Alma 18

Alma 18:5 Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right

Mormon's commentary contrasts the belief system of the Nephites and Lamanites. For the Nephites, inherent in their belief of God was the strict requirement to keep the commandments according to the Law of Moses. Under the Lamanite tradition, they also believed in a God, but that didn't mean that they were bound to live by a specific code of behavior. Rather, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right. This is a religion of convenience. This doctrine does not make the individual accountable for their actions and is similar to the doctrine of the Nehors by which all mankind should be saved at the last day (Alma 1:4). It is also similar to many religions of today which are quick to acknowledge God but slow to require their congregations to live according to the Law of the Lord.

That a true religion must make great demands on its members was taught by Joseph Smith who said, "I...spoke to the people, showing them that to get salvation we must not only do some things, but everything which God has commanded. Men may preach and practice everything except those things which God commands us to do, and will be damned at last...It mattereth not whether the principle is popular or unpopular, I will always maintain a true principle, even if I stand alone in it." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 322)

Alma 18:9 Behold, he is feeding thy horses

So many principles of good missionary work can be seen in the actions of Ammon. We have already discussed how it was his hope to establish a relationship of trust with the king and his servants. Nevertheless, he was not anxious to seek the praise of the king for his bravery. He did not go into Lamoni and say, "Look what I did for you!" Instead, he was strict to observe king Lamoni's commandments to the last detail.

The lessons learned are that 1) before teaching an investigator, one must first establish a relationship of trust, 2) humility has a great effect on the investigator, and 3) integrity and obedience will demonstrate one's good intentions.

Henry B. Eyring

 "I am struck by the way [Ammon] taught...Ammon prepared himself, but he did more. He prepared his student to be taught the doctrines of salvation...Now, remember that he not only protected the servants and the animals at the waters of Sebus, but he drove off the enemy. When the other servants brought the evidence of what Ammon had done, King Lamoni said, "Where is he?" They said, "Oh, he is in the stables. He is doing every little thing to serve you" (see Alma 18:8-9).

"Isn't that odd? He was called to teach the doctrines of salvation, but he was in the stables. Don't you think he should have been praying and fasting and polishing his teaching plan? No, he was in the stables." ("The Book of Mormon Will Change Your Life," Ensign, Feb. 2004, 13)

Carlos E. Asay

"The transfusion of truth and testimony is facilitated when the actions of teachers confirm the spoken word. Such transfusion begins when the missionary or member addresses the listener in the spirit of truth and with a clear eye. It progresses as pure motive is revealed and honest testimony is shared. It culminates when commitments are drawn and behavior is made to conform with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as modeled by the messenger." (The Seven M's of Missionary Service, p. 88)

Alma 18:13 Rabbanah

The Lamanite word "Rabbanah" obviously has the same derivation and meaning as the Hebrew word, Rabboni (Jn 20:16) or Rabbi.

"Rabbanah is a wonderful word. Translated, it means powerful, or great king. In applying that name to Ammon, the servants of Lamoni did not know that in reality he was a prince, the son of the mighty king of the Nephites. But after Ammon's miraculous exploits at the Waters of Sebus, they regarded him, as did their master, something more than a man." (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 3, p. 265)

Alma 18:18 Ammon could discern his thoughts

The gift of discernment is a gift of the Spirit. Ammon possessed this gift in such great degree that he was able to discern the thoughts of Lamoni. "Not only can the power of discernment distinguish good from evil (Moro. 7:12-18), the righteous from the wicked (D&C 101:95), and false spirits from divine (D&C 46:23), but its more sensitive operation can also make known even 'the thoughts and intents of the heart' of other persons (Heb. 4:12; D&C 33:1)." (The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by D. Ludlow, p. 384)

Boyd K. Packer

"(having quoted Alma 18:18) This power of discernment is a very real spiritual gift. It is often conferred as a blessing upon men ordained as bishops, stake presidents, and so forth. Many can bear witness to the fact that they do not have to hear or to see all that they know, that they can discern thoughts when the purpose of their office is served.

"I have often thought, as members of the Church come to us as General Authorities for counsel, that they are not aware that sometimes their words are in one avenue and their thoughts are in another, and yet it is important that we learn that we cannot hide our thoughts. You can't hide them. Sooner or later, they will be known; they will express themselves in actions. 'As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.' (Proverbs 23:7.) As a man thinketh in his heart, so he does." (That All May Be Edified, p. 35)

Alma 18:21 I know that thou art more powerful than they all

There is not an army in the world that the Lord can't destroy in an instant. Nephi tried to explain this principle to his brothers, for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands (1 Ne 4:1). Ammon was just as mighty as long as the Lord was his protector.

Alma 18:22-23 Ammon being wise...said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words?

Missionaries learn and train to master the commitment pattern-a key element in successful missionary work. This is the way in which the investigator is challenged to repent, study, and eventually be baptized. The commitment pattern involves teaching a principle, the Word of Wisdom for example, and then inviting the investigator to commit to keep the specific commandment.

Ammon uses the commitment pattern in a brilliant way. He knows that he has Lamoni in the palm of his hand. Lamoni is so impressed that he would do anything to know about Ammon's remarkable powers. Ammon, being wise, took this opportunity to have Lamoni make a commitment to believe before Ammon has even begun to teach. Lamoni replies, Yea, I will believe all thy words. And thus he was caught with guile. Mormon says that Lamoni was caught with guile, but by that he means that Ammon's strategic use of the commitment pattern has Lamoni with one foot in the waters of baptism before he has taught a single principle. Truly, Ammon was wise and Lamoni was a "golden investigator." But Ammon deserves the credit for developing a relationship of trust, preparing his investigator, and using the commitment pattern.

Alma 18:26-28 Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?...This is God.

Ammon again demonstrates good missionary technique. He builds upon the knowledge base of the investigator instead of attacking his belief system. Ammon could have said to Lamoni, "well your fathers' tradition of believing in a Great Spirit is all wrong. In actuality, the Father has a body of flesh and bones so the concept of God as a Spirit is not correct." Instead, he finds out Lamoni's level of understanding and then begins to build from there; Paul uses this same method on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31). There is no reason to tear down his belief system and start from scratch. This will only offend him.

When missionaries teach other Christians, this is an important principle. It is tempting at times to go into long discourses about why this or that sectarian doctrine is wrong. This is usually unnecessary. A Christian investigator often has a lot of light and knowledge which just needs some molding. This is the pattern that Ammon demonstrates. President Hinckley demonstrated his sensitivity to other Christian beliefs when he was asked why the Mormon's don't uses crosses.

Gordon B. Hinckley

"I responded: 'I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian brethren who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels, who wear it on their vestments, and imprint it on their books and other literature. But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ.'

"He then asked: 'If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?'

"I replied that the lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.

"I hope he did not feel that I was smug or self-righteous in my response." (Be Thou An Example, pp. 85-6)

Alma 18:38 he expounded unto them all the records and scriptures

After answering Lamoni's question about God and the source of his power, Ammon starts from the beginning and teaches Lamoni everything from the beginning. This is a great example because the more an investigator understands before baptism, the less likely he will be to falter later on. Ammon is cultivating the growth of deep roots so that Lamoni won't be like the seed which fell among stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended (Matt 13:20-21).

"Ammon's teaching methods were not elaborate or excessive.  He started on Lamoni's level with questions about very basic gospel principles.  He then explained the doctrines of the plan of salvation the Creation and the Fall--expounded the scriptures of ancient history, and finished with the plan of redemption.  He used the scriptures from both the Old and New Worlds as his basic source (Alma 18:36-39).  Ammon's straightforward doctrinal approach calls to mind President J. Reuben Clark, Jr.'s comment about how not to teach our spiritually alert youth, 'There is no need for gradual approaches, for 'bed-time' stories, for coddling, for patronizing, or for any of the other childish devices'.  If Ammon could teach doctrine from the scriptures to a wicked Lamanite who barely knew God existed, surely students in modern Zion deserve to be taught in the same way." (Book of Mormon Symposium Series, "Alma, the Test of the Word," edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 269)

"What do you teach a person who has no knowledge of God or the gospel and yet has consented to listen and believe?  Where do you start?  What principles do you emphasize?  The way in which Ammon taught King Lamoni constitutes a classic response to such questions.  Ammon taught him what we have come to know as the three pillars of eternity-the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement.  These three doctrines, which are inseparably associated one with the other, constitute the foundation upon which all other gospel principles must rest." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 3, p. 135)

Joseph Smith

"When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel-you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 348).

Alma 18:42 he fell unto the earth, as if he were dead

Intense spiritual experiences often have the effect of draining one's physical strength.  With Lamoni, the Spirit was so powerful that he had collapsed completely, the power of God...had overcome his natural frame (Alma 19:6).  Four other examples of the effect of the Spirit on the body are as follows: 1) Daniel sees the Lord in a glorious vision, then remarks, and there remained no strength in me (Dan 10:8), 2) Lehi collapsed on his bed after witnessing a vision, being overcome with the Sprit and the things which he had seen (1 Ne 1:7), 3) Nephi said, I am full of the spirit of God, insomuch that my frame has no strength (1 Ne 17:47), and 4) Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon saw the vision of the three degrees of glory together while at the Johnson farm in Hiram, Ohio.  There were other men in the room who witnessed their countenances as they received D&C section 76.  One of these men, Philo Dibble recorded the scene as follows, "Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, 'Sidney is not as used to it as I am.'" (Juvenile Instructor, May 1892, pp. 303-4)