A strange word swirled in my head for weeks. Not a real word, even, but a suffix! Something kept telling me I needed to know, to truly understand, a deeper message in Alma 19. So when I sought guidance through prayer, this was the answer I got: "look more deeply into the meaning of -ish."
This prompting was referring, I thought, to the fact that the servant was described as one of the 'Lamanitish women.' Because every time I read that description, I couldn't help but wonder... Why wasn't she just described as a Lamanite woman or just... a woman? Why the -ish?
So I went to my trusty 1828 dictionary app (I've heard mixed opinions on whether or not that is the best option, but it has served me well so I continue to use it).
-ish meanings include: belonging to, after the manner of, having the characteristics of, like, inclined or tending to, and near or about.
If she wasn't truly a Lamanite woman, but just 'like' one or 'near' one, etc, then what was she... a Nephite? And the moment I pondered that thought, 'was she a Nephite?' I remembered the 'remarkable vision of her father' (Alma 19:16) and considered that if her father was a Nephite, then he might have been at King Benjamin's sermon (Mosiah 2-5). And the instant I considered that possibility, I wondered if she had been at King Benjamin's sermon and if so was 'her father' Christ? Because if she was, because of the covenant she made, she would have been among those who were told,
"ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters... I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ." -Mosiah 5:7-8
Is it possible? King Benjamin's sermon occurred in 124 BC and Alma 19 occurred in 90 BC so, I guess, yes one of those scenarios could be possible (that she was there or was raised by parents who were). Likely? Actually... yes. In the book of Alma alone, Ammon (a Nephite) was a servant to king Lamoni (Alma 17:25) and 'Aaron and his brethren' (Nephites) offered to be Lamanite servants (Alma 22:1-3), so I think it's safe to say that Abish could have done that as well. The sons of Mosiah were doing so as missionaries so it could even be possible that this handmaiden was a servant to the queen in a missionary/ministering role...
I was writing some of my thoughts about this on the notepad on my phone when I started writing this woman servant's name, Abish, and ya know what stood out to me?
Coincidence is not an appropriate word to describe the workings of an omniscient God. He does not do things by coincidence but by divine design. -Neal A. Maxwell
So she is 'belonging to, after the manner of, having the characteristics of, like, inclined or tending to, and near or about' Ab...who? Scholars indicate her name is pronounced with a long A so my first inclination is Abraham. If it wasn't a long A, I would imagine that Abinadi could be considered. Yet, the Book of Mormon was brought forth for two purposes and one of those purposes is "that they may know the covenants of the Lord" (BoM title page), which certainly includes the Abrahamic covenant. Even the resurrected Lord told the Lamanites,
"Ye are the children of the prophets; ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed." -3 Nephi 20:25
(Side note, perhaps President Nelson alluding to this, that as covenant keepers follow prophets, they are their children, when he said, "As I looked at my wife, my daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters... I felt like I’d like to claim every one of you as part of my family.")
So is it possible that 'the remarkable vision of her father' could have been:
The remarkable vision of Christ (Mosiah 5);
The remarkable vision of Abraham (3 Nephi 20);
The remarkable vision of King Benjamin;
The remarkable vision of our Heavenly Father?
All of the above
I'm aware these aren't the only possibilities, as others have pointed out (see, for example, Abish, Theophanies, and the First Lamanite Restoration). Yet I believe considering these potentialities points us to much deeper meaning in not only this specific narrative, but other scenes in the book of Alma and points/patterns for covenant women to ponder regarding participation in the gathering of Israel and specific ways to help fulfill the Abrahamic covenant. President Nelson has taught,
The Lord said, ‘My work and my glory [is] to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39.) So His devoted daughter-disciple may truly say, ‘My work and my glory is to help my loved ones reach that heavenly goal.’
It's as if Abish received similar counsel and her mission statement became:
My work and my glory is to, perhaps, help my Heavenly Father fulfill His remarkable vision for all mankind, as Abraham did.
If I'm correct that her name is inferring her role in participating in the Abrahamic covenant, this is a high honor.
To us the honored name of Abraham is important. It is mentioned in more verses of scriptures of the Restoration than in all verses of the Bible. Abraham is linked to all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord reaffirmed the Abrahamic covenant in our day through the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the temple we receive our ultimate blessings, as the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. -Russell M. Nelson, The Gathering of Scattered Israel
So you might be thinking, as I certainly have, 'Okay, so... Why does it matter?' Well, it must matter because the fact that she is given any name is distinct and different, it stands out for multiple reasons. Abish is one of only six women named in the Book of Mormon. Even in the same chapter, the queen is not named. She's simply "the queen." I cannot help but think that Abish is also not named, per se, but given the title of Abish, an honorable title at that, because of the role she took upon herself, how her acts of faith impacted future generations, and how the narrative parallels so beautifully to the Abrahamic covenant.
In the Book of Mormon, Abish was converted by her father’s sharing with her his remarkable vision. For many years thereafter, she kept her testimony in her heart and lived righteously in a very wicked society. Then the time came when she could no longer be still, and she ran from house to house to share her testimony and the miracles she had witnessed in the king’s court. The power of Abish’s conversion and testimony was instrumental in changing an entire society. The people who heard her testify became a people who ‘were converted unto the Lord, [and] never did fall away,’ and their sons became the stripling warriors!” -Elaine S. Dalton
Okay, so maybe it's interesting, but what does that have to do with any of us? Why does it really matter, how would that 'liken' to any of us?
Well, I don't know about anyone else, but there's one thing that's going to make me feel determined to figure something out and that's someone telling me they can't tell me something. 'Oh you would die if you knew what happened the other day. But I can't tell you.' Excuse me, what? Well, bless his heart, I'm willing to guess that Sister Nelson's vast knowledge of human behavior influenced his decision to say this:
What I can tell you [in other words, there are lots of things I can't tell you] is that accessing the power of God in your life requires the same things that the Lord instructed Emma and each of you to do. So, I invite you to study prayerfully D&C 25 and discover what the Holy Ghost will teach you. Your personal spiritual endeavor will bring you joy as you gain, understand, and use the power with which you have been endowed.
I want to live up to my privileges. I want and need spiritual power. I'm desperate to be guided by heaven for so many reasons. And of course bringing joy into my life would be nice as well! So I set out on the spiritual endeavor to discover what the Holy Ghost would teach me about D&C 25 (and many other writings). And I have found that though I felt and found many insights and promptings in the chapters he recommended us to study, what has been fascinating is how my other studies and just regular life experiences have been illuminated in unexpected ways as I see parallels of priesthood, covenants, and the gathering of Israel all throughout God's word and my life. And that is exactly what has happened for me as I now read Alma 19 in new light, with profound insights as to how I might access the power of God in my life as Abish did in such a beautiful and meaningful way.
From the moment the possibility of Abish as an allusion to Abraham distilled in my mind, I have found many messages in these verses that might point us to ways we, covenant women in particular, could "gain, understand, and use the power with which [we] have been endowed."
Parallels of Abish // Emma:
and "she having been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father" // "My daughter... for all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom"
"having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known" // and "we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized" regarding Emma (in JSH 1:74) and "Murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen, for they are withheld from thee and from the world, which is wisdom in me"
"she knew that it was the power of God" // and "according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit"
would cause them to believe in the power of God, therefore she ran forth from house to house, making it known unto the people // go with him... expound the scriptures and exhort the church
Parallels of the queen // Emma:
I have had no witness save thy word, and the word of our servants // Things which thou hast not seen for they are withheld
she watched over the bed of her husband // Thy calling shall be for a comfort unto... thy husband... in the spirit of meekness
he stretched forth his hand unto the woman // He shall lay his hands upon thee and thou shalt receive the Holy Ghost
She went and took the queen by the hand, that perhaps she might raise her from the ground; and as soon as she touched her hand she arose and stood upon her feet, and cried with a loud voice, saying: O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell! // Lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better
being filled with joy, speaking many words which were not understood... cried with a loud voice, saying: O blessed Jesus... O blessed God! // The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me... lift up thy heart and rejoice
clasped her hands (Alma) // cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made
their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil (Alma) // Thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady (D&C)
they had told them things of God, and of his righteousness (Alma) // unto them is his calling, that all things might be revealed unto them (D&C)
as many as did believe were baptized; and they became a righteous people, and they did establish a church among them (Alma) // thy husband shall support thee in the church And thus the work of the Lord did commence (D&C)
the Lord did begin to pour out his Spirit upon them (Alma) // Delight in the glory which shall come upon him (D&C)
his arm is extended to all people who will repent and believe on his name (Alma) // if thou art faithful and walk in the paths of virtue before me, I will preserve thy life and thou shalt receive an inheritance in Zion.
What happened as I compiled these lists has filled me with awareness and gratitude. As I tried to figure out.. is Emma Abish or the queen? Am I Abish or the queen? The more I tried to draw the lines, the more the lines between the honorably-titled servant and the unnamed queen overlapped and then blurred. And that was the truth, one bright flash of light to receive in this narrative.
Abish is the covenant keeping servant, yet through the power of her faith and because of who her Father is, she is also a queen and certainly becomes so when the witnesses of her power become converted to the Lord, impacting countless generations. And the queen, important as she was in the world before, needed Abish to rescue her. Abish lifted her from a death-like sleep and as she awoke to the truth of who she was in the portals of eternity, she took on the name of her Father by testifying of Him and becoming a servant. The titles and roles are both the means and the end. For Abish and the queen, the roles interchange, and that will be the same for any who make and keep covenants with God.
I love this piece and see how it is a mother and daughter, and for the purposes of this post, we could interpret it to be a Mother of Israel bringing someone in to the safe arms of the Abrahamic covenant and, in the process, each find 'wings' of progression and potential for eventual exaltation.
Abish, the servant, by eternal identity and divine nature is a queen. Through her covenantal relationship and keeping that covenant, she has a right to the heir-ship as a queen. She shows her access to the power of her true identity only to humbly bring to pass God's purposes: to, perhaps, cause others to believe in the power of God.
The queen, by divine design, becomes a servant. That's what souls who have experienced the truths of eternity do, they serve others because they are filled to overflowing with a divinely endowed love that leads to joy. They want as many who will to experience and be filled with that same love and live with that same joy.
The potential reality is the same for you and I: servant AND queen. In the grand orchestration of eternity, the titles are dependent upon one another and the roles intertwine.
And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect. -D&C 128:15
May I just add, not as an aside or afterthought, but with sincere emotion and conviction, that the Book of Mormon, with its infinite depth, wisdom, eternal truths, and power to change hearts and families and lives on both sides of a very thin veil, stands itself as evidence that it was written and brought forth by the power of God for this time. This cannot be denied or overstated.
I'll do a separate post going over some of the details of what occurred in Alma 19, some of the profound symbolism and what it has to do with the Abrahamic covenant, what that could mean for you and I, and how we might apply it in our lives.
These thoughts have stirred my soul and brought clarity as I pursue a greater understanding of my role as a covenant keeping woman. I want to be like Abraham. I want to be like Abish. I want to participate in the Abrahamic covenant and I believe that premortally I promised to do so and pleaded for the opportunity to do so. I believe you did also. So let's do it! Let's lay aside the temporary and trivial. Let's run forth in our divinely appointed roles as servant and queen, testifying of and embracing eternity.
Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham (D&C 132:32)
could be expounded:
Go ye, therefore, and be Abraham-like, or, Ab-ish.