Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 31 “Firm in the Faith of Christ” Alma 43–52

Book of Mormon Lesson 31 “Firm in the Faith of Christ”  
Alma 43–52

Having finished sharing his testimony with his sons, Alma and his people now look to many years of war.  One major thing to note: most of the Lamanites are not interested in having a war with the Nephites.  We shall see that the wars are almost always caused by Nephite dissenters.

In this and the next lesson we find a lot of war, strategy, and bloodshed.  I will not discuss much on these, but refer you to an excellent volume, “Warfare in the Book of Mormon” by William Hamblin and Stephen Ricks.

So it is in this first major war that introduces Captains Moroni and Lehi to the reader.  The apostate Zoramites are angered because Alma has “destroyed their craft” of plundering the poor and turning them into slaves.  As with American history, some of our biggest wars were fought over freedom and slavery.  Alma liberating the poor Zoramites, caused a similar reaction to that of the American South, in regards to the Underground Railroad and limits being placed on future expansion of slavery.  Feeling that their rights were being threatened, both Zoramites and Southerners felt they had no other recourse than to fight back.

In the case of the Zoramites, they quickly gained power, because they recruited the Lamanites to fight with them.  A captain was called, Zarahemnah, who chose hardened  Zoramites and other apostate Nephites to lead the armies against the Nephites.

The name “Zarahemnah” may simply be the word Zarahemla with an alternate ending, or perhaps was pronounced differently by either the Zoramites or Lamanites, and so was spelled as it was pronounced.  It does show a distinct connection to the city of Zarahemla, and therefore the Mulekites.  The Mulekites were descended from the kings of Judah and Israel,  They may have felt they had the right to rule over the Nephites, being descended from King David.

Interestingly, Moroni does not see a problem in using strategy to defeat the oppressors.  Have previous Nephite captains and leaders struggled with this issue in the past?  His strategy includes using spies, seeking guidance from the prophet, and using an ambush to surround the Lamanite army.  Why would Mormon note that Captain Moroni did not have a problem with such strategy, when it does not seem outlandish?

In chapter 44, Zerahemnah is about to surrender, but rejects the demand of Moroni to make an oath to never invade or attack again.  Zerahemnah realizes that either his people or their children would some day break the oath, something too important for him to do, as oath keeping was a very serious thing to do in the Ancient Near East.  Only when he sees his men about to be completely destroyed, does he agree to make such an oath.  

We see Zerahemnah as the “bad guy”, and yet oaths are important enough to him that he would rather fight than to risk breaking it later.  Also, the oath was important enough for Moroni to ask of it, and then accept it from Zerahemnah.  Clearly, the characters involved are more complex than we often consider, and the culture is very different than ours today.  Would you accept a promise from someone who was trying to kill you?

In refusing to make the covenant, Zerahemnah attacks Moroni and is quickly stopped by Moroni’s guard.  The guard scalps Zerahemnah, places the scalp on the tip of his sword, and threatens the Lamanites with utter destruction if they do not surrender.  The “sword” which was used to scalp Zerahemna was probably a “macuahuitl”, a wooden sword with obsidian blades, used as a slashing weapon. It could easily remove a person’s scalp with little effort.

Over the years, many LDS have thought this was the beginning of collecting scalps by Native Americans.  However, the evidence suggests it is not the case.  First, the Book of Mormon’s geography is most likely in Central America, around Guatemala and Honduras, etc.  The people there were not known for collecting scalps of any kind.  Second, this was not an intentional scalping, but occurred in an attempt to disarm the enemy.  Third, the Book of Mormon does not mention anymore scalping incidents.  It was likely a notable event, but nothing that started a trend toward scalping one’s enemies.

Chapters 45-49

Alma turns the records and his position as chief priest over to Helaman, his son.  He asks a series of believing questions: Do you believe what the records state?  Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Will you keep the commandments?

Helaman answers completely in the affirmative:  Yea, I believe all of thy words. Yea, I will keep thy commandments with all my heart.

Because of his belief, Alma told Helaman that he would prosper in the land.  Again, this directs us back to the original teachings of Lehi, where if we keep the commandments, we will prosper in the land of promise.  

Alma then shares some secret things with Helaman.  The Nephites would be visited by Christ, but would eventually reject him.  Within 400 years of Christ’s visit to the Nephites, they would rebel against the perfect light of Christ they had received.  

“But whosoever remaineth, and is not destroyed in that great and dreadful day, shall be numbered among the Lamanites, and shall become like unto them, all, save it be a few who shall be called the disciples of the Lord; and them shall the Lamanites pursue even until they shall become extinct. And now, because of iniquity, this prophecy shall be fulfilled” (Alma 25:14).

