BMGD #29: Alma 36-39

July 23, 2012 | 6 comments
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CHAPTER 36

Remember that the last two verses of Alma 35 set up what is happening here:

Now Alma, being grieved for the iniquity of his people, yea for the wars, and the bloodsheds, and the contentions which were among them; and having been to declare the word, or sent to declare the word, among all the people in every city; and seeing that the hearts of the people began to wax hard, and that they began to be offended because of the strictness of the word, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful. Therefore, he caused that his sons should be gathered together, that he might give unto them every one his charge, separately, concerning the things pertaining unto righteousness. And we have an account of his commandments, which he gave unto them according to his own record.

The notes for Alma 36 are in this lesson, and you probably already covered that chapter in lesson #20, so I won’t reproduce it here.  It is worth remembering that the context of Alma’s recitation of his conversion story is in teaching his son Helaman and preparing Helaman to take over the keeping and writing of the record.

 CHAPTER 37

 1 And now, my son Helaman, I command you that ye take the records which have been entrusted with me;

Is it significant that it is entrusted “with me” and not “to me,” as we might have expected?

Should you re-read Alma 36, looking at how it would have prepared Helaman to be entrusted with the records?

Is it significant that keeping the records is a “command”?

Here’s Alma 36:1-2, the beginning of Alma’s words to Helaman:

My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.  I would that ye should do as I have done . . .

Note how similar 36:1-2 is to this verse; these verses bookend the account of Alma’s conversion.  If you read that conversion story in light of its context of Helaman being commanded to take the records as his father did, what do you conclude?

And I also command you that ye keep a record of this people, according as I have done, upon the plates of Nephi, and keep all these things sacred which I have kept, even as I have kept them; for it is for a wise purpose that they are kept.

Note that adding to the records (this verse) seems to be a separate commandment from taking/owning/keeping the records (v1).  Is this a different record, a different commandment?

What does it mean to keep the records sacred?

What is the purpose for which the records are kept?  Does Alma say exactly what that purpose is (did Alma know what it is)?  (See v12 for more on this.)

 3 And these plates of brass, which contain these engravings, which have the records of the holy scriptures upon them, which have the genealogy of our forefathers, even from the beginning—

Is the word “engravings” significant here?

Is “records of the holy scriptures” different from “holy scriptures”?

I’m curious about the relationship between scripture and genealogy.  Does this verse imply that they are not the same thing?  How are they related?

What does “from the beginning” mean in this verse?

 4 Behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon.

What is the “they” that “should be kept” in this verse?

I like the link between “genealogy” in the previous verse and “generation” in this one–the keeper of the plates is the link between the past and the future.

In what sense is what is described in this verse a “prophecy”?  (It sounds more like a commandment to me.)

Note “kept and handed down” and then “kept and preserved.”  Is the point that the generations keep and hand down but the Lord keeps and preserves?  If so, what might we learn from that?

Are nation/kindred/tongue/people four things or four ways of saying the same thing?

Remember that 36:4-5 had a lot to say about how we “know” things.  What light might that shed on this verse?

What does “mysteries” mean here?

Jim F.:  “In chapter 36, Alma described his own salvation, then that of the Israelites, then that of the Lehites. Now he follows those stories with a command for Helaman to keep the records. How does recounting these stories of salvation lead to that command?”

 5 And now behold, if they are kept they must retain their brightness; yea, and they will retain their brightness; yea, and also shall all the plates which do contain that which is holy writ.

Webster 1828 brightness:  “Acuteness, applied to the faculties; sharpness of wit; as the brightness of a man’s parts.”

What does “retain their brightness” mean?  Is this the same thing as the ANL’s swords, where the same language is used?  We can understand what it meant for the swords (no blood), but what does that mean for the plates?

Note that being “kept” is what makes the plates “retain their brightness.”  What does “kept” mean in this context, and why would “keeping” have an effect on brightness?  And how is this relevant to us?

To what other plates might Alma be referring in the final phrase in this verse?

 6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

Even if this is just a rhetorical flourish (is it?), why would Alma think that Helaman would think that this is “foolishness”?

What is the “this” that is foolishness–keeping the plates, or small means, or something related to keeping them ‘bright’?  Why might keeping the plates be thought foolish?  Or:  Why would anyone think that small things are foolish?

If Helaman would think that this (whatever “this” means) is foolish, then why would he be entrusted with the plates?

Is Alma suggesting that keeping the plates is a “small thing”?  In what ways might the scriptures constitute a small thing?

In what situations is the idea that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” not true?

Does the parallel in this verse suggest that confounding the wise is the equivalent of bringing to pass a great thing?

Are “small and simple things” and “small means” the same thing?  How do you know?

What is an examples of a “small means” confounding the wise?

M. Russell Ballard:

Oftentimes we are like the young merchant from Boston, who in 1849, as the story goes, was caught up in the fervor of the California gold rush. He sold all of his possessions to seek his fortune in the California rivers, which he was told were filled with gold nuggets so big that one could hardly carry them. Day after endless day, the young man dipped his pan into the river and came up empty. His only reward was a growing pile of rocks. Discouraged and broke, he was ready to quit until one day an old, experienced prospector said to him, “That’s quite a pile of rocks you are getting there, my boy.” The young man replied, “There’s no gold here. I’m going back home.” Walking over to the pile of rocks, the old prospector said, “Oh, there is gold all right. You just have to know where to find it.” He picked two rocks up in his hands and crashed them together. One of the rocks split open, revealing several flecks of gold sparkling in the sunlight. Noticing a bulging leather pouch fastened to the prospector’s waist, the young man said, “I’m looking for nuggets like the ones in your pouch, not just tiny flecks.” The old prospector extended his pouch toward the young man, who looked inside, expecting to see several large nuggets. He was stunned to see that the pouch was filled with thousands of flecks of gold. The old prospector said, “Son, it seems to me you are so busy looking for large nuggets that you’re missing filling your pouch with these precious flecks of gold. The patient accumulation of these little flecks has brought me great wealth.” This story illustrates the spiritual truth that Alma taught his son Helaman: “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. … And by very small means the Lord … bringeth about the salvation of many souls.”

Brothers and sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, no matter how much we try to make it complicated. We should strive to keep our lives similarly simple, unencumbered by extraneous influences, focused on those things that matter most. What are the precious, simple things of the gospel that bring clarity and purpose to our lives? What are the flecks of gospel gold whose patient accumulation over the course of our lifetime will reward us with the ultimate treasure—the precious gift of eternal life? I believe there is one simple but profound—even sublime—principle that encompasses the entirety of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we wholeheartedly embrace this principle and make it the focus of our lives, it will purify and sanctify us so we can live once again in the presence of God. The Savior spoke of this principle when He answered the Pharisee who asked, “Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” It is only when we love God and Christ with all of our hearts, souls, and minds that we are able to share this love with our neighbors through acts of kindness and service—the way that the Savior would love and serve all of us if He were among us today. Apr 2011 GC

 7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Wouldn’t you have expected the word “small” before the word “means” in this verse?  (Of course the Lord works by means!  How else could the Lord work?)

