Alma 9:23-25 — LeGrand Baker — the most dangerous apostasy
23 And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them.
24 For behold, the promises of the Lord are extended to the Lamanites, but they are not unto you if ye transgress; for has not the Lord expressly promised and firmly decreed, that if ye will rebel against him that ye shall utterly be destroyed from off the face of the earth?
25 And now for this cause, that ye may not be destroyed, the Lord has sent his angel to visit many of his people, declaring unto them that they must go forth and cry mightily unto this people, saying: Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand; (Alma 9:23-25)
It has always struck me as a bit strange that the Lord would give different promises to different people who were all descended from Lehi. But I think these sermons of Alma have helped me sort that question out. In the first place, it probably isn’t so clear-cut that all the descendants of Nephi, Sam, and Zoram would be wiped out, but all of the Lamanites would survive. The reason was that through their 1,000 year history, there were many intermarriages between the descendants of Laman and Lemuel and those of their other brothers, That would have been especially true from the time of the Lamanite conversion until about the year 230. At that time the people divided themselves into tribes again. However, it appears from the text that even though the new tribes had the names of Lehi’s sons, the division was made according to their religious beliefs rather than by tribes according to rigid genealogical family ties: the true believers in Christ were called Nephites, and those who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites. (4 Nephi 1:32-40.) Nevertheless, we are also told that about 200 years later, about 420, with the deaths of Mormon and Moroni, the Nephi’s royal birthright family were either wiped out or had apostatized. So as far as Nephi personally was concerned, the prophecy was literally fulfilled.
But the fulfillment of the prophecy doesn’t answer the question of why the Lord promised that the Lamanites would survive and the Nephites would not. The explanation of how the 230 AD division into tribes took place, probably gives us the key to the answer we are looking for. Twenty years before the division into tribes, in 210 (significantly, that’s just one generation), a religions division had preceded the tribal divisions. That religions division was based on the most severe kind of apostasy.
27 And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.
28 And this church did multiply exceedingly because of iniquity, and because of the power of Satan who did get hold upon their hearts.(4 Nephi 1:27-28)
There, the nature of the apostasy was not an abandonment of the ordinances and covenants, but rather a pretending to keep them, while warping them to fit their own purposes.
When one reads Alma chapters 7 through 13 as a single cohesive unit, it becomes apparent that Alma and Amulek were not trying to teach the people of Ammonihah anything new, but they were simply reminding them of the things they already know—and of the covenants that they have already made. Even the profound ideas in chapters 12-13, where Alma reminds Zeezrom that those covenants are eternal, Alma is not so much instructing Zeezrom as he is challenging him with ideas he already understands. That’s why Zeezrom is so taken aback by Alma’s pointed (but only implied) accusations.
It is apparent to me, that the same thing has happened with people of Ammonihah as would happen 300 years later with the people in Fourth Nephi. That is, those who once had the proper authority to administer the ordinances began to “administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.” In that case, one who lived then might not be able to tell the wicked from the righteous by what they knew or by what ordinances they had received. God alone could distinguish them by the quality of their souls. As will be shown in the story, the prime external characteristic of those differences will be that the righteous will be able to recognize the authority by which Alma speaks. That is, the Spirit will teach them to follow their prophet. Alma had come to be the catalyst that would physically separate the wicked from the righteous.
There is a sobering message here. It is that there seems to be two different kinds of apostasy. The one we usually think of is when people simply turn their backs on the Lord and his Gospel and begin living a lifestyle that is not compatible with the teachings of the prophets. But the other kind of apostasy, is the one we are seeing in this story and the one that seems to merit destruction. That is, when an individual or a group of people pretend to keep the ordinances and covenants, but pervert them to satisfy their own purposes. That kind appears in these scriptures to be the more dangerous to a group of people, and the most devastating to an individual.