Interestingly, Mormon shares this secret telling between Alma and Helaman at a time when the young chief captain is called, Moroni.  Mormon’s own son, Moroni, would be one of the few disciples of the Lord, who would be pursued until he was extinct.

Alma blesses Helaman, the land for the righteous’ sake, and the Church.  Then he curses the wicked, who have ripened in iniquity, so that only destruction will be left them.  Why? Because the wicked will bring the destruction upon themselves.  They are not wiped out by plagues, volcanoes, or earthquakes, but by the sword and their intense hatred.

Alma then walks into the wilderness and never returns. Mormon speculates that Alma may have been “taken up by the Spirit” or translated, which he believes also happened with Moses.  To be translated means to be changed from a mortal existence to something more.  The body can no longer be hungry, tired or sickened.  One can be saddened by the sins and iniquities of the world.

The Great War

The wars do not end with the promises made by Zerahemnah.  It isn’t that the Lamanites want to return to war, but new players, who have not made an oath of peace, enter in.

Amalickiah sought to be king of the Nephites.  He flattered the lower judges, bribing them with positions of royal power, if they would support him as king.  As I mentioned before when Mosiah created the reign of judges, the lower positions were given out to satisfy the various groups wanting power.  It is very likely that many Mulekites were elected as lower judges, and were eager to gain more power.  When King Mosiah II found them, the Mulekites were a people who had dwelt among the Jaredites for centuries, and had lost their language and religion.  When they escaped the final wars of the Jaredites, the Mulekites brought with them to Zarahemla all of secret combinations and intrigues of the Jaredites.  Amalickiah was their chance to gain more power.

Here we get a true contrast between two men: Amalickiah and Moroni.  Amalickiah uses flattering words to deceive and get gain.  Moroni writes a few words upon his cloak and uses it as an ensign and Standard of Liberty to the people to call them to  fight for their freedoms, family and God.  Amalickiah has to offer positions of power and gain.  Moroni only asks the people to defend their rights and families.  Amalickiah seeks to use and abuse power.  Moroni uses power to tear down power, and will retire immediately after the war is over.  

Unlike Amalickiah, Moroni quotes scripture from the Brass Plates.  The patriarch Jacob received a remnant of the coat he made for Joseph.  While he believed his son dead, Jacob still believed that somewhere was a remnant of young Joseph’s seed that would be blessed by God.  As Moroni likened the scriptures to the Nephites, he proclaimed that they were to defend their faith and freedoms against tyranny.

Moroni obtains a covenant from the Free Men, to fight for those things God had given them.  Meanwhile, Amalickiah seeks a new strategy and flees to the Lamanites.

In chapter 46, we read of the Title of Liberty.  Realize that while Moroni promotes liberty that he is not beyond selective freedom.  He takes free speech away from those who would have Amalickiah as their king.  In fact, those who will not defend freedom and country, perhaps what some may call pacifists, are forced to take up arms or are put to death. What is the limit of freedom, and does a free nation have the right to place such a restriction upon it?

In chapters 47, Amalickiah uses his flattery and intrigue to gain the trust of the Lamanite king, then the Lamanite army.  In both instances, he betrays them.  The Lamanite captain is poisoned and the king slain, so that Amalickiah may become king himself.  His pattern is like that of the Jaredites, willing to do anything in order to get gain and power. Jaredite history was filled with intrigue, betrayals, and overthrows.  While the Nephites have experienced the Jaredite methods for a couple generations now (since coming to Zarahemla), the Lamanites have never seen it before, and are totally gullible.

We can see the goodness in the Lamanites, as most of them desire not to war with the Nephites. It is possible that they recalled the oath Zerahemnah made to Moroni, to never come again to battle with the Nephites.  Oaths being so important, they would not have wanted to break it, and so ran away from the Lamanite king.  Only Amalickiah’s treachery and trickery could stir up the Lamanites against the Nephites sufficiently to fight them.

In chapter 49, we find that Moroni’s preparations for war are very useful in the beginning. Throwing up walls around the Nephite cities gave greater protection.  The Lamanite hearts would sink, and possibly many would run away.

In this we find that military preparations only help so far.  Once the heart of the people is corrupted, no fortifications can protect from outside invasion for long.

Chapter 50

In the incident between the cities of Lehi and Morianton, we discover some interesting things.   Moroni set up cities in the wilderness in order to create a border defense against the Lamanites.  He kicked the redneck Lamanites living in the wilderness (often described as vicious, wearing loincloths, and eating raw meat) out of the disputed territory.  While this gave the Nephites greater security, it could have been used by Amalickiah as a reason for the Lamanites to attack. Such an action would disturb the status quo, as Lamanites had lived in the wilderness territory for centuries.

Next, Morianton is a Jaredite name (Ether 1:22).  Here we can see that there is still a physical division between Mulekites (Morianton) and Nephites (Lehi).  Again, there is a border dispute involved, as Moroni had not established strong boundaries between cities and lands.  The people of Morianton are viewed immediately as the bad guys in black hats, while those in Lehi are the good guys.  The man Morianton is described as being of “much passion”.  He and his people take up arms, forcing the people of Lehi to flee to Moroni for protection.  Well, of course Moroni would take their side, as he also is a Nephite! (or so the Mulekites would have thought). Morianton only sees one option, ally with the Lamanites.  Only a battle with Moroni keeps them from escaping.

We see that the frontier was dangerous.  Allies were not always dependable, trustworthy, nor good.  This could have been another reason for the Lamanites to attack - obviously Moroni was forcing people against their will!  The Lamanites could swoop in and save those enslaved by their Nephite captors.

“And thus were the people of Morianton brought back. And upon their covenanting to keep the peace they were restored to the land of Morianton, and a union took place between them and the people of Lehi; and they were also restored to their lands” (Alma 50:36).

Again, the oath was something very important to all involved.  I’m sure Morianton had told his people that Moroni would slay them all if they did not fight or escape.  To find themselves restored to their land, must have seemed incredible.  Moroni was still willing to trust them to defend the border and have their own autonomy, as long as they worked in union with the city of Lehi.

King Men and Free Men
Chapter 51-52

But the internal contentions do not end with Morianton.  Instead, many refuse to fight against the Lamanites.  They want Amalickiah’s troops to come in and take over.  They want a king.  In refusing to fight, they weakened the armies of Moroni and risked sabotage and internal intrigue.  Moroni was forced to shut down their rebellion by moving much of his army away from the frontier with the Lamanites, and back into the heart of the Nephite lands.

Suddenly, there was a new division among the Nephites. Where they once were divided by kinship, now they would divide on political lines.  Free men wished to maintain the freedoms given them by King Mosiah, while the King Men wished to return to the greatness and power the nation had under its kings.  Moroni was again forced to take arms against them. Those who would not covenant to fight for freedom were slain.

During this dangerous period, with the nation divided, the Lamanites attacked.  Though the cities were well defended, they were not impregnable.  It did not take long for the Lamanites to find the weaknesses of the Nephite cities and overthrow them.  The Nephite armor, the Nephite reinforced cities, and all of Moroni’s technological advances could not protect the Nephites.  Even with such advances, the Nephites fled before the Lamanite army even to the borders of the land Bountiful.

The only thing that could stop them was a strong and true heart, as we find in Teancum.


Teancum was a diligent soldier. His small army was trained in discipline and the art of war, so that he could stop the Lamanites cold at Bountiful’s border.  Bravery was also a pillar for Teancum.  Braving death, Teancum crept among the Lamanite army’s tents until he found Amalickiah and slew him in his sleep.

Such bravery has won impossible battles time and again in history’s wars. Because of such actions, the Lamanites ended their drive to the north.  With Moroni’s strategies, the Nephite armies of Teancum and Lehi were able to regain some cities.

But the war is only begun.


“Warfare in the Book of Mormon” by William Hamblin and Stephen Ricks:


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 30: “The Great Plan of Happiness” Alma 40–42

Lesson 30: “The Great Plan of Happiness”

Alma 40–42

Alma 40

In this lesson, we continue Alma’s teachings to his son Corianton.  Corianton went on a mission, during which he committed sexual sin.  Obviously, his problems go further than this, as Alma must teach Corianton not only about the seriousness of certain sins, but also about the plan of salvation through Christ.  Being that Alma’s older sons seemed to understand the gospel and the importance of being holy, it is doubtful that Alma neglected his youngest son’s spiritual education on purpose.  It may be that Alma’s several missions to Ammonihah and elsewhere may have occurred in the key periods when Corianton needed a father figure as an example and teacher.  It may also be that Corianton was previously the goofy kid that really didn’t pay much attention to his father’s teachings; one who believes but does not fully understand, simply because he never seriously considered the teachings before.  Then, in his first major adult experience, Corianton fell apart, as his lack of understanding of the gospel would allow the Zoramites to confuse him in regards to the gospel, and tempt him into sins.  It should be a very compelling warning to us, as parents, to ensure our children truly understand the gospel.  That is, not just know the neat Bible stories of David and Goliath or Jesus walking on water, but the doctrines of salvation, and how they apply to us.  We must stop skipping gospel stones across the waters our children drink from, and instead teach them how to draw deeply from the waters.

