we will pass through the secret pass on the left of their camp when they are drunken and asleep.

Moral of the story:  it is OK to get people drunk if you want to escape the agreements that you have made with them.

  8 Thus we will depart with our women and our children, our flocks, and our herds into the wilderness; and we will travel around the land of Shilom.

  9 And it came to pass that the king hearkened unto the words of Gideon.

  10 And king Limhi caused that his people should gather their flocks together; and he sent the tribute of wine to the Lamanites; and he also sent more wine, as a present unto them; and they did drink freely of the wine which king Limhi did send unto them.

  11 And it came to pass that the people of king Limhi did depart by night into the wilderness with their flocks and their herds, and they went round about the land of Shilom in the wilderness, and bent their course towards the land of Zarahemla, being led by Ammon and his brethren.

  12 And they had taken all their gold, and silver, and their precious things, which they could carry, and also their provisions with them, into the wilderness; and they pursued their journey.

Should we look for parallels with the Israelites leaving Egypt in this story?

  13 And after being many days in the wilderness they arrived in the land of Zarahemla, and joined Mosiah’s people, and became his subjects.

  14 And it came to pass that Mosiah received them with joy; and he also received their records, and also the records which had been found by the people of Limhi.

  15 And now it came to pass when the Lamanites had found that the people of Limhi had departed out of the land by night, that they sent an army into the wilderness to pursue them;

  16 And after they had pursued them two days, they could no longer follow their tracks; therefore they were lost in the wilderness.

Does “they” refer to the people of Limhi or to the Lamanite army?

CHAPTER 23

  1 Now Alma, having been warned of the Lord that the armies of king Noah would come upon them, and having made it known to his people, therefore they gathered together their flocks, and took of their grain, and departed into the wilderness before the armies of king Noah.

So we are picking up a story here that we left off at the end of ch18.  That means that 19-22 are “sandwiched” in this story.  When we see this sandwiching structure in the NT, it is usually very deliberately done to call the reader’s attention to the relationship of the “bread” to the “meat.”  If you take that approach to this text, what might you learn?

Similarities to Limhi’s people:  taking flocks and going into the wilderness.  Differences:  they were warned by the Lord, they don’t take gold/silver/precious things and, perhaps most significantly, women are not part of the “things they took” list.  They are escaping from Noah’s army, not the Lamanite army.  They don’t get anyone drunk before they leave.  There is no public discussion of what to do.  Which of those differences are significant and what should we learn from them?

  2 And the Lord did strengthen them, that the people of king Noah could not overtake them to destroy them.

No similar mention of the Lord’s strength in the Limhi story.

  3 And they fled eight days’ journey into the wilderness.

  4 And they came to a land, yea, even a very beautiful and pleasant land, a land of pure water.

Limhi’s people end up in Zarahemla, not an unnamed place.

  5 And they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly.

This sounds as if they are planning to stay there permanently . . .

Brant Gardner:

Not removed until 1920 was “began to build buildings &c” (Book of Mormon Critical Text. FARMS 1987. 2:473). The removal of the “&c” does not change the essential meaning of the text, but it is curious that it was there at all. The “&c” indicates that something else was built, but is non-specific. Any guess as to what was represented in the plate text is absolutely conjectural, but it is surprising for Mormon to generalize thus, unless the word being translated had a meaning of “build buildings and other evidences of civilization.” Such a hypothetical word might exist, and might be reasonably translated as “build buildings &c.” Citation

  6 And the people were desirous that Alma should be their king, for he was beloved by his people.

  7 But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.

This is very interesting, because there are so many other kings–including righteous kings–in the BoM.  Why is it different here?

What is the relationship of thinking one flesh above another and kingship?  How are these related?  How are they avoided with other forms of government?

Did King Ben think of himself as above his people?  Would Alma say that he did?

We are not shocked that Alma, after his first-hand experience with the wicked king Noah, is anti-monarchist.  This raises some interesting questions about the role that personal experience plays in shaping political beliefs, because you do not, for example, get the impression that King Ben is anti-monarchist (duh), since his experience with the institution was rather positive.  I wonder to what extent we might want to read a passage like this as “just Alma’s opinion” as opposed to doctrine, given the other patterns in the BoM.  Also interesting is that Alma seems to bring Mosiah2 around to Alma’s anti-monarchy views in Mosiah 29:13-18.

