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Episode 852: Alma 8:1–2
1 And now it came to pass that Alma returned from the land of Gideon, after having taught the people of Gideon many things which cannot be written, having established the order of the church, according as he had before done in the land of Zarahemla, yea, he returned to his own house at Zarahemla to rest himself from the labors which he had performed.
2 And thus ended the ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
Mormon finished quoting the sermon that Alma delivered to the people in Gideon. He moves to the next sermon he wants to include, but he needs to set up the story and, therefore, he returns to narration. In this section of the Book of Mormon, the current chapters follow the boundaries of the original chapters. That is helpful because it helps us understand how Mormon is using his source. Chapter 6 was Mormon’s narrative interlude that finished the story of preaching in Zarahemla and going to Gideon to preach. Chapter 7 was the quoted sermon. Now, in Chapter 8 we have the narrative history that will set up the sermon that begins in Chapter 9.
One of the features of the times, that Mormon uses the large plates as a source, is the marking of the years. In this case, however, it is possible that the marking of the years was also on Alma’s personal record. Alma was the one who introduced that system and mentality to the large plates, and it wouldn’t be surprising to find that he also used it in his personal record.
Episode 853: Alma 8:3–6
3 And it came to pass in the commencement of the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, that Alma departed from thence and took his journey over into the land of Melek, on the west of the river Sidon, on the west by the borders of the wilderness.
4 And he began to teach the people in the land of Melek according to the holy order of God, by which he had been called; and he began to teach the people throughout all the land of Melek.
5 And it came to pass that the people came to him throughout all the borders of the land which was by the wilderness side. And they were baptized throughout all the land;
6 So that when he had finished his work at Melek he departed thence, and traveled three days’ journey on the north of the land of Melek; and he came to a city which was called Ammonihah.
These four verses provide all the information that we have about Alma’s preaching in the land of Melek. We do not know why Mormon did not include the quoted sermon. Perhaps it had no significantly new information. The only information we have is that he taught, and many were baptized.
From Melek, Alma journeys to Ammonihah. In Ammonihah we will have a mixture of quotation and narration, because it was an important incident and example. Mormon will spend longer on the events of Ammonihah than on any of the other sermons.
Episode 854: Alma 8:7
7 Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah.
This comment is Mormon’s insertion in his intended text. It is short enough that it is easy to see the brackets for the repetitive resumption. In verse 6, Alma “came to a city which was called Ammonihah.” Then in verse 8, Mormon wrote: “Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah.” As with other cases of repetitive resumption (see comments on 1 Nephi 6:1–6), the material in between the repeated lines is a departure from the original.
That tells us that Mormon thought that it was somehow important to let his readers know that the name Ammonihah was related to the first ruler of the city. Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us why it was important. Work on names in the Book of Mormon strongly indicates that many names have meanings for the text. Given the nature of the story, we might expect that this name would have an unfavorable connotation. However, the obvious root name is Ammon, and everything Mormon has said about anyone named Ammon has been good.
As a suggestion, perhaps Mormon is saying that Ammonihah began as a righteous Nephite city, but has become apostate. The name would suggest that origin, but the rest of the story will demonstrate their apostate nature.
Episode 855: Alma 8:8–10
8 And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them.
9 Now Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah; therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma.
10 Nevertheless Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.
Mormon sets up the conflict that will play out in the next several chapters. Alma came to preach the word of God, but “Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah.” Thus, the essential dichotomy is established. This is a story of the conflict between Good and Evil, but demonstrated on a very human scale in a very human and understandable context.
We see that Alma “labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer.” Reading that, a reader might understandably expect that a clearly righteous leader, one who had been dramatically saved through God’s direct intervention, might prevail through mighty prayer and succeed.
That will not be the case.
Episode 856: Alma 8:11–13
11 Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts, saying unto him: Behold, we know that thou art Alma; and we know that thou art high priest over the church which thou hast established in many parts of the land, according to your tradition; and we are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions.
12 And now we know that because we are not of thy church we know that thou hast no power over us; and thou hast delivered up the judgment-seat unto Nephihah; therefore thou art not the chief judge over us.
13 Now when the people had said this, and withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city, he departed thence and took his journey towards the city which was called Aaron.
Instead of the power of Alma’s prayers turning the hearts of the people of Ammonihah to God, they clearly remain in their current state. In addition, they declare that they have no reason to listen to Alma. Since Alma gave up the judgment seat, he has no political authority. As they declare that “we are not of thy church,” he has no religious authority over them.
This question of authority to preach will be subtly reinforced later in this event. Alma will preach with Amulek, and, thus, there will be two witnesses as required by the law of Moses. While Mormon will not make that law of witnesses completely obvious, he sets it up by making certain to include the problem of why Alma would have authority to preach by including these statements from the people of Ammonihah.
Episode 857: Alma 8:14–17
14 And it came to pass that while he was journeying thither, being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, it came to pass while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto him, saying:
15 Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you.
16 And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city; yea, preach unto them. Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them.
17 For behold, they do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people, (for thus saith the Lord) which is contrary to the statutes, and judgments, and commandments which he has given unto his people.
After attempting to preach in Ammonihah, Alma turns away, “being weighed down with sorrow.” In that state, an angel appears to him telling him that even though he felt as though he failed in Ammonihah, he yet had “great cause to rejoice.” The divine messenger indicates that it was he who had also appeared to Alma while he was on a very different road for a very different purpose. That appearance altered Alma’s life, and now that messenger tells Alma that it has been successful.
