Episode 45: The “Other” Ammon
Highlighting a lesser-known hero of the Book of Mormon.
Greetings listeners! Welcome to this, our 45th episode on ForeverLDS. It’s an honor to be with you, and an honor whenever you have allowed me, though ForeverLDS—whether on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, Anchor or wherever—to be a part of your lives.
Yes, I know I haven’t been quite perfect releasing a podcast precisely every two weeks. The podcast has grown—a lot—over the last six months as we’ve strived to release an episode twice a month. Consistency. That’s what it’s about. My excuse? Just trying to finish Book 13: Thorns of Glory.
BUT! I love this podcast so I’ll continue to devote some attention here. The concept for this episode has been on my mind for a long time, actually. Every time I’ve sat down to develop a new episode, at least for the last 10 or 12 episodes, I’ve been tempted. Then some other shiny thing draws me away. Not this time.
There are so many heroic figures in the Book of Mormon. Yet we always seem to emphasize and re-emphasize the same ones. Mormon. Lehi. Moroni. Captain Moroni. Nephi. Alma the Elder. Alma the Younger. Ammon. That is, Ammon the son of Mosiah. There is another Ammon. And he wasn’t a missionary. At least not in the same way as the Alma and the sons of Mosiah—Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni. Sheesh!—there’s three more lesser-known heroes. Most of us can recount the story of Ammon’s missionary efforts among the Lamanites and how his converts called themselves the people of Ammon. Aaron? Omner? Himni? Better-read Book of Mormon students might be recount a few of the exploits of Aaron. What about Omner and Himni? All exemplary, righteous men, but did Omner and Himni ever do something unique to just them? Admittedly, their names are usually mentioned alongside the others, but they did not stay together during their mission. There are sometimes specific details of their individual stories that are fun to highlight.
To me, these every one of these people were real. They were genuine, flesh and bones, historical figures. They had families. Wives and children. Admittedly, we often don’t know the names of their children, and we’re not told the names of any of their spouses. Sort of a peculiar tradition or characteristic of Nephite culture, or at least of Nephite record-keeping. One that today’s culture sometimes has a difficult time wrapping their head around. No matter. We don’t know a lot of things about the Nephites. What games they played, pets they kept, pastimes and entertainments, rituals of courtship and marriage—things common to every culture in history. We can sometimes tease details from the text. In many cases writers or prophets in the Book of Mormon felt there wasn’t enough space or time to describe these topics, or they didn’t think it ought to be described because, although we’d certainly find it fascinating, they considered it obvious or commonplace. Modern readers have a difficult time understanding why some subjects were ignored. Didn’t the Nephites or Jaredites ever have any fun?
Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it—most Book of Mormon authors carefully avoided history or culture unless it helped to make a spiritual point. Smart. Smarter than it might first seem. By avoiding much of history and culture, the volume has a wider, more universal, appeal. What? The Nephites did it like that? I don’t relate. We don’t do it that way in our culture. By avoiding these subjects, an author can more effectively preserve the spiritual impact of a given message, making it applicable to every culture in the world.
Still, despite their best efforts…the Book of Mormon’s authors failed. They failed to hide these cultural and historical influences. It was an impossible feat to begin with. I mean, they did better than I would have done. I’m not sure you can avoid the influence of your own culture and history when communicating a message, even if its spiritual or doctrinal. Those influences will unavoidably shape the words or phrases an author chooses to communicate their universal message. I find influences—multiple instances—on just about every page.
For me it breathes life into the text. It reveals personality. It can also reveal, at least to me, that a different author is at the helm of a particular segment of the volume. I’m not perfect at this. Who could be? Take the Book of Ether, for example. First there were the original record keepers, such as the brother of Jared. Then their words are reshaped by the personality of Ether who compiled their records, then its reshaped by Moroni who abridges the record of Ether, and finally reshaped by Joseph Smith, who translates it into English. King James English, if the colloquialisms of 19th century America wouldn’t have introduced yet another style and personality. Still, certain books in the Book of Mormon just read differently than other books. Or even sections within those books. I registered a change of personalities the first time I read First Nephi and Jacob, when I was 18 years old. Again between Enos and Amaleki. I don’t know why I specifically looked for that. Maybe because I would later take up writing as a career. But I noticed.
Everyone plays a part. Every personality shapes the impact of the Gospel on our lives and on our testimonies. Our choices impact everyone we meet. Thousands of lives. Who in turn influence billions. It’s the butterfly effect. The question is whether what ripples out from each of those choices has a net positive or a net negative influence. That’s where the magic of the Gospel comes in. And its eternal significance. Thank our Savior for the Atonement and its power to slow down, accelerate, or reposition the wings of that butterfly. The power to restore equilibrium.
That all sounds really deep. My point is that all of us likely wonder what impact our lives will have upon humanity. Upon our posterity. Maybe some don’t think about that, but I believe most of us do. We all make serious mistakes, but we strive for a net positive. Most folks probably believe the majority of people who live and die on this earth are just a blip, having no influence whatsoever. I don’t think that’s true. On the Day of Judgement all the world’s imperfect records, blank pages, or empty thumb drives, will reveal the full details of everyone who’s ever lived.
That’s why I think the theme of this episode is important. I wanted to do a number of podcasts highlighting heroes of the Book of Mormon that I suspect many listeners will not recognize. Their contributions, for the most part, are unremembered or quickly passed over. Yet when we read the text a little closer, we go, “Wow!” This person impacted hundreds, thousands, millions of people. And they continue to influence people today! What an honor it would be to have your name, even just a piece of your story, preserved by a prophet of God, because you did something good. Something that made a difference.
Honestly, my original intent was to outline five lesser-known heroes of the Book of Mormon. A couple thousand words into my outline I reduced it to three. Then two. Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw that the first person I chose filled the entire episode.
When we hear the name of Ammon most of us think of the
missionary son of Mosiah who defended the flocks of the king. Sliced off a few arms along the way. Definitely one of the Book of Mormon’s most memorable heroes. I wanted to talk about the first Ammon mentioned in Mormon’s abridgement.
As I recount some of his exploits, I expect some will say, “Oh yeah! I remember that guy!” If so, I hope this is an inspiring review of what he actually did. This Ammon is sometimes harder to distinguish because he comes on the scene during a part of the record that’s a bit foggy. Several flash backs and flash forwards, and numerous expeditions to and from the land and city of Zarahemla. One reason it’s confusing is because the Nephites are suddenly headquartered in Zarahemla, and the Book of Mormon never really tells us how they got displaced from the land of Nephi. These events, it’s strongly believed, were chronicled in the 116 manuscript pages lost by Martin Harris.
Up until The Words of Mormon in the Book of Mormon—See? Some listeners are confused already. Up until the 3-page explanatory segment called The Words of Mormon, we’ve been reading from the small plates of Nephi—a record kept by Nephi and his direct descendants for approximately 450 years. We don’t start reading from Mormon’s actual abridgement of the expanded historical and spiritual record—the large plates of Nephi—until the Book of Mosiah.
Make sense? Clear as mud. I know. But most of us aren’t bothered by this because we don’t read the Book of Mormon like a storybook. However, I think that was Mormon’s intent. He wanted the record to present a clear chronology. A beginning, middle, and end. It’s only logical. The loss of those 116 pages makes us feel, just a bit, like we’re bouncing around from century to century. Imagine how confusing it would be if the Lord hadn’t foreseen this loss and inspired Mormon to insert the small plates of Nephi, preserving the core story of Lehi fleeing from Jerusalem with his family and sailing to the promised land. See? Plot is important to God and so He nudged Mormon to compensate for this loss. The inspiration undoubtedly goes all the way back to Nephi himself. Most of First and Second Nephi are made up of sermons and prophecies and the writings of Isaiah. Except for the first couple chapters—the opening of the Book of Mormon—which is plot. Much of it anyway. Enough for us to orient themselves to time and place.
