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TitleAlma 18
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsGardner, Brant A.
Book TitleBook of Mormon Minute
PublisherBook of Mormon Central
CitySpringville, UT
KeywordsAlma (Book)

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Alma 18

Alma 18:1–2

1 And it came to pass that king Lamoni caused that his servants should stand forth and testify to all the things which they had seen concerning the matter.

2 And when they had all testified to the things which they had seen, and he had learned of the faithfulness of Ammon in preserving his flocks, and also of his great power in contending against those who sought to slay him, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Surely, this is more than a man. Behold, is not this the Great Spirit who doth send such great punishments upon this people, because of their murders?

Comments

There is no surprise that the incident at the waters of Sebus was reported to the king. What is somewhat surprising is the king’s response. How did the story move from a foreign servant to a servant being the Great Spirit?

The beginning of the positive impression is that it was a Nephite, an enemy, who was the one to preserve the flocks. That was shocking enough, but the fact that he was able to subdue so many intruders was probably made to be as impressive as possible. It certainly seemed to Ammon’s fellow servants that he had done something extraordinary. When the king hears it, his first response is to suggest that Ammon was “more than a man.” What does it mean to be “more than a man?”

First, it means that Ammon certainly appeared to be a man. Second, it means that he was not what he appeared to be. In many ancient cultures, and especially Mesoamerican ancient cultures, it was understood that sometimes the gods might walk on earth in the form of a man. They might be demigods, or part god and part man. Thus, the king believes that perhaps Ammon is such a semidivine being.

The term “Great Spirit” is likely due to the translation into English at a time when most Americans assumed that Native Americans believed in a Great Spirit, or that there was a Great Spirit taught to them by missionaries. We cannot know what the actual Nephite word was, or what it meant, but it is probable that it indicated a particular god that King Lamoni believed might have come to earth to appear in the guise of the man Ammon.

Alma 18:3–7

3 And they answered the king, and said: Whether he be the Great Spirit or a man, we know not; but this much we do know, that he cannot be slain by the enemies of the king; neither can they scatter the king’s flocks when he is with us, because of his expertness and great strength; therefore, we know that he is a friend to the king. And now, O king, we do not believe that a man has such great power, for we know he cannot be slain.

4 And now, when the king heard these words, he said unto them: Now I know that it is the Great Spirit; and he has come down at this time to preserve your lives, that I might not slay you as I did your brethren. Now this is the Great Spirit of whom our fathers have spoken.

5 Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants;

6 For he had slain many of them because their brethren had scattered their flocks at the place of water; and thus, because they had had their flocks scattered they were slain.

7 Now it was the practice of these Lamanites to stand by the waters of Sebus to scatter the flocks of the people, that thereby they might drive away many that were scattered unto their own land, it being a practice of plunder among them.

Comments

The servants also experienced Ammon as a man, but a man who had performed a remarkable feat of defeating a larger group of attackers. They believed he could not be killed. While that was not a confirmation that Ammon was the Great Spirit, it certainly provided more evidence that it was possible.

Now we get the next fascinating statement from the king. “Now I know that it is the Great Spirit; and he has come down at this time to preserve your lives, that I might not slay you as I did your brethren.” It is only at this point in the story that we learn the important information that these attacks have been going on for a long time, and that they typically end in the execution of the servants. That requires more explanation. Why are the servants killed if they are sent unarmed to water the flocks, and a larger number of armed men scatter them?

The final key to the puzzle still remains to be presented in a later part of the story, but as the story develops it becomes clear that there is a competing lineage attempting to embarrass the king. The servants were killed because the king had to save face, and the pretense that they were robbers and were killing the servants was a useful ploy.

However, the king clearly knew that this was a ploy, and that it was not the truth. Thus, when he believes that the Great Spirit has come to appear as a man and save the servants, he “began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants.” Of course, he had done wrong. The fear came in that this semidivine and unkillable “more than a man” had come to save the servants, indicating that Ammon was likely unhappy with the king’s actions. Certainly, the king feared retribution.

