Thursday, December 31, 2015 0 comments

My Blogging Year in Review: The Small Plates of Michaela for 2015

We have come to the end of yet another year! Amazing!  I remain ever grateful for the many insights the Lord has given me about the scriptures this year and the opportunity to share them with all those on the interet who are interested. 
Through the grace of God, I hope to continue to learn and share for another year.  Thank you too, for your comments.

Some posts on my blog are like flecks of gold, while others are like large nuggets, and the following are a list of my personal favorite posts from this year that I would put in the Small Plates of Michaela. They represent to me the equivalent of gold bricks.

Old Testament

Re-examining Job's Friends' Views of Who is Wicked

What the creation tells us about the atonement

Isaiah on the consequences of persecuting others

New lessons from Isaiah’s words about a book that is sealed

Jeremiah on the difference between trusting men and trusting God

New Testament

Re-examining Jesus’s appearance on the road to Emmaus

Examining events of the sixth seal in Revelation 6-7

When the seventh seal opens: Revelation 8

New perspective on the prodigal son Luke 15:11-18

John chastises the Pharisees and Sadducees

How Christ learned obedience

Lessons from how the JST illuminates the parable of the laborers in the vineyard

Thoughts on Mary and Zacharias’s experience with Gabriel

Jesus on children of prophet-killers

Jesus on Divorce Causing Adultery

Book of Mormon

Looking at Jacob’s quotations of Isaiah

Results of Nehor’s doctrine of preacher popularity

Nephites fight across the river to stop the Amlicites

Zeezrom’s questioning of Amulek and Amulek’s responses

Alma shares extra info about Melchizedek

Thoughts on the varied Lamanite responses to prostrate individuals during Ammon’s mission

Religious freedom or religious privilege among the Lamanites?

Characteristics of the Zoramite errors

Sources of humility

Neat principles in what Alma quotes Zenos about prayer

The Cause of Christians

Lies and fraud in Ammoron’s letter to Captain Moroni

Doctrine and Covenants

David Whitmer’s problem

The plague of flies in the last days

Pearl of Great Price

The breakdown of family in ancient Egypt


The Sin of Boasting

Warning Principles about Boasting

Some Latter-day Saint Flavors of Boasting

Boasting in Future Plans and some Patterns of Punishment

Examples of NOT Boasting

More Principles for Avoiding Boasting

The Societal Trend of Shaming

Taking Reproof and Repenting like an Astronaut

“How can I keep my covenant to always remember the Savior?”: Insights on the Youth Sunday school lesson


Reflections on a trip to Malaysia

 Happy New Year's Eve! 

Saturday, December 19, 2015 2 comments

When an angel says a Savior is born, what are you going to do?

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)

We may have known kids that were live wires or extraordinary in some way, children that made us wonder and anticipate the mark they would make on the world. And some of you who are older may have had the experience of finding these hopes and expectations were not realized. Or we may see kids with troubled childhoods or teenage years who eventually made good in a way far beyond our expectations. (I know of at least one of the girls from my home ward growing up who had a rather rebellious teenage time, but who straightened up later. I was startled to hear she had a career, got married, had kids, and was made a Relief Society president.)

So with that in mind, if we were the shepherds in the Christmas story, what meaning might we assign to this angel announcement that this particular child born in Bethlehem is a Savior, the Messiah, the Christ, the Annointed One?  And too, this child is pointed out to our notice before he is even old enough to know there is anything to be saved from.

It is really going to depend on our faith.  (Remember, without faith, Laman and Lemuel dismissed the words of an angel to them, and they went right back into their fear of Laban and reluctance to get the plates.)  Without faith, the shepherds might have eventually dismissed the child as just another child, one for whom others had high hopes, but who wasn’t going to live up to them.  Such a child could be safely ignored because he would be swallowed up by the anonymity of history and never be heard of again.

Ah! But with faith, once the Savior has been pointed out to you, you would keep a very careful eye on that child and watch with wonder and great anticipation. Any time you hear of something neat that child has done, you hug yourself and do a little happy dance and elbow your believing neighbors and have little excited conversations with them because you just know he is going to bring salvation and you can’t wait to see it!

