human to humanThis reading of Alma 18 has shown me Ammon and Lamoni from a more “human to human” point of view than I have ever seen them before.

I won’t discuss every verse, but just those verses where I have seen something about the person or situation I haven’t noticed before.

Digression to chapter 17

First I need to make a couple of points from chapter 17. Look at Ammon as the son of a king. The King, himself led his people into battle. Ammon, being the eldest, and one on whom the King wanted to bestow his kingdom, would have been trained in the martial arts from an early age. All the best instructors the Nephites had were at the king’s disposal. Ammon and his brothers would have been trained to be the best warriors, and would have had all the best training in their languages, social customs, and diplomacy. These things are normal for royalty in any country and time.

In chapter 17 when Ammon introduces himself to King Lamoni, Lamoni almost immediately invites Ammon to become his son-in-law. That would be strange, if he couldn’t tell that this was a man of high social breeding, whether or not he knew Ammon to be the son of his most hated enemy, King Mosiah. I find it interesting then that when Ammon declines his invitation to marry his daughter, volunteering instead to be his servant, Lamoni assigns him to be a shepherd. Lamoni knew that many of his shepherds had been killed for losing his sheep to marauders. Interesting choice to send Ammon on that assignment.

When Ammon went to the waters of Sebus he went armed with sword and sling, complete with a pouch of rocks. He was prepared for whatever might happen. The scriptural record doesn’t mention that any of the other shepherds went with weapons. Skill wise Ammon was like a superhero compared to these untrained and unprepared sheep attendants. The mob that attacked them to scatter their sheep were little better than a brute squad, muscling in with little more than slings and clubs. There were lots of them, but there was still little they could do against one so skilled in fighting as Ammon was. Remember that to kill someone with a sling you must hit them in the head. This takes terrific aim. Only by hitting them very hard will the rock actually break through the skull to kill them. And it helped that the Lord had promised Mosiah that He would protect Mosiah’s sons and bring them all back safely. That in and of itself was no mean feat considering the penchant the Lamanites had for killing Nephites.

Okay, now we can get on with chapter 18.

Lamoni the King

Let’s look at verses 5-6.

Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants;

For he had slain many of them because their brethren had scattered their flocks at the place of water; and thus, because they had had their flocks scattered they were slain.

To believe “that whatsoever they did was right” might sound somewhat shocking. This is the same doctrine taught by many of those who spread priestcrafts among the Nephites. Our sense of right and wrong comes largely from the commandments of God. Take those away, and who is to say what is right and what is wrong? Here you have a whole society based on the notion that if you work hard and produce something, but I can take it away from you, by whatever means, I benefit from your work. Yea me! This is the point Jacob made earlier in the Book of Mormon when he taught the people that without the laws of God (for example – without knowing it is against God’s law to murder one another), we won’t be afraid to murder. It is God’s laws that create the sense of right and wrong within us and cause us to feel at peace or to feel guilty for particular behaviors.

This chapter tells us that Lamoni had been taught that whatever he chose to do was right. The whole Lamanite society had this principle as an underlying guiding light, because we are also told that it was a common practice among the people to glut themselves on the labors of others, at the expense of others. This might explain why the Lamanites like to move into Nephite-built cities. The Nephites used stone to build walls and buildings, while the Lamanites only used simple materials. When the Nephites retake their cities years later, the first thing the Nephites have to do is to repair the walls and the buildings the Lamanites let go to ruin. This is sort of like when the Huns sacked Rome. The barbarians came in and lived off the work of a more advanced society.

Introducing a sense of conscience

The servants of Lamoni were anxious to report to the King what had happened at the waters of Sebus. They took for granted that tending the kings flocks usually was a death sentence. So many of their predecessors had died at the king’s hand, because of this very practice of having his flocks scattered by marauders that they just assumed they were next. When Ammon came along and singlehandedly fought off the brute squad – well, there was amazement all around. They had never seen anything like this before.

And it came to pass that king Lamoni caused that his servants should stand forth and testify to all the things which they had seen concerning the matter.

And when they had all testified to the things which they had seen, and he had learned of the faithfulness of Ammon in preserving his flocks, and also of his great power in contending against those who sought to slay him, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Surely, this is more than a man. Behold, is not this the Great Spirit who doth send such great punishments upon this people, because of their murders?

Before we get to the answer of the servants, notice that something has awakened within Lamoni. He is becoming suspicious that what he had always assumed to be right (which is anything he did) might not be true. He was stunned to learn that one man could do what Ammon had done. Surely he was more than just an ordinary man. And Lamoni only knew of one being who was more than a man, and that was the Great Spirit. Suddenly he wondered if having the Great Spirit come and walk among them might not spell trouble for himself. If the Great Spirit defended Lamoni’s servants when Lamoni never had, but had killed them instead, might that get Lamoni in trouble with the Great Spirit? A sense of conscience was awakening within Lamoni, and he was becoming unsure of his actions he had never questioned before.

And they answered the king, and said: Whether he be the Great Spirit or a man, we know not; but this much we do know, that he cannot be slain by the enemies of the king; neither can they scatter the king’s flocks when he is with us, because of his expertness and great strength; therefore, we know that he is a friend to the king. And now, O king, we do not believe that a man has such great power, for we know he cannot be slain.

The Lamanites were simple people. Superstition was evidently a common part of their life, for they didn’t have many explanations of why things happened the way they did. Just because they had witnessed a man with great training and God’s blessings do something they had never witnessed before, Ammon, in their minds must be a god. And Lamoni was right behind them in his own thinking. Now he was left to wonder why the Great Spirit would choose to become his servant. This deeply troubled Lamoni.

And now, when the king heard these words, he said unto them: Now I know that it is the Great Spirit; and he has come down at this time to preserve your lives, that I might not slay you as I did your brethren. Now this is the Great Spirit of whom our fathers have spoken.

Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants;

For he had slain many of them because their brethren had scattered their flocks at the place of water; and thus, because they had had their flocks scattered they were slain.

I find it interesting that the practice of plunder we find among the Gadianton robbers and the Lamanites is practiced on their own people, by their neighbors. Yet they still consider such people to be wicked. Hmmm.

Now it was the practice of these Lamanites to stand by the waters of Sebus to scatter the flocks of the people, that thereby they might drive away many that were scattered unto their own land, it being a practice of plunder among them.

Ammon had been taught to be thorough. He was obviously a man of great integrity. All the servants had been given the same instructions, namely that when they had watered the kings flocks they were to prepare his horses and chariots for a visit to his father. Once they got back to town, the other servants made a beeline to the tell the King what had happened, while Ammon went straight to the horses to get them ready according to the King’s command. Evidently gossip was a commonly accepted practice among these people, for the King was amazed that one of his servants stuck to his tasks as commanded, instead of coming to tattle or boast of what had just happened to them. It appears that the servant’s behavior was the societal norm.

And it came to pass that king Lamoni inquired of his servants, saying: Where is this man that has such great power?

And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.

10 Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished, because of the faithfulness of Ammon, saying: Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.

11 Now I surely know that this is the Great Spirit, and I would desire him that he come in unto me, but I durst not.

The throne room encounter

All the other servants who were supposed to be preparing the King’s horses and chariots were in the throne room with the King. Evidently Ammon had to do the work of the entire group. While the King and his servants sat and pondered what the arrival of this wonder man might mean, Ammon was busy fulfilling the commandments of the King. When he finally finished, he went to report his efforts and let the King know he was ready to travel whenever it pleased him. This was all part of being responsible in your duties.

12 And it came to pass that when Ammon had made ready the horses and the chariots for the king and his servants, he went in unto the king, and he saw that the countenance of the king was changed; therefore he was about to return out of his presence.

13 And one of the king’s servants said unto him, Rabbanah, which is, being interpreted, powerful or great king, considering their kings to be powerful; and thus he said unto him: Rabbanah, the king desireth thee to stay.

14 Therefore Ammon turned himself unto the king, and said unto him: What wilt thou that I should do for thee, O king? And the king answered him not for the space of an hour, according to their time, for he knew not what he should say unto him.

15 And it came to pass that Ammon said unto him again: What desirest thou of me? But the king answered him not.

The Spirit of God was awakening within Lamoni a questioning spirit. He was preparing Lamoni for what was about to happen. Lamoni was on completely unexplored ground and was being opened to the possibilities that perhaps things that he had always taken for granted might not be true, which is something he had never before considered. He was speechless before Ammon, yet yearned to learn more of him. Lamoni feared the possibilities of what might be, but was drawn to this man like a moth to a flame. For the first time in his life, he wanted to know more about a part of his life that had never before been awakened.