Alma is called to return to Ammonihah and declare that unless they repent, they will be destroyed.
Alma’s father, Alma the elder, was converted by a prophet who had attempted to preach, but was rejected by the people of Lehi-Nephi. The Lord told that prophet, Abinadi, to return and preach. It was not specified that Abinadi preach destruction, but he did prophecy the coming death of King Noah, and the bondage of the people.
There is therefore a subtle subtext to the story of Alma the younger in Ammonihah. Abinadi’s similar rejection and divine call to return converted his father. Perhaps that is the message for Alma the younger, that he might not change the prophesied course, but that he would make important converts.
Episode 858: Alma 8:18–21
18 Now it came to pass that after Alma had received his message from the angel of the Lord he returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah. And he entered the city by another way, yea, by the way which is on the south of the city of Ammonihah.
19 And as he entered the city he was an hungered, and he said to a man: Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat?
20 And the man said unto him: I am a Nephite, and I know that thou art a holy prophet of God, for thou art the man whom an angel said in a vision: Thou shalt receive. Therefore, go with me into my house and I will impart unto thee of my food; and I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house.
21 And it came to pass that the man received him into his house; and the man was called Amulek; and he brought forth bread and meat and set before Alma.
Alma is commanded to return to a city that had flatly rejected him. It would be understandable if he traveled reluctantly, or, with measured assurance. Instead, Alma “returned speedily.” Understanding without question that the command had come from God, Alma went quickly to fulfill the Lord’s command.
The next three verses introduce us to Amulek. Alma enters the hostile city and we understand that Jehovah guided him to the particular person that Alma needed to meet. The laws of hospitality would require that anyone would give something to eat of anyone who asked. However, that was also one of the Nephite principles that was among the first to be abandoned in the forms of Nephite apostasy.
When asked for hospitality, Amulek responds: “I am a Nephite.” Why? This was Amulek’s declaration that he did believe in the religion of the Nephites as opposed to the more dominant Order of the Nehors present in Ammonihah. We will learn that Amulek has not always been a faithful Nephite, but at this moment he is, and has received a vision letting him know that he would meet a prophet of God and should take him under his care.
Amulek’s name is interesting. It clearly shows the mlk root with means “king” in Hebrew, and which frequently appears in the names of Nephite apostates who want to return to a monarchy. In this case, it perhaps signals that Amulek was not always a faithful, believing Nephite. The name hints at the past. Amulek’s story also declares that repentance is possible, and that the gospel can transform a person. Thus, Amulek becomes a powerful preacher, next to another repentant former apostate, Alma the younger.
Episode 859: Alma 8:22–27
22 And it came to pass that Alma ate bread and was filled; and he blessed Amulek and his house, and he gave thanks unto God.
23 And after he had eaten and was filled he said unto Amulek: I am Alma, and am the high priest over the church of God throughout the land.
24 And behold, I have been called to preach the word of God among all this people, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy; and I was in this land and they would not receive me, but they cast me out and I was about to set my back towards this land forever.
25 But behold, I have been commanded that I should turn again and prophesy unto this people, yea, and to testify against them concerning their iniquities.
26 And now, Amulek, because thou hast fed me and taken me in, thou art blessed; for I was an hungered, for I had fasted many days.
27 And Alma tarried many days with Amulek before he began to preach unto the people.
In the current chapter, Mormon mixes narration and quotation. Verses 23–26 are quoted, where verses 22 and 27 are Mormon’s narration. Mormon could easily have narrated the information we learn in verses 23–26, but, instead, quotes them to bring the reader more closely into the story. The more we read the quoted material, the more we are interacting with Alma himself, rather than through Mormon as the mediator.
Alma declares to the whole gathered family that he is the high priest over the church. With Amulek’s declaration that he is a Nephite, the family would accept Alma as a dignitary, quite the contrast to the reception that Alma had with the general public.
Episode 860: Alma 8:28–32
28 And it came to pass that the people did wax more gross in their iniquities.
29 And the word came to Alma, saying: Go; and also say unto my servant Amulek, go forth and prophesy unto this people, saying—Repent ye, for thus saith the Lord, except ye repent I will visit this people in mine anger; yea, and I will not turn my fierce anger away.
30 And Alma went forth, and also Amulek, among the people, to declare the words of God unto them; and they were filled with the Holy Ghost.
31 And they had power given unto them, insomuch that they could not be confined in dungeons; neither was it possible that any man could slay them; nevertheless they did not exercise their power until they were bound in bands and cast into prison. Now, this was done that the Lord might show forth his power in them.
32 And it came to pass that they went forth and began to preach and to prophesy unto the people, according to the spirit and power which the Lord had given them.
The setup for the sermons is almost complete. What remains is the command to begin to preach. The command to preach repentance or coming destruction is reiterated. It is also commanded that Amulek go with him. The Lord, therefore, provides Alma with the second witness that will be needed to provide divine justice upon a people should they not repent.
Mormon gives away some of the ending of the story by indicating that while Alma and Amulek might be imprisoned, they could not be confined nor slain. Those events will be discussed before Mormon finishes with the story of Ammonihah.
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