Alma 18:8–9

8 And it came to pass that king Lamoni inquired of his servants, saying: Where is this man that has such great power?

9 And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.

Comments

Ammon was preparing the king’s horses and chariots. On the simplest level, it is impressive that Ammon simply went back to work as if nothing amazing had happened. On the next level, however, the mention of horses and chariots had led to one of the more common criticisms of the Book of Mormon. Why horses and chariots, if no horses or chariots were known during this time period anywhere in the Americas?

It is important to remember that in one sense, there never were “horses” and “chariots”, because those are words in English, and English was not spoken in the Americas during Book of Mormon times. That isn’t simply dodging the question, it really is part of the answer. We have the Book of Mormon in translation. It is easy to believe that the words “horses” and “chariots” were translated into English, because there was a Nephite word that exactly corresponded to them on the plates. That is not typically the case in languages that are not similar, and describe different worldviews.

How do you translate a word if that word doesn’t exist in the target language? How do you translate an animal if that animal doesn’t exist in the target language? Scholars understand that issue and have seen how that problem played out in the meeting of different cultures. Two methods are typically used. One is to borrow the original word into the target language. Thus, if an English speaker wanted to speak of an ocelot, they use a word borrowed from the Nahuatl [known historically as Aztec] language. However, sometimes the animal is described according to more common terms. Thus, the American bison was termed a buffalo, even though the great beast that roamed the North American plains is not really a buffalo. Similarly, the ancient Greeks saw an animal in the Nile and called it a “river horse,” or hippopotamus.

These translation issues are most likely behind the terms “horses” and “chariots.” The best question to ask is what might have been behind the translation. Depending upon the culture in which one sees the Book of Mormon peoples, the answers might differ. What we do know is that in the case of horses, they never do horse-like things. They do not change civilization. We only know that they eat and move. No other actions are described, and those are so vague that they don’t aid us in determining what animal might have received the term “horse.” Even as a linguistic borrowing, it is unsure whether it was the Nephites or Joseph Smith who applied the term “horse” to the otherwise unknown animal.

Alma 18:10–11

10 Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished, because of the faithfulness of Ammon, saying: Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.

11 Now I surely know that this is the Great Spirit, and I would desire him that he come in unto me, but I durst not.

Comments

King Lamoni is astonished to know that Ammon is preparing the horses and chariots. It would be an understandable expectation that one who had accomplished some great feat might want recognition for it, might at least want to bask in victory for a while, rather than simply return to work. Ammon asked for no glory. He simply went to work on what was likely a reasonably menial task.

In verse 11, Lamoni desires that Ammon come to him, but “durst not.” As we learned in verse 5, King Lamoni was afraid that Ammon really was the Great Spirit come in anger over Lamoni’s actions. On the one hand, King Lamoni wants to know more of the powerful man, or “more than a man” in their midst. On the other hand, Lamoni likely fears that Ammon has come to do to him what Lamoni had done to previous servants at the waters of Sebus.

Alma 18:12–14

12 And it came to pass that when Ammon had made ready the horses and the chariots for the king and his servants, he went in unto the king, and he saw that the countenance of the king was changed; therefore he was about to return out of his presence.

13 And one of the king’s servants said unto him, Rabbanah, which is, being interpreted, powerful or great king, considering their kings to be powerful; and thus he said unto him: Rabbanah, the king desireth thee to stay.

14 Therefore Ammon turned himself unto the king, and said unto him: What wilt thou that I should do for thee, O king? And the king answered him not for the space of an hour, according to their time, for he knew not what he should say unto him.

