Proud ruler of a proud people, he was humble enough to learn.

It is recorded in 2 Samuel, chapter 23, that the last words of King David as a psalmist, given to him by God, were these:

“He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

“And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” (2 Sam. 23:3–4.)

That beautiful tribute could easily be given to the Lamanite king Lamoni, a descendant of Ishmael and king over the land of Ishmael, a Lamanite territory. (See Alma 17:21.) Lamoni had been raised in the darkness of the Lamanite tradition, but his life was to change immensely the day Ammon, one of the sons of Mosiah, crossed the borders into his land.

It was the custom of the Lamanites in the land of Ishmael to bind all Nephites who trespassed into their lands and carry them before the king to be imprisoned, cast out, or even slain, according to the king’s desire. (See Alma 17:20.) But when Ammon was brought bound before him, King Lamoni did none of these things to Ammon; instead, he gave him an opportunity to explain his intentions. In doing so, Ammon was either extremely impressive or King Lamoni possessed much basic goodness, or both—or perhaps Lamoni had learned that Ammon was the son of a king and saw the possibility of some kind of political opportunity. In any event, upon hearing of Ammon’s desire to dwell for a time within the land, Lamoni was very pleased and granted him that privilege. Not only that, but he also offered him one of his daughters to be a wife. (See Alma 17:22–24.)

In spite of these acts of generosity to Ammon, we learn that Lamoni had not always hesitated in the past to misuse his powers as king. For after thieving Lamanites scattered the king’s flocks, those servants responsible for his flocks feared exceedingly for their lives, and with just cause. King Lamoni had previously slain those who failed in that stewardship. (See Alma 17:28.) But when the servants returned to inform King Lamoni of all that Ammon had done in defense of his flocks at the watering place, he was “astonished exceedingly.” (Alma 18:2.) From this reaction and from subsequent actions by Lamoni, we discover a number of things about the character of this remarkable king. We find him to be an individual of basic faith within his own traditions, for we see that he did believe in the tradition of a “Great Spirit,” which had been taught by his fathers, and he wondered if Ammon was that Great Spirit. (See Alma 18:2, 5, 11.) We also find him receptive to the first small shafts of light that began to penetrate the Lamanite traditions. For although the Lamanite belief in the Great Spirit seems to have required righteous action only to the extent that “they supposed that whatsoever they did was right,” Lamoni began to fear, and his conscience to wrestle with good and evil—specifically regarding the slaying of servants who had failed to protect his sheep.

The scriptures indicate that Lamoni was so unsettled by the events surrounding Ammon’s defense of his flocks that he dared not even call Ammon into his presence. (See Alma 18:11.) However, that fear was not jealous fear that his power was somehow threatened, but righteous fear that his own actions had been unworthy—certainly a mark of justice in his character.

To appreciate more fully Lamoni’s reaction, it might be helpful to contrast it with that of King Saul when David’s great feats were lauded before him. Saul’s major reaction was one of jealousy, seeing David’s greatness as a threat to his own power and glory and brooding upon that jealousy until he sought over and over again to take David’s life. The thought that came to dominate Saul was: “… and what can he have more but the kingdom?” (1 Sam. 18:8.)

Yet we see none of this kind of jealousy in Lamoni. When he was told that this Ammon who had demonstrated such power over the king’s enemies was at that moment preparing the king’s horses as commanded, he was pleased. It seems really to be a matter of righteousness responding to righteousness. He marveled that one of such power would also serve faithfully in a lowly task. (See Alma 18:8–10.)

When Ammon appeared on his own before Lamoni, there was a great change in Lamoni’s countenance, and he was unable to speak in Ammon’s presence. At length when Ammon perceived the king’s thoughts and spoke of the cause of his awe, Lamoni’s amazement grew even more until it broke forth in an abrupt question: “Who art thou? Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?” (Alma 18:18.)

Ammon’s reply to the contrary does not seem to generate much emotion one way or another, but only central driving questions: “How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? … Tell me by what power ye slew and smote … my brethren that scattered my flocks.” (Alma 18:20.) Again, Lamoni’s motivation seems to be governed not by jealousy or covetousness, nor by fear at this point, but by one simple great desire: to know the truth. And because Lamoni’s mind was apparently free of selfishness, jealousy, and covetousness and was filled with a desire for truth, he received that truth in all its beauty and power.

When Ammon said to Lamoni, “Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things?” Lamoni replied, “Yea, I will believe all thy words.” (Alma 18:22.)

Ammon then proceeded to expound the gospel to him—the identity of God, the creation, the Nephite-Lamanite history, the doctrine of Christ, etc. Lamoni’s response was: “I believe all these things which thou hast spoken.” (Alma 18:33.) This is obviously sincere belief, not hasty or false words elicited by force or trickery.

