Zeezrom does not rank among the great prophet leaders in the Book of Mormon, but his story is one of the fascinating sidebars to the lives of the principal characters in the Nephite record. He appears on the historical scene during a time of great challenge to the Church and to the stability of the government among the Nephite people.
During the closing years of King Mosiah’s life, a significant alteration occurs in the government. Frustrated in his attempts to install one of his sons as his successor, Mosiah implements a system of judges to govern the people. These judges are elected by popular vote. A chief judge is appointed as the presiding figure in this new system. Alma the Younger is chosen to fill this role, in addition to his responsibilities as the head of the Church.
Alma is soon faced with troubles in the Church, as the people begin “to wax proud” (Alma 4:6). As a result of this pride, the unity of the Nephite people begins to dissolve. In this crisis Alma is faced with a critical decision. He resigns as the chief judge of the land and determines to focus his full energies upon bringing about a spiritual renewal among the people.
Launching into his committed course with full energy and faith, Alma visits the cities and villages of the land, counseling the people and calling them to repentance. In due time his mission takes him to the city of Ammonihah, where he finds the people in almost total rebellion.
After experiencing ridicule and total rejection, Alma is finallycast out of the city. The Lord, however, directs Alma to return to Ammonihah and guides him to Amulek, a prominent citizen, who accepts Alma as a prophet. Together, the two go among the people, preaching repentance and warning of the direful consequences that will come to the inhabitants if they persist in their willful disobedience.
It is in this scenario that Zeezrom appears. While the description of conditions in Ammonihah is not given in great detail, it is not difficult to fill in the pieces of the political, moral, and social mosaic from the recorded account. Corruption and dishonesty in official circles have become endemic. Grasping for material riches, the people have clamored to gain advantage one over another. Judges have become corrupt, susceptible to bribes and yielding advantage to those who can show favors.
This litigious environment has spawned the need for many of those who can plead cases successfully before the courts. Numerous lawyers have emerged, skilled not only in the law but also in exploiting the devious legal system for the potential benefit of themselves and their clients.
It is a group of these lawyers that confront Alma and Amulek. Undoubtedly they hold some hope of profiting from feeding the controversy that has developed from the preaching of the two men. Additionally, lawyers, nimble of speech, are thought to have the best prospect of confounding the Lord’s servants.
It is significant that Zeezrom presents himself as the chief spokesman for these legalists. “Now he was the foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma, he being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people” (Alma 10:31).
We learn much about Zeezrom from this capsule profile. Not only is he acknowledged by his peers as one of the leaders in his craft, he is well known among the people generally, and apparently is one of the foremost to whom they look for legal assistance. This would indicate that he also has a comfortable relationship with the judges in the city.
The account of the dialogue between Zeezrom and Alma and Amulek in the eleventh chapter of the book of Alma provides additional insight into Zeezrom’s worldly self-assurance. He has an audience to play to, and he intends, with his practiced sophistry and cunning, to make a game of his denegration of the two missionaries. After all, the audience is completely prejudiced in his favor, and he relishes the opportunity to add to his reputation among his peers. His questions to Alma and Amulek reflect his courtroom skills. They are designed for entrapment.
Zeezrom, however, is completely unaccustomed to dealing with those who have the spirit of inspiration and revelation working in their favor. His motives are transparent to Alma and Amulek.
Zeezrom’s offer to pay the missionaries six onties of silver if they will deny that there is a Supreme Being exposes his conviction that everyone is as corruptible as himself. It is a revealing demonstration of the debauched condition into which the people have fallen. Zeezrom obviously expects no disapproval from his fellow lawyers or the people for his proffered bribe. It is a practice to which they are accustomed.
It is when Zeezrom’s scheming is powerfully rebuffed by Amulek, and Amulek begins to testify of basic gospel truths, that Zeezrom senses something different about these two men. His arrogant self-confidence begins to falter. “Now, when Amulek had finished these words the people began again to be astonished, and also Zeezrom began to tremble” (Alma 11:46).
Alma, sensing that the power of the Spirit has begun to work upon the heart of Zeezrom and upon some of his listeners, takes up the attack that Amulek has begun:
Now the words that Alma spake unto Zeezrom were heard by the people round about; for the multitude was great, and he spake on this wise:
Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit;
And thou seest that we know that thy plan was a very subtle plan, as to the subtlety of the devil, for to lie and to deceive this people that thou mightest set them against us, to revile us and to cast us out-
Now this was a plan of thine adversary, and he hath exercised his power in thee. (Alma 12:2-5.)