In spite of this, the loss of those 116 pages is felt. Most who read the Book of Mormon cover-to-cover confess to some slight disorientation as they reach the end of the small plates of Nephi as they mentally adjust to the reality that time and place have shifted about 500 years and an unspecified number of miles. We don’t get why King Mosiah, shortly after he inherits the throne of his father, King Benjamin, feels driven to organize an expedition back to Lehi-Nephi. Who are they’re searching for again? Why did these people separate from their kinsmen in the first place. It’s all right. The story lands on its feet again, the plot comes back together, somewhere around the middle of the Book of Mosiah. But one of the causalities of that short period of reorientation may be that the first Ammon in the record doesn’t quite stick in our memory.
The story really starts with a man named Zeniff, who lived several generations before Ammon, even though Zeniff isn’t discussed until a couple chapters after we meet Ammon. Zeniff and a few other vigorous Nephites settlers actually succeed in establishing a settlement in Lehi-Nephi around the site, or ruins, of what the Book of Mormon implies is the original Temple built in the time of the Prophet Nephi.
Wherever it is, it’s well inside Lamanite-controlled territory, meaning that Zeniff is surrounded on all sides by hostile Lamanites itching to wipe him off the map. Oh, they tolerate Zeniff and his little band of interlopers for a couple years, but soon make it resoundingly clear that unless the Nephites wants to be overrun and decimated, they must pay a tribute of half of everything they grow and produce, essentially transforming this isolated city-state into the Lamanites’ personal slave farm.
Zeniff’s resettlement expedition to Lehi-Nephi apparently took place in the days of Mosiah’s father, King Benjamin. Possibly earlier, during the reign of Mosiah’s grandfather, Mosiah I.
The point is that when Mosiah II inherited the throne, nobody had heard from these guys or knew what had become of Zeniff. The postal service in those days was very slow, transforming their ultimate fate into a complete mystery. In fact, verse 1 of Chapter 7 in the Book of Mosiah ends with one of those peculiar phrases I mentioned. 3 years after Mosiah became king, “he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla, therefore they wearied him with their teasings.”
The people wearied King Mosiah with their “teasings”? That’s an odd way to put it. You’d think the people might be worried about Zeniff. At least some of Mosiah’s subjects were undoubtedly relatives of Zeniff and his followers or had other emotional ties. Mosiah 7:1 suggests that the residents of Zarahemla lampooned the memory of Zeniff and his followers. Sounds like a bit of a culture clash. As I say, I love these kind of unusual phrases that sort of jump out at you and reveal that Nephite history and the interrelationships between peoples and cultures was complicated.
That particular phrase is never really explained. But, as a reminder, most of King Mosiah’s subjects were not Nephites. They were the people of Zarahemla, meaning they were the descendants of Mulek, son of King Zedekiah of Jerusalem, or possibly the descendants of Mulek’s shipmates, with a few descendants of the Jaredites sprinkled in for good measure, which is suggested by the plethora of phonetically Jaredite names. For a deeper dive into the tension and strife that this power grab by the Nephites—as later generations of Zarahemlaites may have viewed it—may have incited, check out Episode 32 of this podcast: “A Tale of Three Kings”, and also Episode 33.
Enter Ammon in Mosiah 7, verse 3. The scripture reads, “. . . King Mosiah granted that sixteen of their strong men might go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi, to inquire concerning their brethren. And it came to pass that on the morrow they started to go up, having with them one Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was also their leader. (Mosiah 7:2-3)”
Interesting. So strong and mighty Ammon is the leader of this 16-man expedition, and he’s not even Nephite. No biological or ancestral connection to Zeniff and his fellow emigrants who’d departed Zarahemla 50 or 60 years earlier. Ammon seems to have accepted this dangerous assignment for one reason. Because King Mosiah II asked him to go. Later events reveal that Ammon was also a man of great faith, and despite lacking blood ties to the Nephites, he nevertheless considered them his brethren.
16 strong and mighty men. Sounds like a perfect formula for a future bedtime story or tale recounted around the fire. Maybe that’s how Mormon first learned it. The scriptures tell us that Ammon and his 15 compatriots wandered in the wilderness looking for the people of Zeniff for 40 days. A popular time-span in Nephite and Jewish record-keeping.
They at last pitched their tents at a place “which is north of the land of Shilom (Mos 7:3:5).” That’s another interesting sidebar. Mormon doesn’t write “which was north of the land of Shilom”. He speaks in present tense. Mormon knows this place. He presumes his readers will know it too. It’s 450 years after the events, yet Mormon knows his geography and he knows the location of Shilom.
Ammon chooses three men—Amaleki, Helem, and Hem—and takes them with him down into the land of Nephi. Note that for forty days they’ve been traveling “up” (verse 4) but for the final leg of the trip, they go “down” into the land of Nephi. Great names by the way. Amaleki, Helem, and Hem. Later in the Book of Mormon we have Amalekiah and Helaman, which might be derivatives of those names, in the same tradition as Captain Moroni naming his son Moronihah.
Hem. I love that name. Not Ham, like Ham the son of Noah, but Hem. Maybe all of these men were later classified as Nephite heroes—men you’d proudly name your son after. Keep in mind, King Mosiah named his first son Ammon. This is the better-known Ammon who later served a mission among the Lamanites. It’s very possible that Mosiah named his son after the Ammon we’re highlighting today.
So Ammon, Amaleki, Helem, and Hem arrive in land of Nephi, approach the city of Zeniff, and are immediately surrounded, taken, bound, and committed to prison. They’re not arrested by Lamanites, but by the guards of Zeniff’s grandson, King Limhi. The Book of Mormon twice emphasizes that the reason Ammon and his companions were arrested—and not slain on the spot—was because they boldly approached the king’s retinue while he was in a vulnerable position outside the city gates.
It’s easy to plausibly reconstruct the scene. Doubtless Ammon had made inquiries during his 40 days of wandering, learned that the Nephites occupied this walled city, learns from a passerby “That’s the king right over there,” or perhaps draws this conclusion from the retinue’s appearance, then thinks, “What luck! We’ll just bypass low-ranking bureaucrats who schedule everybody who requests an audience with the king’s and introduce ourselves to him directly!”
A bold and utterly naïve thing to do considering the tense political climate that prevailed. It’s probable that Ammon and his men knew nothing about those tensions. The reader is also unsure why Ammon is treated so badly. It’s not fully explained until we read the 13-chapter flashback starting in Mosiah Chapter 9. Mosiah 9, 10, and 11 were taken from the record composed by Zeniff himself, the over-zealous adventurer who led the Nephites to reclaim their homeland. What’s interesting is that Zeniff admits he was over-zealous. He regrets what he’s done.
In Mosiah chapters 9 through 22 we learn the full story of Zeniff, his wicked son, King Noah, Alma, the fiery sermons of Abinadi, and of his martyrdom, which is also a fiery event, if you’ll excuse the bad pun.
Imagine the frustration of Ammon and his compadres as he approaches King Limhi, only to be surrounded and arrested. “No wait! You don’t understand! We just want to meet the king! We’re Nephites from Zarahemla!” Maybe that was part of the problem. Ammon wasn’t a Nephite. Who knows if any of these four men were Nephites! Still they might have pleaded with the guards, “We’re the good guys! We traveled all the way from Zarahemla to find you!”
Whatever they said, Limhi’s guards weren’t having any of it. “Yeah, that’s what a wretched priest of Noah, sneaking up to kidnap one of our daughters would say, wouldn’t he?”
What’s cool about Ammon, despite his mistreatment, bound, and thrown into prison for two days, which is a long time to nurture a grudge, when the time came to present himself before King Limhi, all resentment and negativity are set aside.
This is also a fun “or rather” moment in the Book of Mormon—one of those places where it seems Mormon etched the wrong word on the plates, but since you can’t erase a metal plate, he just writes “or rather”. Chapter 7 verse 8: “And it came to pass when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.”