Spirit World

Alma teaches that there is no resurrection until after Christ comes in the flesh to break the bonds of death.  All will resurrect at God’s appointed time, whether we resurrect all at once, or in groups. There is an important period between mortality and resurrection, of which Alma speaks. Before speaking about it, it seems he stumbles or stutters over the fact that there will be a resurrection, or a series of resurrections, and that he inquired about the time between death and resurrection (vv 4-10).  Whether Alma was attempting to emphasize these concepts, or perhaps Mormon later struggled to clearly write them in his abridgement, we do not know.  What is very important is that this is repeated several times, suggesting we need to study the resurrection to understand what is really going on.

“Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil” (vv 11-13).

It is very possible that Alma understands the Spirit World, because his conversion occurred there during a Near Death Experience.  In being “taken home to that God”, we see from Alma’s experience (Alma 36) that he was in the presence of God.  At first, he could not see God, due to his own sins staring him directly in the face.  Yet, he trembled to think of himself in God’s presence, even if from a distance.  Once Alma repented, he was released from his pains and sins, and could then see God in the distance, upon his throne.  There obviously is a conduit to heaven in the Spirit World, where the righteous can see God afar off, and the wicked feel his presence - bringing them face to face with their guilt.

The righteous in the Spirit World go to Paradise.  To go to Paradise requires faith in Christ and repentance, as Alma’s experience shows.  For the sinner, they enter into Spirit Prison hell, a virtual Outer Darkness that is created within themselves, as they have refused the atonement, and are left without rescue.  They are left to themselves in the darkness of their souls, because they chose it. Only in turning themselves about and repenting can any of these be released into Paradise.

For those who refuse to fully repent, they are consigned to Spirit Prison until the resurrection and the final judgment.  A person may regret some choices in life, but until she faces all of her sins can she admit that she needs the Savior’s redemption in her life.  

“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:16-17).  

Such suffering may come in mortality, hopefully compelling the person to be humble and repent.  However, this suffering will come upon all the unrepentant in the Spirit World, until they are sufficiently humbled and turn to Christ for rescue from their own stubbornness.


“...there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.
Yea, this bringeth about the restoration of those things of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets.
The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame” (.Alma 40:21-23)

Resurrection, the reuniting of body and soul, leads to the final Judgment, where we are judged on our works.  This determines the Restoration of all things, not just restoring the body, but also the soul.  This restoration also is a restoring of eternal relationships, with God and family.  

In believing and repenting, we are restored back into God’s presence, even if at a distance as Alma experienced in his conversion.  This is where Justification comes in, where we are washed clean in the atonement of Christ.  We are guiltless, sinless, without spot.  We are able to enter into the kingdom of God, or in modern LDS terminology, the kingdoms of God. We are returned to the presence of the Godhead.

In the judgment, however, we are also judged according to our works.  Our seeking to be holy is part of the sanctification process, sealed by the Holy Ghost.  This determines the level of reward we receive in the heavens.

For those who never believe in Christ and refuse to repent, they are given a kingdom without glory or light.  They have chosen to be vessels of wrath, eternal enemies of God and Christ.  They will return to Outer Darkness,

“But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out, and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup” (vs 26).

Only those who refuse to ever repent are unclean.  They are left with what they have become - evil.  There is only the dregs of a bitter cup for them to drink, because they have forever refused to accept the cup of Christ’s blood.

Chapter 41

Plan of Restoration

Alma explains more regarding the restoration, which includes the resurrection.  All mankind will resurrect, because that is part of the plan of God.  

“the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order” (Alma 41:2).

God’s justice could not come to pass without the restoration of all things.  This connects to the ancient belief that in the Creation, God brought forth order out of chaos.  Physical and spiritual death have disrupted the order in the universe. The law of entropy requires that all things lose energy and eventually fall into a state of chaos.  This is the natural order of the universe, but does not square with the God’s justice.  God is just, and his plan is one of restoring all things to a place of order. Resurrection deals with the physical death of all things, bringing order to the chaos of entropy.  The atonement brings order forth from spiritual death’s chaos.

Yet, some will refuse the order and justice of God.  Instead, they will insist upon the natural order to come upon them, and will dwell in chaos and entropy, with no chance for eternal progression or growth, no happiness because there is only the misery of chaos.

“The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.
And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness
These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil” (vv 5-7).

Justice requires all things to be restored to a proper order, happiness to happiness, misery to misery.  Light to light and darkness to darkness.  Justification means Christ’s atonement makes us sinless, and worthy to enter into the kingdom of God.  It is where our desires are centered.  If we desire to be rescued, we will be through faith on Christ. Those who go to Spirit Prison, the “endless night of darkness” and choose to repent, will be rescued according to their desire and belief.

“And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.
And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame” (vv 3-4).

