Friday, June 01, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 23 - "More Than One Witness" Alma 8–12

Book of Mormon Lesson 23 - "More Than One Witness"   
Alma 8–12  

In this lesson, we find  an interesting dichotomy.  Alma will teach them a form of the endowment, to prepare people to enter into the presence of God, in drastic contrast to the worldly lifestyle of the people of Ammonihah.  The name "Ammonihah" is interesting in this context, as it seems to contain the names of two deities.  Ammon = Amun, who became the chief Egyptian God, the King of the gods.  Hah = Jah or Yahweh/Jehovah, the God of Israel.  Such a name can be considered in several ways.  If the name "Ammon" is viewed as a man, it can mean Ammon of Jehovah.  As the name of the Egyptian god, it can be equating Amun and Jehovah, or contrasting them as an internal struggle.  In the case of the city of Ammonihah and Alma, we will see it as such a struggle between embracing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or the god of Israel's former captors and a symbol of worldliness.  In the end, each individual resident of the city must decide to embrace Jehovah or Amun, the true God in heaven or the god of this world.  Alma's teaching will lay this out, showing that Jehovah has always existed, and that mankind formerly chose Jehovah prior to coming to this earth.  

Alma 9  

The people of Ammonihah are called stiff-necked, as they refuse to believe that God could destroy their city or the earth pass away.  Little did they realize that God has the power to do both, and both events are in the planning stage.  Living during the Great Recession and a period of great unrest and impredictability, humans today still often deny the concept that the earth could "pass away", life as we now know it could quickly end.  We do not see how our lifestyle or beliefs (disbeliefs) can affect events in the world.  Though many still disbelieve, we can see that in a moment, towering skyscrapers can collapse, economies can crash, stability can be destabilized, and order turn to chaos.  While we do not need to believe every person on the street corner with a "world is going to end" sign, we do need to be aware of building and establishing foundations that work and maintain a godly society. This is part of what Alma and Amulek will teach them.  

Moses led Israel out of Egypt, where Amun was the chief god.  Moses led Israel to Sinai and to the worship of Jehovah.  For Alma, Lehi is the Moses of the Nephites:  

"Do ye not remember that our father, Lehi, was brought out of Jerusalem by the hand of God? Do ye not remember that they were all led by him through the wilderness?  And have ye forgotten so soon how many times he (Jehovah) delivered our fathers out of the hands of their enemies, and preserved them from being destroyed, even by the hands of their own brethren?  Yea, and if it had not been for his matchless power, and his mercy, and his long-suffering towards us, we should unavoidably have been cut off from the face of the earth long before this period of time, and perhaps been consigned to a state of endless misery and woe" (Alma 9:9-11).  

Just as Moses led Israel out of sin and captivity, and Israel was protected by God's matchless power, we now see Alma presenting Lehi as Moses.  This will be important in the endowment that Alma and Amulek will teach, as it shows Lehi and Moses (and later Adam) traveling through this earth to the promised land and the presence of the Lord.   

"Behold, do ye not remember the words which he spake unto Lehi, saying that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land? And again it is said that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord" (Alma 9:13).  

In verse 19, the Lord says that rather than have their wickedness spiritually destroy them, God would rather allow the Lamanites physically destroy the Nephites as a people.  This is interesting in considering the case of evil.  Many ask how God can allow evil to occur in the world, whether man-made or caused by nature.  For God, this world is just a part of the whole picture.  Dealing with eternal tragedy is more important to Him than temporary mortal destruction.  He would rather flood the earth to destroy man's wickedness, than allow generations of evil to continue, destroying souls forever.  This is not to say that all people who die in a natural disaster or war are evil, or that all disasters are caused to punish the wicked, but to say that for God the important issues are the eternal ones.  

Lehi is Moses and the Nephites are Israel.  They are a highly favored people in the promised land.  The Lord has delivered them from captivity, and blessed them with many gifts of the Spirit.  
 "Having been visited by the Spirit of God; having conversed with angels, and having been spoken unto by the voice of the Lord; and having the spirit of prophecy" (Alma 9:20-22).  

Moses heard the voice of the Lord, had the spirit of prophecy, and led the people to the promised land.  Lehi also spake with angels and heard the voice of God.  The people had to choose between the continued spiritual and physical blessings of God, or reject God and return to the idol worship of Jerusalem/Egypt.   