What does the word “means” mean here?

Is it significant that this verse says “very small means” while v6 said “small means”?

Is “confounding the wise” part of the Lord’s purposes?  This is the second reference in only a few verses, and the pairing it here with salvation makes it sound enormously important.  Is that the case?

Why is “confounding the wise” grouped with bringing about salvation?

The thing that ultimately brings about salvation is the atonement.  Is that a “small” thing?

Brant Gardner suggests a link between the material here and the Liahona story (1 Nephi 16:29:  “And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.”) with the idea that the Liahona/director/interpreter/plates is the “small means” the Lord uses to create a huge effect.  What is interesting about this is that it puts humans in the role of magnifying the small thing by taking its advice and making the world change.

 8 And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.

What does it mean to enlarge memory?  How do the records do that?  How is this idea relevant to your life?  (My thought:  the scriptures are a memory stick, enlarging our memory just as you would for an electronic device.  Ideas we don’t yet have can be found there.)

Is enlarging memory and convincing of error two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

According to this verse, what are the scriptures supposed to do?  (Are they doing those things for you?  Why or why not?) What kind of scripture study would result in these things happening?

Neal A. Maxwell:

While faith is not a perfect knowledge, it brings a deep trust in God, whose knowledge is perfect! Otherwise, one’s small data base of personal experience permits so few useful generalizations! But by searching the holy scriptures, we access a vast, divine data bank, a reservoir of remembrance. In this way, the scriptures can, as the Book of Mormon says, enlarge the memory.  Apr 1991 GC

Neal A. Maxwell:

One of the unique features of the living church of Jesus Christ is its ever-expanding body of fundamental spiritual knowledge about man’s identity and purpose, which enlarges “the memory of this people.” In fact, our ninth article of faith declares that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Thus nourished by a menu blending antiquity and futurity, Church members need never “faint in [their] minds.” Instead, we can be intellectually vibrant. Oct 1986 GC

 9 Yea, I say unto you, were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect tradition of their fathers; yea, these records and their words brought them unto repentance; that is, they brought them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and to rejoice in Jesus Christ their Redeemer.

This is interesting, because I don’t know that the record showed that Ammon used the plates extensively in his preaching, and one suspects that the lopped-off forearms, fainting royalty, etc., played a greater role in the Lamanite conversion than the records.  Perhaps the point here is that Ammon was able to do those things because of his background in the scriptures–that his knowledge of the scriptures is what allowed him to “convince” the Lamanites.

Note the “that is” phrase, a phrase that seems to be used in the BoM to correct or explain what has come before it.  So:  What does this verse suggest about repentance and knowledge?  How does rejoicing relate to those ideas?

How exactly did the records allow Ammon to convince the Lamanites (who, after all, didn’t believe in the records) of the incorrect traditions?

Note that the phrase “these records and their words” implies that, on some level, the record and the words in the record (or:  the words that make up the record) are two separate things.  What are some of the implications of this idea?

The phrase “brought them” makes the scriptures sound like a someone who leads a person from one place to another.

What relationship does this verse envision between knowledge and joy?

 10 And who knoweth but what they will be the means of bringing many thousands of them, yea, and also many thousands of our stiffnecked brethren, the Nephites, who are now hardening their hearts in sin and iniquities, to the knowledge of their Redeemer?

Skousen reads “sins” here.

Note how v9 and v10 positions the Lamanites as righteous and the Nephites as stiffnecked.

I think this bit of off-the-cuff speculation brings us back to Alma’s angst in Alma 29, where he is struggling with his less-than-spectacular mission to the Nephites in the face of Ammon’s stellar mission to the Lamanites.  Alma may have his hopes wrapped up in Helaman’s record keeping that his missionary work with the Nephites will ultimately be fruitful.

 11 Now these mysteries are not yet fully made known unto me; therefore I shall forbear.

Does this verse mean that Alma didn’t know if the Nephites would actually repent?  Or something else?  Either way, what does the word “mystery” mean here?

Does this verse mean that v10 was speculative, that Alma realized he was preaching a little beyond his knowledge?  (If so, note how tentative v10 actually was with the “and who knoweth . . .” intro.)

I think we can read v10-11 to say that Alma did not actually know the ultimate purpose or use of the record he was keeping.  (He had some theories, sure, that he hints at in v10; those turn out to be wrong, largely.)  So even just keeping the record was an act of faith in some respects.

So here’s Alma, the leader of the Church, freely admitting that his knowledge is limited.

 12 And it may suffice if I only say they are preserved for a wise purpose, which purpose is known unto God; for he doth counsel in wisdom over all his works, and his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.

In other words, I think, Alma is saying that he can’t promise that the “wise purpose” is the conversion of the Nephites, but he knows there is a wise purpose.  Again, it is very interesting to see a church leader outline the contours of his knowledge and lack of knowledge.

What is the relationship between God’s purposes, counseling, and paths in this verse?  How do these ideas relate?

Webster 1828 counsel:

1. To give advice or deliberate opinion to another for the government of his conduct; to advise.

2. To exhort, warn, admonish, or instruct. We ought frequently to counsel our children against the vices of the age.

3. To advise or recommend; as, to counsel a crime. [Not much used.]

Notice the lovely paradox of a “straight” path being “round.”  One way to resolve this would be to imagine a walk along the equator: a straight path would lead one in a circle.  (Of course, I doubt this is what Alma would have been thinking here.)  So:  What did Alma mean by this paradoxical image?

How does the counseling relate to the path?

Robert Couch suggests, from Nibley’s work, a link between “one eternal round” and the path made by a compass if the point stays true.  If this is accurate, is there any relationship between this material and the discussion of the Liahona, which is also called a compass?

 13 O remember, remember, my son Helaman, how strict are the commandments of God. And he said: If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land—but if ye keep not his commandments ye shall be cut off from his presence.

Why does Alma repeat the word “remember” here?

What is the link between between v12 and v13?  (In other words, how does Alma move from describing God’s purposes to exhorting Helaman to remember?)

What does it mean to say that the commandments are strict?  How does this relate to the yoke being easy and the burden being light?

Remember that “ye” is plural.

The second sentence here is a very frequently repeated theme in the BoM.  What does prosper mean?  Why is it in opposition to being cut off from God’s presence?  (Or:  What does it suggest about “prospering” if the opposite of prospering is being cut off from the presence of the Lord?) Why “in the land”?  How does “in the land” relate to “from his presence”?

Does it nuance your understanding of this verse to think about “prospering” in the context of Helaman’s future life, which would include warfare?

Note that this verse includes a quote from the Lord (“If ye will keep my . . .”), but then, mid-thought and mid-parallelism, shifts to Alma speaking (“If ye keep not his commandments . . . “).  Why?

 14 And now remember, my son, that God has entrusted you with these things, which are sacred, which he has kept sacred, and also which he will keep and preserve for a wise purpose in him, that he may show forth his power unto future generations.

What does it mean for God to keep something sacred?

Are “keep” and “preserve” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

How does this record show God’s power?

What does this verse in particular and this section in general suggest to you about the role Alma plays as an intermediary between God and Helaman?

15 And now behold, I tell you by the spirit of prophecy, that if ye transgress the commandments of God, behold, these things which are sacred shall be taken away from you by the power of God, and ye shall be delivered up unto Satan, that he may sift you as chaff before the wind.

What work is “by the spirit of prophecy” doing in this verse?

What does the image of the sifted chaff symbolize?

This verse is pretty harsh.

16 But if ye keep the commandments of God, and do with these things which are sacred according to that which the Lord doth command you, (for you must appeal unto the Lord for all things whatsoever ye must do with them) behold, no power of earth or hell can take them from you, for God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words.

Does this verse imply that hell has power?

Thinking about v15-16, what do they teach about Satan’s role?

Thinking about v15-16, how do they compare to v13?  Is it just the personalized version of the general promise?

17 For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers.

Note the logic in this verse:  You can trust God because God has a track record of faithfulness.

18 For he promised unto them that he would preserve these things for a wise purpose in him, that he might show forth his power unto future generations.

19 And now behold, one purpose hath he fulfilled, even to the restoration of many thousands of the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth; and he hath shown forth his power in them, and he will also still show forth his power in them unto future generations; therefore they shall be preserved.

We’re back to the idea that the record had a huge role in the conversion of the Lamanites.  Is this technically (if indirectly) true, or is Alma shoehorning the Lamanite experience into his pre-conceived beliefs about the role that the record should play?

V18-19 recapitulate info from v8-10.  Do you then read the material in v11-17 differently, either as a tangent or as bracketed by v8-10 and v18-19?

20 Therefore I command you, my son Helaman, that ye be diligent in fulfilling all my words, and that ye be diligent in keeping the commandments of God as they are written.

Notice the parallel that this verse sets up between Alma’s words and God’s commandments.

Brant Gardner here suggests that Alma’s words are oral and God’s are written; this would be an interesting wrinkle to the idea of keeping the plates.

21 And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters.

Skousen reads “directors” instead of “interpreters” here.

Presumably the 24 plates are the Jaredite record.  Interesting that they would be known by their number and not some other way.  (In the Bible, 12 is frequently used as a symbol for Israel.)  Compare Mosiah 8:9.

So do you read this as different directions than Helaman got for keeping the other plates?  (In other words, are there different rules for different records?)

Is the inverse parallelism of “secret works” and “made manifest” just a nice little reversal, or is something more going on here?

Interesting that the emphasis here is on the bad stuff–weird to think of the record of that being sacred and so important.  Why isn’t the focus on the good stuff?

Given that the record was already translated by Mosiah, it is interesting the emphasis that Alma here places on the preservation of, not the translation, but the plates.  Why might this be?  Is this related to the mention of the interpreter/director in this verse?  (It almost sounds as if they didn’t trust Mosiah’s translation or something.)

Note that everything mentioned in this verse is negative, with the possible exception of “mysteries.”  Does the context suggest that mysteries is also negative?

The book of Ether really doesn’t seem that negative to me.  Is that selective editing or what?

22 For behold, the Lord saw that his people began to work in darkness, yea, work secret murders and abominations; therefore the Lord said, if they did not repent they should be destroyed from off the face of the earth.

Does this verse picture the Lord learning something?

23 And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.

What is Gazelem–the name of the servant, or the name of the stone?  (Note that this is the only time this word is used in the scriptures.) (LDS.org takes it as the servant’s name.  Same here, but note the “apparently.”)

There’s just not a whole lot said about “Gazelem” (all lds.org hits here).  This article by Richard Lloyd Anderson has this statement:

The memo says President Woodruff made some spontaneous comments to Elder James E. Talmage “in relation to the seer stone known as ‘Gazelem,’ which was shown of the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith to be some thirty feet under ground, and which he obtained by digging under the pretence of excavating for a well, as related in his own history.”

So that would name the stone, not the seer, Gazelem, but the authenticity of that seems disputed by the author.

This article mentions that “Gazelem” was a “code name” for Joseph Smith in earlier editions of the D&C.

Is there a link between the “servant” and the “people who serve me” in this verse?

See Ether 3:21-24:

And it came to pass that the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt not suffer these things which ye have seen and heard to go forth unto the world, until the time cometh that I shall glorify my name in the flesh; wherefore, ye shalltreasure up the things which ye have seen and heard, and show it to no man. And behold, when ye shall come unto me, ye shall write them and shall seal them up, that no one can interpret them; for ye shall write them in a language that they cannot be read. And behold, these two stones will I give unto thee, and ye shall seal them up also with the things which ye shall write. For behold, the language which ye shall write I have confounded; wherefore I will cause in my own due time that these stones shall magnify to the eyes of men these things which ye shall write.

Is that the same thing that is being described here in Alma?

Of course, another prominent stone shining in the dark prepared by the Lord in the Jaredite record, at least the version we have, would be the 16 stones the brother of Jared gives to the Lord to light for them to have on their journey.  Is that related in any way to what is happening in this verse?

Do you read this verse as a(n otherwise untranslated) quote from the Jaredite record?

Brant Gardner quotes McConkie and Millet on Gazelem:

This may well be a play on words. Is Gazelem the seer stone or the servant? It is difficult to tell from the passage and depends very much on the placement of a comma in the sentence. Perhaps it could refer to both. It is interesting to note that when Jesus called Simon Peter to the ministry he said: “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, a seer, or a stone” (JST, John 1:42). Though this name or title of Gazelem may be used in regard to any seer who utilizes seer stones, it seems in this instance to be a direct reference to Joseph Smith the Prophet. (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987-1992], 3: 278.)

24 And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:

Are these interpreters and the stone (v23) the same thing, or are they different?

25 I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land.

Thinking about this verse in the context of v24, why were the interpreters necessary?  (In other words, why couldn’t the seers have worked without them?)

26 And now, my son, we see that they did not repent; therefore they have been destroyed, and thus far the word of God has been fulfilled; yea, their secret abominations have been brought out of darkness and made known unto us.

What specific lack-of-repentance and destruction is Alma referring to here?

27 And now, my son, I command you that ye retain all their oaths, and their covenants, and their agreements in their secret abominations; yea, and all their signs and their wonders ye shall keep from this people, that they know them not, lest peradventure they should fall into darkness also and be destroyed.

Skousen reads “retain” from this people.  That makes an interesting link with the “retain” at the beginning of the verse.

Wait a minute–I thought he was supposed to keep all of these things so the people would know them.  (See v21.)  This verse makes it sound as if he is supposed to keep it all away from the people.  (I think v29 clarifies that he is to make the wickedness known, but keep the oath and covenants secret.)  Why would that be important?

Is there any modern application to this verse?  That is, is there anything today that should be kept away from the people so they don’t fall into darkness?

Irony alert:  By reading this, we may not know the content of the oaths, etc., but we know that material has been kept out of the translation of the Jaredite record for our own good.  We know that we are missing something.

Presumably Helaman was able to read these Jaredite records without falling into darkness, no?

Note that we just learned that the interpreters were there to shine a light; in this verse, we learn that knowledge of the oaths might lead one to darkness.  Does this set the interpreters and the oaths in opposition?  Does it imply that the oaths are stronger than the interpreters?

What does this verse teach about “signs and wonders”?  (Are you surprised that wicked people have them?)

I think any modern person is made a little nervous by the idea of keeping information from people “for their own good.”  How then do you understand this verse?  Is some knowledge dangerous?

We talk about coming to earth to be tested in all things, but this verse makes it sound as if the Lord thinks that exposure to this information might make the test unfairly difficult.  Is that the best reading of this verse?

28 For behold, there is a curse upon all this land, that destruction shall come upon all those workers of darkness, according to the power of God, when they are fully ripe; therefore I desire that this people might not be destroyed.

How does this verse relate to the one before it?

Interesting that he says there is a curse on the land–we usually focus on the blessing on the land.

Doesn’t destruction always come upon those who work darkness?  (By which I mean:  What role does the curse play here?)

Why is “ripe” a good metaphor here?

29 Therefore ye shall keep these secret plans of their oaths and their covenants from this people, and only their wickedness and their murders and their abominations shall ye make known unto them; and ye shall teach them to abhor such wickedness and abominations and murders; and ye shall also teach them that these people were destroyed on account of their wickedness and abominations and their murders.

How do you teach people to abhor wickedness?

Note the duplication of wickedness/abominations/murders.  Why?  Is this three different things or three ways of saying the same thing?

Isn’t there also a danger in letting people know of the wickedness (even without the oaths)?  Honestly, the wickedness seems more dangerous than the oaths do to me–what am I missing?

Why couldn’t he just teach them to abhor the oaths the way he is supposed to teach them to abhor the wickedness?

Irony:  none of these precautions work–the people are going to end up with secret combinations anyway. (They’ll learn them from their neighbors, not their history books.) So was Alma just wrong or what?

30 For behold, they murdered all the prophets of the Lord who came among them to declare unto them concerning their iniquities; and the blood of those whom they murdered did cry unto the Lord their God for vengeance upon those who were their murderers; and thus the judgments of God did come upon these workers of darkness and secret combinations.

Did the Jaredites really murder all of the prophets, or is this hyperbole?

31 Yea, and cursed be the land forever and ever unto those workers of darkness and secret combinations, even unto destruction, except they repent before they are fully ripe.

Does this verse indicate that the curse can be removed?

32 And now, my son, remember the words which I have spoken unto you; trust not those secret plans unto this people, but teach them an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity.

So Alma has taken great pains to say “teach the wickedness, but not the plans/oaths.”  Why?  And why was all of this recorded for us?

33 Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; teach them to humble themselves and to be meek and lowly in heart; teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think this verse suggests that faith and temptation are opposites.

34 Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls.

Why might someone become weary of good works?

Is being meek and lowly of heart (what does that mean, anyway?) the opposite of being weary of good works?

What does it mean for your soul to rest?  Is it related to the weariness?

I think this verse is suggesting that the solution to weariness isn’t disengagement, but rather meekness, because the meek will rest.  Why might that be?  How does that work exactly?

Neal A. Maxwell:

The urgings for us not to weary in well-doing contain prescriptions to avoid such weariness. We are to work steadily, but realistically, and only expect to reap “in due season.”  We are to serve while being “meek and lowly,” avoiding thereby the wearying burdens of self-pity and hypocrisy. We are to pray always so that we will not faint, so that our performance will actually be for the welfare of our souls, which is so much more than just going through the motions. April 1991 GC

35 O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.

Does this verse imply that Helaman is still really young?

Is learning wisdom and learning to keep the commandments the same thing?

36 Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.

What does it mean for your doings and “goings” to be “unto the Lord”?

I think the idea of directing “all” of your thoughts to the Lord is hyperbolic.  If that is the case, should the other elements be read the same way?

Consider the phrases in this verse:

cry unto God for all thy support;

yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord,

and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord;

yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord;

yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.

How do these ideas relate?  Why do three begin with “yea”?  Do they duplicate content? What do you make of doings/thoughts/affections?

David A. Bednar:

During the course of the day, we keep a prayer in our heart for continued assistance and guidance—even as Alma suggested: “Let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord.” We notice during this particular day that there are occasions where normally we would have a tendency to speak harshly, and we do not; or we might be inclined to anger, but we are not. We discern heavenly help and strength and humbly recognize answers to our prayer. Even in that moment of recognition, we offer a silent prayer of gratitude. At the end of our day, we kneel again and report back to our Father. We review the events of the day and express heartfelt thanks for the blessings and the help we received. We repent and, with the assistance of the Spirit of the Lord, identify ways we can do and become better tomorrow. Thus our evening prayer builds upon and is a continuation of our morning prayer. And our evening prayer also is a preparation for meaningful morning prayer. Morning and evening prayers—and all of the prayers in between—are not unrelated, discrete events; rather, they are linked together each day and across days, weeks, months, and even years. This is in part how we fulfill the scriptural admonition to “pray always.” Such meaningful prayers are instrumental in obtaining the highest blessings God holds in store for His faithful children. October 2008 GC

37 Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

Skousen reads “always do these things.”

Is the counseling here related to the counseling in v12 (“for he doth counselin wisdom over all his works”)?

What exactly does it mean to counsel with the Lord?

I think this verse is suggesting “security by night and gratitude by day.”  What do you make of this?

Note lie down — rise — lifted up.  How do these three ideas relate?

38 And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.

We haven’t heard anything about the Liahona in a long time–why does it reappear here?

Why does it get four names (ball, director, Liahona, compass) here?

This is the only time the word “Liahona” is used in the entire BoM.

Article on possible background of the word Liahona here.

Can you discern a logical link between v37 and v38?

General question:  What, if anything, is the relationship between Gazelem (or:  the stone the Gazelem uses) and the Liahona?  Given that this passage is the only time that these two words are used in the scriptures, and given their proximity, I suspect a connection but can’t put my finger on it . . . How are they the same?  How are they different?  If you parallel them, it almost makes Lehi’s journey into a text that needs to be interpreted, which is a pretty rich idea.  The type and shadow language in v43f supports this idea.

39 And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness.

Is this related to v12:  “his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round”?

40 And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.

The use of a physical object as a spiritual aid is fairly odd.  Why did Lehi have one?  Is the conversation about the Liahona here related to the interpreters/stone above?

What does this verse suggest about the relationship between faith and miracles?

41 Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;

Is the Liahona really a “small mean”?  Because I think that would be fairly impressive!

Is this verse suggesting that only small means can lead to marvelous works (note the “because”)?

What is the relationship between sloth and faith?

Note how progress on the journey has become its own metaphor here.  (See the “shadow” in v43.)

42 Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions.

43 And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.

What are the limits to the “shadows”?  That is, what do we see in the temporal world that is not a shadow for things in the spiritual world?

What are the “these things” that were temporal?  Sure, the Liahona was a physical object, but they recognized its great spiritual import (right) and that it worked according to the spiritual principles of faith and obedience?  So in what sense, then, was it temporal and not spiritual?

What principles of scripture interpretation is Alma advocating here?

44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.

Is it really easy to give heed to the word of Christ?  (Because, frankly, sometimes I find it rather difficult.  And I think the lines above about their sloth keeping them from following the Liahona suggest the same thing.)  (I think v46 addresses the slothfulness/easiness issue to some extent.)

One of the meanings of compass is “A passing round; a circular course; a circuit”  (Webster’s 1828), so there is a nice little irony (in English, at least!) with a compass providing a straight course, unless this is related to the straight course/eternal round thing that we talked about above.

45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.

Instead of “as surely as,” Skousen reads “assuredly as.”

Is Alma using “type” (v45) and “shadow” (v43) interchangeably?  What about “compass” (v44) and director (v45)?

Note how similar this verse is to v44, but also note the differences:  v44 has a “straight” course while this one just has a course.  V44 has “eternal bliss” while this one has “beyond this vale of sorrow . . . land of promise.”

What do v43-45 teach you about how to read the scriptures?

46 O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.

Do you think Alma was particularly concerned about Helaman’s slothfulness for some reason?

Is it fair to say that Alma sees “the easiness of the way” as a potential bug instead of a feature?

The look/live language sounds as much like the brazen serpent as the Liahona–is there a link here?

47 And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live. Go unto this people and declare the word, and be sober. My son, farewell.

The commandments of Alma to his son Shiblon.

Is it significant that these chapter headings use the word “commandments” (instead of “words” or “blessing” or “counsel” or whatever)?

CHAPTER 38
1 My son, give ear to my words, for I say unto you, even as I said unto Helaman, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence.

Does “even as I said” imply that Shiblon was or was not present when Alma spoke to Helaman?  (Does 35:16 imply that they were separated?)

Does “even as I said” suggest that Alma was trying to convey that he was giving the same message to each son?  (Did Alma give the same message to each son?)

2 And now, my son, I trust that I shall have great joy in you, because of your steadiness and your faithfulness unto God; for as you have commenced in your youth to look to the Lord your God, even so I hope that you will continue in keeping his commandments; for blessed is he that endureth to the end.

Note that nothing like this (or v3) was said to Helaman–why might that be?  (Is it just because Helaman was so young?  If Alma wasn’t yet sure how Helaman would turn out, it makes the entrusting of the plates to him most interesting!)

What does the word “steadiness” convey to you?

3 I say unto you, my son, that I have had great joy in thee already, because of thy faithfulness and thy diligence, and thy patience and thy long-suffering among the people of the Zoramites.

Is it significant that v2 referred to steadiness and faithfulness, but this verse refers to faithfulness and diligence?

What is the relationship between faithfulness, diligence, patience, and long-suffering in this verse?  Are they 1, 2, 3, or 4 different things?

What does this verse teach you about joy?

4 For I know that thou wast in bonds; yea, and I also know that thou wast stoned for the word’s sake; and thou didst bear all these things with patience because the Lord was with thee; and now thou knowest that the Lord did deliver thee.

Skousen reads “I knew” instead of “I know” and “I also knew” instead of “I also know.”

Of course Shiblon knows that Alma knows these things, so what is accomplished by Alma verbalizing them?

Note that we don’t have a stoning scene in the Zoramite mission chronicles.

In the Bible, stoning is a punishment, leading to death, for sexual misconduct.  (But the distance between the Zoramites and the OT is pretty great, so it is hard to know if that meaning is here.  On the other hand, we find out in the next chapter that Shiblon’s brother was in fact guilty of sexual sin, so it isn’t that far of a stretch to think that Shiblon might have ended up getting punished for something his brother did.)

5 And now my son, Shiblon, I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

In all seriousness, why would trusting God have any effect on whether you are delivered?  (If two of my kids were on a sinking raft, I’d rescue them both, even the one who didn’t trust me to save him.)

Brant Gardner suggests that what Alma is trying to do here is to get Shiblon to generalize from his past experience of God rescuing him from physical trials to a current/future experience of God rescuing him spiritually.

6 Now, my son, I would not that ye should think that I know these things of myself, but it is the Spirit of God which is in me which maketh these things known unto me; for if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things.

Interesting how similar this is to Alma 36, but Alma apparently felt the need to say this specifically to Shiblon and not just to Helaman.

What does it mean to know something “of myself”?  Is that what we would call empirical knowledge?

If Gardner is right about the previous verse (meaning:  that Alma wants Shiblon to use past performance as a guarantee of future results), then isn’t that the same thing as knowing “of myself”?  In other words, doesn’t the disparaging of knowing things “of myself” in this verse contradict the point of the previous verse, which was that Shiblon could/should know things of himself?

How can you tell the difference between knowing something “of yourself” and knowing it from the Spirit of God in you?

What does “born of God” mean in this verse?  How does it relate to knowledge?

7 But behold, the Lord in his great mercy sent his angel to declare unto me that I must stop the work of destruction among his people; yea, and I have seen an angel face to face, and he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth.

Mercy is an interesting concept here, especially since previous accounts have focused on the role that Alma’s father’s faith played in prompting the angelic visitation.

Why does God show mercy to some people and not to others?  (In other words, why doesn’t everyone get an angel?)

What is accomplished by comparing the voice of the angel to thunder?

Contrast this angel to the “still, small voice.”  Why does this angel shake the whole earth?

Presumably “whole earth” is hyperbole here!

8 And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul.

Note that Alma shares his conversion story with Shiblon, as he did with Helaman, but much abbreviated.  Why?  (Crazy idea:  maybe the lengthy recitation and chiasmus was more appropriate for the son who would get the job of record keeper.)

9 And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness.

Presumably Shiblon was already familiar with his father’s conversion story, so in what sense would Alma think that Shiblon would “learn wisdom” from this account?

Does the word “means” here relate to its use as “small means” in the previous chapter?

What relationship is this verse suggesting between life, light, truth, and righteousness, given the parallel structure that those words are in?

(Does this seem like a pretty basic message to be teaching to a RM?)

10 And now, as ye have begun to teach the word even so I would that ye should continue to teach; and I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all things.

What does temperance mean?  What would it mean to teach with temperance?

Is there a tension between diligence and temperance?

Kent D. Watson:

Alma instructed his son Shiblon, and by extension instructs all of us, to “see that ye are not lifted up unto pride.” Rather, we should “be diligent and temperate in all things.” Being temperate means to carefully examine our expectations and desires, to be diligent and patient in seeking righteous goals. A few years ago, I was driving home from work when a large semitruck, traveling in the opposite direction, lost one of its dual tires. The tire flew over the median separating our lanes. It came bouncing down my side of the freeway. Cars were swerving in both directions, drivers not knowing which direction the tire would bounce next. I dodged left when I should have dodged right, and the tire took its final bounce right on the corner of my windshield. A friend called my wife to inform her of the accident. She told me later that her first thought was of lacerations from shattered glass. Indeed, I was covered with beads of broken glass but did not suffer a single scratch. It was definitely not because of my driving skills; rather, it was because the windshield of my little car was made of tempered glass. Tempered glass, like tempered steel, undergoes a well-controlled heating process which increases strength. Thus, when tempered glass is under stress, it will not easily break into jagged shards that can injure. Likewise, a temperate soul—one who is humble and full of love—is also a person of increased spiritual strength. With increased spiritual strength, we are able to develop self-mastery and to live with moderation. We learn to control, or temper, our anger, vanity, and pride. With increased spiritual strength, we can protect ourselves from the dangerous excesses and destructive addictions of today’s world. Oct 2009 GC

11 See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength.

The BoM warns repeatedly against boasting.  (I love this piece:  “Don’t think you hit a triple when you were born on third base.”)

Is the “lifted up” language in this verse related to the “lifted up at the last day” language from a few verses back?

In what situations might we be tempted to boast of our own wisdom or strength?

Is boasting in your wisdom and strength a definition of pride, an example or pride, or something else?

12 Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness.

What’s the difference between boldness and overbearance?

Why is a bridle a good image?  Why would bridled passions lead to love?

Is there an inherent relationship between out-of-control passions and idleness, or is that just a coincidence that they are mentioned together?

We usually think of this verse in terms of S-E-X, but what other passions need to be bridled?

Does this verse posit a relationship between bridled passions and boldness?  In other words, what is the relationship between the first chunk of the verse and the middle chunk?

Is there a parallelism between bridled passions and refraining from idleness?  If this is the case, then why isn’t there a “that ye may be . . .” phrase after the reference to idleness?

There seem to be three separate but related ideas in this verse, and I suspect they all have to do with discipline:  bold-but-not-overbearing means you control your message, bridled passions means that you control your passions, and no idleness means that you control your laziness.  Is that the best way of reading this verse?  Are there other ways to frame the relationship between the parts of the verse?

Is bridling of passions a method for being bold without being overbearing?  (In other words, I am wondering if our usual S-E-X interpretation of this verse is a bit of a red herring and Alma’s theme is more consistent:  be bold but not overbearing; you do this by controlling your temper [=passions], when your temper is controlled, it is easier to love people; the flip side of overbearing is idle–don’t do that either.)

13 Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom.

Was there really a danger that Shiblon might pray like the Zoramites?  If not, why did Alma say this?

Given that all Zoramites offered exactly the same prayer, how would that have given them an opportunity to be praised for their wisdom?

Note Alma’s focus on the Zoramites’ motives in this verse.  How might we be afflicted with similar motives?

14 Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy—yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times.

This is a huge verse in terms of outlining what our attitude should be toward sinners.  How might you model it?

15 And may the Lord bless your soul, and receive you at the last day into his kingdom, to sit down in peace. Now go, my son, and teach the word unto this people. Be sober. My son, farewell.

The commandments of Alma to his son Corianton.

CHAPTER 39
1 And now, my son, I have somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother; for behold, have ye not observed the steadiness of thy brother, his faithfulness, and his diligence in keeping the commandments of God? Behold, has he not set a good example for thee?

Today, any child psych worth her salt would tell you to never, ever compare your children.  Was Alma just a bad parent, or is there something to be said for what he does in this verse?

To which brother is Alma referring here?

Alma has a lot more (as in, several chapters more!) to say to Corianton than to his brothers.  And it isn’t because he’s better off or worthy of more, but because he’s worse off than they are.  That’s an interesting take on the length of material/attention/counsel/patriarchal blessings/subject of GC talks, etc.

Why do you think Alma begins his discourse to Corianton with two questions?

I find it a little odd that Alma would focus on Corianton’s brother’s example here and not Alma’s own example to him.  Why might Alma have done that?

Brant Gardner writes:

Alma begins his discourse to Corianton with both a similarity and a difference from the last two. Missing in this introduction is the personalization of the Nephite national promise; that he would prosper through righteousness. Immediately we notice its absence, as it was the introduction of his address to both Helaman and Shiblon. It would appear that it was a promise emphasized to those who appeared destined to fulfill it. For those it was a promise of personal preservation if they continued to hold to the way of the Lord. As we shall see, Corianton was not as faithful in this regard, and it appears that Alma withheld the specific promise as Corianton was not in as much of a position to fulfill it as were his siblings. What is similar to the other discourses is that he carries some theme from one to the other. Alma makes reference to Helaman’s blessing when he addresses Shiblon (Alma 38:1), and here he makes reference to Shiblon (and by implication to his blessing). Alma is making a linkage among the brothers. He is asserting their physical bonds as brothers and attempting to make those physical bonds into spiritual bonds. Specifically, we see that Shiblon (not Helaman) is being held up as an example to Corianton. Alma would understand instinctually that the blessings to the firstborn (as we must assume Helaman to be) would be different from and exceed the blessings of the subsequent brothers. Thus Alma does not hold up Helaman as an example, for to do so would be to present what could be considered an impossible example. How could a younger son approach the merits of the firstborn? In an ancient patriarchal society, the rights of the firstborn are paramount, and it is the violation of those rights through the will of the Lord that lends emphasis to the stories of Joseph from the Old Testament and Nephi in the Book of Mormon. Shiblon, however, was not privileged by birth, but only by personal merit. It this he is the perfect example for Corianton of one who obeys for the sake of righteousness, and not for position or responsibility. Citation

I’m not sure that I agree with that–it is interesting to wonder why Helaman (presumably younger and less tested than Shiblon) ends up with the plates, but it is (presumably) Shiblon who is here presented to Corianton as the example to follow.

2 For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.

Is this at all related to the boasting that Aaron accused Ammon of doing in Alma 26:10?

You know, these repeated references to “thy brother” are starting to make Helaman look like a potted plant.  (Perhaps “among the Zoramites” limits the damage.)

Thinking about the sins that Corianton would eventually commit, it is interesting that boasting in his strength and wisdom were the gateway sins.  What might we learn from this?  How can a boastful (is that the same as prideful?) attitude lead to other sins?

3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.

There are very few named women in the BoM.  Why do you think Isabel was named here?

Note that v2 is framed as not listening to my (=Alma’s) words and this verse is framed as going something grievous to me (=Alma).  Not to accuse Alma of being your old-world grandmother or anything, but why is this all about Alma and not about the Lord?

Why would Alma say “into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites”?  Presumably Corianton knows full well where he went!  Brant Gardner offers a possible explanation:

What we might miss is that this “harlot” is “among the borders of the Lamanites.” This direction is probably as significant as the time spent with Isabel. Isabel is apparently not necessarily Zoramite, but Lamanite. At the very least, there is the implication of direction here that is more than physical. Corianton did not simply physically move towards the Lamanites, he is culturally and spiritually moving towards the Lamanites. When he leaves his mission, he does not go home, he goes in the opposite direction both physically and spiritually. Citation

4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.