Sanctification through the purifying power of the Holy Ghost makes us holy enough to dwell in a higher level of God’s kingdom.  For this, we are judged by our works, which are an outward image of what we are inside.  We must not only desire righteous and holy things, but we must become righteous  and be holy in order for our works to show us as being holy.

“Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all” (vv 14-15).

Our works will be restored to us, whether good or evil.  If we wish to receive mercy, then we need to first be merciful.  That which we sow, we shall reap, for such is the law of the harvest and restoration.

Chapter 42

Again, Corianton still worries about the justice of God, if sinners must suffer.  Alma discusses the events of the Garden of Eden, giving us input on key things to understand regarding the temple, as well as Genesis.  God placed a guard around the Tree of Life, because Adam and Eve were in a fallen state, and could not have partaken of it at that time.  Partaking of the Tree of Life would have given them immortality.  However, being in a fallen state would have cast them forever out of God’s presence.  We find they “having no space for repentance” (vs 5),  there had to be a period of time for them to learn to believe and repent, a probationary period, so that the Justification of Christ could come upon them, making them sinless and able to partake of the Tree of Life.

We see here that Christ resurrection and atonement are more about restoring our relationship with God than of paying a direct punishment for our sins.  Christ suffered for us, is true.  But he suffered so as to know how to “succor us according to our infirmities” (Alma 7:12).  Descending below all things, Christ knows how to lift us above all things that Satan and the world can throw at us.  He could restore us back into the presence of the Lord, just as the Fall had cast us out of his presence.  

“Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.
And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.
And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.
Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul” (vv 13-16).

There is no “law of justice”.  However, the “work of justice” exists, and is connected to “Justification.”  It requires repentance to return back into the presence of God, even if only into the Telestial Kingdom.  Remember, as we’ve discussed in several Book of Mormon lessons, Justification is Christ’s atonement making us sinless and guiltless.  It is a gift of grace, not requiring any works. We cannot do anything to save ourselves in this regard, except believe in Christ and repent.  And on “conditions of repentance” we are made sinless through the work of justice or justification of Christ.

The works of justice state that there is a law affixed to all things.  When we break the law, the natural consequence is to be cast out of God’s presence. The work of justice requires that those who are sinful by nature remain out of God’s presence.  Mercy enters the picture when we believe in Christ and repent of our sins.  Now, the works of justice are satisfied, as we are no longer sinful by nature, but are made guiltless before God.  

“But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.
But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved” (vv 22-24).

You will notice that this chapter (and the ones preceding it) speak little of our own works.  Why? Because Alma is trying to get us to see the importance of Justification, or being sinless through Christ.  “Mercy claimeth the penitent” means just that.  When we repent, we are claimed by Christ.  Then with the free gift of grace known as Resurrection, we are brought back into the presence of God, even “restored into his presence”.  All of justice’s demands are based upon our faith and repentance.  Mercy is based upon our faith and repentance.

As mentioned before, the level of salvation we receive is based upon Sanctification, or our becoming holy through righteous works.  We will be judged by these works as to how holy we have become. As we are holy, that holiness will be restored to us.

“O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (vs 30).

The greatest gift of mercy comes through Christ’s grace of Justification. We literally are saved without works.  The question then is, have we truly believed sufficiently to recognize our sins and humbled ourselves sufficiently to repent of all of them?  Or do we just repent of some of our sins?  If so, it is insufficient to obtain the mercy of Christ.  We must place all our sins upon the altar and sacrifice them to God through Jesus Christ.  Only then can we be clean of all sins and ready to return to God’s presence.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 29: “Give Ear to My Words” Alma 36–39

Book of Mormon Lesson 29: “Give Ear to My Words”  
Alma 36–39

After the various missions of Alma, his sons, and the sons of Mosiah, we now discuss key discussions Alma has with his sons, Helaman, Shiblon and Corianton.  In this lesson, we’ll primarily look at the counsel Alma gives to Helaman and Shiblon.

Alma’s gathering of his children is very similar to Lehi’s final words of counsel and blessing to his own children (2 Ne 1-4).  Important issues are shared that pertain to the needs of each of his children with a final blessing to each of them.

Guidance for Helaman
Alma 36-37

Helaman is the oldest son of Alma.  His name may be a form of Egyptian for “Her Amun - In the Presence of Amun”.  The Semitic letter “L” is made into an “R” in Egyptian, so Helaman and Her Amun are cognate names. Vowels were not used in the earliest Semitic languages, so Ammon could also be spelled Aman, Amon, or Amun. Amun Re was the chief god of the Egyptians, while Alma’s best friend, Ammon, was the chief leader of the Ammonites.  It seems fitting to name his oldest son after his best friend, Ammon.

In chapter 36, Alma begins by reminding us of a common theme in many of his speeches: remember the captivity of the fathers, keep the commandment and you’ll prosper in the land, you will also be gathered together in the presence of the forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a symbol of the Godhead or Trinity.

From this, Alma will teach us about grace and the requirements for salvation, justification and sanctification.

“Now, behold, I say unto you, if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things; but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me, not of any worthiness of myself” (Alma 36:5).

Here we see that Alma did not know about salvation, except it was taught him by an angel.  This blessing was given to him, even though he had not done anything to deserve it.  This is the first part of grace: God imparts his gospel of hope to us, even though we have not done anything to merit knowing it or partaking of it.  This is a theme that Alma has spoken on various times before, as well as Nephi and others.  It is from an angel that Adam learned why God had commanded him to sacrifice (book of Moses 5:6-12).  The angel Moroni and other angels delivered key portions of the gospel and priesthood authority to Joseph Smith (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History - 1).  The ministering of angels is a key in the Aaronic Priesthood and a Terrestrial function (JS History 1:68-72).  It is one of the first steps in preparing us to enter into the presence of God.  We will see how this works with Alma.

Alma related the story of his conversion to Helaman.  As a rebellious youth, he went about trying to destroy the Church, he is stopped in his tracks by an angel.

“For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.
And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us.
But behold, the voice said unto me: Arise. And I arose and stood up, and beheld the angel.
And he said unto me: If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God” (vs 6-9).

The angel’s main purpose was to stop Alma and his friends from destroying the Church.  The angel’s phrasing is interesting: “If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed....”  Alma was obviously on a suicide mission.  He was angry with life and sought to destroy what he hated.  While he struck out at his father and the Church, what he truly hated was himself.  In collapsing into a coma for three days, he notes that he wished he could cease to exist.  Complete annihilation was Alma’s real desire, because he saw no other option to end the torment he experienced as a youth and carried with him into his coma.  God did not create his pain and torment, he caused it himself.

Some believe that Alma was actually experiencing a Near Death Experience.  If so, then Alma’s spirit was in the Spirit World, suffering in the depths of Spirit Prison’s hell.

In a series of great posts reviewing Stephen Robinson’s book, “Believing Christ”, Joseph Spencer notes: “In response to our over-dramatic plea to the heavens, mostly offered in order to pretend that it’s God who has cut us off, there comes a voice that simply asks: “Are you ready to stop pouting yet?””

In reality, we are spoiled, little children who pout because we do not get the exact gift that father wishes to give us.  We blame God for our misfortune. “If only I was born to better parents”. “If only I was taller/smarter/prettier”. Or as Tevye sang, “If I were a Rich Man!”  Only when we stop pouting and humbly accept the gift offered to us, do we see the real value in the gift of grace that is waiting to be bestowed upon us.

Because Alma refused to consider the gift of Christ, he suffered intensely for three days.  Why did he suffer?  

“But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments” (vv 12-13).

He didn’t suffer because of anything God did.  He suffered because of what he was doing: insisting on having things his own way.  His actions and beliefs had brought the fullness of his sins and guilt upon him.

“...the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds” (vv 14-15).

For Alma, his only solution was to stop existing.  So it is with the solutions of men.  Many people live miserable lives, because their riches, friendships, lifestyles, drugs, etc, cannot bring real happiness or permanent solutions.  For the person considering suicide, we must note that it does not end existence.  If you suffer here, you will suffer in death as well.  That is, you will suffer until you accept the solution God offers.

For Alma, it was at the moment he remembered the things his father taught that he had another option.  It is this remembering that helped to save him, and it is what may save us when we are going through hell.  Alma the Elder taught him that the Messiah would come and save all those who would believe on his name and repent.  As soon as the young man remembered his father’s words and prayed for deliverance, he was delivered from his Spirit Prison hell.

“when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (vv 19-20)

Alma is immediately rescued from spiritual death and suffering. He is now in Paradise.  He has not had to perform any works, keep any commandments, or make restitution.  All that was required was to believe and repent.  In this, Alma teaches us about justification.  Justification is where the atonement of Christ makes us sinless or guiltless, because we believe and have repented.  Justification saves us from hell and spiritual death.  Herein is where mercy claims us from the demands of justice.  There are two options with justice: we suffer eternally for our own sins, or we repent and let Christ wash our sins away so there are no sins to suffer for.

This simple action brings us back into the presence of the Godhead.

“Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there” (v 22).

From a distance, Alma sees the divine council of heaven, with God on his throne.  We’ve discussed this event previously when Nephi quoted Isaiah 6, and Lehi saw God on his throne in 1 Nephi 1.  There is a difference here, though.  Isaiah’s lips were cleansed with a coal, and he was allowed to join the council in praising God and offering himself as God’s messenger.  Lehi was given a book to read, after which he joined the council in praising God, and was given his prophetic calling as well.  For Alma, he is not given that opportunity at this time.  All he can do is “long to be there” with the council, and engage in its divine discourse.

Justification and Sanctification

There’s a reason Alma was not invited into this special circle at that time.  He is not ready spiritually.  Justification that comes from us repenting and Christ’s washing away our sins and making us guiltless, saves us from death and hell.  It makes us ready for a kingdom of salvation.  But it does not exalt us.  As Alma notes:

“Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (v 24).

Once we are justified through faith and repentance, we must then be sanctified.  Sanctification is a process, where we go “from grace to grace” receiving “grace for grace” (D&C 93:12-13).  The process is described in the Doctrine of Christ (2 Ne 31, 3 Ne 11), wherein we follow a specific path:  1) Faith in Christ, 2) Repentance, 3) Baptism/Ordinances, 4) Receive the Holy Ghost.  This is a cycle, where when we first do it, the Holy Spirit descends upon us and causes a “mighty change of heart” (Mosiah 5:2) that causes us to only desire to “do good continually.”  As we walk in the Spirit, we develop a greater faith in Christ, causing us to repent even more.  We partake of the Holy Supper or Sacrament, and ordinances of priesthood and temple.  As we do so, we then receive a greater portion of the Spirit that lifts us to a higher level of grace in Christ.  Sanctification is the process that makes us holy and Celestial.  When we become holy enough, God will invite us into his divine council, to speak with the tongue of angels, and engage in the work of God.  

Later in Alma’s life, the angel that once condemned him will return and tell him he is ready to take his rightful place, calling him to preach destruction to a people, even as Isaiah and Lehi once were called to do (Alma 8:14-15). Alma knows that some day he will be brought into the divine council again, and be not just an observer, but a vital part of the council.

“And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory....inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence”  (vv 28-30).

The Brass Plates

In chapter 37, Alma then discusses one of the Nephites’ most important national treasures, the Brass Plates of Laban.  Alma explains that these writings are not just important to the Nephites, but that these writings would go forth to all nations in the future.  Given that we do not have the Brass Plates available at this time, we can see that many of their precious teachings have been brought to us by the prophets in the Book of Mormon.  Nephi quoted extensively from Isaiah.  Jacob shared Zenos’ Allegory of the Olive Tree.  Alma and Amulek quote Zenos and Zenock on their teachings regarding the “Son of God.”  These plates are so important that Alma explains they will be preserved until they all come forth to the world.

“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” (Alma 37:6).

LDS often quote this passage to note that God does many great things through small and simple things.  We should note that this specifically states this in conjunction with the Brass Plates and the sacred scriptures.  In pondering just what great things come to pass through the scriptures we’ve received through the Book of Mormon can make for great discussion.  The scriptures

“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.
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” (vv 8-9).

What is more plain and simple than the life, ministry, resurrection and atonement of Christ?  Yet it still confounds many who think they are wise.  Atheists and unbelievers seek to dismiss Christ’s saving work and Godship by attacking the teachings of the Bible and Book of Mormon on historical and scientific grounds.  They cannot see God, and so insist that it must all be fables and myths, like those of the Greek gods.

Yet, Alma was converted from the things his father taught him in the Brass Plates and writings of Nephi.  This atheist gained his own witness by seeing that his disbelief did not have the answers nor solutions he needed in his life.  The spiritual witness did not come until after he humbled himself and repented.  But when it came, he was a rock of faith for the rest of his days.

“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” (v 13).

Alma gives Helaman the same teaching as Lehi did to his sons before his death.  There is a physical and spiritual dimension to this teaching.  Prospering in the land can mean to have good crops, but it can also mean returning to heaven.  Being cut off from God’s presence meant a physical destruction for the Nephites, but it also means we could choose suffering in Spirit Prison hell, even as Alma did.

The Nephite writings also contained the writings of the Jaredites, which showed the secret combinations and evils that led to their destruction.  Alma warns Helaman to be aware of such dangers, but not to reveal them to the people - don’t give them any bad ideas.  And the secret combinations that plagued the Jaredites and would plague his own people would plague the world in the last days.

“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.
And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:
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” (vv 23-25).

Gazelem is a nickname for Joseph Smith.  In the early days of the Church, some revelations were given with code names for the leaders, because it would be dangerous if such revelations fell into the hands of their enemies and contained the real names.  In the sections that used the nicknames, Joseph Smith was called “Gazelem.”  He is the one who has the seer stone and Urim and Thummim, stones that shine in the dark and reveal all things, including the works of evil men.  This, then, becomes a major reason for us having the Book of Mormon today - to reveal to us the methods, actions and patterns of secret combinations.  In doing so, we can prepare and protect ourselves from those evil acts that will occur in the latter days.

