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It is now about 20 years before Christ is to be born, and we are starting to see history as we know it unfold before us: the Nephites are falling away and becoming worse than the Lamanites ever were (because the Nephites knew better), and the Lamanites are converting and becoming covenant-keepers. In fact, “the Lamanites had become, the more part of them, a righteous people, insomuch that their righteousness did exceed that of the Nephites, because of their firmness and their steadiness in the faith (verse 1). In the meantime, the Nephites were becoming “hardened and impenitent and grossly wicked, insomuch that they did reject the word of God and all preaching and prophesying which did come among them” (verse 2).
However, the converted Lamanites and the remaining Nephite members of the church “did have great joy because of the conversion of the Lamanites… and they did fellowship one with another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy” (verse 3).
The Lamanites who converted were ready to go on missions, and were sent to the Nephites to testify “of their conversion, and did exhort them to faith and repentance” (verses 4, 6-7). They preached with such “exceedingly great power and authority”, bringing many down from their pride “into the depths of humility, to be humble followers of God and the Lamb” (verse 5).
Because of the new found peace between the converted Lamanites and the church of the Nephites, the people could now go wherever they wanted without fear (verse 7). They began to buy and sell with each other, trading and doing business with one another (verse 8), which made them far more prosperous than the cost of being at war with one another (verse 9). The people together became prosperous, even with gold and precious metals, refined ore, and grains and foods and flocks and herds (verses 11-12), and the women made clothing for all the people also (verse 13). There was greay joy and peace in the land, with much preaching and many prophecies about what was soon to unfold (verse 14).
But the people were still in danger from Gadianton Robbers and their secret combinations (verse 18), evensomuch that the political leader was killed, and so was his son who took his place (verse 15). The pride of the people in their prosperity again made them vulnerable to secret combinations (verse 19), and they again began to grow wicked (verses 16-17).
The converted Lamanites were very sad and sorry to find out that Gadianton Robbers were in their land, trying to destroy their happiness by destroying their peace, and so they used “every means in their power to destroy them” (verse 20). This defense was part of maintaining their liberty.
But they could not destroy all the Gadianton Robbers, because Nephites began to join them, and so their numbers grew! Nephites sold out, being lifted up in their own pride and forgetting the Lord, so as to be vulnerable to be stirred up by Satan (verse 21). In this way, the numbers of the Gadianton Robbers grew, and their false covenants were passed among amongst the people (verses 22-24), though Alma had warned his son not to let these secret oaths being passed down or they would lead the people to destruction just as they had since Cain and the tower of Babel (verses 25-9), as it was the means by which the “author of sin” did carry on his works and “plans of awful wickedness, from generation to generation” (verse 30).
Now, as prophesied, “he had got great hold upon the hearts of the Nephites; yea, insomuch that they had become exceedingly wicked; yea, the more part of them had turned out of the way of righteousness, and did trample under their feet the commandments of God, and did turn unto their own ways, and did build unto themselves idols of their gold and silver” (verse 31).
And it happened fast, “in the space of not many years” (verse 32).
And it got progressively worse, quickly, “to the great sorrow and lamentation of the righteous” (verse 33).
This is how the Nephite people fell away from their covenants, by beginning to “dwindle in unbelief, and grow in wickedness and abominations, while the Lamanites began to grow exceedingly in the knowledge of God; yea, they did begin to keep his statutes and commandments, and to walk in truth and uprightness before him” (verse 34).
So the Spirit began to withdraw from the Nephites because of their wickedness (verse 35), while also the Lord began to pour out His Spirit upon the Lamanites because of their willingness to believe His words (verse 36).
The evidence came in their action: the Lamanites hunted down the Gadianton Robbers and preached to them, destroying their power so that they no more bothered the Lamanites (verse 37); the Nephites “did build them up and support them… until they had overspread all the land… and seduced the more part of the righteous… until they had joined them (verse 38).
And so the Nephites were ripening for destruction (verse 40), even by destroying their own people as they turned their backs on the poor and the humble followers of God (verse 39).