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1 And it came to pass that the Amalekites and the Amulonites and the Lamanites who were in the land of Amulon, and also in the land of Helam, and who were in the land of Jerusalem, and in fine, in all the land round about, who had not been converted and had not taken upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, were stirred up by the Amalekites and by the Amulonites to anger against their brethren.
2 And their hatred became exceedingly sore against them, even insomuch that they began to rebel against their king, insomuch that they would not that he should be their king; therefore, they took up arms against the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
3 Now the king conferred the kingdom upon his son, and he called his name Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
4 And the king died in that selfsame year that the Lamanites began to make preparations for war against the people of God.
In historical documents that suggest that everyone did one thing, or that all members of another group did something else, we should understand that the actual historical example was not as exclusive as the statements would indicate. Thus, it is probable that at least some Amalekites and Amulonites might have been converted. It is probable that in the lands mentioned in Alma 23:9–12 there were some who were not converted. The specifics and the details of those conversions and non-conversions are not the point of the text. What is important in the writing of the story is that there was a division between those who did convert to the Nephite religion and those who did not. That was a fact, and it was a critical fact.
In the writing of the story, while the writer (Alma or Mormon, as there is no real clue as to who wrote these verses) does mention unconverted Lamanites, it is the Amalekites and the Amulonites who are mentioned first. Perhaps Mormon’s emphasis on the role of apostate Nephites would suggest that it is Mormon writing this section.
It is also part of the history that the overking names one of his sons as his successor. That son had also been converted, and he took the name Anti-Nephi-Lehi. Thus, there was a people with that name, and a king who took that as his throne name. This sets up a major conflict between those who were converted and represented by the king, and those who had not been converted and who were determined to claim the kingship through war against Anti-Nephi-Lehi and his people who had taken that name.
5 Now when Ammon and his brethren and all those who had come up with him saw the preparations of the Lamanites to destroy their brethren, they came forth to the land of Midian, and there Ammon met all his brethren; and from thence they came to the land of Ishmael that they might hold a council with Lamoni and also with his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi, what they should do to defend themselves against the Lamanites.
6 Now there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren; nay, they would not even make any preparations for war; yea, and also their king commanded them that they should not.
The coming conflict sees all of the brothers gathered together in the land of Midian, which is still a land within the Lamanite controlled land of Nephi. The signs were clear that there would be a war, but the resolution of the council was perhaps unexpected. In verse 6 we learn that “there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren.” Indeed, that remarkable position appeared to have been a major part of their conversion process. It was specifically mentioned in Alma 23:7 and Alma 23:13.
The next verses begin to explain why that might have been an integral part of their conversion. It will become an integral part of the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and the coming war with the unconverted Lamanites who had made no such covenant.
7 Now, these are the words which he said unto the people concerning the matter: I thank my God, my beloved people, that our great God has in goodness sent these our brethren, the Nephites, unto us to preach unto us, and to convince us of the traditions of our wicked fathers.
8 And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit to soften our hearts, that we have opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.
Verse 6 noted that their king, now named Anti-Nephi-Lehi, had prohibited the converted people who had taken that same name from taking up weapons. In verse 7 Alma begins to record that king’s speech to his people that is meant to reinforce and perhaps explain that command that they should not take up weapons of war.
As Anti-Nephi-Lehi begins, he gives thanks for the blessings that have come from understanding Jehovah’s covenants and gospel. Those who have been converted have become convinced of the “traditions of our wicked fathers.” That language doesn’t mean that all Lamanites were wicked in the sense of individual choices, but rather that their traditions opposed Jehovah’s gospel. In the black and white world of Nephite scripture, Jehovah’s gospel clearly represented good, and any who opposed it were wicked by definition, regardless of personal actions.
Anti-Nephi-Lehi also notes that the Spirit has softened their hearts. It is what that softening led to that requires a little explanation. The king says that having their hearts softened “opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.” In Webster’s 1828 dictionary that probably represents the meaning of words as Joseph Smith and his contemporaries knew them, the first meaning is “relation; fitness; congruity; mutual adaptation of one thing to another.” The other meanings would be more familiar to modern readers, dealing with communication at a distance, such as through letters. In this verse, however, the meaning really should be read as that first meaning. What was opened was their hearts to a conformity with what the Nephite brothers had taught. It was a relationship with what these brothers had taught them and had nothing directly to do with the larger Nephite population in the land of Zarahemla.
9 And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.
10 And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.
One of the important principles of the gospel was an understanding of one’s relationship with Jehovah. In particular, sin removed one from God’s presence. In the Nephite teaching, this became a personal, rather than communal, sin, and depended upon the coming Messiah’s atoning sacrifice to cleanse. Even though the act was in the future, the benefit of the promised act was available to all who believed. Thus, Jehovah “hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things.”
Of what did they repent? What did they consider to be so serious? Anti-Nephi-Lehi lays out the crucial sins: “the many murders which we have committed.” In verse 10 he reiterates that: “He hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed.”
The importance of repenting of the many murders becomes the reason that they should no more take up weapons of war in the next verses.
11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—
12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.
13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.
The conversion of King Lamoni and his father were miraculous, and we have no details of what they underwent while overcome by the Spirit. Nevertheless, those had to have been unusual experiences. King Anti-Nephi-Lehi says: “It has been all that we could do. . . to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed.” That definition expands to all who were converted. It clearly repeats the phrase “the many murders.”
That creates an interpretive problem. It might have been possible that the men had been in military actions and had killed, but what about the women and children? In war, killing occurs, but it is typically justified in some sense and not considered murder. Nevertheless, the king declares that after working so hard to repent, they must not stain their swords again with blood, “that they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God.”
Under what condition would Christ’s atonement no longer allow repentance? This answer is speculative, and depends upon placing the Book of Mormon in a Mesoamerican setting. While speculative, that setting will provide a context that will help make the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies more intelligible.
Mesoamerican peoples had a religion that included a cult of war. As part of the warfare, captives would be taken and brought back for sacrifice. Thus, war and human sacrifice were intertwined and understood through a religious interpretation and justification. Therefore, it is possible that it was the participation in this cult of war and human sacrifice that lay behind the declaration that these people had committed many murders. Upon conversion to the Nephite religion, their actions had lost their religious underpinnings, and were now seen as contrary to Jehovah’s will. Therefore, they had taken an oath to no longer participate in that cult of war, to lay down their weapons of war, and, therefore, no longer partake in that cultural enterprise.
Some sins have a stronger hold on our minds and souls than others. We understand that, in the case of addictive substances, the body can learn to overcome the addiction, but that overcoming often requires complete abstinence. That abstinence from engaging in the cult of war appears to have been the solution elected at conversion and then through command of their king, Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
14 And the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us that we might not perish; yea, and he has made these things known unto us beforehand, because he loveth our souls as well as he loveth our children; therefore, in his mercy he doth visit us by his angels, that the plan of salvation might be made known unto us as well as unto future generations.
15 Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
16 And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.
King Anti-Nephi-Lehi reiterates the mercy of God in forgiving these sins that they felt most grievous. That understanding of forgiveness is due to their belief in the coming Messiah. Nevertheless, even though the Messiah enabled the forgiveness of sins, they have had to go through the process of repentance. For them, it was not easy. It was “as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright.” Once again, the difficult sin of which they all had to repent is embodied in the metaphor of the swords. While it was their souls that were made clean, the metaphor is that their swords were made bright.
The difficulty of repentance of their actions in the cult of war meant that they should not return to weapons and actions of war. They believed that should they do so, they would have violated a covenant that they had made. If only that modern readers undertook their covenants as seriously as did the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.
Since they did not want to even be tempted to sin with their weapons, King Anti-Nephi-Lehi declared that they should “bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright.” Once again, the importance of their covenant to lay down their arms is reiterated, and now literally enacted by burying them.
17 And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.
It has been suggested that this might have been the origin of the concept of burying the hatchet as a symbol of peace. It was not. The symbolism is dramatically different. In the burying of the hatchet, the two sides symbolically buried a weapon. The Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s buried all of their weapons, with no acquiescence from their enemy that there would be peace. Burying the hatchet was a bilateral action. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies enacted a unilateral action that reinforced their covenant with God, not an agreement with an enemy.
This is also an action that resonates with Mesoamerican cultures. There was a widespread practice of burying symbolic artifacts in the earth. They were done both to commemorate beginnings and endings. In this case, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies might have seen this burial as either a beginning of a covenant, or the ending of the practice that they had worked so hard to repent of.
