As always, consult the official Gospel Doctrine Manual in your preparation. These ideas are intended as a supplement.
Alma 23 – Religious Freedom proclaimed among the Lamanites.
3 – “convinced that they were all brethren” One of the effects of missionary work is the uniting of all mankind, so that we understand we are all brothers and sisters in the family of God.
3 – “they ought not to murder, nor to plunder…” Modern readers are familiar enough with the ten commandments to understand that we should not murder, plunder and steal, etc, so we may breeze past these lists when we read the scriptures. But most of us have not noticed that this same list of five prohibitions appears consistently throughout the Book of Mormon! Commenting on this consistency and its implications, Dr. John Welch has written:
King Benjamin set forth a five-part legal series prohibiting (1) murder, (2) plunder, (3) theft, (4) adultery, and (5) any manner of wickedness. This five-part list, which first appears in Mosiah 2:13, uniformly reappears seven other times in the Book of Mormon (see Mosiah 29:36; Alma 23:3; 30:10; Helaman 3:14; 6:23; 7:21; and Ether 8:16). Apparently the Nephites viewed Benjamin’s set of laws as setting a formulaic precedent. Other cases and kinds of extensive internal textual consistency occur within the Book of Mormon. In these and in many other ways, the Book of Mormon manifests a high degree of precision—both as to its underlying ancient texts and in Joseph Smith’s translation. Given the fact that Joseph dictated as he went, the record’s consistency points to an inspired source for the translation’s accuracy. (John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon [Deseret Book, FARMS, 1992], 23.)
6 – “As sure as the Lord liveth” As we’ve discussed before, this phrase, which is an oath involving the life of the Lord, is the most emphatic way of communicating. Mormon is telling us that these were very strong converts, that their conversion was deep and abiding. And who were these converts? The parents of the stripling warriors.
14 – Amalekites and Amulonites did “harden their hearts” These two groups of people are apostate Nephites. Interestingly, the ones who seem to cause the most problems for the Nephites are not Lamanites, but apostate Nephites. Similarly, it appears that those who caused the most problems for the prophet Joseph Smith were not “non-members,” but apostate members.
17 – Anti-Nephi-Lehies. – Many have wondered why the converted Lamanites would call themselves “Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Perhaps our confusion is because we are looking at the word “anti-” as if it has the same meaning as it does in words like Anti-Christ or anti-Mormon (using the Greek prefix “anti” meaning “against”). But perhaps “Anti” is as much a proper noun as the two words that follow it, “Nephi and Lehi. Many people and places in the Book of Mormon begin with “Anti” such as Antiparah, Antiomno, and Antipas. Another possibility is that Anti is related to the Egyptian nty meaning “he of, the one of,” which would make the name “Anti-Nephi-Lehies” mean “one of Nephi and Lehi” (See Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 67).
Alma 24 – Lamanites march against new converts, converts bury weapons
10 – “Taken away the guilt from our hearts” The scriptures give us clues on how we might know that we have been forgiven of our sins. While the memory of our sins might remain, the guilt can be taken away. Alma explained after his own conversion, “I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:19).
11 – “All that we could do” This phrase reminds us of 2 Nephi 25:23, which states that we are saved by grace “after all we can do.” And what exactly is “all we can do?” If we were to take our answer from this verse, then “all we can do” is repent. And that’s the only thing we can do by ourselves. We cannot, by ourselves, be baptized. We cannot, by ourselves, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. We need our Savior Jesus Christ, we need his church and we need his authorized servants. What can we, by ourselves, do? We can repent, and that’s it. And even the possibility of repentance is only because of Jesus Christ and his mercy. In the words of Jesus, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). We need Jesus before, during, and after “all we can do” since repentance is more and ongoing process than an event. (For a lengthier discussion of this interesting topic, see Brad Wilcox’s excellent book, The Continuous Atonement.)
14 – “doth visit us by his angels” Perhaps the King viewed Ammon and Aaron as “angels,” even though they were mortals, because they declared such glad tidings, and taught the plan of salvation (see D&C 42:6).
