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Alma 17: Header
An account of the sons of Mosiah, who rejected their rights to the kingdom for the word of God, and went up to the land of Nephi to preach to the Lamanites; their sufferings and deliverance—according to the record of Alma.
Mormon tells us that his source is the “record of Alma.” This is the same record that we have previously seen for the sermons in Zarahemla, Gideon, and Ammonihah. The major difference is that this will be a story of the sons of Mosiah, not Alma. As this chapter begins, we are introduced to the way that the story of the sons of Mosiah ends up on Alma’s personal records. Alma meets them, and they tell their story, or Alma receives records from them that will tell the story.
When Mormon uses that separate source, he provides a chapter header to notify his readers that he is taking text from a source that was not on the large plates.
1 And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.
2 Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.
4 And they had been teaching the word of God for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites, having had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him.
These four verses form the transition from the stories about Alma to the stories of his friends, the sons of Mosiah. Alma is heading toward Manti when he meets the sons of Mosiah returning from the lands of the Lamanites. It is not surprising that the sons of Mosiah were coming from Manti, as that is the historically logical path between the Lamanite lands and the land of Zarahemla. It is important to know that Alma meets them, for we need to know how their story becomes part of Alma’s record. It will become clear that there are different records of the brothers’ labors among the Lamanites, but Mormon is accessing them through Alma’s records. This meeting put Alma in a position to receive those records, whether that occurred at the time of this meeting, or sometime later.
Verses 2 through 4 have a similar function to the book headers that we see in Mormon’s writings. Those heading provide the reader with information of what will occur in the book. The chapter headers appear to be used to mark the source of the text. However, Mormon provides the same kind of forward-looking synopsis as he does in the book headers, but here it is imbedded in the text itself.
We are given to know that we will learn of what happened in the fourteen years that they have been gone, and that during that time they taught with power and had success. Before beginning the story, we know that it will have a good ending.
5 Now these are the circumstances which attended them in their journeyings, for they had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue, and also much labor in the spirit.
6 Now these were their journeyings: Having taken leave of their father, Mosiah, in the first year of the judges; having refused the kingdom which their father was desirous to confer upon them, and also this was the minds of the people;
7 Nevertheless they departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and took their swords, and their spears, and their bows, and their arrows, and their slings; and this they did that they might provide food for themselves while in the wilderness.
8 And thus they departed into the wilderness with their numbers which they had selected, to go up to the land of Nephi, to preach the word of God unto the Lamanites.
The story returns to the beginning. In verse 2, Mormon had reminded his readers that the sons of Mosiah had been with Alma during his angelic conversion. The story that will be told doesn’t move that far back in time, but it does begin at the beginning of the journey.
We have an interesting doubling of the statement that Mormon will tell of their journeyings. In the first, in verse 5, we have another forward-looking statement. Although it is part of the introduction to the journeys themselves, it is both the ending of the previous outline as well as the beginning of the next phase. The content looks ahead.
Verse 6 begins the actual story of their journeyings, where the readers will see in a more chronological order the events that are briefly described in the synopsis given in verses 2 through 5.
Mormon places the timeframe for their departure in the first year of the reign of the judges. This confirms the fourteen-year absence, as the last sentence of the previous chapter (which was a chapter in the 1830 edition) indicated that Mormon is writing of events at the ending of the fourteenth year.
The brothers apparently take others with them, as suggested in verse 8, though we will hear very little any of those others as the stories of the brothers are related.
9 And it came to pass that they journeyed many days in the wilderness, and they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth, to the knowledge of the baseness of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.
10 And it came to pass that the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted. And they were comforted.
The only part of the brothers’ concerns that is stated in verse 9 is that they desire to be effective missionaries. That very understandable prayer does not necessarily lead into verse 10’s description of the Lord’s response. The Lord tells them to be comforted. Why were concerns over being effective something that led to a need for comfort?
What is not stated is that this is a reasonably small band of armed Nephites entering into their mortal enemy’s homeland. Verse 7 noted that they took weapons “that they might provide food.” They took “swords, and their spears, and their bows, and their arrows, and their slings”. Bows and slings could easily be used to kill game. Spears might, but swords were an unlikely hunting weapon. However, even if those were the only purposes, when Lamanites found them, they would certainly see armed invaders.
Thus, there was every reason to be uneasy. Although they were entering to preach, they were entering hostile territory, where they would not be able to predict the outcome. Clearly, comfort was applicable. Their faith allowed them to be comforted, on the Lord’s declaration that they be comforted.
11 And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.
12 And it came to pass that the hearts of the sons of Mosiah, and also those who were with them, took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites to declare unto them the word of God.
