Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Book of Mormon Lesson 28: “The Word Is in Christ unto Salvation” Reading: Alma 32–35

Lesson 28: “The Word Is in Christ unto Salvation”

Reading: Alma 32–35

In this lesson, we continue the events regarding the Zoramites. As discussed before, they were probably descendants of that Zoram, who was Nephi’s friend.  Due to the change in the government from a king to judges, the Zoramites found themselves with no power nor recognition in the new order.  While the Mulekites, Ammonites and others maintained their own identity and power through having their own judges, the Zoramites seem to have been left out.

They developed a religion that opposed the Nephite faith, insisting that only the Zoramites would be saved, while the Nephites, Mulekites, Ammonites, and all others would not.

For a people who were so frustrated for being neglected, ignored, and pushed to the edge of society, they developed a government that was very oppressive to the poor.  There were many who worked hard to build up their lands, their synagogue, and the society, but the poor were kept out of government power. Worse yet,

“...they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel—
Therefore they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart” (Alma 32:2-3).

Because they did not have nice clothing, they were not permitted into the synagogues.  We see here a similar response by the wealthy Zoramites as they gave to Korihor.  In fact, it seems that with the exception of his atheism, Korihor’s teachings line up well with the Zoramites.  We will see that Alma will indirectly reference Korihor a few times in his teachings to the poor Zoramites.  It may well be that Korihor began among the Zoramites, and took his teachings to the Nephites, where he would mistakenly believe Alma and his priests were paid for their services, similarly to the Zoramites.  For the Zoramites, the poor were an important resource, as they used them as slave labor.  Being mute and deaf, Korihor would not prove to be a useful slave, and so was slain by them.

“And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?” (Alma 32:5)

They believed they had no place to worship God, and so were in a Catch-22. They wanted salvation. Salvation for Zoramites required access to the synagogue. However, being poor, they were not allowed inside the synagogue.

“And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word” (vs 6).

This is an interesting verse, as it can be read in many ways.  Most LDS read it thinking Alma turned himself about, faced the poor Zoramite, and beheld him with great joy.  Perhaps there are other ways to read this.  Being poor and abased, perhaps the Zoramite approached Alma with his head lowered, turned to the side, or was even kneeling at his feet.  If so, the Alma could have turned the Zoramite about, the Zoramite’s face immediately towards Alma.  In doing so, Alma could behold him with great joy, seeing the humility he had.

In the fantastic book, “An Experiment Upon the Word: Reading Alma 32” (Adam S. Miller, editor) are various articles by LDS scholars that take many parts of this chapter apart.  To really understand the chapter in-depth (more than I can explain in a blog post), I highly recommend this and other books offered by SaltPress.org.

Of note is that Alma tells the people they are blessed because they were forced to be humble.  Still more blessed are those who humble themselves by hearing the word of the Lord.  In other words, there are two methods to be humble and accept the gospel.  We can humble ourselves, or God will allow the world to humiliate us until we humble ourselves.  For the poor Zoramites, they left Nephite society being promised that as a new people they would all gain great power and access to God.  As reality set in, they saw that they had become mere slaves to the rich and powerful among the Zoramites.  Impoverished both physically and spiritually, they saw Alma as an opportunity to regain some stature, or at least some access to God.  Perhaps they thought that as chief priest, he would help them get access to the synagogues, or maybe help them construct their own.

But Alma does not immediately answer their request for help.  Instead, he discusses the importance of humility and repentance.

“Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe” (vs 16).

This is a very important thing to note regarding the natural man. Stubborness of heart is what keeps us from being humble, from believing in the word of God, from receiving the ordinances and covenants of God.  As Joseph Spencer has noted, we are like spoiled brats who pout because we are not getting our own way.  Meanwhile, God  stands before us, offering us the greatest gift imaginable.  Yet, because the gift is not in our favorite color, we pout.  We stubbornly refuse to accept it.  Some eventually give in, humbled because they finally realize that their current situation is rather poor, and what God offers is actually rather good.  Still, there are others that insist on having things their own way, and so never accept the gift.

For Alma, who as a youth refused the gift and was compelled to be humble before accepting the grace of Christ, he understood exactly where the poor Zoramites were coming from.  Still, he was not yet ready to explain to them how they could worship God outside of the constructed churches.

“Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.
Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.
And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?” (vs 17-19)

Alma is clearly referring to Korihor here.  Korihor is the connection between Alma and the Zoramites. Korihor was stubborn hearted.  Korihor demanded “except ye show me a sign, I will not believe” (Alma 30:48).  Korihor received his sign.  He had no reason for belief, and so was not able to receive his hearing back, because he did not have faith.  Knowing God’s will, but refusing to have faith and do it, Korihor left the Nephites and returned to the Zoramites, who also did not believe in Christ.  

“And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men....women...and children....” (vs 23)

Korihor saw a devil dressed as an angel, and believed when it said there is no God.  Why believe? Korihor said it made his carnal mind feel good. It opened the door to a life without any responsibility to an unseen being.  However, Alma now tells us that true angels of God also appear to people, to witness that God lives.  Alma has seen angels and knows of others who also have.. These angels teach faith in God and repentance.   Angelic visits is often the first step in the gospel being brought to, or restored to, a people.  It was an angel that announced Jesus’ birth to Mary and the shepherds. It was an angel that showed Lehi and Nephi the Vision of the Tree of Life.  It was a series of angels that restored pieces of the restored gospel to Joseph Smith.  Even today, angels come to those who believe, or desire to believe, and help them gain or strengthen their testimonies.  Not all angels are seen, but their works are experienced by mankind.

