Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Lesson #25:
Ammon: By Power or Authority?
By Dave Hadlock
The Book of Mormon account of the missionary journeys of the sons of Mosiah, particularly the account of Ammon, highlights and teaches principles of personal power. The word “power” is simply the ability to influence the beliefs and behaviors of others. In Alma, chapters 17-20, Ammon demonstrates the principles upon which true power is based. For those of us who seek to have more influence in the lives of those around us (including our own), the lessons learned from these passages can be profound.
Chapter 17 of Alma commences with the reminder that the sons of Mosiah had “refused the kingdom which their father was desirous to confer upon them” (Alma 17:6). Authority is positional power. It is power that is given or conferred upon individuals based upon their position in a group. It has the ability to influence behavior by compulsion (but I would suggest it is short-lived influence). On the other hand, true power is independent of position and authority. I believe part of the purpose of this passage of scripture is to teach us principles of power by juxtaposing it with authority. Ammon and his brothers reject the authority that could have been theirs in part to demonstrate that the ability to influence doesn’t come from position.
At this point in the account, Ammon took his journey into the land of Ishmael. Now traditionally when a Nephite went among the Lamanites, it was the custom to “carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them into prison, or to cast them out of the land.” Again, look carefully, Mormon wanted to make it clear that Nephites were either killed, imprisoned or cast out of the land because none of these things were done to Ammon. In fact, it was said that the king “inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among his people” (Alma 17:21). Dwelling among the people wasn’t traditionally offered as an option to a Nephite. The king added to this by stating that “he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife” (Alma 17:24). Here we have Ammon, a Nephite, being offered the daughter of the king, putting him in line for authority power amongst the Lamanites. Ammon was being treated far differently than other Nephites would have been treated. Ammon who had authority offered to him among the Nephites was now being offered authority among the Lamanites1. Like his rejection of Nephite rule, he also rejected Lamanite authority. I believe he realized that the true ability to influence others would come through mediums much more powerful than positional authority.
As the account continued, Ammon refused the kings offer stating, “Nay, but I will be thy servant” (Alma 17:25). As a servant of the king, Ammon was out watching the king’s flocks. After the king’s flocks were scattered yet again, the servants “began to weep exceedingly”. They feared what the king was going to do to them. In response to this, Ammon was joyful thinking, “I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words” (Alma 17:29)2.
Ammon sought the ability to influence the king’s servants. He knew the first step in doing so was to “win their hearts”. While authority is power that is given or conferred, true power is earned. I once had a missionary companion teach this by stating, “authority is given; power is taken”. Cicero stated that “authority rests with the senate; power resides in the people”. Power resides in people willing to submit or give up their hearts. Ammon wanted them to give up their hearts to him of their own free will.
As the story continued, we learn how Ammon was able to win their hearts and how he was able to exercise power and influence over a whole kingdom. The Lamanites, who had scattered the flocks, drew near unto Ammon. When they saw “that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with their clubs to slay him” (Alma 17:36). As they attempted to kill Ammon, he “smote off their arms with his sword…and he caused them to flee by the strength of his”. I believe Ammon carried with him a metal sword3. I also believe that the Lamanites fought with wood and obsidian clubs, possibly like the club pictured below. When a metal blade came into contact with an obsidian/wood club, the obsidian would have shattered. Thus Ammon “smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him” (Alma 17:38). I believe the “arms” reference here are their clubs…their weapons. The word “arm” in Hebrew also means “power”. I believe there is a play on words in the original text showing the “power which was in Ammon” being stronger that the power (or arms) of those who attacked him.
The servants then returned to King Lamoni and retold him of this account. Look at the emphasis on the word “power” in this chapter and the re-telling of these events:
Alma 18:2 — The servants testified “of his (Ammon’s) great power”
Alma 18:3 — “We do not believe that a man has such great power” (Suggesting that Ammon was more than a man)
Alma 18:8 — The king asks, “Where is this man that has such great power?”
Alma 18:13 — The servants call Ammon “Rabbanah, which is powerful or great king”
Alma 18:20 — The king asks of Ammon, “tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms”
Alma 18:21 — “I know that thou art more powerful than all they” (The king recognized that the source of Ammon’s power was greater than any worldly power)
This series of testimonies from the servants and inquiries by the king lead Ammon inquire of the king in a “wise yet harmless” way by stating, “Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things?” (Alma 18:22). He is trying to influence the beliefs and behaviors of the king. He rejected the kings authority in hopes of being able to win his heart with true power. The king said, “Yeah, I will believe all thy words”. Ammon then proceeded to teach the king where true power comes from. He began by asking the king, “Believest thou that there is a God?” Ammon acknowledges that power comes from God. Joseph Smith taught that the power of faith is acquired by a correct knowledge of God and His attributes. This is why Ammon had to correct himself at the beginning of the account. He was very aware that it was not his (Ammon’s) power; but rather it was God’s power, which was in him.
Ammon continued explaining how we access God’s power. In Alma 18:17, Ammon said, “I am a man, and am thy servant.” We win the hearts of people by being humble and recognizing that we are just men and women. We win their hearts when we are willing to serve them. That power increases as “a portion of the spirit” dwells in us (Alma 18:35). That Spirit “giveth knowledge, and also power” according to our faith and desires.
When called on his mission, Ammon was told to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me” (Alma 17:11). Christ is the ultimate example of how to yield power and influence over people. He wins our hearts because he is long-suffering and patient with us. He wins our hearts because he is the ultimate humble servant. In the beginning, Satan tried to usurp Heavenly Father’s power; but he never understood this true principles of power. Moses said he, Satan, sought for God’s honor. In D&C 29:36, God states that he (the devil) rebelled against me, saying, give me thine honor, which is my power”. God’s power is not positional authority. You cannot compel people to change. God has all power because he has all of our honor. Satan could never have taken God’s power because he wasn’t willing to do those things that bring about honor and respect. God has all power because we willingly give up our hearts to Him because of the ultimate, humble sacrifice and service that He has rendered to us. This pattern was well understood by Ammon and is truly the pattern we should seek to emulate as we attempt to influence for good those around us. We earn their power as we earn their trust, respect and honor, which honor comes through loving, humble service.
1) I believe the Lamanite king somehow knew that Ammon was a prince among the Nephites. By offering his daughter to Ammon, he was trying to create a political alliance between the two kingdoms. I also believe that Ammon carried with him a symbol of that authority that he held amongst the Nephites.
2) Notice the self-correction here by Ammon. Writing on metal, he couldn’t simply erase mistakes so he corrected the misstatement, by adding “or the power which is in me”.
3) The sword of Laban was a symbol of authority and the right to rule among the Nephites (Mosiah 1:16). I believe his possession of a metal sword was one of the reasons why Lamoni recognized him as a Nephite prince.