  8 Nevertheless, if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your kings it would be well for you to have a king.

V8 seems to contradict v7 to me:  v7 says that the problem with kings is that they introduce unrighteous hierarchies; v8 says that just kings are OK.  But wouldn’t a just king (v8) still create the kinds of problems with hierarchy that v7 is concerned about?  Or is there a way to reconcile these verses?

  9 But remember the iniquity of king Noah and his priests; and I myself was caught in a snare, and did many things which were abominable in the sight of the Lord, which caused me sore repentance;

Why is a snare a good metaphor for Alma’s experience?

What does the word “sore” suggest to you about the process of repentance?

So Alma has presented two arguments against kingship:  one is social stratification and the other is leading people to sin.  Here’s what I find interesting:  I think a lot of people would look at those two arguments and think, “therefore, it is really, really important that you get a good king and so, yes, I will be your king because I can help you avoid those dangers.”  But that, obviously, is not the tack that Alma takes.  Instead, he says, “No kings for you!”  Two things about this:  First, is this meant to be a commentary on the story immediately before it, where Limhi’s people put themselves under Mosiah2’s kingship?  Secondly, assuming that Alma wasn’t hoping for an anarcho-syndicalist commune, then what form do you think Alma thought the government could have taken that would not have led to the two problems he mentions?  Because it seems to me that any amount of power given to any form of government could lead to these two problems.

  10 Nevertheless, after much tribulation, the Lord did hear my cries, and did answer my prayers, and has made me an instrument in his hands in bringing so many of you to a knowledge of his truth.

What does tribulation mean?  Was it a part of his repentance?

What does the image of an instrument in the hands of the Lord suggest to you?

  11 Nevertheless, in this I do not glory, for I am unworthy to glory of myself.

  12 And now I say unto you, ye have been oppressed by king Noah, and have been in bondage to him and his priests, and have been brought into iniquity by them; therefore ye were bound with the bands of iniquity.

Brant Gardner:

Remember that for at least some of the time, the people willingly followed Noah (Mosiah 11:7 at least implies that they began to accept Noah’s methods; Mosiah 11:17-19 has the people rejoicing after the success in the skirmish with the Lamanites, which would have appeared to give a divine stamp of approval on Noah).  Citation

  13 And now as ye have been delivered by the power of God out of these bonds; yea, even out of the hands of king Noah and his people, and also from the bonds of iniquity, even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.

  14 And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.

This verse seems to set up a dynamic where the people (and not just, say, their bishops) are responsible for vetting their leaders and responding accordingly.  So how would you respond to someone who used this verse as an argument for hall walking during Sunday School when she did not like the current Gospel Doctrine teacher?

  15 Thus did Alma teach his people, that every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them.

What is the relationship of contention to the rest of this little speech?  Wouldn’t a state of increased liberty be more likely to result in contention?  (Especially when individuals are taking it upon themselves to assess the righteousness of their teachers and preachers.)

How does loving neighbor as self relate to the verse before it?

How does loving neighbor as self result in a lack of contention?  (Does the verse imply that?)

  16 And now, Alma was their high priest, he being the founder of their church.

Daniel Peterson writes,

Alma founded the Church among the Nephites (Mosiah 23:16) in the sense of a separately existing organization within the larger society. It is easy to see why he did so. King Noah had rejected his part in the hierarchical social system of the Nephites, and Alma had taken his place as the spiritual leader and the earthly source of priesthood authority for those who dissented from Noah’s leadership. Alma’s colony thus became a secessionist group. Birth as a Nephite was no longer enough to make a man or woman one of God’s people; instead, a conscious and personal decision was required of anyone who wished to be numbered among the people of God.  Citation

Note that “high priest” is not being used in the same sense as it is in the OT, where the high priest is in charge of temple worship.  Nor is it used in the same sense as it is in the modern LDS Church.  (It bugs me greatly when people assume that a word describing an office means the same thing regardless of where/when it was used.)

Brant Gardner points out that we are kind of left hanging in that we never do find out what kind of government they get; instead, we find out what kind of church government they got.  I’m wondering if perhaps this is more clever than sloppy, and that there is some significance in opening with a discussion of civil government but then pivoting to church government.

 17 And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men.

Hm, more references to his authority . . .

Why is “just” the emphasized word here?

Note that, as established, there appears to be no room in this society for “the voice of the people” (unless you think v14 gives them some power).  Is this an ideal?  (Note especially the contrast with Limhi’s people in the last chapter; they get to have a say.)

  18 Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness.

What does “watch” mean here?

Why is “nourish” a good word to use here?

Note how v16, 17, and 18 show that a great deal of power was concentrated in Alma’s hands.  What safeguards would have been necessary to ensure that the problems of social stratification and leading people to sin would have been avoided by him?  (You could say that Alma not only ends up with as much power as a king, but that the religious gloss of being a high priest put him or his successor in a position that made it even more likely that the power would be abused.)  And what does it say about Alma’s two objections to kings above that apparently being a high priest (and wielding a great deal of power) was apparently not a cause of concern to him?

  19 And it came to pass that they began to prosper exceedingly in the land; and they called the land Helam.

Why didn’t they call it Alma?

Why do we get the name of the land here, instead of when the place was introduced above?

The fact that they name the land after Helam and not Alma may suggest that Helam was equal to or even regarded more highly than Alma was.  We can probably assume that this is the same Helam who was named in the baptismal scene at the waters of Mormon.  It strikes me as curious that his probably role in the government isn’t mentioned.

  20 And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam; and they built a city, which they called the city of Helam.

Do you think Helam was their not-king and that’s why they named everything after him?

  21 Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.

  22 Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.

What does the image “lifted up at the last day” suggest to you?  (Irony alert:  Jesus was lifted up on the cross on his ‘last day.’)

  23 For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob.

This is a very interesting verse (also v21-22), because Mormon is telling us exactly what we are supposed to conclude from this story.  This explicit “and thus we see” doesn’t always happen, but I think it happens here because we are about to get into the very sticky business of why bad things happen to good people.

Thinking to the previous story re Alma’s little lecture on kingship:  he spoke specifically about the bondage that could come about from a wicked king.  So I am thinking that it is ironic that the people, with no king, end up in bondage because the chastisements of their heavenly king.

What happens to the reader as a result of the Abe, Isaac, Jacob reference here?

  24 And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.

  25 For behold, it came to pass that while they were in the land of Helam, yea, in the city of Helam, while tilling the land round about, behold an army of the Lamanites was in the borders of the land.

  26 Now it came to pass that the brethren of Alma fled from their fields, and gathered themselves together in the city of Helam; and they were much frightened because of the appearance of the Lamanites.

  27 But Alma went forth and stood among them, and exhorted them that they should not be frightened, but that they should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them.

In other words, Keep Calm and Carry On.

  28 Therefore they hushed their fears, and began to cry unto the Lord that he would soften the hearts of the Lamanites, that they would spare them, and their wives, and their children.

Gah–I hate constructions like this.  You read v27 and think that there were, of course, females in the audience and we find out in v28, nope.

  29 And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites. And Alma and his brethren went forth and delivered themselves up into their hands; and the Lamanites took possession of the land of Helam.

I like the juxtaposition of v27 and v29:  Alma says “don’t worry” and the end result is the enemy takes over their land.  I’m curious about the idea of the Lord delivering them from the Lamanites in v27 and the idea of them being delivered to the Lamanites in this verse.

  30 Now the armies of the Lamanites, which had followed after the people of king Limhi, had been lost in the wilderness for many days.

And this brings us back to the last story, meaning that the story of Alma’s people entering bondage to the Lamanites is sandwiched by this reference.  Do you read the story differently in that frame?

  31 And behold, they had found those priests of king Noah, in a place which they called Amulon; and they had begun to possess the land of Amulon and had begun to till the ground.

There are so many journeys in this part of the Book of Mormon–why might that be?

  32 Now the name of the leader of those priests was Amulon.

This seems more typical of the naming pattern of the BoM and makes me wonder again why Alma’s people had a different practice in Helam.

  33 And it came to pass that Amulon did plead with the Lamanites; and he also sent forth their wives, who were the daughters of the Lamanites, to plead with their brethren, that they should not destroy their husbands.

Yet another reference to pleading women!  If I had more time, I’d put together some thoughts on the intercessory role of women in the BoM.

Interesting that these kidnapped women now defend their husbands.