Comments

These verses set up the magnificent experience Ammon had with King Lamoni. The story is told in detail, and these introductory details are both important and very human. Ammon comes to the king at the end of his assigned labors, and “saw the countenance of the king was changed.” Something was very different, and from the previous verses, which underscored King Lamoni’s fear of Ammon, it was a concerned look on the king’s face. Ammon did not know why things had changed, but as with many who might approach a powerful authority figure who appears to be less than happy, he thought retreat was the best option.

At that point, the other servants tell him that the king wants him to stay. While the combination of that request and the king’s countenance might have suggested that Ammon might be in trouble, and therefore really wouldn’t want to be there, the servants do address with the honorific “Rabbanah.” That title suggested that something else was happening.

Ammon stays, and asks the king what Ammon could do for him. The king continues to be perplexed. The tension in that room had to have been palpable as the king remained silent for a long time, translated as an hour. If the king did not speak, surely no one else spoke. We might picture a reception hall with a number of people, all standing as still as possible, and trying not to make a noise while they wait for the king. And the king was silent. For whatever long period of time it was, it was translated as an hour.

Alma 18:15–17

15 And it came to pass that Ammon said unto him again: What desirest thou of me? But the king answered him not.

16 And it came to pass that Ammon, being filled with the Spirit of God, therefore he perceived the thoughts of the king. And he said unto him: Is it because thou hast heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants; behold, is it this that causeth thy marvelings?

17 I say unto you, what is it, that thy marvelings are so great? Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant; therefore, whatsoever thou desirest which is right, that will I do.

Comments

It is perhaps important to read the first sentence of verse 16 prior to verse 15. The reason is that it helps the reader understand why Ammon spoke. In most cultures with a king, or some similarly high position for the ruler, it is common that the king speaks first. That custom is at least implied in that Ammon, and certainly everyone else, had been silent for a very long time. Knowing that he spoke under inspiration, and that the inspiration also revealed the reason for the king’s silence, allowed Ammon to both speak and to say the words that would move the tense situation to an important and positive resolution.

What Ammon answers is: “Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant.” Certainly most people to not think it important to mention that they are human as part of addressing a king, but Ammon understood at least the fear that led Lamoni to wonder if Ammon were “more than a man” (see verse 2 in this chapter). Ammon knew, through inspiration, that Lamoni had the wrong impression of Ammon and the wrong reason that Ammon could do what he had done at the waters of Sebus. Declaring “I am a man” diffused the reason that Lamoni was fearful that Ammon had come to harm him. Ammon declared just the opposite. He was there to serve. The implication was that he was not there to exact vengeance.

Alma 18:18–19

18 Now when the king had heard these words, he marveled again, for he beheld that Ammon could discern his thoughts; but notwithstanding this, king Lamoni did open his mouth, and said unto him: Who art thou? Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?

19 Ammon answered and said unto him: I am not.

Comments

Ammon had correctly perceived that Lamoni needed to know that Ammon was just a man. This was confirmed when Lamoni finally spoke, and asked the question that formed his greatest fear: Was Ammon the Great Spirit? What is added was the idea that the Great Spirit would know all things. This becomes important as the conversation continues.

Ammon assuages the king’s fears. He is not the Great Spirit. That, of course, leaves open the question of how he has done things that it would be assumed only a semidivine being could do. Those issues come in the next verses.

Alma 18:20–23

20 And the king said: How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly, and tell me concerning these things; and also tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms of my brethren that scattered my flocks—

21 And now, if thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee; and if it were needed, I would guard thee with my armies; but I know that thou art more powerful than all they; nevertheless, whatsoever thou desirest of me I will grant it unto thee.

22 Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.

23 And the king answered him, and said: Yea, I will believe all thy words. And thus he was caught with guile.

Comments

When Ammon broke the silence, he did so by addressing the very fears that had caused Lamoni to stay silent for what the translation called an hour. If Ammon was not the Great Spirit “who knows all things” (verse 18), then how did Ammon know the king’s thoughts?

Ammon does not tell the king immediately, but rather understands that he has both a teaching moment and an opportunity to usher a change in the king’s understanding and heart. Therefore, before beginning the explanation, he has the king commit to believing him if he explains it. The king essentially creates a covenant with Ammon. Ammon is to provide the secret, and the king will believe the explanation.

The statement “and thus he was caught with guile” does not sound very righteous. It sounds as though Lamoni was being tricked. That was certainly not the intent. The intent was to elicit a covenant and to commit the king to an action in exchange for information. On Ammon’s part, it was a commitment to teach about Jehovah, whose inspiration led to Ammon’s understanding Lamoni’s thoughts. For the king, it was a commitment to take the explanation seriously, and to believe.

While the “guile” might be that Ammon did not tell the secret before getting a commitment, it was nevertheless an important action, for it required the king to allow what
Ammon said to touch him, and to change him. King Lamoni was “caught” in the sense that he was committed before truly understanding what the commitment would entail.

Alma 18:24–25

24 And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?

25 And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.

Comments

Ammon cannot explain how he knew Lamoni’s mind without an explanation of who God is. Because the original Nephite text was translated into English, some of what had to have happened in this conversation is obscured. The question “believest thou that there is a God?” is understandable to modern readers, but wasn’t a question that would solicit Lamoni’s answer. The question had to have been more specific, perhaps invoking Jehovah directly, or at least a statement that there was only one God over all. It would be very unusual if King Lamoni didn’t know what gods were. He had already asked if Ammon were “more than a man,” and, therefore, he clearly had some understanding of divine beings.

Ammon’s question is about the Nephite god, Jehovah. However that was phrased, that was the intent. Lamoni does not know anything about Jehovah.

Alma 18:26–31

26 And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?

27 And he said, Yea.

28 And Ammon said: This is God. And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?

29 And he said: Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.

30 And Ammon said unto him: The heavens is a place where God dwells and all his holy angels.

31 And king Lamoni said: Is it above the earth?

Comments

When Ammon discovers that Lamoni needs to understand the very basics, he begins with establishing a commonality. He certainly knows that Lamoni believes in a Great Spirit. Lamoni had asked if Ammon were that Great Spirit. Therefore, Ammon begins with Lamoni’s current understanding. He uses Lamoni’s understanding of the Great Spirit to begin teaching about Jehovah. In verse 28, Ammon states that the Great Spirit is Jehovah. While that might not have been technically correct, it was a starting point where King Lamoni could understand the importance of Jehovah relevant to other possible divine beings. Lamoni believed that the Great Spirit was over all other deities or semidivine beings. Ammon places Jehovah in that same exalted and important position.

The next task is to define the relationship of humankind to Jehovah. This continues with the relationship of God to creation. Ammon asks if Lamoni believes that the Great Spirit, or Jehovah, created the heavens and the earth. Lamoni’s reply is interesting. His understanding of the Great Spirit included the creation of things on the earth, but he declares that he is unaware of the heavens. That statement is also interesting in that most cultures’ origin stories create the earth, the world below, and the world above. Thus, it is possible that we have a translation issue again, where the word that Ammon used was different from whatever word Lamoni would have used to describe the heavens in his own belief system.

Ammon had to define heaven, and defines it as the place where Jehovah dwells. The addition of “all his holy angels” is probably added to give a comparable place to other divine beings that Lamoni might believe existed.

Alma 18:32–33

32 And Ammon said: Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.

33 And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

Comments

Ammon had established sufficient common grounds that he could begin to answer the question that Lamoni had asked about how Ammon knew the king’s thoughts. The answer was that Jehovah is in heaven and looks down upon humankind. It is Jehovah who knows “all the thoughts and intents of the heart,” since Jehovah was their creator.

Lamoni understood that his question had been answered, but only partially. Jehovah knew his thoughts, but how did Ammon? Thus Lamoni asks if Ammon was sent by Jehovah. The implication may have been that Ammon might have been one of the angels that Ammon declared were in heaven with God. That hypothesis is perhaps confirmed in Ammon’s response in the next verse.

