Monday, September 14, 2015

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


I was reading in the Book of Mormon about Ammon’s mission to the Lamanites and I got to the part where the king prayed and fell to the earth unconscious and Ammon prayed and fell unconscious with joy the servants prayed and fell unconscious and about how Abish went out to spread the news to everyone else about how the power of God was upon the king’s household.

17 Thus, having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known, therefore, when she saw that all the servants of Lamoni had fallen to the earth, and also her mistress, the queen, and the king, and Ammon lay prostrate upon the earth, she knew that it was the power of God; and supposing that this opportunity, by making known unto the people what had happened among them, that by beholding this scene it would cause them to believe in the power of God, therefore she ran forth from house to house, making it known unto the people.
18 And they began to assemble themselves together unto the house of the king. And there came a multitude, and to their astonishment, they beheld the king, and the queen, and their servants prostrate upon the earth, and they all lay there as though they were dead; and they also saw Ammon, and behold, he was a Nephite. (Alma 19:17-18)

I thought it was very interesting to see the variety of responses from the Lamanite people and how they made meaning from it when they come in and see the Lamanite king, queen, and servants all lying around looking so dead, along with a Nephite. It think it shows that the Lamanites did not all believe the same thing, and sometimes they could be pretty critical of their own society.

The way they respond when they first get there, it almost seems as though they walk into the situation without any context whatever.  And yet the text says Abish went from house to house making known what had happened. Even though they were willing to go and observe, they didn’t see what Abish saw. Their first response was that it was a very bad thing that had happened. (This is rather humorous, because as readers we know it was a very good thing instead.)

19 And now the people began to murmur among themselves; some saying that it was a great evil that had come upon them, or upon the king and his house, because he had suffered that the Nephite should remain in the land.

Note the immediate prejudice. Blame the Nephite.

20 But others rebuked them, saying: The king hath brought this evil upon his house, because he slew his servants who had had their flocks scattered at the waters of Sebus.

Another group thinks the great evil—which I must assume refers to the prostrate, unconscious people—is because the king killed his servants who allowed the flocks to be scattered.  Very interesting—this segment is critical of the king’s justice and were ready to believe that whatever bad thing happened was deserved retribution.

Another interesting thing is that they all seem to see the mass unconsciousness as a bad thing.  Why would that be?  It is possible that it was their warlike culture of militarism that saw this mass of prostrate, inert people as great vulnerability.  (Just imagine how we might think if we heard that everyone in the capital building had inexplicably passed out from the power of God. We’d be concerned about their vulnerability too. “Anyone could sneak in there and mow them down and no one could stop them.”)

And then there’s the group angry at Ammon for the number of Lamanites he’d killed defending the king’s flocks, and the brother of their leader who was killed

21 And they were also rebuked by those men who had stood at the waters of Sebus and scattered the flocks which belonged to the king, for they were angry with Ammon because of the number which he had slain of their brethren at the waters of Sebus, while defending the flocks of the king.
22 Now, one of them, whose brother had been slain with the sword of Ammon, being exceedingly angry with Ammon, drew his sword and went forth that he might let it fall upon Ammon, to slay him; and as he lifted the sword to smite him, behold, he fell dead.

Angry brother decides to take advantage of Ammon’s defenselessness, but he’s struck dead right at the moment of lifting his sword to let it fall.

Up to this point, the Lamanites have been told that the power of God was responsible for what they saw, but they have not really seen it in action.  But when someone immediately dies for no apparent reason beyond his attempt to kill the Nephite, then all of a sudden they realize there is something supernatural going on, but they still have differences of opinion about what it all means.

Mormon (and the rest of us) know that it was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Mosiah that his sons would be spared, but the Lamanites don’t know that.  We’ve seen the story background, but if we didn’t know that, we might be just as puzzled as the Lamanites.

23 Now we see that Ammon could not be slain, for the Lord had said unto Mosiah, his father: I will spare him, and it shall be unto him according to thy faith—therefore, Mosiah trusted him unto the Lord.
24 And it came to pass that when the multitude beheld that the man had fallen dead, who lifted the sword to slay Ammon, fear came upon them all, and they durst not put forth their hands to touch him or any of those who had fallen; and they began to marvel again among themselves what could be the cause of this great power, or what all these things could mean.
25 And it came to pass that there were many among them who said that Ammon was the Great Spirit, and others said he was sent by the Great Spirit;
26 But others rebuked them all, saying that he was a monster, who had been sent from the Nephites to torment them.
27 And there were some who said that Ammon was sent by the Great Spirit to afflict them because of their iniquities; and that it was the Great Spirit that had always attended the Nephites, who had ever delivered them out of their hands; and they said that it was this Great Spirit who had destroyed so many of their brethren, the Lamanites.

So the arguments begin again, and again there are all varieties of opinion.

There are the people who thinks Ammon is the Great Spirit based on the failure to kill him.  (If the king’s servants were conscious, they could have rebutted that one, since they heard Ammon disclaim godhood. Too bad they couldn’t.)

Another group thinks Ammon was sent by the Great Spirit. Perhaps he looked too manlike and they don’t understand why he would be so asleep and unaware if he were a god.

A third group thinks Ammon was sent by the Great Spirit as an instrument of affliction because of Lamanite wickedness and the Great Spirit had always saved the Nephites in the past and allowed the Lamanites to be destroyed.  It is interesting this group is so spiritually perceptive as to realize that the Lamanite defeats and Nephite victories came because the Great Spirit favored the Nephites. These people also are highly critical of Lamanite society and don’t think they are worthy of protection. But they still see Ammon as an instrument of punishment and not a means of divine mercy and blessing.

And yet another group believes Ammon was a monster sent by the Nephites to torment them. These people think, “The Nephites must have known this guy was trouble, and that’s why they sent him here, to cause trouble, and now see he’s incapacitated our rulers and their household!”  They are so convinced the Nephites intend malice to do them harm.  I have to wonder whether this was the tradition of their fathers, or whether this was the work of Nephite dissenters spreading misinformation.  Probably both.

All these views, even after a show of God’s power, are inaccurate. I think it is a case study of how limited the reasoning of man can be, failing to comprehend the deeper purposes of God. Like the Lamanites, who could only see the people lying in front of them, so often our vision is limited to what is happening to us right now, and we fail to see it in the bigger context of God’s love for us and His efforts to save us.  Even when His power is right in front of us, we can still miss it!

How important it is then to have prophets who can help us know and see the larger picture.  How important it is to keep an open mind and simply wait and endure. How important it is to keep a record of what is happening in our lives so that we can have more of the story to look back and reflect on.   It also shows us how our reasoning can’t account for God’s miracles and how odd they may look when viewed with an unbelieving, unregenerate mind.

 I've had hard experiences in my life that disappointed me at the time and which seemed like a bad thing, but when I look back at them from the perspective of years, I see that they were necessary refining experiences.  I'm sure you can say the same.