Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God."
Signs follow those who believe. This is, of course, the reason that Laman and Lemuel were not converted when the angel appeared to them. They were shown a sign, but they didn't have any faith. But what about Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah? They, too, were given a sign without first having faith, but they believed and repented of their sins.
In completing our Sunday school reading for this week, my husband and I read the account of the angel appearing to Laman and Lemuel and their subsequent continued murmurings. Then, the very next morning, my personal reading happened to be the account of Alma and his brethren. A very stark contrast indeed.
Naturally, I wanted to know what the difference was. Why did the appearance of an angel convert some but not others? Before I could learn that, I had to see the similarities:
- Laman and Lemuel, as well as Alma were sinners. Alma was described as being "a wicked and idolatrous man" while Laman and Lemuel were compared to the Jews in Jerusalem who sought Lehi's life. Those people were so wicked that the city of Jerusalem was fast approaching destruction.
- Both angelic appearances were in response to persecution. Laman and Lemuel were persecuting their younger brothers for wanting to keep the Lord's commandments, and Alma and his brethren were persecuting those who belonged to the church of God, attempting to draw them away.
- Both angelic appearances were in response to some one's faith. In Laman and Lemuel's case, the faith that brought the angel was that of Nephi as he tried to do his best to obey the commandments the Lord had given him through his father. For Alma and the sons of Mosiah, it was the faith of Alma's father and the members of the church that brought about the angel's visit.
- Both parties were given specific instruction. Laman and Lemuel were told to return to Jerusalem and Laban would be delivered into their hands. Alma and his brethren were told to stop persecuting the church of God.
- The angels came to teach them something. The angel reaffirmed to Laman and Lemuel that their brother was chosen to rule over them, because of their iniquities. To Alma and the sons of Mosiah, the angel came to convince them of the power and authority of God.
- Everyone involved was well instructed in the gospel. Laman and Lemuel were frequently counseled by their prophet-father. Alma was also the son of a prophet, as were Mosiah's sons. None of them lacked for knowledge about the Lord.
Although there were differences in the messages delivered by the angels, the main difference in the occurrences is how the people who saw the angels reacted.
According to Nephi's account, Laman and Lemuel didn't react with any shock or surprise when they saw the angel. The angel's visit didn't ease their anger toward their brothers, although they did stop hitting them with the rod. In fact, their reaction was a very worldly, natural man response. They questioned the Lord's power. How could God possibly deliver Laban to them? He was so powerful he could slay fifty people. They had no faith.
Laman and Lemuel's reaction was also one of hard heartedness. They had been taught on numerous occasions, yet they rejected what they were given, refusing to look inward and recognize their wrong doings. This angelic visit was no different. They didn't want to return to Jerusalem. They continued to murmur as they followed Nephi back, perhaps they hoped that since Laban could slay fifty, that maybe he would slay their brother for them.
Alma and the sons of Mosiah, however, had a different reaction. First, they were shocked to see and hear the angel, so shocked that they fell to the earth. And they listened. They actually heard the words of the angel and let it change them, let it remind them of the teachings they had received from their fathers. The change wasn't easy, as Alma records. He suffered pains so great that he actually wished that he did not exist. But he allowed his experiences to soften his heart, rather than harden it as Laman and Lemuel did.
I hope I can follow Alma's example, and react to chastisements from the Lord with a soft heart and recognize the need to change.