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1 And it came to pass that when they had established a church in that land, that king Lamoni desired that Ammon should go with him to the land of Nephi, that he might show him unto his father.
2 And the voice of the Lord came to Ammon, saying: Thou shalt not go up to the land of Nephi, for behold, the king will seek thy life; but thou shalt go to the land of Middoni; for behold, thy brother Aaron, and also Muloki and Ammah are in prison.
3 Now it came to pass that when Ammon had heard this, he said unto Lamoni: Behold, my brother and brethren are in prison at Middoni, and I go that I may deliver them.
There was no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. However, verse 1 is clearly a transition verse. The first part of the verse closes the story from the end of our Chapter 19 where Ammon established the church. In fact, that very phrase was used in Alma 19:35, only two verses prior to this repetition. The second part of the verse moves to the next event with Lamoni.
This next event will close the story of Ammon and Lamoni, and move to Ammon’s brothers. To get them into the story, this event discusses how Ammon and Lamoni need to free them from prison. Alma sets up not only the story of freeing the brothers, but eventually the meeting with Lamoni’s father, and that sets up the story of Aaron and Lamoni’s father.
The first verse tells us that Lamoni intended to take Ammon to his father. Ammon receives a revelation that such a visit would not be a good idea because Lamoni’s father would seek Ammon’s life. However, the Lord tells Ammon that his brothers need to be rescued. Therefore, he goes to Lamoni and suggests that rather than going to see Lamoni’s father, Ammon needed to deliver his brothers in the land of Middoni.
4 Now Lamoni said unto Ammon: I know, in the strength of the Lord thou canst do all things. But behold, I will go with thee to the land of Middoni; for the king of the land of Middoni, whose name is Antiomno, is a friend unto me; therefore I go to the land of Middoni, that I may flatter the king of the land, and he will cast thy brethren out of prison. Now Lamoni said unto him: Who told thee that thy brethren were in prison?
5 And Ammon said unto him: No one hath told me, save it be God; and he said unto me—Go and deliver thy brethren, for they are in prison in the land of Middoni.
6 Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots.
7 And he said unto Ammon: Come, I will go with thee down to the land of Middoni, and there I will plead with the king that he will cast thy brethren out of prison.
Verse 4 is one of the places where we learn a little about the way the Lamanite world in the land of Nephi is organized. We will soon learn that King Lamoni’s father is also a king, but a king over all the land. In verse 4 we learn that Antiomno is the king in the land of Middoni. Thus, there are multiple kings over their own territory, and then an overking who governs over all of them.
This political organization differs from what we had seen in the land of Zarahemla. However, it is a known feature of the interrelationships of cities among the Maya. Each city and its land would have their ruler, their equivalent of a king, but those rulers were often beholden to another king who exercised influence over multiple cities. Thus, the Book of Mormon description of the Lamanite political situation reflects what is known of Mayan relationships. If the Book of Mormon is placed in Mesoamerica, then the fit continues to be demonstrated by the way known history appears to be reflected in the Book of Mormon text.
Although Antiomno might have been a friend to Lamoni, that doesn’t mean that there is frequent communication. Lamoni appears not to have known that Ammon’s brothers are in prison, and so he asks Ammon how it is that Ammon knew. The Lord had told him. Lamoni’s response is not to ask further questions, but to accept that the information is both correct and that it is a situation that should be corrected. Lamoni declares that he will go.
We hear about horses and chariots again. Whatever the English words represented, the animals and conveyances appear to be intended for use in official visits. We will learn that Ammon was preparing the horses and chariots for a visit to Lamoni’s father, but now we see them in the context of a visit to another king. Pictorial evidence from the Maya demonstrates that these visits were ceremonial, and did include conveyances and symbols. Connecting the two requires that we see the translation into English as representing something other than the usual connotations of those words in English, but the situations are similar.
8 And it came to pass that as Ammon and Lamoni were journeying thither, they met the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.
9 And behold, the father of Lamoni said unto him: Why did ye not come to the feast on that great day when I made a feast unto my sons, and unto my people?
