Mosiah 17

 


MDC Contents

   

Mosiah 17:1
1 And now it came to pass that when Abinadi had finished these sayings, that the king commanded that the priests should take him and cause that he should be put to death.


Now that Abinadi has completed his message the powerful protection of the spirit has withdrawn, and he may now be apprehended for the death sentence pronounced upon him.

Textual: The break in chapters occurs here because Mormon has finished a cited section, and now proceeds to an abridgement. The speech of Abinadi was significant, and so Mormon includes it in its entirety. Here the purpose of the narrative is to give the story so that we may understand the aftermath of Abinadi's speech. Rather than present original sources, we have Mormon condensing and restating the history at this point.

Mosiah 17:2
2 But there was one among them whose name was Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man, and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken, for he knew concerning the iniquity which Abinadi had testified against them; therefore he began to plead with the king that he would not be angry with Abinadi, but suffer that he might depart in peace.


Biographical: We are now introduced to Alma, who will become one of the most important figures in the Book of Mormon. We don't have much information about who Alma is. This verse tells us:

  • He is young
  • He is a descendant of Nephi
  • He was "one among them."

The most perplexing comment is that "he was a young man." According to the chronology worked out and discussed after Mosiah 7:1, we have Alma being born in the year 159 BC, and dying at the age of 82 in the year 77 BC (probable dating, though the time depth is explicit). According to the correlation of dates, Mosiah I leaves the City of Nephi in 148 BC, and Zeniff leaves Zarahemla in approximately 143 BC. Thus when Mormon states that Alma is a descendant of Nephi, he may mean a literal descendant from both the lineage and the city. Alma the Elder would have been 11 when Mosiah I left the City of Nephi, and would have returned with Zeniff when he was 16. While that is young enough, he would have been 36 when Zeniff died and Noah took power. Abinadi is clearly coming later, perhaps between five and ten years later. At 40-45 years old, it is hard to see how Mormon could call Alma "young." It is quite possible that Mormon never bothered to work out the dates, and his sources never said. We may be seeing a presumption on Mormon's part that was simply mistaken.

Somewhere, however, Mormon is getting information that could not have been in the texts concerning this immediate story. The knowledge that Alma is a descendant of Nephi presumes some genealogical information that is not stated. It is not absolutely clear how Mormon means this genealogy. Is Alma of the direct lineage of Nephi, or simply a Nephite? The first meaning requires a very specific genealogy, which Mormon never acknowledges, but could certainly have been on some record (probably from the Zarahemla period). However, it is also possible that the second meaning was the intent, to indicate that Alma was a lineal Nephite rather than one of the people from Zarahemla, or even perhaps descended from the "others" who would have entered into the Nephite culture before this time.

That Alma was "one among them" is clear. He hears Abinadi. We may suppose that Alma is one of the priests who are confronting Alma. This would mean that he was not one of the priests of Zeniff, but was a follower of Noah's reforms (apostasy). Alma required conversion, and Abinadi converted Alma through the power of his discourse that reached Alma even though it did not reach any other priest. Perhaps Alma the Elder's patience with his own son later in life had roots in his own conversion experience. He would clearly understand how one might be deceived by tempting cultural changes that would lead to religious change. He would also clearly understand how one could be turned completely by an experience with the power of God. He would understand his son better than his son would know.

Abinadi comes to the city of Lehi-Nephi to preach. He appears to have little impact on the people, though perhaps he was preparing those who eventually follow Alma out to the wilderness. Abinadi comes before the court of Noah, and preaches so powerfully that they are unable to lay a hand on him. Why is this message so important that it must be delivered? The message had no impact on Noah. The message had an impact on only one person, Alma. Alma may have been in a state of apostasy at the time, but Alma would prove to be one of the most important figures of the Book of Mormon, in ways we shall see as his story continues to develop. It appears that Abinadi was sent on a mission that spelled certain physical doom for himself because God needed to touch one man; Alma. Is there any more powerful case for God's concern with an individual?

Mosiah 17:3
3 But the king was more wroth, and caused that Alma should be cast out from among them, and sent his servants after him that they might slay him.
Mosiah 17:4
4 But he fled from before them and hid himself that they found him not. And he being concealed for many days did write all the words which Abinadi had spoken.


By pleading for Abinadi, Alma is seen to be taking Abinadi's perspective, and is therefore now an enemy to the king, just as was Abinadi. The first command from Noah is to banish Alma for their midst. It is a second command that others will follow Alma to kill him. We are not told why Noah first banishes, and then sends men to kill, rather than having Alma killed while he was nearby.

