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Come Follow Me Insights (Alma 23–29)
Come Follow Me Class Insights – Alma 23-29
I'm Taylor, and I'm Tyler, this is Book of Mormon Central's Come Follow Me insights. Today, Alma 23 through 29 and we'll recommend a couple of the Book of Mormon Central short essays, they're called KnoWhys.
Number 131 deals with the meaning of the name Anti-Nephi-Lehi and we'll talk about that in the lesson today, and then number 134 talks about the meaning of the word Jershon. And we think you'll enjoy reading these essays and just – the interesting things that are going on in the Book of Mormon and how Mormon constructs the narrative to make key points that help us to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Okay, let's dive in. In chapter 23 we pick up the story. These people have for five hundred plus years been establishing their traditions as Lamanites. They have been passing them on from generation to generation and with each succeeding generation those stories about what happened back in the distant past, they get bigger and worse as far as their perception of the Nephites.
Now you get this incredible, incredible experience where Ammon, Aaron, Omner and Himni and a couple of their brethren go down on this mission with scriptures, with the story of what happened over 500 years ago, and they learn about God, they learn about the creation, the fall and the redemption of man, and they learn the stories all the way back from Lehi moving forward and they are converted.
Now look at verse 5 in chapter 23. "And thousands were brought to the knowledge of the Lord, yea, thousands were brought to believe in the traditions of the Nephites." No longer the traditions of the Lamanites that are 500 years in the making, "and they were taught the records and prophecies which were handed down even to the present time."
Now, here is the key, verse 6. Because most of us have experienced getting caught up in a movement, or getting caught up in a fad or a passing craze, but look at verse 6. This is no passing craze with them. "And as sure as the Lord liveth, so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them – yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away."
That's pretty impressive retention, to not have any of these Lamanites who were converted to ever fall away. They have come into this covenantal connection with God so profoundly and so deeply and powerfully, that nothing can separate them from God moving forward. This is powerful as we jump into this story.
Now you'll also notice as he lists all of these righteous people now, he lists the seven cities of Lamanites that have now become converted to the gospel in verse 9 through 12 and then notice what he says in verse 14: "The Amalekites were not converted, save only one; neither were any of the Amulonites; but they did harden thir hearts, and also the hearts of the Lamanites in that part of the land wheresoever they dwelt, yea, and all their villages and all their cities."
Not a single Amulonite and only one Amalekite, these former Nephites that have become dissenters, they're not interested in being converted, and so it's interesting that once you leave neutral ground and join the church, you leave that neutral ground forever. Joseph Smith taught that to a member of the Church early on, I believe his name was Brother Behunin who was marveling why are these people who leave the church, why are they fighting against the church. He said, if I were to leave the church, I would just move away somewhere and just not ever talk about the church. And Brother Joseph said to him, you don't know what you speak, because once you've left that neutral ground, you can't ever get back to the neutral ground. If you leave the church, then you'll be an enemy of this cause. And that's what we see happening here with these Amalekites and Amulonites.
Now, the people in verse 16, all these new converts, they wanted a name. So verse 17, they pick the name, the "Anti-Nephi-Lehies, and they were called y this name and were no more called Lamanites." Taylor, why would they pick a name like Anti-Nephi-Lehi?
So this verse caused confusion for a lot of people because most of us understand that the word anti means against. And it shows up in the Book of Mormon when we describe people who are anti-Christ, they're against Christ, they are not friends, they are not people you want to be spending time with or listening to their message very carefully.
So anti in the way we currently understand it comes from the ancient Greek which just means against, but what's interesting here is that when we label somebody an anti-Christ, it's a description; it's actually not a name. But look at these verses and let's look at the difference here that people actually taking a name upon themselves, not necessarily a description, here's what it says, verse 17: "And it came to pass that they called their names Anti-Nephi-Lehies; and they were called y this name and were no more called Lamanites."
So this is significant that there's something about the naming. Now what I and other scholars who have studied ancient languages have discovered and looked at, is that very often in scripture that shows up all over the Old Testament, even into the New Testament and throughout the Book of Mormon, that names often are key themes or ideas within the stories and actually in the Book of Mormon, most of the names that we see have been demonstrated to have plausible Hebrew or Egyptian meanings, which is exactly what the Book of Mormon claims of itself which is actually quite stunning.