25 – “They were stung for the murders which they had committed” The attacking army’s collective conscience was awakened and wouldn’t allow them to continue killing. Elder L. Tom Perry taught:
It was the Anti-Nephi-Lehies’ unique history that caused them to make a unique covenant with the Lord that they felt an obligation to honor. When they honored their covenant they were blessed, and their brethren, the Lamanites, were also blessed. While the message of the story is not to insist on universal pacifism, we do learn that by not returning aggressions from others we can have a profound effect on them. Literally, we can change their hearts when we follow Christ’s example and turn the other cheek. Our examples as peaceable followers of Christ inspire others to follow him. (L. Tom Perry, Living with Enthusiasm [Deseret Book, 1996], 128.)
Another passage that speaks of the impact of returning good while receiving evil is in Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20, 21).
28 – “after the order of the Nehors” It’s amazing to contemplate the impact of Nehor, a man whose rise and fall are contained in the first chapter of Alma, but whose false teachings had a devastating impact on the people for many years.
30 – “Thus we can plainly discern” Like many apostates in our day, some leave the Church, but thereafter can’t leave the Church alone.
There is no neutrality where the truths of salvation are concerned. A man by the name of Behunnin once told the Prophet Joseph Smith that if he were ever to leave the Church, he would not do as others had done and turn and fight against it. “I would,” he said, “go to some remote place where Mormonism had never been heard of, settle down, and no one would ever learn that I knew anything about it.” Joseph Smith’s response was immediate: “Brother Behunnin, you don’t know what you would do. [Then, referring to apostates who were fighting against the Church, he said]: No doubt these men once thought as you do. Before you joined this Church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant” (Juvenile Instructor 27 [15 August 1892]: 492).
Alma 25 – Seed of Amulon destroyed (by fire, like Abinadi), many Lamanites converted
1 – “those Lamanites were more angry because they had slain their brethren” It’s odd that the Lamanites are angry over their own actions, yet they blame the Nephites. As if to say, “It’s the Nephites fault that we killed our own people!”
2 – “fell upon … Ammonihah” It’s helpful to recall that we are in the middle of a “flashback,” the account of the Sons of Mosiah’s missionary labors among the Lamanites (Alma 17-25). Back in Alma 9-16, we were reading about Alma and Amulek among the apostate Nephites in Ammonihah. The two accounts merge briefly in this verse.
9-11 – “words of Abinadi were brought to pass” Abinadi was indeed a prophet, and these events occurred just as Abinadi prophesied they would.
13 – “many of them came over to dwell in the land of Ishmael” It’s interesting that the Lamanite converts (Anti-Nephi-Lehis), attracted other Lamanites who also converted. Why would that be? We don’t have the whole story here, but perhaps the fruits of the gospel were evident in the converted Lamanites, and it attracted others to come and join them.
15-16 – “the law of Moses was a type of his coming” This is exactly what Abinadi taught! (See Mosiah 16:14-15). The Book of Mormon repeatedly affirms the purposes of the law of Moses, which was to point people to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Bible Dictionary offers this helpful insight:
The law as given through Moses was a good law, although adapted to a lower spiritual capacity than is required for obedience to the gospel in its fulness. However, the Jewish leaders had added many unauthorized provisions, ceremonies, and prohibitions to the original law, until it became extremely burdensome. These innovations were known as the “traditions of the elders.” By New Testament times among the Jews the law had become so altered it had lost much of its spiritual meaning. It is this form of the law that is so harshly spoken against by Jesus and by Paul (see Matt. 15:1–9; Mark 7:1–13; Gal. 2:16–21). There is no evidence that the law of Moses had become as altered among the Nephites as among the Jews, and this may partially explain why the Nephites had less trouble in giving it up when the Savior came. (Bible Dictionary, emphasis added, 723).
17 – “verified his word unto them” It’s interesting that Abinadi was martyred, yet these four missionaries were protected. Abinadi and the Sons of Mosiah had different assignments, and different divine destinies and callings. As we read Abinadi’s account, we get the impression that he knew he would give his life (see Mosiah 13:9). Abinadi’s last words were, “O God, receive my soul” (Mosiah 17:19). Ammon, Aaron, Omner and Himni were promised protection and deliverance in answer to a prayer of their father, King Mosiah (see Mosiah 28:7).
Alma 26 – The “Psalm of Ammon;” Ammon glories in the Lord
3 – “marvelous light of God” Ammon contrasts the “darkest abyss” with “marvelous light of God.” Some of the most beautiful and interesting scriptures use darkness and light as metaphors:
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you; (D&C 50:24-25).
5 – “behold the number of your sheaves!” Elder David A. Bednar taught: “The sheaves in this analogy represent newly baptized members of the Church. The garners are the holy temples. Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained: “Clearly, when we baptize, our eyes should gaze beyond the baptismal font to the holy temple. The great garner into which the sheaves should be gathered is the holy temple” (in John L. Hart, “Make Calling Focus of Your Mission,” Church News, Sept. 17, 1994, 4). This instruction clarifies and emphasizes the importance of sacred temple ordinances and covenants—that the sheaves may not be wasted.” – Ensign, May 2009, 97.
12 – “I know that I am nothing” You might make your own footnote on the word “nothing” to Moses 1:10. Moses sees a marvelous vision, and is told no less than three times that he is a Son of God, yet when the vision concludes, Moses says, “Now I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10). Here, Ammon aware of his own “nothingness” says, “In his strength I can do all things,” not just, “I can do all things” which sounds more like the world’s “self-help” approach.
16 – “I can’t say the smallest part.” Ammon cannot find the words! Occasionally we might also find difficulty in expressing the feelings the gospel brings. D&C 121 described the “unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost,” and Peter describes “joy unspeakable” in 1 Peter 1:8.
22 – “bring thousands of souls to repentance” This is indeed what the four sons of Mosiah experienced, but modern missionaries should not beat themselves up if the same formula doesn’t bring the same results for them. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
Some of our most important plans cannot be brought to pass without the agency and actions of others. A missionary cannot baptize five persons this month without the agency and action of five other persons. A missionary can plan and work and do all within his or her power, but the desired result will depend upon the additional agency and action of others. Consequently, a missionary’s goals ought to be based upon the missionary’s personal agency and action, not upon the agency or action of others. (“Timing,” October 2003 General Conference).
23 – “Laughed us to scorn.” Anyone ever been laughed at for serving a mission?
25 – “Let us take up arms against them” Sadly, other Nephites said, “Don’t go to the Lamanites on a mission, let’s just destroy them.”
27 – “our hearts were depressed” Notice the interesting sequence, they were depressed, about to turn back, the Lord comforted them, and exhorted them to patience, followed by success. President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
There are times when you simply have to righteously hang on and outlast the devil until his depressive spirit leaves you …. To press on in noble endeavors, even while surrounded by a cloud of depression, will eventually bring you out on top into the sunshine. (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 396.)
29 – “we have entered into their houses and taught them” Elder F. Burton Howard shared this experience:
I was reading again the twenty-sixth chapter of Alma and the story of Ammon’s mission. I read out loud, as I sometimes do, trying to put myself in the position of the characters in the book … the Spirit spoke to my soul, saying, Did you notice? Everything that happened to Ammon happened to you….And then on that day as I read, the Spirit testified to me again, and the words remain with me even today: No one but a missionary could have written this story. Joseph Smith could never have known what it was like to be a missionary to the Lamanites, for no one he knew had ever done such a thing before. (Heroes from the Book of Mormon [Bookcraft, 1995], 125.)
30 – “our joy would be full … saving some” Notice the footnote to D&C 18:15, “how great shall be your joy if you should bring save it be one soul unto me..”
36-37 – “my light, my joy and my salvation” Sounds very much like a psalm, especially Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Alma 27 – Anti-Nephi-Lehies seek safety among the Nephites, are given the land of Jershon
2 – “they began again to destroy them” Strange as it sounds, the Lamanites turn their aggression back on their own, as if to say, “It’s still the Nephites fault that we killed our own people, and since we can’t seem to kill the Nephites, we’ll try to destroy our own people again.”
8 – “We will be their slaves” what a meek attitude! But slavery being against their law (and against good conscience), Ammon dismisses the idea and says we will “rely upon the mercies of our brethren.”
16 – “he and his brethren me Alma” This event signals the end of the flashback that started Alma 17:6.
18 – “exceeding joy” This type of joy, a joy which can exceed our strength, is only available to the truly “penitent and humble seeker of happiness.” By contrast, we might ask, “How does the world seek happiness?”
