Summary: Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are familiar with the story of the prophet Abinadi, his message, and his death. But perhaps most people are more familiar with a priest named Alma who was converted by Abinadi’s preaching and how he converted nearly five hundred people to Christ. This article takes an in-depth look into the story of Alma and examines a number of lessons we can learn from it.
At the trial of Abinadi, one of King Noah’s priests by the name of Alma “began to plead with the king that he would not be angry with Abinadi but suffer that he might depart in peace. But the king was more wroth and caused that Alma should be cast out from among them and sent his servants after him that they might slay him. But he fled from before them and hid himself that they found him not” (Mosiah 17:2-3).
In all likelihood, when Alma first fled from the court of King Noah, there was an intense search for him, but as days went by without any success, the search no doubt became one of quietly keeping eyes and ears open for signs of where he was hiding.
Initially Alma no doubt kept moving from place to place to keep from being discovered, but eventually he must have found some place within the city where he felt safe enough to stay “for many days.”
We don’t know exactly where Alma hid himself, but wherever it was, it was somewhere where he had access to writing material because “being concealed for many days [he] did write all the words which Abinadi had spoken” (Mosiah 17:4).
During this time Alma must have reflected long and hard on Abinadi’s message and it must have caused him to do a lot of soul searching. We have to remember that he was appointed to be a priest by King Noah and as such he supported the King in his wicked behavior. When Abinadi was first brought before the king and thrown in prison, Alma was among the priests who helped come up with a plan whereby they could entrap this prophet in his own words so they could find some excuse to convict him of a crime.
But as Alma now reflected on what he had heard Abinadi say, he began to feel a sense of guilt and remorse for his own behavior and “repented of his sins” (Mosiah 18:1). In this state of mind, Alma wrote down all he could remember about what Abinadi had said, and no doubt deeply pondered them and poured out his soul to God for mercy and forgiveness for his many sins.
How long he stayed in this situation we don’t know. Whether he was alone or was being secretly sheltered by someone he trusted is something else we don’t know, but he had to eat, and going out into the marketplace to buy food would have risked being seen and captured, so it’s possible that he was staying with a friend during this time.
However, at some point, he decided to move out of hiding to share with others the message he had heard from Abinadi. What we know is that he “went about privately among the people and began to teach the words of Abinadi” (Mosiah 18:1).
This strongly suggests that he went out into the city to the homes of people he trusted, and in a private setting, shared with them the words he had heard Abinadi say. He must have trusted those whom he taught because he was taking the risk that one of them would go to the king and tell where Alma was hiding.
How many people Alma taught this way we don’t know, but from the record it appears that he began to have success in getting people to accept the idea of repenting of their sins. It also appears that these people began to look to Alma for spiritual guidance, and so as the number of converts grew, they would gather together to listen to Alma preach to them.
What’s interesting about this is that when Abinadi came into the city loudly denouncing the wickedness of the people, they soundly rejected his message. The first time he tried this approach he had to flee the city for his life, and the second time he tried this same technique he was physically restrained by the people, tightly bound with rope, and forcibly taken to the king. Clearly, his method of teaching didn’t produce any converts
On the other hand, Alma went to the homes of people he knew and had a personal conversation with them, and instead of speaking with a loud demanding voice, he quietly and calmly talked with them. As a result, almost immediately, he began to have success in getting people to repent of their sins.
But these people then talked to their friends, and soon more people came to hear what Alma had to say. We’re told “And as many as would hear his word he did teach. And he taught them privately, that it might not come to the knowledge of the king. And many did believe his words” (Mosiah 18:3).
There’s a great lesson to be learned from this. As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. Abinadi used vinegar, while Alma used honey. In our day we send our missionaries out, not to stand on street corners loudly denouncing people’s behavior but by going to the homes of people and having private and calm conversations with them.
While all of this was going on, King Noah still had his servants watching for any sign of Alma, so as the number of people grew who were interested in hearing what Alma had to say, the risk of him being discovered and captured also grew. Therefore, there came a point where it became increasingly unsafe for Alma to continue preaching in the city.
King Noah not only ruled over a city but he also ruled over a large area of land that surrounded the city. Within this land there was “a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.” (Mosiah 18:4).
King Noah and his people were living among the Lamanites, who had given them an area of land to live on. Obviously, this land had borders to it, and anything that laid outside of these borders belong to the Lamanites. To find a safe location to hide, Alma went to a place that was located near the border of the land that King Noah ruled over. If he crossed that border, he would have been in Lamanite territory, therefore, Alma chose to hide himself in a place that was as far away from the city as possible, while still being within Nephite land.
It was the king himself who named this area Mormon, and the reason why he chose this name was because from time to time, during various seasons of the year it was “infested… by wild beasts.”
Alma also chose this particular location because there was “a fountain of pure water” and “near the water [was] a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the daytime from the searches of the king” (Mosiah 18:5). This land of Mormon (as the king called it) provided a perfect location for Alma because it provided him with cool refreshing water, a place to hide, where he could also hunt for food, and where he could quickly flee into Lamanite territory where the king’s army wouldn’t go.
But how was he to teach those who wanted to hear his message? If he couldn’t go to the people in the city, then the people would have to come to him in the wilderness. “And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number [of people] gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord” (Mosiah 18:7).
We don’t know how far away from the city the land of Mormon was, but it must have been far enough that people felt safe from being discovered by the king. But they didn’t come out there every day to listen to Alma preach. Rather, “there was one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together” (Mosiah 18:25).
We can think of this like people going to church. Families don’t gather together in one spot and then all go to church in a caravan-like procession. Rather, I imagine that on that one particular day, people would leave their homes as individual families and journey out to the land of Mormon, and when this happened on an individual basis, no one really noticed this migration out of the city.
Furthermore, it doesn’t appear that there was no specific time for them to meet. It was just a specific day. What that means is that people came to Alma’s meeting whenever they wanted. This also made it less obvious as people left the meeting and came back into the city at different times of the day.
Today, when we think about going to church, we think of going for one hour and then returning home, but from the account in Mosiah, it seems that when these people of King Noah went to the land of Mormon to listen to Alma preach, they made a whole day of it. Since it was out in the wilderness (as opposed to being in the city with all of its comforts) they brought food with them and tents as they sat and listened to Alma. It’s also quite possible that people brought food for Alma so that he had something to eat throughout the week. Therefore, as he nourished them with the word of God, they nourished him with their food. In this way, the needs of all were met.
What this also tells us is that for the most part, Alma spent the great majority of the week living by himself, which gave him a lot of time to think, ponder, and pray, much like a pastor would do in preparing for his next Sunday sermon. This is also what we’ve been counseled to do, especially with the new home-centered program as we prepare ourselves to teach our own children at home. And it was during this time that Alma’s knowledge of the gospel grew. What isn’t explicitly stated in this account is that Alma also received personal revelation and direct instructions from God.
We know this had to happen because we’re told that one day, as the people assembled to listen to Alma, “he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people… And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church. And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 18:8,17,18).
Abinadi never talked about the need to be baptized to receive salvation, and up until this time, neither did Alma, so how did he come to know that this was a necessary ordinance? Furthermore, this is the first time we read that Alma had authority given to him from God. How did he get that authority? It seems clear that during the previous week Alma had been instructed by heavenly messengers and given the necessary authority to perform baptisms.
But this wasn’t all. Alma went on to explain the meaning of baptism saying that “that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you” (Mosiah 18:10). He also told them that when they are baptized, they become members of “the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward” (Mosiah 18:17), “and to be called his people, (i.e., taking upon them his name) and are willing “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:11), Interestingly, just about every one of those elements that Alma talked about concerning baptism are found in our sacramental prayers.
When the people heard his message, they clapped their hands for joy and gladly went down into the waters of Mormon to take upon themselves the covenants associated with baptism.
As week after week went by, more and more people began to show up to Alma’s outdoor meetings. In fact, so many people started coming that Alma had to appoint others to assist in the preaching, so he “ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 18:18).
However, this success proved to be a curse as well as a blessing, because so many people started coming that one day “the king, having discovered a movement among the people, sent his servants to watch them. Therefore on the day that they were assembling themselves together to hear the word of the Lord they were discovered unto the king” (Mosiah 18:32).
If King Noah didn’t like Alma speaking up in defense of Abinadi, we can only imagine how angry he was when he learned that Alma was not only continuing to preach Abinadi’s message but was converting people to it. “Therefore he sent his army to destroy them” (Mosiah 18:33).
On this particular day there were four hundred and fifty people who were attending Alma’s teachings, but fortunately, as King Noah was assembling his army and getting them ready to go to the land of Mormon to kill Alma and his followers, his plans were discovered, and someone hurried out to Alma and warned the people.
We can only imagine the fear and panic those people must have felt. They must have wondered what they should do or where they should flee to for safety? The record doesn’t tell us exactly what happened next, but they had only two options. One was to scatter and flee in different directions and try to make it safely back to their homes without being caught, but even so, they would all eventually be identified as followers of Alma, be arrested and be put to death.
The second option was to cross over the border and flee into the land of the Lamanites, but that was almost as dangerous because if they fell into the hands of the Lamanites, they might be killed or taken as slaves. Therefore, neither option was a good choice. What we do know is that by this time Alma was a great man of God and the spirit of divine inspiration rested heavily with him. Therefore, it seems certain that he took command of the situation and gave instruction of what they should do. We then read that the people “took their tents and their families and departed into the wilderness” (Mosiah 18:34). So successful was their flight that by the end of the day “the army of the king returned, having searched in vain for the people of the Lord” (Mosiah 19:1).
As with Alma and his people, when we encounter our own uncertain and dangerous times, Christ will support those who put their faith and trust in him and will give them direction in their life to know what the right thing is to do. Like Alma, we too can receive personal revelation that will help us know what to do in uncertain times.
What we see is that there are many lessons we can learn and apply in our life as we study the story of Alma.