But of course, it also depends on what kind of salvation you expect from this Savior. If you’re expecting a military salvation immediately, you might start to be disappointed if the child doesn’t show any signs of fighting prowess or an affinity for military strategy. But if you’re looking for salvation from sin, then signs of goodness and long-suffering and kindness in him and extraordinary changes of character in those around him are going to be very encouraging.

I think the heavenly announcement of the Savior’s identity so early in His life gave faithful people both a test of their faith that would have the eventual reward during Jesus’ ministry if they could believe in Him to salvation from their sins.

For us in the church today, we still have much to look forward to.  We’ve had the benefit of 185 years of Restored-church history and revelations showing us that Christ is very much involved in preparing the world for His return in glory.  But of course, our faith and our expectations will determine how we interpret those things, whether we fight it because we thought it was supposed to be different, or whether we dismiss it out of hand, or whether we see its divine origin and guidance and rejoice with every sign of progress.
Thursday, December 17, 2015 0 comments

Every valley shall be exalted

Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill made low;
the crooked straight,
and the rough places plain.
(Isaiah 40:4)

For the longest time I read this scripture as referring only to changes to the geography of the earth at Christ’s second coming.  But over time I’ve come to realize that the more profound lesson it has for us is a symbolic message about the ability of Christ’s atonement to change people.  This is the message we can use every day of our lives.

Just like there is variety to geography, there is variety in people.  Just like the earth has valleys and mountains, among people we find the humble and downtrodden and depressed, as well as the proud and tyrannizing.  Christ’s atonement has the ability to correct those conditions all in the best way. 

Just like there are crooked places, there are crooked people, both physically and spiritually.  Christ’s atonement can fix that.  He can straighten people’s character and He can heal crooked limbs.

Just like there are rough and bumpy places on the earth that can be planed down, nearly every human being has rough places in their character, and Christ’s atonement can plane those down.  He is a refiner and polisher.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 1 comments

Why did Job curse his day?

Job 3 is a pretty startling chapter coming on the heels of Job 2 in which we read of Job refusing to curse God. In Job 2 Job notes that we can receive both good and evil from God.  He shows great patience there. But then Job 3 is jarring because Job curses roundly the day he was born and the day he was conceived.

Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. (v3)

9 Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none; neither let it see the dawning of the day:
10 Because it shut not up the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.
11 Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?
12 Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck?
13 For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest, (Job 3:9-13)

This utter spite for his own life is so startling that it makes us think that Job wasn’t as faithful as he seemed at first. We wonder why he could not continue as he began.

However, I somehow realized that this lament and cursing his birthday and conception was actually not an indication of crumbling integrity, but instead was his coming to the conclusion that he really had done the best he possibly could by repenting carefully.

I think he thought through his life and wondered how he could have done anything better in order to avoid what he was going through, and he realized he could not have improved on what he’d done. His sins were repented of, his good works were of the best quality. The only way he could have avoided the pain and loss he’d gone through was if he had died at birth. He continued as spiritually clean as he had been at birth, so to his mind it would have been better and saved more trouble if he had died at birth.

I hope that if I ever come to that same point of suffering that Job was at that I can have the same confidence, realizing I wouldn’t change a thing.   In the meantime, I can try to live each day such that I don’t regret anything, by sticking with my highest priorities, showing kindness, and by repenting of any sins I may have committed.

Sunday, December 13, 2015 2 comments

True doctrine can end religious strife

22 And also they had peace in the seventy and eighth year, save it were a few contentions concerning the points of doctrine which had been laid down by the prophets.
23 And in the seventy and ninth year there began to be much strife. But it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi, and many of their brethren who knew concerning the true points of doctrine, having many revelations daily, therefore they did preach unto the people, insomuch that they did put an end to their strife in that same year. (Helaman 11:22-23)

There are several neat things in these verses. First, true doctrine preached puts an end to religious strife. We’ve seen elsewhere that it has more effect on the minds of the people than the sword or anything else. It dispels doubt and ignorance and can become a shield against deceptions of the devil. (Of course, when people are more determined to carry their point than to learn the truth, it is another story.)