Last time I checked I don't think Joseph Smith started studying Hebrew until 1835 and so he wouldn't have known Hebrew or Egyptian. If people claim that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, he could not have invented Hebrew and Egyptian names. So this is strong evidence that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, an ancient, authentic witness of Jesus Christ.
So let's talk about what anti (unclear?) in Egyptian. The Egyptian word (ati?) actually means (he of) and I might translate it a little bit differently to say, belonging to. So now actually look at what's going on. Walking away from the Lamanite name which is a designation of the group they're in, these Lamanites have now renamed themselves; they have joined with a group of Nephites who have followed Lehi's righteousness.
So we would call them those of Nephi and Lehi, the righteous followers of the covenant path. That is their name. So it's not that they're against Nephi and Lehi, that is, you know they didn't know Greek, pretty confident they weren't using that version, they're trying to demonstrate that they have entered into the covenant through baptism that Lehi and Nephi taught.
Now let's actually just finish this chapter in verse 18. "…they began to be very industrious people; yea, they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." So let's just talk very briefly about what that curse is.
We can go back to 2nd Nephi chapter 1 verse 20, so this is Lehi speaking to his family and these promises are for their descendants. "Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence." So the word prosper has the meaning of having God's spirit to be with you.
When you get baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, that is prospering. When you go partake of the sacrament and promise to keep the commandments, and you get the blessing of always having his Spirit to be with you, that's prospering. It's about having God's presence. So the curse is to not have God's presence.
So when these Lamanites move into the Nephi culture, the religious culture, and join the covenant, they get full access to God's presence and so they no longer are cursed to not have full access to God's presence.
So let's read about what it means to have God's presence as a form of prospering and what the curse is. Let's go to 2nd Nephi chapter 4, verses 4 through 5. This is Lehi giving blessins on his family and their descendants. "The Lord God has said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence." Pay attention to that, the commandments lead to having God's presence. That is prospering.
And what's the opposite if you don't keep the commandments, you don't have God's presence and therefore, you don't prosper. It goes on and says in verse 6, "Wherefore, if ye are cursed, behold, I leave my blessing upon you, that the cursing may be taken from you and be answered upon the heads of your parents."
The curse here is back there in verse 5, he says, "…my sons and my daughters, I cannot go down to my grave save I should leave a blessing upon you; for behold, I know that if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it." Meaning that if you keep the commandments you will prosper in the land, you won't be cursed. If you don't follow the commandments I reveal to you, you will not have God's prospering presence and that is the curse.
So when you wonder about the curses that we're talking about in the Book of Mormon, it's all about whether you have God's presence or not. Are you in the covenant, or you're not. It's pretty simple and it's pretty powerful.
So this sets up a real struggle in the nation of the Lamanites in the Land of Nephi because you've got all these newly converted Lamanites and you've got the hardened Amalekites and Amulonites and many other Lamanites who weren't converted, and so all of the converted people assemble. It tells us in verse 5 of chapter 24 that they meet first in the Land of Midian and then they come over to the land of Ishmael where Ammon had begun his missionary effort with Lamoni.
And it's here where we get this incredible speech from the King's son who is named Anti-Nephi-Lehi because the king of all the Lamanites has now died in the first two verses of chapter 24, and he gets up and gives this speech saying, we have some problems, some problems that are so big that if we, sitting here in the 21st century look back in time at the Book of Mormon, what if we looked at it through this lens?
What if we said, hmm, this is odd that Mormon and Moroni saw our day, they're writing the book predominantly for Lamanites in the latter day and for all people in the latter days, they know what we're struggling with today in our day and age, and one of the major, major wrestles that we experience culturally, socially, is addiction. There are addictions all over the place in this world today, and yet the word addiction never appears once in the Book of Mormon.
I find it interesting to read this story here of these people through the lenses of addiction and overcoming addiction, wrestling with, dealing with addictions and you might ask, well how in the world was addiction related here? Well look at some of the ways that they describe these people.
They were a ferocious and a bloodthirsty people who delighted in the shedding of blood. They delighted in warfare and in violence. It's almost like they're addicted to war and to killing and to violence. Something seems to happen to these people when you put a sword or a cimeter or a weapon of some sort in their hand and get them riled up. It's almost like they're addicted to it.
And if you read chapter 24 very, very carefully, what we now have through that lens is a handbook for what we might be able to do in the 21st century to wrestle more effectively with addictions, both for ourselves and to help loved ones and family members and associates who are wrestling with addictions because you're noticing the way this king is talking about their delights in the shedding of blood. Look at what he says, verse 12, "Now my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren." God has wiped our swords clean. They're bright, they're shiny at this point, let's not pick them up again for fear of what might happen inside of us when we do that, regardless of what our intent for picking it up is, even self-defense, right?
And he keeps talking about this washing those swords. Look at verse 15: "Oh how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at that day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged."
So he then invites them to bury their swords, verse 16, deep in the earth. Not just cast them aside, not just put them on a plaque on the wall as a memorial of what our former life used to be, but to absolutely bury them deep.
A few years ago Elder Dale Renlund in General Conference quoted the Shakespeare play "As You Like It" and in there he talked about these two brothers. In their younger years one of them was awful to his brother and Duke Frederick was just terrible. He tried to actually have his brother killed. Many, many years later, he had experienced some things. He had changed and some people, some women who had known him in earlier years recognized him and said, wait a minute, aren't you the one who was so cruel and vile and tried to kill your brother? And Duke Frederick's response is very, very profound as it relates to this story. He said, 'Twas I, but 'tis not I.
Brothers and sisters when dealing with addiction or when dealing with false tradition or patterns of negative behaviors and negative relationships, I love that phrase from the pen of William Shakespeare, 'Twas I, but 'tis not I. In other words, we're going to acknowledge the fact that yah, we've had struggles but it doesn't define us today. My present self is not going to be held hostage to my teenage self or my 20s something self or my 30 something self, nor is my 40 something self going to hold my 60 something self hostage.
The story of the gospel of Jesus Christ moving forward in an individual life is the ability to change, the ability to bury some things with the help of the atonement to not just bury stained swords, but swords that have been made bright – they're shiny – when we bury them. We're not burying sin. We've been forgiven. We've worked through a process of conversion and repentance and now we bury the weapons of our rebellion, okay?
Look at verse 19. This, by the way, is – this is one of the – for me, one of the most amazing, little often overlooked aspects of the entire Book of Mormon and it happens quite a few times. Look at verse 19. "Thus we see that when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace." Did you notice what just happened?
I don't want to make too big of a deal of this, but it needs to at least be addressed. "Thus we see that they did bury their weapons of peace" makes no sense. That's a mess up. Somebody made a mistake. Is it Mormon scratching characters into a metal plate? Have you ever done this where your brain is thinking through something as you write it out by hand or even type it? And somehow your brain gets ahead of your hand and you write something or type something a little bit out of order and you look at it and whoa! that was wrong, and you quickly fix it?
I love the fact that we have things like this in the Book of Mormon. If Joseph Smith is making up the book and he's dictating it to a scribe and if he says – if he messes up and says, "thus we see that they did bury their weapons of peace," he would say, oh, wait, no, sorry, scratch that, write it this way, "thus we see that they did bury their weapons of war for peace." Got that Oliver? Okay, yes. Okay, let's move on. That's how you would do it if you're making this thing up.
But if you're translating an ancient record that is written on metal plates then you're probably going to translate however that's working in that process according to what was written. Can you picture Mormon writing a long saying, "thus we see that they did bury their weapons of peace," and then him pausing going, oh no, I did it again. Because there are multiple times previous to this where similar things have happened.
This just happens to be the really obvious one. Notice that he then doesn't scratch it out, or doesn’t start over and rewrite the entire plate, he says, oh, actually what I really meant to say there was, "or buried their weapons of war for peace," and then he moves on.
