Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 23

The events recorded in Alma 9:6Alma 9-16 took place over four or five years, about 82-78 b.c. Chapters 9-14 report the teachings of Alma and Amulek in the city of Ammonihah, and the people's responses to those teachings in the tenth year of the reign of the judges, about 82 b.c. Chapter 15 tells of Alma and Amulek leaving Ammonihah (they were "commanded to depart out of that city" [verse 1]), and going to Sidom, then to Alma's home in Zarahemla. Chapter 16 reports a war with the Lamanites, the destruction of Ammonihah, and a subsequent three-year period of peace and righteousness "in all the region round about, among all the people of the Nephites." (Alma 16:15.)

The beliefs of the people of Ammonihah were "after the order and faith of Nehor" (Alma 14:16), or "of the profession of Nehor" (Alma 15:15). Nehor was the man who introduced priestcraftamong the Nephites. (Alma 1:1-16.) He declared that "every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people." (Alma 1:3.) He taught that all people would be saved, therefore there was no need for repentance or for fear and trembling over their sins. (Alma 1:4; 15:15.) Hence, it is not surprising that Zeezrom, a follower of Nehor, challenged Amulek's explanation that God will not (cannot) save people "in their sins." (Alma 11:32-41.) It seems natural also that Zeezrom would think that Amulek, as a preacher, was really interested only in money, and therefore offered him six onties of silver if he would deny the existence of God. (Alma 11:22.)Nor is it surprising that their whole legal system was corrupted, when the "sole purpose" of the lawyers and judges was "to get gain," and "therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek." (Alma 11:20.)

Not all the people of Ammonihah were irretrievably caught up in priestcraft and other false doctrine. Amulek was converted with the help of Alma and an angel. And that there were other basically good people in the city is clear from Amulek's statement that "if it were not for the prayers of the righteous, who are now in the land, that ye would even now be visited with utter destruction." (Alma 10:22.) After the preaching of Alma and Amulek, "many of them did believe . . . and began to repent, and to search the scriptures. But the more part of them were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek." (Alma 14:1-2.) Those who believed were cast out of the city,and their wives and children were burned alive, along with their scriptures and other records. Alma and Amulek had preached that the wicked would be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone. (Alma 14:14.) In response, the people of Ammonihah were making sure that believers were the ones to so suffer. Amulek, recoiling at the scene, suggested to Alma that they exercise the power of God to save the women and children from the flames. The same idea had occurred to Alma, but he had been constrained by the Spirit. They were reluctant witnesses of a hard but essential truth: God permits the wicked to inflict suffering upon the righteous "that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day." (Alma 14:11.)This burning of innocent people is a vivid reminder that agency is critical in the plan of salvation.

Amulek wondered out loud if he and Alma would also be burned, but Alma assured him, "Our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not." (Alma 14:13.) Bound and taunted for not having power to save the believers from fire, and answering nothing, Alma and Amulek were stripped and cast into prison. There, for many days, "lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers, who were of the profession of Nehor" questioned them, mocked them, smote them, spat on them, and withheld food from them. (Alma 14:14-22.) Finally, one day the city's chief judge led a host of lawyers and teachers to the prison. The judge smote the prisoners and said: "If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words."(Alma 14:24.) Following the judge's example, "they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last." (Alma 14:25.) Alma had had enough! Putting his faith on the line, he cried: "O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance." (Alma 14:26.) Heavenly strength came. They broke their bands. The prison walls fell, killing all those inside except Alma and Amulek. The citizenry came running to learn the cause of the great noise. Rather than bringing them to believe, as they had claimed such a thing would do, the remarkable deliverance of Alma and Amulek struck them with great fear, and they fled. (Alma 14:29.) Alma and Amulek departed for Sidom, leaving the unrepentant people of Ammonihah to their inevitable end-destruction.

