Gospel Doctrine Lesson #25: They Taught with Power and Authority of God

Posted by on June 6, 2012 in book of mormon, feminism, Gender roles, mission, missionary work, Relief Society Lessons, spirituality, Teaching, women | 12 comments

It is not common for the Exponent to offer Gospel Doctrine Lesson Plans. Nonetheless, this lesson includes a nod of scripture towards the Lamanite woman, Abish. Abish is traditionally interpreted as an interesting example of a secretly devote Christian who witnessed conversion through Ammon, yet still fails to gain enough recognition to be mentioned in some (not all) other online Gospel Doctrine lesson plans. Because Abish and her example are important in my life, I prefer to analyze this section of scripture and focus the lesson through the lens of this examination.

 

The story of Ammon was a favourite of mine when I was a child. It fascinated me, and I would spend hours pouring through the story of his mission in Book of Mormon picture books reading the child-friendly text and soaking in the vibrant drawings of his mission. This was because Ammon’s story (and the drawings included in the children’s version) depict three women: the daughter that the king offers to Ammon to marry, the Queen and Abish. The three females in a single Book of Mormon story made that section of scripture (and the associated artwork) the most relevant story to me as a child. Now, having read the “real” Book of Mormon, I feel drawn to this section of scripture specifically because of this same female representation, particularly of Abish.

The summary story of Ammon is that he and the other sons of Mosiah dedicate themselves to serving missions among the Lamanites. Ammon is directed to King Lamoni’s house, where he presents himself to become King Lamoni’s servant. Taken with this offer, the King offers one of his daughters to Ammon as a wife. Ammon refuses, and begins service. In completing his work assignments, he crosses paths with a rival Lamanite group. In an act of protecting King Lamoni’s property, Ammon smites the arms of many of the men from the rival Lamanite group. This shocks King Lamoni, and he begins a process of thoughtful conversion. During this conversion, he and others are struck by the spirit to devout state of unconsciousness.  This is when Abish enters the picture. She is  secretly a pious Lamanite, and remains conscious when the rest of the King’s house are “prostrate upon the earth”. Recognising that the king’s house are caught in the spirit, Abish then goes from house to house celebrating and inviting others to witness “the power of God” (Alma 19:17).

Abish is one of the few women mentioned in the Book of Mormon. She is often is used as an example for Young Women in the church because she is not defined by a husband, and her conversion is attributed to a vision of her father. For example, Elaine S. Dalton uses the example of Abish in directing men on how to raise daughters. And other than a nod from President Howard W. Hunter (and a few other simple, similar nods in the Ensign and Liahona), her story is only truly celebrated in The Friend and The New Era.

This traditional interpretation of Abish is based on this formula:

Abish is noted to have a Father + she is not noted to have a husband = Young Woman. (search her name in lds.org for an example of how she is singularly positioned at an example for children and young women).

But we don’t know this. Further, in defining her in social position (young, unmarried), rather than in position to what the scriptures really tell us (Alma 19:16she having been converted unto the Lord for many years” [bolding added]), we ignore her spiritual maturity, dedication and – important for this lesson—her missionary influence.

Reflect on the phrase “many years”. When Joseph Smith plead in prayer on behalf of the suffering Saints in 1839, the revelation that came is found in Doctrine and Covenants121:7 “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment”. [bolding added]

I think that we might argue that the “small moment” of affliction for these Saints was longer than we are comfortable in defining as a “small moment.” Yet this scripture brings me great comfort as I work through challenges that are far from an overnight or easy fix. In consideration of this, and in full recognition that the Lord’s time and our time are not equal, when I juxtapose the concept of Abish’s “many years” of conversion to “a small moment”, it becomes impossible for me to comprehend Abish as a youth. I do not know her age, but I do not believe she was an adolescent.

Nothing is mentioned of Abish’s husband, but she could have been married. She could have been a mother. She could have been a great-grandmother. She could have even been divorced, or a single mother. She could have refused marriage at a traditional, young age because she chose to not marry until she had a husband who was at least equal to her spiritual strength. I think all of these potential social status’ are important to consider when we define spirituality among women: it doesn’t matter if we are young, old, married or single; anyone can obtain vibrant and powerful spiritual strength.