16 And it came to pass that Ammon, being filled with the Spirit of God, therefore he perceived the thoughts of the king. And he said unto him: Is it because thou hast heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants; behold, is it this that causeth thy marvelings?

I assume that by this time the sack full of dead arms had been removed from the King’s presence.

17 I say unto you, what is it, that thy marvelings are so great? Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant; therefore, whatsoever thou desirest which is right, that will I do.

18 Now when the king had heard these words, he marveled again, for he beheld that Ammon could discern his thoughts; but notwithstanding this, king Lamoni did open his mouth, and said unto him: Who art thou? Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?

19 Ammon answered and said unto him: I am not.

In verse 20 we see evidence that King Lamoni was a good man at heart. If he hadn’t been he might have been insulted that this visiting Nephite, one of his own servants, had the audacity to kill another Lamanite, even if that Lamanite was trying to steal from the King. That is the kind of hard heartedness we see in today’s world. But Lamoni acknowledged that this man was standing up for him and looking out for his best interests, even if that meant killing his own people to do it. After all, Lamoni had killed his own people for not standing up for him and looking out for his best interests.

What follows in these verses shows the true humility of Lamoni.

20 And the king said: How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly, and tell me concerning these things; and also tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms of my brethren that scattered my flocks—

21 And now, if thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee; and if it were needed, I would guard thee with my armies; but I know that thou art more powerful than all they; nevertheless, whatsoever thou desirest of me I will grant it unto thee.

In verses 22-23 we are told that Ammon caught Lamoni with guile. That is an interesting expression, since the Lord often requires confirmation of belief before He will show the prophet what he seeks to learn. Ammon asks Lamoni if he is willing to commit to believing his words even before he speaks them. This is what is being called guile. Yet God does something similar to the prophets when He shows them visions. Before the vision is revealed He asks them if they will believe what He is about to show them or He asks if they already believe what they have been taught. Look at 1 Nephi 11:2-6 where Nephi must confirm his belief in what his father has already taught Nephi before God shows him a vision of greater things.

And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?

And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.

And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?

And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.

And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.

So back to Ammon and Lamoni.

22 Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.

23 And the king answered him, and said: Yea, I will believe all thy words. And thus he was caught with guile.

In verses 24-32 Ammon teaches the basics about the existence of God. In verses 33-35 he teaches the basics about the influence of the Spirit in our lives. At first I found it puzzling why the first heavy doctrine Ammon presents to Lamoni is about the Fall of Adam and Eve. It wasn’t until I followed his line of thinking down further through the verses from 36-39 that I saw the reason for starting with Adam. To understand the need for redemption, for a Redeemer, we must first understand that mankind fell from a higher sphere in the first place. Christ was fixing the mess we put ourselves into by coming to earth.

36 Now when Ammon had said these words, he began at the creation of the world, and also the creation of Adam, and told him all the things concerning the fall of man, and rehearsed and laid before him the records and the holy scriptures of the people, which had been spoken by the prophets, even down to the time that their father, Lehi, left Jerusalem.

37 And he also rehearsed unto them (for it was unto the king and to his servants) all the journeyings of their fathers in the wilderness, and all their sufferings with hunger and thirst, and their travail, and so forth.

38 And he also rehearsed unto them concerning the rebellions of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, yea, all their rebellions did he relate unto them; and he expounded unto them all the records and scriptures from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem down to the present time.

39 But this is not all; for he expounded unto them the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world; and he also made known unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and all the works of the Lord did he make known unto them.

Belief

The Lord had prepared Lamoni’s heart for the truth, setting His servant Ammon up as someone credible, worth listening to. Ammon focused on primary doctrines, those doctrines most essential to a fruitful belief in Christ. This is the result of Ammon’s teaching.

40 And it came to pass that after he had said all these things, and expounded them to the king, that the king believed all his words.

41 And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people.

The Spirit, not Ammon, had opened Lamoni’s eyes to the truth about his forefathers. Ammon spoke the words, but it was the Holy Spirit who opened Lamoni’s eyes to the truth. Lamoni’s heart swelled with gratitude that God had sent this messenger to teach the truth to him and his people. Many of Lamoni’s people were just as ready for the truth as Lamoni was. Lamoni’s conversion may have been more miraculous than most, but it served, like the Joseph Smith experience in the grove, to act as a testimony of God’s love for His people. Because of Lamoni’s experience the people were more ready and able to believe Ammon’s preaching from here on out.

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Alma 18 – Who Were Lamoni and Ammon as People