I can’t help but noticing that Mormon devotes a very short chapter in Chapter 7 to Alma’s sermon to the righteous people of Gideon, but lingers on for eight chapters in order to describe Alma’s encounter with the people of Ammonihah, definitely among the worst people described in the Book of Mormon. The challenges Alma faces in Ammonihah, seems to draw from Alma religious and spiritual insights not previously seen as he struggles to bring these stubborn people into repentance. While Alma has partial success, helping to bring notably Amulek and Zeezrom along with others who aren’t named. However, the majority not only rebel, they rebel with unspeakable violence.
The story begins early in the tenth year of the reign of judges (Alma 8:3). From the beginning, but throughout the narrative, we get a sense of Alma’s anguish:
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.
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,
And now, my brethren, I awish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great banxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not cprocrastinate the day of your repentance;Alma 8:10, 14, 13:27
His first attempt doesn’t go well, the people of Ammonihah don’t respect his authority, reject his message, spit on him and cast him out of the city. He was about to give up and move on but instead an angel tells him to return. Which he does, speedily, by another way and immediately meets Amulek, who had been prepared for this meeting through an Angelic intervention.
The People of Ammonihah Response
Reject Alma’s Authority – Twice
“And now we know that because we are not of thy church we know that thou hast no power over us;”
“Who art thou? Suppose ye that we shall believe the testimony of aone man,”Alma 8:12, 9:2
Reject Alma’s Traditions
” 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.Alma 8:11
Insulted at Alma’s harsh words
Now it came to pass that when I, Alma, had spoken these words, behold, the people were wroth with me because I said unto them that they were a hard-hearted and a astiffnecked people. And also because I said unto them that they were a lost and a fallen people they were angry with me, and sought to lay their hands upon me, that they might cast me into prison.Alma 9:31-32
Shocked at Amulek’s Witness
And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was amore than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them.Alma 10:12
Tried to bait them into committing false witness
Alma’s Strategies to Convert
An appeal to a shared tradition embedded deep in their shared family history
And have ye forgotten so soon how many times he adelivered our fathers out of the hands of their enemies, and preserved them from being destroyed, even by the hands of their own brethren?Alma 9:10
An appeal to a deep sense of vulnerability – their very survival hangs in the balance
But behold, this is not all—he has commanded you to repent, or he will utterly adestroy you from off the face of the earth; yea, he will visit you in his banger, and in his cfierce anger he will not turn away.Alma 9:12
This messaging doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t think God works this way. I don’t resonate with an angry God that exacts revenge. I prefer to see this differently. They were outnumbered, surrounded by the Lamanites who hold a centuries long grudge against them. They were a people surviving in the wilderness. They’ve built cities and have prospered, life on this planet is tenable at best, especially then. They needed deep societal commitments and care to survive and prosper. Ammonihah’s individualism left them vulnerable.
I think the numbers game helps make Alma 9:13-23 work for me. Over the history of the Book of Mormon, many Nephites desert and join with the Lamanites, thereby receiving the same fate described in these verses.
For there are many promises which are aextended to the Lamanites; for it is because of the btraditions of their fathers that caused them to remain in their state of cignorance; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them and dprolong their existence in the land.Alma 9:16
But to keep a covenant community in place within this environment without the benefit of modern technology required constant vigilence.
For behold, the apromises of the Lord are extended to the Lamanites, but they are not unto you if ye transgress; for has not the Lord expressly promised and firmly decreed, that if ye will rebel against him that ye shall butterly be destroyed from off the face of the earth?Alma 9:24
An appeal to prophecy
“And anot many days hence the Son of God shall come in his bglory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of cgrace, equity, and truth, full of patience, dmercy, and long-suffering, quick to ehear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers.Alma 9:26
Alma responds to Zeezrom good faith question with deep theology – Accountability
For our awords will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the bmountains to fall upon us to chide us from his presence.Alma 12:14
At some point we need to be honest with ourselves, our words, our thoughts, our intentions, our desires. We need to face who we are at a deep level. We can surrender into the loving, goodness of God and experience redemption through grace, or we can persist in our self-deceit, pretending we are more than what we are, and in our damaged, self-deceptive state, leave a wake of hurt and damage in our path.
Zeezrom is forced to reckon with himself whereas everyone else doubles and triples down in a violent and hateful response.
Then is the time when their torments shall be as a alake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will.Alma 12: 17
These words are later used against Alma and Amulek as they invoke a literal hell on earth by burning women and children in a fire, forcing them to watch.