I love that. It suggests something of the frailty and humanness of a great prophet like Mormon. “‘And were permitted…Nah, that’s not the right word. ‘or rather commanded’—yeah, that’s a better word.”
Limhi tells Ammon, “I desire to know the cause whereby ye were so bold as to come near the walls of the city, when I, myself, was with my guards without the gate?
11 And now, for this cause have I suffered that ye should be preserved, that I might inquire of you, or else I should have caused that my guards should have put you to death. Ye are permitted to speak.
12 And now, when Ammon saw that he was permitted to speak, he went forth and bowed himself before the king; and rising again he said: O king, I am very thankful before God this day that I am yet alive, and am permitted to speak; and I will endeavor to speak with boldness;
13 For I am assured that if ye had known me ye would not have suffered that I should have worn these bands. For I am Ammon, and am a descendant of Zarahemla, and have come up out of the land of Zarahemla to inquire concerning our brethren, whom Zeniff brought up out of that land (Mosiah 7: 10-13).
Now that’s the way to do it. Humility, bowing down, expressing thankfulness to God, referring to Limhi and his people as “brethren” even if he, himself, is a descendant of Zarahemla. Seems to me Ammon carefully rehearsed this speech in his mind over the past two days. He nailed it.
“…after Limhi had heard the words of Ammon he was exceedingly glad and said, Now, I know of a surety that my that my brethren who were in the land of Zarahemla are yet alive. And now, I will rejoice; and on the morrow I will cause that my people shall rejoice also (Mosiah 7:14).”
King Limhi unfolds all of his current political problems with the Lamanites, the terrible tribute his people are forced to pay and declares to Ammon, “And now, behold, our brethren will deliver us out of our bondage, or out of the hands of the Lamanites, and we will be their slaves; for it is better that we be slaves to the Nephites than to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites.”
I can imagine one of Ammon’s compadres leaning over and whispering, “What did he just say? Deliver them out of bondage? Does he know we’re only sixteen guys? What have we gotten ourselves into?”
Limhi lays out the red carpet for his guests. He sends his guards to fetch the other 12 strong and mighty men encamped up on the hill and brings them into the city “that thereby they might eat, and drink, and rest themselves from the labors of their journey; for they had suffered many things; they had suffered hunger, thirst, and fatigue. (Mosiah 7:16).”
The king sends out a proclamation, telling all his people to gather at the temple for a speech, letting them know, in essence, our rescuers have arrived!
“O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted; for behold, the time is at hand, or is not far distant, when we shall no longer be in subjection to our enemies, notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made (Mosiah 7:18).”
King Limhi seemed to have no illusions. He knew there were still challenges ahead. Yet he considered the arrival of Ammon and his brethren a great sign and miracle of God’s love and mercy.
Limhi is clearly a man of great faith. Where he got that faith, how he nurtured those spiritual convictions, is unknown. It’s not as if he father was a great example. King Noah was a drunk and a whoremonger, glutting himself, along with his priests, on the labors of his people, just like the Lamanites.
Limhi’s people had been through a lot. They’d endured hardship and bloodshed. Adversity can make someone bitter or humble. In this instance, the people were made humble. In Mormon’s day, the people went the other way and became bitter and callous. I don’t know what causes someone to flip one way or the other. In the case of Limhi’s subjects, their hearts were so softened that they stood there and took it as King Limhi reminded them of their grievous sins and why they were forced to suffer. He even blasted his grandfather for bringing them to Nephi-Lehi and thinking they could reclaim their homeland in the first place.
“…And ye all are witnesses this day,” he declared, “that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being over-zealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about—
22 And all this he did, for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage (Moisah 7:21-22).”
King Limhi reminds them of the terrible terms of their treaty with the Lamanites: “And now, is not this grievous to be borne? And is not this, our affliction, great? Now behold, how great reason we have to mourn. Yea, I say unto you, great are the reasons which we have to mourn; for behold how many of our brethren have been slain, and their blood has been spilt in vain, and all because of iniquity.
For if this people had not fallen into transgression the Lord would not have suffered that this great evil should come upon them. But behold, they would not hearken unto his words; but there arose contentions among them, even so much that they did shed blood among themselves. And a prophet of the Lord have they slain; yea, a chosen man of God, who told them of their wickedness and abominations, and prophesied of many things which are to come, yea, even the coming of Christ.
We’re talking about Abinadi. We haven’t even learned Abinadi’s name yet. If you were writing a work of fiction, wouldn’t you be tempted to give this slain character—this fictional martyred prophet—a name? Nope. We don’t learn his name for four more chapters. That’s the mindset of a historian, not a storyteller. Mormon is just recording what Limhi’s record actually said. No embellishing. Whenever Mormon or Moroni interrupt a narrative to insert their own thoughts, they make it so obvious. No need in this instance.
“And because he (this prophet who was slain) said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth—
28 And now, because he said this, they did put him to death; and many more things did they do which brought down the wrath of God upon them. Therefore, who wondereth that they are in bondage, and that they are smitten with sore afflictions?
It’s interesting that when Limhi refers to the sins and misdeeds of the people, or the afflictions they’re suffering, he always say “they” rather than “us” or “we”. “They” put him to death. “They” were smitten with afflictions. Aren’t the ones suffering those listeners standing before him? Maybe that’s politics. He doesn’t change the pronoun until the very end of his speech, as he starts discussing repentance and changing hearts. “And now, behold, the promise of the Lord is fulfilled, and ye are smitten and afflicted. But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage.”
King Limhi invites Ammon to stand before the multitude and tell them everything about Zarahemla, and what had occurred among their brethren since his grandfather had departed with everyone else’s grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
Strong and mighty Ammon reveals the depth of his own faith as he recites the last words of King Benjamin, even explaining and expounding King Benjamin’s words to help the people understand.
Afterwards, Limhi summarily dismisses the people, but he doesn’t dismiss Ammon. He has something very curious to show Ammon. First, he lets him read the record of his people, in particular the record of his grandfather, Zeniff.
Chapter 8, verse 6: “Now, as soon as Ammon had read the record, the king inquired of him to know if he could interpret languages, and Ammon told him that he could not.
The King then unfolds an unusual tale: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.
And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.
Limhi shows Ammon twenty-four engraved gold plates and other artifacts that his explorers recovered. Large breastplates of brass and copper that were perfectly sound, meaning, I presume they weren’t corroded with rust. His men also recovered swords and other weapons, but these were mostly cankered away.
Limhi must have thought very highly of Ammon to give him a private showing of such artifacts. Something about Ammon’s sermon, or Ammon himself—his charisma and personality— caused Limhi to hope that Ammon might know how these 24 plates might be translated. After all, these are the very plates later transcribed on to the plates of Mormon, by Moroni, and which we know today as the Book of Ether.
We can postulate why Limhi believed Ammon might help him as we recall that Ammon had identified himself up front as a descendant of Zarahemla. Limhi’s grandfather, Zeniff, likely departed from Zarahemla fairly early on, just as the Nephites and Zarahemlaites were just getting to know each other and the process of religious and cultural assimilation was still underway.
Limhi had never been to Zarahemla. Yet he may have known something about the stone or stelae there that told of Coriantumr, the last Jaredite King, who dwelled among them for nine moons, and whose ancestors had come from the tower of Babel, but whose nation was destroyed in a great conflict with bones scattered across the land northward. Limhi’s men had seen these scattered bones and ruins. Limhi deduced that there might be a connection between this stelae in Zarahemla and his own 24 plates.
“Therefore,” says Limhi, “I said unto thee: Canst thou translate? And I say unto thee again: Knowest thou of any one that can translate? For I am desirous that these records should be translated into our language; for, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed, from whence these records came; or, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed; and I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction (Mosiah 8:11-12)”.
Why was Limhi so curious about the fate of ancient inhabitants? We have to understand, or contemplate, the high esteem that people of faith gave to ancient records, especially something etched on such a permanent medium like gold plates. Limhi had lived his whole life under siege, surrounded by enemies who constantly threatened destruction. This episode might have easily focused on Limhi as an unsung hero of the Book of Mormon. After the death of his apostate father, King Noah, and the departure of Alma and his followers, who were likely the cream of the crop as far as people of integrity and spirituality in the community, Limhi is left on his own to bring about a spiritual revival and retrenchment among the Nephites who remained.
He was a skilled orator and civic leader. He’d have to be! Anyone who could deliver a sermon accusing the people of sin and proclaiming their sufferings the consequence of God’s judgements without inciting revolt getting burned at the stake was a remarkable ting. Didn’t turn out so well for Abinadi.
The cultures and religious traditions of the peoples and tribes that surrounded King Limhi bore no resemblance to the religion of the Jews. The Lamanites didn’t preserve these traditions. King Lamoni, a few years later, couldn’t even wrap his mind around the term “God” when he first heard it from Ammon, the eldest son of Mosiah (Alma 18: 24-25). The Lamanites had apparently adopted the religious traditions of the indigenous peoples already living in the promised land.
A primary reason the people of Zarahemla immediately connected with the Nephite refugees was their religious tradition. The descendants of Mulek had preserved at least some of their Jewish heritage. They rejoiced when they learned about the Plates of Brass Mosiah I possessed. Likewise, the stelae translated by Mosiah mentioned the tower of Babel, witnessing that the Jaredites had a Hebrew religious heritage. Limhi surely hoped these 24 gold plates would affirm the same heritage, as well as answer the burning question of how and why these people were destroyed.
Although Ammon could not translate this record himself, he had good news for King Limhi.
I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God (Mosiah 8:13-14).”
Ammon speaks, of course, of King Mosiah II. And the interpreters, or instruments of translations, are the Urim and Thummin. These verses tells us something more about Ammon and why he was so willing to lead this expedition of 16 men to find out what had become of his brethren. He was a man of deep loyalty, understanding, and religious conviction.
Limhi reveals something of his own humility and limited gospel experience as he asks if a seer was greater than a prophet. Ammon explains:
“… a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.
But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.
Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings (Mosiah 8:16-18).”
King Limhi is practically beside himself with gratitude and praising God: “Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.
O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people; yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them! (Mosiah 8:19-20).”
Interesting word choices, especially Limhi personifying an abstract concept like “wisdom” with a feminine pronoun, proclaiming that men ought to let “her” rule over them. Another phrase that jumps out at you and provides vibrant color and depth to the text.
It’s right after this verse that we flash back to the record of Zeniff, and a fuller account of Limhi’s people. It’s a history filled with violence and heartache. Mormon, in his abridgement, notes the abundance of widows and fatherless children as Ammon arrives on the scene. At that moment, their prospects of escaping and returning to Zarahemla looked rather grim. They be slaughtered as soon as they tried leave the city gates.
Here Mormon emphasizes the covenant-making of Limhi’s—their willingness to serve God and keep His commandments—as critical components of their eventual deliverance. They’d invoked such covenants before Ammon arrived, and again in Ammon’s presence. No formal church existed in Lehi-Nephi, at least not like the one Alma established in the wilderness, presumably because they felt no one felt authorized to organize one. Mosiah 21:7 says they were “waiting upon the spirit of the Lord.” They yearned for baptism and asked Ammon if he could perform this ordinance. Ammon declined, “considering himself an unworthy servant”, which might seem surprising considering his knowledge and faith, but possibly because he simply wasn’t authorized.
Another curious phrase crops up in Mosiah 21:36: “And now all the study of Ammon and his people, and king Limhi and his people, was to deliver themselves out of the hands of the Lamanites and from bondage.”
“And now all the study of—ˮ I love that. Maybe I’m just easily entertained. It’s just a clever way of saying they devoted all their energies to strategizing a way out of this awful predicament.
