Saturday, December 26, 2009

Lessons from the Amlici Threat

Recently I was reading in Alma 2, which recounts the incidents surrounding the attempt of Amlici to take over as king, and as I read about the battle, I realized this was another one of those relatively bald accounts that seems hard to derive meaning from. We don’t have much “and thus we see”s to help us here. Not only that, I began to wonder why Mormon included so much detail about the battle when it seems fairly straightforward.

Here's a summary:

Amlici seeks to be king and gathers many followers. There is a huge debate and Amlici’s bid for kingship is rejected. His followers make him king anyway and he commands them to make war on the Nephites. The Nephites fight Amlici and defeat them with a body count of 1:2 (N:A). Amlicites flee into the wilderness. Alma sends spies to watch them. Spies return next day warning the Amlicites have joined an army of Lamanites and are attacking the city of Zarahemla. Nephites fight huge host of Amlicites and Lamanites on banks of Sidon river, pray for deliverance and are strengthened. Alma fights Amlici, prays for deliverance, and kills him. Nephites defeat Lamanites and drive them into the wilderness.

It occurred to me that there must have been something singular about this account for Mormon to decide that it merited inclusion. So I started looking for notable aspects.

The first thing that stuck out to me was these verses about the second battle:
27 And behold as they were crossing the river Sidon, the Lamanites and the Amlicites, being as numerous almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea, came upon them to destroy them.
28 Nevertheless, the Nephites being strengthened by the hand of the Lord, having prayed mightily to him that he would deliver them, therefore the Lord did hear their cries, and did strengthen them, and the Lamanites and the Amlicites did fall before them. (Alma 2:27-28)
It is hard for us to get a sense of the true gravity of the situation when we are just skimming along the text, and this time when I was reading it occurred to me that the combined army of Amlicites and Lamanites must have been so large that just seeing the numbers caused the Nephites to cry out to the Lord to be saved. The numbers must have been so large that only God could help them. We often take it for granted that the Nephites armies will win in these accounts, but in this case it must have seemed by no means certain. Rather, it must have seemed a near-hopeless situation with imminent destruction practically staring them in the face.

So when it says that the Lord heard their cries and strengthened them, we are being told of a miracle.

Then I noticed something else that happened a little earlier in the text. Here’s what the spies said when they delivered their report:
Behold, we followed the camp of the Amlicites, and to our great astonishment, in the land of Minon, above the land of Zarahemla, in the course of the land of Nephi, we saw a numerous host of the Lamanites; and behold, the Amlicites have joined them. (Alma 2:24)
It struck me that that it was very interesting that when the Lamanite army met an Amlicite (apparently Nephite) army they joined together. Armies can do three things when they meet. They fight, they flee, or they join together. If a Lamanite army meets an army that looks Nephite in the wilderness, you’d think the Lamanite army would automatically fight the Nephite army. Instead the two armies join together. Armies will only join if they are on the same side. If there are no negotiations before joining, we can only conclude that they already know that they are allies. Because this seems to have happened with the Amlicites and Lamanites, it hit me that the Amlicites must have formed an alliance with them around the time that Amlici was made king.

Then something else occurred to me. I thought it was very interesting that Amlicites, when they were beaten, fled off into the wilderness. Interesting that they seemed to know exactly where to go to meet the Lamanites. And why didn’t the Amlicites wait until the Lamanites got there before they fought the Nephites? Could it be that the first Amlicite battle was not supposed to be the real battle at all? What if it was actually supposed to be a decoy, a diversion? It certainly could have ended up that way if the spies hadn’t been sent to follow the Amlicites to see what they would do. With the Nephite army clear out in the wilderness, Zarahemla would be wide open for invasion.

That has to be what happened. The Nephites almost were defeated with a diversionary strategy worthy of Captain Moroni. What saved them? Nephite spies were sent to watch the fleeing Amlicite army. Those spies warned the army in time and the army got to Zarahemla in time (to realize just how outnumbered they were). Who sent the spies out? Alma the Younger, who was the prophet.

So now we have a better idea of why this account was special. The Nephites were at a major disadvantage, being unaware of a clever diversionary plan to decoy them away from the city, and being far fewer in number than the invading armies of Amlicites and Lamanites. The deck was certainly stacked against them. And yet.. they won. With the help of the Lord they won.

The message I see in this story is that we don’t need to fear being outnumbered. We don’t need to fear the strategies against us. If we follow the prophet, we’ll be safe and we will be led to defend exactly what is under attack. If we pray for help, we’ll be strengthened at those times that we are outnumbered.


Clifford said...

I have just reached this chapter in my study and am quite impressed by your insights. As with many of those who sought to overturn the order of things in the Nephite world, Amlici himself is an enigma. Was he wholly a Nephite or of some other ethnic derivation with an axe to grind? Consider his very name -- impossible to derive from the m-l-k root so familiar in the Book of Mormon, if the transliterated "c" is in truth to be pronounced as an "s."