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Persecution of Believers
1 And now it came to pass that the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers became so great that the church began to murmur, and complain to their leaders concerning the matter; and they did complain to Alma. And Alma laid the case before their king, Mosiah. And Mosiah consulted with his priests.
2 And it came to pass that king Mosiah sent a proclamation throughout the land round about that there should not any unbeliever persecute any of those who belonged to the church of God.
The divisiveness within Zarahemla increased to the point of conflict. The conflict was in the form of persecution. The previous story Mormon included told of the division that Mosiah2 made between decisions involving the state and those involving the church. Where the issues were internal to the church, Alma1 was the one to resolve them.
That division meant that there was an even larger divide among the people. There was no pretense at religious unity, and those who were not of the church were increasing in numbers and becoming more open about their dislike of those in the church. Mormon tells the story only in terms of church and non-church, but the nature of the Zarahemla society and future events strongly suggest that there is an implicit division between those who came from the land of Nephi and those who had already been in the land of Zarahemla. Both this religious divide, and the future issues over kingship, are most logically to have generally followed that Nephite and Zarahemlaite division.
Because this was no longer internal to the church, but an issue that affected the whole community with its potential to divide, it became an issue for King Mosiah2. Mosiah2 therefore declares that there should be no persecution. While this certainly protected the church believers, it also served as an attempt to remove an issue that could increase the divisions among Mosiah2’s people.
3 And there was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be an equality among all men;
4 That they should let no pride nor haughtiness disturb their peace; that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.
5 Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God.
6 And there began to be much peace again in the land; and the people began to be very numerous, and began to scatter abroad upon the face of the earth, yea, on the north and on the south, on the east and on the west, building large cities and villages in all quarters of the land.
7 And the Lord did visit them and prosper them, and they became a large and wealthy people.
Mormon closes this story and sets up the next. As has been noted previously, when Mormon concludes with a positive or even glowing description, it is typically a setup for the problems that will come later. That is what we will see with verses 6 and 7. The result of Mosiah2’s actions are to settle the conflict and to have peace in the land. They therefore prosper.
It is important to understand that while prospering and becoming a large and wealthy people were good, it was a good derived from living the essential Nephite principles. In verses 3, 4 and 5, Mormon reiterates the Nephite principle of equality. Specifically, “every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.” This was true for priests and teachers as well. Even though this principle was prominent in King Benjamin’s speech, and this picture is painted for Benjamin’s son, Mosiah2, it is a principle with which Mormon himself was familiar at the end of the Nephite nation. It is an important underlying theme throughout the Book of Mormon.
Alma1 and the Sons of Mosiah2 are Converted
8 Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.
9 And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.
This is the story that Mormon was setting up in order to contrast it with the time of peace and prosperity. That internal peace is disrupted, and not simply by descendants of Zarahemla, but more importantly by the sons of the king and the high priest. The most important men in the society, with the exception only of their fathers, these sons had tremendous influence. They used their influence to lead many away from righteous principles and away from the covenants of the church. Note the final line of verse 9: “giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.” This is the negative aspect of the promise of the land. They were prosperous if they were righteous. Now that they were being drawn away from righteousness, the door was opened for a cursing upon the people.
How was it that such important sons might rebel? Had they not been taught by the best of fathers and mothers? Mormon is telling us that there were other factors at play. When the Nephites became prosperous, one of the unstated reasons and results was that there were more connections made with cities outside of the Zarahemla hegemony. Those cities were not believers but were probably representative of at least as much prosperity as the Nephites, and perhaps they were even more prosperous than them. In other words, living in a tempting world affected these sons. As prominent sons, they were in a position to benefit from the external connections, and perhaps were affected by them more strongly than others for that reason.
Parents have a responsibility to teach. Parents may honestly do their best to fulfill that responsibility. Nevertheless, agency allows children access to the ideas and temptations of the world, and can make that choice themselves, in spite of the earnest desires of their parents. The story of the rebellion of the sons of Mosiah2 and Alma2 the younger will have a happy reconciliation with their father’s hopes and teachings, but other equally faithful parents will not see that end. For that reason, hope does not end with this life.
10 And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king—
11 And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;
12 And so great was their astonishment, that they fell to the earth, and understood not the words which he spake unto them.
The previous verses introduced readers to Alma2 the younger as well as the sons of Mosiah2. The fact that Alma2 was identified by name, but the sons of Mosiah2 remained generic, signified that this story is about Alma2. That story begins in earnest in these verses.
Alma2 and the sons of Mosiah2 are traveling together and are involved in some form of action that Mormon suggests is seeking to destroy the church. Since we have the word church here, it is probable that they are attempting to return to the earlier way of life, prior to Alma1 the elder’s establishment of churches.
Prescient of what would happen to Saul on the road to Damascus, an angel appears to the brothers. The actual conditions differ in the physical surroundings. There is a voice of thunder and a shaking of the earth. There are more references to Yahweh as a God of the earth in the Book of Mormon than remain in the Bible, and the voice of thunder and shaking of the earth are designed to tell Alma2 and the sons of Mosiah2 that the angel really is appearing with Yahweh’s authority. The experience overwhelms them, and all fall to the ground.
13 Nevertheless he cried again, saying: Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people.
14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.
15 And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
This is Alma2’s story, and it begins with him and the sons of Mosiah2 on the ground. Then the angel calls Alma2 to stand. He may have fallen to the ground in fear, but being called to stand before an angel of God and be personally chastised would have made it hard to stand at all.
Alma2 is told that the prayers of many, including his father, have led to this intervention. The angel states that he comes with power and authority of God. When the angel also asks “can ye dispute the power of God?”, it is certain that Alma2 could not, and almost certain that he could not have spoken to say so.