28 – “with any degree of terror” The converted had no degree of terror towards death. Why is that? “Their hope and views of Christ.” Elder M. Russell Ballard observed:
The best thing about living a Christ-centered life, however, is how it makes you feel—inside. It’s hard to have a negative attitude about things if and when your life is focused on the Prince of Peace. There will still be problems. Everyone has them. But faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a power to be reckoned with in the universe and in individual lives. It can be a causative force through which miracles are wrought. It can also be a source of inner strength through which we find self-esteem, peace of mind, contentment, and the courage to cope. I have seen marriages saved, families strengthened, tragedies overcome, careers energized, and the will to go on living rekindled as people humble themselves before the Lord and accept His will in their lives. Heartache, tragedy, and trauma of all kinds can be focused and managed when the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ are understood and applied. (M. Russell Ballard, Our Search for Happiness,[Deseret Book, 1993], 15.)
Additionally, those with a testimony of the plan of salvation see death differently than annihilation: The prophet Joseph Smith taught:
More painful to me are the thoughts of annihilation than death. If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave. The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul and makes me bear up against the evils of life. It is like their taking a long journey, and on their return we meet them with increased joy. (History of the Church 5:362.)
Alma 28 – Tremendous battle as Nephites defend Ammonites (formerly called Anti-Nephi-Lehis)
2 – “A tremendous battle.” How sad after all the good that has happened! Another reminder than even with all the missionary success, there is a proportional opposition in all things.
5 – “Fathers mourning for their sons” This situation may remind us of the saying, “In peacetime, sons bury their fathers, but in wartime, fathers bury their sons”
6 – “much fasting and prayer” Interesting that fasting is also practiced in times of great sorrow.
10 – “first year to the fifteenth” Notable that all of this happened in the first fifteen years of the reign of the judges.
Alma 29 — Psalm of Alma; Alma glories in the Lord, “O that I were an angel”
1 – “O that I were an angel” Alma’s life was profoundly changed by angels – he’d like to be one too.
3 – “I … do sin in my wish” Probably a pretty mild sin, as sins go. Perhaps the “sin” is wanting, like many of us, to do it “my way.” Alma would have liked to cry repentance as an angel.
4 – “he granteth unto men according to their desire” Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “The prophet and his leaders seek to educate our very desires, for God finally gives to each man the desires of his heart” (Of One Heart, 3).
5 – “joy or remorse of conscience” Good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse: seems like a no-brainer! Prophets are seers, and they see things, and so often express things with great clarity, unencumbered and un-obscured by any mist of darkness.
8 – “of their own nation and tongue” Missionaries should remember this promise if they have to learn a new language in the MTC! The Lord will assist them, because he has a promise to keep. Notice the footnote D&C 90:11.
10 – “then do I remember…” Notice the important word “remember” in verses 10 -12.
14 – “I do not joy in my success alone” Ammon does not react to the success of his brethren by saying, “Wow, you guys did better than I did,” but he rejoices in their success, to the point of nearly having an out of body experience! Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Our only valid spiritual competition is with our old selves, not with each other.” (Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, 60).
Regarding other types of success, Dr. Stephen R. Covey describes the “Scarcity Mentality,” which looks at success as a finite pie. Thus, if you get a big piece, there is less pie for me. In this way of thinking, success is seen to be scarce. By comparison, a more mature way of thinking is called the “Abundance Mentality,” which holds that success is abundant, or infinite, and that your successes to not detract from my own, so I can be happy and rejoice in the success of others (see The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).
15 – “how great shall be their reward” The rewards of missionary work extend beyond joy in this life, but also extend to the Lord’s forgiveness of our own sins:
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: By reclaiming an erring brother, we save both him and ourselves. Our sins are hidden (remitted) because we ministered for the salvation and blessing of another member of the kingdom. In principle this special reward for Christ’s ministers applies also to those who preach the gospel and bring souls into the kingdom. The minister is rewarded with salvation and, of necessity, in the process, is freed from his own sins. – Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3: 280.
President Spencer W. Kimball: each good deed, each testimony, each proselyting effort, each safeguard thrown about others is like a blanket over one’s own sins. – Faith Precedes the Miracle, 183.