Alma responds to Antionah’s bad faith question with deep theology
Alma describes the fall of Adam, and the reasons why we find ourselves in this fallen world.
And we see that adeath comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto bman in which he might repent; therefore this life became a cprobationary state; a time to dprepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.Alma 12:24
I struggle a bit with Alma’s pat, easy answers throughout these chapters. Describing this life as a test, that we’re on “probation” until we can prove ourself worthy of returning home with God, does not resonate. I’m wondering if this is why he has a more difficult time than he should have otherwise because of this. I’m wondering if the message in Alma 5 would have worked better? But I like this better:
The call really is simple. A step into grace through commiting to a life of repentance and humility (a soft heart), dedicating our life in Christ, retaining a remission of sins, finding rest in a troubled, at times difficult world.
The Priesthood – Eternal and Holy
Now they were aordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or endAlma 13:8
Melchizedek through his role as high priest did establish peace in the land as Alma is striving to do.
Amulek’s Strategies to Convert
Appeals to his connections to this people
Amulek begins by laying out his family history, reminding them that just like them, he descends into Lehi. He describes his connections – family, friends, reputation among those in the city. (Alma 10: 1-4)
Describes his Conversion Story and his Testimony
And the angel said unto me he is a aholy man; wherefore I know he is a holy man because it was said by an angel of God. And again, I know that the things whereof he hath testified are true; for behold I say unto you, that as the Lord liveth, even so has he sent his aangel to make these things manifest unto me; and this he has done while this Alma hath bdwelt at my house.Alma 10:9-10
O ye wicked and perverse generation, ye lawyers and hypocrites, for ye are laying the foundations of the devil; for ye are laying traps and snares to catch the holy ones of God.
O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me? Knowest thou that the righteous yieldeth to no such temptations?Alma 10:17-18, 11:23
Expounds Deep Theology
In response to Zeezrom bad faith questions, Alma does a deep dive on the Resurrection (Alma 11:40-41).
“The wicked remain as though there had been no redemption made…”
The people burn women and children
All of this deep, sincere, anguished, painful effort by Amulek and Alma end up in horrifying tragedy.
And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be acast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be bburned and destroyed by fire. And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of amartyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire. And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the apower of God which is in us, and save them from the flames. But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in aglory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the bjudgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the cblood of the dinnocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.Alma 14:8-11
This level of brutality comes at us quick. I could see the anger in their questions and responses. The frustration coming from Alma and Amulek is clear as their rebukes and pleadings get stronger and stronger. The hostility was there from the very beginning, Alma was spit upon right from the beginning. But it makes no sense to kick out the men and burn the women and children. And then to do it as a way to mock Alma’s own words:
After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a blake of fire and brimstone?Alma 14:14
Or when they question his own power to delivery:
Will ye stand again and judge this people, and condemn our law? If ye have such great power why do ye not adeliver yourselves? And many such things did they say unto them, gnashing their teeth upon them, and spitting upon them, and saying: How shall we look when we are damned?Alma 14: 20-21
This who experience from beginning to end takes just less than a year. Alma and Amulek find deliverance with a desperate plea from Alma:
And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great aafflictions, O Lord? O Lord, bgive us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto cdeliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them.Alma 14:26
Soon after, Alma and Amulek find Zeezrom in agony and fever, worried over the damage his words and influence caused having been convinced of his own sinful state by his interaction with these two prophets. He’s healed, repents and begins a life of ministry. In Alma 16, less than two years later, Ammonihah is destroyed by the Lamanites as if a fulfillment of Alma’s warnings.
These are tough chapters. I don’t resonate with everything Alma and Amulek say in these chapters. In some sense, their teachings seem too transactional, too simple. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency to tie everything to God, including the Lamanite desire for their demise, that God steps in or doesn’t based on His whim or our righteousness.
I think taking a few steps back, for a moment, there are real consequence for sin. Real sin, prideful, unrepentant sin, brings division and hate. In our sin, we forget, willfully or not, our own vulnerabilities and dependencies on each other, on a functional society and on God. And as we forget, we leave ourselves more vulnerable and consequences come from that vulnerability.
I think we also learn from these passages how helpless we can be, even when we act with courage, repentant and humble, to real tragedy. We all die, but some of us die tragically, at the hands of evil or by the whims of nature. There aren’t always good explanations for it. Life can be tragic and hard.