You are here
Show Full Text
Mosiah 23: Header
An account of Alma and the people of the Lord, who were driven into the wilderness by the people of King Noah.
The original chapter in 1830 consisted of the material in our current chapters 23 through 27. Our current edition correctly notes that the account of Alma1 only covers the material in our current chapters 23 and 24. Orson Pratt recognized that Mormon returned to the large plate material in our chapter 25. Mormon does not indicate when he returns to that source, though he has previously created a chapter break when he does. In this case, we can discern that return through the nature of the text rather than the explicit creation of a chapter.
The historical material that Mormon uses for our current chapters 23 and 24 came from the separate record of Alma1 and consists of his record of his people. Mormon had previously referenced this information, so we know that he had read it and planned to include it at this location.
Alma1 Rejects Kingship
1 Now Alma, having been warned of the Lord that the armies of king Noah would come upon them, and having made it known to his people, therefore they gathered together their flocks, and took of their grain, and departed into the wilderness before the armies of king Noah.
2 And the Lord did strengthen them, that the people of king Noah could not overtake them to destroy them.
The book of Mosiah is the most complex writing task that Mormon undertook. There are multiple threads of stories that are happening at similar times, but at different places. Telling one story necessarily put Mormon’s story out of sync with the others. Thus, there are flashbacks within flashbacks.
Mormon began with the story of Ammon finding the people of Limhi. That event led to the explanation of who those people were; hence the story of Zeniff, then Noah. Telling Noah’s story required that we meet Abinadi, and that triggered the story of Alma1. After introducing Alma1, Mormon set his story aside to finish with Noah and then move to Limhi. When that story caught up to the story of Ammon, he returned to the story of Alma1, which began before Limhi became king. It also occurred in a different location and was recorded on a different record.
Even the telling of the complexity is complex. The task Mormon had was to pull all those stories together. They would not be truly unified until both Limhi’s people and Alma1’s people arrived in Zarahemla.
At this point, Mormon is shifting to Alma1’s story, so we move back in time. Mormon had told us that Noah attempted to find Alma1’s people , but failed (see Mosiah 18:34 and 19:1). That ending was given from Noah’s viewpoint. Now he picks up right after he left off, but from Alma1’s point of view.
3 And they fled eight days’ journey into the wilderness.
4 And they came to a land, yea, even a very beautiful and pleasant land, a land of pure water.
5 And they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly.
While discussing Nephi’s story of the creation of his people, I noted that he paid attention to an ancient Near Eastern pattern for the establishment of a new people. Nephi’s use of the theme led to his paralleling the Lehite exodus with Israel’s exodus from Egypt. While Mormon doesn’t emphasize the ethnogenetic elements, he nevertheless uses some of that basic outline. Alma1’s people flee through the wilderness and arrive at a new land, just as the Nephites had traveled over the water to a new land.
When Nephi wrote of his people arriving in the New World, he wrote that they found what they needed in order to live and that they began to prosper. Alma1’s people also come to a new land and begin to settle. They till the ground and began to build buildings. As did the Lehites, the people of Alma1 began to prosper in their new land. As Mormon describes them, they are a new and righteous people. Because of the promise of the land, of course they would prosper, and their success becomes evidence of their righteousness.
6 And the people were desirous that Alma should be their king, for he was beloved by his people.
7 But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.
In Nephi’s new community, they desired a king. In Alma1’s new community, they also desire a king. Nephi declared that he did not desire to be a king, and Alma1 similarly declares that he does not want to be a king.
There is a difference, however. Nephi did become a king and established the tradition of kingship among the Nephites. Alma1 teaches that his people do not need a king. The next several verses explain why he believes that kings are not necessary. This is an important section for Book of Mormon history because before the end of the book of Mosiah we will see these ideas again coming from Mosiah2’s mouth as he changes the Nephites from the reign of kings to the reign of judges.
8 Nevertheless, if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your kings it would be well for you to have a king.
9 But remember the iniquity of king Noah and his priests; and I myself was caught in a snare, and did many things which were abominable in the sight of the Lord, which caused me sore repentance;
These two verses present the dilemma of kingship. It should not be suggested that the Book of Mormon is against kingship. It is against the human abuse of the position of king. Alma1 declares that it is a good system as long as the person who is king is just. While Alma1 doesn’t define what he means by just, it is certain that he had a brass plate indicating that justice and Yahweh were inextricably linked. Therefore, one definition of a just king would be one who followed Yahweh’s laws.