10 And he also said: Whither art thou going with this Nephite, who is one of the children of a liar?
11 And it came to pass that Lamoni rehearsed unto him whither he was going, for he feared to offend him.
12 And he also told him all the cause of his tarrying in his own kingdom, that he did not go unto his father to the feast which he had prepared.
As King Lamoni and Ammon are traveling with their entourage to Middoni, they meet Lamoni’s father, who remains unnamed throughout the story. We learn that Lamoni was supposed to come to a feast with his father, but did not attend. Although our record doesn’t give the reason that Lamoni’s father was on the road where he might meet Lamoni, we can make the reasonable assumption that he was on his way to see Lamoni in order to discern why Lamoni had not come. As the overking, Lamoni’s father certainly expected his sons to come, and if they did not, it might signal the beginning of a rebellion, which would not have been tolerated. Therefore, verse 11 notes that Lamoni “feared to offend” his father.
Lamoni does explain why he did not go, and that explanation certainly had a lot to do with the reason that he was traveling with “this Nephite, who is one of the children of a liar.” Lamoni’s father’s attitude is clear. This evidence does confirm what the Lord told Ammon, that if Ammon appeared in the overkings center of power, he likely would not have left it alive.
13 And now when Lamoni had rehearsed unto him all these things, behold, to his astonishment, his father was angry with him, and said: Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property.
14 Now the father of Lamoni commanded him that he should slay Ammon with the sword. And he also commanded him that he should not go to the land of Middoni, but that he should return with him to the land of Ishmael.
15 But Lamoni said unto him: I will not slay Ammon, neither will I return to the land of Ishmael, but I go to the land of Middoni that I may release the brethren of Ammon, for I know that they are just men and holy prophets of the true God.
16 Now when his father had heard these words, he was angry with him, and he drew his sword that he might smite him to the earth.
Just as the Nephites had a rather standard way of referring to the Lamanites as lazy and bloodthirsty, and other invectives when we see Nephites describing the Lamanites, we learn here that the Lamanites also had a standard way of referring to the Nephites. According to the Lamanites, the Nephites were liars who had robbed their ancestors of a birthright. The mutual hatred festered over centuries, and hardened into a reason so strong that it no longer even needed to be relevant or true.
King Lamoni’s father hates Nephites in any case, but now has a reason to hate a specific Nephite who had prevented King Lamoni from performing his basic political duties. Therefore, the overking commands Lamoni to kill Ammon. He expected to be obeyed. Lamoni refused.
Lamoni had learned something about Ammon that his father didn’t know. Lamoni had learned of the power of the Spirit, and his father had no experience with that Spirit, and, therefore, didn’t understand why Lamoni would refuse to kill Ammon. However, the refusal would have appeared to confirm fears of rebellion or betrayal. Therefore, the overking intended to kill his son, King Lamoni.
17 But Ammon stood forth and said unto him: Behold, thou shalt not slay thy son; nevertheless, it were better that he should fall than thee, for behold, he has repented of his sins; but if thou shouldst fall at this time, in thine anger, thy soul could not be saved.
18 And again, it is expedient that thou shouldst forbear; for if thou shouldst slay thy son, he being an innocent man, his blood would cry from the ground to the Lord his God, for vengeance to come upon thee; and perhaps thou wouldst lose thy soul.
19 Now when Ammon had said these words unto him, he answered him, saying: I know that if I should slay my son, that I should shed innocent blood; for it is thou that hast sought to destroy him.
20 And he stretched forth his hand to slay Ammon. But Ammon withstood his blows, and also smote his arm that he could not use it.
Ammon intervenes to save Lamoni. That does not assuage the overking’s anger. Lamoni’s father had already shown that he harbored a traditional hatred for the Nephites, and now expresses that hatred by claiming that Ammon, a Nephite, is really at the heart of Lamoni’s disobedience and rebellion. In his mind, Ammon has led his son astray and has made him take part in a rebellion against his father and his heritage.
Undoubtedly, Lamoni knew that Ammon could not be killed. Ammon defeated the king, and wounded him. That put Ammon in a position where he could easily kill the overking. He will not, and that will set up the next important missionary story.