13 And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken.
Bolstered by the Lord’s blessing of comfort (verse 10), the brothers begin their missionary journey. Their mission was to take the gospel to the Lamanites, and there were many of them. They split up so that they could go to different people. This was done under inspiration, and the Lord knew both the different peoples that would receive the word as well as the fact that a much smaller group of men posed much less of a threat than the entire group of armed men who had come to the Lamanite lands.
When they say that they trusted that they should meet “at the close of their harvest,” this means the end of their missionary journeys. The conversion of souls is often referred to as a harvest, and they are expecting that success, and that they will all survive to be reunited at some point when they have accomplished their mission.
14 And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.
15 Thus they were a very indolent people, many of whom did worship idols, and the curse of God had fallen upon them because of the traditions of their fathers; notwithstanding the promises of the Lord were extended unto them on the conditions of repentance.
16 Therefore, this was the cause for which the sons of Mosiah had undertaken the work, that perhaps they might bring them unto repentance; that perhaps they might bring them to know of the plan of redemption.
17 Therefore they separated themselves one from another, and went forth among them, every man alone, according to the word and power of God which was given unto him.
In verse 13 Mormon indicated that the brothers separated from one another. That information is repeated in verse 17. That repetition suggests that we look at verses 14-16 as information that Mormon inserted into the story as he found it in Alma’s records. That insertion suggests that the Nephite stereotyping of the Nephites persists into Mormon’s day. They are not painted favorably at all.
What is most remarkable about this insertion is that the picture we will see of the Lamanites in the next several chapters is dramatically different from this stereotypical designation. It almost appears that Mormon understood that the story from the sons of Mosiah would lead to different conclusions, and so he inserts that text to prejudice his readers to see the Lamanites in that less favorable light.
It is also important to note that Mormon believes that repentance would alter all of the negative statements he has made about the Lamanites. In a sense, he is correct. Those who are converted will become Nephites, and, therefore, leave behind the unfavorable descriptions that apply to Lamanites. These are ethnocentric descriptions, and the evidence of these chapters will underscore the fact that they should not be seen as complete historical facts.
18 Now Ammon being the chief among them, or rather he did administer unto them, and he departed from them, after having blessed them according to their several stations, having imparted the word of God unto them, or administered unto them before his departure; and thus they took their several journeys throughout the land.
19 And Ammon went to the land of Ishmael, the land being called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites.
20 And as Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands, and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them into prison, or to cast them out of his land, according to his will and pleasure.
We begin with Ammon’s story. He departs into the land of Ishmael. Little is known about the land of Ishmael. Verse 19 tells us that it was named after the sons of Ishmael, although, unless one of them was named Ishmael, it was named in honor of their father.
As Ammon enters the land, he is noticed and taken and bound. There was good reason for the sons of Mosiah to be concerned for their safety in Lamanite lands. Ammon enters as a prisoner, one completely at the mercy of the king.
21 And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael; and his name was Lamoni; and he was a descendant of Ishmael.
22 And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.
24 And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife.
Ammon presents us with an unusual set of events without any comment. He is presented before the king, who asks if he desires to dwell among the Lamanites. Since Ammon did not arrive with an army, it was possible that there was a sincere desire to settle in the lands. Ammon commits to living among them, perhaps until he died. That didn’t happen, but Ammon was willing for it to happen.
Then things start to get interesting. King Lamoni agrees to let him live among his people and suggests that Ammon marry one of King Lamoni’s daughters. That quick offer requires some background to be believable. It is possible that Ammon also provided his genealogy. That would not have been unusual, and even though he and his brothers had declined the throne, they were still related to a Nephite king. Perhaps that was the reason that King Lamoni sought to create a tighter alliance by offering a daughter in marriage.
Also plausible is that King Lamoni understood that Ammon would become his son-in-law, and, therefore, under the will and power of Lamoni, with family obligations of obedience. It would have been an extension of the idea of the alliance, but would assure that the Nephite, who had no allegiance to any Lamanite, had an important tie to the king.
25 But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.
26 And after he had been in the service of the king three days, as he was with the Lamanitish servants going forth with their flocks to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus, and all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water—
27 Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, behold, a certain number of the Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon and the servants of the king, and they scattered them insomuch that they fled many ways.
28 Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already.
Rather than accept a marriage, Ammon declares that he simply wants to be a servant. King Lamoni accepts, and he sends Ammon on a perplexing task. The problem was not simply to take the flocks to water, but that the events that occurred were part of a pattern that surely the King understood would be repeated. Other Lamanites scatter the flocks. The other servants are concerned because they fear the king will slay them. He has done that with other servants to whom the same thing had happened.
The King certainly knew that the scattering of the flocks occurred and knew that he had executed other servants for their failure to protect the flocks. Ammon was intentionally sent on a mission where the outcome was probable that he would be executed.
As the story unfolds, it is important to remember that the flocks were scattered. There will be an insinuation that those doing the scattering were thieves, but their actions belie that idea. They didn’t take the flocks away, but rather scattered them.
We may also ask what kind of flocks they were. Arnold Friberg’s famous painting shows sheep, but sheep will move together rather than scatter, so they clearly were not sheep. If this were a Mesoamerican setting, a possibility is deer, which were known to have been kept. Deer would certainly scatter when frightened.
29 Now they wept because of the fear of being slain. Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words.
30 And now, these were the thoughts of Ammon, when he saw the afflictions of those whom he termed to be his brethren.
31 And it came to pass that he flattered them by his words, saying: My brethren, be of good cheer and let us go in search of the flocks, and we will gather them together and bring them back unto the place of water; and thus we will preserve the flocks unto the king and he will not slay us.
32 And it came to pass that they went in search of the flocks, and they did follow Ammon, and they rushed forth with much swiftness and did head the flocks of the king, and did gather them together again to the place of water.
Ammon is not party to the history of these raids on the king’s flocks, and so he works to find a solution. One, which is simple, is that they go gather the flocks and bring them back. Either the other servants had never thought of such a thing, or they knew that it would simply result in the intruders scattering them again. In any case, they do not think to gather the flocks, but Ammon, who has no knowledge of the history of events, does so.
They are able to assemble at least a reasonable number of the scattered animals, but the story is not over.
33 And those men again stood to scatter their flocks; but Ammon said unto his brethren: Encircle the flocks round about that they flee not; and I go and contend with these men who do scatter our flocks.
34 Therefore, they did as Ammon commanded them, and he went forth and stood to contend with those who stood by the waters of Sebus; and they were in number not a few.
35 Therefore they did not fear Ammon, for they supposed that one of their men could slay him according to their pleasure, for they knew not that the Lord had promised Mosiah that he would deliver his sons out of their hands; neither did they know anything concerning the Lord; therefore they delighted in the destruction of their brethren; and for this cause they stood to scatter the flocks of the king.
As Ammon and the other servants return with the flocks, Ammon has the other servants keep the animals together, and Ammon goes to deal with the men who appear to be ready to scatter them again.
Another clue that the intruders were not thieves is that they waited at the waters of Sebus to see what would happen again. They hadn’t found some of the animals and taken off with them. They stayed, without any evident result of their raid.
They certainly see Ammon coming, but they know that they outnumber him, and so they are unafraid. The results of Ammon’s defiance will be unexpected for all save perhaps Ammon himself, who appears to have gone forth in the knowledge and comfort that the Lord had already given him.
36 But Ammon stood forth and began to cast stones at them with his sling; yea, with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them insomuch that they began to be astonished at his power; nevertheless they were angry because of the slain of their brethren, and they were determined that he should fall; therefore, seeing that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with clubs to slay him.
37 But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished, and began to flee before him; yea, and they were not few in number; and he caused them to flee by the strength of his arm.
38 Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword; and he smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him, and they were not a few.
39 And when he had driven them afar off, he returned and they watered their flocks and returned them to the pasture of the king, and then went in unto the king, bearing the arms which had been smitten off by the sword of Ammon, of those who sought to slay him; and they were carried in unto the king for a testimony of the things which they had done.
Ammon is armed. There is no indication that any other of the servants were armed. He is armed with both a sling and his sword. Against him were a larger number of men, but without the typical weapons of war. They come at him with clubs. They had numbers, but inferior weapons.
Ammon kills six with the sling, and then turned to the sword. Clearly, Ammon was a skilled fighter and was certainly enhanced through God’s power. However, the very fact that Ammon used weapons against the intruders was probably a surprise. Later we will learn that King Lamoni could have sent an armed guard with his servants, but did not do so, apparently sending men to their deaths rather than fight them.
There will be more clues later in this story, but the most logical explanation is that the intruders were a faction within King Lamoni’s important families. They had been scattering flocks to embarrass the king, and as royalty, the servants could not fight against them. Ammon, however, was an outsider and didn’t know the subtle rules everyone else was following. Ammon surprised the intruders by fighting back. Perhaps King Lamoni intentionally sent an armed Ammon on this mission for just that reason. What was more surprising, however, was that he not only fought, but defeated the intruders. That was unexpected, and lead to the next part of the story when they return to the king.
There is no chapter break at this location in the 1830 edition.
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