Alma then tells the people that an angel came to him and told him to call them to repentance.  Suddenly, Alma is Lehi and Moses, seeking to deliver them from destruction and captivity.  They have to repent or be destroyed.  

Alma 10  

Amulek arises and introduces himself as a second witness to the people. In telling his genealogy, he notes that one ancestor translated writing placed on the temple wall by the finger of the Lord.  This is an allusion to what we are going to learn.  Alma and Amulek will reveal to the people of Ammonihah the writing on the wall.  Moreso, they will reveal the key concepts of the temple, the things we need to know to return to the presence of God  

Amulek becomes a second witness with Alma, not because of anything Alma has taught him, but an angel came to him as well, and witnessed to Amulek that Alma was a prophet of God.  The people of Ammonihah now have to deal with two people who have seen angels.  Angelic visitations, along with the gifts of the Spirit are very important. Wicked people do not have such experiences, except to  chastise them (Laman and Lemuel) or humble them (Korihor and Sherem).  For the wicked, they only understand the world they see.  They do not see the spiritual things. Once one looks up to God, God begins revealing himself.  For Amulek, once his heart was ready, an angel came to him and Amulek had a divine experience.  This is a major step toward the final event: entering into God's presence.  

"But it is by the prayers of the righteous that ye are spared; now therefore, if ye will cast out the righteous from among you then will not the Lord stay his hand; but in his fierce anger he will come out against you; then ye shall be smitten by famine, and by pestilence, and by the sword; and the time is soon at hand except ye repent" (Alma 10:23).  

This is the key to the ripening in iniquity of a people. According to scholar Harold Bloom, Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because of the rampant sexual sin and violence among the people, but because they were "inhospitable".  Better said, the people sought to impose their wickedness on others by force.  For Sodom, they tried to force their way into Lot's home, in order to rape Lot's visitors.  Lot and his family were essentially cast out of Sodom, leaving it ready for God's retribution.  For Ammonihah, they had not yet been destroyed because they had not yet imposed their sin upon the people, casting the righteous out of the city or murdering them in the flames.  For us today, nations and peoples will be ripe for destruction once they not only tolerate sinful actions, but force their behavior upon the innocent.  When government and power are used to promote sin and denigrate righteousness, we will also be ready for the final destruction when the earth shall pass away. 

The people of Ammonihah called Amulek a "child of the devil" because he spoke against their laws and reviled their judges and lawyers.  You'll note that there is no note of the portions of their law he speaks out against.  There is no evidence given that what he says is wrong.  Instead, they defend their statements by demonizing Amulek and Alma, using emotion rather than logic or truth.  We see this same thing today, as evil people defame and eviscerate the righteous by calling them names: demons, Nazi, racist, etc.  It isn't that there aren't evil people that are children of a devil, Nazis or racists, but that these words are used as a weapon against the righteous. 

It isn't easy to stand before the wicked and bear witness of the truth.  The wicked twist words, even as Zeezrom did. Zeezrom was a trained lawyer, and used his abilities and skills to promote more evil, while calling his craft good.  The goal of such lawyers and wicked people? To get gain. They sought power, wealth, and fame, willing to obtain these by any means.  We can see the same today in many aspects of our society, as people cheat in government, finance, and adored in Hollywood. 

Alma 11 

"And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? And he answered, No. Now Zeezrom said unto him again: How knowest thou these things? And he said: An angel hath made them known unto me. 32And Zeezrom said again: Who is he that shall come? Is it the Son of God? 33 And he said unto him, Yea.... Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? 39 And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last; 40 And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else" (Alma 11:27-40). 

How can there be only "one God" and yet there be a "Son of God"?  How can the Son of God be the "very Eternal Father"?  There are a variety of valid ways to read this.  In the Trinitarian or Godhead sense, there is but one God.  In the Trinity, God is one substance with 3 persons.  For the Godhead, there is one Godhead with 3 persons.  In LDS belief is the concept of Divine Investiture, meaning that the Son has Power of Attorney responsibility over all of the Father's things.  Christ created the heavens and the earth, under the direction of the Father (Hebrews 1:2).   Jesus is the Father of this creation, as well as the Father of our redemption.  He is rightly called the Eternal Father.  Even though modern LDS tend to separate out the Father and Son and their distinct roles, it hasn’t always been done that way.  For example,  Joseph Smith called the Father “Jehovah” in the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer (D&C 109).  In establishing that the Father and Son are distinct physically, we often miss a more important concept: that the two of them are One Godhead, united in all things.  There is but one Godhead for us to follow and worship, whether we call the Godhead, “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Ghost”, or any other divine name, it is the same.