Textual: Alma finds a way to avoid those who searched for him. While in hiding, he writes Abinadi's words. It is very probable that the record we have of Abinadi before Noah owes its source to Alma, particularly the very positive statements about the effect Abinadi has upon the court, showing forth the power of God. This information could easily have been in Alma's account, but would have been less likely in the official court account.

Nevertheless, Mormon is using more than one account here. This is evidenced by his ability to pick up the story immediately after the banishment of Alma. With Alma gone, the narrative can no longer depend upon Alma's memory. Thus we have a minimum of two sources for the Abinadi story, Alma and Noah's court records. The citations from Abinadi likely came from Alma, and the break from citation to narrative probably also marks a shift in source for Mormon. He cited Alma's account of Abinadi, and returns to summarizing Noah's official records, as he had done before.

Mosiah 17:5
5 And it came to pass that the king caused that his guards should surround Abinadi and take him; and they bound him and cast him into prison.


Abinadi is thrown into prison rather than being killed on the spot. Perhaps this hints at a possible reason for Alma's banishment first, and death sentence later. There may have been either legal or religious prohibitions against killing in the court itself.

Mosiah 17:6
6 And after three days, having counseled with his priests, he caused that he should again be brought before him.
Mosiah 17:7
7 And he said unto him: Abinadi, we have found an accusation against thee, and thou art worthy of death.


This was the foregone conclusion, and an outcome that Abinadi had likely seen.

Mosiah 17:8
8 For thou hast said that God himself should come down among the children of men; and now, for this cause thou shalt be put to death unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou hast spoken evil concerning me and my people.


The official charge is probably blasphemy. It is couched in the terms that Abinadi was so careful to propose, that God himself should come down among the children of men. Noah and the priests must deny this, or they would have to admit they had been teaching false doctrine.

Noah gives Abinadi the chance to recant. Why would he do this? The most logical reason is that he would understand the possibility of Abinadi becoming a martyr, and therefore becoming a rallying point for religious opposition to Noah. If Noah could have Abinadi recant, then the potential damage would be eliminated.

Mosiah 17:9
9 Now Abinadi said unto him: I say unto you, I will not recall the words which I have spoken unto you concerning this people, for they are true; and that ye may know of their surety I have suffered myself that I have fallen into your hands.
Mosiah 17:10
10 Yea, and I will suffer even until death, and I will not recall my words, and they shall stand as a testimony against you. And if ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall also stand as a testimony against you at the last day.


Abinadi will not recant, and declares that his death will stand as a testimony against Noah (and his priests). Abinadi is very clear in verse 9 that his presence before Noah was voluntary. Even though he had been brought to Noah and the priests, Abinadi declares that it was his purpose to come, and that he could have avoided it had he wished. This further indicates that the focal point of Abinadi's mission was his sermon before the priests - which both converted Alma and eternally condemned the rest.

Mosiah 17:11
11 And now king Noah was about to release him, for he feared his word; for he feared that the judgments of God would come upon him.
Mosiah 17:12
12 But the priests lifted up their voices against him, and began to accuse him, saying: He has reviled the king. Therefore the king was stirred up in anger against him, and he delivered him up that he might be slain.


We have an interesting scene presented here. Noah feels something in the words of Abinadi. He has seen the power of the spirit in Abinadi, and now must have felt something in these words of clear condemnation. Noah does not want to be condemned, and so rather than have Abinadi recant, Noah is on the verge of recanting his own decree.

It is the priests who do not allow it. More than Noah, the priests have born the brunt of Abinadi's accusations. It was they who were accused of teaching falsely, and therefore it was they who had the greatest hatred for Abinadi. The way they push Noah to action is interesting. They remind the king that Abinadi has spoken against the king. With the common presumption of the divine nature of kings throughout most of the world, this was again tantamount to blasphemy, but in this case a personal blasphemy against the person of the king. The priests used Noah's vanity in believing too much of himself against him. They appealed to his pride, and therefore firmed the death penalty against Abinadi.

Mosiah 17:13
13 And it came to pass that they took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death.


Translation: This verse is somewhat confusing because it suggests that fagots were used to strike Abinadi (the meaning of scourge). A fagot is a bundle of sticks, most typically referring to fuel for a fire. The possible meanings for this verse are:

  • A bundle of sticks was used to strike Abinadi. This could dig into the skin, and therefore be a "scourge." This presupposes that the sticks were used rather than a whip, which is nowhere mentioned.
  • The fagot was already lighted (being the purpose of the bundle) and the lighted bundle was used to torment Abinadi. This would seem to be a rather unusual usage for the bundle of sticks. "Scourge" in this context might simply mean that pain was inflicted. If, of course the lighted bundle struck Abinadi, the original idea of scourging would still be valid.
  • The fagots refer to the fire, and it is the fire that does the "scourging." This reading might be supported by the idea that the scourging was "even unto death," but Abinadi is clearly not dead in the next verse. This would indicate that the fire caused the death, and then filled in the details later.
  • Joseph may have simply used the wrong word in translation.


