I have read Alma 16 dozens of times before, yet when I re-read it a few days ago, I saw it in a different light. This was the first time, despite all my previous reading, that I realized that there are two contrasting stories in this chapter. One story is about the Nephites in Ammonihah, (Ammonihahites) who were utterly destroyed. The other is a story about the main body of the Nephites, who were miraculously preserved. This realization caused me to re-read the chapter from a different perspective. As I re-read, I asked myself, what made the difference between tragedy and triumph for these two groups. What was it that lead to the tragic downfall of one group and the triumphant victory of the other?
Group One – The Ammonihahites
We know the story of Ammonihah. After tremendous success in Zarahemla, Gideon, and Melek, Alma traveled three days and arrived at Ammonihah. However, unlike his previous efforts, Alma’s attempts to preach in Ammonihah were rejected. Even after laboring much in the spirit and wrestling in mighty prayer,[i] the people reviled Alma and kicked him out of the city[ii]. He would have turned his back forever on the city had it not been for an angel of God appearing to him and telling him to go back again[iii]. Alma did so, and Amulek, following the instructions of an Angel that appeared to him, met Alma, took him in, and fed him.[iv]
After many days, God commanded Alma to take Amulek and go forth to preach to the people. They taught the word of God with power and authority, proclaiming repentance to the people and warning them that if they did not repent God would destroy them and leave their city desolate in a single day.[v] Through their powerful preaching Alma and Amulek eventually had some success. Yet the majority of the people were angry and hardened their hearts against God’s word. In their anger, the Ammonihahites drove the believing men out of the city, took their wives and children and their scriptures and burned them in a great fire, and forced Alma and Amulek to watch the horrific scene. Afterwards, Alma and Amulek were imprisoned, stripped of their clothes, bound and given very little food. For many days following, the Chief Judge, lawyers, and others went daily to the prison. There they continually mocked Alma and Amulek saying, “Will ye stand again and judge this people, and condemn our law? If ye have such great power why do ye not deliver yourselves?”[vi] Then they spit upon them, hit them, bit them and continued their mocking saying, “How shall we look when we are damned?”[vii]
Finally, the day came when the Chief Judge, the lawyers, and all the others with them came forth and smote Alma and Amulek saying, “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.[viii] When the final mocker had spoken, the spirit and power of God came upon Alma and Amulek and they cried to God for strength to break their bands. God heard their cries, strengthened them to break the bands, and caused the prison walls to tumble to the ground, killing everyone inside, with the exception of Alma and Amulek.[ix]
After all of this, the remaining Ammonihahites still hardened their hearts, attributing to the devil the power displayed through Alma and Amulek.[x] When the day of reckoning came a few years later, the people in Ammonihah were utterly destroyed in a single day, even as Alma and Amulek had prophesied.[xi]
What a tremendous tragedy. An entire city destroyed, with, potentially, thousands of souls sent out of this world unprepared to meet God, when it could have been otherwise had they but hearkened to God’s word as delivered through His chosen servants.
Group Two – The Nephites
Contrast them with the Nephites described in this chapter. When the cry of war was heard in the land, the Nephite armies were neither able to reach Ammonihah in time to prevent its destruction, nor were they able to prevent the killing and kidnapping that occurred at the city of Noah where many Nephites were taken captive and lead away by the Lamanite armies.[xii]
The Nephite armies desired to rescue their captive brothers and sisters but were not sure which way the Lamanites had gone. Their Chief Captain, Zoram, and his two sons Lehi and Aha, knew that Alma had the spirit of prophecy. Rather than trying to guess which way the Lamanites would go, they went straight to the Lord’s prophet, and asked him to pray to God and find out where they should go to meet the Lamanites and retake the captured Nephites. Alma prayed, according to their request, received revelation from the Lord, and told Zoram and his sons where to go. Without hesitation Zoram, Lehi, and Aha followed the Lord’s directions, as given through his prophet, and were able to find the Lamanites, defeat them in battle, and retrieve all of the captive Nephites without losing one of them.[xiii] By looking to the Lord’s prophet, and following the Lord’s direction as given through him, the Nephites were preserved and victorious in their battle and the captives were freed.
