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TitleAlma 19
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 19

Alma 19:1–5

1 And it came to pass that after two days and two nights they were about to take his body and lay it in a sepulchre, which they had made for the purpose of burying their dead.

2 Now the queen having heard of the fame of Ammon, therefore she sent and desired that he should come in unto her.

3 And it came to pass that Ammon did as he was commanded, and went in unto the queen, and desired to know what she would that he should do.

4 And she said unto him: The servants of my husband have made it known unto me that thou art a prophet of a holy God, and that thou hast power to do many mighty works in his name;

5 Therefore, if this is the case, I would that ye should go in and see my husband, for he has been laid upon his bed for the space of two days and two nights; and some say that he is not dead, but others say that he is dead and that he stinketh, and that he ought to be placed in the sepulchre; but as for myself, to me he doth not stink.

Comments

It is unfortunate for the continuity of the story of Ammon and King Lamoni that there is a modern chapter break here. In 1830, this information followed immediately after the verses indicating that Lamoni was taken to his wife, and that his family began to mourn him as though he were dead. It is important to the story that we readers understand that many believed that Lamoni had died.

It is for that reason that the queen (who remains unnamed) notes that there is some controversy over whether or not he is dead. Ancient peoples were often much more intimately familiar with death and dead family or friends than are modern peoples. Thus, the queen surely understood that after a time some decomposition would have set in if he truly were dead, and she declares, “as for myself, to me he doth not stink.” She believes that he lives, but how might he recover?

The story continues when the queen understands that Ammon is considered to have divine power, and, therefore, she calls for him to assist in returning Lamoni to his healthful and conscious self.

Alma 19:6

6 Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God—

Comments

It is not clear who is writing this account. It is in the third person, so it was not Ammon. It was based on Ammon’s record, which Alma had. The two options are Alma and Mormon. It is probable that this is Alma’s account, rather than Mormon’s.

This verse might be the clue that shows us that it was Alma. Alma had a similar experience with the spirit; this description of the war between darkness and light in Lamoni’s mind has the feel of a lived experience. It feels like Alma infusing Lamoni’s experience with the similarities to his own experience.

Note the “dark veil of unbelief.” For Lamoni, it was cultural and inherited. For Alma, it had been an intentional rejection of belief. Both led to a type of darkness. That darkness came into contact with “the light which did light up his mind.” Perhaps Lamoni explained this to Ammon, who wrote it, and Alma simply referenced it, but it still feels more like Alma imputing his own dramatic experience to what was also a dramatic experience for Lamoni. The imagery of light infusing his soul with joy, that it was the “light of everlasting life,” which “lit up his soul”, has the feel of being written by one who really knew what Lamoni experienced.

Alma 19:7–8

7 Therefore, what the queen desired of him was his only desire. Therefore, he went in to see the king according as the queen had desired him; and he saw the king, and he knew that he was not dead.

8 And he said unto the queen: He is not dead, but he sleepeth in God, and on the morrow he shall rise again; therefore bury him not.

Comments

Ammon understands what Lamoni is undergoing, because he has seen his friend, Alma, undergo a similar process. This was a process of dramatic conversion, where a lifetime of beliefs and experiences and understandings had to be reversed and replaced with the knowledge of the gospel. The message of the coming Messiah was that repentance was possible, but being possible does not mean that it was simple or painless. The imagery of the king lying as though dead is one who is to be raised to a new life. While that symbolism would be immediately recognized by modern Christians as echoing the death and resurrection of Christ and the symbolism of baptism, we do not see that explanation applied in this case. The reason is that Christ has not yet come, and the reality of this death and resurrection was never the New World symbol that it became after his resurrection in the Old World.

The important statement from Ammon to the queen is “he is not dead, but sleepeth in God.” Lamoni would rise, and God’s hand would be revealed.

Alma 19:9–11

9 And Ammon said unto her: Believest thou this? And she said unto him: I have had no witness save thy word, and the word of our servants; nevertheless I believe that it shall be according as thou hast said.

10 And Ammon said unto her: Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites.

11 And it came to pass that she watched over the bed of her husband, from that time even until that time on the morrow which Ammon had appointed that he should rise.

Comments

In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 46:13­–14, we learn: “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.” The experiences of King Lamoni and his wife beautifully illustrate that principle. Lamoni had a personal experience, and would believe. The queen says: “I have had no witness save thy word, and the word of our servants; nevertheless I believe that it shall be according as thou hast said.” Both experiences are valuable and demonstrate faith that changes souls. One is not better than the other.

Perhaps the ability to believe on the word of another is the more difficult, however, for Ammon declares that the queen has demonstrated a level of faith that is greater than was had among the Nephites. That statement is important in the first part for demonstrating the saving power of being able to believe in another’s words, certainly believing in the words of a prophet, which are true. The second part of the importance of the statement is that Ammon declares that a Lamanite woman has greater faith than any of the Nephites.

The typical Nephite perception of the Lamanites is that they are lazy and idol worshippers. They are considered unquestionably inferior to the Nephites. We saw that perspective starting with Nephi. In the small plates we see the Lamanites being more righteous than the Nephites, only when the intent is to show that the Nephites are even less righteous.

Here, however, is true faith. In Mormon’s edition of the plates and other records, we see a different view of the Lamanites. Although the ethnocentric descriptions continue, we see the Lamanites as not only redeemable, but often as having greater faith than the Nephites after their redemption. Mormon writes of great hope for the Lamanites, where Nephi seemed to see only the pains of the final end of the Nephites at Lamanite hands.

Alma 19:12–15

12 And it came to pass that he arose, according to the words of Ammon; and as he arose, he stretched forth his hand unto the woman, and said: Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou.

13 For as sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. Now, when he had said these words, his heart was swollen within him, and he sunk again with joy; and the queen also sunk down, being overpowered by the Spirit.

14 Now Ammon seeing the Spirit of the Lord poured out according to his prayers upon the Lamanites, his brethren, who had been the cause of so much mourning among the Nephites, or among all the people of God because of their iniquities and their traditions, he fell upon his knees, and began to pour out his soul in prayer and thanksgiving to God for what he had done for his brethren; and he was also overpowered with joy; and thus they all three had sunk to the earth.

15 Now, when the servants of the king had seen that they had fallen, they also began to cry unto God, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them also, for it was they who had stood before the king and testified unto him concerning the great power of Ammon.

Comments

As Ammon had promised, Lamoni arose. Poignantly, he immediately took his wife’s hand and declared that the name of God was blessed, and that she too was blessed. Although Lamoni was overpowered by the Spirit, that Spirit clearly communicated to him his wife’s faith, based on Ammon’s words, but perhaps with little actual instruction in the gospel.

When Lamoni awakens, he praises God, but specifically speaks of the Redeemer. It was the power of the redemption that allowed his great change of heart. He had understood the Nephite message, and had experienced it directly. He was again overcome.

The picture in the room must have been both joyous and confusing. The King had awakened, praised God, and then had fallen again. Ammon and the queen are also overcome by the Spirit, and they too fall to the earth. The joy of seeing the king rise from a presumed death was quickly followed by confusion when the king, queen, and the mysterious Ammon, all fell to the earth.

Those in the room knew something important was happening, but probably didn’t understand it, and we can understand if they were confused by the range of emotions they would have had during this event.

Alma 19:16–17

16 And it came to pass that they did call on the name of the Lord, in their might, even until they had all fallen to the earth, save it were one of the Lamanitish women, whose name was Abish, she having been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father—

17 Thus, having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known, therefore, when she saw that all the servants of Lamoni had fallen to the earth, and also her mistress, the queen, and the king, and Ammon lay prostrate upon the earth, she knew that it was the power of God; and supposing that this opportunity, by making known unto the people what had happened among them, that by beholding this scene it would cause them to believe in the power of God, therefore she ran forth from house to house, making it known unto the people.

Comments

These verses introduce us to one of the rare named women in the Book of Mormon. Her name may be significant. Rather than naming her, it may be describing her. The name appears to have Hebrew roots, and meant “father is a man,” or possibly “my father is a man.” If that is a correct reading, it may be Mormon’s play on words connecting Ammon who was “a man” to her father, who was similarly “a man,” but who was similarly the recipient of a “remarkable vision.”

This designation places Abish in a position to understand what was happening. She was already a believer in the Nephite religion, even though she lived as a Lamanite. Perhaps that was the reason that she was described as “Lamanitish,” as she lived politically as a Lamanite, but religiously as a Nephite believer.

Abish understands that great events are underway, and so she gathers nearby people to come to be witnesses to the power of the Lord.

Alma 19:18–20

18 And they began to assemble themselves together unto the house of the king. And there came a multitude, and to their astonishment, they beheld the king, and the queen, and their servants prostrate upon the earth, and they all lay there as though they were dead; and they also saw Ammon, and behold, he was a Nephite.

19 And now the people began to murmur among themselves; some saying that it was a great evil that had come upon them, or upon the king and his house, because he had suffered that the Nephite should remain in the land.

20 But others rebuked them, saying: The king hath brought this evil upon his house, because he slew his servants who had had their flocks scattered at the waters of Sebus.

Comments

One of the subtle aspects of this story is that Abish gathered people who were close by. Unstated was that if one were living that close to the king, they were likely to have been relatives or, otherwise, important people. The poor typically do not reside that close to the king. Additionally, it is common to restrict those who might enter into the presence of the king. That these people were important adds significance to the next major event.

