As an introduction to Alma the Younger’s reign as Chief Judge, the story of Korihor demonstrates the virtue of the word to be mightier than the violence of the sword.
The Lord’s judgments upon the wicked are manifest through the destruction of the wicked by the wicked. This is an important observation made by CDR Mormon from which we can learn.
“But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.” – Mormon 4:5
In Alma 30, the story of Korihor is a great example of God’s judgment falling upon the wicked. The lesson? Be careful for the type of society for which you advocate. One just might inherit it.
Korihor visits the land of Jershon (the conscientious objector Ammonites), the land of Gideon (the just war Nephites), and the land of Antionum (the statist Zoramites). Korihor is protected in his personal beliefs, as hateful as they might be, by the laws of the land of Zarahemla according to the scripture which says: “Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve.” (Josh. 24:15) This means the laws prevented men from existing on “unequal grounds” in their personal beliefs. The laws did punish murder, stealing and adultery, but this was “according to the law of Moses,” which is an appendage to the gospel for those of lower spirituality. Even in the land of Jershon, “[the Ammonites] were taught to keep the law of Moses until it should be fulfilled” (v. 3). In keeping with the traditions of the Nephites then, the Ammonites observed the statutes and judgments of the Law of Moses, but “only for the crimes which [they] had done” in the flesh (v. 11). Korihor preaches to the Ammonites that there is no Christ coming and that the traditions of the Nephites (the Law of Moses) is a fraud. Basically, Korihor is saying, “Why are you observing traditions of men which are to be fulfilled in a Christ who does not exist? Eat, drink, be merry. Tomorrow we die!” (v. 16) He goes on to say that the only law is the law of nature, survival of the fittest. The strong and intelligent and ambitious survive. (v. 17)
Apparently this materialistic view of the world is more appealing with Nephite women, than with Nephite men. Men do succumb but “many” women are led away. And when the women are led away, men follow. This reminds me of Paul’s statement that men are led away by their wives. “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord…, but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world.” (1 Cor. 7:32-33) Oh the Garden of Eden all over again! This may be why Elder Christofferson encourages men to do well when choosing a wife who will be the “moral force” in their lives.
Korihor preaches his hate-filled, materialistic world view in the land of Jershon (v. 19), but they “were more wise” than the Nephites, many of whom were led astray, and took him to “the high priest.” Ammon kicks him out of the land (“cuts him off” from the land of Jershon) (v. 20). The doctrine of Korihor seeks to increase moral hazard in the governance of persons and communities.
Korihor decides to do some evangelizing in the land of Gideon. He does not “have much success,” albeit more than in the land of Jershon, and he is taken before the high priest, Giddonah. The Nephites are less tolerant than the Ammonites. They also take Korihor before the chief judge in an attempt to have him punished (v. 21-22). The Ammonites did not appear to be interested in incriminating Korihor in crimes or manufacturing one simply because he had hateful beliefs. The same is not true with the Nephites. In a debate with Giddonah, Korihor denies Christ and any future fulfillment of the Law. He denies the existences of any moral standard which cannot be derived from the nature of things as they are and says the people cannot sin because adultery, stealing, and killing are not contrary to human nature. He states believing in a moral imperative not found in nature places the people in “bondage,” making them afraid “they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges.” (v. 27)
Korihor proceeds to accuse the high priest of living off the labors of the people and, that the high priest has taught the people they “durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend” the priests (v. 28). All valid accusations if only they were true. The high priest sees “the hardness of his heart,” and brings Korihor before Alma, the chief judge over all the land of Zarahemla (v. 30). Korihor has been given two opportunities to repent. Once, in the land of Jershon and, again, in the land of Gideon. Instead of “indignantly estranging” Korihor for blaspheme, as had been done in Jershon, Giddonah wants to have Korihor tried and punished by the chief judge Alma. Now Korihor is before the “final arbiter” in the land of Zarahemla. Alma reproves the accusations of Korihor about living off the labors of the people. Alma says he employs the productive means and not the political. He is self-employed and has “labored [with mine own hands] even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now.” (v. 32) Alma does admit to receive pay while sitting as chief judge, but “only according to the law for our time,” or, be it, paid piecemeal or hourly, not salary. (v. 33)
Alma then asks Korihor again if he will deny the existence of Christ and his ministry to fulfill the Law. Korihor persists in his denial. Alma attempts to win Korihor back to confessing God and Christ by asking Korihor to prove a negative (v. 40). Alma then witnesses to the existence of God by stating that the earth and the universe demonstrate intelligent design. Alma accuses Korihor of trying to destroy the children of men. Korihor asks for a sign (v. 43). If the moral code is more than the nature of things as they are, then Korihor wants a miracle. Alma tells Korihor that his existence is sign enough (v. 44). Korihor is not convinced that his existence demonstrates more than the nature of things as they are and denies for a third time the existence of Christ and a fulfillment of Law to come. (v. 45) Alma is grieved. He is sad. He is not angry. He does not hate Korihor. Alma is genuinely hurt that he is unable to reconcile and win back Korihor. (v. 46) Alma gives Korihor one more chance before striking him dumb (since Korihor is protected by the law from being punished for his beliefs). (v. 47)
Korihor ceases to be an atheist and professes agnosticism. (v. 49) Alma gives Korihor a sign: Korihor is struck dumb (mute). (v. 50) Korihor is given four opportunities to recant (and if we count Jershon and Gideon…that is six opportunities). Giddonah jumps in at this point and tells Korihor, “I told you so,” and asks, “Do you believe now?” (v. 51) Korihor writes a confession admitting to the power of God and that he always knew there was a God. (v. 51) Korihor admits that Satan appeared to him in the form of an angel and told him to teach the people that they had gone astray after an unknown god. Korihor is not very bright because he is told there is no God, but somehow an angel exists. Korihor admits that he taught stealing, killing, and adultery because it was “pleasing to the carnal mind.” He admits to having “much success” amongst the Nephites. (v. 53) Korihor wants the curse removed, but Alma says he will not do it. Instead, Alma leaves it up to the Lord to determine the heart and mind of Korihor and whether to remove the curse. (v. 55)
What happens to Korihor is published throughout the land and a proclamation sent by the chief judge declaring those who had followed and believed in Korihor need repent or suffer the same judgment. (v. 57) The people repent, believe in God, observe the Moral Law, and hope for a remission of their sins in Christ. (v. 58) Korihor is then “cast out,” cut off from the land of Zarahemla, and left to beg for his daily bread among the Zoramites who have separated themselves from the Nephites. Ironically, Korihor finds himself in the very hedonistic paradise he preached among the Nephites. These statists quickly kill the beggar whom they deem to be weak, unpleasing aesthetically, and deserving of a fate his status in society and the nature of things as they are requires. Korihor is trampled to death by the wicked.
In Chapter 31, Alma heads a mission to reclaim the apostate Zoramites after hearing what they had done to Korihor. In preaching the word, Alma found that it “had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else. Therefore, Alma though it expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” Alma forsakes punishment and proclaims peace. (v. 5) Instead of fighting with the Zoramites, Alma has an epiphany. He does something weak and brings many Zoramites to repentance. Although his wickedness is not that of the Zoramites, Alma Jr. does eventually come to realize, as CDR Mormon after him, that even the appendage of the Law of Moses is insufficient to save and, at any time, the Nephites are free to embrace the higher law of the gospel, to renounce war and to proclaim peace. It is because of the eternal nature of the Atonement that none need to wait to live the gospel. It is upon faith and hope of the Law’s fulfillment through Christ that the Law can become dead in more than mere belief, but in practice as well.