Note that these women–the former ‘dancing girls’ captured by the priests–are called “wives.”  S. Kent Brown writes,

One of the complicating issues that does not arise in the narrative has to do with the legal status of the priests’ previous wives whom they had abandoned.  Citation

  34 And the Lamanites had compassion on Amulon and his brethren, and did not destroy them, because of their wives.

More Lamanite compassion!

  35 And Amulon and his brethren did join the Lamanites, and they were traveling in the wilderness in search of the land of Nephi when they discovered the land of Helam, which was possessed by Alma and his brethren.

  36 And it came to pass that the Lamanites promised unto Alma and his brethren, that if they would show them the way which led to the land of Nephi that they would grant unto them their lives and their liberty.

Why would they want to go to the land of Nephi at this point?  (And:  What exactly are we talking about, since a Lamanite army knows well the Limhites used to live?)

  37 But after Alma had shown them the way that led to the land of Nephi the Lamanites would not keep their promise; but they set guards round about the land of Helam, over Alma and his brethren.

Interesting that all of their righteous living didn’t protect them from this.

So was this an “oops” moment for Alma?

  38 And the remainder of them went to the land of Nephi; and a part of them returned to the land of Helam, and also brought with them the wives and the children of the guards who had been left in the land.

  39 And the king of the Lamanites had granted unto Amulon that he should be a king and a ruler over his people, who were in the land of Helam; nevertheless he should have no power to do anything contrary to the will of the king of the Lamanites.

So this really rubs salt in the wounds of Alma’s people to have a successor to Noah in charge of them now . . .

At this point, you could understand if some of Alma’s people saw him as a “fallen prophet.”  (I used quotes because there is no indication at this point that he was considered a prophet; he’s called a high priest and church founder.)  Remember that Alma told them that God would deliver them.  And it appears that they have been delivered . . . right into the hands of their ancient enemy!  I think there is a strong message here for people trying to figure out how to live with the tension of prophetic statements that seem like they have not been true.

Brant Gardner:

We can easily imagine that the appointment of Amulon as king over Alma’s people would be the worst possible thing for them. The real question is why it was an acceptable proposition for the Lamanite army. Why do they post a man as king over a subject people when that man had stolen away the daughters of the Lamanites, and had only recently been united with them? Citation

CHAPTER 24

  1 And it came to pass that Amulon did gain favor in the eyes of the king of the Lamanites; therefore, the king of the Lamanites granted unto him and his brethren that they should be appointed teachers over his people, yea, even over the people who were in the land of Shemlon, and in the land of Shilom, and in the land of Amulon.

  2 For the Lamanites had taken possession of all these lands; therefore, the king of the Lamanites had appointed kings over all these lands.

  3 And now the name of the king of the Lamanites was Laman, being called after the name of his father; and therefore he was called king Laman. And he was king over a numerous people.

  4 And he appointed teachers of the brethren of Amulon in every land which was possessed by his people; and thus the language of Nephi began to be taught among all the people of the Lamanites.

So clearly Mormon wanted us to know that Nephite language (and, presumably, some cultural and religious ideas along with it) spread into Lamanite culture.  But why would we need to know this?  And are there any moral lessons to be drawn from this cultural exchange?

The Nephites and Lamanites have been separated for +/-500 years at this point.  That is probably not long enough to them to develop two mutually unintelligible languages, so this verse would then be indirect evidence that at least one of the groups had been intermixing with native people.

  5 And they were a people friendly one with another; nevertheless they knew not God; neither did the brethren of Amulon teach them anything concerning the Lord their God, neither the law of Moses; nor did they teach them the words of Abinadi;

Does the note about their being friendly surprise you?  Does it imply that “the saints” don’t have a corner on the “good neighbor” market?

The law of Moses note is interesting, since the predecessors of the brethren of Amulon (=the priests of Noah) claimed that they were in fact teaching the law of Moses, and they were cognizant of it enough that they thought to trip Abinadi up with it.  (One wonders if this is a bit of editorializing by Mormon to say that they weren’t teaching it properly.)

The “nor did they teach . . . Abinadi” seems sort of gratuitous–of course they wouldn’t teach that!

  6 But they taught them that they should keep their record, and that they might write one to another.

Why would he have taught them to keep a record, without a religious motivation to do so?

I’m curious about the balance (or:  opposition) between v5 and v6:  what does the inversion suggest?

What do you make of this ‘secularization’ of knowledge?  Are you surprised that they aren’t mentioned as teaching false religion?