This event is both hopeful and frustrating for parents who have children who do not follow the path the parents have taught. Surely these parents, too, pray for their children. There are times when the prayers do seem to have the ultimate effect of changing the children’s hearts even though not as dramatically as with Alma2. However, many parents continue to fervently pray, and no similar change is forthcoming. Yet. We do not know the Lord’s timing, and must continue to have faith that his hand is over all.
16 Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.
17 And now it came to pass that these were the last words which the angel spake unto Alma, and he departed.
The message of the angel began with asking why Alma2 persecuted the church. The angel noted that the church was truly Yahweh’s church. That meant that fighting against the church was fighting directly against Yahweh.
Now the angel admonishes Alma2 to remember his father’s experience of bondage in the land of Helam. Yahweh freed the people. By implication, Alma2 is also under a form of bondage. He is also captive of spiritual Lamanites, rather than physical ones, but the effect is the same. He is to remember the deliverance from Helam because it can presage his own deliverance from spiritual bondage through Yahweh’s mercy and power.
18 And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.
19 And now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father.
20 And they rehearsed unto his father all that had happened unto them; and his father rejoiced, for he knew that it was the power of God.
It is hardly surprising that at the end of this divine chastisement, all fall again to the earth. It was an overwhelming experience. Note that the idea of the voice of thunder and the shaking of the earth are repeated. Those were not incidental parts of the experience, but significant signs of the divine power that was present.
The result of the experience is that Alma2 becomes temporarily unable to speak. He is unable to walk or even move his hands. Therefore, he is taken to his father. Alma1 the elder recognizes the hand of God. Even facing a weakened son, he rejoiced because he understood that his son was in the throes of a spiritual transformation.
21 And he caused that a multitude should be gathered together that they might witness what the Lord had done for his son, and also for those that were with him.
22 And he caused that the priests should assemble themselves together; and they began to fast, and to pray to the Lord their God that he would open the mouth of Alma, that he might speak, and also that his limbs might receive their strength—that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.
23 And it came to pass after they had fasted and prayed for the space of two days and two nights, the limbs of Alma received their strength, and he stood up and began to speak unto them, bidding them to be of good comfort:
Alma1 recognized what happened to his son, and doubtless knew that his son would recover. He presents his son to the multitude so that there would be a larger witness to what was happening. Alma2 had attempted to lead the people astray, and the people needed to see the result. There needed to be an equivalent public demonstration of the change.
Thus, many pray for him, and Alma2 recovered and stood to speak.
In Alma 36:16 we will learn that Alma2 was wrapped up in the spirit for three days and three nights, but here it says only two days and two nights. John W. Welch noted that this difference was probably due to the fact that the priests fasted. The fasting had to begin in the morning of the next day. Hence, there were three days and three nights for Alma2, but two days and two nights for the fasting priests.
Alma1 Awakens as Born of God
24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
27 I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off.
28 Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.
Alma2 testifies that he has not only repented but has been changed. When King Benjamin gave his people a new covenant, he noted that they had become children of God because “this day he hath spiritually begotten you” (Mosiah 5:7). Alma2 has a personal, and more intense, experience with that transformation. He also says that he has been born of God. He declares that all must similarly become born of God, must be redeemed of God, and all must become his sons and daughters.
Alma2 is reiterating the covenant Benjamin made. As Mormon began this part of the story he had indicated that “there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of King Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people” (Mosiah 26:1). Now, at the close, Alma2 reiterates Benjamin’s covenant. Those who might have been too young were now Alma2’s peers, and Alma2 declared the essentiality of that very covenant.
29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.
30 I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.
31 Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God; then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye.
These verses close Alma2’s public discourse. After declaring that he had been born of God (and that all must), he returns to his personal experience. He was in need of personal forgiveness and redemption. It is important for our understanding of Nephite religion that Alma1 specifically notes that he has “rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers.” This is his declaration that he had not believed in the coming Messiah. He had rejected the teachings of Abinadi that Alma1 had not only accepted, but which had transformed his life. One can only imagine the sorrow Alma1 felt to see his son reject the very thing that had been so important in Alma1’s life.
That is now in the past, however, Alma2 has also been transformed, and bears testimony of that Redeemer. Note that he speaks of every knee bowing, without changing the subject. Alma2 is declaring that the Redeemer who was spoken of by the fathers is the very Yahweh who will judge the world.
32 And now it came to pass that Alma began from this time forward to teach the people, and those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them, traveling round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them.
33 But notwithstanding all this, they did impart much consolation to the church, confirming their faith, and exhorting them with long-suffering and much travail to keep the commandments of God.
Alma2 begins to undo the damage that he and his companions had perpetrated. They travel through the land preaching according to their new understanding. This is the concluding statement for Alma2’s story. The next major story will revolve around the sons of Mosiah2. Although they have not yet been important in this conversion story, their story is coming.
At the end of Alma2’s story, they are simply “those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them.” That changes in the next verses.
34 And four of them were the sons of Mosiah; and their names were Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni; these were the names of the sons of Mosiah.
35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.
36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.
37 And how blessed are they! For they did publish peace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth.
These verses end Mormon’s original chapter XI, which covered our current chapters 23–27. Mormon began with the story of Alma1 the elder in Helam, speaks of the creation of churches, and now the conversion of Alma2 the younger and the sons of Mosiah2. The next chapters will deal with more political issues.
Important to those issues are the sons of Mosiah2, and therefore, they are named in verse 34. They were obliquely included in the end of Alma2’s story of preaching, and this information is essentially repeated here. The sons of Mosiah2 also travel through the land of Zarahemla preaching repentance. The repetition is needed precisely because they were unnamed before. They are named now, and listed separately, because they become the focus of the next major story, told in the next chapter.
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