Contending for the Sheep

In a time, place, and circumstances much different than those we find ourselves in today, a set of missionaries carried swords and other weapons into enemy territory. Several of them were brothers and had experienced a conversion to Jesus Christ and His gospel. Their father was the king of the Nephite people, but instead of seeking to rule a kingdom, these men sought to bring the enemies of their kingdom to a knowledge of the truth.

These adversaries, the Lamanites, harbored a hatred for the Nephites that spanned many generations. Earlier efforts to “restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God . . . were vain; their hatred was fixed . . . and they were continually seeking to destroy us” (Enos 1:20). In the intervening years, the Nephites may have completely given up these endeavors. But the time had arrived in the Lord’s plan for things to change.

One of the sons of the king who ventured into such danger was Ammon. Upon entering Lamanite lands, the group split up, and Ammon was directed by the Holy Ghost into the land of Ishmael. Apprehended by Lamanites, he was taken to Lamoni, the king of that land. Ammon expressed the wish to live among that people possibly for the rest of his life and to be Lamoni’s servant. Lamoni assigned him to help with the daily task of taking the sheep to a watering hole.

Ammon soon learned that the previous group of shepherds had been executed by order of Lamoni because they had allowed the sheep to be scattered by marauders. The plunderers appeared again, and this group of shepherds feared they would meet the same end as their predecessors.

Still carrying his sword and a sling, Ammon stepped forward.

In a display of miraculous strength and skill, Ammon took out six of the marauders with his sling before they could get close enough for hand-to-hand combat, slew their leader with his sword, and literally disarmed the rest who faced him. The Lord aided Ammon because He had promised the king that He would spare the lives of the missionaries. (Alma 17:6–28.)

I’ve read this story any number of times, and it’s one of the most well-known stories in the Book of Mormon. However, on a more recent rereading, I realized that Ammon served as a representation of Jesus Christ in this instance.

Ammon attended to an important detail before taking on the marauders: he told the other shepherds, “Encircle the flocks round about that they flee not” (Alma 17:33).

Satan and his followers are as these marauders, hoping to scatter Christ’s sheep and “drive away many that [are] scattered unto their own land, it being a practice of plunder among them” (Alma 18:7). In our times, Jesus restored His Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith. From that time on, the Lord has called prophets and apostles and other leaders by revelation, placing them such that they can encircle God’s flock, watch over us, and help us not to be scattered.

Meanwhile, like David of old voluntarily standing alone against a fierce opponent, and in this case like Ammon outnumbered by those who sought his death, Jesus placed Himself in harm’s way but came off conqueror. He made it possible for us to be safe and united as His saints, “of the household of God; . . . built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:18–19).

Time after time in the scriptures, we see that the size and number of the opponent don’t matter to the Lord (for example, Gideon’s 300 in Judges 7, or the Assyrian siege of 185,000 against Jerusalem in Isaiah 37). Likewise, the numbers of Satan’s followers are no match for His divine strength. Neither are the number our sins, for His is the power to wash them away in His blood. Ammon’s experience serves as a reminder of this to help us gain faith and confidence in our Redeemer.

Image from Arnold Friberg in Gospel Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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