As the people gather, they do not know what has gone on before. They were not present when Lamoni awakened and praised God. They come and see three people lying as though dead. Seeing their king and queen lying as though dead was certainly shocking, and clearly led to the speculation that Ammon’s presence must have caused this terrible condition. Some declared that the king had made a mistake by inviting a Nephite to be a servant. Others declared that it was the king himself who brought on evil by killing his servants at the waters of Sebus; even the king thought this was possible.

Alma 19:21–23

21 And they were also rebuked by those men who had stood at the waters of Sebus and scattered the flocks which belonged to the king, for they were angry with Ammon because of the number which he had slain of their brethren at the waters of Sebus, while defending the flocks of the king.

22 Now, one of them, whose brother had been slain with the sword of Ammon, being exceedingly angry with Ammon, drew his sword and went forth that he might let it fall upon Ammon, to slay him; and as he lifted the sword to smite him, behold, he fell dead.

23 Now we see that Ammon could not be slain, for the Lord had said unto Mosiah, his father: I will spare him, and it shall be unto him according to thy faith—therefore, Mosiah trusted him unto the Lord.

Comments

These events are being written in the third person, which is probably Alma recording them in his personal record where Mormon found them and probably copied them, rather than rewriting them. Whether the text is due to Alma or Mormon, either one was more interested in the miraculous aspects of the story than the specific details. Thus, we have the indication that some of the people who had come were the very ones who had scattered the flocks at the waters of Sebus, as noted in verse 21.

That statement, combined with the fact that the brother of one of the slain was present, confirms that the intruders were not thieves, but were powerful men in their own right. They lived near the king, and were likely from a competing clan. Their identity was probably always known by both the king and the servants who had gone to the waters of Sebus, and because of their position and power, no one could move against them. Ammon, however, did not know. As an outsider, who was not under the king’s control (remembering that he had not married the king’s daughter, which would have put him under the king’s control), Ammon could disrupt the political game that they were playing. It is entirely possible that Lamoni sent Ammon to the waters of Sebus specifically to be that kind of a disruption.

The brother of a man who was slain attempted to kill Ammon, but he himself was stricken dead. The miracles continued, and for that one, there was a large audience to attest that Ammon could not be killed.

Alma 19:24–27

24 And it came to pass that when the multitude beheld that the man had fallen dead, who lifted the sword to slay Ammon, fear came upon them all, and they durst not put forth their hands to touch him or any of those who had fallen; and they began to marvel again among themselves what could be the cause of this great power, or what all these things could mean.

25 And it came to pass that there were many among them who said that Ammon was the Great Spirit, and others said he was sent by the Great Spirit;

26 But others rebuked them all, saying that he was a monster, who had been sent from the Nephites to torment them.

27 And there were some who said that Ammon was sent by the Great Spirit to afflict them because of their iniquities; and that it was the Great Spirit that had always attended the Nephites, who had ever delivered them out of their hands; and they said that it was this Great Spirit who had destroyed so many of their brethren, the Lamanites.

Comments

Earlier, in verses 19–20 there were disputations over whether King Lamoni’s state was due to Ammon or to the king’s slaying of the servants. In this case, the focus is solely on Ammon, but the disputations about what was happening continue. It is clear that those present really didn’t understand what they were seeing.

Once again it is proposed that Ammon is the Great Spirit. The obvious fact that he was not killed. even though defenseless, added to the obvious divine intervention that killed the attacker instead; this would have made that a reasonable solution to their questions.

In verse 26, some say “that he was a monster.” That is an interesting phrase, and one that is perhaps less understandable in translation than it might have been had we both the original language and cultural context in which to understand the term. In Mesoamerica, as well as in many other cultures, semidivine beings were unpredictable. They were powerful, but capricious, and just as often detrimental as beneficial. Thus, it is probable that what the original intended to convey was not inhuman, but extrahuman. If Ammon wasn’t the Great Spirit, he might be a different type of divine, and one that could easily be there to harm them. That he could do so was evident in that, even while apparently unconscious, Ammon could have been seen to kill his attacker. That would also help explain his feat at the waters of Sebus. Saying that Ammon was a “monster” fits very well into that archaic worldview.

Ammon was also known to be a Nephite, and the typical fear of the enemy also fed the fear that this semidivine Nephite was there to torment them. After all, they knew he had killed many, and had been present as he apparently killed one of them even while unconscious. The idea that he was sent to avenge Nephites was a culturally reasonable conclusion. It was not correct, but understandable.

Alma 19:28

28 And thus the contention began to be exceedingly sharp among them. And while they were thus contending, the woman servant who had caused the multitude to be gathered together came, and when she saw the contention which was among the multitude she was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto tears.