But he is more than just God, he is also our redeemer.  Amulek explained the first of two parts of the redemption, the resurrection.  While some Christians believe that only the righteous will resurrect, we learn that all will resurrect.  It is a free gift, given to all mankind.  Amulek also notes that all will return to the presence of God, if even for a moment.  We will all be brought before the bar of God, where we shall see him as he truly is.  We will be judged of our works, determining just what type of resurrection we shall receive. 

Alma 12

Alma resumes the discussion, condemning Zeezrom for his attempt to deceive and lie.  He continues Amulek’s discussion on the redemption, but from the focus of what Zeezrom can expect when he enters God’s presence in his sinful state.

It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell” (Alma 12:9-11).

Here is a great secret of the gospel, and taught in the temple endowment: as we give heed and diligence to God’s word, we receive more and more until we know the mysteries of God in full.  What is the greatest mystery of God?  It is to know God face to face, to stand in His presence and have Him reveal all things to us.  For this to occur, we must be ready and willing to receive all God wishes to offer.  In D&C 84:19-27, we learn that Moses understood this in regards to the Melchizedek priesthood.  Through Moses, God revealed many great things, such as the Ten Commandments.  But the most important thing Moses desired was to sanctify Israel and lead them to the top of Sinai to see God face to face.  That they refused to ascend meant that the greater portion (God’s presence) was taken from them, and they were given the lesser portion: the Aaronic Priesthood and the ministration of angels.

When Israel was very wicked, they were severely punished.  There were periods of time when the Ark of the Covenant, representing the presence of God, was taken from them, due to disobedience.  There were periods of time when prophets and revelation were taken from them, as in the last days of Saul.  Eventually, people who continually harden their hearts will know nothing about the mysteries of God, becoming atheists or agnostics.

Alma explains that because of the atonement, all will return to the presence of God.  It may be a temporary event, as many would rather

Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned.
For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.
But this cannot be; we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men, and that he has all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance” (Alma 12:13-15).

The wicked will be in God’s presence, but will not look upon him.  As Moroni will later state of the wicked: “ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell” (Mormon 9:4).

Such people would not enjoy being in God’s presence or having a fullness of his glory.  Instead, they will go to a lower level of glory, or to outer darkness.  In fact, for the most wicked, Alma explained that a second death would fall upon them.  They will be cast out, receiving no kingdom of glory, because they would be miserable there.

One lawyer, Antionah, asks him regarding things that tie the discussion closer to the Creation and the temple.  When Adam fell, the Tree of Life was placed out of bounds for Adam and Eve to partake of.  How then could there be a resurrection and new life, if mankind was set to die?

Alma explained that there was a Fall, and all mankind must die a temporal death.  Adam could not partake of the Tree of Life without first having a chance to repent and place himself in a position to be saved.  He had not heard the fullness of the gospel, nor been baptized.  Had he partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Life, he would have lived forever in his sins, and could not therefore enter into eternal rest.  He would have instantly become a son of perdition, fit only for hell. However, Christ would come to renew the world, and with that knowledge and a probation period for repentance, Adam could become clean through Christ’s atonement.  At that point, he would be able to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life and be saved in the kingdom of God.

So we see that God planned the Fall of Adam, preparing “the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world” and long before the Fall came into place.  With the Fall, Adam was not able to be in the presence of God, and so God sent angels to teach him and Eve.  Over a period of time, Adam and Eve would repent, learn the whole gospel, embrace Christ through faith, and be redeemed.  They would return into the presence of God and live forever in righteousness. 

This we also learn in the temple, as we see that all are fallen from God, and must dwell in this world until we are ready to return into the presence of the Lord.

God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son; Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest” (Alma 12:33-34).
In the next lesson, we’ll continue the endowment teachings of Alma.


Lack of Hospitality by Sodom - Book of J, Harold Bloom, pp 299-301:  

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