Another neat thing is that Nephi and Lehi and many others who knew the true points of doctrine still had many revelations daily. Their strong foundational knowledge did not prevent them from learning more, and they were able to perform a great service with their knowledge by helping end strife over doctrine. I also suppose some of their revelations helped them settle the strife as well.

So a good question for us is, when there is religious controversy do we remember important applicable points of doctrine that can help us settle it? Can we think of verses of scripture on the topic? Can we find applicable scriptures? Are there words of the modern-day prophets on the matter? I suspect that if we haven’t consulted the scriptures or the prophets on the question then we haven’t yet done all we can do, whether we have questions or whether we’re trying to help someone else with questions.
Friday, December 11, 2015 0 comments

Strange reaction to Nephi’s vindication in Helaman against Gadianton robbers

When the prophet Nephi gives his second sign revealing how to bring the chief judge’s murder to confession in a way that vindicates Nephi as innocent, there is a strange and rather contradictory reaction among the people.

39 And there were some of the Nephites who believed on the words of Nephi; and there were some also, who believed because of the testimony of the five, for they had been converted while they were in prison.
40 And now there were some among the people, who said that Nephi was a prophet.
41 And there were others who said: Behold, he is a god, for except he was a god he could not know of all things. For behold, he has told us the thoughts of our hearts, and also has told us things; and even he has brought unto our knowledge the true murderer of our chief judge.
And it came to pass that there arose a division among the people, insomuch that they divided hither and thither and went their ways, leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them. (Helaman 9:39-10:1)

It is odd that of the people who believe Nephi, consider him a prophet, or even consider him a god, they end up going their ways and leaving him completely alone. It is almost as if they are afraid of what he might say next because if he is as great as they suppose, they will have to listen and obey.

Now, let’s just look at the people who think Nephi is a god. They seem to think that Nephi’s knowledge of their thoughts and the chief judge’s murder means he must be a god. They don’t seem to realize that God can reveal these things to men. That isn’t even on their radar. In fact, it is as if they believe that God will not reveal things to men, so to know things a man can not know must mean Nephi himself is a god.  Except here their reasoning breaks down; if Nephi were a god, by their own definition, he would not reveal what he did about their thoughts and the true murderer because gods (as they suppose) do not reveal secrets to men.

Their assumption represents a significant spiritual problem.

This shows us that one of the Lord's purposes of the inspired revelation to Nephi of the chief judge’s murder was to try to get the people to believe in revelation because they were stuck in a rut of thinking that revelation was impossible. Along with those who were caught up in secret combinations, there was also a substantial amount of people that thought God could not and would not reveal things to them.  That needed to be addressed.  So not only did the secret combinations learn their secret crimes were not hidden from God and could be exposed at any time, but everyone else was to learn that God could and would reveal valuable information in almost prodigal amounts and detail to those who were ready and willing to listen.

So it is worth thinking about what we believe about God’s willingness to give us revelation. Do we believe He will, or do we think He won’t?  If He does, are we spiritually ready to receive, or would we, like the Nephites, go our ways lest we hear more than we want to?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 2 comments

Other Sheep Jesus Has

I was recently reading in 3 Nephi where Jesus discusses how He was commanded not to tell the Jews much about His other sheep in other folds, which he would bring and unite with His visit and voice.

13 And behold, this is the land of your inheritance; and the Father hath given it unto you.
14 And not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem.
15 Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land.
16 This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them:
17 That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
18 And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them.
19 But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you.
20 And verily, I say unto you again that the other tribes hath the Father separated from them; and it is because of their iniquity that they know not of them.
21 And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
22 And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should be converted through their preaching.
23 And they understood me not that I said they shall hear my voice; and they understood me not that the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice—that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost.
24 But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me.
1 And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister.
2 For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them.
3 But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them.
4 And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of their seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer.
5 And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfil the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel.  (3 Nephi 15:13-16:5)

This section is odd because it would seem like it would prompt a reaction of self-satisfaction—“We are some of Jesus’s other sheep and others were too stubborn and unbelieving to know of us.”  But it has to be given for an instructive purpose, not necessarily for a back-patting one.

