Saturday, August 22, 2015

Amalickiah and the Good Ship Zion

One of the many interesting stories in the Book of Mormon is the story of Amalickiah.  The story of Amalickiah can be found in Alma chapters 46-49.  If the stories in the Book of Mormon were selected to help us see things in our day - in other words - if they are there to teach us and warn us for things to look for in our day - what can we learn from the story of Amalickiah?

How did Amalickiah rise to power?  His story is instructive about how someone who is conniving can accomplish such a feat.  An analysis of each step in the process may shed some light on what to watch for.

First, he deceived the king by feigning loyalty, while obtaining favor with the armies so he could take possession of the kingdom.

Alma 47 
8.   Now it was not Amalickiah's intention to give them battle according to the commandments of the king; but behold, it was his intention to gain favor with the armies of the Lamanites, that he might place himself at their head and dethrone the king and take possession of the kingdom.
Amalickiah was a master of deception.  He fooled the king of the Lamanites into trusting him with his soldiers.  He then took steps to take out the competition and begin his rise to power.
13.   And it came to pass that when Lehonti had come down with his guards to Amalickiah, that Amalickiah desired him to come down with his army in the night-time, and surround those men in their camps over whom the king had given him command, and that he would deliver them up into Lehonti's hands, if he would make him (Amalickiah) a second leader over the whole army.
14.   And it came to pass that Lehonti came down with his men and surrounded the men of Amalickiah, so that before they awoke at the dawn of day they were surrounded by the armies of Lehonti.
15.   And it came to pass that when they saw that they were surrounded, they plead with Amalickiah that he would suffer them to fall in with their brethren, that they might not be destroyed. Now this was the very thing which Amalickiah desired.
16.   And it came to pass that he delivered his men, contrary to the commands of the king. Now this was the thing that Amalickiah desired, that he might accomplish his designs in dethroning the king.
17.   Now it was the custom among the Lamanites, if their chief leader was killed, to appoint the second leader to be their chief leader.
18.   And it came to pass that Amalickiah caused that one of his servants should administer poison by degrees to Lehonti, that he died.
19.   Now, when Lehonti was dead, the Lamanites appointed Amalickiah to be their leader and their chief commander.
He fooled Lehonti into believing that he would give them the victory.  He betrayed his own men and then secretly betrayed and killed Lehonti.  The most amazing part of all of this is how he was able to accomplish it without the Lamanites even detecting or realizing what had happened.  If they would have known the truth, they would never had appointed him to be their leader and chief commander.
21.   And the king came out to meet him with his guards, for he supposed that Amalickiah had fulfilled his commands, and that Amalickiah had gathered together so great an army to go against the Nephites to battle.
22.   But behold, as the king came out to meet him Amalickiah caused that his servants should go forth to meet the king. And they went and bowed themselves before the king, as if to reverence him because of his greatness.
23.   And it came to pass that the king put forth his hand to raise them, as was the custom with the Lamanites, as a token of peace, which custom they had taken from the Nephites.
24.   And it came to pass that when he had raised the first from the ground, behold he stabbed the king to the heart; and he fell to the earth.
25.   Now the servants of the king fled; and the servants of Amalickiah raised a cry, saying:
26.   Behold, the servants of the king have stabbed him to the heart, and he has fallen and they have fled; behold, come and see.
27.   And it came to pass that Amalickiah commanded that his armies should march forth and see what had happened to the king; and when they had come to the spot, and found the king lying in his gore, Amalickiah pretended to be wroth, and said: Whosoever loved the king, let him go forth, and pursue his servants that they may be slain.

One of the master tricks Amalickiah used to deceive everyone was to commit a crime and then deflect the blame to the innocent.  After having his servant kill the king, Amalickiah proclaims his loyalty and love to the king to again deceive the soldiers to pursue and destroy the innocent.