The effect of Alma’s rebuke upon Zeezrom is dramatic:
Now when Alma had spoken these words, Zeezrom began to tremble more exceedingly, for he was convinced more and more of the power of God; and he was also convinced that Alma and Amulek had a knowledge of him, for he was convinced that they knew the thoughts and intents of his heart (Alma 12:7).
It is at this point that a remarkable change begins to take place in the demeanor of Zeezrom. He becomes the earnest inquirer-the learner. The change is the more remarkable because it occurs in the presence and full view of the people to whom he has been appealing with his inquisition. “And Zeezrom began to inquire of them diligently, that he might know more concerning the kingdom of God” (Alma 12:8).
We must pause at this point in our consideration of Zeezrom’s situation to ask ourselves the question, why was this arrogant, sophisticated demagogue so susceptible to the influence of the Spirit? Other rebels in the Book of Mormon record were similarly confronted by spiritual leaders but persisted in their debauchery. Nehor, although rebuked by Alma, had no change of heart (see Alma 1), nor did Amlici (see Alma 2) or Sherem (see Jacob 7). Korihor stubbornly refused to repent (see Alma 30). What was there in the soul of Zeezrom that pressed him toward such a remarkable change?
The answers to some of these questions must be left to speculation.
It is interesting, however, to contemplate the abrupt changes that occurred in the lives of others who had initially been enemies to the Lord’s work and his people, and who reversed their life’s course to become champions of the gospel plan. Alma himself, along with the sons of King Mosiah, underwent such a redirection. Ammon, Mosiah’s son, when reflecting upon the remarkable missionary successes that he, Aaron, Omner, Himni, and their brethren had enjoyed among the Lamanite people over a fourteen-year period of unusual hardship and sacrifice, recalls the days of their rebellion: “Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his [the Lord’s] church” (Alma 26:18). He then wonders, “Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?” (Alma 26:19.)
Anti-Nephi-Lehi, the converted Lamanite king, acknowledges his dark past when he persuades his people to willingly lay down their lives rather than resist the threatened onslaught by their unconverted brethren: “And behold, I also thank my God, that we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed” (Alma 24:9).
It appears that the “light that shineth in a dark place” to which Peter referred (2 Pet. 1:19) is difficult to extinguish completely in the souls of men. For those who have basked in that light and then have willfully turned against it, the regeneration process appears to be more difficult and unlikely. Such seems to have been the case with Sherem, who confessed before he died, “I fear lest I have committed the unpardonable sin, for I have lied unto God; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him” (Jacob 7:19).
An important lesson seems to emerge from the experiences of Zeezrom and the other repentant transgressors who have been mentioned. It is never safe for us to judge a person to be beyond the reach of the Lord’s merciful hand. Even those whose lives have been tainted by corruption and apparent rebellion against the things of God can, through sincere repentance, become forces for great good in the accomplishment of the Lord’s purposes.
We do know that Zeezrom’s life was dramatically redirected. It appears that in spite of his having yielded to the influence of the environment in which he had gained notoriety, a spark of spiritual light must have endured in his soul. While some of those who listen to the exchange between Zeezrom and the missionaries react in a positive way, the majority are angry and are determined to destroy Alma and Amulek. A mob spirit inflames them. They bind the two men with strong cords and take them before the chief judge, where the men are accused of reviling against the law and against the people of the land.
In the midst of this turmoil, Zeezrom attempts to come to the defense of Alma and Amulek:
And it came to pass that Zeezrom was astonished at the words which had been spoken; and he also knew concerning the blindness of the minds, which he had caused among the people by his lying words; and his soul began to be harrowed up under aconsciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell.
And it came to pass that he began to cry unto the people, saying: Behold, I am guilty, and these men are spotless before God. And he began to plead for them from that time forth; but they reviled him, saying: Art thou also possessed with the devil? And they spit upon him, and cast him out from among them. (Alma 14:6-7.)
It is apparent that in attempting to stop the destruction of Alma and Amulek, Zeezrom risks his own life. The fury of the mob turns in some measure upon him. They cast him out from among them, casting out as well all those who believe in the words of Alma and Amulek. They then gather together the wives and children of the believers and cause them to be burned, along with their sacred records. It is not difficult to imagine the agony that fills Zeezrom’s soul as he witnesses the holocaust that his taunting has precipitated.