Why would the Jews not understand Jesus’s words about other sheep?  In v22 we get a partial answer. They thought Jesus’s other sheep were the Gentiles. Why did they assume this?  I think it is because the Jews also assumed they (the Jews) were the only people in the world that knew the truth, and that everyone else outside their region and society were Gentiles and heathens.   Yet, from time to time, Heavenly Father had led faithful groups out from the Jews because of the Jews’ iniquity, but the Jews who remained thought those who left were the wicked ones and those who remained were righteous.

It is also possible that the same thing happened among the Nephites. While there were dissenters who went to the Lamanites and stirred up trouble, there was also a big trend of emigration northward in Alma 63 and across the sea. There was no contention associated with this mass movement.  Are we to believe that these were unbelievers? It is more likely that they were Jesus’ sheep.

The thing about Jesus’s sheep at that time is that they don’t need missionary work because they are already in the covenant and part of the kingdom and already faithful.  As such, they are ready for a personal visit.

How would it help the faithful in these different lands to know that they were some of Jesus’s sheep and that He had other sheep elsewhere?  I would think it reduces the tendency toward superiority complexes and exclusivity. If a fold goes bad, good sheep can still be separated out, so a faith community must watch its p’s and q’s.

How does this help us today?  Maybe it is obvious, maybe it isn’t. Today, because of modern transportation and communication, there truly can be one fold and one shepherd, and we need not be surprised to find remnants of covenant people and their traditions in strange places. If we did not know this, our missionaries might listen to people of another culture enthuse about how our doctrines fit so well with their ancient traditions and not know what to say to them about it.  Or we might treat their stories with derision or dismiss it as counterfeit or heresy. But instead we can get excited too and realize we found an old part of the Great Shepherd’s fold. 

The knowledge of multiple folds becomes an aid to latter-day missionary work and conversion. New converts are blessed to find truth that builds on old truths held by long tradition and to know they’ve found what their forefathers once knew. Missionaries are blessed to know that Heavenly Father has prepared the way and that He does have elect all over the earth waiting for the truth. It is like new acquaintances discovering they have a common ancestor—suddenly you’ve got new family!

Perhaps another one of the ways it helped the Nephites to know this was it assured them that they (through their records) would be instrumental in helping bring the Gentiles and the scattered remnants of Israel back together to the knowledge of Christ and the fold of God even though they had been separated from the Jews. It is a great blessing to the isolated to know that over the long term they would have a great positive influence on Christ’s other sheep. 

Monday, December 7, 2015 0 comments

Captain Moroni won’t give the enemy any more power

In these verses, Captain Moroni decided not to exchange prisoners with Ammoron because he realized exchanging would give the Lamanites more fighting force. He says,

. . .Behold, I will not exchange prisoners with Ammoron save he will withdraw his purpose, as I have stated in my epistle; for I will not grant unto him that he shall have any more power than what he hath got.
3 Behold, I know the place where the Lamanites do guard my people whom they have taken prisoners. . . (Alma 55:2-3)

Captain Moroni’s sentiments are a great lesson on taking back the parts of our lives where we have yielded to temptation and Satan. We can decide that we are not going to grant Satan any more power than he’s already gotten, and to take back with Christ’s help the parts we’ve lost. After all, just like Captain Moroni knew where Nephite prisoners were, we know where we have yielded to temptation, and we know what needs to be done to get those parts back – repent and then diligently keep the commandments and pray to resist temptation.

So ask yourself where has Satan taken over.

Is it idleness and time-wasting?
Is it inappropriate media?
Is it substance abuse and addiction?  Taking our lives back will be harder, but it’s still possible and it’s very worthy worth it.
Is it complaining and whining?
Is it fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) that has discouraged us?
Is it giving in to peer pressure?
Is it selfishness?
Is it temper?

Today, let’s begin to take back more of our lives from Satan’s power.

