A TEAM OF WITNESSES
Have you ever thought about why there are two of so many things? Missionaries always have a companion. Why? Just to keep them out of trouble? Just for safety under the "buddy system?" Why are there also two home teachers, and two visiting teachers, two parents and two grandparents (in the ideal situation)? In each instance, they are a team of witnesses, and this is how a team of witnesses works: One testifies, and the other establishes or verifies the words of the first, and then he expounds upon them, or explains things beyond (Alma 12:1). One visiting teacher gives a little lesson from the Ensign or the Liahona, the other visiting teacher adds to it. One parent states a family rule that is in line with a gospel principles, and the second parent backs it up. The Lord's various systems of helping His children almost always involve the law of witnesses.
Alma and Amulek were one of the Lord's great missionary companionships. When they were challenged by a wily lawyer named Zeezrom, they withstood him as a team of witnesses. They knew that Zeezrom knew the truth and was denying it in order to get gain. First Amulek warned Zeezrom that he was headed towards becoming a "child of hell" (Alma 11:23). He warned that the devil was working to "encircle" him about with the chains of hell (Alma 12:3-6). Zeezrom began to be entertain the possibility that they were right (Alma 12:7). At this point (Alma 12:8) he "began to inquire of them diligently, that he might know more concerning the kingdom of God." Now he was asking sincere questions. Alma taught him about the plan of redemption, and presented before him his options of repenting or continuing in evil (Alma 12:34-35).
THE DISCUSSION ON PRIESTHOOD
A lot of other people were listening as well. Following this discussion, Alma seemingly changed the subject and suddenly launched into the topic of the priesthood (Alma 13:1). All of chapter 13 is about the priesthood. Pretty random, right? But it's always a mistake to assume something in the scriptures is random, so instead we want to ask, why did he find this relevant to explain at this important teaching moment?
Well, the Ammonihahites had claimed at the outset not to recognize his authority, since they had broken themselves off from the church. They had the scriptures, although they twisted them for their own use. With these remarks about the priesthood, Alma was establishing his authority as being the same authority that Melchizedek had in their scriptures. They had been led astray by priestcraft, the devil's method of leadership, based on selfishness. They needed to return to priesthood, the Lord's leadership method of love and service.
So Alma reminded them of Melchizedek, the great high priest, to show them that he had the same calling and authority and was doing the same service (preaching repentance) that Melchizedek did (Alma 13:17-18 first sentence). Not only was Melchizedek an excellent example of a high priest, but the people of Salem were an excellent example of people who were very wicked (like those of Ammonihah), entrenched in the selfishness of priestcraft, but who turned completely around and became so righteous that they may have been taken up into heaven like the City of Enoch (second sentence of Alma 13:18). (Very little remains in our Bible about Melchizedek and Salem, but there is more in JST Genesis 14. The Nephites certainly would have had more in their brass plates than we do now because they had passed through fewer hands than the Bible has.) Alma counseled the people to follow this example (Alma 13:14).
THE WAKE OF ZEEZROM'S WICKED PAST
Some of the people were inspired by these teachings and wanted to change. One of them was Zeezrom himself. However, the majority of the people were murderously angry with Alma and Amulek. They tied them up and took them before the chief judge, another crooked person. They testified against them in another court and Zeezrom was present to witness this (Alma 14:6). Alma and Amulek had both warned Zeezrom that he would be "encircled about by the pains of hell." They were prophets and they had "forth-told" about this. They didn't need to actually see the future to see that this would happen. They knew the principles upon which happiness is based, and they knew that Zeezrom's actions were contrary to them.
Zeezrom tried to reverse his negative influence, but couldn't (Alma 14:7). When we make big mistakes, yes, we can always repent and learn from them, but our sins always leave a wake. Others are affected by our actions and example, and we often cannot reverse those consequences, as much as we might desire to do so. The realization of this brings great suffering, such as Zeezrom experienced, when we realize the "blindness" of others' minds, "which [we have] caused."
THE MASS MARTYRDOM
The evil people threw all the believing men out of the city, casting stones at them. Then they took the wives and children left behind and threw them into a fire, along with scriptures (Alma 14:8-9). Alma and Amulek were forced to watch all these innocents burn to death. Even though Alma and Amulek knew that "death is sweet if [you] die unto [Christ], " (D&C 42:46), and they knew that those being killed were, in the long run, much better off than those killing them, it was still something that--how could you get over it? As Amulek said to Alma, "How can we witness this awful scene?" (Alma 14:10)
Which brings us to one of the great and dividing questions of all time: Why would a loving God allow this to happen? Of course, these innocent women and children could have been easily saved with His power! Why did he constrain Alma not to exercise his priesthood? (Wait for class response.)
God must let a people ripen in iniquity before His judgments can be just in destroying them. People will not be judged for what they might have done. (Alma 11:41; 41:3-4)
After this, Alma and Amulek were cast into prison. They were left there for many days and served as an entertainment for the people, who came continually to spit upon them and taunt them and slap them. They were given no food or water or clothing, and were tightly tied up (Alma 14:22). Continually the people mocked them with question such as, "If you have such mighty priesthood power, why don't you free yourselves?" but Alma and Amulek did not answer a word. Why do you think they didn't? (Class response)
Finally, Alma stood up and offered a mighty prayer from deep within his heart (Alma 14:26). His prayer was immediately answered, and he and Amulek received Incredible Hulk-type strength to stand--remember they had been starved and beaten for days--and break their bands. This caused a realization on the part of the accusers that they had committed a really big "oops"; they had never intended to actually receive the sign from heaven they had kept demanding. They ran for the prison doors, but the earthquake didn't wait for them to get there (Alma 14:27-28).
Even after this miraculous occurrence, those on the outside who were still alive did not have any desire to listen to Alma and Amulek, but sent them out of the city (Alma 15:1) where they found asylum in the land of Sidom.
Here they found all the men who also had been thrown out of Ammonihah, and they related the horrifying story of the gruesome deaths of their families (Alma 15:1-2). Imagine being one of these men. What did they feel? How did they go on?
Unfortunately, like the missionaries of Ammonihah, there are righteous people today all over the world who must witness awful and senseless crimes where the ravings of the devil are unleashed upon innocent people. How can they carry on? By believing, as did Alma, that if they survived the tragedy, their mission is not complete and the Lord will help them carry it out (Alma 14:13). As John Bytheway counseled the Columbine, Colorado seminary students after the 1999 massacre at their high school, "Don't let tragedy define your life. You have your own mission to accomplish and you should not be deterred." (See John Bytheway, When Times Are Tough: 5 Scriptures That Will Help You Get Through Almost Anything, published by Deseret Book)
(By the way--sorry, John, I couldn't avoid the pun--here are the 5 scriptures in case you want to branch off on this topic: "[We] know that [God] loveth his children" [1 Nephi 11:17]; We know that God allows evil to exist in the world [Moses 7:26-33]; "Our work is not finished" [Alma 14:13]; The Atonement is not just for sinners [Alma 7:11-12]; One day the Lord will reveal all things [D&C 101:32-36] )
The Lord offers victims comfort:
"All they who suffer persecution for my name, and endure in faith, though they are called to lay down their lives for my sake yet shall they partake of all this glory. Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full. Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul. And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life." (D&C 101:35-37)
You can, even after a tragedy, still have a fulness of joy! How is this possible? Through the Atonement. The Atonement is not just for sinners, but for every kind of suffering (Alma 7:11). Because of the Atonement, Christ knows "how to succor his people" (Alma 7:12).
What about those whose actions cause the sufferings of others? The story of Zeezrom tells us that the Atonement also is available for them.
Zeezrom was in this same city in Sidom--he had fled here when he was cast out of Ammonihah--and he lay here sick and dying of a fever, brought upon him by his anguish of conscience. There was no way that he of himself could get over the terrible sickness of mind and body that his wickedness had caused. Alma knew that the only way out of such a situation of guilt is the same and only way that he got out of it and that we can get out of it. Once again, it was through the Atonement of Christ. He had experienced it himself (Alma 36:17-20). He could see that Zeezrom was just a mirror of himself, and he knew what to do about it (Alma 15:8-12).
We make covenants in the temple that we would be willing to sacrifice for the gospel, but have any of us ever had to sacrifice much? There are people in the world who sacrifice greatly for their testimonies, such as Amulek did. Amulek lost everything he had except for the most important thing, his testimony of Christ (Alma 15:16). Although he was a great missionary, he was also a homeless beggar. But he had a new family in the gospel (Alma 15:18). We must always follow the example of Alma in succoring new converts who have sacrificed to join the Church.
Was it worth the sacrifice? Well, King Benjamin had taught that you can never be in debt to the Lord. No matter how much you give Him, He will give you more back. It is always true, if not always instant. And it was true for Amulek in this life as well as in the life after, which "life after" came much later for him than it did for those who cast him out.
THE DESOLATION OF NEHORS
Amulek had warned the people of his home town that the presence of the righteous among them was preserving them (Alma 10:22-23). It is still true today. Spencer W. Kimball wrote, "There are many upright and faithful who live all the commandments and whose lives and prayers keep the world from destruction." (Ensign, June 1971, p. 16) When the Ammonihahites cast out the righteous, they sealed their own fate.
In the following year, word came that the Lamanites were on the warpath. The city of Ammonihah was the first thing in that path, and before an army could be gathered, that city was massacred. There were many prisoners of war taken from the surrounding cities. The chief captain of the armies, Zoram, was a God-fearing man, and he knew that Alma had a testimony of Christ (the spirit of prophecy), so he asked him to exercise that testimony and call upon God, through the spirit of revelation, to know how to get these prisoners back. Alma inquired of the Lord and received very specific instructions on where to find the Lamanites and what to do. Zoram followed these instructions and was 100% successful in rescuing the prisoners and scattering the armies of the Lamanites (Alma 16:5-8).
But it was all too late for Ammonihah, whose devastation was 100%. The judgments of God had to be executed upon them, because they were just (or fair) judgments. The Lord had said they would be destroyed, and he is a God of truth (Alma 16:9-11).
THE HAPPY ENDING
With the influence of the Nehors gone, Alma and Amulek were free to preach the gospel to a very receptive audience of Nephites (Alma 16:15-16, 21).
Here is where we find the good news in this story: Thanks to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone who is true to the faith, no matter what trials they have to go through, gets to live happily ever after. In this life, things are seldom fair. Wicked people sometimes prosper; righteous people sometimes suffer. Martyrdom is not that uncommon in the history of the Lord's people. But the Lord's people will always be more than compensated ("All things work together for good to them that love God," Rom. 8:28), and all will eventually be made more than fair. In the short term, Amulek suffered as the Nehors prospered, but he always had the peace of the gospel, which they refused, and in the end, his life was spared when theirs were not.