  7 And thus the Lamanites began to increase in riches, and began to trade one with another and wax great, and began to be a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea, a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren.

What does this portrait tell you about life without the law?

  8 And now it came to pass that Amulon began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children.

  9 For Amulon knew Alma, that he had been one of the king’s priests, and that it was he that believed the words of Abinadi and was driven out before the king, and therefore he was wroth with him; for he was subject to king Laman, yet he exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them.

Does the use of “task-masters” invite us to compare the situation of Alma’s people with the children of Israel in Egypt?  If we make that comparison, what might we learn?

  10 And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.

Wait–they weren’t crying before?  What is this verse intended to convey?

  11 And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.

Is there a useful comparison to the Daniel story here?

 12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.

This suggests that they stopped their vocal/communal prayers, but continued to pray individually.  (Interesting parallel with 1 Samuel 1, when Hannah gets busted by Eli because she’s praying silently, which he didn’t recognize.)

  13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.

Is it significant that it is “the voice” of the Lord and not just the Lord, or something else?  (I am wondering if this is related somehow to the idea of not praying out loud.  It might make a nice little commentary on the idea that even if you can’t get your voice to the Lord, the Lord can get a voice to you.)

Does the last line suggest something about a *new* covenant?  (I would have thought that this verse would refer to the Lord honoring the baptismal covenants that these people had already made, but that isn’t what the language suggests.)

Do you read this as Mormon’s summary, or as a revelation Alma received for all of the people, or as a personal revelation that all of the people received individually, or what?

  14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

What does this verse suggest about the responsibilities of those who have been through trials?

David A. Bednar:

Now if I had been one of Alma’s people and received that particular assurance, my response likely would have been, “I thank thee, and please hurry!” But notice in verse 15 the process the Lord used to lighten the burden: “And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (emphasis added). Brothers and sisters, what was changed in this episode? It was not the burden that changed; the challenges and difficulties of persecution were not immediately removed from the people. But Alma and his followers were strengthened, and their increased capacity and strength made the burdens they bore lighter. These good people were empowered through the Atonement to act as agents and impact their circumstances–“in the strength of the Lord.” Alma and his people were then directed to safety in the land of Zarahemla. Now some of you may legitimately be wondering, “Brother Bednar, what makes you think the episode with Alma and his people is an example of the enabling power of the Atonement?” I believe the answer to your question is found in a comparison of Mosiah 3:19 and Mosiah 24:15. Let’s resume reading in Mosiah 3:19 where we previously had stopped: “and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (emphasis added). As we progress in the journey of mortality from bad to good to better, as we put off the natural man or woman in each of us, and as we strive to become saints and have our very natures changed, then the attributes detailed in this verse increasingly should describe the type of person you and I are becoming. We will become more childlike, more submissive, more patient, and more willing to submit. Now compare these characteristics in Mosiah 3:19 with those used to describe Alma and his people in the latter part of verse 15 in Mosiah 24: “and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (emphasis added). I find the parallels between the attributes described in these verses striking and an indication that Alma’s good people were becoming a better people through the enabling power of the Atonement of Christ the Lord.  Citation

  15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

The obvious meaning of “light” would be “not heavy,” but is it possible that it could mean “not dark,” or be somehow related to the idea of Christ as the light of the world?  I’m also curious about how this language relates to the baptismal covenants that these people have made–but here, they are not carrying each other’s burdens (or are they)?

The “submit cheerfully” language just ticks me off.  (Sorry.)  I don’t think “cheerful” submission is required, I’m not convinced it is helpful, and I’m concerned that it conveys a certain form of denial-of-reality that is not helpful and can be confusing to other people (“Well, she seems to enjoy cleaning the kitchen all by herself, so I’m not going to get in her way.”).

  16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.

What do you conclude from the fact that faith and patience are singled out here?

  17 And he said unto Alma: Thou shalt go before this people, and I will go with thee and deliver this people out of bondage.

  18 Now it came to pass that Alma and his people in the night-time gathered their flocks together, and also of their grain; yea, even all the night-time were they gathering their flocks together.

  19 And in the morning the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites, yea, and all their task-masters were in a profound sleep.

Interesting contrast with Limhi–they didn’t need to get them drunk.

Does the “deep sleep” have any relationship to Adam in the garden?