31.   And it came to pass on the morrow he entered the city Nephi with his armies, and took possession of the city.
32.   And now it came to pass that the queen, when she had heard that the king was slain--for Amalickiah had sent an embassy to the queen informing her that the king had been slain by his servants, that he had pursued them with his army, but it was in vain, and they had made their escape--
33.   Therefore, when the queen had received this message she sent unto Amalickiah, desiring him that he would spare the people of the city; and she also desired him that he should come in unto her; and she also desired him that he should bring witnesses with him to testify concerning the death of the king.
34.   And it came to pass that Amalickiah took the same servant that slew the king, and all them who were with him, and went in unto the queen, unto the place where she sat; and they all testified unto her that the king was slain by his own servants; and they said also: They have fled; does not this testify against them? And thus they satisfied the queen concerning the death of the king.
35.   And it came to pass that Amalickiah sought the favor of the queen, and took her unto him to wife; and thus by his fraud, and by the assistance of his cunning servants, he obtained the kingdom; yea, he was acknowledged king throughout all the land, among all the people of the Lamanites, who were composed of the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites, and all the dissenters of the Nephites, from the reign of Nephi down to the present time.
Amalickiah was even able to fool the queen.  There are two things that amaze me about this story.  First, the incredible cleverness and cunning maneuvering of Amalickiah at each turn and twist in the sequence of events.  He was brilliant at plotting in order to achieve his objective.  Second, the fact that almost no one realized what he had done.  Almost no one (outside of those who were in on it) was able to realize that the whole thing was fraudulent.  While doing the dastardly deeds that would have gotten him killed had he been discovered - he was actually able to instead gain favor and support with the very people he was deceiving.  These deceived people then made him their leader and followed him to war.

I believe this story in the Book of Mormon is not there as a guide on how to conquer kingdoms through fraud.  Rather, I believe the intent in including the details of what happened would be to teach the people the means by which they can be fooled and hopefully provide a way for people in our time to detect similar deceptions.

What if there were a man and a group of insiders who supported him in our time that accomplished the same thing and most of the people never even realized it?  Is it even possible that such a thing could have happened?  What if someone was murdered and the blame was deflected away from the actual perpetrators?  What if the actual perpetrators proclaimed themselves friends and loyal supporters of the person that they had killed?  What if they were in leadership and positions of trust prior to the event and were even considered by most to have been trusted by the very person they murdered?  What if they took over command and changed the whole direction of the ship in such a way that almost no-one noticed?

If something like this did occur, many of these elements would match the story of Amalickiah in the Book of Mormon.  Even if it did happen, who would believe it?  What if the person through history had become beloved and honored by the very people and their descendants that had been deceived and had made him their leader?

When I was a student at BYU, I took a missionary prep class taught by Ezra Taft Benson's son Reed Benson.  Reed used to say that the church started by Christ and the Apostles was taken over secretly, covertly and then after it had been taken over they kept the same flag flying.  Thus, the majority of the people never even realized that the organization had been compromised.  If Satan was able to accomplish this once, would he try it again?  Could he succeed a second time?  

The following quote has been attributed to Brigham Young. 

"THE GOOD SHIP ZION JD 5:329 (Brigham Young, on several occasions, spoke about the Good Ship Zion, its course, captain, and destination. Following are excerpts from two such occasions.)"

 However, the attribution appears to be wrong.  The 5th volume of the Journal of Discourses on page 329 does not contain this quote or anything like it.  I haven't been able to find the true source.  Nonetheless, I find the quote relevant and worthy of consideration here.


The Good Ship Zion

 Many onboard are there only for a pleasure trip; some strictly for business. Some few are there because they love God and His Truth, and the Ship is taking them to the Port.

Some look at the Captain and say, "wherever you sail, that is where I'll go" (Ruth 1:16). Others don't even say that much. They walk on the deck, bask in the sun and go in a certain direction simply because the planks under their feet pull them in that direction. Some few say "the compass gives me a reading, I see that the captain is heading in the correct bearing, therefore he is taking me to my destination."

But as sometimes happens a storm blows up, and the Good Ship is mightily buffeted. Many are the course corrections, many are the listings to port and then to starboard, but in it all the compass that the some few possess confirms the course of the captain. He is still heading for Port. Most below deck hardly are aware of the storm. To them business goes on as usual, sometimes increasing the sales of sea-sick pills, or in money made by the ship's porters because of food not eaten by the passengers during the troublous times, sometimes even a depression of sales in the souvenir shop occurs. But the dances go on and the drinking of the world's liquids hardly falter.

Then comes a stress that is felt by all, the many and the few. All aboard are buffeted, all least temporarily to port, then back to starboard, then the buffetings appear to ease. Out on deck the storm has passed, the skies seem clear as before and the ship is still moving onward. On deck and below all officers and passengers continue on their appointed tasks with the precision begotten by years of disciplined practice. But as the few check their compass, they find that during the last storm, there indeed has been a pronounced change, the course is no longer directed to the Port.
There has been a change, yet all else seems the same. Seems normal. The captain is not at the helm, as before, yet the new captain at the helm is one of the first mates of the old captain - always trusted and respected before, and yet the new course persists! When others are consulted, the few are assured that the skies are clear, there is health and wealth and success on every hand, and that daily the number of passengers taken on by the Ship increases as they desire to go wherever the Ship is heading. Also that the first mate, one in whom the previous captain had confidence is at the helm and they are not in any position to question him. Yet the course persists! The Port has certainly not moved. The magnetic lines are yet oriented in the same direction and the compass accurately, as it always has, indicates the true direction. Yet the course persists!

The few are certainly not in an enviable position. If they say much they shall be cast overboard by the strong-armed porters to be left adrift as the ship is powered on its way with no one on board able to assist or succor them lest they also find themselves expelled. If they say nothing and with the shared confidence of their fellow passengers continue aboard, each will find themselves further from the Port, and if persisted long enough the moment of action will long have passed. The Ship's destination will be their destination. (It is hard to forget that those aboard the Ship Old Testament Congregation trusted in its various captains, and arrived at its destination. But its destination was and still is the Telestial Kingdom, a Noble Kingdom indeed and is certainly a worthy Port to put into, but still a severe disappointment for one on whose ticket was originally stamped "THE HOLY CITY OF ZION," a beautiful port situated hard by The Celestial City of God). If, when YOU make anchor, you find that your ship making its regular call at Port is docked at the Port of Babylon, and you feel it wasn't your fault, you wanted to go to Zion, and it is the Captain's fault and therefore he ought to bear the blame. Know most assuredly that it IS his fault, he will bear the blame, but you will still be aground in Babylon! (Sept 24, 1890)

Of those who are cast overboard, many flounder and are eaten by the patriarchal sharks that infest the waters devouring whatever comes their way.

Like bees around a frightened victim they seem to sense the odor of those that hate the Good Ship and its present crew. There are those who are cast overboard who are fortunate enough not to attract the sharks and who, wary of one false guide, can no longer trust their fate to any man, even though he be God's servant. Soon their legs and arms fail for carrying their own weight and those around them and as life departs from those severed from the true vine, they quietly settle down into a cold and lonely and independent grave. 

SOME FEW of those cast out of the Ship find their compass still functions for they have not even as yet violated the rules of the Ship nor let the world's water jam its functions, and they can yet paddle the best they can on toward The Port, with God's help avoiding the sharks and the lone swimmers who floundering try to grab others as they are going down. And, as they paddle on, a quiet voice from over their shoulder says "You seem to be holding the same bearing as I" - that familiar voice of the old Captain. His present Dingy boat is small and unattractive, it seems crowded and presents many hardships and challenges, and even the Captain bears the wounds of a previous struggle (especially on his hands and feet) but it is a haven where one can become dried from the world's waters, where the Captain's voice can be constantly heard, and where the course set on your compass (when you first set to sea at the age of eight) is the course he constantly pursues. You will soon arrive at The Port, even the Celestial City of God, the Holy City Zion, to be received by those with outstretched hand.

Related post:

The Rise to Power of Brigham Young