The Lamanites who are converted to the Lord join the church and seek to distinguish themselves from all other Lamanites by giving themselves a new name, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Their fellow Lamanites resent the actions of their converted king and seek to overthrow him. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies bury their swords as a testament to their conversion, and willingly lay down their lives in battle rather than kill again and risk not being able to repent sufficiently to become clean a second time. The Nephites take them in and give them the land of Jershon for their inheritance.
Let’s start with the name these converts decided to give themselves to distinguish them from all the other Lamanites, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. In Webster’s 1828 edition of the dictionary, the pronoun Anti can mean not only against something, but in the place of something. This makes the meaning of Anti-Nephi-Lehies “in the place of Nephi and Lehi.” In essence they were saying, “We are the people of Nephi and Lehi.” This is how they set themselves apart from those who called themselves Lamanites. This naming just added fuel to the fire for those who wanted to replace the king with a new one because they didn’t like his new religion and his friendship with the Nephites.
Everything these converts did offended the rest of the Lamanite nation. King Lamoni changed the name of his son to Anti-Nephi-Lehi then made him king over all the Lamanites. Those descendants of the wicked priests of Noah, the Amulonites and the Amalekites, as well as those who were descendants of Laman and Lemuel rose up in rebellion, and civil war ensued.
When the combined Lamanite armies attacked the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, these worthy people simply laid down and began to pray, letting the army slay them at will. After more than a thousand had died without any effort to even dodge their swords, so many of the descendants of Laman and Lemuel were smitten with guilt that they threw down their swords and refused to kill again. More actual Lamanites were converted that day than were killed. The descendants of the priests of Noah did not feel guilty for the death they dealt the converts.
The greatest number of those slain were by the Amulonites and the Amalekites. Alma 24:38 reads:
28 Now the greatest number of those of the Lamanites who slew so many of their brethren were Amalekites and Amulonites, the greatest number of whom were after the order of the Nehors.
The actual Lamanites were so upset over seeing their own people slain that they turned their anger on the Nephites, the perceived cause of this war. They went to the city of Ammonihah and wiped out every man, woman, and child. This fulfilled the prophecy of Alma and Amulek that they would be completely destroyed if they did not repent.
They continued to wage war on the Nephites, but were slaughtered and driven. Here are the verses that describe the fate of Lamanite armies. It is found in Alma 25:4-9.
4 And among the Lamanites who were slain were almost all the seed of Amulon and his brethren, who were the priests of Noah, and they were slain by the hands of the Nephites;
5 And the remainder, having fled into the east wilderness, and having usurped the power and authority over the Lamanites, caused that many of the Lamanites should perish by fire because of their belief—
6 For many of them, after having suffered much loss and so many afflictions, began to be stirred up in remembrance of the words which Aaron and his brethren had preached to them in their land; therefore they began to disbelieve the traditions of their fathers, and to believe in the Lord, and that he gave great power unto the Nephites; and thus there were many of them converted in the wilderness.
7 And it came to pass that those rulers who were the remnant of the children of Amulon caused that they should be put to death, yea, all those that believed in these things.
8 Now this martyrdom caused that many of their brethren should be stirred up to anger; and there began to be contention in the wilderness; and the Lamanites began to hunt the seed of Amulon and his brethren and began to slay them; and they fled into the east wilderness.
9 And behold they are hunted at this day by the Lamanites. Thus the words of Abinadi were brought to pass, which he said concerning the seed of the priests who caused that he should suffer death by fire.
Who among the Nephites or Lamanites could have guessed that the wicked city of Ammonihah would be destroyed by an army of Lamanites seeking revenge for the conversion of their own people to the church of God? And upon whom should they pick to exact their revenge, but the very people who rejected the church of God, just as the Lamanites had. Ironic. It is the normal course of events that the wicked are destroyed by the wicked.
Again, as before, many of the Lamanites were stirred up in remembrance of the teachings of the sons of Mosiah, and decided they were right. They buried their weapons of war and joined the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. This demonstrates to us that the Lord has many ways to soften the hearts of His children. Those who had to suffer that others might be saved were promised salvation for their sacrifice for their obedience to the Lord.
The Amalekites were so angry about their losses that they stirred up the Lamanites once again to attack the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Again the Anti-Nephi-Lehies did not resist and died. Finally, the Lord commanded Ammon to lead the people to Zarahemla for safety. The Nephites gave them the land of Jershon for an inheritance, and set their armies around the land to protect them. The Lamanites made one last great effort to slaughter all of them, but after a tremendous battle they were defeated and went home. Tens of thousands died in this battle on both sides.
Though it would appear that the people of Ammon, as the Anti-Nephi-Lehies were now called, were a detriment to the Nephite people, we will see a little later that it was their support of the armies of the Nephites, and the valiance of their teenage sons that saved the nation as a whole. So even in a situation where it appeared to all that no substantial good could come from them honoring their covenant to not take up arms again, the people of Ammon were still able to perform miracles for their new nation because of their faithfulness to their covenants.
In Alma 29 we get a revealing statement from Alma about the nature of mortality. Here are verses four and five:
4 I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.
5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.
Mortality is about one of these two choices. We either choose life, which is all things good and which lands us in the presence of God for eternity, or we choose death, which is to choose our own will and pleasure, which will separate us eternally from the presence of God. Death, by definition is a separation. Spiritual death is an estrangement or separation from God. If we are not in the celestial kingdom where He is then anything else is a spiritual death, a separation that lasts forever.
When Alma has stated these choices he glories that the Lord saw fit to save him from his own spiritual death by sending an angel to him to show him the difference between spiritual life and death. He goes on to express everlasting gratitude that he is able to help others choose life over eternal death by keeping the commandments of God. Being able to help others choose life is the source of his own joy.
In Alma 29:9 Alma says his joy is found in being “an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance.”
9 I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy.
This is our calling and our responsibility as well, to be “an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance.” This responsibility is part of our baptismal covenant, and every covenant we make thereafter. You should reread Alma 29. Put yourself in his place as he talks about the joy of being offered life eternal over eternal separation from God.
We are promised that if the labors of our entire life result in only the salvation of one soul, how great will be our joy. But as latter-day Saints we have the opportunity to do more than just help one soul. We have family history work that uncovers members of our own bloodlines back centuries, opening the opportunity for us and others to go to the temples and perform saving ordinances for them.
We may not be doing the actual preaching to our ancestors, but our family members on the other side of the veil are busy doing that. We are here helping the work move along by doing what they cannot, and that is the ordinance work. In this life we have great opportunities to strengthen ourselves by reaching out to others in our wards, branches, neighborhoods, and family. We can help others be strong in the church or to come to the gospel of Christ.
Let it never be said that we didn’t know. Let it never be said that we didn’t know how. We do know how, and the Brethren are teaching us how all the time. What we choose to do with what we are being taught is what determines our own eternal life or eternal death. Let’s choose the joy and rejoicing in the work that brings salvation to others, and hence ourselves.