We have a change of pace in this chapter, as a rebellion breaks out against King Noah. It’s somewhat interesting to me that Noah accused Alma and the Church of “stirring up the people to rebellion against him” (in the previous chapter, Mosiah 18:33), and so sent the army after them, but that they weren’t and the rebellion only broke out after they fled. Noah’s paranoia about Alma seems to have misled him about the actual rebellion brewing amongst the “lesser part” (Mosiah 19:2-3) of who was left (although he was right to fear a revolt).
And so we meet Gideon. And I think Gideon is awesome:
And now there was a man among them whose name was Gideon, and he being a strong man and an enemy to the king, therefore he drew his sword, and swore in his wrath that he would slay the king.
First verse and he’s already drawing swords and swearing wrathful oaths to kill kings. Now that’s a man of action!
I find the next sequence interesting, however, because it sits at odds with what seem to be our expectations. King Noah tends to be depicted rather like this:
I don’t know quite why Noah is always pictured like this. We know he likes his women and his wine (Mosiah 11:14-15). But there’s nothing that really suggests the “fat man with beard” that occupies our image of him. I don’t know if that stems from the well-known bias towards beauty (in which we associated goodness with physical attractiveness, and badness with ugliness), or from an apparently indelible mark that Henry VIII has left on the Anglo-American psyche. But this chapter suggests this depiction isn’t accurate:
And it came to pass that he fought with the king; and when the king saw that he was about to overpower him, he fled and ran and got upon the tower which was near the temple.
In verse 5, after apparently physically fighting with Gideon and realising he was going to lose (Gideon is awesome), he flees and runs up a tower. Upon the tower he sees the Lamanites have taken the opportunity to invade, and after pleading with Gideon to spare his life in view of the emergency (incidentally, the note that “now the king was not so much concerned about his people as he was about his own life” in verse 8 suggests the theme of pretence is still present), he then leads his people in “flee[ing] into the wilderness”, “go[ing] before them” and manages to outrun their Lamanite pursuers even when they began to “overtake” and kill some of his people (vv. 9-10). Although the Lamanite pursuit actually ends when many of his men refuse to obey his instruction to leave their women and children behind, and surrender instead, Noah just keeps on running. The text actually seems to indicate he was quite an athletic man! For that matter, so was Henry VIII as a younger man.
This is a fairly unimportant matter, but I think it’s interesting for how such bias and perceptions – about goodness and wickedness no less – affect us. As I’ve linked to before (see here and here), human bias towards attractiveness even affects court cases: attractive defendants are more likely to be found not guilty and given more lenient sentences, while defendants are likely to attract harsher sentences when the victim is attractive. We are inclined, it seems, to view good people as being fair, and worse the fair as being inevitably good (and the ugly as bad). If Noah was an attractive and athletic man, perhaps that is one factor in why his people were prepared to follow him for so long. And perhaps it is no accident that Abinadi quoted Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah “hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Mosiah 14:2//Isaiah 53:2).
Of course, neither Noah’s possible athleticism, nor charisma, nor royal status, can spare him from the karmic fate and judgment of God he has brought upon himself, in fulfilment of Abinadi’s words:
And the king commanded them that they should not return; and they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire.