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1 And it came to pass that Amulon did gain favor in the eyes of the king of the Lamanites; therefore, the king of the Lamanites granted unto him and his brethren that they should be appointed teachers over his people, yea, even over the people who were in the land of Shemlon, and in the land of Shilom, and in the land of Amulon.
2 For the Lamanites had taken possession of all these lands; therefore, the king of the Lamanites had appointed kings over all these lands.
3 And now the name of the king of the Lamanites was Laman, being called after the name of his father; and therefore he was called king Laman. And he was king over a numerous people.
There was no chapter break at this point in 1830, thus we have the story of Amulon continuing after his introduction at the end of the previous chapter. After telling the story of the women defending their husbands, the Lamanites accept the former priests into their society. Amulon was apparently the leader, since he had their land named after him. He and the other priests are appointed as teachers.
These verses give us a little glimpse of Lamanite culture, which will become more evident later in the story of the sons of Mosiah2 and their missionary journey. The king of the Lamanites has inherited his position from his father. Both are named Laman, but we cannot know if that is a personal name or a throne name. In any case, the Lamanite system set up the governance of other lands with local kings who were nevertheless beholden to the main king. This is a type of governmental system that is attested among the Classic Maya, based upon their carved texts.
4 And he appointed teachers of the brethren of Amulon in every land which was possessed by his people; and thus the language of Nephi began to be taught among all the people of the Lamanites.
5 And they were a people friendly one with another; nevertheless they knew not God; neither did the brethren of Amulon teach them anything concerning the Lord their God, neither the law of Moses; nor did they teach them the words of Abinadi;
6 But they taught them that they should keep their record, and that they might write one to another.
7 And thus the Lamanites began to increase in riches, and began to trade one with another and wax great, and began to be a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea, a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren.
The former priests of Noah were educated men, and they certainly could read. In antiquity, reading and writing were separate skills, but they clearly wrote. Mormon has them teaching the Nephite language and the ability to read and write to the Lamanites. While it is true that not all peoples in Mesoamerica had a written language, it would be surprising if the Lamanites in the region, suspected to be the land of Nephi, would not have already understood how to read and write. Mormon is indulging in a little ethnocentrism and having the Nephites become the cause of the better aspects of Lamanite culture. While likely not historical, it is certainly a technique that fits comfortably into ancient historical writing.
We also see that the Lamanites continue to fit the basic Nephite stereotyping of the Lamanites. They “began to be a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea, a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder.”
The Lord Delivers Alma1’s People
8 And now it came to pass that Amulon began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children.
9 For Amulon knew Alma, that he had been one of the king’s priests, and that it was he that believed the words of Abinadi and was driven out before the king, and therefore he was wroth with him; for he was subject to king Laman, yet he exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them.
10 And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.
There is no enemy quite like one who was once a brother. Alma1 had been one of the priests of Noah, together with Amulon. Amulon now has the power of a Lamanite king behind him, and certainly harbored animosity toward Alma1, likely for multiple reasons. That animosity led to persecution.
Mormon tells the tale of two peoples who were Nephites among the Lamanites; the people of Limhi and the people of Alma1. Both were peoples who were under Lamanite control and both were forced to provide the Lamanites benefits from their labors. Although they were similar, Mormon highlights the differences.
Limhi’s people decided to attempt a military solution but failed three times. Only after great tribulations did they remember their God and become sufficiently repentant that they could have God hear and respond to their prayers. Alma1’s people, finding themselves in similar difficult circumstances, turn immediately to prayer.
11 And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.
12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.
13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
Amulon is so determined to punish Alma1’s people that he forbids their prayers. Rather than stop, however, they simply say them silently. Ancient societies were more communal, and certainly more oral than modern cultures. For those who could read, it was typically reading out loud. It was rare to have someone who could read silently. Thus, the idea that they could not pray vocally would have appeared to put a stop to prayer.
The importance of this verse for the ancient world is lost on modern readers who assume that prayer can be silent. For Alma1’s people, it was second best, but they were still able to pour out their hearts to God.
Yahweh answered their prayers, promising that they would be delivered. What is important in the response is that it was not immediate. The promise was given, but it took time. Once again, agency is involved. While the right time was yet to come, Yahweh assisted Alma1’s people by making them stronger so that their burdens were not as dire.
For a great many modern readers, we have the same problem of waiting for needed help, even when promised. We too can take heart in knowing that we can be strengthened to be able to better bear our burdens until such time as they can be removed.
15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.
The word of the Lord was fulfilled. The burdens were made light. They were light due to increased strength to bear them rather than a physical change in the burdens themselves. The faith of Alma1’s people was sufficient that Yahweh could save them. After an unknown amount of time had passed, the Lord declares that they will be delivered on the next day.
17 And he said unto Alma: Thou shalt go before this people, and I will go with thee and deliver this people out of bondage.
18 Now it came to pass that Alma and his people in the night-time gathered their flocks together, and also of their grain; yea, even all the night-time were they gathering their flocks together.
19 And in the morning the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites, yea, and all their task-masters were in a profound sleep.
20 And Alma and his people departed into the wilderness; and when they had traveled all day they pitched their tents in a valley, and they called the valley Alma, because he led their way in the wilderness.
Limhi’s people gathered their flocs and herds and fled past drunken guards. Alma1’s people experience a more direct miracle. They also gathered their flocks and herds, but they escaped past sleeping Lamanites who were not awakened by the noise that so many people and animals surely created.
Perhaps Mormon is suggesting that their greater faithfulness permitted a greater miracle on their behalf.
21 Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God.
22 And they gave thanks to God, yea, all their men and all their women and all their children that could speak lifted their voices in the praises of their God.
23 And now the Lord said unto Alma: Haste thee and get thou and this people out of this land, for the Lamanites have awakened and do pursue thee; therefore get thee out of this land, and I will stop the Lamanites in this valley that they come no further in pursuit of this people.
24 And it came to pass that they departed out of the valley, and took their journey into the wilderness.
25 And after they had been in the wilderness twelve days they arrived in the land of Zarahemla; and king Mosiah did also receive them with joy.
The first thing the people do when they know that they have successfully escaped is to thank God in prayer. Too often we are the recipients of divine aid and fail to recognize the source of our blessing. They did not fail to recognize the hand of God.
The people continue through the wilderness until they come to Zarahemla.
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