Chapter 8! Verse one says that Alma taught the people of Gideon many things which cannot be written. What? We just got an entire chapter on the things he taught! If you go back to the beginning of chapter 7 and look at the chapter heading it says that it is the words of Alma according to his own record. I think this chapter 8 verse one is Mormon saying that even though chapter 7 was from his own records, it is only a section. Mormon had access to all those records and read them, but only put chapter 7 in. That’s why in verse one it says there are other things that were written. Maybe they wouldn’t be as relevant to us as the other teachings he put in? I don’t know.
Even though Mormon doesn’t tell us what Alma taught that wasn’t included, he does point out that Alma still managed to establish the order of the church, same as he had done in Zarahemla. The footnote for 1b says church organization. I think that may mean he got the system all fixed and worked out. With all the teachers, how to do stuff, callings etc… From my experience, helping the organization become better is a taxing job. I can only imagine what it would be like doing that in two cities!
Alma Returns Home
It’s no surprise then, that Alma returns to his own house in Zarahemla to rest from the labors he had performed. Earlier I wrote that Alma the Younger could have been anywhere from 19-26 years when his father died in 91 BC. Nine years have passed since then. Alma is now between 28-36. He just spent one year as a missionary. He probably did more in that year than any missionary has ever done. He knew what he was doing and he did it. He was probably glad to be home for awhile and see his family.
Second Missionary Journey
However, his rest is short-lived because the very next year (10th year of the reign of the judges) he leaves again to go preaching. This time to Melek.
According to the Book of Mormon, Melek is west of the river Sidon. Zarahemla is also on the west side of the river. Gideon is on the east.
Melek is near the borders of the wilderness so it’s probably further from the river Sidon than Zarahemla. Ok, what I’m about to write is pure speculation. Some people believe that the river Sidon is the Mississippi river (long story, but I will refer you to a wonderful book called “The Book of Mormon in America’s Heartland”). I remember reading that the place of Montrose, Iowa was at, or very close to the city of Zarahemla. If that is the case, cross reference map 5 in the back of the triple combination. The city of Montrose is very close to the Mississippi. Based on this map and map 6, I’m trying to think what could be considered the “borders of the wilderness.” It seems like there are some mountains or hills that are West that follow the Chariton river North. Those may have been considered the “borders of the wilderness.” If people didn’t live past them. This guess isn’t too backed up because I don’t have access to a topographical map of the area ( that is, at the time of this writing). Let’s entertain the thought for a moment that Melek was near the Chariton river. That is approximately 75 KM from Montrose or 34 miles. Probably about a day and a half travel by foot?
Sorry, it’s the land of Melek, not the city of Melek. Anyway, it says that because of the teachings of Alma, people came from all over the place to be baptized. Sounds like Alma had a lot of success in the land of Melek. Must have felt pretty good. He got Zarahemla in order, Gideon, and baptized many in Melek. I bet Alma’s mission prep class would have been pretty good, experience as he was.
After finishing his work in Melek, Alma travels three days north of the land of Melek to the city of Ammonihah. If you go about 20 miles in a day, that is 60 miles north of where we were. On map 5, that is nearly to the top of the map.
It is Nephite custom to call lands, cities, and villages, even small villages after the person who first inherited them. This is how it is with Ammonihah. Cross reference Ether 2:13. The Jaredites did the same thing. This Nephite tradition antedates their civilization. You wouldn’t necessarily know that from this verse in Ether if you didn’t know that the brother of Jared’s name was Mahonri Moriancumer. This is a cool cross reference!
Quick tangent: Just a really quick theory I have about names in the Book of Mormon. I don’t have evidence to back this up but I believe that the suffix “hah” as in Ammonihah, Nephihah, Moronihah, means “son of.” I think the greatest evidence for this can be found in Chief Captain Moroni’s son, Moronihah. With the rule being if your name ends in “I,” you drop it so there is only one “I.”
Alma goes into the city of Ammonihah. Satan had a great hold upon the hearts of the people. It says that Alma labored much in the spirit, and wrestled with God in mighty prayer that God might pour out his spirit upon the people of the city. That he might baptize the people unto repentance. Nevertheless, the people hardened their hearts.
Here is the lesson: Even though you may be doing everything you can to do good among the people, you have the spirit, you know how to teach etc…People still have their agency and can choose whether to accept or reject your message.
One part I think that is under appreciated about the Preach My Gospel DVDs are the elders who are struggling. If you know the background of the DVDs, it could help. All the elders in the DVDs were trained by the best of the MTC for a few weeks. They were taught exactly how to be a Preach My Gospel missionary. And even though they had that training, and they felt like they were becoming the best missionaries they had ever been, all their work stopped. It was hard for them to see other missionaries around them baptizing. I think what can be learned not only from Alma, and also these Preach My Gospel DVD missionaries is that even though you know how to do everything right and execute it perfectly, the results you want may still not come. But, like Alma, you don’t give up. You keep going back. Alma went back after an angel had told him to. Those missionaries in the DVDs kept going. They didn’t give up even though it was hard and not what they wanted.
What Is Success?
This reminds me of a time when a general authority came to give a training at the Masai branch in Johor Bahru while I was there. he said that God doesn’t measure us by our results. He measures us by our heart and desires. How committed we are to doing something. The general authority was saying that he runs a business and if someone doesn’t perform up to standards, they are fired. But that is man’s way, not God’s way. God sees your hearts. He knows your capacity and how hard you are trying. If you serve him to to the best of your ability, whatever that may be, your offering is acceptable to the Lord (widow’s mite, parable of the laborer)
I think a lot of people argue about what a successful missionary is. On one side, you have the results argument. If you aren’t getting results, you aren’t a good missionary. On the other side, you have the desire side. I desire to be a good missionary but I’m not getting the results for whatever reason. My personal opinion is that you can’t have one side without the other. You can’t have results without a desire and you can’t have a desire without results. Some people may say that I have a desire but no results. Well, if you in the house all day, I would say you don’t have a desire. If you are out working to the best of your knowledge, even if you don’t get the baptisms, lessons or other things missionaries normally expect, consider that God is trying to teach you something. Before I began writing this paragraph, I was thinking if the prophets in the Book of Mormon ever didn’t have success in missionary work. I think all of them did. At least, the ones I can think of. Maybe it isn’t all recorded in the Book of Mormon.
Even the Prophets Have a Hard Time
Nephi taught his brothers all the way to the promised land. They still tied him up, attempted to kill him, and eventually separated themselves entirely from God. Do you think that was hard on Nephi? You bet. Jacob, Nephi’s little brother saw a lot of the same stuff Nephi did. After Nephi died, a lot of people became wicked. Jacob preached against it. He restored righteousness after a long time but failed in restoring the Lamanites to a knowledge of the truth. Hard on Jacob? Yep. Abinadi preaches in a city, is cast out, preaches again two years later, gets one convert after being in prison and suffering a martyr’s death at the pyre. Alma the older sees his own son go around destroying the church, Alma the younger is cast out of cities, thrown into prison. Moroni and Mormon see the destruction of their people despite their teachings. Was it hard for all these prophets? Was it hard for these prophets who knew how to speak eloquently? Yeah, I think it was. I believe every missionary has to experience “failure” despite all they’ve done to have success. They have to learn that through experiences and trials, that no matter what, people still have agency.
Alma’s Deep Sorrow
Verses 10-13 are probably some of the saddest and most heartbreaking I’ve read. Having been on a mission, I know what this feels like. I’ll copy it in:
“Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts, saying unto him: Behold, we know that thou art Alma; and we know that thou art high priest over the church which thou hast established in many parts of the land, according to your tradition; and we are not of thy church and we do not believe in such foolish traditions.
And we know that because we are not of thy church we know that thou hast no power over us; and thou hast delivered up the judgment-seat unto Nephihah; therefore thou art not the chief judge over us.
Now when the people had said this, and withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city, he departed thence and took his journey towards the city which was called Aaron.”
I know this isn’t the whole story and it ends on a good note, but I want to comment on this for a moment. What did the people of Ammonihah tell Alma? They said, “We know exactly who you are, and we aren’t going to listen to you, and there is nothing you can do about it.” That’s a watered down version, but in effect, that is what was conveyed. I’m sure many other things were said that aren’t written, that is what it says.
The people were misunderstanding in their belief that this was the church of Alma. I’m sure he tried to correct that, but like it said, the people withstood his words. They spit on him, reviled him, and cast him out. That must have been so hard for him. I have had missionaries in Singapore tell me that sometimes when they try to contact on the subway or bus, the people ask if they are Mormons. Once the missionaries answer in the affirmative, the people don’t want anything to do with them. I’ve been on exchanges in Singapore when people have given me dirty looks, ignored me, or walked away just so they wouldn’t cross paths with me. All because they know we are missionaries from the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I can’t say I know exactly how Alma feels but I can sympathize in part because I have experienced it to a small degree. I can only imagine him walking, defeated, out of Ammonihah. He was probably crying. I would have been.
Cross reference 1st Corinthians 4:12-13. This is Paul’s letter. He talks a little about the cost of discipleship. I think this may be what Alma went through as well. Also, see verse 24 in Alma 8. The very last part says that he was about to set his back on Ammonihah FOREVER. I think that says a lot about what he was feeling.
Verse 14 explains a little more of how he was weighed down with the sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul. Those are some heavy descriptions. I’m trying to picture these images mentally. I can see Alma, walking away from the city, probably with cuts, bruises, maybe ripped clothes, shoulders sunk, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, feeling like a failure. He probably was walking slow, wading through a swamp of anguish and tribulation isn’t something you do fast.
The description of Alma in verse 14 wasn’t from Alma’s own record. This is Mormon talking. Which means he probably read Alma’s personal record of what happened and how he felt. Maybe he used Alma’s own words to describe how he felt. I would think that was the best way to capture it. Perhaps Mormon’s description of Alma was his own. After all, Mormon had experienced similar things in life and I’m sure was well acquainted with how Alma felt at that time.
At this time of great sorrow, an angel appears to Alma! But we’ll leave off there and pick up next time with Alma’s return to the city of Ammonihah!!!