Repent or be spiritually damned and temporally destroyed! That was the message the angel told Alma to deliver as he commanded him to return to Ammonihah after his rejection. (Alma 8:16.) Both Alma and Amulek obeyed the commandment. (Alma 9:12, 18, 24; 10:23, 27.) But that was not the only message. They also taught gospel doctrines that establish why repentance is needed and why the warning of damnation and destruction was not an idle threat. They taught of "one Eternal God," or, in modern terminology, Godhead, consisting of "God the Father," "Christ the Son," and "the Holy Ghost." (Alma 11:26-33, 38, 44.) Amulek explained that the Son is "the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth" (11:39), or the creator of heaven and earth, and that he is also the Redeemer of the world, who would come to save his people from their sins, not in their sins. They taught of the fall of man through Adam's partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge (Alma 12:22), and of the importance of this probationary state in preparing to meet God (Alma 12:21-27). They taught "the plan of redemption"-that mankind can be redeemed from the fall and from individual sin through repentance, made possible "through the blood of the Lamb." (Alma 9:26; 11:34-42; 13:11.) As part of the plan of redemption, they taught the other first principles and ordinances of the gospel-faith, baptism, and the necessity of being "led by the Holy Spirit." (Alma 9:27; 13:28.) They taught that God holds his children strictly accountable for the light and knowledge available to them, emphasizing specifically that the people of Ammonihah, apostate Nephites, had received much light and many blessings, and that if they did not repent, it would be more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them in the day of judgment. (Alma 9:15-25; 12:9-11, 28-37.)

Alma taught plainly that our opportunities and accountabilities are not restricted to earth-life considerations. Many of God's children were "called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling." (Alma 13:3.)Those who continue to choose good in this second place, or earth life, are "ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people." (Alma 13:1.) Through faith, repentance, and righteousness, they are "sanctified, and their garments [are] washed white through the blood of the Lamb." (Alma 3:11.) "Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God." (Alma 13:12.)Alma yearned for the people of Ammonihah to receive this great blessing. (Alma 13:27-29.)

Others, who in that "first place" were on the "same standing with their brethren" (Alma 13:5),but who did not respond as fully to the truth, did not come to this earth with the same opportunities and responsibilities as their brethren. Still others chose well in "the first place," and were foreordained to important earthly opportunities, but here on earth they "reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds." (Alma 13:4.)

Into which group did the Ammonihahites fit? It seems they had come through favored lineage and had received special blessings. Evidently they chose well in the "first place" and therefore came to earth with more than ordinary responsibility. But they were rejecting their opportunities in this second place. Eventually such rejection will catch up to us. In the day of judgment "our words . . . our works . . . our thoughts" will condemn us "if we have hardened our hearts against the word" of God. (Alma 12:13-14.) A sentence of death will be passed upon the unrepentant, who will "have a bright recollection of all [their] guilt." (Alma 11:43.) That same judgment day will bring "eternal life, and salvation" to "those who believe on his name." (Alma 11:40.) Associated with the judgment is a resurrection of the body, "restored to its perfect frame" (Alma 11:44), "their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption" (Alma 11:45).

Another part of the message of Alma and Amulek was the need for prayer and humility "that [we] may not be tempted above that which [we] can bear." (Alma 13:28.)

A rather complete curriculum! God, creation, the fall, the atonement, agency, revelation, the plan of redemption, foreordination, sanctification, judgment, resurrection. And the people of Ammonihah rejected it all. The order of Nehor was more appealing to them. It required no repentance, and it permitted them-even encouraged them-to seek after riches and the honors of men. Mormon's later editorial comment applies here: "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." (Alma 24:30.)

Amulek was a resident of Ammonihah who did not live up to his potential. He said of himself: "I am also a man of no small reputation among all those who know me; yea, and behold, I have acquired much riches by the hand of my industry." (Alma 10:4; emphasis added.) Undoubtedly, that life-style contributed to his earlier insensitivity to the Spirit of the Lord. He later acknowledged, "I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heart." (Alma 10:6.)Then the angel came. And the angel's coming raises the question of what Amulek did to deserve such a blessing. Perhaps this is an example of the principle of foreordination spoken of in Alma 13. Evidently Amulek, along with the likes of Alma (Mosiah 27) and Paul (Acts 9), was a choice spirit, a "chosen vessel," who was "called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of [his] exceeding faith and good works" in the "first place," or in the premortal life. (Alma 13:3.) Such pre-earth faithfulness and foreordination may have justified his receiving an angel even though he was temporarily off course here in mortality. Amulek could have rejected the angel's message,but he chose to obey. He returned to his house, received Alma, spent "many days" being tutored by Alma and an angel (Alma 8:27; 10:10), then accompanied Alma in preaching to the people of Ammonihah. He was the second witness demanded by the Ammonihahites. (Alma 9:2, Alma 9:66.)

Amulek's decision involved much more than a preaching mission. It was also a rejection of his former life. It was, in fact, a double rejection, a reciprocal rejection-"Amulek having forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred." (Alma 15:16.) Was he rejected by his wife and childrenas well as by his friends and his father? After leaving Ammonihah and preaching at Sidom, Amulek went with Alma to Zarahemla. "Alma . . . took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord." (Alma 15:18.) There is no mention of any family being with him. If indeed the "kindred" who rejected him included his own wife and children, it is no wonder he was suffering "tribulations" and needed the strengthening influence of a loving friend. Choosing God does not ensure against pain. It may even bring pain. And sometimes, even though a person repents and is forgiven, there are inevitable, natural consequences of previous behavior that must be borne. But in God there is also power and peace. Anyone who has experienced both the world and God can empathize with Amulek. They can rejoice with him in his decision for truth, and sorrow with him in his tribulations.

Based in Zarahemla, Amulek continued as a preaching companion to Alma "throughout all the land" for the next three years. (Alma 16:12-15.) "The establishment of the church became general throughout the land," righteousness prevailed, and "the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land." (Alma 16:15-16.) Subsequently Amulek went with Alma and others (Alma 31:32) on a mission to the Zoramites, to whom he preached a powerful sermon (Alma 34) about the atonement, justice and mercy, faith and prayer, and the grave danger of procrastinating repentance. Nothing more is said about Amulek's activities. However, he is quoted later by Helaman (Hel. 5:10) and Aminadab (Hel. 5:41), and he is referred to by Moroni as one who had faith sufficient to cause prison walls to tumble. (Ether 12:13.) We are left to wonder how and with whom he spent his later years.

(Larry E. Dahl, "The Plan of Redemption-Taught and Rejected," in Kent P. Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 7: 1 Nephi to Alma 29 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 307-309.)

Marilyn Arnold on the companionship of Alma and Amulek:

We remember that Alma met stiff resistance when he attempted to teach the gospel in Ammonihah. The people there "withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city" (Alma 8:13). Half-starved, Alma heads toward the city of Aaron. An angel intercepts him, but does the angel give him sympathy and relieve him of his duty? Not on your life. In fact, the angel's first words are hardly the words a man who has just been spit upon and reviled would expect or hope to hear. The angel says, "Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice" (Alma 8:15). Then the angel delivers a disheartening commission: Alma is told to return to Ammonihah. At first blush, the angel may seem a bit unfeeling, but he is most certainly looking out for Alma. The angel visits Amulek in Ammonihah and instructs him to care for a holy prophet who will ask him "for something to eat" (Alma 8:19-20), and Amulek does.