  20 And Alma and his people departed into the wilderness; and when they had traveled all day they pitched their tents in a valley, and they called the valley Alma, because he led their way in the wilderness.

Thank you for not including the women as chattel.  Seriously, if we are going to draw a list of comparisons between Limhi’s and Alma’s people, it would be fair to include their categorization of women.

Interesting that previously, they didn’t call the place where they lived Alma but Helam.  Why Alma now?  (One wonders why they bothered naming the place at all when they knew they weren’t staying there.)

Shouldn’t they have credited the Lord–and not Alma–with leading their way in the wilderness?

  21 Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God.

  22 And they gave thanks to God, yea, all their men and all their women and all their children that could speak lifted their voices in the praises of their God.

Again note that when Alma’s people mention women, it is not as chattel but as full participants in the life of the community.

  23 And now the Lord said unto Alma: Haste thee and get thou and this people out of this land, for the Lamanites have awakened and do pursue thee; therefore get thee out of this land, and I will stop the Lamanites in this valley that they come no further in pursuit of this people.

Given that we know that the Lord made them sleep, why do you think the Lord let them get up at this point?  But then note that he will stop the Lamanites.  What moral lessons might we draw from this?

  24 And it came to pass that they departed out of the valley, and took their journey into the wilderness.

  25 And after they had been in the wilderness twelve days they arrived in the land of Zarahemla; and king Mosiah did also receive them with joy.

Compare 22:13-14:  “And after being many days in the wilderness they [=Limhi’s people] arrived in the land of Zarahemla, and joined Mosiah’s people, and became his subjects. And it came to pass that Mosiah received them with joy.”  That verse seems to explain the “also” in this verse, and adds a little fuel to the fire (not that we needed any) that suggests that we should be closely comparing the experience of Limhi’s and Alma’s peoples.

This article on ch23-24 by Heather Hardy is very interesting.

General thoughts:

(1) Both Limhi’s group and Alma’s group are in bondage to the Lamanites and are freed from bondage in this section.  It would be interesting to compare their situations.  This article includes a chart that does that, at least in part.  What can you learn from comparing the two?  (I think one of the most important conclusions is that righteous living is no insulation from trial; it means the promise of help in trial.  For more on this theme, read this.)  Note that for Limhi’s people, the Lord was slow to hear their cry.  This is in contrast with Alma’s people, who have a much better connection to the Lord because of their righteousness.

(2) These chapters strike me as odd ducks.  Once we get past the classic baptism scene, we get war and abducted women and all sorts of things that you would have thought would have been left on the cutting room floor.  As I noted above, it seems that the GAs have collectively voted with their talks, so to speak, to leave these chapters out by not including them in any General Conference talks.  That might speak not only to the odd subject matter, but also to the fact that trying to draw moral conclusions from these passages is something of a head-scratcher (“Don’t let your daughters dance near hiding wicked priests.”).  What do you make of these chapters?  Why were they included?  What can we learn from them?

(3) More contrasts:   Alan Goff writes,

Both Alma and Amulon led colonies into the wilderness: Alma and his people, when Noah’s soldiers discovered their “movement,” “took their tents and their families and departed into the wilderness” (Mosiah 18:32, 34). Amulon and his followers also fled into the wilderness, but at Noah’s command they left their families behind (see Mosiah 19:11-23). . . .

The wicked priests abandoned their wives when King Noah “commanded them that all the men should leave their wives and their children, and flee before the Lamanites” (Mosiah 19:11), then they went about trying to find substitute wives. The other Zeniffites would rather have perished than leave their wives and children behind (see Mosiah 19:12). Thus those who remained behind “caused that their fair daughters should stand forth and plead with the Lamanites that they would not slay them” (Mosiah 19:13). The daughters inspired “compassion” among the Lamanites, for they “were charmed with the beauty of their women” (Mosiah 19:14). Later, Amulon would do the same thing, sending out the Lamanite daughters he and the other priests had kidnapped to plead for mercy (see Mosiah 23:33-34).

