Mosiah 17

Mosiah 17:2 there was one among them whose name was Alma

"One of the wicked priests of King Noah is a man named Alma, who is a descendant of Nephi. When first introduced in the Book of Mormon, Alma is a young man in the process of being converted by Abinadi. (Mosiah 17:2.) Much of the religious history of the Nephite nation for the next three hundred years is concerned with this man and his descendants. Alma not only begins a religious revival among his own people, but later he is given power by King Mosiah to establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla. (See Mosiah 25:19.)

"Still later we read that Alma's son (also called Alma) succeeds his father as the religious leader of the people and also becomes the first chief judge over the Nephite nation. Other descendants of Alma the elder who become great religious leaders of the Nephites include his grandson (Helaman); great-grandson (Helaman, the son of Helaman); great-great-grandson (Nephi, the son of Helaman who is the son of Helaman); and great-great-great-grandson (Nephi the second, who is also the chief disciple of the resurrected Jesus Christ). Abinadi may have felt that he had failed as a missionary; so far as the record indicates, his only convert was Alma. However, as mentioned above, the missionary efforts of Abinadi affected the religious life of the Nephites for hundreds of years." (Daniel Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p.187)

Mosiah 17:2 Alma...believed... therefore he began to plead with the king

Our first exposure to Alma, the elder, is here in the court of Noah. His first recorded act is to stand up for Abinadi. People often state the trite and worn-out phrase, "stand up for what you believe in." The statement doesn't explain how difficult it can be to stand alone; it doesn't convey how much integrity and intestinal fortitude it takes to stand up against the views of all around you. It is in this uncomfortable position which Alma finds himself. He certainly knows that no one is going to repent or believe in Abinadi's words. He certainly knows that to stand up for Abinadi could well mean the end of his political career. Imagine! Alma was a politician who did not worry about the political consequences of doing the right thing. He boldly suggested protection for Abinadi. He took an unpopular stand, and almost lost his life for doing so.

Alma's transformation, from wicked priest to convert, is both quick and complete. The integrity of his soul, like that of Paul, was such that he just needed to be pointed in the right direction. Abinadi was the one doing the pointing. "It is with painful but striking irony that before Abinadi faces the flames of a martyr's fire, his prophetic witness kindles the fires of testimony within the heart of another." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, p. 249)

Joseph B. Wirthlin

"The valiant, exemplary life and powerful teachings of Alma the Elder provide us with a wealth of spiritual insight. A careful study of his conversion and subsequent labors as both a spiritual and a temporal leader reveals a number of practical guidelines and concepts that, if applied in our own lives today, can help us live more wisely and productively and, thus, more joyfully.

           "...As members of the Savior's church we struggle with the challenges of living in 'a world set on a course which we cannot follow' (Boyd K. Packer, "The Father and the Family," Ensign, May 1994, p. 21). While yet a young man, Alma lived and worked in the court of the wicked King Noah as one of the king's appointed priests (see Mosiah 17:1-2). His life in an evil society presented Alma with many of the same temptations that afflict us today. His position of considerable authority in a corrupt government also confronted him with life-threatening conflicts once he embraced the gospel. Understanding how he turned his back on temptation, overcame sin, and stood fearlessly for righteousness can help us deal with our own challenges as we struggle to choose the right." (Heroes from the Book of Mormon, pp. 79-80)

Mosiah 17:4 being concealed for many days did write all the words which Abinadi had spoken

We owe Alma a great debt of gratitude. Without his diligence, we would not have the teachings of Abinadi. Obviously, Abinadi did not have an opportunity to record his story. This job was to be done by his only convert and pupil, Alma.

"To remember and record 'all the words of Abinadi' would have required divine assistance.  Jesus explained that the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, will bring to our remembrance that which has been taught us (John 14:26).

"President Wilford Woodruff, one of the greatest scribes and note takers of this dispensation, described his own experience in recalling and recording the words of Joseph Smith:  'There is one subject I wish to speak upon and that is the keeping of a journal with respect to the dealings of God with us.  I have many times thought the Quorum of the Twelve and others considered me rather enthusiastic upon this subject; but when the Prophet Joseph organized the Quorum of the Twelve, he counseled them to keep a history of their lives, and gave his reasons why they should do so.  I have had this spirit and calling upon me since I first entered this Church.  I made a record from the first sermon I heard, and from that day until now I have kept a daily journal.  Whenever I heard Joseph Smith preach, teach, or prophesy, I always felt it my duty to write it; I felt uneasy and could not eat, drink, or sleep until I did write; and my mind has been so exercised upon this subject that when I heard Joseph Smith teach and had no pencil or paper, I would go home and sit down and write the whole sermon, almost word for word and sentence by sentence as it was delivered, and when I had written it it was taken from me, I remembered it no more.  This was the gift of God to me.' (Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff:  History of His Life and Labors, pp. 476-77; italics added.)" (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, p. 249)

Mosiah 17:6-7 after three days, having counseled with his priests

Noah was so angry with Abinadi that he wanted him put to death (v. 1). At the time of his incarceration, Noah lacked one important thing-a good reason to kill Abinadi. It is likely that the three days of counsel with the priests revolved around what charges they could procure against Abinadi. The first words out of Noah's foul lips were, we have found an accusation against thee, and thou art worthy of death. One appropriately wonders, what did Abinadi do that was worthy of death?

We don't know that much about Nephite law but we do know that there was no law against a man's belief (Alma 30:7). Therefore, Noah lacks a legal precedent for killing Abinadi. Accordingly, he comes up with a pretty lame excuse, For thou hast said that God himself should come down among the children of men; and now, for this cause thou shalt be put to death (v. 8). Does this true statement constitute a capital offense? In which law does it state that God's condescension is so impossible and offensive that the teacher of such doctrine should be put to death? Here are the first similarities between the trial of Abinadi and the trial of Christ. They were both wrongfully accused, wrongfully condemned, and wrongfully put to death.

Mosiah 17:10 I will not recall my words, and they shall stand as a testimony against you

"To prove to his people that Abinadi was wrong, King Noah contrived a stratagem. He thought if he offered Abinadi an excuse or a pretext whereby Abinadi could escape punishment for the crime of which the prophet had been declared guilty, and if he made it so tempting that Abinadi would accept it, he would then be relieved of all liability as to Abinadi's death. Recant what you have said, or die. The choice was left to the prophet.

'I will not recall the words which I have spoken...for they are true, and if ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall stand against you at the last day.'

"The king became faint. He had been eager to accept a trumped-up apology from Abinadi, which did not come. At length King Noah grew worried. He was about to release Abinadi 'for he feared his word' and also, he feared 'the judgments of God would come upon him.'" (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, pp. 189-190)

Spencer W. Kimball

"Into the pattern of martyrdom comes the voluntary phase. In every instance the martyr could have saved his life by renouncing his program. Abinadi had been told he would be put to death. But he answered, I will not recall the words which I have spoken . . . for they are true..." (Conference Reports, Apr 1946, p. 47)

Elder Cree-L Kofford

"In all probability, having been in prison, Abinadi has been brought before the king and his priests in some form of physical restraint to minimize the possibility of escape. He has just heard the supreme authority of the land pronounce the death sentence upon him. Without attempting to impart emotions to Abinadi, consider yourself in that same circumstance. Would there not have been a flood of emotion pour over your body? Would there not have been, if only for a moment, a touch of panic, a desire to flee, a hope that the heavens would open and rescue would come? Now, having placed yourself in that frame of mind, would you not then have seized upon the words 'unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou has spoken evil concerning me and my people' as the hoped-for route of escape? Would not most of us have sought to find some manner of taking advantage of that opportunity to avoid the sentence of death? Under circumstances such as that, it would not seem too difficult to clothe in respectability the desire to live by simply considering all of the good which you could continue to do if your life were prolonged, and contemplating how you might 'recall all the words' in such an equivocal way as to still leave intact the teachings which you had sought to impart.

"Certainly most of us would be susceptible to some form of thinking along those or similar lines. And now, once again, we get a rare glimpse into the heart and mind of Abinadi, for the record states simply: 'Now Abinadi said unto him: I say unto you, I will not recall the words which I have spoken unto you concerning this people, for they are true' (Mosiah 17:9; emphasis added)." (Heroes from the Book of Mormon, pp. 71-2)

Mosiah 17:11 now king Noah was about to release him, for he feared his word

Here, we get a better glimpse into the cowardice of Noah's soul. Unlike Alma, he was unable of doing what was right because he was concerned about what the people and priests thought. The similarity between him and Pilate is striking:

   'Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him...

   The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.

   When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid...

   And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.' (Jn 19:4-12)

   'When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.' (Matt 27:24)

One could argue that Pilate made a greater effort than did Noah at releasing his righteous prisoner. Both, however, failed under the peer pressure of their political position.

Mosiah 17:12 the priests lifted up their voices against him

The analogy between Christ and Abinadi continues. Noah's priests were the most adamant that Abinadi be killed. The chief priests among the Jews were the most adamant that Christ be crucified, for Pilate knew that for envy they had delivered him (Matt 27:18). The argument in both cases was that they had rebelled against the supreme authority of the day. Noah's priests recount, He has reviled the king. The Jewish chief priests recount, this man...maketh himself a king and speaketh against Caesar (Jn 19:12). The priests in both instances seem to think that they will not be held responsible for the death of the men in question. Certainly, Noah and Pilate both felt the burden of responsibility for passing the death sentence. That Noah's priests and the chief priests will be held responsible for their actions is without doubt. As Abinadi prophesied, God executeth vengeance upon those that destroy his people (v. 19).

Mosiah 17:13 scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death

 "We generally say that Abinadi was burned at the stake- and that may be true, although technically it might not be the whole story.  The scripture does not say he was 'burned at the stake'; it says he 'suffered death by fire' (Mosiah 17:20).  A statement in Mosiah 17:13 catches our attention: 'And it came to pass that they took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death.'  Three words in the foregoing sentence should be noted.  The first is that they bound him.  That seems self-explanatory.  The second is that they scourged him.  To scourge means to whip, flail, or beat.  The third term is faggots: 'He was scourged with faggots, yea, even unto death.'  A faggot is a bundle of sticks or twigs, used for fuel.  This passage seems to say that Abinadi's tormentors took burning torches and poked him with these, burning his skin until he died.  And then, says the record, 'He fell, having suffered death by fire; . . . having sealed the truth of his words by his death' (Mosiah 17:20)." (Book of Mormon Symposium Series, edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 102)

Hugh Nibley

 "How do you scourge the skin with faggots, and what's the difference between scourge and scorch? They're the same word, the same word exactly. Scourge, scorch, scotch, score-it means to damage the skin of someone. Our word scratch is the same thing. And you have the very same thing in Semitic languages. Harash is the Hebrew word for scratch and for to plow. Harataha is the Arabic word for 'mar the surface, engrave, make a mark on something, or plow the ground.' They all have that same word that means 'to scorch, to scourge, to scratch.' When his skin started to curl up, in other words, he said this. It's interesting. The faggots are burning brands. They burn, and we think of scourging as with a scourge, as 'to scourge with a whip.' But they're the same word exactly. They scourged him and scorched him-in other words, he was being fried. It's not a comfortable way to die, either." (Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 36, p. 109)

Mosiah 17:15 thy seed shall cause that many shall suffer the pains that I do suffer

Abinadi is prophesying that the descendants of the priests will kill other righteous individuals by fire. The fulfillment of this prophecy is contained in Alma 25. The priests of Noah kidnap and later marry some 24 Lamanite women which they found while in the wilderness (Mosiah 20:3-5). The descendants of these priests became Lamanites and fought in many battles with the Nephites:

   ' the which they were driven and slain.

   And among the Lamanites who were slain were almost all the seed of Amulon and his brethren, who were the priests of Noah, and they were slain by the hands of the Nephites;

   And the remainder, having fled into the east wilderness, and having usurped the power and authority over the Lamanites, caused that many of the Lamanites should perish by fire because of their belief-

   ...And he said unto the priests of Noah that their seed should cause many to be put to death, in the like manner as he was, and that they should be scattered abroad and slain, even as a sheep having no shepherd is driven and slain by wild beasts; and now behold, these words were verified, for they were driven by the Lamanites, and they were hunted, and they were smitten.' (Alma 25:3-5,12)

Mosiah 17:18 ye shall be shall suffer, as I suffer, the pains of death by fire

See Mosiah 19:20-21 and Alma 25:1-12.

Mosiah 17:20 having sealed the truth of his words by his death

There is no greater testimony than the giving of one's life for a cause. With the shedding of blood, the testimony is sealed. The martyr gives up all. There is no pretense, no last-minute recanting, no rationalization or apology. In the words of John Taylor, The testators are now dead, and their testament is in force (DC 135:5). For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead (Heb 9:16-17). Robert J. Matthews has said:

"I can imagine them dancing and cavorting about Abinadi, and hear them shouting, exulting, and gloating over what they were doing.  And during it all, Abinadi was pronouncing prophecies of God's vengeance upon them- prophecies that were literally fulfilled.  The noise, the din, the stench would be awful!  Wickedness and righteousness, life and death, are real, and Abinadi's martyrdom really did happen.  It was necessary that it happen so the righteous might be justified and the wicked might be condemned.  Sadly, we read that 'Abinadi was [only] the first [among the Nephites] that suffered death by fire because of his belief in God' (Alma 25:11)." (Book of Mormon Symposium Series, edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 103)