In Alma 2 we learn about a threat to Mosiah’s fairly new representative-democracy. A man named Amlici wants to be the king, and he’s got a large following. King Mosiah is not long dead, and laid out all the reasons a king is bad for the people and how it limits their individual spiritual progression and agency. So it’s not just about having a king, it’s a threat to their freedom and relationship with God.
Eventually they put it to a vote (which is part of Mosiah’s laws) and the popular vote decides in favor of keeping Mosiah’s elected-judges-based system. But Amlici decides if he can’t become king legally, he’ll take the throne by force. A great battle is fought wherein the Nephites kill almost twice as many of the Amlicite’s as are killed of their own people. The remaining Amlicites flee and Alma (the younger who is, High Priest, Chief Judge, and Chief Captain of all the army) at the head of the Nephite army, pursues them a while, then camps and sends spies after them. Those spies return soon, breathless, with a scary story to tell.
In one of those “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” situations, the Amlicite’s run into a vast Lamanite army that’s attacking a nearby Nephite city. They join forces and head toward the Nephite capital. Alma hurriedly mobilizes the encamped Nephite army and marches back to the capital as quickly as possible. When they get near the city…
27. And behold, as they were crossing the river Sidon, the Lamanites and the Amlicites, being as numerous almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea, came upon them to destroy them.
“Horde” sounds right. Man, these battles are filled with so much suspense. We have to use our imaginations some, but it’s not hard with all these movies with epic battles today. I can imagine Lamanites and Amlicites as far as the eye can see, pouring into the valley where Zarahemla lies (I don’t know that it is in a valley, that’s just what I imagine). And the people having their breath taken away in fear and anticipation.
28. Nevertheless, the Nephites being strengthened by the hand of the Lord, having prayed mightily to him that he would deliver them out of the hands of their enemies, therefore the Lord did hear their cries, and did strengthen them, and the Lamanites and the Amlicites did fall before them.
…But they’d prayed and knew the Lord would help them, so they swallow their fear, and “fresh courage take,” and their faith is rewarded right away. The Nephite army smashes into this incredibly massive horde, and immediately begins killing them far faster than their own are killed.
29. And it came to pass that Alma fought with Amlici with the sword, face to face; and they did contend mightily, one with another.
30. And it came to pass that Alma, being a man of God, being exercised with much faith, cried, saying: O Lord, have mercy and spare my life, that I may be an instrument in thy hands to save and preserve this people.
I wonder how common this sort of thing was? It seems very “hollywood” to get the two leaders together, when there’s literally thousands of combatants on the field of battle. But maybe it’s a cultural thing where leaders sought each other out, and their men respected that and helped facilitate it?
I love that this is the same Alma that was once sewing the kinds of discontent and wickedness that led to this moment. It feels like an atonement moment. In sharp contrast to his former self, he stands as a completely different man, begging the Lord to help him be an instrument in the Lord’s hands. It just seems like a moment where he can finally complete the repentance process, and conquer his former self, and the wrongs he did, all embodied in Amlici. To defeat Amlici is to finally put all that behind him. And simultaneously it’s this great turning point for Mosiah’s representative-democracy experiment. It was previously tested legally, and held out. Now it’s attacked physically: a king trying to overthrow it through war, and install himself as ruler. So there’s all this stuff coming together at this powerful moment. Alma is truly relying on the Lord. Will the Lord help him win and complete his personal repentance journey? Will the Nephites win the day (which because of momentum and moral, likely hinges on this combat between the 2 leaders) and preserve Mosiah’s democracy? It’s just a powerful and critical moment. Hollywood couldn’t have written it better.
We learn later that Alma was wounded in this battle. Might it have been at this very moment? And that’s why he cries out to God to spare his life? Also note that he asks the Lord to keep him alive. He’s not asking to die in the service of God, to atone for his sins. He’s asking the Lord to let him live! He wants to do the Lord’s will, but believes he can best do that alive. Alive, he can preserve the people’s freedom, agency, and ability to worship their God.
31. Now when Alma had said these words he contended again with Amlici; and he was strengthened, insomuch that he slew Amlici with the sword.
I can imagine this epic combat where they’re going at each other with their swords slamming together, muscles bulging from the effort, blood and sweat on their faces and arms. There’s people fighting all around them, but as the two sides realize their two leaders are battling, they stop and just stand and watch in a thickening perimeter of Nephites, Amlicites, and Lamanites alike. Maybe they keep their guard up, but those closest to this duel are standing there, watching, waiting to see the outcome.