The text has set up parallel examples for the reader to compare. The Zeniffites sent men out to find those who had fled their children and wives, “all save the king and his priests” (Mosiah 19:18), and had vowed that they would return to their wives and children or die seeking revenge if the Lamanites had killed them (Mosiah 19:19). The parallel stories of sending the two sets of daughters to beg for mercy from the Lamanites teach the reader that what appear to be the same actions actually differ when performed by the good-hearted on the one hand or the evil-hearted on the other. When we compare the people as the text invites us to do, we contrast the care the men of Limhi showed for their wives and children with the abandonment by the priests of Noah. All of these events define the lack of moral character of the priests. The fact that the Lamanite king was willing to permit the stealing of the Lamanite daughters by welcoming Amulon and the priests into his kingdom speaks badly of this king, just as the Israelites’ encouragement of the Benjaminites to kidnap their own daughters speaks badly of all Israel. The people of Limhi, on the other hand, “fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children” (Mosiah 20:11). These differences reveal not only the character of the priests of Noah, who abandoned their families rather than fall into Lamanite hands, but also of the Nephites, who decided to face death with their families rather than abandon them. Citation

(4) Heather Hardy writes:

The ambiguity increases as we continue to contrast the deliverance of Limhi’s and Alma’s peoples in light of Abinadi’s prophecies. In direct conflict with a central tenet of his message—that only God could deliver them—Limhi’s people appear to deliver themselves from the hands of the Lamanites by getting their guards drunk with a tribute of wine (Mosiah 22:1—2, 4—11). The text makes clear that this successful stratagem—as well as several previous failures—came from their own design, rather than from relying upon the Lord. Ammon and Limhi consult with the people about “how they should deliver out of bondage” (Mosiah 21:36; 22:1), and then Mormon tells us the name of the man who came up with the plan (Gideon) and has him present it to King Limhi in words that emphasize the theological difficulty: “I will be thy servant and deliver this people out of bondage” (Mosiah 22:4). “And it came to pass,” we are told, “that the king hearkened unto the words of Gideon” (Mosiah 22:9). This should sound ominous—wasn’t the Lord supposed to deliver them? And didn’t their afflictions only intensify when they tried to deliver themselves previously? (Mosiah 21:5—12). Are the vultures, hail, pestilence, and insects close at hand? Contrary to our expectations, all goes well with them. Gideon’s plan works, and they make their way to Zarahemla where they are received with joy. Yet the central tenet in Abinadi’s prophecy does matter, and Alma sets the record straight after both groups are united in Zarahemla: “And he did exhort the people of Limhi . . . that they should remember that it was the Lord that did deliver them” (Mosiah 25:16), contrary to both their own experience and the narrative’s naturalistic account of causation. And much later, when we meet Gideon again, Mormon recasts his role by describing him as “he who was an instrument in the hands of God in delivering the people of Limhi out of bondage” (Alma 1:8). Mormon believes, although he does not explicitly tell his readers, “Although we may attribute our successes to our own intelligence and daring, we nevertheless owe everything to God.” He is teaching us how to see here, suggesting that there is more to understand about how God operates in human lives. Citation

(5) Heather Hardy raises another issue:

When we examine the account of Alma’s people and attempt to correlate their experiences with Abinadi’s prophecies, an even more troubling discrepancy appears. Emphatically, Abinadi tells Noah’s people twice, in the name of the Lord, “Except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage” (Mosiah 11:23, 21). As we learn, Alma’s people do repent, stunningly. They believe the words of Abinadi and enter into a covenant at the waters of Mormon to serve the Lord and keep his commandments. They establish a church and flee at great peril from Noah’s kingdom (Mosiah 18). When Mormon picks up their story again in Mosiah 23, we find that they are prospering in their new land (Mosiah 23:19—20), precisely as we would expect, given Lehi’s promise to those who keep the commandments (2 Nephi 1:20). But again our expectations are overturned. If Abinadi’s prophecy is reliable, why should Alma’s people have been brought into bondage at all?  Citation

4 Responses to BMGD #19: Mosiah 18-24

  1. Sam Brunson on May 7, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Julie, thank you for this. At this point, I’m probably three weeks behind your posts in my reading, but the questions you’re asking and the insights you’re providing have been invaluable to my study. I’m sorry I don’t have a more substantive reaction right now, but I invariably have substantive reactions as I read, then read your posts.

  2. Sonny on May 8, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Thank you, Julie. As always, this is excellent.

  3. Heather B in SC on May 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Excellent as always… I’m more weeks behind than my usual one because we had a special meeting last week. But am so grateful for your notes, no matter when I get to study them!

  4. Julie on June 2, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Julie – thank you so much for these. We are a bit behind as well but I love your study guides as I prepare to teach.