Alma "tarrie[s] many days with Amulek," so long, in fact, that the Lord has to nudge him to get on with his preaching (Alma 8:29Alma 8:27-29). Amulek goes with him, willingly suffering whatever fate awaits his new friend. The bond of mutual belief has strengthened both men, spiritually and physically, and they set out "filled with the Holy Ghost" and endowed with heavenly power (Alma 8:30-31). Alma and Amulek together suffer imprisonment and torture, but of the two, Amulek makes the greater sacrifice for his faith. Whatever Alma endures in preaching the word, he still has friends and family and home to return to. Not so Amulek. He has "forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred" (Alma 15:16). Amulek has given up everything that he had valued before Alma came-home and wealth, yes, but more devastating still, family and friends.

It is appropriate that the narrative comes full circle. Alma takes a spent and broken-hearted Amulek home with him to Zarahemla, "to his own house," where he "did administer to him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord" (Alma 15:18). Alma returns the care and devotion that Amulek had once rendered him.

(Marilyn Arnold, "The Turning of Hearts in the Book of Mormon," in Susette Fletcher Green, Dawn Hall Anderson, and Dlora Hall Dalton, eds., Hearts Knit Together: Talks from the 1995 Women's Conference [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 186 - 187.)

John Welch on Alma's sermon in Alma 12:

Third, it gives us a rare opportunity to see one of the most fertile minds and sensitive spirits among the Book of Mormon prophets at work on a passage of ancient scripture. Where other Jewish and Christian interpreters have seen only remote abstractions, precedents, or shadows, Alma brings forth powerful lessons on humility, repentance, priesthood, ordinances, and revelation.

Alma's sermon in chapters 12 and 13 teaches the principle that God will provide men access to certain mysteries of God (Alma 12:9-11). The first verse of this sermon sets the theme for the entire discourse. Alma says that many know these mysteries as priests (Alma 13:1), but they are laid under a strict condition of secrecy (Alma 12:9) that can be lifted only by the diligence and repentance of the children of men (Alma 12:9-11; 13:18; cf. Alma 26:22). The plan provides all mankind a chance to know the mysteries in full (Alma 12:10), by humility (Alma 12:10-11; 13:13-14) and through the ministrations of properly ordained priests (Alma 13:16; cf. Mosiah 2:9; Alma 26:22).

The substantive portion of the sermon (Alma 12:12-27) describes the judgment of God and tells how man can avert a second death through obedience to a new set of commandments. According to Alma's exposition, the fall of mankind was prefigured by Adam violating a first set of commandments (Alma 12:22); thus men must die in order to come to judgment (Alma 12:24). Messengers (i.e., "angels," Alma 12:29) were then sent, and God conversed with men, making known the plan of mercy through the Son (Alma 12:29). Man was then given a second set of commandments (Alma 12:32) accompanied by an oath that whoever broke those commandments should not enter into the rest or presence of the Lord (Alma 12:35) but would die the ultimate or last death (Alma 12:36).

Following this introductory explanation, Alma expounds upon the Nephite procedure through which the ordinances of the priesthood were received (see Alma 13:16) and how men might choose between obeying the Lord's commandments and thereby "enter[ing] into the rest of the Lord" (Alma 13:16), or rebelliously disobeying him and suffering death. The Nephite ordination was a symbolic ritual, since it was performed "in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption" (Alma 13:2). That manner is discussed by Alma only in veiled terms.Candidates were "called and prepared from the foundation of the world" (Alma 13:3) with a "holy calling" (Alma 13:3, 5, 8).This calling was according to a "preparatory redemption" from before the creation of the world (Alma 13:3), and it was patterned after, in, and through the preparation of the Son (Alma 13:5). Then they were "ordained with a holy ordinance" (Alma 13:8), "taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order" (Alma 13:6, 8-9). Thereby the candidates became "high priests forever, after the order of the Son" (Alma 13:9). Following these preparations, and after making a choice to work righteousness rather than to perish (Alma 13:10), the candidate was sanctified by the Holy Ghost, his garments were washed white, and he "entered into the rest of the Lord" (Alma 13:12).

(John W. Welch, "The Melchizedek Material in Alma 13:13-19," in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 2 vols. [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990], 2: 239.)

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