The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children
Alma 1 -- Alma 44
Alma 4:2 The People Were . . . Greatly Afflicted for the Loss of Flocks, Herds, Fields of Grain Which Were Trodden under Foot and Destroyed by the Lamanites:
After the wars with the Amlicites and the Lamanites, we find that "the people were afflicted; yea, greatly afflicted for the loss of their brethren, and also for the loss of their flocks and herds, and also for the loss of their fields of grain, which were trodden under foot and destroyed by the Lamanites" (Alma 4:2). One wonders, Did the Lamanites deliberately destroy these things or was all this a natural aftermath of the wars? The size and quantity of crops and livestock would have been quite great.
According to John Sorenson, in a Mesoamerican setting, this destruction makes reasonable sense. The Grijalva River (Rio de Chiapas), which flows through the Chiapas depression and which is a plausible candidate for the river Sidon . . . has the best-watered and most fertile land along the upper Grijalva in a limited strip extending less than a half-mile outward from the river. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 152]
Note* In view of the apparent damage inflicted by the Lamanites, they would have had to deliberately destroy much more than just what was in front of them as they marched. One also has to wonder if the Amlicites additionally took part in this destruction. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 4:3 Every Soul Had Cause to Mourn . . . and They Believed That It Was the Judgments of God Sent upon Them Because of Their Wickedness and Their Abominations:
In Alma 4:3 we are informed that because of the war, "every soul had cause to mourn; and they believed that it was the judgments of God sent upon them because of their wickedness and their abominations."
Now the Nephites are supposed to be the victors here, so why is every soul mourning? And why do they believe their are being judged of God because of their wickedness and abominations? What wickedness and abominations. The answer might lie at the root of the contentions. The reader should not assume that every person who had sympathies for the Amlicites had joined them. There were probably a number of those in the land of Zarahemla who had a desire for many of the things espoused by the Amlicites. This is most likely the nature of their abomination and wickedness. But if "every soul had cause to mourn, what about the righteous Nephites? What was their sin? The answer is noted by Mormon in what they did (implying what they had not done). Mormon writes that the people "awakened to a remembrance of their [covenant] duty" and that "they began to establish the church more fully." How do you "establish" a church more fully? The answer, at least in part, is that every member becomes a teacher and a missionary. In other words, part of the covenant responsibility of the Nephites was to take that gospel to those who did not understand it well or did not even share in it. To "establish a church more fully" implies that the Nephites finally awakened to their covenant responsibility to share it. This not only involved strengthening those within the church, but teaching those without, thus overcoming the precise ideas espoused by the Amlicites which caused the contention in the first place. In other words, the righteous Nephites repented by sharing the gospel and the unrighteous Zarahemlaites repented by accepting the gospel. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary explaining "establish the church more fully"--Alma 6:4]
Alma 4:4 Many Were Baptized in the Waters of Sidon:
We find in Alma 4:4 that "many were baptized in the waters of Sidon." These people apparently came from the local land of Zarahemla and the other settlements apparently close to the river Sidon, implying that the Nephite lands at this time were fairly close to the river.
Alma 4:6 Silks:
According to Hugh Nibley, the reader should note that the word used here in Alma 4:6 is "silks" in the plural. What do they mean by "silks"? There is one silk. No there isn't. Silk is any very fine cloth. . . . It tells us in Harper's big Latin dictionary that this word silk refers in general to any fine fiber. In English it's perfectly legitimate to call any fine fiber silk. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 258-259] [See the commentary on Alma 1:29]
Alma 4:6 Their Fine Silks, and Their Fine-Twined Linen:
In Alma 4:6 mention is made of the Nephites' "fine silks, and their fine-twined linen." According to John Sorenson, neither "linen" or "silk" fabric as we now know them was found in Mesoamerica at the coming of the Spaniards. The problem might be no more than linguistic. The redoubtable Bernal Diaz, who served with Cortez in the initial wave of conquest, described native Mexican garments made of "henequen which is like linen." The fiber of the maguey plant, from which henequen was manufactured, closely resembles the flax fiber used to make European linen. Several kinds of "silk," too, were reported by the conquerors. One kind was of thread spun from the fine hair on the bellies of rabbits. Padre Motolinia also reported the presence of a wild silkworm, although he thought the Indians did not make use of the cocoons. But other reports indicate that wild silk was spun and woven in certain areas of Mesoamerica. Another type came from the pod of the ceiba tree. We may never discover actual remains of these fabrics, but at least the use of the words in the Book of Mormon now seems to offer no problem. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 232] [See the commentary on Alma 1:29]
Alma 4:16 He (Alma) Selected a Man . . . and Gave Him Power:
The reader should note in regards to the manner of selection in the system of judges, that it might not have been a total democracy. Here in Alma 4:16 we find that Alma "selected a wise man who was among the elders of the church." While it says that Alma "gave him power according to the voice of the people, that he might have power to enact laws . . . and to put them in force according to the wickedness and the crimes of the people"; nonetheless, it was Alma who limited the choice of the people in regards to their new chief judge. According to Michael Hobby, this was to preserve Nephite rule. [See Michael Hobby, The Mulekite Connection, pp. 33-34] [See the commentary on Mosiah 29:39; Helaman 1:13]
Alma 4:17, 20 He [Nephihah] was appointed chief judge (Nephite Chief Priests) [Illustration]: Nephite Chief Priests. Adapted from [John W. Welch and Morgan A. Ashton, "Charting the Book of Mormon," Packet 1, F.A.R.M.S., 1997]
Alma 4:18 Nephihah:
When Alma stepped aside from being chief judge, he selected a wise man to replace him by the name of "Nephihah" (Alma 4:18). According to Hugh Nibley, names like "Nephihah," that end in -hah are interesting. At the time of Lehi, there was a new revival movement begun in Israel led by Josiah. These names that ended in -hah in Israel at that time are Jehovah names. That was the revival of the cult going back to Jehovah. Ihah is another form of the name. You find that name later. You find it in Aramaic, too. The name Nephihah would probably be a mixture. They mixed Semitic and Aramaic elements. It might mean "the Lord is Jehovah." That's just a guess, but it sounds good. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 263] [See the commentary on Alma 8:6]
Alma 4:19 Pure Testimony:
Andrew Skinner notes that Alma appointed another in his stead as chief judge and "confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word," all of which came by the spirit of revelation and prophecy. (Alma 4:20) As we learn, "this he did . . . that he might pull down by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them" (Alma 4:19).
Some might agree that pure testimony is a declaration of unconditional truth, unadulterated and uncorrupted by worldly, extraneous or superfluous matters. But Alma helps us to see that it is even more focused than that. The word pure derives from the Latin purus, which not only has the meaning of "clear, plain and absolute" (especially in law) but also "clean, cleansing and purifying."9
The doctrine of Christ is plain, clear, and absolute, and his mission cleansing or purifying in its effect. Hence, at the heart of all pure testimony is the Savior, his mission and atonement, his redeeming love, his invitation to come and partake of all good things, and the doctrine of repentance. [Andrew C. Skinner, "Alma's 'Pure Testimony,'" in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 1, pp. 295-296]
Alma 4:20 Alma delivered up the judgment seat to Nephihah (Illustration): Chart: [Nephihah as Chief Judge and] "Alma as High Priest: Years 9-19 of the Reign of the Judges." [John W. & J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart #35]
Alma 4:20 Alma . . . confined himself wholly to the high priesthood (Illustration): Chart: [Helaman as High Priest and] "Nephihah as Chief Judge: Years 19-24 of the Reign of the Judges." [John W. & J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart #36