CLICK HERE to read Alma 17.
This chapter is very sweet, opening with a heartfelt reunion. Continuing his mission, Alma is traveling south from Gideon towards Manti when he meets up with the sons of Mosiah headed towards Zarahemla (verse 1). These guys were his old buddies, the ones with him when he was converted (see Mosiah 27). “Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God” (verse 2).
“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” (verse 3).
This is more than just the joy of meeting up again before Sacrament meeting after surviving another rough week out in the world. It’s more than the joy of a successful missionary returning home after two years away. It’s more than those tender-mercy-moments of sweet-Spirit-joy that come when you randomly run into old friends in the Temple, at just the right time.
Alma’s friends had been out on a mission for fourteen years! They “had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him” (verse 4).
Like Alma, these guys had suffered a lot while on their mission, “for they had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue, and also much labor in the spirit” (verse 5).
Alma catches up on their story, as the last he knew of them was that they declined their father’s offer to pass the kingdom on to them. Alma knew his friends had given up political rights and power, choosing the ministry instead (verse 6). This chapter, and the next ten chapters, is the account of their missionary experiences.
His friends shared the story of how they had packed up their weapons (for food) (verse 7), and headed up to the land of Nephi to preach (verse 8). They “fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring… their brethren to the knowledge of truth…” (verse 9).
The Lord did grant them a portion of his Spirit, comforting them (verse 10). He also gave them instruction and authority to go preach to the Lamanites. He cautioned them to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples” (verse 11). It is this being an example that would help make them instruments in His hands to bring souls to salvation (verse 11).
With this authority and comfort and instruction and strength, the sons of Mosiah “took courage” and went to preach (verse 12). Upon arriving in the land of the Lamanites, they split up to go to different areas, “trusting in the Lord that they should meet again… for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken” (verse 13). And it was, Alma writes, “for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people” (verse 14).
These hard and ferocious people were idol-worshippers suffering the consequences of not having been taught the Gospel when they were young. Waiting for the blessings of God, or blaming God for not giving blessings, or not believing there was a God because there were not blessings – the people were confused and suffering because of it, not understanding that blessings are conditional upon repentance (verse 15).
This is what the sons of Mosiah wanted to teach the people, that if they would repent the blessings would come (verse 16). So these guys split up to go amongst the people and teach them (verse 17). Ammon was the mission leader, teaching and blessing each of them before they went off to their area (verse 18).
Ammon himself went to the land of Ishmael (verse 19), and was immediately captured and taken to the king (verse 20). The King’s name was Lamoni (verse 21), and he asked Ammon if Ammon planned on living amongst his people (verse 22). Ammon answered that he did (verse 23), and this pleased King Lamoni so much he tried to give Ammon one of his daughters as a wife (verse 24). Ammon declined, offering himself as the king’s servant instead (verse 25). The king agreed, and Ammon worked caring for the flocks (verse 26).
After only a few days, when Ammon was taking the flocks to water, some Lamanites tried to scatter the king’s flocks (verse 27). The servants of the king were afraid, thinking they would be killed for losing the king’s flocks (verse 28). Ammon, however, was excited instead of afraid. This was his chance to serve these people, to do something for them, and to win their hearts “that I may lead them to believe in my words” (verse 29). He was able to have this perspective because he thought of these fellow-servants of another land and culture as his “brethren” – he was at-one with them, at peace with them, loving them before he was able to serve them (verse 30).
So he cheered up the servants, saying that they could gather up the flocks and water them (verse 31). Ammon went in search of the flocks, and worked hard to gather them up quickly, bringing them back to the water again (verse 32). They were successful, but the enemy waited to scatter them again; however, Ammon instructed his fellow-servants to encircle the flocks so that they wouldn’t scatter again (verse 33).
We are called to care for the king’s flocks – the King’s sheep – our brothers and sisters in the covenant. We care for the people through visiting teaching and home teaching, though we cannot serve them until first we love them. In the October 2011 General Conference Relief Society broadcast, we were specifically instructed that from now on, our reports on visiting teaching must include how we have served our “flock” – not just the way we visited them or what their needs are. We are required not only to identify needs, but to do something about them. This means we must really love our people. In her address to us, Sister Beck quoted the new Handbook (Handbook 2: Administering the Church (2010), 9.5.4.), and said:
With so much need for relief and rescue in the lives of sisters and their families today, our Heavenly Father needs us to follow a higher path and demonstrate our discipleship by sincerely caring for His children. With this important purpose in mind, leaders are now taught to ask for reports about the spiritual and temporal well-being of sisters and their families and about service rendered.
Clearly, from this pattern established by Ammon that we must liken to ourselves, part of this service rendered is rescuing our people and bringing them back to the water. This may mean nourishing strong Saints (we all need the nourishment of water, which is the Savior and His teachings), or it may mean reactivating those who have been “lost”, or it may mean bringing those within our ward boundaries to the waters of baptism.
But even then, that is not all. Even then, our work is not finished.
Once we bring the people back to the water, back to Sacrament meeting, back to the daily habits that nourish and cleanse us, back to following the words of the prophets that do purify us, then we encircle them about in love and protection. That is what a ward should do, who are ward should be. That is being Zion.
And still, that is not all.
Then we must go and contend with those who scatter our flocks. Whether in the trenches helping those we serve battle their enemies. It might mean babysitting so people can work, helping get chores done so a family can enjoy the Sabbath, providing rides so someone can attend Sacrament meeting, teaching lessons so people are strengthened to withstand the enemy, giving rides to the Temple so that people can even discern clearly who or what the enemy is… or maybe just on our knees, praying for those we are to love and serve well – and sincerely.
So it was that Ammon went to contend with the enemy (verse 34). The enemy did not fear Ammon, because they assumed this was another fraidy-cat weakling they could kill and get on with their evil doings. They did not know “that the Lord had promised Mosiah that he would deliver his sons” (see Mosiah 28), and they did not understand how the Lord works (verse 35).
But Ammon is a warrior, of the spiritual sort. He slings stones at them, and they were astonished at his power. Mad that he was chasing them off, they came after him with clubs (verse 36). Ammon fought back with his sword, so much “that they began to be astonished” and started running off (verse 37).
Ammon shows us how to fight the enemy: first with stones. The Savior, and the covenants we make with Him, are our stones (Ephesians 2:20 and D&C 50:44). We also have the “stones” of personal revelation that comes through being empowered from on high, and – as part of that, not separate – our obedience to that revelation (our obedience has to be a part of it because this is how we are (by the Spirit) changed, transformed, sanctified) (D&C 130:10-11). The stones establish who we are and for what (Whom!) we are fighting. This is our very agency, our use of our ability to choose Whom we follow (not just our ability to choose, but our ability to choose whom we follow). This organizes us, by our choice of Who we follow, into His people, by His priesthood (1 Peter 2:5).
Then, when we are attacked (after making our choice of who to follow), we use our sword. Our sword, of course, is the Spirit – which we gain access to and obtain by study of His words and the words of His prophets (and by being obedient to what the Spirit teaches us during our study) (Ephesians 6:17 and D&C 27:18). Often it is the words of prophets that also deliver to us His words, especially those of justice (warning), and this is the image of the “flaming sword” (the Prophets, who deliver the message (warnings) of justice) which does work for us and empower us in the same way (Genesis 3:24 and Moses 4:31 and Isaiah 66:16). Brigham Young said that all of us act in this role when we are teaching, when we are testifying, as prophets (with a little “p”, through our testimony, see Revelation 19:10) warning the people of coming justice that is promised to those who do not repent (and blessings to those who do) (Journal of the Discourses, Volume 4, Number 7):
And if I should be filled with the power and spirit… I shall not spare the wicked; I shall be like a flaming sword against them, and so will all those that live their religion…
This is what we learn for Ammon and the way that he cared for his flock. He rescued them. He protected them. He nourished them. He defended them (verse 38). Then he returned to the king to give his report, giving his testimony of what happened – both what others had done to him and what he himself had done about it in response (verse 39).
We also will return to our King, to testify of what has happened here on Earth, and what we have done to defend His people. This is our premortal covenant being fulfilled: the Savior promised to atone for us, and we promised to testify of that atonement – and in this way help accomplish its great work, His great work, our Father’s great plan. We will return to our King, to report on our own individual work, to testify what we have done to help accomplish this plan He gave us, that we understood and to which we agreed.
We will return and report how well we cared for his flock, and what we did to take care of them.