Comments

It is fascinating that even though we were introduced to Abish by name earlier, when it comes to the most important part of her participation in this story, she loses her name. She is no longer Abish, but “the woman servant who had caused the multitude to be gathered.” Certainly, the name was shorter, and perhaps the writer (presumably Alma) wanted to reiterate that she had gathered the multitude, but the reader is not so deep into the story that it is likely that she would have been forgotten. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a text from a very patriarchal society, where writing about the important actions focused on the role of men, with women only making rare appearances.

What this also suggests is that the presence of the name “Abish” really was intended as a signal for meaning in the story, rather than her personal name. If it had the meaning of “my father is a man,” then ironically, even her name served a patriarchal function to identify her in relationship to her father’s vision.

What modern readers should understand as we read this ancient text is that while custom emphasized the men, it is obvious that the women played important roles in society, as well as in moving events ahead. Their absence in the text is because they were downplayed, not that they were not important. Abish is very important as she is the actor that brings the miracle to many influential people who needed to be impressed and to understand Lamoni’s conversion.

Similarly, the queen is designated by title, rather than by name, and is seemingly pushed into the background. Nevertheless, it is also very clear that she was so crucial to the story that her part in the story could not be totally suppressed and needed to be told. Indeed, it is the queen’s ability to believe Ammon’s words that provides us with a more realistic model for how we typically accept the gospel, and it validates the true value of that seemingly simple, yet, still powerful, conversion.

Alma 19:29–32

29 And it came to pass that she went and took the queen by the hand, that perhaps she might raise her from the ground; and as soon as she touched her hand she arose and stood upon her feet, and cried with a loud voice, saying: O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell! O blessed God, have mercy on this people!

30 And when she had said this, she clasped her hands, being filled with joy, speaking many words which were not understood; and when she had done this, she took the king, Lamoni, by the hand, and behold he arose and stood upon his feet.

31 And he, immediately, seeing the contention among his people, went forth and began to rebuke them, and to teach them the words which he had heard from the mouth of Ammon; and as many as heard his words believed, and were converted unto the Lord.

32 But there were many among them who would not hear his words; therefore they went their way.

Comments

Abish saw the contention and acted. She went first to the queen. She was the queen’s servant, and it was a natural act. Abish probably did not understand how quickly the queen would revive to her touch, but it appears to have been immediate. The queen had been immersed in the Spirit, and, therefore, rises with praise on her lips. Importantly, her praise of the “blessed God,” would have meant Jehovah, not any of the gods that the Lamanites may have worshipped. She also mentions Jesus. Whether or not she knew of the name or we simply have that as the translation doesn’t really matter. She knew of the mission of the Messiah, and arose testifying to that uniquely Nephite religious teaching.

The queen then takes her husband’s hand, and he, too, rises. Alma doesn’t give us what he said, but simply notes that Lamoni teaches what Ammon had taught him, but with the power of personal experience behind the words of the lesson. The effect is mixed. Some believe, and some do not. Agency is always operative, and even in the presence of the kinds of miracles that the gathered people had seen, some could accept the king’s teaching, but others couldn’t bring themselves to see those miracles in the context of Nephite religious teachings.

Alma 19:33–36

33 And it came to pass that when Ammon arose he also administered unto them, and also did all the servants of Lamoni; and they did all declare unto the people the selfsame thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.

34 And behold, many did declare unto the people that they had seen angels and had conversed with them; and thus they had told them things of God, and of his righteousness.

35 And it came to pass that there were many that did believe in their words; and as many as did believe were baptized; and they became a righteous people, and they did establish a church among them.

36 And thus the work of the Lord did commence among the Lamanites; thus the Lord did begin to pour out his Spirit upon them; and we see that his arm is extended to all people who will repent and believe on his name.

Comments

For those who did believe the king’s explanation, there was a mighty change of heart. In Mosiah 5:2, the people listening to Mosiah declared that the Spirit had “wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil.” Now, these converted Lamanites are exactly parallel to the changed Nephites. They, too, found that: “their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.”

It is subtle, but important, to note that the quality of the Lamanite conversion was no different from the Nephite conversion and covenant under Benjamin. Whatever ethnocentric opinions Nephites might have had about Lamanites, in the text that Mormon compiled we learn that the Lamanites are capable of true and complete conversion. Even though not all of those present had believed in the new manifestation of Jehovah, many did. Ammon’s missionary labors bore tremendous fruit.

Even though the story of the beginnings of missionary success is over, there are still important parts of the story of Ammon and Lamoni to come. They are covered in our Chapter 20, but our chapters 17–20 were all part of the same original chapter. There is no break at this point in the 1830 edition.

Scripture Reference

Alma 19:1-36