After discussing the seer stone and Urim and Thummim, Alma then discusses the Liahona - the special compass given to Lehi to direct his way in the wilderness.

“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.
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” (vv 40-41).

Alma will now state that the Liahona was also a “small means” by which God brought forth great things.  It worked on faith.  When people rebel, they lose faith and the Liahona no longer would work for them.  So it is with the Spirit of God. When we stop believing, God can do few things for us. We are left on our own to find our own solutions.  So it is with faith in Christ.  When we believe, he can do small things that turn into great miracles.  When we stop believing, we must then do all things on our own, often to our own detriment (as Alma found out).

Teachings to Shiblon
Alma 38-39

Alma begins his discourse to Shiblon on the same lines as with Helaman, telling him to keep the commandments to have peace and God’s blessings.  He discussed his conversion:

“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” (v 8).

Note that it was through Alma’s begging for mercy and forgiveness that he received a remission of sins.  He was guiltless.  His pain was healed and replaced with peace and joy.  

Alma commended Shiblon for an honorable mission, and encouraged him to continue serving:

“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” (v 12).

Interestingly, we learn that when we “bridle all your passions,” it allows us to be “filled with love.”  When we control our anger, we are able to be filled with love.  When we control our lusts, we can be filled with love.  When we control all of our passions, which can include romantic love, we can be filled with Christ-like love.

Words to Corianton
Alma 39

Alma severely chastises Corianton for forsaking his mission to romp with a Lamanite prostitute.  Obviously there was interaction between the Zoramites and Lamanites on the border.  This is the first mention of prostitution in the Book of Mormon.  In their mission among the Lamanites, we do not hear of Ammon or his brothers dealing with such things.  It may be that, as it is often in our day, prostitution was on the edge of society, in the wilderness frontier between Lamanite and Nephite lands.

Corianton is told that sexual sin is the third most grievous type of sin.  For today’s society that accepts sex outside of traditional marriage as not only the norm and acceptable, but as a “right”, shows just how far from God our society has gone.

The second greatest sin is “shedding of innocent blood”.  This separates out killing as a defense or in war, from outright murder.  Not much is mentioned here regarding it, except its severity.  Interesting that sex and violence are so prevalent in society, when they should be the things we denounce most of all.

Denying the Holy Ghost is the most grievous, and yet many LDS do not understand what it means.  Even within the Book of Mormon, the anti-Christ Sherem feared he had lost his soul over denying the Holy Ghost. Yet, in studying it more in depth, we see Sherem probably would not have qualified.

To deny the Holy Ghost means a person has gone in league with Satan, “loving Satan more than God” (Moses 5:18), and then murder an innocent person, as Cain killed Abel to get gain and fulfill his covenant with Satan.  It isn’t just to deny that Christ is the Savior, or the existence of God, but it is to become the absolute enemy of Christ.  Alma had become an enemy of Christ, but not so far that he could not repent in Spirit Prison hell and be rescued by the atonement.  Cain fully became an enemy of Christ and loved Satan, wherein he gloried in rebelling against God.  Unlike Alma who wished himself away from existence, Cain wished to exist in his evil state.

Few will become sons of Perdition in this life, because few will completely reject the atonement of Christ.  We are told that the Telestial Kingdom of salvation is made up of vile people who eventually repented.  As with Alma or the poor Zoramites, most of them will be humiliated until they humble themselves and repent.  In doing so, they will be rescued to a kingdom of heaven.

But sons of Perdition will forever refuse to repent and call on the name of Christ for salvation.  They will always call on Satan to save them, even though he will be unable to give them anything other than perdition and darkness.


For all three sons, Alma has taught them they need to believe on Christ and repent.  They (and we) all need to have our sins washed away.  This is done in three easy steps: 1)  Believe in Christ, 2) Repent, 3) Repeat as necessary.

There is no reason for any of us to spiritually suffer.  We must just begin to believe, desire to believe, and hope that Christ really can heal us.  Then as we repent, we will see our despair change to hope, joy and peace.  These are the steps to being saved in Christ.  Once done, we may see God in the distance, and be filled with joy.

Once saved, we can then seek to be made holy through Christ’s atonement, making covenants and ordinances, and receiving the Holy Ghost.  In becoming holy,  we shall be invited to join the angels in worshiping Christ and becoming part of the divine council.  We shall enter into the presence of the Lord and have that great and exquisite joy Alma experienced.


Her-Amon in Hugh Nibley, “Men of the East” article:

Joe Spencer, “Believing Christ Revisited”: