1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
Remember that there was no chapter break here originally, and so this is a continuation of Alma’s discourse.
This is the only occurrence (<- a word that I have never spelled right on the first or second try) of “cite” in the scriptures. It is made even more interesting by the idea of citing the mind “forward,” when he goes on to describe something in the past. Why does Alma use this enigmatic, counter-intuitive phrase? Is it doing anything different than a simple “remember” would?
Notice the parallel created by the two “I would . . .” phrases. How do they compare?
Jim F.: ”Some have argued that the “holy order” referred to here is neither the Aaronic priesthood nor the Melchizedek priesthood, but temple priesthood. Do you think that is possible? Why or why not?”
What effect does “his children” have on the reader that another description of humanity would not?
Did the Lord personally ordain priests?
Why should they remember that the Lord ordained priests?
Presumably “Lord God” refers to “God the Father,” since we get a reference to “his Son” in the same sentence. Here’s a list of all >100 instances of “Lord God” in the BoM; do they all refer to God the Father? (My answer: I doubt it. I doubt that multiple authors use titles consistently.)
What does it tell us about the “holy order” to know that it is “of the Son” and not “of the Father”?
Notice that this verse identifies the purpose of priests as being teachers. (This is quite different from the OT, unless you think of the performance of temple sacrifices as primarily pedagogical, which maybe you should.)
2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.
Does the first clause just repeat info from v1, or does it add anything new?
Does the first use of “in a manner” refer to the manner of ordination? If so, it would suggest that the process by which priests were ordained would teach the people how to find redemption. (Self-aggrandizement alert: this article explains how this might be so, particularly the section on Leviticus 8.) See v3 for more on this. This idea might also encourage us to re-read the “teaching” function from v1 as happening, at least in part, through the process of ordination.
Does the “forward” in this verse have anything to do with the “forward” in the previous verse?
3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
Where does moral agency fit in to this picture? I think that Esther 4:14, of all unlikely places, is one of our best hints to the solution to this paradox: “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” I see Mordecai as telling Esther that this is her job, but if she doesn’t do it, someone else will. I suspect that the verse originally ended with a winking emoticon that has been lost in translation.
Consider ‘preparatory redemption.’ Meaning? Perhaps the atonement had effect prior to its happening (i.e., D & C 138, where the spirits were not with Satan prior to the atonement, see also Mosiah 3:13) Or perhaps it refers to the work of p’hood holders before the coming of Christ
Jim F.: ”This verse consists of one sentence, but its grammar is fairly complex. Can you decide what the sentence says? For example, does it say those ordained were called and prepared in the pre-existence because of their faith and good works? Or, does it say that they were prepared in the pre-existence and then called in this life because of their faith and good works? Are there other possible interpretations? What does it mean that their holy calling was prepared with and according to a preparatory redemption? What is a preparatory redemption?”
How would you describe the relationship between faith and choice? Have you seen this principle operate in your life?
I don’t think we normally consider the manner of ordination to include “being called and prepared from the foundation of the world,” etc. What does this most expansive explanation of ordination suggest to us?
What does being called mean here?
What is the foundation of the world?
I find it most interesting that Elaine S. Dalton has made a habit of applying this verse (sans caveats) to the Young Women: ”You are young women of great faith. You brought your faith with you when you came to the earth. Alma teaches us that in the premortal realms you exhibited “exceeding faith and good works.”” (Apr 2010 YW Meeting, see also Apr 08 YW Meeting and Oct 06 YW Meeting)
Neal A. Maxwell has taught (see Oct 85 GC) that this verse is instrumental in our understanding of the premortal world and was the first bit of info about it in the Restoration.
What is God’s foreknowledge and how does it work? (Don’t you love how I just ask that as if it were a regular question that a normal human could ever answer?)
Does this verse imply that people exercise faith and perform good works before mortality? Did they choose good and evil before coming to earth?
What conclusions might you draw about the exclusion of women from the priesthood based on this verse? (Now I’m backing away slowly . . .)
In the next chapter, we will get to the very troubling story of the martyrs tortured and killed, and Alma’s refusal (based on the Spirit’s constraint) to aid them. Does this verse perhaps set the stage for understanding that event?
4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
In the last verse, good works was mentioned along with faith. This verse has faith only. Is that significant?
This verse positions hardness and blindness as the opposites of faith. What might you learn from that contrast?
In what ways is this calling a privilege?
Again, should you conclude from this verse that women lacked faith during the pre-mortal life?
5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared—
Webster 1828 ‘in fine’: “In the end or conclusion; to conclude; to sum up all.”
In what ways is this verse a summation of what has come before it?
How would you respond to someone who concludes based on this verse that the reason women do not hold the priesthood is because they hardened their hearts in the pre-mortal life?
I’m having a little trouble with the timing events: on the one hand, the calling is prepared from the foundation of the world. On the other hand, the person doesn’t get it until they have chosen good or evil. How do you resolve that paradox?
What does “being in and through . . .” modify? (In other words, what is it that is “bring in and through the atonement”?)
This verse introduces the theme of the Son’s preparation. How that does relate to the other forms of preparation in this section?
Thinking about v1-5 generally, how do they relate to the discussion of the Fall in the previous chapter (which, remember, is part of the same speech.)
Notice the hyphen at the end of the verse. Why isn’t it a period?
6 And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest—
Again, note that the primary purpose of the priesthood is a teaching function.
Is the “they” entering into the rest the people who are taught or the people doing the teaching?
7 This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things—
Why is there so much emphasis on the idea of the priesthood being eternal?
8 Now they were ordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end—
Jim F.: ”On the one hand the high priesthood is said to have been prepared from the foundations of the world, which seems to indicate a particular point in time. On the other hand, the verse says that the high priesthood is “without beginning.” Which of these do you think is metaphorical? Why?”
Note that v3 began with “and they were ordained after this manner,” which is almost but not quite identical to this verse. How are these two verses related?
9 Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.
Why is there an “amen” here? Note that “amen” is the English transliteration of a Greek word that means “truly” or (more archaically) “verily.”
Note that both the priesthood and the Son are without beginning and end. What might you learn from this similarity?
Note that this was the end of a chapter in the 1830 BoM. (I think that makes far more sense than our current chapter division!)
Possible chiasmus here:
A. order of his Son (v2)
B. ordained (v3)
C. called (v3)
D. foreknowledge of God (v3)
E. prepared (v3)
F. foundation of the world (v5)
G. Only Begotten Son (v5)
H. high priesthood (v6)
I. his rest (v6)
H.’ high priesthood (v7)
G.’ his Son (v7)
F.’ foundation of the world (v7)
E.’ prepared (v7)
D.’ foreknowledge of all things (v7)
C.’ called (v8)
B.’ ordained (v8)
A.’ order of the Son (v9) Citation
If the central point of this passage is “his rest,” we might want to think more about that. Read D & C 84:24 to define. What does this as central point teach about the purpose of the priesthood? Why do you think it is defined as ‘rest’?
Note the other elements in this structure. Why did Alma emphasize these elements of the priesthood?
–‘prepared’: 6 times. Why?
–‘foundation of world’: 3 times. Why?
–‘calling’ or ‘called’: 5 times. Why?
–‘order’: 8 times. Why?
–‘beginning and end’: 3 times. Why?
10 Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;
Notice the shift from faith and works above to faith and repentance here. Is that significant? Especially given the phrase “work righteousness” later in this verse, I almost wonder if, for Alma, “works” means “repentance.”
Given that we know that these priests were selected before their mortal lives, and that they were selected because of their faith and repentance, are we to conclude that they repented and had faith before they were mortal?
Spencer W. Kimball:
Before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. You are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and apostles! Citation
11 Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.
Note that washing something white in blood is counter-factual (to put it mildly).
Is the process described in these verses any different for those who are not high priests? (Of course, I’m hinting at the gendered nature of priesthood here. And I’m pointing out that other scriptures talk about everyone who repents having their garments washed white through the blood of the Lamb. So then the question is: Why tie it specifically to high priests here?)
12 Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.
David A. Bednar:
I witness that the Savior will strengthen and assist us to make sustained, paced progress. The example in the Book of Mormon of “many, exceedingly great many” (Alma 13:12) in the ancient Church who were pure and spotless before God is a source of encouragement and comfort to me. I suspect those members of the ancient Church were ordinary men and women just like you and me. These individuals could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence, and they “were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (v. 12). And these principles and this process of spiritual progress apply to each of us equally and always. Oct 07 GC
I’m very curious about the relationship that this verse posits between being free from sin and abhorring sin, and the implications thereof.
13 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.
Does this verse imply that his audience consists of people who could or could not also be high priests if they repent?
There is an emphasis in this chapter on entering into the rest of the Lord. I can’t help but tie that to the fact that some/most of Alma’s audience here will be the martyrs of the next chapter.
14 Yea, humble yourselves even as the people in the days of Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same order which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever.
Notice the repetition of “humble” in v13 and v14. Why is that the key point that Alma wants his audience to act on?
“Took upon him” is an interesting phrase, particularly when juxtaposed with Hebrews 5:4 (“And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.), particularly given the numerous other similarities between this passage and Hebrews 5.
I find this transition between preaching about repentance to the people of Ammonihah (previous verse) and talking about Melchizedek (future verses) most odd, particularly given the fact that the actual point of connection that Alma makes is that he wants these people not so much to be like M. but to be “as the people in the days of M.,” which people we know nothing aboutfrom the Bible. Alma will point out in a minute that we know very little about M., which is definitely true, but you’ll read the M. material in vain trying to find out anything about the people. Also, what’s really the point of asking them to be like “the people” at the time of M. and then describing M.? (But see v17.) What’s Alma doing here? (One possibility: the JST at the end of Genesis 14 refers to the people in Mel’s day, but we have no way of knowing whether Alma was familiar with that material.)
We always focus on the “Ab paid tithes to M” aspect of the story (and, indeed, the very next verse does this), but it is worth remembering that, in the Genesis 14 account, that’s a throw away line. One point of the story is is that Lot had been gradually creeping toward Sodom, ended up living there, and required Abraham to enter into military conflict (the first war in the Bible, in fact) in order to save his sorry butt. (In the next chapter when we get into the issue of the innocent martyrs, we should remember this story of Abraham saving Lot from the natural consequences of his poor choices to spare him suffering and death. But more on that in a minute.) There is also the immense contrast between Mel. and the king of Sodom, and Abraham’s subsequent refusal to take any of the customary spoils of war. The Hebrew suggests that Abram met both kings at the same time. The king of Sodom owes Abram big time for saving the men, but doesn’t offer up bread and wine, just barks orders. The king of Sodom “came out” (which is ambiguous: it might be hostile) but Mel. “brought out.” The king of Sodom says “give me” but Mel says “blessed be Abram.” If I had to draw one moral from Genesis 14, it would be that, while the king of Sodom offered Ab the ticker tape parade after the battle victory, Mel put the victory in a theological context, by reminding him that the victory actually belonged to God. Imagine this scene: Abram is met by the king of Sodom, who, no doubt, heaps praises upon him. The king of Salem arrives who urges Abram to give the glory to God. And then the king of Sodom stands wide-eyed and open-mouthed as Abram gives a tenth of the best spoils of Sodom to Melchizedek. You can also, if you are so inclined, read Abraham as a Christ figure rescuing the fallen Lot, which puts Mel in the role of the Father. I have no idea if any of this is in the subtext of Alma’s remarks, and/or how it might have related to the situation in Ammonihah, but there you go.
There’s also a long JST at the end of Genesis 14; one bit of it is most interesting in this story, especially given A & A’s lack of action re the martyrs in the next chapter:
Every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course; To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world; And hath said, and sworn with an oath, that the heavens and the earth should come together; and the sons of God should be tried so as by fire.
15 And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed.
Genesis 14 is a weird, weird little chapter. It was almost certainly written by someone other than the person(s) who wrote the rest of Genesis. It is our only (biblical, canonical) source for Melchizedek, except one line in Psalms and Hebrews.
Why the emphasis on tithing, when Alma has set up the main function of priests as a teaching one?
16 Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord.
To what does “this manner” refer?
What are “these ordinances”? Tithing?
What was “a type of his order”?
Does “or it being his order” mean that “a type of his order” was a mistake?
What is the “it” that is a “type of his order”? I’d think ordinances, but that was plural. Maybe “this manner”?
This is the kind of verse that your English teacher hands back to you under a scatter of red ink–it is maddeningly imprecise. . . . Grant Hardy points out here that this verse seems to be misplaced. (Read v15-17 to see what he means.) (He’s done a brilliant little piece of detective work here that not only makes sense of the text but provides evidence of the book’s ancient origins–this is the king of mistake that happens with a written text, not an oral one.) He suggests that this verse actually belongs in between v12 and v13, where it would make perfect sense. (Both v12 and v16 end with the same phrase, which makes it possible that someone would have made a copying mistake at some point.) He points out that similar mis-placements have happened in the Bible.
17 Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness;
How do we reconcile this verse with the BoM view of a wicked king inculcating wickedness in his people and a decent king teaching them a better path?
Note that neither the Bible nor the JST mentions anything about the wickedness of Mel’s people.
If the point of Alma’s use of the Mel material is to show a wicked people brought back into the fold by a good king as a pattern for Ammonihah (which is weird in itself, since they don’t have a good king, or even a king, just an itinerant missionary and a local recent convert preaching at them), then why all of the priesthood stuff? It seems like a tangent, and one that a wicked audience isn’t necessarily worthy of or needing to hear.
18 But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.
Note that M. preaching repentance is not in our current OT.
“Salem” means “peace” in Hebrew.
“Reign under his father” is kind of interesting because Hebrews 7:3 describes M. as “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” How would you reconcile those?
19 Now, there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater; therefore, of him they have more particularly made mention.
This is an interesting little aside into the selection process for OT texts. Is it generally true, do you think, that the “greater” the person, the more likely they were to have been included?
What’s ironic about this is that there is virtually nothing about M. in the Bible–just Genesis 14, one line in Psalm 110, and Hebrews 5 and 7.
There were many whats before him: priests? Kings? Teachers? Absolutes are always a dangerous thing; I’m sure Alma was not intending to imply that Mel was better than Jesus in any way, for example.
Who is the “they” who has made a lot of mention of Mel? Cuz it ain’t any OT or NT author! Presumably Alma (and the Ammonihah-ites, as v20 implies) have access to records that we don’t have–records with a lot about Mel.
If this verse refers to Mel as a king, then do we conclude that he, not David, was the greatest king? That isn’t much of a leap, given David’s sins, but it is interesting given that most people read David as the high-water mark of Israel.
Jim F.: ”If Melchizedek was such a great spiritual leader, why do the scriptures say so little about him? Even with modern-day revelation, we know relatively little about him. What lesson might we learn about our own lives from this?”
So there’s a controversy as to whether Joseph Smith just swiped this section from Hebrews. This isn’t a topic that interests me (I mean, seriously, people: Have you never heard of Q? Similarities need not imply direct borrowing.), but links if you want: here, here, here, here, and here. This article is an exception–it is more about the relation of the texts than the controversy.
20 Now I need not rehearse the matter; what I have said may suffice. Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction.
Didn’t he just rehearse the matter? (If not, would would rehearsing it have looked like?)
Webster 1828 wrest: “To twist or extort by violence; to pull or force from by violent wringing or twisting; as, to wrest an instrument from anothers hands.”
Did Alma have reason to believe that they were twisting some scriptures related to M.?
What would it look like to wrest the scriptures? What steps do we take to avoid doing this?
21 And now it came to pass that when Alma had said these words unto them, he stretched forth his hand unto them and cried with a mighty voice, saying: Now is the time to repent, for the day of salvation draweth nigh;
Is the stretching forth of his hand significant?
In the next chapter, he will refuse (under constraint of the Spirit) to stretch forth his hand to save some of these very people from the flames. Are these two instances linked?
22 Yea, and the voice of the Lord, by the mouth of angels, doth declare it unto all nations; yea, doth declare it, that they may have glad tidings of great joy; yea, and he doth sound these glad tidings among all his people, yea, even to them that are scattered abroad upon the face of the earth; wherefore they have come unto us.
Is “all nations” literal or hyperbolic?
Who (or what) is the “they” and who is the “us” in the last phrase?
23 And they are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land; therefore, we are thus highly favored, for we have these glad tidings declared unto us in all parts of our vineyard.
The BoM has an emphasis on plain terms and understanding completely absent from the Bible. Why?
Is it your experience that the BoM is so plain that one cannot err? (My answer: no.)
How does their wandering relate to the plain terms?
What does “wanderers” accomplish that “settlers” or “pilgrims” or “remnant” or whatever might not?
On what basis does Alma reach the conclusion that they are highly favored? Note the “therefore,” implying that it is related to their being wanderers. Is Alma saying that being a wanderer is evidence of being highly favored of the Lord?
What does the picture of a “vineyard” suggest?
24 For behold, angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory.
25 And now we only wait to hear the joyful news declared unto us by the mouth of angels, of his coming; for the time cometh, we know not how soon. Would to God that it might be in my day; but let it be sooner or later, in it I will rejoice.
Why weren’t they told when the Lord would come?
What attitude does Alma have toward the gaps in his gospel knowledge? Is it always good to have that attitude?
1 Nephi 10:14 reads, “Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews—even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world.” Is Alma unaware of this prophecy? (This seems especially weird given v26.) Or does he not understand its application? Or what?
26 And it shall be made known unto just and holy men, by the mouth of angels, at the time of his coming, that the words of our fathers may be fulfilled, according to that which they have spoken concerning him, which was according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them.
Compare the errand of angels in v24: How is it the same or different?
27 And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance;
What do you learn about pain and anxiety from this verse?
What does it suggest about sins to say that they can be cast off?
Why would someone procrastinate the day of repentance?
Jim F.: ”Do you think Alma has entered into the Lord’s rest? If so, how is it that he can still feel pain and anxiety? How are those compatible with rest? (Does the Lord feel pain and anxiety?)”
28 But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;
Note that he returns again to humility. Why is that the key for this people?
What does “watch” mean here? Does it refer to the anticipated coming of Christ, or to avoiding temptation, or something else?
In what ways could this verse be seen as a guide to how to repent?
I don’t think it is speculating too much to think that this verse implies that, as we try to repent, we will be sorely tempted–perhaps more than we can bear if we are not prayerful. We can expect temptation to increase as we try to repent.
Note that what is being described in this verse is becoming Christ-like. (Kind of obvious, but still.)
How does this verse, which seems to suggest that if we don’t watch and pray we might be tempted above that which we can bear, mesh with 1 Cor 10:13 (“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”)?
Does this verse imply that we might be tempted above that which we can bear?
Neal A. Maxwell:
Jesus laid down this sobering requirement: “Except ye … become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3.) One of Jesus’ prophets delineated—with submissiveness thrice stipulated—how a disciple can become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19.) Three other clusters of scriptures stress these towering qualities. (See Alma 7:23; Alma 13:28; D&C 121:41–42.) Stunningly parallel, they form an almost seamless litany of attributes to be developed, with submissiveness at their catalytic center. This repeated clustering is too striking to be random. Apr 85 GC
29 Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.
30 And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death.
Interesting idea: repentance is something the Lord can grant.
What does this verse teach about the relationship of repentance and the wrath of the Lord?
What does this verse teach about the relationship of the wrath of the Lord and the chains of hell?
31 And Alma spake many more words unto the people, which are not written in this book.
Again, why tell us if you are not going to tell us?
General question: Why link the themes of priesthood and foreordination? And why was this an appropriate topic for this audience? (Frankly, they seem way too wicked to me to get this kind of doctrine and it also seems somewhat irrelevant to them, given the wickedness we will see in the chapter. Pearls before swine, etc.)
There is no chapter break in the 1830 BoM here. It is important to realize that 14:1-2 (and, really, the entire chapter) is the narrated result of his preaching.
1 And it came to pass after he had made an end of speaking unto the people many of them did believe on his words, and began to repent, and to search the scriptures.
Notice the pattern: believe, repent, search.
Is it significant that it says “began to repent” and not just “repent”?
Is belief a choice?
2 But the more part of them were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek; for they were angry with Alma, because of the plainness of his words unto Zeezrom; and they also said that Amulek had lied unto them, and had reviled against their law and also against their lawyers and judges.
I think the wording in v1 set us (OK, me) up to believe that all or a vast majority of people repented. Then we get smacked with “but the more part . . .” in this verse. What effect does that have on the reader?
Note again the role of desire.
Note the different responses in v1 and v2-3 to the same message, by the same audience. Is there anything in v1-3 that helps you understand why they responded differently?
Note that they want not just to ignore the message or debate the message, but they want to destroy A and A.
No one would ever say, “I am angry because of the plainness of his words.” This is clear editorializing. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) Presumably they had different stories that they told themselves and each other as, I think, the rest of the verse makes clear.
Can we suss out what led them to believe that Amulek had lied to them? Reviled against the law?
3 And they were also angry with Alma and Amulek; and because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness, they sought to put them away privily.
Wait, didn’t it already say that they were angry with A and A in the last verse? Why the repetition, especially since the “also” makes it sound as if it were a new thing?
Webster 1828: privily: ”Privately; secretly.”
What does “put them away” mean, and why would they want to do it secretly?
The language here is virtually identical to Matthew 1:19, where Joseph decides “to put her away privily,” meaning to end his betrothal to Mary as quietly as possible. Same words, different meaning. On the other hand, Mark 14:2 has no similar language, but the idea of getting rid of Jesus quietly because of objections to his teachings. Can you learn anything from comparing these stories?
4 But it came to pass that they did not; but they took them and bound them with strong cords, and took them before the chief judge of the land.
Why didn’t they “put them away” and why are you telling us about it without really telling us about it?
Does this verse give you any more indication as to what “put away” meant in the last verse?
Presumably this isn’t the chief judge of Zarahemla, but of Ammonihah (I think “of the land” implies that).
5 And the people went forth and witnessed against them—testifying that they had reviled against the law, and their lawyers and judges of the land, and also of all the people that were in the land; and also testified that there was but one God, and that he should send his Son among the people, but he should not save them; and many such things did the people testify against Alma and Amulek. Now this was done before the chief judge of the land.
Are the people lying, or did they misunderstand the message? Or both?
Why is the final sentence here, when it gives us no new information?
This page is an effort to look at Alma’s original statements to find the raw material from which the accusations in v1-5 were made.
So Alma severed the chief judge from the chief priest role, but here he is brought before the chief judge on (what sounds to us like) religious (not civil) charges. How might we explain this?
So one thing you can say for Zeezrom: his questions designed to entrap A worked, at least in the minds of some people.
6 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 a consciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell.
Do you read this as Zeezrom in the scene with the chief judge, or is he out on the street, talking to the crowd, or perhaps he finds out about this later? (Does v7 give you more info about the setting?)
“Harrowed up” is Alma’s key phrase for the description of the experience right before his conversion experience, so interesting that that is applied to Zeezrom here.
Once again, we see “the pains of hell” not as a Satanic hot tub, but as the internal state brought about by the awareness of one’s own guilt.
7 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, and also all those who believed in the words which had been spoken by Alma and Amulek; and they cast them out, and sent men to cast stones at them.
Note how we have sort of lost the thread of the narrative that put A & A bound in front of the chief judge, shifting to Zeezrom and then the martyrs. This is a weird way to tell a story.
Note that it seems to be not A & A’s preaching per se but Zeezrom’s preaching that technically results in the casting out of male converts and the burning of female and child converts. Is this significant?
Irony, as the people accuse Zeezrom of what he used to be, not what he is now.
I wonder if Zeezrom is screeching in the street and a mob is casting the men out, or if Zeezrom is in a formal role as A & A’s defense attorney, and agents of the court are casting the men out.
Does “plead for them” mean that he was pleading with the Lord on their behalf? (Note that it isn’t “plead with them.”)
Note to self: don’t cast people out and then send people to stone them. Stone them first, when they are easier to reach.
Note that we will later find out that not all (or even most?) of the male converts died by stoning.
8 And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
Why would they not have brought male believers? Is the presumption that the men were cast out and stoned in v7?
Does “wives” mean that there were no single female believers, or that they were left alone?
Do you read v7-8 as a strict gender division (male converts: cast out, female converts: burned), or do you think there were some men and women in each group? (I think the text could support either reading.)
What does “had been taught to believe” mean? Does it mean that people who listened to A & A but didn’t believe them were caught up anyway?
Some have read this verse as the fulfillment of Abinadi’s words in Mosiah 17:14-15:
And now when the flames began to scorch him, he cried unto them, saying: Behold, even as ye have done unto me, so shall it come to pass that thy seed shall cause that many shall suffer the pains that I do suffer, even the pains of death by fire; and this because they believe in the salvation of the Lord their God.
If this event is the fulfillment of that promise, the “seed” of the priests of Noah may either be the literal descendants of their children, or metaphorically those who follow in their ways.
This event is an enormously important verse, as a part of the BoM’s generally more nuanced (by which I mean dimmer) view of human experience than the Bible. There’s no “one like the Son of God” who comes to rescue these believers from the fiery furnace as there is in Daniel 3. There wasn’t one for Abinadi either. In the Bible, usually good people meet a good end (except Jesus, until you count the Resurrection). In the BoM, sometimes the righteous die in flames.
“Records which contained the holy scriptures” is an interesting phrase: it implies that “the holy scriptures” were a subset of their records.
There is a parallel made in this verse between the women and children and the holy scriptures. Note that the association is made more explicit in v14. What can you learn from that?
“That they might be burned and destroyed by fire” sounds straight out of Scripture for Dummies. Obviously when you throw something on the flames, that is your goal. Why did our narrator feel the need to say this?
9 And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
Interesting twist on the concept of “witnesses” here.
Note that the location is called “the place of martyrdom.” This is significant–there are any number of ways to describe the location, including just “the place where the women and children were being killed.” What is accomplished by deliberately introducing the word “martyrdom” into the story?
Brant Gardner asks, “If Alma and Amulek caused this problem for the chief judge, and it was Alma and Amulek were brought before him and accused by the people, how is it that they escaped punishment and others were put to death?” Citation
10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
No surprise that Amulek has this reaction: these are people from his city, if not his own household. Alma may have a little more distance as a foreigner, and one with more family history of risking one’s neck for the gospel.
Note the link between the martyr’s pains and Amulek’s pains.
Again, stretching forth the hands seems to be symbolic or ritualistic. (What is interesting here is that they are literally bound.)
Is Amulek proposing an idea or asking permission in this verse? Was he right to do whichever one you think he did?
11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.
Webster 1828 constrain: ”To compel or force; to urge with irresistible power, or with a power sufficient to produce the effect.”
Note that Alma says that the Spirit constrains him, not him and Amulek. Might that be significant?
Note the shift Alma introduces: he isn’t the witness; their blood will be the witness.
The potentially morally problematic part of this verse is blunted by the fact that Alma is clear that this is not his decision, but the Spirit’s decision. That said, it is easy to image someone thinking that they should not intervene to stop evil in order that the full measure of the evil-doer will be revealed so that she can be properly judged. Is that ever the right attitude to take?
Does this verse imply that Amulek was not sensitive to the Spirit in v10 but let his emotions run away with him?
Is Alma 60:13 helpful here: ”For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God.”
One of the most common responses to people horrified by this verse is a reminder about free agency: people must be free to do even wicked things and if God intervened every time to prevent them, the purposes of mortality would be frustrated. That’s true as far as it goes, but it still leaves us grappling with the fact that God sometimes does intervene (for an entirely non-random example, see v27 in this chapter)! How, then, do we approach the question of: Why does God intervene sometimes to save the innocent, but not other times?
Whatever happened to the idea that the Lord knows the intents of our hearts? (Why would it be adultery if you only commit it in your heart and not in the flesh?) Why is it in this case that those intents need to be acted upon for proper judgment?
Another morally troubling aspect of this story (yes, there’s another!) is that one of the main rabble rousers for all of the trouble was Zeezrom, but he gets off scot-free and even gets baptized (don’t you love it how all little children say bap-a-tized?) later.
Let’s say you are Alma. And let’s say you think the Spirit is saying to you, “Don’t do anything to stop these children from being tortured to death.” Do you think maybe probably you would wonder which spirit you were hearing?
Sidenote: v4 says that they were bound. So the only thing they could have done here would have been to channel divine power, not try to physically stop this. I’m not sure entirely how that impacts our understanding of the story, but I suspect it is significant background.
Should our approach here be: ”I have no idea why God said no miracle.”
It seems to me that when LDS try to explain why suffering happens, they usually claim that it is to teach something to the suffer-er. (I’ve heard this a lot, from people including the suffer-er.) One interesting thing about this statement is that it simply doesn’t do that. It locates the purpose of the suffering in the person who causes the suffering, not the one who experiences it.
How do you reconcile this story with Alma 56:47 (“they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.”)?
This post has some interesting comments mixed with some pure junk. One I liked: ”The scripture says to me that you should protect the innocent unless the spirit constrains you to do otherwise.” And: ”Maybe we should look into possible transcription errors. maybe the Nephite words for ”The Spirit Constraineth me” was only one letter of[f] for “These #$^%ing Ropes constraineth me!”” And: ”This verse is classic. A Zone Leader, not wanting to look foolish or weak in front of his junior companion, invents some off the wall doctrine to explain why they can’t accomplish something.”
This rationale Alma gives bothers me in general, but it bothers me even more that they are having this abstract theological conversation over the sights, sounds, and smells of dying children.
Remember that we learned earlier that A & A absoposilutely did have the power to stop this. I think that should be a key in our approach to this story–the fact that the narrative went out of its way to let us know that they could have stopped this. (In other words, the issue here is not God’s lack of omnipotence, or the lack of a righteous person to use God’s power, or whatever else.)
Are we obligated to assume that Alma is correct in this verse? Theoretically, he may be wrong on on or both of two counts: maybe the Spirit isn’t constraining him, maybe he just has indigestion. Maybe the Spirit is constraining him, but Alma has misunderstood the reason.
How would you respond to a cynic who says that this verse teaches that God is more concerned with punishing the wicked than with protecting the innocent?
Is the point of this story the Lord’s glory? That is, these people end up there, immediately, and just because all we can see are flames doesn’t mean that the flames are the end of the story. There’s one of those perhaps-apocryphal statements attributed to Joseph Smith that the reason humans fear death is that the Lord implanted that fear in us, otherwise we would kill ourselves to get to heaven if we really understood how awesome it was (sorta-citation here; scroll down). Maybe the fact that these people needed to be allowed to be fully wicked in order to be judged is completely secondary; maybe Alma’s main point is, “Hey, they’re all happy in heaven now–what are you so upset about?” The grammar of the verse would seem to support this reading–Alma’s answer does begin with the fact that the people are “in glory.” This seems perhaps (only) partially satisfactory, inasmuch as it leaves us thinking, “let all of those warring parties go ahead and kill each other–the good ones will end up in heaven anyway. So who cares?”
I feel like the divine intervention to save A & A at the end of the chapter rubs salt into the wound of this verse; it is almost impossible to escape the conclusion that the close proximity of the stories, with their inverse outcomes, was deliberate.
Irving Greenberg is a a Modern Orthodox Rabbi who has said, “No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.”
I wonder if this story suffers from “the news problem.” This problem was perhaps best described by P.J. O’Rourke, who, to paraphrase, said that the problem with the media is that their headline is always “200 Students Protest” instead of “26,800 Students Drink Beer and Avoid Studying.” In other words, the thing that makes the news is the thing that violates the norm. If that is the case here, then the reason that this story is in the BoM is that it is not the normal course of affairs. We could say the same thing about Alma’s rationale: perhaps it is not normally the case that the innocent can’t be saved in order that the wicked be properly judged, but for whatever reason it is in this case.
Maybe it is just me, but I’m feeling very focused on the gender issue in this story: this is women and children only; the men have been cast out. Perhaps it happened that way historically for strictly coincidental reasons, but that detail could have been left out of the record–we could have just learned that “some faithful people” were martyred. We don’t–we learn that it was women (and children). Why?
In Genesis 18, Abraham pleads for Sodom, despite the fact that they are generally wicked. (Of course, the very point of Ab’s pleadings is that the very few righteous should be enough to ensure their preservation.) How does that story compare with this one?
Very helpful ideas here and especially here. (The more I think about it, the more brilliant it seems. Thank you, Jacob.) The best part (really loosely summarized): the idea is that the reason here (if not the constraint) is made up by Alma. In the face of Alma’s own suffering in just a few verses, those reasons are seen to be inadequate. (After all, Alma 14:26 doesn’t say “Thanks for letting us suffer so these people can be judged properly!” It says, “How long shall we suffer these greatafflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance.”) Note that their captors ask them three times why the innocents were allowed to suffer, and three times they are silent. Why doesn’t Alma pipe up with, “So y’all could be judged properly for your wickedness!” In the face of their own suffering, their reasons no longer make sense, and therefore they are silent. The only proper response to suffering, we are to conclude by the end of the chapter, is to plead with God to end it. Maybe it will end, maybe it won’t–that part is up to God. But our part is to plead. This does then require, I think, that we see Alma’s rationale in this verse as flat-out wrong–something he will come to realize later. Should we have a problem with that? I don’t think so. After all, it hasn’t been that long since Alma was going to give up on Ammonihah and an angel had to tell him to go back and try again. This is, the record tells us, a guy capable of coming to the wrong decision on his own.
A general thought: This story reminds me of the beheading of Laban in the sense that we have (1) a very morally problematic story that is (2) highlighted in the text with the verbal equivalent of big neon arrows saying “look how difficult I am!” And yet, most LDS commenters, particularly in correlated sources, are all “nothing to see here–move along folks. Everything is just fine.” I may not have neat little answers to these stories, but I do think that pretending like there is nothing remotely objectionable about them is not what the texts themselves had in mind. A million years ago, someone commented that part of (an) Islamic approach to exegesis is to ask, “What difficulties does this story present to me? How might I resolve them?” I thought that was absolutely brilliant; we’d do much better to just admit up front that the story is asking something really difficult of us instead of pretending that everything was hunky dory and that we have no problem whatsoever with people having the power to stop the torture and death of innocent children but not using it. Because, you know, we do have a problem with that. I think the premise of the way this story is presented is that the BoM expects us to have a problem with it.
12 Now Amulek said unto Alma: Behold, perhaps they will burn us also.
What is Amulek really saying here? Is this fear? Idle chatter? Introducing the idea so they can plan for it?
Brant Gardner points out that Amulek’s first concern was for the martyrs, and only secondarily for himself.
Note that Amulek doesn’t engage Alma’s answer in v11, but really shifts to a new topic. What should we take from that? (Or maybe he didn’t shift to a new topic–maybe reminding Alma that they might be next up is an effort to get Alma to re-think his position in v11.)
13 And Alma said: Be it according to the will of the Lord. But, behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.
Shades of Abinadi here–you can’t kill me until I am done!
Is Alma implying that the burning of these women and children is the will of the Lord?
Does the second sentence imply that the work of the martyrs was finished? (Which is weird in a sense, since Alma just said that their blood would be doing the work of crying from the ground in the future.)
Note that Alma is totally accepting of the idea of his own torture and death in this verse (“be it according to the will of the Lord”), but when he endures a much lower level of suffering in v26, he says, “How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance.” (At a certain point, it seems unreasonable to me to read Alma as unchanging in this story–I think it makes more sense to see him learning line upon line, from his own experience of suffering. I don’t think v11 is his final say on the matter.)
14 Now it came to pass that when the bodies of those who had been cast into the fire were consumed, and also the records which were cast in with them, the chief judge of the land came and stood before Alma and Amulek, as they were bound; and he smote them with his hand upon their cheeks, and said unto them: After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?
Is it significant that the chief judge describes their death in the same terms normally used for hell?
I think this might be a good moment to go re-read Mosiah 29 and reconsider the wisdom of Mosiah’s legal reforms. How’s that hope and change workin’ out for ya?
15 Behold, ye see that ye had not power to save those who had been cast into the fire; neither has God saved them because they were of thy faith. And the judge smote them again upon their cheeks, and asked: What say ye for yourselves?
Note that he terms it a lack of power, instead of an inspired choice not to use the power. (This is a theme in the temptations of Jesus in the NT: Satan repeatedly accuses Jesus of lacking the power to do something that he has chosen not to do. [At least, that's one way of reading it.])
How would you respond to the comment that God declined to save these people?
Compare Matthew 27:40-42: ”And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest itin three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.”
16 Now this judge was after the order and faith of Nehor, who slew Gideon.
Very interesting to see Nehor introduced here. There’s an interesting parallel to the Nehor story, where we don’t get his name until after the story is over. Here, we are at a dramatic height of tension in the story (with burning bodies in the background, a question has just been posed to A & A. But instead of an answer, we get this editorial aside about Nehor).
Please, we remember that he slew Gideon–that was only a few chapters ago. Why mention it again?
17 And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek answered him nothing; and he smote them again, and delivered them to the officers to be cast into prison.
There are lots of parallels to Jesus’ trial here–the smiting, the lack of answer to the civil authority, etc. What can you learn from comparing them? Of course, the big difference is that innocent women and children were not tortured to death in front of Jesus to encourage him to recant. (Interesting to speculate as to what effect that would have had on the history and theology of Christianity.) I suspect that difference is the key to understanding the story.
How do you know when to answer or not answer hostile questions?
18 And when they had been cast into prison three days, there came many lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers, who were of the profession of Nehor; and they came in unto the prison to see them, and they questioned them about many words; but they answered them nothing.
Is the “three” days meant to link to Jesus’ time in the tomb?
19 And it came to pass that the judge stood before them, and said: Why do ye not answer the words of this people? Know ye not that I have power to deliver you up unto the flames? And he commanded them to speak; but they answered nothing.
Is it significant that they are interrogated in the prison? (That seems kind of weird; usually you take the prisoner out to the interrogator, no?) Especially with the wording that they judge stood before them, not that they stood before the judge.
Are they violating the principle of AoF #12 here by not being subject to this ruler?
20 And it came to pass that they departed and went their ways, but came again on the morrow; and the judge also smote them again on their cheeks. And many came forth also, and smote them, saying: Will ye stand again and judge this people, and condemn our law? If ye have such great power why do ye not deliver yourselves?
Again, note how the use of power is central to the conflict.
21 And many such things did they say unto them, gnashing their teeth upon them, and spitting upon them, and saying: How shall we look when we are damned?
What does it mean to gnash your teeth upon someone? Webster 1828 gnash: ”To strike the teeth together, as in anger or pain; as, to gnash the teeth in rage.”
Note that part of their false belief is to think that hell/damnation is a physical thing, not an internal thing.
22 And many such things, yea, all manner of such things did they say unto them; and thus they did mock them for many days. And they did withhold food from them that they might hunger, and water that they might thirst; and they also did take from them their clothes that they were naked; and thus they were bound with strong cords, and confined in prison.
I think we are supposed to be all “oh, that’s terrible” with this verse, but all I can think is, “big deal–at least you weren’t tortured to death.”
23 And it came to pass after they had thus suffered for many days, (and it was on the twelfth day, in the tenth month, *in the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi) that the chief judge over the land of Ammonihah and many of their teachers and their lawyers went in unto the prison where Alma and Amulek were bound with cords.
Why was the specific time reference worth recording here?
24 And the chief judge stood before them, and smote them again, and said unto them: If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words.
What should you learn from this verse?
25 And it came to pass that they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last; and when the last had spoken unto them the power of God was upon Alma and Amulek, and they rose and stood upon their feet.
26 And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them.
Wait a minute! I thought evil people had to be allowed to complete the full intents of their wickedness in order that they could be judged properly (see v11)! Why didn’t the chief judge, etc., need to kill A & A to demonstrate the extent of his wickedness? (This is a transparent attempt to say that I’m still not buying the rationale from v11.) In this case, a miracle is provided so that they won’t be wicked–where was the miracle for the women and children?
27 And it came to pass that so great was their fear that they fell to the earth, and did not obtain the outer door of the prison; and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof.
Just to add insult to the memory of the martyrs, in this story ALL OF THE BAD GUYS DIE. Not the good guys.
This–this is the story we want: the one where not only do the good guys get away, but the bad guys get killed.
28 And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ. And they straightway came forth out of the prison; and they were loosed from their bands; and the prison had fallen to the earth, and every soul within the walls thereof, save it were Alma and Amulek, was slain; and they straightway came forth into the city.
Think carefully about the first sentence of this verse, as compared with the story of the martyrs. This sentence says: faith –> power –> not getting hurt. How do you reconcile that message with the death by torture of the martyrs earlier in the chapter? (Can you tell the whole thing really disturbs me?)
29 Now the people having heard a great noise came running together by multitudes to know the cause of it; and when they saw Alma and Amulek coming forth out of the prison, and the walls thereof had fallen to the earth, they were struck with great fear, and fled from the presence of Alma and Amulek even as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions; and thus they did flee from the presence of Alma and Amulek.
Note that there is no chapter break here in the 1830 BoM.
Why did our writer (or redactor) decide to add a metaphorical image (goat, young, lions) here? Presumably, Alma and Amulek are the lions and the people are the goat and the young. Why this particular image?
1 And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek were commanded to depart out of that city; and they departed, and came out even into the land of Sidom; and behold, there they found all the people who had departed out of the land of Ammonihah, who had been cast out and stoned, because they believed in the words of Alma.
Funny that they would need a command to depart after all that! (“No, let’s stay where they torture women and children and throw us in jail!”)
“Behold” means “look” and is used to call our attention to something. Why is it appropriate in this verse?
2 And they related unto them all that had happened unto their wives and children, and also concerning themselves, and of their power of deliverance.
That must have been . . . awkward. They would have said something like, “We could have stopped your wives and children from being tortured to death, but the Spirit told us not to. Later, we were imprisoned and saved by a miracle.” Um, yeah.
3 And also 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.
Why do you think Zeezrom got to go off with the good guys, as opposed to being slain like other BoM bad guys like Nehor and Korihor and Sherem?
What do you make of guilt causing a fever? Note that this is presented as the narrator’s commentary on the event, and not just Zeezrom’s story about his fever.
4 Now, when he heard that Alma and Amulek were in the land of Sidom, his heart began to take courage; and he sent a message immediately unto them, desiring them to come unto him.
Uh, shouldn’t he still have been horrified at the loss of all of the women and children?
Why courage? Was he lacking courage?
5 And it came to pass that they went immediately, obeying the message which he had sent unto them; and they went in unto the house unto Zeezrom; and they found him upon his bed, sick, being very low with a burning fever; and his mind also was exceedingly sore because of his iniquities; and when he saw them he stretched forth his hand, and besought them that they would heal him.
Note that our writer makes a big point of saying that A & A “obeyed” Zeezrom. What might the point of this have been?
Is the stretching forth of the hand significant?
If the fever (and other physical maladies) were brought about by guilt, then what kind of a healing is he asking for here? (And does he even realize that his physical problems have a spiritual cause?)
6 And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?
In what ways might the “taking him by the hand” be significant?
This question is obviously enormously significant. Note that it focuses on belief, and belief is positioned as a choice. And the crux of the matter is whether he believes that the Messiah has power, a power that leads to salvation.
7 And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.
It would be interesting to review what Alma taught and see how it would link to the idea that the power of Christ leads to salvation.
Note how Zeezrom’s answer goes above and beyond the question here.
8 And Alma said: If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.
Is “redemption” here the same thing as “salvation” in v6, which would have Alma restating the issue, or is Alma introducing a new concept here?
9 And he said: Yea, I believe according to thy words.
I find it interesting that we get another dialogue involving Zeezrom.
The first time (v7) Z answered by saying “I believe everything you taught,” I was impressed. This time, I am a teeny bit bothered by the fact that he doesn’t totally engage Alma’s questions or use Alma’s vocabulary (redemption, salvation) in his answers), and that maybe he is a little too focused on an Alma-cult-of-personality (“I believe YOU”) instead of believing the doctrine (“I believe it.”)
10 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.
Wah! Where were your pleas for mercy for the dying women and children, Alma? (I think this verse may highlight what I found so disturbing about Alma’s response in the previous chapter: it is one thing to imagine, say, a modern priesthood holder being restrained from blessing an ill person to return to health–I think we can all imagine and understand that. But we would expect the priesthood holder to bless the person with peace, comfort, etc. But in the last chapter, Alma didn’t say, “Well, the Spirit told me that we can’t save them and that breaks my heart, but let’s offer a prayer that their passing will be as quick as possible and they will be comforted through this experience.” Oh no, his response is abstractly theological and completely disconnected from their suffering.)
Why did Zeezrom need Alma’s intervention to get his spiritual fever to go away? If he believed these things, why was he in bed with a fever?
11 And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom.
There’s obviously a lot of language here that is reminiscent of Jesus’ healing miracles. What might we learn from comparing them?
Does the walking surprise you? (I thought the issue was his fever.)
I like the suggestion that guilt can be incapacitating but belief and confession and repentance can be liberating and mean increased power and ability.
Why would the people (who, presumably, got kicked out of Ammonihah because they believed Alma’s preaching) be astonished at this? (Is it because of the difference between Zeezrom’s healing and the martyr’s death? Is it because Zeezrom appears to be getting off for [somewhat indirectly] causing the deaths of the martyrs?)
12 And Alma baptized Zeezrom unto the Lord; and he began from that time forth to preach unto the people.
13 And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.
14 And it came to pass that they were many; for they did flock in from all the region round about Sidom, and were baptized.
15 But as to the people that were in the land of Ammonihah, they yet remained a hard-hearted and a stiffnecked people; and they repented not of their sins, ascribing all the power of Alma and Amulek to the devil; for they were of the profession of Nehor, and did not believe in the repentance of their sins.
Obviously we are not sympathetic to the people of Ammonihah, but their experience raises an interesting question: How might we (or, even more dicey: how might an investigator, with virtually no gospel experience) know the difference between divine and satanic power?
The idea of not believing in repentance is interesting. Does that mean that they didn’t believe in sin? Or that they thought everyone would be saved “in” their sins? Or something else? How might this idea be manifested today?
16 And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek, Amulek having forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred;
Amulek comes off as a Lehi-figure in this verse.
I’ve seen a lot of people suggest that Amulek’s own wife and children were martyrs. However, given that the purpose of this verse is to show the “tribulations” (v18) that Amulek suffered that necessitated Alma’s care, but that this verse does not mention the deaths of a wife or children, I think we can be as certain as we can about these things that Amulek’s family was not part of the martyrs.
17 Therefore, after Alma having established the church at Sidom, seeing a great check, yea, seeing that the people were checked as to the pride of their hearts, and began to humble themselves before God, and began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar, watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction—
Note how this verse is a tangent to the main story line of v16 and v18, which describe Amulek’s distress and the subsequent need for Alma’s care. Why is there a tangent here? Why is it this tangent?
What was the function of the altar in their sanctuaries?
18 Now as I said, Alma having seen all these things, therefore he took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord.
The grammar of this verse is a little confusing: who is the “I”: Mormon? Or does Alma switch from first to third person?
Note that v16-18 imply that Alma took care of Amulek, but that he did it after he was sure that the church was reasonably secure (v17).
Does v16 describe the extent of Amulek’s tribulations? What was bothering him?
Why does the record include mention of Alma’s ministry to Amulek?
Does “strengthen him in the Lord” imply that Amulek might have been having a crisis of faith? Survivor’s guilt?
This verse is a nice little inversion of the beginning of the Alma and Amulek story, where Amulek took Alma in to his house.
19 And thus ended the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
A general comment: Remember how very, very carefully Alma’s arrival into Ammonihah and hooking up with Amulek was planned by the Lord? And the main outcome of the Ammonihah mission is (1) a lot of dead women and children and (2) a group of converted people [presumably men] who go to Sidon to get on with their righteous lives. In other words, all of this was very carefully planned by the Lord. If you assume omnipotence (and why wouldn’t you?), how can you reconcile this picture with a just God? (In other words, had you been in the council on the other side of the veil planning this mission, might you not have suggested that you not send any elders to Ammonihah this month, what with the fact that it would result in the deaths of women and children?)
1 And it came to pass in the *eleventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, on the fifth day of the second month, there having been much peace in the land of Zarahemla, there having been no wars nor contentions for a certain number of years, even until the fifth day of the second month in the eleventh year, there was a cry of war heard throughout the land.
Why do we need to know the specific date here?
Note on the dating here.
2 For behold, the armies of the Lamanites had come in upon the wilderness side, into the borders of the land, even into the city of Ammonihah, and began to slay the people and destroy the city.
Is this the result of the Ammonihah-ites’ unrighteousness? (What, then, of the righteousness of the martyrs?)
3 And now it came to pass, before the Nephites could raise a sufficient army to drive them out of the land, they had destroyed the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, and also some around the borders of Noah, and taken others captive into the wilderness.
The implication is that the Nephites would have saved the Ammonihah-ites from the Lamanites if they could (v4 supports this reading) (which is interesting, after what the Ammonihah-ites just did to the martyrs and Alma and Amulek, and don’t even get me started on the contrast between the Nephites’ willingness to go to bat for the wicked Ammonihah-ites and Alma’s cavalier attitude toward the martyrs) but that they wouldn’t because they were not prepared.
4 Now it came to pass that the Nephites were desirous to obtain those who had been carried away captive into the wilderness.
5 Therefore, he that had been appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites, (and his name was Zoram, and he had two sons, Lehi and Aha)—now Zoram and his two sons, knowing that Alma was high priest over the church, and having heard that he had the spirit of prophecy, therefore they went unto him and desired of him to know whither the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness in search of their brethren, who had been taken captive by the Lamanites.
Boyd K. Packer:
When the editions of the scriptures were published, many corrections were made on the basis of original or printer’s manuscripts, some of which had not previously been available. For instance, in Alma chapter 16, verse 5, the word whether had appeared. [Alma 16:5] The original manuscript for that verse does not exist. However, when we found the printer’s copy, we saw that the Prophet Joseph Smith had changed the word to whither. Whether means “if”; whither means “where.” The next verse verifies whither to be correct. Oct 89 GC
6 And it came to pass that Alma inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And Alma returned and said unto them: Behold, the Lamanites will cross the river Sidon in the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of the land of Manti. And behold there shall ye meet them, on the east of the river Sidon, and there the Lord will deliver unto thee thy brethren who have been taken captive by the Lamanites.
Again, why is the Lord helping them find these people–per our example of the martyrs in the last chapter, don’t the Lamanites need to hang on to them in order to show forth the full extent of their wickedness so they can be judged properly?
Note that in this story, Alma is reproducing some of Abraham’s interaction with Mel. in Geneis 14: wicked people (Lot, the Ammonihah-ites) get taken captive in battle, and the righteous party (Abraham, the Nephite army with help from Alma) has to rescue them.
I’m curious about, and a little concerned about, the intermixing of sacred and profane (warfare) things in this verse.
Note that the Ammonihah-ites are “thy brethren.”
7 And it came to pass that Zoram and his sons crossed over the river Sidon, with their armies, and marched away beyond the borders of Manti into the south wilderness, which was on the east side of the river Sidon.
8 And they came upon the armies of the Lamanites, and the Lamanites were scattered and driven into the wilderness; and they took their brethren who had been taken captive by the Lamanites, and there was not one soul of them had been lost that were taken captive. And they were brought by their brethren to possess their own lands.
Just to be clear, these are some very wicked people that they saved–these are the citizens of the city who killed the martyrs. (The decent ones left or were cast out or died.) Why do they get rescued? Wouldn’t capture by the Lamanites have been their just desserts? Is there a parallel between Alma’s efforts to spiritually rescue them (which failed) and these efforts to physically rescue them (which succeeded)?
9 And thus ended the eleventh year of the judges, the Lamanites having been driven out of the land, and the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness.
Wait, what? We got rid of the Lamanites, but the people were still destroyed? How did that even happen? Who killed them if not the Lamanites? You’re telling me that Zoram went through all that effort, including getting divine information from Alma, to save people, to take them back to their city, so they could be killed? What the heck? (Brant Gardner suggests that, back at the end of v8, the Ammonihah-ites were taken the Zarahemla, with “their own lands” referring to the lands of the rescuers, not the captives. If that is right, it answers some, but not all, of my questions here.)
Note on the destruction of the city here.
10 But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcases were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness.
But what happened? I thought we got rid of the Lamanites?
11 Nevertheless, after many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor, who were slain; and their lands remained desolate.
Who covered the bodies?
(Does stink really last that long?)
Interesting that they named it after Nehor.
If they were the profession of Nehor, why the heck did they get uncaptivated from the Lamanites?
12 And the Lamanites did not come again to war against the Nephites *until the fourteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. And thus for three years did the people of Nephi have continual peace in all the land.
13 And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews.
Interesting that people in temples, sanctuaries, and synagogues needed to hear a message of repentance.
Why did our author want to let us know that their buildings were built “after the manner of the Jews”? What did that mean–was it architectural? (The OT gives directions for a tabernacle/temple, but not sanctuaries and synagogues.)
What are sanctuaries? How would they differ from temples and synagogues?
14 And as many as would hear their words, unto them they did impart the word of God, without any respect of persons, continually.
Does this mean that there was gender equality in their churches? ;)
15 And thus did Alma and Amulek go forth, and also many more who had been chosen for the work, to preach the word throughout all the land. And the establishment of the church became general throughout the land, in all the region round about, among all the people of the Nephites.
16 And there was no inequality among them; the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming—
What does “inequality” mean in this verse?
Is the Spirit the result of the lack of inequality?
What is the Spirit’s role in preparing minds? How might that happen?
Note that this verse, with the “or,” seems to make explicit the association of hearts and minds that I have frequently suggested.
Is there a difference between the Spirit being poured out on a person or on a land, as in this verse?
Depending on how you read the “or” in this verse, it might support the point I make frequently that heart = mind.
I’m curious about the idea of the Spirit preparing people for a new thing.
17 That they might not be hardened against the word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.
How is receiving the word related to the grafting of a branch to the true vice?
Is the branch + rest just mixing metaphors, or is it significant?
Notice the structure here:
–that they might not be hardened against the word
–that they might not be unbelieving
–and go on to destruction
–but that they might receive the word with joy
–and as a branch be grafted into the true vine
–that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God
18 Now those priests who did go forth among the people did preach against all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and malice, and revilings, and stealing, robbing, plundering, murdering, committing adultery, and all manner of lasciviousness, crying that these things ought not so to be—
19 Holding forth things which must shortly come; yea, holding forth the coming of the Son of God, his sufferings and death, and also the resurrection of the dead.
20 And many of the people did inquire concerning the place where the Son of God should come; and they were taught that he would appear unto them after his resurrection; and this the people did hear with great joy and gladness.
Why would they ask this? Was it a good question to ask?
21 And now after the church had been established throughout all the land—having got the victory over the devil, and the word of God being preached in its purity in all the land, and the Lord pouring out his blessings upon the people—thus ended the fourteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
(1) Interesting background on the idea of the pre-mortal life.
(2) Very interesting article about Mormon as editor here. ”Mormon included in the Book of Mormon two separate narrative strands that both included an account of Ammonihah’s destruction. However, the explanation given in each version is quite different. One is spiritual (due to God’s justice) and one political (due to Lamanite aggressions in the aftermath of Anti-Nephi-Lehi troubles). Yet significantly, Mormon did not see any contradiction between the two; it was simply a matter of different perspectives. Apparently God’s will is sometimes manifest through ordinary historical means.”