Saturday, December 5, 2015 0 comments

Handel’s Messiah and the Christmas Spirit

Handel’s Messiah has been deeply imbedded in my consciousness since I was very young.  On Sundays my parents would play recordings of the Mormon Tabernacle choir singing the Messiah through most of the years of growing up.  Its melodies and classical sound brought peace and serenity to our loud and rambunctious family.   

Naturally, after all this exposure to the Messiah, when a ward we were in announced there would be a stake Messiah sing-along, I jumped at the chance to go participate.  I figured that after all my years of hearing it, I should easily be able to sing along with the songs.  

Ha. Ha.  To my surprise, it was harder than I thought.  Much harder, in fact.  All the weaving in and out of melody motifs made it hard for me to pick out my part.  I was inclined to sing along with every part rather than stick with just one.  But I did learn one thing—that I loved trying to sing along for reals and I wanted to do it more.  The itch had taken hold.

Another few years and our next stake announced a stake choir practicing the Messiah, I jumped at the chance to participate in the choir.  The music was tricky, but it was such a rush to learn my part, to sing those phrases.

For unto us a child is born…

And the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed..

Glory to God, glory to God, glory to God in the highest…

Worthy is the Lamb…


But even more than the pleasure of singing those songs in a choir was the blessing of having the music loop through my head outside of practices.  It really made the Christmas season more beautiful and meaningful in the middle of all the hurry and hustle of holiday preparations. 

The member of the church who organized those Messiah choirs must have gotten a lot of positive feedback from everyone because he continued to organize Messiah choir performances at Christmas a number of years afterward, until he passed away unexpectedly.  (Brother Marshall, we miss you!)  Each year I participated as long as we remained in that stake. 

For a few years, however, I haven’t had a Messiah choir to be in, so this year I decided to take up the challenge of learning to play the Messiah accompaniment on the piano.  And once again, I am reveling in the blessing of having the music loop through my mind, reminding me of the Savior and His birth and mission and ultimate triumph.  During Thanksgiving I played the Hallelujah chorus (fluidly, yet still rather badly) for some of my siblings to sing along.  I will probably take the music with me for Christmas to play for my whole family to see if they want to try bashing through it a bit.  Maybe I can make it a family tradition.

One of the Messiah's wonderful features is how it is composed entirely of quoted scripture. This means that I can be reading in the scriptures and run across words that were written into the Messiah and immediately have its sacred music come to mind. Super-awesome.

Another thing I love about it is that in so many instances, the music was written to compliment the message of its text. The music accompaniment that sharply punctuates "Surely he hath borne our griefs" feels as though it is the falling lash or the beating that Christ received in connection with his trial and condemnation. There is the distinct crash and tinkle of broken pottery in "Thou shalt break them," and when when we are told that "Every valley shall be exalted," the music soars up an octave on "exalted."  And let's not forget the way the melody motif wanders and scatters seemingly in all directions when "All we like sheep have gone astray." 

What about you? Do you have a personal connection to Handel’s Messiah?  If you don't, try playing it during this Christmas season and see if it doesn't bring more of the Christmas Spirit into your life.

Thursday, December 3, 2015 0 comments

The Hidden Manna

I ran across this recently and felt it was worthy of comment. 

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna. . .  (Revelation 2:17)

What blessing are we to understand that the hidden manna represents?  We have to go back to our Old Testament knowledge for this.  Manna was of course the way the Lord fed the Israelites from day to day out in the wilderness for more than 40 years.  They were in a desolate enough place that without it they would have quickly starved. 

Therefore, the hidden manna can represent the unexpected daily spiritual blessings the Saints receive, blessings that keep them spiritually alive, even in situations where they might be expected to fall or become embittered.  Some people who have probably received this blessing might be couples who have testified they were comforted by the Spirit after the death of a child, or husband and wives reassured after the death of a spouse.  Things of that sort.  Likely there are other ways this is manifested at other tragic or difficult times. 

In the gospels, Christ teaches that He is the bread of life that was sent from heaven, so the hidden manna can also represent Him. Who knows how remembering the Savior gives spiritual nourishment to the hungry and weary soul, except the one who has experienced it?  I can testify that I’ve experienced it.  But to those who’ve never done it, this source of nourishment remains forever hidden.

Remember that part of the Lord’s prayer – “Give us this day our daily bread”?  Might it be talking about the hidden manna here?  Have you asked for your daily dose of revelation and comfort and peace you need to carry on today?  If not, take a few minutes and do it now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 2 comments

Lies and fraud in Ammoron’s letter to Captain Moroni

It is interesting to read Ammoron’s letter to Captain Moroni in Alma 54:16-24 and see how it reveals his fraud and lies.  Let’s analyze it and see what we can find.

16 I am Ammoron, the king of the Lamanites; I am the brother of Amalickiah whom ye have murdered. Behold, I will avenge his blood upon you, yea, and I will come upon you with my armies for I fear not your threatenings.

Ammoron claims Captain Moroni has murdered Ammoron’s brother Amalickiah, yet it was done by Teancum, a military man, done as an act of war while Amalickiah was acting as a military general.  Amalickiah’s death was a military objective, not a crime against a civilian, so to call it a murder is spin for the purposes of manipulation.  Even so, to use a whole army to avenge a so-called murder is still overkill. And to punish all the Nephites for one act that one person did is injustice.  So there are at least three layers of wrongness in it.

Also, Ammoron says he doesn’t fear Captain Moroni’s threatenings, but when we read Captain Moroni’s letter reproduced in the same chapter, it doesn’t seem like Captain Moroni meant to be very threatening.  Captain Moroni knew Ammoron wouldn’t listen to threats of hell and damnation, but he used them anyway.  He didn’t really promise death unless Ammoron didn’t withdraw. And when Captain Moroni says they will seek their first inheritance, he only promises blood for blood and life for life, which is more retaliatory than offensive-aggressive.  He also threatens with an army of women and children, which was not meant to be seen as a threat to Lamanite warriors.  In short, Captain Moroni just wants to appear threatening without actually scaring Ammoron because of how he’s trying to get more prisoners than in a one-to-one exchange.

Back to Ammoron’s letter.

 17 For behold, your fathers did wrong their brethren, insomuch that they did rob them of their right to the government when it rightly belonged unto them.

The problem here is differing ideas of what the right to government should be based on. In the Lord’s economy, the right to government is based on righteousness, so as soon as righteousness is gone, goodbye to authority. However, the Lamanites persisted in believing the right to government is based on family seniority. They didn’t even consider all the Biblical cases to the contrary, such as Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, none of whom were the firstborn.

 18 And now behold, if ye will lay down your arms, and subject yourselves to be governed by those to whom the government doth rightly belong, then will I cause that my people shall lay down their weapons and shall be at war no more.

Ammoron asserts the war would end if the Nephites would just subject themselves to be governed to the rightful government, according to his determination.  The thing is, he’s been arguing the Nephites should have been governed by Lamanites.  One problem: the succession of Lamanite kings had been usurped by Amalickiah and Ammoron, who were Zoramites (they claimed).  Yes, Amalickiah and Ammoron were the real usurpers. So even if the Nephites decided to be governed by a real Lamanite successor, they would still have to fight Ammoron to bring that man to the throne. So this argument of Ammoron’s is a fraud.

 19 Behold, ye have breathed out many threatenings against me and my people; but behold, we fear not your threatenings.
 20 Nevertheless, I will grant to exchange prisoners according to your request, gladly, that I may preserve my food for my men of war; and we will wage a war which shall be eternal, either to the subjecting the Nephites to our authority or to their eternal extinction.

Ammoron makes a Lamanite advantage out of exchanging prisoners according to Moroni’s skewed exchange rate. After all, it would help his war effort. 

Also, realistically, if the Lamanites are so determined to war against the Nephites, what kind of governors would they be if the Nephites had agreed to submit?  Can you live peacefully with people who have been trying to kill you?  Can you feel safe ruled by people who have had an ancient tradition of hating you?

 21 And as concerning that God whom ye say we have rejected, behold, we know not such a being; neither do ye; but if it so be that there is such a being, we know not but that he hath made us as well as you.

Ammoron dismisses the idea of a God existing, but says that if God did exist, He made the Lamanites as well as the Nephites. Clearly he means this as a bid for human dignity, but what he doesn’t realize is the implications.  If God exists, then Ammoron really was sinning by rejecting the God who made him.

God does exist. Those who offend him most will tend to be most interested in wishing His existence away.  But try to please Him by repenting and keeping His commandments, and an astonishing certainty and tender little signs of His existence will reappear.

 22 And if it so be that there is a devil and a hell, behold will he not send you there to dwell with my brother whom ye have murdered, whom ye have hinted that he hath gone to such a place? But behold these things matter not.

This is Ammoron’s attempt to deflect guilt by pinning it on Captain Moroni too.  “You say I’m going to hell because I’m a murderer? Well, you’re just as bad!”  The reality is no matter the sins, we’re all in danger of hell unless we escape by applying the atonement of Christ and repenting.

Ammoron ends what he no doubt considers speculation with the dismissive statement of “But behold these things matter not” as if it is all useless mythology that has no practical application to life.  From the unbelieving point of view, talk of God and the afterlife and the state of the soul doesn’t matter in the here and now if one thinks one can’t know one’s state.  But the actuality is that we can know our state and it matters very much because our beliefs determine how we act.  The faithfulness of now determines how our eternity will be spent, and the test of it is whether we can keep the faith even when the greatness of the reward is not yet seen.  We have the words of some prophets who have seen what the righteous can look forward to, but mortal tongue can’t full express it.  We must take it on faith.

 23 I am Ammoron, and a descendant of Zoram, whom your fathers pressed and brought out of Jerusalem.

“Pressed” implies “forced,” as if Zoram were kidnapped or drafted at sword-point.  This sounds like Ammoron and others of the wicked Zoramites began to modify their narrative about the beginnings of their people to fit in better with the Lamanite narrative of being wronged by the Nephites, even though Zoram’s status was probably improved by going with the Lehites.  If we didn’t have Nephi’s record of what really happened, we might believe this side of the story.

 24 And behold now, I am a bold Lamanite; behold, this war hath been waged to avenge their wrongs, and to maintain and to obtain their rights to the government; and I close my epistle to Moroni.

Again, unless Ammoron proposes to have the Lamanite people rule the Nephites, he will be the one governing, and he is the usurper.

Ammoron’s letter reveals his character and how far he has fallen from the truth since leaving the Nephites.  Though he claims justice, his hypocrisy stands out everywhere.  He styles himself “wronged” when he’s only wronged himself by going over to the Lamanites and forgetting all the gospel he’d once been taught, even those stories about how his first father came to the land so long ago. 

So why does Mormon include the full letter from Ammoron in his abridgment?  He could have just summarized it by saying Ammoron was not intimidated, that he agreed to Moroni’s request in order to get back fighting men, and he promised eternal warfare so that the Lamanites could get back their supposed rights to government.  Yet this is not what the Mormon put in.  He thought a copy of apostate Ammoron’s full letter could be of use to future generations.

One thing I notice is that Ammoron harps on his personal grievance that his brother Amalickiah was murdered.  Yet we know it was a legitimate act of war because we have the story of Teancum’s actions.

Consider, if we didn’t know anything about the conditions of Amalickiah’s death, we might wonder if maybe Ammoron might have a point.  But because we understand the truth, we can see Ammoron is trying to manipulate and induce guilt with blame that actually should fall on himself for dissenting from the Nephites in the first place with his brother.

How can this help us today?

This letter shows us that there will be people who defect and join the ranks of the church’s enemies out of personal grievance against the church, yet if the full truth were known, it would be clear that their own wrong behavior brought down the actions against them which offended them.  They will make claims that will sound legitimate to those who don’t know the whole story, and they will sound as if all they want is justice and their rights. But if the full story was known—and frequently it can’t be publicly known because the church keeps information about individuals confidential on its side—it would be clear that these individuals want injustice and usurpation, not justice.

This story provides us with a pattern to use to discern those with false-yet-likely-sounding grievances so that we don’t waste time questioning and doubting our leaders or the church.