Book of Mormon Lesson 22 (Mosiah 29; Alma 1–4)
May 22–28

In about 92–91 BC, Mosiah desired to confer the kingdom upon one of his sons, but they all refused to reign in his stead, preferring to devote their lives to missionary work (Mosiah 29:1–6). When all of King Mosiah’s sons refused to succeed him as king, Mosiah sent a written proclamation among the people, recommending a system of government to replace the rule of kings after his death.


Mosiah’s Treatise on Government
Mosiah suggested a system of judges (elected officials) to replace the rule of kings. He emphasized the need for wisdom in leaders. (Mosiah 29:7–12; D&C 98:8–10). He also reasoned with his people that unrighteous kings lead people into sin and bloodshed, and reminded them of how King Noah had done this (Mosiah 29:13–24).

Reynolds and Sjodahl said: “Noah reigned in his father’s stead, but he was a dissolute fellow who proved to be a tyrant. Unlike his father, Zeniff, he did not guide his people according to God’s commandments. He walked in darkness and sin, always pursuing that which satisfied his lusts or gratified the desires of a depraved heart. The history of his reign is a composite of crime and cruelty. . . . Human nature being as it is, the example set by wicked King Noah lured many of his people to forget the goodness of the Lord to their fathers and to follow him in evil practices. The king, who was also traditionally the spiritual leader of his subjects, replaced the good priests Zeniff had consecrated by others of his own ilk. He caused those with whom he associated to surround themselves, as he had done, with wives and concubines and encouraged his people to commit all ‘manner of wickedness.’”1

Mosiah Proposes a System of Elected Judges
In recommending this new form of government, Mosiah emphasized that judges should follow  “the voice of the people.” This is because the majority generally chooses the right, but if they choose evil, they will suffer (Mosiah 29:25–27).

President George Q. Cannon said, “While the people are pure, while they are upright, while they are willing to observe law, the best results must follow the establishment and maintenance of a government like this; but, on the other hand, if the people become corrupt, if they give way to passion, if they disregard law, if they trample upon constitutional obligations, then a republican form of government like ours becomes the worst tyranny upon the face of the earth. An autocracy is a government of one man, and if he be a tyrant, it is the tyranny of one man; but the tyranny and irresponsibility of a mob is one of the most grievous despotisms which can exist upon the face of the earth.”2

President Ezra Taft Benson said, “We all have a special citizenship responsibility. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, ‘It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound.’ We must elect men to public office with a mandate higher than the ballot box. Yes, read what the Lord has said on this important subject in the ninety-eighth section of the Doctrine and Covenants and then read what He has said regarding our inspired Constitution in the one hundred first section. The days ahead are sobering and challenging and will demand the best within each of us if we are to preserve our freedom.”3

King Mosiah taught that judges (elected officials) must be accountable to the law, a system of appeals should be adopted to avoid abuses of power, and all should be done in the “fear of the Lord” (Mosiah 29:28–32).  He related the difficulty of judging the people, even for a righteous king (Mosiah 29:33–36).

The people accepted Mosiah’s proposal and elected judges.  To give the new system time to be properly implemented, Mosiah continued to reign as their king for the remainder of his days (Mosiah 29:37–40).

Alma the Younger was elected the first chief judge and also became the presiding high priest over the Church (Mosiah 29:41–43). This would be equivalent to electing our Church’s president and prophet as the President of the United States.

Alma the Younger’s administration as chief judge and presiding high priest began about 91 BC when Alma the Elder and Mosiah both passed away (Mosiah 29:44–47). King Mosiah was 63 years old and had reigned for 33 years.  It had been about 500 years since the time that Lehi left Jerusalem. From this point forward, the chronology of the Nephites was measured in terms of what year “of the reign of the judges” it happened to be at any given point.


Nehor Promotes Priestcraft and Commits Murder
In the first year of the reign of the judges, a man named Nehor was brought before Alma to be judged (Alma 1:1–2). Nehor had contended against the true Church, established his own church, and taught his own doctrines (Alma 1:3-6). In this new era of elected judges, he cleverly proposed that priests should also be “popular” (popularly elected or appointed) and should receive wages from the people. According to the prophet Nephi, this practice was called “priestcraft” and was very dangerous to the peace and to the salvation of the people (2 Nephi 26:29).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Priesthood and priestcraft are two opposites; one is of God, the other of the devil. . . .  Apostasy is born of priestcrafts . . . for those who engage in them follow vain things, teach false doctrines, love riches, and aspire to personal honors.”4

Nehor was challenged by Gideon (Alma 1:7–9) who was an aged member of the Church who served as a teacher (Mosiah 20:17–22). In anger, Nehor drew his sword and cut down the aged Gideon (Mosiah 19:4–8). For this (and not for his teachings) Nehor was taken before Alma, convicted of murder, and put to death (Alma 1:10–15).