“Abish is one of the very few named women in the Book of Mormon. That her name is present here is even more remarkable because she was a servant, and the records of the world typically record the names of royalty, but not the names of servants. The presence of her name, and the details of this little aside, suggest that Abish was more important in the original record than we see her in Mormon’s account. While the description of her conversion provides an explanation of why she did not fall down, nevertheless, it would not be anything that would require that she be recorded by name when other women, such as the queen, are not named. This contrast between the named servant and the unnamed queen hint at a much more important role for Abish in the establishment of the gospel through Ammon than we have in our records.” – Brant Gardiner

With this in mind, why is Abish important to us now? (Besides the fact that she could have been single, older, divorced or married)

In this last conference, Elder David F. Evans taught examples of sharing the gospel based “on a prompting and in a natural and normal way”. I enjoyed this section of conference and Evans’ talk because it offered a realistic way for everyone to share the gospel. Interestingly, none of the scriptural references in Evans’ talk are from the book of Alma, yet the book of Alma is a record and witness of missionary work. This is where I think the book of Alma, specifically chapter 19, and Evan’s talk meet: in Abish.

In The Writing on the Wall , one thing that author Terrence Sheppard addressed is a psychological attitude difference that influences the amount of productivity in a work environment. In short, he recommends that we focus on outcomes, rather than on tasks as a method of improving effective work production. “The distinction between outcomes and tasks is important. For example, listing ‘Talk to Bob’ as a task is quite different from writing down ‘Make a plan with Bob to improve his report writing’. The first may well result in a time-wasting meeting with very little result while the other will more likely lead to a real improvement in Bob’s performance.”

Think about this through the lens of missionary work. Going on a mission, making a missionary contact, dropping off a book of Mormon are good tasks that can be relatively easy to accomplish. But in focusing on an outcome, i.e. acting in a natural manner wherein we are constistantly setting an example, inviting the spirit and allowing for the gospel to become a normal topic of discussion, we are more likely to have consistent missionary and ministering opportunities.

Nearly any missionary will tell you that they have very little- if any- conversion success in door-knocking. The best resource for missionaries is members who develop “natural and normal” friendships with friends who –through time—seek out missionary discussions and further information about the gospel, and only then involve missionaries. This is the work of Abish. She lived for years among non-believers, but held to her faith until the proper  time came for her to openly share her testimony. She lived normally and served naturally, and in this, shared an example of Christ-like service to those around her who were ignorant of her righteous devotion. (President Monson’s Dare to Stand Alone comes to mind.)

Now, it seems to me that because she is a servant, Abish is often assumed to be poor. But realistically, as a servant in the king’s house, I can only think she would be of privilege; after all, who serves Queen Elizabeth or President Obama? Certainly not an inexperienced youth or someone from the dregs of society; only a professional would be hired to do the work of the King and Queen. In addition, Lamoni would not hire someone who was sluggish in their work. He was known to kill shepherds who lost sheep, so we know that Abish was a skilled worker, who had become familiar enough with the queen to take her by the hand (Alma 19:29). In consideration of living in an age where many women need to work outside of the home, Abish’s example of religious and professional devotion is important. It is from these verses that we know she had the Light of Christ with her—even if the King and Queen were not in a position to understand or recognise that Light.

Let’s take a look at Abish’s spiritual maturity. Assuming that it was her father who had the vision and not her, 1) she was obedient to the vision and teachings of her father, 2) she was faithful and discreet as a silent convert, 3) she had the gift of discernment by which she knew that the three lay prostate by the power of God, 4) she was an opportunist and a missionary who gathered all to witness the power of God, 5) she was sensitive to the great conflict amongst the gathering (v. 28), and 6) she took inspired action amidst this great conflict which led to its resolution in that she took the queen and king by the hand, awakening them from their trances (v. 29-30). In the span of a very few verses, she demonstrates incredible spiritual acumen which is worthy of emulation.- Bryan Richards

 

From the LDS.org teacher’s manual:

After speaking to the queen, Lamoni again fell to the earth, as did the queen and all of the servants except Abish (Alma 19:13, 15–16). Who was Abish? (See Alma 19:16–17. As class members discuss Abish, you may want to point out how she can serve as an example of remaining converted to the Lord even when those around us are not.)

 

What are ways that we can emulate Abish as noted by Richards and the teacher’s manual?

Does our employment, volunteer work or general associations with those around us reflect the Light of Christ?

Do we do our work with enough integrity that we are a positive example to those around us?

What are some natural and normal ways that we can share the gospel?

 

In April 2011, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “Years ago our family lived and worked among people who in almost every case were not of our faith. When they asked us how our weekend was, we tried to skip the usual topics—like sports events, movies, or the weather—and tried to share some religious experiences we had as a family over the weekend—for instance, what a youth speaker had said about the standards from For the Strength of Youth or how we were touched by the words of a young man who was leaving on his mission or how the gospel and the Church helped us as a family to overcome a specific challenge we had. We tried not to be preachy or overbearing. My wife, Harriet, was always the best at finding something inspirational, uplifting, or humorous to share. This often would lead to more in-depth discussions.”

The conclusion of the church lesson manual is aimed at the missionary example (Ammon and Aaron), but I think it also important to consider Abish in regard to the missionary success Ammon achieved in contrast to the deep pain Aaron, Muloki and Ammah suffered. Alma 20:30 reads: “And, as it happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people…”

Were these people “more hardened” and “more stiffnecked” because no one of Abish’s calibre lived among them? It is possibe. I think that if Abish had lived among the people who Aaron, Muloki and Ammah went to teach, the outcome for those missionaries could have been very different. This point is important for church members to consider; our numbers may be few, but the light of Christ that each of us carries as an individual is a powerful tool for conversion. Abish is a brilliant example of being a silent giant working and acting with the light of Christ, actively waiting for the proper time to openly share her witness of Christ in words.

In closing, I have a final thought about Abish.  Alma 19:16 tells us that she was converted on account of a vision from her father. So I wonder about this vision. I like to think that her father’s vision was about her. I like to think that his vision was of Abish and her imperative role in preparing King Lamoni’s house for conversion to the gospel. I like to think that she was called and prepared for that exact time of her employment in the king’s house, and her father’s vision was a witness to this fact. I like to think of her as an educated, employed, hard-working woman who was not defined by marriage or children, but by her personal conversion to Christ.

I believe that a personal conversion to Christ is imperative for “sharing the gospel and ministering to others” (the stated purpose in the manual). And like Abish, I think each of us have an important position in this place and time to do the work of Christ, in a “natural and normal”  fashion.

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12 Comments

  1. Spunky, I *love* this. Lots to think about. Thank you!

  2. I will be reading and re-reading this article. So much to consider and so much to learn and apply to my life. Thanks for the incredible insight and for getting me to consider how I might be of influence in a “natural and normal” fashion.

    • Thank you, Kay and Libby!

  3. Excellent work.
    One point that might add to your analysis. The scripture says she was converted on account of a “vision of her father.” The wording (“of”) is non-specific. It could be taken to mean that she was converted by a vision her father had, and told her about. Or it could mean she was converted by a vision SHE had, in which she saw her father, i.e. Abish had a vision “OF her father.”

    • Excellent points Amy, thank you!!

  4. This is beautiful, Spunky! I never heard of Abish until I was in college (well, I probably did but wasn’t paying attention). I think it’s fascinating to see that the Church makes her out to be a young woman. Though I don’t know much about Lamanite culture, your analysis of the text makes sense to me, i.e. it would make sense that she was a grown woman. I even wonder if she was an older woman, given the authority she claimed as she told others.

    I’m so glad I read this and hope I can make some thoughtful comments in GD based on it!

  5. Spunky, this is just terrific. I’m going to use a bunch of this when I teach this lesson in a few weeks.

  6. Spunky, I love this too, and am now crossing my fingers it will by my turn to teach when the lesson comes up. Thank you for your very powerful and insightful analysis of a powerful and insightful woman. The simple possibility that she May have been older (and married and had children) but was defined by her own relationship to Christ is amazing. I wish that for each of us.

    • Me too, Rachel. Me too.

  7. Such a nice analysis. Also, the George Albert Smith manual for relief society has three lessons about missionary work in a row coming up–this discussion about Abish and her contributions to missionary work would be a great supplement to those lessons as well.

  8. Just want to let you know that I used significant portions of this post as my outline for teaching this lesson yesterday. Some great discussions took place and it was very well received in my generally conservative ward. Thank you!!

    • So glad to hear that, thank you!!

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