Chapter 22 verse 1 reads, “…Ammon and king Limhi began to consult with the people how they should deliver themselves out of bondage; and even they did cause that all the people should gather themselves together; and this they did that they might have the voice of the people concerning the matter—ˮ
Seems like a risky thing to do. There’s always some Benedict Arnold in the ranks willing to snitch to the opposition and collect their proverbial 30 pieces of silver. Thankfully, not so in this case. Still, it’s a conundrum.
Verse 2 is very pessimistic: “And it came to pass that they could find no way to deliver themselves out of bondage, except it were to take their women and children, and their flocks, and their herds, and their tents, and depart into the wilderness; for the Lamanites being so numerous, it was impossible for the people of Limhi to contend with them, thinking to deliver themselves out of bondage by the sword.”
They couldn’t figure a way out. Not with all that their women and children and baggage. In steps Gideon, another unsung hero of the Book of Mormon, although perhaps better known than Ammon, descendant of Zarahemla.
Gideon starts to speak and reminds the king of all his clever ideas in the past. Actually, he’s a lot more humble than that. Anyway, Gideon seems to have it all worked out. He mentions a passageway through the back wall of the city where the Lamanite guards have a reputation for consuming too much wine after dark. As it so happened, the Nephites still owed the Lamanites one final tribute of wine. Gideon advises the king to send out a proclamation to the people to gather their flocks and herds and make ready. He personally volunteers to deliver the wine, insuring, I suspect, that this vintage is particularly potent. Not only does he deliver the requisite quota, but in case these guards feel obliged to deliver an accurate quota to their superiors, Gideon tops it off with a few extra bottles or barrels, or whatever they used to store wine, describing it as a “present”.
The Book of Mormon is quite detailed in its description of how this artifice is pulled off, which tells me it was destined to become a favorite story told and retold among the Nephites for the next 500 years, even to the time of Mormon.
It describes the path they took to avoid detection, passing the Lamanite camp “on the left” after they drifted off in a drunken stupor, traveling round about the land of Shilom, until they “bent” their course toward the land of Zarahemla. To avoid getting lost in the wilderness, like previous expeditions, Ammon leads them the rest of the way to Zarahemla, where they all became the grateful subjects of a joyous King Mosiah. Great ending to an epic story. Mormon makes sure to rub it in by telling us that as soon as the Lamanites discovered the deception, they sent an army in hot pursuit, but that after two days this army lost the trail and became lost in the wilderness.
Not sure how would they would know what actions the Lamanites took after they escaped. Who told them the army followed them for “two days” and became lost in the wilderness? As I said, the postal service between Nephi and Zarahemla was terrible. These two nations did not communicate. I suppose some report or rumor might have reached the Nephites and made its way into the record. Doesn’t matter. It still makes for a much more satisfying end to the story.
And that’s the last time we ever hear about strong and mighty Ammon, a descendant of Zarahemla. He was an extraordinary figure and he helped bring about an extraordinary thing. Possibly if he’d had any other name, he’d be one of the better known, most popular heroes of the Book of Mormon, part of the curriculum of every Primary.
If I was writing the Book of Mormon, I’d have chosen a different name, just to keep the reader from getting confused. But history is history, and that was his name. For the listeners of this podcast, I hope you’ll never confuse these two separate heroes again. The fact that Joseph Smith left the name as written becomes another bit of evidence—another brick in the wall— that testifies of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity and truthfulness.
I love this book!
I’m sure I’ll revisit the theme of lesser-known heroes of the Book of Mormon again. Maybe even a few lesser-known villains. Any topic that grants me the privilege of reading aloud the verses of this sacred volume.
I extend my thanks and gratitude to all the listeners and supporters of ForeverLDS. I’d say leave a “like” or something, but . . . we’re not on YouTube. I suppose we could be. Nah, just subscribe. That’ll do. And post your comments on ForeverLDS.com. I love to read those. And if a reply seems pertinent or appropriate, I’ll leave a reply.
Remember, if you don’t feel as close to the Lord today as you did yesterday, who moved?
Have a great couple weeks. This is Chris Heimerdinger. And this is ForeverLDS.