Along with the other believers who have been cast out of Ammonihah, Zeezrom finds refuge among the people of Sidom. He is found there by Alma and Amulek, who barely escaped from the city with their lives after the Lord miraculously delivered them from the hands of their tormentors. Undoubtedly the two missionaries had witnessed the futile attempt of their former antagonist to quell the wrath of the mob. They find him in dire circumstances:
Zeezrom lay sick at Sidom, with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness, for he supposed that Alma and Amulek were no more; and he supposed that they had been slain because of his iniquity. And this great sin, and his many other sins, did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat. (Alma 15:3.)
When Zeezrom learns that Alma and Amulek have made their escape and are in Sidom, he pleads for them to come to him. The two companions respond immediately. With a profoundly repentant spirit, Zeezrom begs Alma and Amulek to heal him. This request in itself is reflective of the faith that has begun to take root in Zeezrom’s heart.
And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?
And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.
And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ. (Alma 15:6-7, 10.)
Alma’s administration is instantly effective. Zeezrom leaps to his feet, healed not only physically but spiritually as well. The report of this incident is spread throughout Sidom.
One cannot reflect upon this episode without recalling the conversion of Saul of Tarsus in New Testament times. Saul, who had been a tormentor of the Christians and had condoned Stephen’s martyrdom (see Acts 8:1), requires a similarly dramatic conversion experience. His sightlessness is healed under the hands of Ananias. He is brought to a recognition and acknowledgement of his folly in attempting to thwart the Lord’s work. In a flood of repentant anguish he makes a dramatic reversal in the course of his life. His fervor and energy are redirected to promulgate and sustain the work he has previously sought to destroy.
So it is with Zeezrom. He is baptized by Alma, and, just as was the case with Paul, he immediately begins to preach among the people, later becoming a trusted companion of Alma and Amulek. It is perhaps not adding too much to reality to suppose that Zeezrom’s healing, his conversion, and his testifying of Christ contribute much to the missionary success enjoyed by these three servants of the Lord. The record tells us that the people “did flock in from all the region round about Sidom, and were baptized” (Alma 15:14).
That Zeezrom proves himself in the eyes of his mentor, Alma, is confirmed by the fact that he regularly appears in the accounts of Alma’s ministry as one of his most trusted and reliable companions and fellow servants. Years after the events in Ammonihah and Sidom, when Alma undertakes one of the most difficult challenges of his life’s ministry-the conversion of the Zoramites-Zeezrom is chosen along with Ammon, Aaron, Omner, Amulek, and two of Alma’s sons to be a part of this seasoned missionary force (see Alma 31:6).
That some of Zeezrom’s testimony and teachings find their way into the permanent Nephite record is confirmed in the book of Helaman. Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman, are engaged in a missionary effort among the Lamanites. They are captured and imprisoned by those they have sought to convert. In a miraculous manifestation of the Lord’s power, Nephi and Lehi are encircled by a fire that preserves rather than consumes them. The Lamanites are frozen in wonderment at this spectacle. They become overshadowed by a cloud of darkness, and a voice commands them to repent. They then see Nephi and Lehi conversing with angels. Aminadab, a Nephite dissenter who had once been a believer, seizes this moment to confirm that these miracles are occurring through the Lord’s power. He cries to those who are witnessing this event, “You must repent, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom” (Hel. 5:41).
Perhaps the most convincing evidence we have of the love and esteem that Zeezrom comes to enjoy among his fellow Christians is that one of the principal Nephite cities is given his name (see Alma 56:14).
Much can be learned from the story of Zeezrom: the tragedy of corruption among a people who reject Christ and sacrifice moral principle to pride and self-interest; the anguish and torment that sin produces in an individual life.
Perhaps the most significant lesson to be learned from Zeezrom’s experience is that the redeeming power of Christ’s love can bring about the miracle of spiritual regeneration in the vilest of sinners when they fully turn to the Savior and give themselves to the accomplishment of His purposes. In Zeezrom’s story, all of us who are imperfect find hope for forgiveness, and hope in reaffirmation of the Savior’s infinite love for those who reject evil and give their hearts to Him. (Heroes from the Book of Mormon, p.112-120.)