Alma1 had personal experience with an unjust king. Although he had served that king as a priest in his court, he had been awakened to the unjust nature of King Noah. The experience with Abinadi altered everything about Alma1’s future. It changed the way he understood scripture, it changed the way he understood kings, and it changed the way he understood the creation of a religious community. It was an experience so personally painful that he declined to become a king because of Noah’s bad example.
10 Nevertheless, after much tribulation, the Lord did hear my cries, and did answer my prayers, and has made me an instrument in his hands in bringing so many of you to a knowledge of his truth.
11 Nevertheless, in this I do not glory, for I am unworthy to glory of myself.
12 And now I say unto you, ye have been oppressed by king Noah, and have been in bondage to him and his priests, and have been brought into iniquity by them; therefore ye were bound with the bands of iniquity.
Alma1’s personal transformation is echoed in the transformation that his people also underwent. They, too, had been under Noah’s sway, and they, too, had to make major changes to join this new community. Alma1 reminds them that they also have reasons to regret the reign of an unjust king. Therefore, they should not desire a king, even though Alma1 is a just man. Alma1 is thinking not of himself, but of his people in the future.
Zeniff was a reasonably just king, but his son Noah became the model for an unjust king. Alma1 might be just, but he could not assure that all who followed as king would continue to be just.
13 And now as ye have been delivered by the power of God out of these bonds; yea, even out of the hands of king Noah and his people, and also from the bonds of iniquity, even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.
14 And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.
15 Thus did Alma teach his people, that every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them.
Verses 13 and 14 have parallel instructions about who the people should trust. Verse 13 speaks of the political arena and verse 14 speaks of the religious sphere. In both cases, Alma1 teaches that they do not trust the position, but rather the quality of the person in that position.
In the political realm, Alma1 sees a danger in the position of king itself. Without knowing the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely, he understood it and feared it. Alma1 wanted his people to be able to live under a just leadership based on the person, and not establish a powerful position that could be subverted by an unjust leader.
In the case of religious ideas, the selection of the leadership was similarly based on the righteousness of the person rather than a position. To understand this argument fully, we must remember that even religious positions tended to be hereditary among the Nephites. Even after Mosiah2 created the rule of judges with a separate leader over religion, positions still tended to be hereditary.
As with most teaching in the Book of Mormon, walking according to Yahweh’s commandments had social implications. Those who walked in God’s ways would “love his neighbor as himself.” Additionally, “there should be no contention among them.”
16 And now, Alma was their high priest, he being the founder of their church.
17 And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men.
18 Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness.
In Mosiah 18:35 we learned that there were about four hundred and fifty people who went with Alma1. That is not a very large number. It could sustain an agricultural community, but it is somewhat surprising that they would seek a king with so few people. There was clearly a strong cultural imperative for kings, something that explained the reason Nephi’s people also desired a king. What they apparently had was a theocracy, where Alma1 as the high priest was also the de facto head of the government.
As their high priest, he assumed the rights and authority to give others the authority to teach and perform ordinances. In Israel, it would have been the right of a king, but in Alma1’s community it rested with Alma1 as the combined religious and secular leader. Of course, divine recognition of that authority was also required—but Alma1 clearly had received that, even though it is not explicitly described.
Mormon reiterates the rule of just men by noting their actions, which was to care for others. That was part of the definition of a just ruler from verse 15 and it is shown in its fulfilment here.
19 And it came to pass that they began to prosper exceedingly in the land; and they called the land Helam.
20 And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam; and they built a city, which they called the city of Helam.
The temporary end of the story of the establishment of Alma1’s people gives the naming of the land and the fact that “they did multiply and prosper exceedingly.” The reiteration of prosperity continues to highlight their righteousness.
However, real history dictated the story that Mormon told. This idyllic beginning was not the end of the story. There are troubles ahead, and Mormon turns to telling those. Contrary to the people of Limhi, these afflictions will not be due to the fulfillment of prophecy and their communal sin, but rather serve as a demonstration of God’s power in their ultimate deliverance.
21 Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
22 Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.
23 For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob.
24 And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.
Verses 21 through 24 give Mormon’s moral of the story in advance. As he sets out to tell the next phase of their story, Mormon notes that there are times when the Lord will chasten even his righteous people. He doesn’t explain why. he spends his efforts on the result, which is that by continuing to have faith, rather than reject God due to life’s difficulties, then God will lift them up in the end. Therefore, he declares that this will be the message: Yahweh “did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them.”
