Lesson 26: Converted unto the Lord
Purpose: To encourage class members to strengthen their conversion and increase their desire to help others become converted.
President Boyd K. Packer has repeatedly taught: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” I think Mormon must have recognized that idea, because the first 20-odd chapters of the Book of Alma are taken largely from sermons of Alma and his missionary companions, the sons of Mosiah. These sermons lay out the doctrines of the gospel in a plain and understandable way so that those who genuinely believe them – whether ancient Lamanites or modern Latter-day Saints – can hardly help but improve behavior by conforming our lives to those teachings.
But President Packer doesn’t claim that studying behavior won’t improve behavior, only that studying doctrine is the quicker way. Studying behavior can still improve behavior. I’m glad of that recognition, because as a historian I look primarily at the behavior of the people of the past. For me, watching how Latter-day Saints of the past lived their lives is a powerful teacher. Recognizing the hand of God in other people’s lives has taught me to recognize his hand in my own. Watching how righteous Latter-day Saints of the past lived the gospel and met their challenges makes me want to be like them, to make and keep the same covenants they made.
So if you’re like me, this section of the Book of Alma is made for us. In these chapters, Mormon moves away from teaching doctrine directly through the words of Alma and his missionary brethren, and turns to the telling of history. We may have to work a little harder to understand the doctrines exemplified by these stories, but the doctrines are there, and so are the lessons applicable to our own lives.
SCRIPTURE DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies are converted to the Lord.
2. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies seek safety among the Nephites.
3. Ammon and Alma rejoice in the accomplishment of the Lord’s work.
So let’s turn to Alma, chapter 23. King Lamoni’s father, the unnamed king over at least one portion of the Lamanite world, has been converted by the teachings of Ammon and Aaron, and those missionaries, with their brothers, go forth to teach more of the Lamanites. Let’s read Alma 23:1-6; as we read, try to note the various ways in which the people’s lives were changed by their acceptance of the doctrines of God.
1 Behold, now it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites sent a proclamation among all his people, that they should not lay their hands on Ammon, or Aaron, or Omner, or Himni, nor either of their brethren who should go forth preaching the word of God, in whatsoever place they should be, in any part of their land.
2 Yea, he sent a decree among them, that they should not lay their hands on them to bind them, or to cast them into prison; neither should they spit upon them, nor smite them, nor cast them out of their synagogues, nor scourge them; neither should they cast stones at them, but that they should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries.
3 And thus they might go forth and preach the word according to their desires, for the king had been converted unto the Lord, and all his household; therefore he sent his proclamation throughout the land unto his people, that the word of God might have no obstruction, but that it might go forth throughout all the land, that his people might be convinced concerning the wicked traditions of their fathers, and that they might be convinced that they were all brethren, and that they ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness.
4 And now it came to pass that when the king had sent forth this proclamation, that Aaron and his brethren went forth from city to city, and from one house of worship to another, establishing churches, and consecrating priests and teachers throughout the land among the Lamanites, to preach and to teach the word of God among them; and thus they began to have great success.
5 And thousands were brought to the knowledge of the Lord, yea, thousands were brought to believe in the traditions of the Nephites; and they were taught the records and prophecies which were handed down even to the present time.
6 And as sure as the Lord liveth, so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them – yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.
7 For they became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren.
In verse 4, we read that Aaron and his brethren “preached and taught the word of God” among the Lamanites – in other words, they were presented with the true doctrines of God. Alma doesn’t tell us here exactly what the missionaries taught, but of course there’s every reason to believe that they taught the same doctrines that we have been reading in the sermons in earlier chapters of the book.
But while we don’t know the words that were used to teach them, we do see the result of those teachings in the behavior of the converts. What are some of those changes?
verse 4: “establishing churches” – They already had houses of worship, so what churches were established? What was distinctive about the “churches” that Alma’s father, the first Alma, established in Zarahemla, from the form of worship that was already a part of the people’s lives?
verse 4: “consecrating priests and teachers” – How do the people of God usually feel about their priests and teachers, and other leaders called of God? How might this new form of godly leadership have affected their day-to-day lives? (How might a change in role models change their lives? How does having such leaders in our midst affect us? What qualities and successes do we learn to respect that might be different from what we would admire if we didn’t have and recognize this calling and divine authority?)
verse 4: “to preach and to teach” – What is the difference between preaching and teaching? What changes did conversion work in the lives of the converts that qualified them to be preachers and teachers?
verse 5: “believe in the traditions of the Nephites” – What were these traditions? (Was there a cultural element as well as a religious one?) What traditions of the Lamanites did those traditions replace? Are there traditions of your fathers that are out of harmony with the gospel? What would it take in your life for you to replace those traditions with gospel teachings?
verse 5: “taught the records and prophecies” – What records and prophecies are those? Where did the Aaron and Ammon and the others get those records and prophecies? Is it likely that they would have carried metallic copies of those records with them? It is even less likely that they had copies to give to the new converts – how did the preachers and teachers know what to preach and teach? Is it absolutely necessary to have written copies of the scriptures always available? What about those today who are converted in parts of the world where literacy is not almost universal? What are the advantages to having written scriptures? Each of us no doubt has one or more copies of the scriptures available to us with great ease – if your copies were somehow available to these new Lamanite converts in a language they could read, would you expect those scriptures do get greater use, or do you study your scriptures with the same intensity you might expect from these new converts?
verse 6: “never did fall away” – This is a record of fidelity that I am unaware has been true of any group of converts in our dispensation. Why do you think it might have been true in the case of these Lamanites? In our day the culture – the “traditions” – of Latter-day Saints are similar, even identical, to the culture of the rest of the people around us; can you give some examples of that? How might that similarity make it possible, even easy, to fall away, and even lure people into falling away? Were those conditions true of these Lamanite converts?
One writer has said:
One of the important things to remember is the vast distance that the Lamanites had to cross to believe in the Nephite gospel. They not only had to learn and love a new gospel, they had to learn and love a new God. They not only had to accept God, but they had to undo centuries of enculturation that taught them to hate the nephites and anything Nephite. Under these circumstances, only those who powerfully felt the spirit would have any motivation to change. … Each of them had to make an individual choice that was difficult, and could be made only through the compelling power of the Spirit. [Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness. Alma, 345]
Do you agree?
verse 7: “lay down the weapons of their rebellion” – What weapons do you visualize them laying down? Are those weapons that were used to fight against God, or against their brethren? What weapons might they have been using to fight against God? What weapons are available in our culture – either in the Church or in the wider culture – to fight against God? What is involved in laying down these weapons?
Next, Alma gives us a catalogue of the places where they found converts, and the places that resisted them. Note that not all of the people in this land and that land were converted, but that the missionaries found some converts in each of those places. This is due in part to verses 16-17, where the converts want to be known by some name to distinguish them from those who were not converted.
16 And now it came to pass that the king and those who were converted were desirous that they might have a name, that thereby they might be distinguished from their brethren; therefore the king consulted with Aaron and many of their priests, concerning the name that they should take upon them, that they might be distinguished.
17 And it came to pass that they called their names Anti-Nephi-Lehies; and they were called by this name and were no more called Lamanites.
We’ve been discussing how conversion changes the lives of believers; what can we add to that list from these verses? Why are names important? What names do we go by?
The name “Anti-Nephi-Lehies” is a strange one, and readers of the Book of Mormon have been puzzling for 182 years on how to understand that name. The short answer is, “We don’t know,” although several ideas have been proposed:
1. The word “anti” means against or opposed in English, but that doesn’t make any sense in this case since the converts were aligning themselves with the beliefs of Nephi and Lehi, not opposing them. Also, the English word anti comes from a Greek root, and Greek could have had no effect on the language brought to the New World from the Jerusalem of 600 B.C.
2. Hugh Nibley suggested that anti could mean opposition in a specialized sense; that is, just as when a mirror stands opposite of an object [display hand mirror reflecting scriptural book] it reflects that object, the converts stood facing Nephi and Lehi and reflected the righteousness of these prophets.
3. The word Anti may not be an English word at all. It may be a name or a Nephite/Lamanite word, for which we do not know the English meaning – it is a word that appears in other Book of Mormon names: Antion, Antionum, Antipara, Antipus, and so on.
You can choose one of those interpretations, or consider others, but the truth is that we just don’t know. What is important to us is that these people thought it was important to be known by a new name, and this is the one that was chosen.
The other Lamanites in the region did not take it lightly when the Anti-Nephi-Lehies converted.
1 And it came to pass that the Amalekites and the Amulonites and the Lamanites who were in the land of Amulon, and also in the land of Helma, and who were in the land of Jerusalem, and in fine, in all the land round about, who had not been converted and had not taken upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, were stirred up by the Amalekites and by the Amulonites to anger against their brethren.
2 And their hatred became exceedingly sore against them, even insomuch that they began to rebel against their king, insomuch that they would not that he should be their king; therefore, they took up arms against the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
When people join the Church today, as the Anti-Nephi-Lehites did 2,000 years ago, they often face opposition from their families and friends, although it doesn’t usually reach the level of taking up arms! What are some of the causes for that opposition? Is any of that opposition justified, or at least understandable? How? How can that opposition be lessened, so that at least some of the time families and friends can retain their love despite the change that comes with conversion?
Let’s continue the history:
5 Now when Ammon and his brethren and all those who had come up with him saw the preparations of the Lamanites to destroy their brethren, they came forth to the land of Midian, and there Ammon met all his brethren; and from thence they came to the land of Ishmael that they might hold a council with Lamoni and also with his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi, what they should do to defend themselves against the Lamanites.
6 Now there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren; nay, they would not even make any preparations for war; yea, and also their king commanded them that they should not.
In the next verses, the people rehearse their reasons for refusing to take up arms: God has been so good to them, by softening their hearts to recognize their sins, by giving them the opportunity to repent, and by extending the mercy of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, that they refuse to do anything that might be a step back toward their old lives.
15 Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
16 And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.
So the Anti-Nephi-Lehies buried their weapons in the ground.
19 And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their … weapons of war, for peace.
The unconverted Lamanites made war on the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, who did not resist the attacks. Instead, they bowed down to the warriors, and many hundreds of them were killed. Some of their attackers were actually converted by the example of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, but others continued the war, both against the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and against the Nephites. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies eventually migrated to live among the Nephites; their story will be continued in another lesson.
I’ve often expressed regret that we have to move along so quickly through the Book of Mormon that there is not time to discuss all the important stories in class. I think I’ve never regretted that more than today. We have spent the bulk of our time today discussing what conversion means in the lives of believers, because that was the stated purpose of the lesson: “To encourage class members to strengthen their conversion and increase their desire to help others become converted.”
But focusing on that purpose means that we have not had any discussion of the lessons we might learn about war, and our own 21st century Latter-day Saint attitude toward war. We are now heading into the part of the Book of Mormon that we sometimes call “the war chapters,” where we will see at least six different righteous approaches to war. Some of those approaches suit the taste of some Latter-day Saints; other approaches better suit the taste of other Latter-day Saints.
The refusal of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies to fight, even at the cost of their own lives, is not a course that many, if any, of us are prepared to adopt. Yet it is one valid response to war, under certain conditions, as we can tell from the approving way in which the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies is told. It is a response that these people chose deliberately, and was a direct consequence of their conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the coming weeks we will discuss other righteous responses to the problem of war – this is only the first.