What does the word “tended” suggest to you?

What does the word “steal” suggest to you?

Why does Alma even mention the other people, if only to sort of immediately backtrack and say “but that’s no excuse!”

In the Bible, heart = mind.

We saw the word “entrusted” a few chapters ago re Helaman and the plates.  Is that relevant here?

Many readers have suggested that the word “harlot” (v3) and the “many others” (in this verse) indicate that she isn’t just a woman of loose morals but some sort of religious figure, probably associated with idolatry.  (1 Kings 11:2-3 uses similar language for the way that King Solomon’s wives turned him to idolatry.)

5 Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?

What are the benefits and risks of ranking sins?

To what does “these things” refer–to sexual sin or to idolatry?  This is a very important question, obviously, since we are ranking sins in this verse.  Note that “things” is plural–does it refer to more than one thing?  (What things, then?)

Presumably, Corianton knew that these things were bad sins.  Why, then, does Alma ask this?

Brant Gardner:

This is not a simple error of sexual passion. That would be a sin, but certainly a forgivable one. It hardly fits the category of “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost.” What would be “most abominable” however, is the denial of the gospel and the embracing of a false gospel. Such a sin would preclude forgiveness not because it was not possible (as with the sin against the Holy Ghost, or the shedding of blood) but because the person who had apostatized would have put themselves in a position where they had lost their belief in the repentance process, and would not repent. One who will not repent is only slightly less in condemnation than one who cannot. Citation

6 For behold, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness; yea, I say unto you, my son, that it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness.

What exactly does it mean to deny the Holy Ghost?

Why does Alma engage in what seems like a tangent in this verse?  Or is Alma accusing Corianton of doing any of the things in this verse?

Does this verse suggest that it is possible to deny the Holy Ghost without knowing it?  (Hence the phrase “and ye know that ye deny it.”)

Why would denying the Holy Ghost be unpardonable when, say, torturing children is not?

What does “murdereth against the light and knowledge of God” mean?  Is it literal murder?  Something else?

Interesting article here.  Main idea:  the big sin here isn’t the sex but the idolatry, which then reframes the ranking of sins.  My note:  it also explains why Alma focusing on general doctrine in this section and not the law of chastity.  It also explains v11–it seems more likely that the Zoramites would have been led astray by an idolatrous missionary than a sexually active one.  (It is worth noting that there are about a billion quotations from GAs supporting the idea that the sin was sexual.)

The article also suggests that “murdering against light and knowledge” is one of the sins that Corianton has committed through his idolatry, and that is why Alma is focused on it here.  If you read the reference to murdering and then read v7, you do get the impression that that is what Corianton has done.  The article suggests that the basic meaning is to “murder” someone else’s testimony, and that it is possible, but difficult, to repent of this.  Alma 36:14 supports the reading of “murdering” as killing someone else’s testimony.

General thought:  thinking back to Alma’s counsel to Helaman re what to put on the plates:  I’m wondering to what extent Alma is following that guidance here, by showing Corianton’s wickedness, but perhaps leaving out the “oaths” part.

Why is there an “a” before “forgiveness” here?

Why is the final line repeated?

I think the function of this verse is meant to explain why these two sins are worse than other sins.  If that is indeed the best way to read this verse, then what can we conclude from this verse about sin and repentance?

7 And now, my son, I would to God that ye had not been guilty of so great a crime. I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good.

In what situations is it good to dwell upon someone else’s crimes?

Julie B. Beck:

 I often hear about the chosen, royal generation of this dispensation, but I have never heard it called the perfect generation. Teenagers are especially vulnerable because the power of Satan is real, and they are making their first big, independent choices. Consequently, they are also making their first big mistakes. This is what happened to Corianton in the Book of Mormon. Corianton was supposed to be serving a faithful mission, but he thought he was strong enough and smart enough to handle risky situations and bad company, and he got himself into big trouble and big sin when he started going to the wrong places, with the wrong people, doing the wrong things. Apr 07 GC

8 But behold, ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day.

Is this verse picturing sin personified and testifying?  If so, what might we learn from that image?

9 Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things.

The word “eyes” strikes me as unusual here.

Why is “forsake your sins” mentioned separately from repentance, as if it were not a part of repentance?

We don’t usually locate the seat of lust in the eyes.  ;) What does Alma suggest by doing so here?

Webster 1828 cross:

1. To draw or run a line, or lay a body across another; as, to cross a word in writing; to cross the arms.

2. To erase; to cancel; as, to cross an account.

3. To make the sign of the cross, as catholics in devotion.

4. To pass from side to side; to pass or move over; as, to cross a road; to cross a river, or the ocean. I crossed the English channel, from Dieppe to Brighton, in a steam-boat, Sept. 18, 1824.

5. To thwart; to obstruct; to hinder; to embarrass; as, to cross a purpose or design.

6. To counteract; to clash or interfere with; to be inconsistent with; as, natural appetites may cross our principles.

7. To counteract or contravene; to hinder by authority; to stop. [See No. 5.]

8. To contradict.

9. To debar or preclude.

What does “cross yourself” mean here?

Ezra Taft Benson:

Consider carefully the words of the prophet Alma to his errant son, Corianton, “Forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes.”  “The lusts of your eyes.” In our day, what does that expression mean? Movies, television programs, and video recordings that are both suggestive and lewd. Magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic. October 1986 GC

10 And I command you to take it upon you to counsel with your elder brothers in your undertakings; for behold, thou art in thy youth, and ye stand in need to be nourished by your brothers. And give heed to their counsel.

Note that the beginning of the chapter referred to brother (singular) but here it is plural.  Why?

What does “counsel” mean here?

What does “nourish” mean here?

Some more quotes on this passage here.

11 Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing; suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots. Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.

We didn’t get any of this the chapters about the Zoramites–why do you think it wasn’t mentioned then that Corianton’s sins were an impediment to the work?  Do you think differently about the fact that (some of the) poor Zoramites would listen to Alma but no one else would knowing this about Corianton now?

Does this verse suggest that it is possible to bring iniquity upon someone else?

Alma shows Corianton allowing himself to be led away but also the devil leading him away, and also Corianton bringing iniquity upon the Zoramites.  What is this verse’s message agency and free choice?

What does this verse suggest about the relationship between words and conduct?

12 And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities;

Note that children is plural here; does that mean that Alma is not longer speaking only to Corianton?

Remember that Alma was once the “bad son” worried over by a righteous father.  (Irony, it’s a pain.)

The cynic says:  Does this mean that the previous 11 verses were not given through the Spirit of the Lord?