Alma 18:34–35

34 Ammon said unto him: I am a man; and man in the beginning was created after the image of God, and I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people, that they may be brought to a knowledge of that which is just and true;

35 And a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God.

Comments

The implication of Lamoni’s question about Ammon being sent from God was clearly that Ammon might still be at lest a semidivine person, if not the Great Spirit. Thus, Ammon has to repeat that “I am a man.” What Ammon then does is link being a man to being a creation of Jehovah.

Next, Ammon introduces the concept of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t give much information, except that the Ammon declares that the Spirit is not God, even though it is called “his Holy Spirit.” It was that Spirit that communicated with Ammon. Therefore, it was not Ammon who was sent from the presence of God, but rather it was “his Holy Spirit” that was sent to Ammon, who communicated with him according to God’s will.

Alma 18:36–38

36 Now when Ammon had said these words, he began at the creation of the world, and also the creation of Adam, and told him all the things concerning the fall of man, and rehearsed and laid before him the records and the holy scriptures of the people, which had been spoken by the prophets, even down to the time that their father, Lehi, left Jerusalem.

37 And he also rehearsed unto them (for it was unto the king and to his servants) all the journeyings of their fathers in the wilderness, and all their sufferings with hunger and thirst, and their travail, and so forth.

38 And he also rehearsed unto them concerning the rebellions of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, yea, all their rebellions did he relate unto them; and he expounded unto them all the records and scriptures from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem down to the present time.

Comments

This must have been a long instruction session, if Ammon began with the creation of the world and ended with the present time. That is a powerful amount of history. However, it was essential because he had established Jehovah as the creator of earth and the people on it, and the story from creation to the present was an important aspect of understanding how Jehovah worked with his children, and particularly how it happened that Ammon represented Jehovah through his Spirit. Clearly, the recounting was abbreviated, and certainly focused on the divine guidance and protection of the Nephite people.

Bringing it to the present would certainly have included the story of the rebellion of the sons of Mosiah and their conversion, since that led directly to Ammon standing before the king. Additionally, that story would tell King Lamoni that, even though Lamoni had not known Jehovah, repentance was still possible.

Alma 18:39–43

39 But this is not all; for he expounded unto them the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world; and he also made known unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and all the works of the Lord did he make known unto them.

40 And it came to pass that after he had said all these things, and expounded them to the king, that the king believed all his words.

41 And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people.

42 And now, when he had said this, he fell unto the earth, as if he were dead.

43 And it came to pass that his servants took him and carried him in unto his wife, and laid him upon a bed; and he lay as if he were dead for the space of two days and two nights; and his wife, and his sons, and his daughters mourned over him, after the manner of the Lamanites, greatly lamenting his loss.

Comments

Of course, it was not secular history that Ammon recounted, but the sacred evidence of Jehovah’s intentions for his children. The most important of those actions, after creation itself, was the plan of redemption. That plan is based on the mission of the coming Messiah, which became a fundamental element of Nephite belief, and the point where apostasy began, when people began to doubt that coming redemptive mission.

Lamoni had committed, and essentially covenanted, that when he learned Ammon’s truth, that he would believe it. Lamoni perhaps believed the words, but it was important that he have more than an intellectual understanding. Therefore, Lamoni prayed according to his belief.

When Lamoni falls as though dead, we may see a parallel to Alma the Younger’s experience. It is quite plausible that Alma’s experience, which had occurred in Ammon’s presence, was part of the history to the present time that Ammon had recounted. Thus, those who saw the king fall as dead did not immediately fall upon Ammon to harm him, but rather carried the king to his wife to be cared for.

His wife, sons and daughters had apparently not been in the hall to hear what Ammon had said, and thus they mourned. That element enhances the continuing tension of the story, as it continues in the next modern chapter. There was no break at this point in the 1830 edition.

Scripture Reference

Alma 18:1-43