Having at one time been “numbered among the unbelievers,” having been “the vilest of sinners,” who sought to “destroy the church of God” (Mosiah 27:8, 10; 28:4), the sons of Mosiah ultimately came to exemplify missionary work and to serve as the type of a great latter-day conversion of the Lamanites, Jews, and other natural branches of the house of Israel, which things Jesus prophesied would occur before his second coming (3 Nephi 16:20–21).
The marvelous result the sons of Mosiah achieved, however, didn’t happen by chance but was a consequence of their unprecedented dedication and their following to the letter every spiritual protocol. Looking back at their success and how they went about obtaining it, we can observe that despite the huge obstacles they encountered, their harvest of souls was virtually guaranteed.
Following their own miraculous conversion to the Lord, the sons of Mosiah’s first task was to “zealously striv[e] to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them” (Mosiah 27:35). In the course of doing so, they suffered “much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them” (Mosiah 27:32). Nevertheless, “they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer” (Mosiah 27:36). We might call this the repentance and refining phase of their lives.
Like Enos, who prayed for his own soul, then for his people the Nephites, and lastly for their enemies the Lamanites (Enos 1:4–12), they next asked their father for permission to go and preach the gospel to the Lamanites (Mosiah 28:1–3). “The Spirit of the Lord work[ed] upon them,” so that “they did plead with their father many days that they might go up to the land of Nephi” among the Lamanites (Mosiah 28:4–5).
Considering that Mosiah was their literal and also their spiritual “father,” this permission was crucial to their safety. As in the ancient Near Eastern emperor–vassal model, when the people or “sons” of a vassal keep the law of the vassal and the vassal keeps the law of the emperor, the emperor is bound by the terms of the covenant to deliver the vassal and those who are his. The sons of Mosiah were obedient to their father, and their father obeyed God. When this procedure was followed, and the Lord consented, the safety of the sons of Mosiah was assured: “The Lord said unto Mosiah: Let them go up, for many shall believe on their words, and they shall have eternal life; and I will deliver thy sons out of the hands of the Lamanites” (Mosiah 28:7).
An implicit and secondary covenant bond existed between the sons of Mosiah and “a small number” of others “whom they had selected” from among their fellow laborers to the Nephites (Mosiah 28:1; Alma 17:8). Together, they formed a kind of band of brothers, with Ammon being “the chief among them” (Alma 17:18). Like Paul and others, they “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” while on their preaching missions (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:7). For example, when King Lamoni offered Ammon one of his daughters to wife, Ammon declined (Alma 17:24–25).
Under these circumstances, Ammon and his band labored fourteen years among the Lamanites (Alma 17:4). In other words, they were dedicated to missionary work to such a degree, they were willing to live out their entire lives in order to accomplish their goal (see Alma 17:22–23). In addition, they “fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would give unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth” (Alma 17:9). With these things in place, they “trust[ed] in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest” (Alma 17:13).
When, on several occasions during his mission, Ammon’s life was threatened, all these factors came into play. After Ammon had withstood the attack of over a dozen Lamanites who had scattered the king’s flock, Lamoni’s servants remarked, “This much we know, that he cannot be slain” (Alma 18:3). When the brother of the man whom Ammon had slain lifted up his sword to kill the unconscious Ammon, he himself fell dead. We then read, “Now we see that Ammon could not be slain” (Alma 19:22–23). In each instance, reference is made to the Lord’s promise to Mosiah that God would spare his sons alive (Alma 17:35; 19:23).
Behind this promise, however, lay the scriptural theology of divine protection that they knew well from the writings of the prophets and from God’s past dealings with his people. They understood that the principles of temporal salvation were grounded in the Lord’s covenants with his people, which teach all parties their proper role and relationship with the Lord and with one another. These covenants, which permeate the Book of Mormon and all the scriptures, serve as a surety or safeguard for God’s people in this life and throughout eternity.
On their return from the land of Nephi, the ebullient Ammon declared how he and his fellow laborers were “made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work” of leading the Lamanites to “behold the marvelous light of God” (Alma 26:3). Through God’s love, they became “instruments in the hands of God of doing this great and marvelous work” of converting the Lamanites to the truth (Alma 26:15).
In that context, the terms “great,” “marvelous,” and “work” are key words that establish definitively what Book of Mormon prophet-writers mean by a “great and marvelous work.” In the process, they identify the sons of Mosiah’s conversion of the Lamanites as a type of the latter-day “great and marvelous work,” which Nephi and Jesus prophesied will involve the conversion of the Lamanites and all house of Israel together with the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah (see 1 Nephi 14:7; 22:8; 2 Nephi 25:17; 29:1; 3 Nephi 21:9).
Many such rhetorical connections, imbedded throughout the Book of Mormon, enlighten us to its underlying message, though this message may vary from current popular opinion. The Book of Mormon, in effect, is much more than a historical account. It is also a pattern of how God operates in history and, in a specific sense, how the past foreshadows the future.