Again, we must recognize Lamoni’s readiness to believe as a remarkable quality of greatness. Much of what Ammon said must have been hard for him to hear. It was counter to everything the Lamanites had been taught to believe. Especially when Ammon “rehearsed unto them concerning the rebellions of Laman and Lemuel, the sons of Ishmael, yea, all their rebellions did he relate unto them”—that was certainly not the kind of thing anyone would want to hear or believe about his fathers. And this version of past history came from a Nephite. The traditional teachings handed down by Lamoni’s fathers had been that Nephi had usurped the place of honor belonging to the older sons of Lehi, and thereby the right and power to rule over the people. (See Mosiah 10:12–17.) We realize how much hatred toward the Nephites this tradition had engendered among the Lamanites, and we also get some idea of how strongly these ideas must have been urged upon Lamoni, when we later hear his father say, “Whither art thou going with this Nephite [Ammon], who is one of the children of a liar? …

“Behold, he [Nephi] robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property.” (Alma 20:10, 13.)

Yet Lamoni chose to listen to Ammon, and after all of Ammon’s teachings it is recorded that Lamoni “believed all his words.” (Alma 18:40.)

In addition to the fact that Ammon’s teachings must have been hard for the ordinary Lamanite to forthrightly accept, remember too that it is not usually the way of kings to humble themselves before others to a state of teachableness. It is true that Ammon had just demonstrated remarkable powers. But we would greatly underestimate Lamoni’s character if we were to believe that his conversion was attributable only to that demonstration of power. Actually, power in others has traditionally been construed by rulers as a threat to their own powers. Pharaoh beheld Moses’ power, and the Sadducees knew of Christ’s miracles; yet selfishness and jealousy in both instances vanquished humility and belief. And consider again the case of Saul when he beheld David’s growing power: “And Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David. … And Saul was yet the more afraid of David; and Saul became David’s enemy continually.” (1 Sam. 18:28, 29; italics added.) Thus Lamoni’s humility and belief are doubly noteworthy.

Because of Lamoni’s faith and acceptance of the truth, he was blessed with a special and powerful spiritual experience. When Ammon finished teaching him, Lamoni began to cry to the Lord for mercy, for himself and for his people. Then he “fell to the earth as if he were dead” (Alma 18:42) and remained that way for three days. Some of his household were convinced that he was dead.

Ammon, however, understood that King Lamoni was not dead, but that he was “under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light … had infused such joy into his soul … that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God.” (Alma 19:6.)

If any of us can recall the joy we have felt when just a small portion of darkness regarding a simple principle has been replaced by light and understanding, perhaps we can begin to sense the vast joy that became Lamoni’s as the burden of darkness and ignorance gave way to great and beautiful light. Particularly we must be sensitive to the joyful transition from belief in a vague “Great Spirit,” with an indeterminate effect on people’s everyday lives, to a knowledge of the glory and goodness of the true and living God, who created man in his image, suffered with and sustained him through all tribulation and would offer his Son to redeem him, then promise him all that is promised in eternal life. There was indeed cause to be overcome with joy.

But there was more to the experience than even that. We learn from Lamoni himself upon his arising that he had been active while “carried away in God”:

“As sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name.” (Alma 19:13.)

This whole experience seems to fall into a pattern that may be recognized elsewhere in the scriptures. Consider, for example, the blindness of the New Testament Saul on the way to Damascus. Why was he stricken blind for a period of three days, his vision only restored after Ananias came to him? Was the Lord merely punishing him? Was there no larger purpose in his blindness? Did not Paul suffer physical blindness that gave way under priesthood blessing to sight as a memorable physical witness that he was undergoing the great change from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight? “Receive thy sight,” his blessing reads, “and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

“And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.” (Acts 9:17–18; see also Acts 9:8–16.)

Consider also the younger Alma’s experience with the angel, which occurred not long before Ammon’s encounter with King Lamoni. After the angel commanded Alma and his companions (one of which was Ammon) to cease their work of destroying the church, Alma fell to the earth in astonishment and became so weak that he could not move, nor could he speak. (See Mosiah 27:11–19.) But after three days and three nights, he arose and declared that he had been “born of the Spirit,” just as all people must be “born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness.” (Alma 36:16.) Similarly, the subsequent “deaths” and then reawakenings of Lamoni and later his wife and servants, Ammon, and others may be seen as manifestations or witnesses of the rising from spiritual death to spiritual life. It may very well be that there is purposeful witness in these events, just as there was purposeful witness in Jonah’s three days of “death” in the belly of the fish and his subsequent “resurrection.” (Matt. 12:40.) Ultimately, all these events testify of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, the forerunner of the resurrection and spiritual salvation of all men. Bringing life out of death was what Christ’s coming was to be all about. The hope and belief in that coming and its promise had been previously lost to the Lamanites.