Amlici lands a blow that gashes Alma deeply, perhaps in his arm or thigh. Alma falls and Amlici looks down like a jaguar on fallen prey, catching his breath, thinking it’s all but over. Alma is up on one elbow, but otherwise lying down, and bleeding badly, but not badly enough to threaten his life in the next few moments. Then Alma closes his eyes. Amlici is intrigued by this, maybe even taking it as a sign that Alma is accepting his defeat and death. But instead he’s pleading humbly and quietly to the Lord: “O Lord, have mercy and spare my life, that I may be an instrument in thy hands to save and preserve this people.”
Amlici moves in closer to hear the words. As he realizes their intent, he raises his sword for a death blow. Alma opens his eyes, just in time to see Amlici’s sword coming down on him, he rolls out of the way and onto his feet. Alma charges Amlici with faith in the Lord. Amlici is surprised, his mind taking a moment to catch up with his loss of the tactical advantage. Like the warrior-priest that he is, Alma assails Amlici with a peace about him that’s a sharp contrast to the ferocity of his attack. As the record says, after this attack begins, he feels the strength of the Lord come upon him. This strength not only compensates for the debilitating wound, but makes him an even better fighter than he naturally is. Now Alma’s blows reign down on Amlici with such speed and persistence, that Amlici finds himself desperate to merely block the incoming blows. His face betrays the fear he feels as he realizes he’s suddenly outmatched in a fight he thought he’d already won. Alma sees an opening and stabs Amlici, killing him.
32. And he also contended with the king of the Lamanites; but the king of the Lamanites fled back from before Alma and sent his guards to contend with Alma.
…And maybe the King of the Lamanites watches this whole thing. Amlici’s body falls to the ground as Alma offers a silent prayer of gratitude. Then he looks around and everyone is still standing there… stunned. Even his Nephite’s thought Alma was done for. As he looks around, he locks eyes with the King of Lamanites and just runs straight at him. Alma’s guards who’ve been helping prevent anyone from interfering with this fight, run to keep up with him. Alma reacts so much quicker than everyone else that he gets to the Lamanite king before the King’s guards can block him and they exchange a few blows. But the Lamanite king is already afraid of him from watching him defeat Amlici and backs up quickly, calling to his guards to protect him. They do, and Alma fights several of them alone, until his own guards catch up.
Note: this and the previous paragraphs are my version. I’ve imagined details that don’t appear in the record. The wound is real, but it may not have occurred in this part of the battle.
33. But Alma, with his guards, contended with the guards of the king of the Lamanites until he slew and drove them back.
34. And thus he cleared the ground, or rather the bank, which was on the west of the river Sidon, throwing the bodies of the Lamanites who had been slain into the waters of Sidon, that thereby his people might have room to cross and contend with the Lamanites and the Amlicites on the west side of the river Sidon.
Now Alma, along with these great warriors chosen as his personal guard, fight like lions (or “dragons” as the BoM sometimes says), and down go the king’s elite guards right and left. Alone, this small band penetrates the Lamanite lines and gives the rest of the army a foothold on the other side of the river…. This is a huge tactical benefit to the Nephites, and allows them to have a real chance at winning this battle.
35. And it came to pass that when they had all crossed the river Sidon that the Lamanites and the Amlicites began to flee before them, notwithstanding they were so numerous that they could not be numbered.
36. And they fled before the Nephites towards the wilderness which was west and north, away beyond the borders of the land; and the Nephites did pursue them with their might, and did slay them.
37. Yea, they were met on every hand, and slain and driven, until they were scattered on the west, and on the north, until they had reached the wilderness, which was called Hermounts; and it was that part of the wilderness which was infested by wild and ravenous beasts.
38. And it came to pass that many died in the wilderness of their wounds, and were devoured by those beasts and also the vultures of the air; and their bones have been found, and have been heaped up on the earth.
So even the ones that “got away”, didn’t really get away…. Or at least not many of them. This is one of those times I wish so bad they gave us more clues as to the location. Was it grizzly bears, wolves, and cougars? Or Jaguars? Of course cougars and Jaguars are known to go into what we think of as the other’s territory. So maybe it wouldn’t really tell us anything.
Here’s the really strange part, after all this that Alma’s been through, he later says that the best way to correct these threats to the people’s agency and freedom is through the preaching of the word. In fact the entire book of Alma carries this theme: the word has greater power to change people than all the wars, famine, etc.
You should also check out this explanation of how the Amlicites and Amalekites (who show up later) are likely the same people, but errors in the transcription and printing process altered the spelling causing it to read like 2 distinct peoples.