Last night we were reading as a family Alma 18. Afterwards, Ryan pointed out a question that was sometimes brought up by people on his mission. What does verse 23 mean “And thus he was caught with guile”?
I’ll let Ryan provide some of the viewpoints he heard on the mission.
It is important to understand this verse in context. This is the account of Ammon teaching King Lamoni of the Lamanites. Ammon has defended the kings flocks in the previous chapter and the kings servants are witnessing the miraculous power Ammon demonstrated. The servants express the opinion that Ammon is the Great Spirit (their term for God) and upon hearing that Ammon is faithfully preparing his chariots (off topic, why do we think they didn’t have horses??) the King begins to believe the same thing. Mormon makes sure to explain the Lamanites beliefs in God at this point. They believe in a Great Spirit but that whatever they do in life is right.
Now Lamoni, believing Ammon is the Great Spirit, wonders if there are actions (such as his previous executions of servants that lost his flocks to robbers) which are wrong and offensive to this Great Spirit.
Enter Ammon. The king is silent, not knowing how to address this Great Spirit let alone what this Great Spirit may do to him, since everything he has been taught previously has just been tossed out the window.
Ammon waits for an hour, and then The Lord prompts him to speak, and shows him what is in the Kings heart. He asks if the account of what he did is causing the King to marvel. He tells the king “Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant; therefore, whatsoever thou desirest which is right, that will I do.”
Ammons words simply cause Lamoni to marvel more because Ammon discerned his thoughts.
Now, an important part, vs. 18 King Lamoni asks, despite Ammon telling him he is a man, “Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?”
Ammon again answers “I am not”.
Let’s recap what’s going on for Lamoni at this point. I’m sure he breathed a mental sigh of relief that Ammon was not the Great Spirit, perceiving that he isn’t about to be destroyed for his executions. What’s the natural next train of thought for a powerful man like the King. I would submit something along the lines of “Here is a man with greater power than I, and yet he is just a man. He knew what I was thinking, how? How did he get this power and how can I get it?”
In reality he asks “How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart?” He continues to say roughly “Tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms of [those Lamanites]” He offers, in exchange for the knowledge of this power, whatever Ammon desires.
Vs. 22, this is key to a correct understanding, Ammon being wise yet harmless says “Wilt thou hearken to my words if I tell thee by what power I do these things? This is the thing I desire of thee.”
The King says he will believe all of Ammons words. This brings us to being caught with guile.
Guile- deception or diversion
I imagine the king had dealt with magicians and charlatans before. He was no pushover in this regard, but in the face of true power, the power of God, he had deceived himself (with some suggestions from his servants) that Ammon was the Great Spirit. Finding this wasn’t the case, he was still diverted in thinking the power Ammon used was some supernatural abilities that he might also obtain. Ammons response perhaps suggested in his mind that the methods to obtain this power may sound crazy. Thus, for these reasons, which were flawed or guiled, he committed to believe all Ammon told him, no matter how crazy it might sound.
Ryan: It was interesting and a little frightening to hear some people’s hypothesis on this “guile” spoken of- who was using it and what it means to us. One that particularly bothers me still is by a missionary who interpreted this to mean that Ammon used guile to persuade or convince King Lamoni to conversion- the greater good. Therefore, this missionary thought it was perfectly acceptable to employ such means as guile to accomplish the work of the Lord. That’s an interesting stance to take from this one scripture which could easily be argued the other way in the face of the 17 scriptures I found all speaking of guile in a negative way, in Psalms going so far as to say- Psalms 32:2 “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” And Peter, quoting in part another Psalm says- 1 Peter 3:10 “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:”
And this leads to an overarching hidden lesson- 2 Peter 1:20- “… no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” To avoid the exact folly I am preaching against, let me say, we are authorized to our own opinions and hypotheses, and being imperfect, we will at times interpret prophecy and scripture incorrectly, as they were written for the doctrine, instruction, and reproof of us, the imperfect. (2 Timothy 3:16)
But, lest we err and stumble, or more tragically cause OTHERS to stumble as did the people of whom Paul wrote to Timothy, saying that the resurrection had already passed (2 Timothy 2:18); we have a responsibility to study out our hypotheses, whatever they may be according the multiplicity of scripture given; and through pondering, fasting, and prayer confirm it true, or discover the actual truth of the matter. If no such testimony has been gained on a matter, then it would be better to remain silent than to adopt or preach our own flawed ideas mingled with fragments of scripture. Let God be the judge.
To deviate from what not just one, but multiple other scriptures are saying to follow what you THINK one scripture is saying is a pretty foolish spiritual gamble. If we accept all scripture as the revealed Word of God, (so far as it is correctly translated) how can you justify going against any scripture and still claim your idea as true?
Anyway, Jordan, I did like your thoughts on Ammon, Lamoni and the spoken of “guile.” Great insights.