18 And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.
19 And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace.
These two verses finish the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehite covenant to lay down their arms. The confirmation that this was part of a covenant is underscored in verse 18: “this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives.” This was an extension of the covenant they originally entered into. The first covenant of their conversion was to lay down their weapons of war that they might be forgiven of their “many murders.” This covenant strengthened that resolve and declared that they would not take up weapons even to defend themselves against the Lamanites who were, even at that time, preparing to come to war against them.
It is important to remember that this was a covenant related to repentance, and not a declaration of pacifism. This same people will later move to the land of Zarahemla, and in a time of need will consider violating this oath so that they might assist in the protection of the Nephites. Helman will not allow them to, “lest by so doing they should lose their souls; therefore all those who had entered into this covenant were compelled to behold their brethren wad through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time” (Alma 53:15).
At the end of the section it is once again reiterated that they laid down their weapons, though in this case it is specifically that those weapons were buried. That burial only symbolically removed any temptation, for surely they knew where they had buried them should they want them again. This was a burial that offered the weapons to God as a representation of their covenant.
20 And it came to pass that their brethren, the Lamanites, made preparations for war, and came up to the land of Nephi for the purpose of destroying the king, and to place another in his stead, and also of destroying the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi out of the land.
21 Now when the people saw that they were coming against them they went out to meet them, and prostrated themselves before them to the earth, and began to call on the name of the Lord; and thus they were in this attitude when the Lamanites began to fall upon them, and began to slay them with the sword.
22 And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay a thousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God.
This part of the story should be read in two ways. The first is as a demonstration of the power of their covenant. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies kept their covenant. Even though this is often told as a story of faith, that does not accurately represent what happened. The term “faith” is most often understood from its New Testament meaning. It does not appear that often in the Old Testament. There, their concept is actually the same, but it is translated as “loyalty” or “faithfulness.” That is the type of “faith” that we see here. It is not the belief as much as it is the faithfulness to the covenant. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies made a covenant, and they kept faith with that covenant even though it led to the death of a thousand of them.
The second level of the story has to do with the political actions that surround this story and the reason it works out as it does. The first element is that the Lamanites have come “for the purpose of destroying the king, and to place another in his stead.” This is an overthrow of the government and the seating of a new king from among the Lamanite unconverted.
The next important part of the story is that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies did not resist. The combination of that description with the need to seat a new king will explain the next set of events.
23 Now when the Lamanites saw that their brethren would not flee from the sword, neither would they turn aside to the right hand or to the left, but that they would lie down and perish, and praised God even in the very act of perishing under the sword—
24 Now when the Lamanites saw this they did forbear from slaying them; and there were many whose hearts had swollen in them for those of their brethren who had fallen under the sword, for they repented of the things which they had done.
25 And it came to pass that they threw down their weapons of war, and they would not take them again, for they were stung for the murders which they had committed; and they came down even as their brethren, relying upon the mercies of those whose arms were lifted to slay them.
26 And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those who had been slain were righteous people, therefore we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved.
27 And there was not a wicked man slain among them; but there were more than a thousand brought to the knowledge of the truth; thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people.
In this part of the story, some of the Lamanites cease to kill the unarmed Anti-Nephi-Lehies. They were then also killed by the more hard-hearted of the Lamanites. The point here is to note that while there were many who had died, they were all redeemed. Those who had covenanted and kept their covenant, God would reward them. Others appeared to have become at least sympathetic, if not converted. Therefore, “we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved.” Even amidst the terrible carnage, “the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people.” Importantly, that salvation is ultimately eternal, rather than temporal.
28 Now the greatest number of those of the Lamanites who slew so many of their brethren were Amalekites and Amulonites, the greatest number of whom were after the order of the Nehors.
29 Now, among those who joined the people of the Lord, there were none who were Amalekites or Amulonites, or who were of the order of Nehor, but they were actual descendants of Laman and Lemuel.
30 And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.
These verses are most likely written by Mormon. They serve as the moral to the story. Even in the terrible circumstances, an important lesson could be learned. It is a lesson that Mormon emphasizes in other stories as well: “thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.”
For Mormon, the most dangerous enemies were not the Lamanites, but rather the apostate Nephites.
There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. The next chapter begins with Ammon speaking in the aftermath of this terrible slaughter.
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