13 That ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done.

Royal Skousen:

Some people have asked whether any textual restoration ever alters doctrine – and the answer is, no. Whenever a change involves doctrine, we find that the original reading has the correct doctrine. An example of this is found in Alma 39:13, where Alma is talking to his son Corianton and tells him to go back to the Zoramites and, in the original manuscript, “acknowledge your faults and repair that wrong which ye have done”. When Oliver Cowdery finished writing this page in the original manuscript, he accidentally dropped some ink on the page. And on the letter p in repair a drop of ink fell right on top of the ascender for the p, which ended up making the p look like it’s been crossed. In fact, the p ends up looking like a t. Moreover, Oliver’s r’s and n’s often look alike, so when Oliver came to copy this part of the text into the printer’s manuscript, he copied it as “acknowledge your faults and retain that wrong which ye have done”. That reading doesn’t quite work, and so the 1920 LDS committee decided to just remove the word retain because it didn’t make any sense. Thus they ended up having Alma say to Corianton that he should go back and “acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done”. In other words, “go back and say you’re sorry”. But the need for Corianton to repair his wrong had now been removed from this passage. When we look at other parts of the Book of Mormon text, we indeed find that when people confess their sins, they do everything they can to repair the wrongs or the injuries they have done. Here’s one from Mosiah 27:35: “zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church / confessing all their sins”. And here’s one from Helaman 5:17: “they came forth and did confess their sins … and immediately returned to the Nephites to endeavor to repair unto them the wrongs which they had done”. So by putting back the word repair in Alma 39:13, the correct doctrine of repentance is restored. The doctrine hasn’t been changed.  Citation

14 Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world; for behold, you cannot carry them with you.

Was Corianton seeking after riches?

15 And now, my son, I would say somewhat unto you concerning the coming of Christ. Behold, I say unto you, that it is he that surely shall come to take away the sins of the world; yea, he cometh to declare glad tidings of salvation unto his people.

Are you surprised that Alma is preaching about Christ, given Corianton’s wickedness?  Why does Alma begin to address this topic now?

What relationship does this verse posit between taking away sin and declaring glad tidings?

16 And now, my son, this was the ministry unto which ye were called, to declare these glad tidings unto this people, to prepare their minds; or rather that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming.

Is Alma saying here that their mission wasn’t so much about the Zoramites as it was about their (=the Zoramites’) children?

17 And now I will ease your mind somewhat on this subject. Behold, you marvel why these things should be known so long beforehand. Behold, I say unto you, is not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?

Is Corianton’s questioning related in any specific way to his sin?

It’s roughly 70BCE.  Is that really that long beforehand?

Can you determine why this question would have led Corianton to “unease”?

Why/how is the preciousness of souls related to prophecy?

18 Is it not as necessary that the plan of redemption should be made known unto this people as well as unto their children?

The cynic asks:  Then what of all of the people in various times and places who did not learn of these things?

19 Is it not as easy at this time for the Lord to send his angel to declare these glad tidings unto us as unto our children, or as after the time of his coming?

This is a rather abrupt moment at which to end the lesson, but Alma’s words to Corianton continue in Alma 40.  So stay tuned . . .

This seems to be an elliptical reference to the angel that was instrumental in Alma’s conversion, which is kind of interesting because Alma mentions it in greater detail to Shiblon and in MUCH greater detail to Helaman.

General thoughts:

(1) What are the similarities and differences between Alma’s words to his sons?  (There’s some really interesting stuff here–this merits close study.  One thing that struck me was the use of the word “counsel.” Another was that all three end with admonitions to soberness.)  Note that Corianton’s is super-long:  it will continue for three more chapters in the next lesson!  Why does Alma speak to each son separately, but with some duplicated material?

(2) Why was this material–which seems rather personal and specific–included in the record?  (It seems a lot more Doctrine and Covenants like in that regard.)  How is it similar to and different from the deathbed blessings recorded in the OT?

(3) Corianton and sexual sin:  I think this is probably the most useful talk ever given about the law of chastity.

(4) What do you learn from Alma about parenting?  About counseling wayward children?

(5) This section definitely qualifies as a “warts and all” history: I’m sure Alma was mortified at Corianton’s behavior, but he makes no effort to keep it out of the record.

(6) Interesting article placing Alma’s counsel to his sons in the context of the questions asked and answered at Passover here.

(7) Alma 35 told us why Alma spoke to his sons:

15 Now Alma, being grieved for the iniquity of his people, yea for the wars, and the bloodsheds, and the contentions which were among them; and having been to declare the word, or sent to declare the word, among all the people in every city; and seeing that the hearts of the people began to wax hard, and that they began to be offended because of the strictness of the word, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful. 16 Therefore, he caused that his sons should be gathered together, that he might give unto them every one his charge, separately, concerning the things pertaining unto righteousness. And we have an account of his commandments, which he gave unto them according to his own record.

How do Alma’s words address these issues?

(8) Nice talk from Pres. Packer on the Corianton story here.

(9) Shiblon and Corianton served the same mission, were raised by the same parents, etc., but had very different outcomes.  What might you learn from this?

Update:  comment on “gall of bitterness” here.

6 Responses to BMGD #29: Alma 36-39

  1. John Taber on July 23, 2012 at 11:05 am

    What have you seen about the name “Isabel” being an alternate transliteration of “Jezebel”? I find that idea intriguing because the name we known as “Jezebel” (queen of king Ahab) comes out “Izebel” in my Italian (mission) Bible. Along those lines, there is (or was recently) a “gentlemen’s club” in Philadelphia called “Delilah’s Den”.

  2. Stephen R. Marsh on July 27, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Well, the spam filter ate my last two comments, but this is something I very much appreciated. Thank you.

  3. C. on July 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Interesting thought that occurred to me while I was putting together my lesson this week (many thanks to your fabulous, as always notes), was that sexual misconduct isn’t the only component of Corianton’s sinning. It’s often puzzled me how sex is ranked right up there with murder and denying the Holy Ghost as a one way ticket to hell, when I think most people know someone who has some sort sexual slip up in their past. Moreover, we are told constantly that it is something we can move on from with priesthood counsel, godly sorry, etc. – whereas it seems that even murder (repentance or not) carries some sort of eternal penalty.

    It seems to me that Corianton didn’t just misbehave with Isobel, he abandoned his post. I can only assume that he was set apart in some way to be a minister and missionary, and he willfully chose Isobel and all she represented (interesting idolatry theory!) over what he knew to be true and had been called to represent. Sort of like the difference between a missionary who commits a big sin before his mission vs. one who commits a big sin DURING his mission.

    Messing around with sacred procreative powers, is bad, yes. Doing so specifically when you have been called to preach and work against such things is worse. The extrapolation to members of the church is that if we’ve taken up the name of Christ and his mission, the sin is when we knowingly go against what we have been taught and covenanted to obey.

    I really appreciate these posts! Keep ‘em up!

  4. Julie M. Smith on July 28, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    C., that’s a great connection, thank you.

  5. Julie M. Smith on August 2, 2012 at 9:04 am
  6. Gary on August 2, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    It is also interesting to note that after the reprimand issued by Alma, Corianton was immediately sent back out where he seems to have performed well. The only discipline imposed on him was being forced to endure a stern lecture from his father and there was no suggestion that his previous sin had rendered him unworthy to return to his mission.