Brothers and sisters, even when the Book of Mormon has a mistake, so to speak, even when it looks like it's wrong, turns out to be right because what Mormon is showing us here, what the Lord is allowing to come through the record to us today is the fact that Mormon would have never woken up and said, I want to mess up in my writing today. I want to make some mistakes. Nobody does that. He wanted to be perfect. He's doing the very best he can and he is amazing, reading volumes of Nephite history and making very few errors in comparison to the volume of writing that he's giving us.
But even when it's wrong, turns out the Book of Mormon's right because here it shows us a beautiful pattern and the pattern, the unwritten message for me is, Tyler, when you mess up, then recognize that you're messed up, fix it, and then move on. And that's exactly what Mormon does over and over and over again. Whenever there's a struggle with the writing, he just recognizes it, fixes it, and moves on. He doesn't wallow in the mire of his mistake.
And I love that for us today in the 21st century. When we're struggling to be as good as we can, we're going to occasionally mess up. We're going to say things wrong, we're going to do things wrong. Recognize it. Do the best you can to make it right and move on. It's a beautiful pattern.
And there are a lot of these throughout the Book of Mormon and you can start finding them. Let me show you just one more. Now there are dozens of these, simple ones like Ammon saying, "I will show forth my power unto these my fellow servants" back in Alma 17 and then he says, "or the power which is in me." So there are little corrections that it's not like a mistake but it's just a ooh, I don't like the way that came out so I'm going to fix it so it's more accurate to what happened.
One of the more amazing ones that he corrected is found in Alma 43 verse 38. In this verse, listen to this. We're talking about the battle between Captain in Zerahemnah. This says, "While on the other hand, there was now and then a man fell among the Nephites, by their swords and the loss of blood, they – the Nephites – being shielded from the more vital parts of the body, did you catch that? There aren't very many Nephites dying in this battle because they're shielded from the more vital parts of the body.
If you read it literally, that means the Lamanites are throwing vital body parts around the battlefield, and notice Mormon recognizes it, again, and he says, "or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites." The Lord could have made it so that the wording was perfect, that we see no human frailty coming through, no mistakes of any kind.
I love the Prophet Mormon, he's one of my heroes and I am so grateful that the Lord allows these things to come through because it teaches me, it gives me hope that when I'm trying my hardest to do my best and I still mess up, I too, can recognize it, repair it, and move on and not have it define me. I love that that shows up throughout the Book of Mormon without drawing attention to it.
Now, they buried their weapons of their rebellion deep in the earth to make it really hard for them to go back if they ever decide to dissent and go back on their old life, and then they go out and bow themselves down as this army comes and one thousand and five of them are just killed while they're in the act of praising God.
So this army says, this is really silly, and that day more than a thousand and five - we don't know the exact number – but it says more people joined them of the Lamanites, none of the Amalekites and Amulonites, they join them; they throw their weapons down and say, we're done, and it converts them in this very act of slaughtering these people, over a thousand now are converted, and the rest get tired of fighting against these pacifists so they say, let's go fight Nephites.
So they leave there and they go up secretly to a place where no Nephite would ever expect them to come in which is up north in the Land of Ammonihah, and they wipe out the City of Ammonihah in one day. It's that same army that goes and fulfills the prophecy of Alma and Amuek and wipe out the City of Ammonihah that takes you clear back to chapter Alma 16 where that city is destroyed, and now you get these cross-over points in our timing in the Book of Alma.
And then they keep fighting and when they can't prevail, they come home and many more Lamanites say, you know, this is dumb, we want to go and join you. So there are all of these points where people keep joining these Anti-Nephi-Lehites and they make the covenant with God. It's powerful.
Now you go to chapter 25. Look at verse 15. It says, this is describing after verse 14, they've buried their weapons of war according as their brethren had and then it describes what they do to enter into that covenant. Verse 15: "Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled," and won't be until Jesus comes, right?
"But notwithstanding the Law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ considering that the Law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep these outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them."
So let's read that and let's just remind ourselves about the two major covenants in the Bible, the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant. In verse 16: "They did not suppose that salvation came by the Law of Moses; but the Law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Chirst; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come."
So significantly, if you look at the two major covenants in the Bible which we have talked about during this Book of Mormon year, the Abrahamic covenant is God's duties and obligations to his people, people of Abraham. And we are all his children either by blood or by adoption. We have the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant.
God offers salvation symbolically through the Abrahamic covenant. For us to access that, we need to step into the Mosaic covenant. At least anciently that's how it was; it's all been updated through Jesus and modern-day revelation. The Mosaic covenant, or the Law of Moses, was revealed at Mt. Sinai and when we hear the Law of Moses, sometimes we think, oh it's a law, you're going to get in trouble if you break it, and it's interesting, the underlying word here for law actually is torah, a Hebrew word that actually means instruction.
Well that's interesting. (unclear ?) like this legalistic like, you've got to do these things, it's instruction. It's Moses' instruction that God gave to him, and it really, ultimately is covenantal instructions. So what the Lamanites have now done is said, we are willing to listen to the covenantal instructions revealed from God to Moses and preserved and continue to be taught by prophets all the way down through Lehi, Nephi, Alma and Amulek. We will follow those covenantal instructions so that we can access the free gift of salvation that God has offered which will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
So when you hear phrases like Law of Moses, don't think about just the legalism, think about that it's an instructional manual for how to be covenantally faithful to God. Now, to put this in a modern-day context, the Law of Moses has been updated to the higher law through Jesus, and so our obligations now are revealed through Jesus and through modern-day prophets.
So even though we learn from the Law of Moses to point forward to think about Jesus, we don't run around trying to keep like all of the performances of like say slaughtering an animal. So pay attention to (unclear?) prophet, pay attention to Jesus and that keeps you on the covenant path.
So as Taylor has described how these Nephites and Lamanites – their approach of looking at the Law of Moses, we can take that same thing and apply it to today. Rather than looking at the law, even the law of the gospel, or the law of consecration, or the law of tithing or the law of anything that's really important, none of those laws today will save us. Every single one of those laws is us looking to Christ and they all serve to strengthen our faith in our Savior and our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And those are all gifts that he has given us, to be able to strengthen that connection with him and allow us to learn and grow and become more like him through the process of time.
Now chapter 26. This is a famous chapter that's often quoted because here Ammon in this little meeting, he starts to get pretty excited about the successes that they've experienced among the Lamanites, at which point in verse 10 Aaron, kind of interrupts him and rebukes him and says, "Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting." Careful Ammon. And he says, no, I'm not boasting in my own strength or in my own wisdom, but my joy is full. Why? Because I'm going to rejoice in my God.
Look at verse 12: "Yea I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever."
You'll notice that in verse 15 he's describing the Lamanite converts, he says, "Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work."
That, to me, is beautiful and profound, because Ammon's recognizing who he is and who his fellow missionaries are, and who God is and who really did the work here. If you look at the word instrument and then analyze it for a minute, how many of you have ever been to a really famous or popular art museum of any kind? And you've walked into that art museum and you see paintings or sculptures or some pieces of art and you're first response was, wow! I wish I could see the chisels that formed that sculpture, or I wish I could see the paint brushes and the palettes and the paints that made that painting? Nobody ever does that. The focus and attention is on the artist, not on the instruments.
And Ammon says, we've been instruments. If you use the chisel analogy for making a sculpture, the master artist, the person who's doing the sculpture is going to look at those instruments and sometimes say, hmm, this one's shaped a little wrong, I need it to be a different shape. If you're taking certain kinds of instruments, to change them, you put them in a hot fire and then you put them on an anvil and you bang them until they're the right shape and then you cool them off, and then you can do glorious work with them.
Brothers and sisters, in the work of the Lord, to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord, to be picked up into the almighty hand of the Son of God to be used to do his work means that sometimes he has to reshape us. Sometimes he needs to clean off some edges that have grown dull or rough and this is never a fun experience but oh, it's a necessary and a glorious experience in order to then be taken in his hand and do the work that he wants us to do.
And at the end, rather than saying, look at what I created, look at what I carved out, it's to give all the credit back to the master artist. My life is worth very little every time I try to do what I want to do in isolation and cutoff from heaven. Things don't work so well for me. But when you give yourself to the Lord and say repeatedly, here I am, take me, shape me, mold me, make me what thou would need me to be in order to do the work that thou has in store for me, it's a profound thing.
It means that you need to prepare yourself for some shaping experiences and these brothers here, they describe in chapter 26, Ammon describes some of the difficulties – so hard, but look at verse 27. "Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions and I will give unto you success."
I know that the chances are pretty good if President Eyring's talk in General Conference many years ago is accurate, which I think it is, he said, treat everybody that you meet as if they're going through serious trials and tribulations and more than 50 percent of the time you'll be right. If that's true, many of you who are watching us might currently be wrestling with a very difficult circumstance.
Some of you might be moving through a profound trial of your faith and some of you wrestling with physical and mental and emotional and relational struggles and issues. If any of that's the case for you, I hope you can hear Ammon's voice repeating verse 27, "When our hearts were depressed and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us." It doesn’t mean he comes and takes away all those trials and struggles. It just means he gives us the means to say, keep trying. Hold on. Keep pressing forward even if you're holding on with the fingernail of faith, you hold on with all that you've got and know that he will give you success. Pretty powerful.
Now. In this chapter, one other concept, Ammon mentions the fact that many of their Nephite friends before their mission had kind of made fun of them saying, what? You think you're going to go among the Lamanites and teach them? You think you're going to do any good among the Lamanites? Seriously?
This reminds me of a statement – one of my favorite statements from Abraham Lincoln. As the story goes, one of his close associates said to him, I don't understand you. You have the power to destroy your enemies but you insist on trying to make friends with them. Why don't you just destroy them, it's way easier. And Abraham Lincoln's wise response was something like, hmm, am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?
I love that principle as it's portrayed here. It would have been way easier to go and fight the Lamanites, but these men went and took fourteen years and taught them and loved them, and brought them into the gospel and in so doing, they destroyed their enemies and they made eternal friendships and what a beautiful example for us today in our relationships, rather than trying to destroy each other, trying to find how to break down those barriers and reestablish peace and build friendships.
Now, on to chapter 27, it gets so bad these missionaries realize all of our new converts are going to be killed off by the Amalekites and Amulonites and the angry Lamanites so they decide, let's ask the Lord if we should take them to the Land of Zarehemla. And the answer was yes, do take them.
And so when they go north in chapter 27, they meet Alma and there's this incredible reunion and they find out that the voice of the Nephite people is yah, we'll let them come in and we're going to give them actually some lands on which to establish.
When these Anti-Nephi-Lehies, these people who want to belong, the tribe of Nephi and the tribe of Lehi and to be part of that religious, covenant-making community, they move into the Land of the Nephites and they're given the land by the Nephites. The Nephites actually vacate land, give it to this group of pacifists who have decided to fully commit themselves to Jesus Christ.
And the land gets a very interesting name, Jershon. And in Hebrew, this word literally means, actually before I tell it to you, if you had just received a land of inheritance and you want to name that land that it is a land of inheritance, you might just call it inheritance and no surprise that the word Jershon in Hebrew means inheritance because they have now inherited this gift from the Nephites where they can prosper in the land, where they can fully experience the presence of God in their lives as they keep the commandments in the land. And that's what Jershon means.
And I want you to think about today, all of us can have Jershon. All of us can prosper in our land of inheritance by keeping the commandments and we will have God's presence with us. Wherever you live can be a land of inheritance, a land of prospering, a land of having God's presence if you keep the commandments.
One of the most powerful ways of doing it is each week, be very thoughtful about the covenant you are making renewing at the sacrament where you are promising to keep the commandments and you'll receive his presence to be with you.
In chapter 28 it's this major war. Tens of thousands of people are killed as the conflict is increasing and then in 29 we shift away from that story and we come over to Alma. Notice how Alma starts this chapter. He says, "O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!"
You notice this is Alma the younger who's saying this? Remember what experience it was that was a turning point in his life and even in his eternal progression? It was an angel who came and spoke with the trump of God and shook the very earth on which he was standing. And he's saying, oh I wish I could do that for everybody.
But then his response in verse 3 is, ah, "But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me." Ironically, side note, two years down the road Alma maybe gets his wish, because he's going to leave Zarahemla as if he's going over to Mulek, but he never shows up in Mulek and nobody can find him and they have no idea where he went, and they say, well, we suppose he was taken up, maybe becomes an angel.
We don't know. It's just interesting that that's his wish, and perhaps God granted that wish to him. I don't know. He launches in verse 5 and 6 into this incredible discussion about agency, moral agency, our freedom to choose and to live and to be however we feel like we want to act.
Look at verse 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." Men are free, women are free, they're not bound down.
Look at verse 6, "Now seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?" Pretty profound statement. People have their agency, God's going to allow me in my sphere of influence to do whatever I can to be an instrument in his hands to do his work.
Now look at verse 8: "For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations," that's 200 percent, "all nations of their own nation and tongue to teach his word, yea, in wisdom all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true." A lot of of people will ask questions like, what do you think about the other sacred texts out in the world, or people who have elements that they're teaching that sound like there is some similarity to the gospel but there are some differences too.
My answer to all of those questions is go back to chapter 29 verse 8. God gives to all of the inhabitants of the earth as much as they are able to bear of the gospel, as many elements of the gospel as they can and there may be other things added in there that people make up, but God is going to give as much as they will possibly be able to take.
Now look at verse 9, to finish this discussion. "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." Sounds very familiar to what Ammon was sharing back in chapter 26 doesn't it?
Now as we close this lesson today, I want to finish with a little story to tie it all together from something that C. S. Lewis wrote in the Voyage of the Dawb Treader, which is part of the Narnia series. In this story, you have this character who is, quite frankly, very annoying, Eustace Clarence Scrubb. And for the first part of this book nobody can stand this kid. And then he has an experience on one of the islands where he actually goes into a dragon's cave where a dragon has just come out and died.
He goes in and when he wakes up through a series of events, he discovers that he has turned into a dragon. He has become something he would never have wanted to become. Because of some internal greed and selfishness and other things he has now become a dragon and through the course of this chapter, he's really wrestling with his identity trying to figure out what happened and he really loaths the way he now is in his existence, and wants to be done with it.
One night, in this story Aslan who's the lion, who is our Christ figure, comes to Eustace the dragon and bids him to follow him. It's a moonless night and Eustace says there is moonlight all around the lion and it follows him and he takes him up into a high mountain, a place where Eustace has never been, and there is a beautiful pool and Eustace wants more than anything else to bathed, to get into that pool and feel clean.
There's a nice analogy here to baptism, entering into a covenant with God. But he knows he can't enter in as a dragon. As he steps up to the water wanting to go in and sees those horrible dragon scales, they are repulsive to him and so the lion, Aslan, says to him that he must – the words are that the lion said, I must undress you first.
So Eustace thinks, no, I got this and so he starts scratching at some of the scales and they come off and he scratches a little deeper and off comes the skin and he thinks, ah, I'm free. And he sees this dragon, scaly skin on the ground and he says, now I can get into the pool. And he goes to get in the pool and he notices a dragon's hands still – a foot – and he realizes that oh, maybe there's a deeper layer, so he scratches off another skin and there I's lying next to the first and he goes to get in, and he recognizes he's still a dragon.
So he comes back and he does it a third time. There are now three dragon skins and he goes to get into the pool and he's still a dragon. Then the lion said, but I don't know if it spoke, Eustace says, you will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now, so I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
His very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart, and when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know, if you've ever picked the scab off of a sore place, it hurts like (billy-o?) but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off, just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times and they hadn't hurt. And there it was, lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker and darker and more knobly looking than the others had been. And there was I, a smooth and soft and as peeled as a pig switch and smaller than I had been. And then he caught hold of me. I didn't like that much, for I was very tender underneath now that I had no skin on, and he threw me into the water.
And then Eustace goes on to describe how pleasant and wonderful and amazing that swim in the clean pool was for him, that new life that was given to him. He was given a new opportunity to live his life as a new creature.
Brothers and sisters, we live in a world filled with struggles, filled with addictions, filled with issues all around us. The message to me – one of the strong messages to me of this book is, we have hope only in Christ. We can't peel the skin off of ourselves. We can't take the dragon off of ourself. We have to submit to Christ and let him do the peeling and let him put us into the water to establish and reestablish that covenant over and over again. I know that he lives. I know that he loves you. I leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
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