Mosiah 17:14
14 And now when the flames began to scorch him, he cried unto them, saying:
Mosiah 17:15
15 Behold, even as ye have done unto me, so shall it come to pass that thy seed shall cause that many shall suffer the pains that I do suffer, even the pains of death by fire; and this because they believe in the salvation of the Lord their God.


This curse might appear to be the same as that in verse 18 below, which is fulfilled in Mosiah 19:20-21. There we read that King Noah is burned alive by his subjects. This clearly parallels Abinadi's death. However, this does not actually seem to be this particular prophecy, and therefore not the fulfillment.

Notice first of all that it is the faithful who will suffer the pangs of death by fire, not the unfaithful. The language is possibly ambiguous, but the prophecy appears to read that the seed of these wicked people (whether actual or spiritual seed, or both, is not explicitly stated) will cause the faithful to suffer the pangs of death by fire. This event is probably that witnessed by Alma and Amulek, and that is recorded in Alma 14:8.

Mosiah 17:16
16 And it will come to pass that ye shall be afflicted with all manner of diseases because of your iniquities.
Mosiah 17:17
17 Yea, and ye shall be smitten on every hand, and shall be driven and scattered to and fro, even as a wild flock is driven by wild and ferocious beasts.


There is a direct cursing of those assembled before Abinadi. Mormon does not give us enough of the background to be able to be certain about the people who are condemned here, but this particular condemnation is probably directed at the entire people of Noah, not just the King and the priests. While the priests do suffer from being hunted for a while, they eventually join with the Lamanites, and their ultimate fate may not be easily seen as a fulfillment of this prophecy.

In the ancient world, executions were typically held in public. We know this from Western history, and we may presume it for Mesoamerica where human sacrifice was publicly performed. The social reasons for public execution include the emphasis on the social sanction against the person and what the person did - with the punishment standing as a clear and present warning to all who might have sympathized with the one being put to death.

In this case, Abinadi was seen as a threat (remember that King Noah came close to rescinding the death order because of the perceived threat) and therefore a public execution would have been scheduled to show the public that the man was considered an enemy to the state. In this public forum, Abinadi would be speaking to those who would become the people of Limhi, and they certainly suffered under their bondage, and fleeing from their homes to Zarahemla would clearly fulfill the idea of the scattering. This prophecy is best seen as directed to the people as a whole.

Mosiah 17:18
18 And in that day ye shall be hunted, and ye shall be taken by the hand of your enemies, and then ye shall suffer, as I suffer, the pains of death by fire.


In contrast to the public condemnation, this one is probably aimed directly at the King. We do not have the narrative which would tell us that Abinadi's eyes locked on the King at this point, but we know that Abinadi has already prophesied this end for Noah. The death of Noah by fire was first proclaimed in Mosiah 12:3: "And it shall come to pass that the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace; for he shall know that I am the Lord." This would appear to be a very direct reiteration of that prophesy, which is fulfilled in Mosiah 19:20-21.

Mosiah 17:19
19 Thus God executeth vengeance upon those that destroy his people. O God, receive my soul.


The vengeance of God is certain, but certainly not always immediate, nor apparent. The ultimate "vengeance" of God is the denial of the blessings of the Celestial Kingdom, a process brought upon those who will be denied by their own actions and inactions, rather than an emotional vengeance from a loving God. Abinadi is exercising the same poetic license as other prophets who speak against the worldly ways of men.

In this case, the actions of the people will bring these calamities upon themselves, and Abinadi uses them as a sign of the righteousness of God. However, we know that evil frequently goes unpunished in this world, awaiting that final judgment. Dire consequences to not immediately follow evil, and frequently do not follow at all in this lifetime. Were they to do so, it would become rather obvious and uncomfortable to be a sinner, if soon thereafter bad things began to happen. Soon one would understand, as do animals trained in mazes and other experiments, that one should cease to do something that causes distress, even when we might otherwise want to. If such consequences really did come as noticeably as did the calamities upon the remnants of the people of Noah, the process of agency would be short-circuited and become of lessened value.

Mosiah 17:20
20 And now, when Abinadi had said these words, he fell, having suffered death by fire; yea, having been put to death because he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death.

Textual: There is no chapter break in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. While the death of Abinadi does seem to end a story, for Mormon it was not really Abinadi's story he was telling, and therefore he did not stop. This is the story of Alma, and Abinadi is the essential precursor to Alma's story. It is for this reason that Mormon does not stop his writing after the death of Abinadi. The story he intended to tell is just beginning, not ending.

       
      by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2000