It is significant that after the “death” and reawakening experiences recorded in Alma 18 and Alma 19, the lives of those involved underwent fundamental changes that were lasting, making these “power of God” acts of much more worth than mere signs. It is beautifully recorded that as a part of their “new life” they arose declaring “that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.” Having “seen angels and … conversed with them,” they went forward and “became a righteous people, and they did establish a church among them.” (Alma 19:33–35.)

After his conversion, Lamoni’s faith did not dwindle in passivity, but flourished through activity. His immediate desire was to take Ammon and the light he had come to know to his father, who was king over all the Lamanites. However, Ammon convinced him that the Lord’s will was that he should go instead to the aid of his “brother and brethren” who were imprisoned in another part of the land. Without hesitation, Lamoni prepared to go with Ammon to help him with the task the Lord had given him. (See Alma 20:1–7.)

It was on the resulting journey that Lamoni and Ammon happened to cross paths with Lamoni’s father. Here we witness the full fury of the traditional Lamanite bitterness against the Nephites, referred to before. Ammon is called a child of a liar, a descendant of robbers, come in cunning and deceit to rob the Lamanites. (See Alma 20:8–13.)

The vise in which Lamoni finds himself at this point is surely torturous. Perhaps he had an instinctive desire to be obedient to his father, or perhaps he was simply afraid, for he “feared to offend him.” (Alma 20:11.) And then consider the agony that must have been his to see his father’s hatred and to hear his father command him to slay Ammon! Perhaps we can better comprehend the emotional stress this would cause if we recall the similar dilemma confronting Jonathan, who had come to love the soul of David “as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:3), only to hear his father, Saul, command him to slay his friend. (See 1 Sam. 19:1; also 1 Sam. 20:31–32.) In the face of his father’s fury, Lamoni was not cowed, but stood boldly, refusing to obey his father’s commands and bearing his testimony—not defiantly, because he loved his father, but steadfastly:

“I will not slay Ammon, neither will I return to the land of Ishmael, but I go to the land of Middoni that I may release the brethren of Ammon, for I know that they are just men and holy prophets of the true God.” (Alma 20:15.)

Lamoni must have anticipated the possibility of the rage his father then felt, and indeed the sword of the father did turn upon the son. And it was only through the intervention of Ammon’s power that Lamoni was saved and his father humbled.

Lamoni’s father was “astonished exceedingly” at Ammon’s love for Lamoni. Because of the capacity to love, both in Ammon and Lamoni, great righteousness came to pass. Ammon had come to bring light to a dark land. His fate would have been the same as that of his brethren in the land of Middoni had it not been for the goodness of Lamoni. At the same time, Lamoni became the vessel through which Ammon could bring the gospel to other Lamanites. Because of Lamoni’s influence as king over the land of Ishmael, and because of his father’s backing, Ammon’s brothers were freed from prison in Middoni. (See Alma 20:28–30.) The gospel was preached to the assembled people of the land of Ishmael. Synagogues were built. Lamoni rejoiced in love over his people, personally teaching them and freeing them from all oppression. In righteousness, Lamoni did not force his new faith upon his people, but taught those who would listen and made them free that they might worship “according to their desires.” (Alma 21:18–23.)

Finally the influence of Lamoni’s faith extended even to his father, who exclaimed at the time of his conversion: “Behold, … I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.” (Alma 22:15.) This conversion truly opened all the Lamanite lands to preaching. The darkness which had lain upon the Lamanites was rent—and it had all begun with the conversion of one man: King Lamoni. So great was the influence of the Spirit that there began a period of righteousness among the Lamanites for which there would be few equals.

Since it is true that when the wicked rule the people mourn, it is also true that when the righteous rule the people have cause to rejoice. (See Prov. 29:2.) The value of a great leader and his influence for righteousness upon his people cannot be overemphasized.

“He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

“And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” (2 Sam. 23:3–4.)

Exactly how does Lamoni measure up to those qualities of leadership proclaimed by God through David?

Surely his justness and his eager inclination to rule “in the fear of God” are demonstrated by his willingness and ability to “hear” the words of Ammon and then to humble himself and let those words work a change in his life. And after he believed and then sought to help bring the dawn of light to a land and a people long shrouded in darkness, he truly became “as the light of the morning,” reigning in the brightness of that light without any clouds to cast shadows of darkness. And after the powerful earthly experience of “death” and reawakening, after having seen his Redeemer and arising “with no more desire to do evil,” his state of innocence had to be exceptional. Could any words better describe that kind of innocence than “tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain”?

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is of course the archetype of the righteous ruler sung of by David; and there is clear evidence in the Book of Mormon that Lamoni grew toward that pattern. His growth reaffirms the faith of every true believer that it is possible to achieve a “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13.)

[illustration] Painting by Minerva Teichert, oil on fiberboard.

Lenet Hadley Read, a homemaker, is the Primary president in the Tulsa Fourth Ward, Tulsa Oklahoma Stake.