Alma 16:4-12, LeGrand Baker, The Negative Side of the Blessings of Abraham.
Mormon is a great historian and a marvelous story teller. Like his other stories, this one has a good plot, and an obvious moral. In this case that moral is that if a general will ask a prophet what to do, and then do it, his military success is assured. Yet, even though this is no doubt Mormon’s point there is still a deeper undercurrent of truth that sustains the other principles of the story. The key to that undercurrent is found in two contrasting ideas, reflecting both the blessing and the curse of the Abrahamic Covenant.
The ownership of land is very important among any agrarian people. It is not only an evidence of wealth but also of stability. So it is consistent that part of the Abrahamic covenant should include the promise of land—both an earthly security and an eternal inheritance.
The psalms emphasize that principle when they say the meek will inherit the earth (Psalm 37) and more explicitly when they say the children of the meek will inherit the earth (Psalm 25). The Saviour quoted from those psalms when he spoke the Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Section 88 explains that the earth will be prepared as a celestial world so “the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.”
Another part of the Abrahamic covenant is “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Mormon brings all of these ideas sharply into focus by simply telling this story. To do so, he created a parallel contrast that makes his point.
The word “brethren” in the Book of Mormon is a priesthood term (as “beloved brethren” in Alma 7 and Moroni 7). So it is clearly not just a mission to rescue fellow Nephites, but a necessary church-related responsibility that causes Zoram and his sons to ask Alma “whither the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness in search of their brethren.” Alma gives them instructions about where to go and promises, “ there the Lord will deliver unto thee thy brethren.” The military action worked, and “not one soul of them had been lost,” After the successful rescue, the former captives “were brought by their brethren to possess their own lands.”
The key phrases are “they took [rescued] their brethren,” “not one soul of them had been lost,” and “they were brought by their brethren to possess their own lands.
In contrast, the people of Ammonihah “were of the profession of Nehor,” “every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed,” and “their lands remained desolate.”
There is nothing subtle about Mormon’s intent. His story is set in a this-world context, but its implications still harken back to Alma’s sermon in chapter 12 about the consequences of spiritual rebellion and the meaning of the second death.