Alma warned his people that priestcraft would “prove their entire destruction” if they upheld it, but as the chief judge he had to judge people only according to the civil law (v. 12). Yet despite this warning, although Nehor was gone, priestcraft and other wickedness continued to spread throughout the land (Alma 1:16; 21:3–4).

President Joseph F. Smith noted that false doctrine of the kind Nehor taught is embraced primarily by two types:

“First—The hopelessly ignorant, whose lack of intelligence is due to their indolence and sloth, who make but feeble effort, if indeed any at all, to better themselves by reading and study; those who are afflicted with a dread disease that may develop into an incurable malady—laziness.

“Second—The proud and self-vaunting ones, who read by the lamp of their own conceit; who interpret by rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves, and so pose as the sole judges of their own doings. More dangerously ignorant than the first.”5

We could add a third category today: those more interested in filling their coffers than filling a need, more obsessed with graft than with goodness.

Although this was only the second year of the reign of the judges (about 90 BC), contention and persecution increased among the Nephites (Alma 1:17–22).  Those who opposed the Church did not dare violate the civil law because Nehor’s case had clearly shown that violators of the law—including liars—would be promptly prosecuted (vv. 17–18).  To avoid this problem, “they pretended to preach according to their belief” because “the law could have no power on any man for his belief” (v. 17).  These apostates were excommunicated from the Church while faithful members endured with faith (Alma 1:23–25).

True priesthood leaders do not practice priestcraft. They teach the true word of God. They work for their own support. And they share with those in need (Alma 1:26–27). In these early days of Alma’s administration, the faithful followed their leaders’ example and enjoyed peace and prosperity (Alma 1:28–30), while the wicked indulged themselves with wickedness. And those who did not belong to the Church did not enjoy the same prosperity as the righteous (Alma 1:31–32).

Amlici Seeks to Be King, Is Rejected, and Then Revolts
In the fifth year of the reign of the judges (about 87 BC), a cunning man named Amlici (a follower of Nehor) arose, wanting to be king so that he could deprive the people of their rights and also destroy the Church (Alma 2:1–4). The majority of the people voted against him, but this did not placate Amlici.  He intended to overthrow the Nephite government, and he insisted that his followers anoint him king anyway (Alma 2:7–10). A civil war ensued, in which  Alma lead the Nephite armies against the Amlicites and defeated them on the hill east of the River Sidon.  Nevertheless, many lives were lost—12,532 Amlicites and 6,562 Nephites (Alma 2:11–19).

Shedding Blood in Wartime
Circumstances such as these raise the question: “Is the taking of lives in war the same thing as murder?”

The First Presidency has said concerning such bloodshed in war: “When, therefore, constitutional law . . . calls the manhood of the Church into the armed service of any country to which they owe allegiance, their highest civic duty requires that they meet that call. If, hearkening to that call and obeying those in command over them, they shall take the lives of those who fight against them, that will not make of them murderers, nor subject them to the penalty that God has prescribed for those who kill.”6

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Self-defense is as justifiable where war is concerned as where one man seeks the life of another, with the obvious conclusion that (from the standpoint of those called upon to engage in armed conflict) some wars are righteous and others are unrighteous. Righteous men are entitled, expected, and obligated to defend themselves; they must engage in battle when there is no other way to preserve their rights and freedoms and to protect their families, homes, land, and the truths of salvation which they have espoused. In many wars, perhaps most, both sides are equally at fault and neither is justified. But there have been and yet will be wars in which the balances of eternal justice will show that one side had the favor of Deity and the other did not.”7

Alma sent spies to follow the remainder of the Amlicites, who had joined with the Lamanites to destroy the Nephites.  Though they were fewer in number, the Nephites were able to defeat the combined army of the Amlicites and Lamanites (Alma 2:20–38).

A Wilderness Called “Hermounts”
The Nephites drove the Amlicites and Lamanites to the northwest, into a wilderness full of wild beasts which was named “Hermounts” (Alma 2:35–38).

Dr. Hugh Nibley said, “Hermounts in the Book of Mormon is the wild country of the borderlands, the hunting grounds, ‘that part of the wilderness which was infested by wild and ravenous beasts’ (Alma 2:37). The equivalent of such a district in Egypt is Hermonthis, the land of Month, the Egyptian Pan—the god of wild places and things. Hermounts and Hermonthis are close enough to satisfy the most exacting philologist.”8

The Terrible Cost of War
This portion of the Book of Mormon illustrates the terrible cost of the war in lives and possessions.  Notice the scope of the suffering brought on by one man’s desire for political power. In one battle alone more than 19,000 persons died. Throughout their history, the greatest damage done to both the Nephites and Lamanites was always done by rebellious Nephites who egged the Lamanites into battle for their own selfish purposes.  Amlici and his followers were only the first of many to do this (Alma 3:1–3).

Mormon speaks of the consequences of suffering that we bring upon ourselves when we sin (Alma 3:26–27). Bruce R. McConkie said, “Just as obedience and righteousness bring blessings, so wickedness and rebellion result in cursings. . . . Cursings are the opposite of blessings, and the greater the opportunity given a people to earn blessings, the more severe will be the cursings heaped upon them, if they do not measure up and gain the proffered rewards.”9

The Amlicites distinguished themselves from the Nephites by making a mark in their foreheads (Alma 3:3–4, 13–19). This practice fulfilled a prophecy of Nephi that is not contained upon the small plates (1 and 2 Nephi) but was probably recorded on the large plates (vv. 14–17).


The Nephites and the Pride Cycle
Their tragic losses caused the Nephites to be humble and to remember their duty (Alma 4:1–5). In the sixth year of the reign of the judges (86 BC), there was peace in the land of Zarahemla (v. 1). By the seventh year of the reign of the judges (85 BC), about 3,500 new people had been baptized into the Church and there was “continual peace in all that time” (v. 5).

Just one year later, in the eighth year of the reign of the judges (84 BC), the people of the Church begin to become proud because of their material riches (Alma 4:6–8). This grieved Alma very much (v. 7).  Only three years had passed since the days of the Nephites’ great sorrow for their losses to the Lamanites.

Mae Blanch provided an excellent summary of how the wearing of costly apparel leads to pride and destruction:

“First, it promotes idleness and vanity. One who spends many hours coveting, shopping, spending, and adorning oneself becomes increasingly self-absorbed and uninterested in anything requiring that attention to be diverted from self. Accumulation and adornment become the prime concern. This practice is also a way of displaying wealth in a prideful manner, a manifestation of what has been called the ‘conspicuous consumption’ of the rich, which leads to despising the poor as somehow inferior, a separation of people into ‘us’ and ‘those kind of people.’ And when money and possessions become the chief marks of distinction in society, then the pursuit of money becomes the only action worthwhile. And if this pursuit requires the sacrifice of honesty, integrity, compassion, and all the other virtues, then so be it, for the love of money is indeed the root of all evil. Thus the wearing of costly apparel involves the soul as much as the body.”10

As a result of their pride and vanity, Church members in Alma’s day became more proud and wicked than those who were not members—a great stumbling block to the progress of the Church (Alma 4:9–14). Once again, there was “great inequality among the people” instead of the equality that is characteristic of people truly committed to the Lord (v. 12).

Elder Ezra Taft Benson said, “Pride is . . . the universal sin, the great vice . . . the great stumbling block to Zion.  The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and . . . our fellowman. Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us. Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s . . .   The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others . . .   God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble.”11

Because of the wickedness of the people, Alma resigned his judgment seat to preach the word of God to his people—to “stir them up in remembrance of their duty” and “pull down” pride, craftiness, and contention (Alma 4:15–18). Alma “[bore] down in pure testimony” and stirred up the Nephites to a “remembrance of their duty”—meaning he taught with great power and the Spirit (Alma 4:19–20).

Elder Ezra Taft Benson said: “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in . . .  The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.  Human nature can be changed, here and now . . .   You can change human nature. No man who has felt in him the Spirit of Christ even for half a minute can deny this truth.”12

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The crowning, convincing, converting power of gospel teaching is manifest when an inspired teacher says, ‘I know by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the revelations of the Holy Spirit to my soul, that the doctrines I have taught are true.’  This divine seal of approval makes the spoken word binding upon the hearers. . . . It should be added that when the Lord’s servants preach in power, by the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the Lord adds his own witness to the truth of their words. That witness comes in the form of signs and gifts and miracles. Such are always found when the preached word, given in power, is believed by hearers with open hearts.”13

And Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.  The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”14

1. Commentary on the Book of Mormon, edited and arranged by Philip C. Reynolds, 7 vols. [1955–1961], 2:117.
2. In Journal of Discourses, 22:136.
3. The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 674.
4. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 593.
5. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 373.
6. Heber Grant, J. Reuben Clark Jr., David O. McKay, in Conference Report, April 1942, 92–96.
7. Mormon Doctrine, 826.
8. Since Cumorah, 2nd ed. [1988], 169.
9. Mormon Doctrine, 175.
10. “Challenges to the Reign of Judges,” in Kent Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 7: 1 Nephi to Alma 29 [1987], 292.
11. In Conference Report, April 1989, 3–7.
12. In Conference Report, Oct. 1985, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1985, 6.
13. The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ [1978], 516–517.
14. In Conference Report, October 1986, 20.