But what of the unasked question of why? Mormon doesn’t answer, but Lehi did. Lehi gave a powerful discourse on the nature of, and the importance of, agency in 2 Nephi chapter 2. Agency is so important that without it there would be no purpose in the creation of the earth (see 2 Nephi 2:12). Although Lehi laid out the need for agency, his sermon did not highlight the unfortunate consequences of agency. God cannot protect us from another’s agency in action. Agency requires that God maintain a light hand on the affairs of the world. God certainly saves his children, and God can help his children overcome the worldly problems associated with agency, but he cannot act in such a way as to void agency. Should he do so, it would “destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes” (2 Nephi 2:12).
Without perhaps understanding that he was giving such an excellent example, Mormon shows that agency operates at times to the detriment of even the righteous. They are not protected from the world at all times. However, through their faithfulness, God can and does save them.
The Priests of Noah Rule over Alma1’s People
25 For behold, it came to pass that while they were in the land of Helam, yea, in the city of Helam, while tilling the land round about, behold an army of the Lamanites was in the borders of the land.
26 Now it came to pass that the brethren of Alma fled from their fields, and gathered themselves together in the city of Helam; and they were much frightened because of the appearance of the Lamanites.
27 But Alma went forth and stood among them, and exhorted them that they should not be frightened, but that they should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them.
28 Therefore they hushed their fears, and began to cry unto the Lord that he would soften the hearts of the Lamanites, that they would spare them, and their wives, and their children.
29 And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites. And Alma and his brethren went forth and delivered themselves up into their hands; and the Lamanites took possession of the land of Helam.
Alma1 and his people prospered in the land of Helam, but the Lamanites eventually discovered them. Alma1 surrenders. Why does this happen? How the Lamanites found them is not discussed, but when we remember that the total number of people who began the community were only four hundred and fifty, even with births and perhaps the absorption of some other peoples, they would not have had enough men of fighting age to protect them against the Lamanite army that found them. Sheer numbers would have shown Alma1 that surrender was the only option.
30 Now the armies of the Lamanites, which had followed after the people of king Limhi, had been lost in the wilderness for many days.
31 And behold, they had found those priests of king Noah, in a place which they called Amulon; and they had begun to possess the land of Amulon and had begun to till the ground.
32 Now the name of the leader of those priests was Amulon.
33 And it came to pass that Amulon did plead with the Lamanites; and he also sent forth their wives, who were the daughters of the Lamanites, to plead with their brethren, that they should not destroy their husbands.
34 And the Lamanites had compassion on Amulon and his brethren, and did not destroy them, because of their wives.
35 And Amulon and his brethren did join the Lamanites, and they were traveling in the wilderness in search of the land of Nephi when they discovered the land of Helam, which was possessed by Alma and his brethren.
Even during the return in time to tell the story of Alma1’s people, Mormon finds he has to also return to an earlier event to explain the current state of affairs. The army that had pursued Alma1’s people had become lost, but while they were lost, they came across the priests of Noah. The priests and their stolen wives had begun to till the land. As with other occasions, the women plead for mercy on their husbands, and it is granted.
There is no way to know how much time passed between the abduction and the time they were found, but perhaps it was sufficient that some of the women were pregnant and had learned to live with their new husbands, perhaps even to love them. Certainly, if they were to have children, there were bonds created that were important, thus the women would plead for their husbands in spite of having been their captives.
Mormon tells his short aside because of the role of these priests in the rest of the story of Alma1’s people, a role that, otherwise, would have had no explanation.
36 And it came to pass that the Lamanites promised unto Alma and his brethren, that if they would show them the way which led to the land of Nephi that they would grant unto them their lives and their liberty.
37 But after Alma had shown them the way that led to the land of Nephi the Lamanites would not keep their promise; but they set guards round about the land of Helam, over Alma and his brethren.
38 And the remainder of them went to the land of Nephi; and a part of them returned to the land of Helam, and also brought with them the wives and the children of the guards who had been left in the land.
39 And the king of the Lamanites had granted unto Amulon that he should be a king and a ruler over his people, who were in the land of Helam; nevertheless he should have no power to do anything contrary to the will of the king of the Lamanites.
Mormon tells the story in a way that depicts the Lamanites as duplicitous. Actual history might have been a little different. Mormon also indicates that Alma1 had surrendered his people to the Lamanites, and the resulting Lamanite domination was typical of the tribute system that was typically established. Alma1’s people did indeed retain their lives, but they entered into a tribute relationship.
The backstory of the priests of Noah comes to the fore when Amulon, one of those priests, is given the authority of the Lamanite king over Alma1’s people.
Items in the BMC Archive are made publicly available for non-commercial, private use. Inclusion within the BMC Archive does not imply endorsement. Items do not represent the official views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of Book of Mormon Central.
Get the latest updates on Book of Mormon topics and research for free