Alma 14:17-29, LeGrand Baker, Veil to darkness
17 And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek answered him nothing; and he smote them again, and delivered them to the officers to be cast into prison.
18 And when they had been cast into prison three days, there came many lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers, who were of the profession of Nehor; and they came in unto the prison to see them, and they questioned them about many words; but they answered them nothing.
19 And it came to pass that the judge stood before them, and said: Why do ye not answer the words of this people? Know ye not that I have power to deliver you up unto the flames? And he commanded them to speak; but they answered nothing.
20 And it came to pass that they departed and went their ways, but came again on the morrow; and the judge also smote them again on their cheeks. And many came forth also, and smote them, saying: Will ye stand again and judge this people, and condemn our law? If ye have such great power why do ye not deliver yourselves?
21 And many such things did they say unto them, gnashing their teeth upon them, and spitting upon them, and saying: How shall we look when we are damned?
22 And many such things, yea, all manner of such things did they say unto them; and thus they did mock them for many days. And they did withhold food from them that they might hunger, and water that they might thirst; and they also did take from them their clothes that they were naked; and thus they were bound with strong cords, and confined in prison.
23 And it came to pass after they had thus suffered for many days, (and it was on the twelfth day, in the tenth month, in the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi) that the chief judge over the land of Ammonihah and many of their teachers and their lawyers went in unto the prison where Alma and Amulek were bound with cords.
24 And the chief judge stood before them, and smote them again, and said unto them: If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words.
25 And it came to pass that they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last; and when the last had spoken unto them the power of God was upon Alma and Amulek, and they rose and stood upon their feet.
26 And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them.
27 And it came to pass that so great was their fear that they fell to the earth, and did not obtain the outer door of the prison; and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof.
28 And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ. And they straightway came forth out of the prison; and they were loosed from their bands; and the prison had fallen to the earth, and every soul within the walls thereof, save it were Alma and Amulek, was slain; and they straightway came forth into the city.
29 Now the people having heard a great noise came running together by multitudes to know the cause of it; and when they saw Alma and Amulek coming forth out of the prison, and the walls thereof had fallen to the earth, they were struck with great fear, and fled from the presence of Alma and Amulek even as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions; and thus they did flee from the presence of Alma and Amulek.
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I was frustrated when I read these verses this week because I couldn’t see the point in them. Mormon usually teaches a principle, often using someone else’s words or a sermon, then he illustrates its principles by telling a story. I couldn’t figure out what his point was in telling this story until I realized that the apostates had asked three times— and each time Alma refused to respond. I thought, “Wow, is that where he is going with this?” Then I began to read carefully, and was captivated with what I found.
These verses are another amazing evidence of Mormon’s ability as a story teller, and as a master of double speech—to write, as Nephi wrote, in the language of the world, but the learning of the Jews. As Mormon relates this narrative, he includes nothing that is unnecessary to the sub-text, and he leaves nothing out. Its context is still the confrontation reported in chapter 12, where Alma reminds his listeners of the way one may be redeemed—the steps that bring one into the presence of God. Now, Mormon illustrates in vivid prose what Jacob taught in 2 Nephi 9:41-42. In doing so, he follows the same pattern that is outlined in the 21st Psalm. (If you are not familiar with those scriptures, this would be a good time to read them.)
The story, as Mormon tells it, is this:
The apostates approach the prophets three times, demanding that they respond and repeat their testimony. Their requests are not a prayer, but a challenge of authority. They mockingly asked, “If ye have such great power why do ye not deliver yourselves?” and “How shall we look when we are damned?” But the antagonists are beyond hearing, therefore, the prophets say nothing at all.
“And they did withhold food from them that they might hunger, and water that they might thirst.”
Similarly, these apostates were denying to themselves the promises of the fruit of the tree of life, and the waters of life. Therefore, they would hunger and thirst forever.
“ and they also did take from them their clothes that they were naked.” As the apostates had disrobed the prophets, as they had also disrobed themselves, and were left naked without the ennobling symbols of priesthood and kingship.
The apostates extended their hands to the prophets, but their hands were a symbol of their own damnation. “And the chief judge stood before them, and smote them again, and said unto them: If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words. And it came to pass that they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last;”
In chapter 12, Alma had contrasted God’s eternal embrace with the chains of hell. The apostates had chosen to had imitated that damning embrace. Though it looked secure, it was rejected and overthrown by the prophets. “And thus they were bound with strong cords, and confined in prison….And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound.”
The reality of the embrace was turned upon the apostates. The earth itself was repulsed by their wickedness, it testified of their eternal sorrow. The walls of the prison, like an ever-excluding veil, encompassed them in darkness and death. “And the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof.”
In telling this story, choosing only the details that he chose, and relating them in that order, Mormon drew a devastating and final contrast to the invitation of redemption that Alma had extended in chapter 12.