1 And now, these are the words of Ammon to his brethren, which say thus: My brothers and my brethren, behold I say unto you, how great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from the land of Zarahemla that God would have granted unto us such great blessings?
Textual: This unit consists of Ammon’s declaration to his brethren. As noted at the end of our chapter 25, Mormon provides an abrupt transition into this unit. When we remember that the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon did not have punctuation nor paragraph breaks, we can recast this transition in a slightly different way to better replicate the way Mormon would have seen the conceptual split in his text:
Alma 25:17 And now behold, Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni, and their brethren did rejoice exceedingly, for the success which they had had among the Lamanites, seeing that the Lord had granted unto them according to their prayers, and that he had also verified his word unto them in every particular. (Alma 26:1) And now, these are the words of Ammon to his brethren, which say thus:
My brothers and my brethren, behold I say unto you, how great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from the land of Zarahemla that God would have granted unto us such great blessings?
Recut in this way we see the logic that Mormon uses in creating this transition. He begins by describing the rejoicing, and then begins with the specific record of Ammon. As has been noted, Mormon’s editorial style provides skeletal linking texts in between larger sermons. That is the pattern here, even though he did not create a chapter break for this unit. The reason for the complete chapter is that he is dealing with an entire unit of the missionary labors of Ammon and his brethren. This is clearly a record that he is taking from a different source, apparently the record of Ammon, if we may take the emphasis on Ammon as an indicator of the source of the records. Mormon’s editorial sensibilities are therefore seeing this entire story, comprising our chapters 21-26, as an inserted text. Thus there is a chapter break at the beginning and end of the insertion, but the entire insertion is considered a whole unit in spite of Mormon’s editorial efforts in that record.
2 And now, I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell?
Literary: Ammon’s question, “can ye tell” is rhetorical. He knows well that his brethren understand their blessings, but the “tell” refers to the pronouncing of them, not the recognizing of them. Ammon is not asking if they have noticed the blessings, but rather if they are able to speak of them. Indeed, the purpose of this discourse is precisely that, to give utterance to those blessings.
For Ammon, as well as for us, putting our blessings into words solidifies the experiences, and helps us locate them more firmly in memory. The process of stating forces us to organize events in our mind, and establish the links between our memories and our feelings about those memories. This is one of the functions of bearing testimony, that it organizes our feelings about the gospel into more solid structures that are more “tangible” to memory. By stating our experiences, they become even more real.
3 Behold, I answer for you; for our brethren, the Lamanites, were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God! And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work.
Those who have been involved in missionary work understand implicitly the dual aspects of the blessings that Ammon iterates here. He declares the conversion of the Lamanites, which was a great, and perhaps unexpected success of their missionary endeavors. In addition to the spiritual transformation of the Lamanites, however, he also notes that the missionaries themselves have been blessed. Missionary work always involves two parties, those teaching and those learning. In God’s wisdom, the blessings of the process are also given to each of the two parties.
4 Behold, thousands of them do rejoice, and have been brought into the fold of God.
Social: Ammon gives us an indication of the size of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi population, and that indication is “thousands.” Of course that indication is so vague as to be nearly useless. We may understand that the population was significant, and larger than “hundreds.” We may also understand that the population was sufficiently large that it will be considered wise to give them a land of their own in Zarahemla (Alma 27:21-22). Nevertheless, it is more reasonable to see this number in the lower thousands than the higher. They will comprise a single city in Zarahemla, and there were multiple cities among the Lamanites. While this was a successful mission, and many were converted, it appears rather clear that the converts will still in the minority of the peoples of the land of the Lamanites.
5 Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted.
Literary: The imagery of the ripe harvest and the sickle comes from the Bible rather than the Mesoamerican experience. For a literary touchstone, Joseph might have taken this imagery from either Joel or the book of Revelations:
Joel 3:13 Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great.
Revelation 14:15-18 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16 And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
The imagery of the ripe field being reaped with a sickle was natural in the Old World, and probably to Joseph on the American frontier. It would not, however, be the appropriate imagery for Mesoamerica. This is not because of the ripened fields, for surely there were ripened fields, and indigenous Mesoamerican imagery is full if the import of ripening foodstuffs. The difference is the sickle.
The sickle is an instrument for harvesting grains that grown on long flexible stalks. The principal grains of the New World would not have fit that description, and it is quite doubtful that anyone would have an image of harvesting corn with a sickle, as a straight bladed instrument would be quite sufficient.
None of this suggests that the absence of a sickle in Mesoamerican says anything except that Joseph’s use of the term is influenced more by the language of the Bible than by the particular imagery that might have been on the plates. Of course it is possible that Ammon used a specific reference to Joel, but it is more likely that the original imagery would have been more specific to the ripening/harvesting images with which he and his brethren would have been most familiar. Of course this same imagery appears in D&C 4:4.
6 Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the storm at the last day; yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by the whirlwinds; but when the storm cometh they shall be gathered together in their place, that the storm cannot penetrate to them; yea, neither shall they be driven with fierce winds whithersoever the enemy listeth to carry them.
7 But behold, they are in the hands of the Lord of the harvest, and they are his; and he will raise them up at the last day.
