CLICK HERE to read Alma 46.
When we are not all together living and behaving like the people of holiness, when we are not establishing Zion in ourselves so that it can be established as a community, then there is contention. When we do not together choose to follow God, then there is division amongst us between what is of God and what is not of God. Alma has just prophesied that this is going to happen among the Nephites, and that it would destroy them.
Helaman sees it begin to happen immediately, when he distributes the priesthood amongst the people as the church is established in the land – but the priesthood holders do not do the work to develop the power, and misuse their authority. They will not listen to the words of the prophet or the counsel of the apostles, and so are in opposition against those who do (verse 1).
Contention is never of God, and dissension never unites people.
And these people are so proud that they are determined to take for themselves what is God’s to give out, and they want to do it for their own sake rather than the sake of the people. They are so determined to establish their own dominion, rather than lead the people righteously, that they are willing even to kill the covenant believers (verse 2). The leader of these violent, false-priesthood rebels was Amalickiah (verse 3), who wanted to be king (verse 4). His supporters try to win over the people through flattery (verse 5), which means even the believers were filling themselves full of pride instead of repentance, or flattery would not have been an effective tactic. This is how Amalickiah led so many people away despite the preaching of Helaman and the apostles (verse 6).
The people’s pride made them easy targets of Amalickiah, and made them vulnerable to be swept away. “Therefore they dissented even from the church; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous” (verse 7).
And thus we see how quick the children of men do forget the Lord their God, yea, how quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one. Yea, and we also see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men (verses 8-9).
So we have Amalickiah leading the people away. Note that in Hebrew, often the -iah ending refers to the covenant, meaning they are a believer or a follower, someone faithful to the covenant. This is interesting in his name, as he led the people AWAY from the covenant after the time of Alma, through subtle and simple means, such as the letters of his base name being only slightly switched (Alma to Amal). So even his name almost indicates he is one who follows a false priesthood. We do know “he was a man of cunning device and a many of many flattering words” (verse 10). His words are cunning, instead of wise like Alma’s. His teachings were flattering, to make the people feel good, instead of truth-telling to make the people do right (as Alma had done). Instead of building up the church, he worked to destroy it “and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them” (verse 10).
When the chief commander of the Nephites, named Moroni, heard about the dissensions Amalickiah was causing, he was very angry (verse 11). He is proven to be a believer because he understands what is risk. He is proven to be keeping his covenants because he understands the consequences of what is happening.
Being a covenant-keeper is not about following rules. Children can follow rules. My dog can follow rules.
Worse, we have people who think they are covenant keepers by not-breaking the rules, even though they are not at all following those rules. Pushing the limits, excusing what is okay or not, justifying how far you can go before the rule is broken is not being a covenant keeper. That is being an adolescent.
Being a covenant-keeper is understanding who God is, and who we are. It is understanding who God says we are, and who we have really been. It is claiming the atonement to make up the difference, and being transformed by the atonement back into who God says we are. Being a covenant-keeper is following commandments not because they are rules (we are not dogs, and we are not children), but because we know what is at stake, because we understand what is at risk, and simply because we have promised to do so. Being a covenant keeper is about becoming the people of holiness, about the process of being set apart and made holy, about being filled with His righteousness rather than our what-is-not-of-God.
So if we are covenant-keepers, if we are true and faithful covenant-keepers, we would not do anything that built up in us what-is-not-of-God or flirted with any danger that was not-of-God, regardless of whether or not it breaks the rules. The rules are not where the line is drawn in the sand. The rules are not what establishes our covenants, and determines whether or not we are keeping them. It is our relationship with God, and how it is evidenced in our relationships with other people, that prove whether or not we are covenant keepers.
This is what Moroni understands. He understands that Amalickiah is a false priest leading the people away, and that the people can be led away because they have forgotten to follow God. He understands the consequences that will come of this, and how they will lose everything because without God we are nothing.
So he tore his coat to make a banner, writing on it the famous words (verse 12):
In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children!
He fastened the banner on his helmet, calling it “the title of liberty” (verse 13). He put on his other armor, and then “he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should be a band of Christians remain to posses the land – for thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the church of God, called by those who did not belong to the church” (verses 13-14).
This reminds us of Abraham praying for cities not to be destroyed if enough righteous can be found, and that sadly, there were none righteous.
This foreshadows for us what we know happens later, that eventually Moroni is literally the last one standing.
But for now, the believers were faithful, and they did believe in Christ, and so were called Christians “because of their belief in Christ who should come” (verse 15).
So Moroni prayed for their cause, and for their land (verse 16).
When did we last pray for our cause, and for our land?
Moroni “poured out his soul to God”, naming the land “a chosen land, and the land of liberty” (verse 17). Moroni could claim such promises because of principles already established by the covenant: that the people could not be destroyed except by their own transgressions (verse 18). So this is the message he took to the people, like a warrior-preacher, waving his banner (verse 19). He called to the people to decide if they wanted to keep their land and freedoms, and reminded them that if they must keep their covenants if the do (verse 20).
The people responded, tearing their coats as Moroni had done, as a reminder of the covenants they had made “that they would not forsake the Lord their God”, and with the understanding that if they did break their covenants then they would reap those consequences of being torn apart and destroyed, just as their coats had been torn (verse 21). These are the words they promised:
We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed… if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression (verse 22).
Moroni responded with reminders of who they were, that they are the children of Abraham, even a remnant of the seed of Joseph “whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces”, and so they must “remember to keep the commandments of our God” (verse 23) that they may “be preserved by the hand of God, and taken unto himself” (verse 24). In this way Moroni gathered the people to stand against Amalickiah and fight for their liberty (verse 28).
When Amalickiah saw this, and that the people he had flattered began to re-think what was going on and which side they were choosing, he ran away because he realized he was going to lose (verse 29). He went to where he could gain strength: to the Lamanites, who also hated the believers.
But Moroni knew better, and didn’t want the Lamanites to get reinforcements, so he pursued them and cut them off (verse 30). Moroni’s armies marched out (verse 31), and got to Amalickiah before he got to the Lamanites (verse 32). However, Amalickiah himself and a few others got away (verse 33).
Moroni judged those they had captured (verse 34), offering each one to enter a covenant of freedom and peace (verse 35).
Moroni’s motto were made into banners for every tower of every city in the land, to help the people remember their God and their covenants – and that this was their standard to live by (verse 36). In this way, peace was re-established in the land. Helaman and the leaders continued their work, and order was maintained in the church (verse 38). Life continued as the years passed, with many “firmly believing that their souls were redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ”, which did cause them to rejoice, even when they were dying (verse 39). Many did not die when they were sick “because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and rots which God had prepared to remove the causes of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate” (verse 40). But many did die, simply from old age, and they died “in the faith of Christ”, and “happy in him” (verse 41).