Ammon’s words to the overking demonstrate the nature of his teaching and of Lamoni’s transformation. Ammon declared, in verse 17, that even should Lamoni be killed, it would be better for Lamoni than his father. Lamoni had repented. Ammon’s view of the world saw past the boundaries of mortality. Were this mortality all that there was, dying would be an almost ultimate tragedy. If, however, there was a continuation of life in another realm, as Ammon had taught and Lamoni had briefly experienced, then a mortal death was not the tragedy that living unrepentant and, therefore, unprepared for that other realm would be.
21 Now when the king saw that Ammon could slay him, he began to plead with Ammon that he would spare his life.
22 But Ammon raised his sword, and said unto him: Behold, I will smite thee except thou wilt grant unto me that my brethren may be cast out of prison.
23 Now the king, fearing he should lose his life, said: If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee whatsoever thou wilt ask, even to half of the kingdom.
24 Now when Ammon saw that he had wrought upon the old king according to his desire, he said unto him: If thou wilt grant that my brethren may be cast out of prison, and also that Lamoni may retain his kingdom, and that ye be not displeased with him, but grant that he may do according to his own desires in whatsoever thing he thinketh, then will I spare thee; otherwise I will smite thee to the earth.
25 Now when Ammon had said these words, the king began to rejoice because of his life.
Lamoni’s father clearly feared for his life and pleaded for it. Ammon used that fear to extract a promise that he would free his brothers from prison in Middoni. That statement tells us that Ammon understood that the overking had influence over other kings in the land. It confirms the picture of the king over lesser kings that we have been drawing.
The king is desperate enough that, rather than only agreeing to free the brothers, he offers an even greater reward; up to half of his kingdom. Rather than ask anything for himself, he removes the threat to Lamoni, and then asks for his brothers’ release.
26 And when he saw that Ammon had no desire to destroy him, and when he also saw the great love he had for his son Lamoni, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Because this is all that thou hast desired, that I would release thy brethren, and suffer that my son Lamoni should retain his kingdom, behold, I will grant unto you that my son may retain his kingdom from this time and forever; and I will govern him no more—
27 And I will also grant unto thee that thy brethren may be cast out of prison, and thou and thy brethren may come unto me, in my kingdom; for I shall greatly desire to see thee. For the king was greatly astonished at the words which he had spoken, and also at the words which had been spoken by his son Lamoni, therefore he was desirous to learn them.
Whether it was part of what Ammon had hoped for or not, certainly the Lord used the occasion to set up the meeting between Aaron and the overking that would lead to perhaps an even greater conversion of Lamanites than what Ammon had achieved. Lamoni’s father is impressed when Ammon asks for much less than he could have, and that the requests had nothing to do with his personal success. Of course, the overking would have assumed that Ammon’s definition of personal success would have been wealth and power, where this true motivation was bringing souls to God.
Lamoni’s father confirms that he had had control over his son, even though his son was a king. He frees him to reign on his own, and then declares that the brothers would be freed. Witnessing the Spirit’s hand in this process, he also requests that someone come to him in his own land to teach him about the things that had so remarkably changed his son, Lamoni. Although unstated, it is possible that Lamoni’s father might have some wonder if Ammon were not “more than a man,” just as his son had originally feared.
28 And it came to pass that Ammon and Lamoni proceeded on their journey towards the land of Middoni. And Lamoni found favor in the eyes of the king of the land; therefore the brethren of Ammon were brought forth out of prison.
29 And when Ammon did meet them he was exceedingly sorrowful, for behold they were naked, and their skins were worn exceedingly because of being bound with strong cords. And they also had suffered hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions; nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings.
30 And, as it happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people; therefore they would not hearken unto their words, and they had cast them out, and had smitten them, and had driven them from house to house, and from place to place, even until they had arrived in the land of Middoni; and there they were taken and cast into prison, and bound with strong cords, and kept in prison for many days, and were delivered by Lamoni and Ammon.
Ammon’s brothers had received a very different reception. They did not find a way to work past the hard hearts that they found in the people to whom they preached. They had been cast into prison and treated poorly. Nevertheless, with the orders of the overking, Lamoni and Ammon were able to free them.
This ends the chapter that discussed the story of Ammon and Lamoni. In the next chapter we move to a new story.
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