But the blessings did not stop there. Not only were the Nephites able to rescue their captive brethren, but, because of their obedience, they put themselves in a position to be spiritually rescued by a loving Heavenly Father.
Following the Nephite victory, Christ’s church was established more fully throughout the land and the people were so filled with God’s love that there was “no inequality among them,” – meaning they had all things in common among them and took care of each other.[xiv] The Lord poured out His spirit upon the Nephites and prepared their hearts to receive His word with joy so they could be “grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.”[xv] Additionally, the Nephite priests preached the word of God, speaking out “against all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and malice, and revilings, and stealing, robbing, plundering, murdering, committing adultery, and all manner of lasciviousness, crying that these things ought not so to be.”[xvi] Through this means, with God’s word being preached in purity throughout the land, and God pouring out His spirit, the Nephites “got the victory over the devil.”[xvii]
What Made the Difference?
Now let’s return to the original questions:
The answer to both questions is obvious.
The Ammonihahites hardened their hearts and would not listen to the Lord’s word given through Alma and Amulek. Their refusal to repent when warned, and their willful disobedience led to the loss of tremendous blessings and ultimately to their downfall and destruction.
On the other hand, the Nephites did not hesitate to look to God’s prophet for direction, and when they received it, they were quick to follow it. Their willful obedience led to tremendous blessings and to their ultimate triumph.
Just as the Nephites of old either prospered or were destroyed according to their willingness, or lack thereof, to hearken to God’s word, so too will we prosper or suffer today, in accordance with our own willingness to hearken to and obey God’s word, or to ignore and choose to disobey it.
We know from the scriptures that God and Christ are the same yesterday, today, and forever.[xviii] They love us and want to spiritually rescue us. Their ultimate goal is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.[xix] They want us to succeed, but they expect us to come within, and stay within, the bounds that they have set. To empower us in our efforts to do so, God and Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in our day and ushered in the restoration of Christ’s gospel. Because of the restoration, we are blessed to have living prophets and apostles today who receive direct revelation from God and Christ to help us know and understand their expectations for us, and how to meet those expectations.
Additionally, we live in a time when the quantity of God’s words available for our profit and learning[xx], both in the standard works as well as in all of the General Conference talks, has never been greater. We also live in a time when, through amazing technology, accessibility to God’s word, has never been more widespread. We know that through the study of God’s word, by feasting[xxi] upon it, we can learn of, and come to know, what God will have us do.[xxii] We know that God’s word, particularly the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, will help us differentiate between the “teachings of the master and…the tactics of the adversary.”[xxiii]
The Choice Before Us
The choice is plain before us. God’s prophets today are extending the same invitation to us that Christ extended two thousand years ago.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.[xxiv]
The question we all face and the decision we must all make is whether or not we will accept that invitation. Will we choose to obey God’s word and find rest to our souls, not only in this life but eternally in the life to come, or will we choose to ignore it, and be drawn into captivity and death by him who desires the eternal misery of our souls?[xxv]
“…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”[xxvi]
[i] See Alma 8:10
[ii] See Alma 8:13
[iii] See Alma 8:14-17
[iv] See Alma 8:18-20
[v] See Alma 9:4
[vi] See Alma 14:20
[vii] See Alma 14:21
[viii] See Alma 14:24
[ix] See Alma 16:26-28
[x] See Alma 16:29 -
[xi] See Alma 16:9-10
[xii] See Alma 16:1-3
[xiii] See Alma 16:5-8
[xiv] See Alma 16:13-16
[xv] See Alma 16:17
[xvi] See Alma 16:18
[xvii] See Alma 16:21
[xviii] See Hebrews 13:8 and Moroni 10:19
[xix] See Moses 1:39
[xx] See 1 Nephi 19:22
[xxi] See 2 Nephi 31:20
[xxii] See 2 Nephi 32:3
[xxiii] Russell M. Nelson, The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like without It?, LDS General Conference, October 2017
[xxiv] Matthew 11:28-30
[xxv] See 2 Nephi 9:9,46
[xxvi] See Joshua 24:15
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