We need verse 7 to verify that verse 6 refers to end-of-time events. Job uses the imagery of storm-driven winds as part of the final winnowing:
17 How oft is the candle of the wicked put out! and how oft cometh their destruction upon them! God distributeth sorrows in his anger.
18 They are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away.
The imagery Ammon uses is more vivid, however. It is possible that Ammon’s imagery of storms and fierce winds relies upon known conditions in that area of the world rather than the Old Testament text. Mesoamerica is an area that has been struck by many destructive hurricanes. It is quite possible that this imagery of destructive and powerful winds might be a particularly poignant mode of final destruction in an area of the world that has seen the devastating power that can come with a hurricane.
Regardless of the imagery, what Ammon is saying is that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies have been truly converted, and that their conversion will withstand all of the storms of the adversary. Their faith has already withstood the threat to their physical lives, and Ammon is sure that it can withstand any assault on their spiritual lives.
8 Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name, for he doth work righteousness forever.
9 For if we had not come up out of the land of Zarahemla, these our dearly beloved brethren, who have so dearly beloved us, would still have been racked with hatred against us, yea, and they would also have been strangers to God.
Ammon credits righteousness to God, and then notes two positive effects of their missionary works. The Lamanites have been converted to God, and they are no longer enemies to the Nephites. Interestingly enough, it is this latter point that he mentions first. Of course if he is listing things in order of their importance, it is certainly of greater importance that the Lamanites have been converted to God. The mention of the former is the question.
It would appear that they are part of the same point. While there were thousands of Lamanites converted, clearly all of the Lamanites were not converted, and certainly not even a majority of them. There were clearly enough Lamanites left with hostile intentions to sack Ammonihah after establishing themselves in the city of Nephi. The conversion of even these thousands of Lamanites will not make a significant change in the Lamanite-Nephite hostilities. Why then does Ammon make the point that one of the changes was that the Lamanites “would still have been racked with hatred against us.” It is most likely that Ammon is indicating that without the Lord’s intervention, the hatred would have prevented the Lamanites from hearing their message. This would have been extremely clear to Ammon after his initial encounter with Lamoni’s father on the road to Middoni, where he not only endured the verbal wrath of Lamoni’s father, but experienced the hatred in hand to hand combat (see Alma 20:13-16). Ammon clearly understood that it was the softening of the hatred that began to open hearts to the message of the Lord, a message that the Lamanites might not have been willing to hear, if only because of the nationality of the messengers.
10 And it came to pass that when Ammon had said these words, his brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting.
Aaron cautions his brother on the rather human tendency to take pride in our own accomplishments. Aaron is apparently wondering if Ammon might be crossing this line.
11 But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.
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.
Ammon responds that the “boasting” is in the power of the Lord, and not his own power. Note the specific words Ammon uses to describe himself: “as to my strength I am weak.” To place this statement in context, we must remember that this is the Ammon who slew the men at the waters of Sebus. This is the man that Lamoni originally confused with a God because of his power (see Alma 18:2). When this Ammon suggests that he is weak, we know that he has made a separation between his own powers and those that come to him because of the strength of the Lord. Indeed he says; “for in his strength I can do all things.”
13 Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?
14 Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.
15 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.
Literary: These three verses comprise a single concept. Ammon is explaining the cause for rejoicing in that the thousands of the Lamanites have been “loosed from the pains of hell.” His imagery uses paired sets of contrasts to make his point.
The “pains of hell” are contrasted by “redeeming love.” The pain/love pairing plays on both of the opposition of those emotions. They have been brought out of pain into love.
The “darkness and destruction” is contrasted by “his everlasting light.” The dark/light contrast is a very common one in religious themes contrasting good and evil.
As part of the discourse, Ammon uses the phrase “sing redeeming love.” This might be an allusion to Alma’s use of a similar phrase in Alma 5:26: “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” It is also possible that this was simply a familiar phrase to Joseph, and readily available as he translated this meaning (see Mark D. Thomas. Digging in Cumorah. Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1999, p. 134.)
16 Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.
Ammon returns to the accusation of boasting. Now that he has made it clear that he is glorying in the Lord and not himself, he asks if it is even possible to “boast” about the Lord; “whoo can glory too much in the Lord?”
17 Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?
18 Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church.
19 Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?
Ammon now turns from the salvation of the Lamanites to the more personal salvation he and his brethren underwent. Verse 17 is the beginning of his declaration of the path that they had individually walked. These were men who has attempted to destroy the church of God, and rather than detroy them, God transformed them. It is very likely that Ammon saw in the transformation of the Lamanites a direct parallel to his and his brothers’ experience. All were enemies of the church, and all were transformed into powerful testators for God.
20 Oh, my soul, almost as it were, fleeth at the thought. Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls.
In this we may all gain great comfort. There are probably few of us who have gone to the extremes of Ammon and his brethren in attacking the church. Nevertheless, the mercy that was shown to them may be available to us, whatever our particular transgressions. We may always take comfort in the available forgiveness of the Lord. He has forgiven much more than what we will bring humbly to him in repentance.
21 And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent.
Ammon uses the same phrase, natural man, that we have seen in Mosiah 3:19. It is also found in 1 Corinthians 2:14.
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The natural man is a contrast to the spiritual man. As Paul indicates, there are things that are spiritually discerned, and therefore unavailable to the “natural” man, or the man who is not spiritually awakened. It is this type of natural man to whom Ammon refers. The glories of which he has spoken are spiritual things, and therefore a “natural” man would not know them. As with the Mosiah 3:19, however, Ammon includes that all-important conditional; “save it be the penitent.” The natural man is never doomed to be ignorant of the spirit. Those spiritual feelings are always there to be accessed, but may be accessed only upon certain principles, the first of which is repentance. That humbling of the natural soul before God can open the heart to the heavens, and the spirit may enter even a man who was as “natural” as Ammon had been.
22 Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.
This is the process whereby the natural man is transformed into the spiritual man. It is a process that requires changes in the natural man. While the Grace of God applies, the man himself must be altered into a new type. Repenting begins our change of place with respect to God. We move from a position of distance to one of a closer connection, and a willingness to listen to his counsel. Next even more effort is requirede on our part in that we must exercise faith. We should not simply have faith, but exercise faith. There is reason for this emphasis on the active verb. Our faith must work, it must be the instrument that changes us. It is the exercising of faith that brings the good works. It is not the work that changes us, but the doing of the work. Of course constant prayer keeps us in our course.
23 Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?
Ammon’s reminiscence here gives us information about their departure that we did not have when we read of that departure.
24 For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language.
We remember that there was a great hatred on the part of the Lamanites towards the Nephites, but we tend to forget that many of those feelings were reciprocated. Ammon notes that there were few who thought that the mission to the Lamanites was a good idea. This was not simply because the mission was difficult, but because the Lamanites were deemed unworthy; “whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity.”
25 And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.
The feelings against the Lamanites was so great among many Nephites that rather than preach to them, they desired to fight against them.
26 But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the wilderness not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls.
The contrast to the military option is dramatic. Ammon notes that great contrast. They did not come to destroy, but to save.
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.
Ammon minimizes the difficulties of their mission. He could have dwelt on the imprisonment and ill treatment of his brethren in Middoni. There were likely other difficult times. As Ammon notes, there were times when “our hears were depressed, and we were about to turn back.” They did not do so because the “Lord comforted us,” and reaffirmed their mission.
Modern readers may also see themselves in this short statement. There are many times when our own hearts are depressed in the face of a difficult task. That same comfort of the Lord is available to us when we are on his errand.
28 And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.
Ammon notes that they were “relying upon the mercies of the world.” This indicates that they were, as the apostles of old, without “purse or scrip.” They depended upon those households to provide food and shelter. While the ultimate food and shelter did come from the people they visited, Ammon recognizes that even in this mundane blessing they may see the hand of the Lord extended to them by softening the hearts of those households that provided the food and shelter.
29 And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their synagogues and taught them; and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been stoned, and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison; and through the power and wisdom of God we have been delivered again.
30 And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.
These verses give us two types of information. The latter section tells us some of the difficulties that were endured in this missionary effort. The first part tells us where the gospel was preached. This categorization of the locations fits with the general social distribution of peoples that the sons of Mosiah would have found in a typical Mesoamerican community.
Ammon notes that they taught in their houses. Mesoamerican cities had house units attached to the more public architecture of the central city, and of course there were houses in the more rural areas. Given the nature of this description, it is most probable that the house to house preaching occurred in the city where the houses would be closer together. Since the next comments are about the cities, it makes some sense to see this picture of house preaching in a city context. The also teach in the streets and temples and synagogues. These are again all city locations.
In addition to the city, however, they also preach to the more rural people outside of the city. This is indicated by the preaching “upon their hills. As with Jesus in Galilee, they would have had farmers gather to certain locations to hear the preaching.
31 Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many; yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.
32 For behold, they had rather sacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy; and they have buried their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren.
33 And now behold I say unto you, has there been so great love in all the land? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, there has not, even among the Nephites.
34 For behold, they would take up arms against their brethren; they would not suffer themselves to be slain. But behold how many of these have laid down their lives; and we know that they have gone to their God, because of their love and of their hatred to sin.
Ammon rejoices in the Anti-Nephi-Lehies whose devotion exceeded their human need for self-preservation. Ammon does note that those who died have doubtless received their reward of God because of their devotion.
35 Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.
36 Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.
Returning once again to Aaron’s accusation of boasting, Ammon now exults in his boasting. He is boasting in the Lord, and because of the Lord’s goodness he ahs been “carried away, even unto boasting in my God.”
Note that Ammon describes “this people” as “a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land.” While we do not have many occasions when it is clear that the Book of Mormon prophets have read the plates of their ancestors, this clear reference to Jacob’s analogy of the olive tree is a clear indicator that they did study those records, even when the neglect to specifically mention that they have.
37 Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen.
Ammon nicely turns the idea of the lost branch of Israel into a metaphor for the lost Lamanites. The Lord found those lost Lamanites, and by implication has not “lost” nor forgotten the rest of that branch of Israel.
Textual: end of a chapter
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2001