|Nephi and Lehi Encircled By A Pillar of Fire (Ronald Crosby)|
One of the more remarkable narratives in the Book of Mormon is found in Helaman chapter 5. A group of Lamanites and Nephite dissenters are miraculously prevented from killing the prophets Nephi and Lehi in a dark prison. Then in a merciful reversal, these persecutors find redemption from their own personal darkness and prisons when they choose to repent and are converted to Christ.
In a key element of the conversion story, the apostate Aminadab (whose Hebrew name means "my brother is willing" or "my people is willing," reminds his fellow dissenters and Lamanites that Alma, Amulek, and Zeezrom had once taught them faith in Christ (Helaman 5:41). Although it is possible that those three prophets served as missionaries on other occasions, the only time when the text names all three preaching together was during the mission to the Zoramites (Alma 31:5-6).
Shortly after that mission, the Zoramites, many of whom remained unconverted, "became Lamanites" (Alma 43:4). Assuming that some of the dissenters in the prison had personally heard these prophets preach to the Zoramites, several elements of the prison narrative would have both evoked and graphically reinforced those earlier teachings. Indeed, this possible connection is strengthened by the parallel themes and language in both narratives.
In his words to the dissenting Zoramites years before, Amulek warned that if they procrastinated the day of their repentance, there would come a "night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed" (Alma 34:33). Regarding the prison account, the record states that the would-be attackers were quickly "overshadowed with a cloud of darkness, and an awful solemn fear came upon them" (Helaman 5:28). So profound was the fear generated by this darkness that they were unable to harm Nephi and Lehi and unable to even move. "And it came to pass that the Lamanites could not flee because of the cloud of darkness which did overshadow them; yea, and also they were unmovable because of the feat which did come upon them" (Helaman 5:34). These descriptions may have reminded them of the language previously used by Amulek.
Alma taught Zeezrom, who accompanied Alma on his mission to the Zoramites, that it is the devil who seeks to "encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity" (Alma 12:6). And Amulek taught the Zoramites that when the wicked repent, the Lord "encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice" (Alma 34:16). Employing similar imagery, the account in Helaman states that while in the prison, Nephi and Lehi were "encircled about" by a protective fire that literally separated them from their persecutors, who in contrast were surrounded by darkness (Helaman 5:23-25, 28). It is only after the Lamanites began to pray and to repent that they were "encircled about" by the same protective fire (Helaman 5:42-44). Much as Amulek had taught, the now-repentant Lamanites were included in the circle of mercy and safety.
Look and Live
Alma taught the Zoramites about the bronze serpent that Moses raised up as a "type" in the wilderness, "that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live" (Alma 33:19). He also urged the Zoramites to "cast about [their] eyes" in order that they might begin to have faith in Christ (Alma 33:21-22). The prison narrative in Helaman echoes this concept of "look and live." The dissenter Aminadab "turned him about" and saw the faces of Nephi and Lehi within the pillar of fire (Helaman 5:36). "And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi" (Helaman 5:37).
Faith and Repentance
Furthermore, in urging the Zoramites to cry unto God for all of their needs, Amulek said, "Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance. . . . Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save" (Alma 34:17-18). Similarly, when the Lamanites asked what they must do in order to remove the awful cloud of darkness that surrounded them, Aminadab explained, "You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you" (Helaman 5:41).
We cannot say what had once led Aminadab to leave the Church of Christ, but the possibility that he and at least some of his associates were Zoramites, who had personally heard Alma, Amulek, and Zeezrom preach to them is of interest. That important mission occurred 44 years earlier, suggesting that these dissenters were somewhat advanced in age at the time of their prison wake up call. Though long forgotten, a series of unexpected events led them to remember what they had once heard in their youth, but subsequently ignored or rejected.
The Gospel message of mercy extends to the old as well as the young (Alma 5:49). Unforeseen circumstances may provide moments of clarity, and opportunity to return to the Good Shepherd, though he will never force us to believe and repent (Alma 42:27). Lost faith may be rekindled in the warmth of God's love and forgotten lessons can be remembered and obeyed. The God of miracles can work the unexpected, and when his people, like Aminadab, are willing, the Lord can confirm the words of his servants in mercy as well as in judgment.