Thursday, March 31, 2016

Alma 9-12 - Showdown with Zeezrom

Zeezrom is another bad guy turned good by the power of God. His takedown and eventual conversion is unique in the Book of Mormon in that Mormon spends a significant amount of precious space to set the stage. This set up is telling for what it doesn’t say as well as for what it does say. It’s here we get an explanation of what the Nephite currency system was and how their legal system worked.

I emphasize the past tense because they were different from Mormon’s time too. The monetary system he describes is one backed by grain instead of a fiat system based upon precious metals — like ours. The article linked below gives a quick look at what works as a currency. It’s interesting that grain is better than gold. It’s kind of a surprise, don’t you think, that an unschooled farm boy would come up with something like that? But I digress.

The other thing Mormon spends time on is defining how their legal and tort system works. He makes the cynical observation that the lawyers and judges stirred up the people to keep themselves employed. It's observations like that which show me, it really was written for our day. Who'd of thought government officials were capable of injuring others for their own self interests?

Against this cultural context, he then introduces us to Zeezrom. Zeezrom was an opportunist wanting to make some money off of these two religious wacko’s (my guess at his estimation of them). He veils his attempt in a series of questions and distortions of Amulek’s answers. But, blessed with common sense and the Spirit, Amulek sees through them and exposes him to the people for what he was.

I also found it interesting that Amulek, presumably because he wasn’t as experienced as Alma, gets into a shouting match with the people. Yet he handled Zeezrom and when he’d silenced him, Alma stepped in and finished him off. In the end, Zeezrom is shaking with the guilt of what he’s done. It’s enlightening that he will come to be one of the go-to missionaries Alma calls upon when they try to save the Zoramites.

All in all, a lot of cool stuff going on… not to mention the great dissertation on the Savior and the plan of salvation.

Article on currencies.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Alma 5-8 - The Road to Ammonihah

Filled with testimony of the Savior, these chapters also show a lot of history goes unwritten in the Book of Mormon. Alma spent a year preaching to the people of Zarahemla and Gideon. All we have to show for it are Alma chapters 5-7. Most of those are taken up in two sermons. While I’m not a prolific writer, a year of my journal takes up a lot more room than that, and I barely touch on what happens in my life.

That said, this is not a criticism of the Book of Mormon, just an observation. The truth is, most of my life is rather mundane and hardly worth mentioning. I suspect there’s a lot Alma did that was also mundane. But as he had his moments, such as when he spoke to the people of Zarahemla or to Gideon, we have ours. We have these powerful sermons because Alma recorded them. Do we record our experiences? While few if any of us will have the prominence of Alma, what we write will one day be read by our ancestors. What stories are we leaving for them to read?

I like the angelic visit Alma has in this passage too. After being rejected by the residents of the City of Ammonihah, he travels to another city determined to never return. The Lord had other plans. He sent an angel to turn Alma back. The standout aspect of this visitation is when the angel admits he’s the same one who appeared to warn him to stop trying to destroy the church. I’m certain this was a much more enjoyable mission for the angel.

In a great show of faith, Alma turns about and returns where he is met by Amulek who had an angel appear to him too. Thus the stage is set for their mission to Ammonihah. Speaking from experience, a rich life, full of marvelous experiences await us when we lead with faith. When we trust Heavenly Father in the placement of our feet, we will live a higher quality of life possible no other way. There’s no promise it will be easy, in fact it will often be difficult and soul stretching. Yet if you want to experience true inner peace, it’s the only game in town.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Alma - 5 - A PPI with the Savior

Alma Chapter Five is one of my favorites in the Book of Mormon. A friend once observed it is a type and shadow of the interview you’ll have with the Savior after this life. I’m inclined to agree. That said, there are books worth of material discussed in this chapter. (Have you noticed I say that a lot?) The Book of Mormon is doctrinally dense. It’s like the oriental game “Go” I watched old men playing in Korea: the rules are simple, but mastery takes a lifetime. It can be read in a day almost, but mastering it will take years, even decades.

That said, this time through a couple passages stood out to me. The first is verse seven where Alma tells how the Lord saved the people of Noah. As I pondered that, I realized we all are, to different degrees, in spiritual darkness. His saving them is a testament to us that no matter where we are, the Lord can reach us too.

I also was touched by verses 45-47 where Alma teaches that he knew the truth of all that he’d taught because he’d learned for himself they were true. By fasting and prayer, he’d come to know the truthfulness of what he taught. Here is a person who’d seen the Savior and Heavenly Father in an unforgettable vision which changed his life. Despite this, or more accurately, besides this, he’d devoted a lifetime to studying the scriptures, prayer and fasting. And through these actions, the Holy Spirit had taught him the truth of these things.

He paid the same price to know which we must pay today. The powerful lesson is that as Alma did it, so can we…

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Alma 2-4 - An Observation of the Nephites

In one of my earlier posts, I referred to the end of an order with King Mosiah II setting up judges to rule the Nephites after his death. This post comments on another change in the evolution of the Nephite government. In this passage, Alma renounces the judgeship to focus upon his role as High Priest over the church. With few exceptions, the Nephite religious and political leaders are not the same person. The aristocratic nature of the society manifests it self in that all the leaders come from the same group of people.

He did this because of a crisis he faced: the general membership of the church was becoming more wicked than the larger society they lived within. It’s things like this which are, in my opinion, the hallmarks of an actual historical narrative. What author would have as part of his story, the “good guys” becoming more wicked than the other players? It’s a fairly sophisticated plot ploy. Ol’Joe doesn’t mention a peep about it tho’ which strengthens the case the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, the history of an ancient people.

This is a book full of the messiness we humans are prone to cause. The Nephites are on display for us to critique and comment on. It gives more weight to the ominous admonition at the end of the book where Moroni asks that we be more wise than they were. In short, it is a history of humans and of God’s dealings with them.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mosiah 28-29 - The New Order

These two chapters bring us to the end of not only the Book of Mosiah, but to the end of an order, the end of the Nephite kings. Sobered by the account of the People of Limhi and by the wickedness of his own sons, Mosiah feared for the people if kings continued to rule. Not only that, he’d let his sons go on a mission to the Lamanites, so no one remained to take the kingdom from him. What to do?

With all these forces acting on him, he comes up with, for him I think, a radical idea: no more kings. When you keep in mind the Lord works with us where we’re at, this step away from rule by kings, was a big one. Even though by our standards, it's not that much of a change. Never the less, Mosiah introduces a democratic component to their society. I think it’s why Mormon made mention of it. It was closer to our day than any other form of government he could write about.

On the surface, it may seem similar, but beyond the elections to choose leaders, there’s little in common. Their first chief judge, Alma the Younger is not only the political leader, he’s also the religious leader. The people voted him into office! Can you imagine that happening today? Or even in 1830? This is a different culture.

As Mosiah argues for this move towards a democratic process, he makes an observation, prophetic in nature even which I feel holds true today. He said it is common for the voice of the people, expressed in their votes, to choose what is right. In other words, the opinion and desires of the majority of a righteous people will be the right thing to do. When this voice of the people choose what is not right, then that society is ripening in iniquity and will soon receive the judgements of God if they don’t repent and change.

We read about this in the Book of Mormon and yet it is playing out in real time before us today. The voice of the American people is preparing to make an awful choice for their political leader. Think of it. The democrats offer a flaming socialist and a brazen lying, hypocrite for their standard bearers. The republicans are not much better. They prefer a swaggering, lying, rich bully over the one candidate who offers any hope of redeeming America. Yet most regard him as a nut case who is out of touch with reality though all he is talking about are conservative constitutional principles.

Mosiah got it exactly right. We're in trouble.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mosiah 26-27 - The Conversion of Alma the Younger

Except for Nephi, son of Lehi, no one in the Book of Mormon gets more narrative written on him than Alma the Younger, hereafter “Alma.” Do you think maybe there’s a reason why? I think there is.

In Alma, we have the archetype of every person who’s ever sinned and striven to make themselves better. Mosiah II’s sons, Ammon, Aaron, Omner and Himni, also fit the same archetype. Mormon devotes 96 pages to the life history and teachings of Alma, while “just” 25 to the Sons of Mosiah and the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s.

The subtext of all these teachings is: no matter who you are or what you’ve done, no matter how hostile you are to God, He’ll take you back and forgive you -- if you repent. In the stories of Alma, the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s, and the Sons of Mosiah, murderers are forgiven not to mention people who seduced others away from the Gospel. The proud, philanderers, liars and cheats are small change compared to these groups. All forgiven. If ever there was a great message contained in the Book of Mormon, this is it.

Alma’s conversion is fairly well known, so there’ll be no recitation of events here. Instead, I would commend to anyone who’s wondered if God will forgive them or wondered if they can be for things they’ve done in their past, to read about Alma.

The Book of Mormon teaches that there are some things which can’t be forgiven, but the examples of Alma and the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s show a spectacularly wicked person can be forgiven. And if they can, so can the rest of us. Like Alma, all we have to do is ask. How cool is that?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mosiah 23-24 - The People of Alma

The story of Alma the Elder and those who follow him is a powerful lesson on obedience. The lesson of this story and that of Limhi’s people is this: the sooner you get with the Lord’s program, the easier things will be for you.

I’ve always been struck by the reality that Alma and those who followed him were converted after Abinadi’s second warning, not the first. So the prophecy they would be brought into bondage applied to them too. While they were in bondage for a time to not only the Lamanites, but the priests of Noah, under Amulon, their experience was much less difficult than Limhi’s.

There’s a message, a promise, and a warning there we should always keep in mind. While Heavenly Father will work with us where we are, the more strident and prideful we are in our disobedience, the more stern will be the chastening to get our attention refocused on Him.

I’ve liked the means of their deliverance too. Before they were, God strengthened them to bear up under the tasks the Lamanites placed upon them. They were so blessed it was as if there was no burden. Then, rather than have to provide the wine to get the Lamanites drunk and asleep, the Lord caused it. I’ve always wondered what He did when He said He’d stop the army from pursuing them. In a way, I’m kinda’ glad I wasn’t there to find out.

A note about geography. The narrative says they traveled through the wilderness just twelve days before they arrived in the land of Zarahemla. In my opinion, that doesn’t necessarily mean they got to Zarahemla in twelve days, but into the land under its control. So, how many days did it take them to get to the City of Zarahemla? I don’t know. It’s just a thought.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Mosiah 21-22 - The People of Limhi

After Noah’s death, the people choose one of his sons, Limhi, to be their king. Then true to the prophecy given by Abinadi, the Lamanites subjugate them. Thus begins a decades long period of chastening by the Lord to bring them back to Him. More on this in a moment.

I just have to wonder. Don’t you think a society brought to ruin by a king would not want any of his descendants to be their new king? I wouldn’t. Joseph Smith nor any American in the 1820’s wouldn't either. Yet the event is recorded as if it’s the perfectly normal thing to do. Hearkening back to what Orson Scott Card said, if an author feels something needs to be explained, he will make a point to do it in the narrative. Mormon does that with the monetary system: it was unusual to him. But handing a kingdom, by the voice of the people no less, from father to son is no big deal. It’s another piece of evidence showing an American living in 1820 did not write this. Someone used to kingly succession amongst an aristocratic class did.

The other thing of note is the evolution of the people through this time. They accept bondage and appoint their own king, Limhi. Then the Lamanites attack them because of the abduction of 24 of their daughters. The Nephites are spared because they capture the Lamanite king and persuade him it wasn’t them. They live in peace but chafe under the tax burden and treatment by the Lamanites. Imagine what it would be like to have “just” a 50% tax burden. It’s bondage to the Nephites, but democracy to us. Go figure.

They try three times to fight their way out, to win their freedom by the sword. They fail and humble themselves to the dust. For a time the Lamanites treat them little better than beasts of burden. They also learn charity by caring for the widows of the dead soldiers. By slow degrees Heavenly Father starts to bless them with ever more abundant crops. Finally, when they are as desirous to be baptized as the people of Alma were, Ammon is led to them and they make their escape.

The community they establish, the Land of Gideon, becomes one of the stalwart cities among the Nephites for generations.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Mosiah 19-20 - The End of Noah

This section covers decades of time. It covers the subjugation of the people of Noah, his death by fire and the reign of his son, Limhi. There are a few things that pique my interest in this story.

One of the standout aspects is we are shown just how despicable and low Noah and his priests were. When the kingdom is being overrun, Noah persuades those near him to abandon their wives and flee from the invading Lamanites. He suffers death by fire at the hands of those who followed him, when he orders them to not go back to their families.

His priests are not much better. Rather than return home, they flee when Noah is killed, forever abandoning their own families. Later, they kidnap twenty-four Lamanite daughters for new wives and then steal food from the Nephites. What surprises me is when they re-unite with the Lamanites, the king doesn’t just kill them, but it’s a different culture.

Another thing I found interesting is the manner which the Nephite men use their wives and children to try and save their lives. They place their women and children in front of them to plead for their lives to the approaching Lamanites. It sounds strange to us, yet there is a precedent in the Bible. Jacob does something similar when he meets his brother Esau for the first time after going to get a wife. (See Genesis 33:2)

The last thing I’ll mention is, for me, the most interesting. It’s how the people who fled with Noah recount his death to the Nephites who went looking for them. The men of Gideon find them preparing to return to Nephi when they tell the story in a ceremony. What kind of ceremony? Mormon makes no mention of it, so it wasn't unusual to him. But who in our day knows what this is? It seems obvious to me if Joseph Smith was making this up, he’d explain it, but he doesn’t. The story goes right on without a word of explanation on why a ceremony would be used in this manner. It’s a mystery.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mosiah 17-18 - The Conversion of Alma

When Abinadi finished speaking, Noah and his priests decided his fate. It’s here that Alma comes to Abinadi’s defense. It almost costs him his life. He ends up fleeing into the wilderness to avoid being killed by the kings servants. While hiding there, he writes down Abinadi’s words and begins his long painful repentance process.

Back in the palace, Noah and his priests condemn Abinadi to death by fire. The account says “faggot” an old-English expression for a bundle of sticks tied together to use as fuel in a fire. They have a lot of surface area so it burns very, very hot. Before he succumbs to the flames, he pronounces a prophetic warning upon Noah and his people. He prophecies Noah will die by fire and that many others will die by fire as a result of the example they set. As you read in the Book of Mormon, you’ll see this prophecy comes true in every horrifying detail.

With Abinadi dead, after he repents (my opinion) Alma begins teaching the people the lessons he learned from Abinadi. Whether he’s more careful than Abinadi was or had protection that Heavenly Father, in His wisdom, withheld from Abinadi, Alma succeeded where Abinadi didn’t. He soon has a following of two hundred people.

Think for a moment of the faith these people had. They believed in what Alma taught enough to join a movement they knew could get them killed. They joined anyway. In time the king did learn of it and sent an army to slaughter them. Warned by God, they flee into the wilderness.

Noah had driven righteous people out of his kingdom. As we’ll see in what happens next, when the righteous are driven from a society, things don’t end well for those who did the driving out.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mosiah 12-16 - Abinadi: A Study in Courage

I want to start with a thought I introduced in my previous post about the warnings Abinadi gave the people of Noah. After two years, he returns to prophecy to the people. He says because they haven’t repented, the consequences are worse. Not only will they be brought into captivity, now if they don’t repent, they’ll be destroyed.

This doesn’t go over too well with the people. They capture and bring him to Noah. In Noah’s court, he is summarily condemned as a troublemaker and mad, worthy of death. Then the miracle begins. God protects him and allows him to give his message. He teaches of the preparatory role of the Mosaic Law and of the coming of Jesus Christ and the law He will bring.

In doing so, he quotes one of my most favorite passages of scripture, Isaiah 53. Who isn’t moved by the poetic power of such phrases as, “with His stripes, we are healed?” Or, “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him, the iniquity of us all?” This often brings me to tears to read it.

One of the tactics I use to make it more real for me is a simple word substitution. If you replace “the Lord” with “Heavenly Father,” “Jesus Christ” for “him” and your name for “us” or “we,” it will drive home the power of this passage and show you just how personal our salvation is. We are unique individuals to Them. I am convinced that during the Atonement, the Savior saw each of us, with all our weaknesses, sins, and sorrows and said, in effect, “I do this for you, because I love you.”

I marvel at that. Such is the power of the message Abinadi delivered to Noah and to one of his priests, Alma.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mosiah 9-11 - Noah and Abinadi A Contrast of Opposites

Abinadi is one of my favorite prophets in the Book of Mormon. Though he likely never saw the good he did before he was killed by the wicked king, Noah. Next to Nephi, he is one of the most influential prophets in all the history of the Nephites.

I give that honor to him because it was through him that Heavenly Father reached Alma. Though he sealed his testimony to Noah with his life, that one conversion he made led to a dynasty of prophets.

Noah is one of just three wicked government leaders who are treated in more than just passing by Mormon. (The others are Amalikiah, and Zoram.) I’ll talk of the other two later once I get into the Book of Alma, but these three share a common trait, which is why I think Mormon mentioned them. Not only were they wicked, but they led their society into wickedness too.

Noah legitimized debauchery and alcohol for his people. He appointed wicked advisors who judged and ruled the people in accordance with his desires. In this environment, most of the people followed after him into wickedness until Abinadi was called of God to warn them. Noah, like the other two leaders, is an example of what one wicked man, when placed in power, can have over a nation.

Think of that when you vote this year.

The last thing I want to mention is Abinadi’s warning. The first time he comes, he warns the people if they don’t repent, they will be brought into bondage. The people ignore his warnings. Two years later he returns. And that’s my topic for my next entry.