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21).

This is an oft-quoted verse, however, we may not fully understand it in context.  Korihor’s perfect knowledge was not faith. It could not save him.  Only faith and hope in the unseen truths can save.  Now note, unseen is not the same as no evidence or unknown.  

Even in the realm of science, they deal with unseen things that they believe in.  At the time of this posting, Scientists are trying to determine the existence of the Higg’s Boson, a particle that theoretically gives all things its mass. Without some unseen force that causes mass, there would be no universe, stars, or us. Using CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, scientists are launching atomic particles at each other at the speed of light, to see what particles and events occur on collision.  They believe they may have “found” the Higgs Boson (a particle), and within days will have stronger evidence.  And yet, none of them have seen a Higgs Boson.  No one has seen one, because theoretically they are so very small and only last for less than a billionth of a second. So, if they do not see it, how can they say they’ve found it?  Because of evidences that point directly to it.  For a moment, when the particles collide, they record changes that suggest mass (Higgs Boson)  is being produced.

Even as they must follow evidences, Alma will teach that faith on the word of God brings evidences of its reality.  He compares the word of God to a seed.  If we do not cast the seed from our hearts because of stubbornness and disbelief, it will begin to grow.  We will see signs that it is a good seed.  This still is not knowledge, as we know something good is happening, but we do not have a perfect knowledge.  Alma describes the spiritual evidences for us:

“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (vs 29).

Note our responsibility to not resist or pout.  As we allow it to grow within us, we experience a series of evidences.  1) a swelling or burning in the breast,  2. enlarging of the soul,  3) enlightens the understanding, 4) it becomes delicious.

Just as the Higgs Boson cannot be directly seen or experienced, neither can a spiritual witness be directly seen.  But there are important evidences that guide us to the belief.  Even with good evidence for the Higgs Boson, there still may be some who disbelieve the evidence.  Why? Perhaps they prefer another theory.  Perhaps due to religion, as the Higgs Boson is called the “God particle” because nothing with mass can exist without it, and therefore some may fear the Higgs Boson may replace God.  Yet, the evidence still exists for those who are open-minded enough to consider it.

Still, even with such evidence, one does not have a perfect knowledge. We have increased knowledge regarding what we’ve learned, and it advances our faith along.  When we have evidence of the Higgs Boson, we will not need to have faith in regards to the evidence, which strengthens our faith in the theory, but we still do not have total proof of its existence.  And when we gain a spiritual witness, we gain knowledge that those evidences are true, and can increase our faith until the day comes that we have a full witness of God (and of the Higgs Boson, for that matter).

Zenos and Zenock prophesy of Christ
Alma 33

After his discourse on faith, the poor Zoramites then ask him if they should believe in only one God (vs 1). The Zoramites knew of only one God, and yet they knew the Nephites believed in the Son of God.  They wanted to know what to worship.   Instead of answering this directly, Alma finally answers their first question.

“And Alma said unto them: Behold, ye have said that ye could not worship your God because ye are cast out of your synagogues. But behold, I say unto you, if ye suppose that ye cannot worship God, ye do greatly err, and ye ought to search the scriptures; if ye suppose that they have taught you this, ye do not understand them” (vs 3).

He now answers their question in worshiping in the synagogue!  He shows them that the Zoramites are wrong concerning worship in the sanctuary, so that he may then show them that the Zoramites are wrong regarding who to worship.  He first quotes Zenos on man’s ability to worship God in the wilderness, in their private places, etc.  It is a marvelous poetic prayer that Zenos leaves us regarding worship. Only after answering this question, does he make a slight transition:

“And now Alma said unto them: Do ye believe those scriptures which have been written by them of old?
Behold, if ye do, ye must believe what Zenos said; for, behold he said: Thou hast turned away thy judgments because of thy Son.
Now behold, my brethren, I would ask if ye have read the scriptures? If ye have, how can ye disbelieve on the Son of God?
For it is not written that Zenos alone spake of these things, but Zenock also spake of these things—
For behold, he said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son” (vsa 12-16).

Zenos and Zenock were prophets of ancient Israel.  With my post on the Documentary Hypothesis in lesson 1, we see that the Brass Plates (from which Alma would get these prophecies) probably came from the Nothern Kingdom of Israel.  It is most likely that Zenos and Zenock were prophets in Israel between 800-721 BC.  Being prophets in northern Israel may explain why we do not have their teachings in the Bible today (which mostly focuses on Judah).

Ancient Israel did not understand Moses or the other prophets when they taught of Christ. They did not understand the symbolism in the Paschal Lamb, the high priest, the bronze serpent, or other symbols that foresaw Christ. They were stubborn and hardened their hearts against the fullness of the gospel and Christ.  Because they refused to look at the bronze serpent, many perished in Moses’ day.  Now many perish because they will not look upon Christ and believe.

“O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes (at the bronze serpent) that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?
If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works” (vs 21-22).

“Begin to believe” is an important step.  Desire to know, or to want to know is necessary. The person who refuses to look, will never see any of the evidences, will never feel the spiritual witness.  Today’s Korihors pride themselves in not believing in God or Christ.  They think their knowledge of the universe is sufficient to know that God cannot exist.  They do not see things as Socrates did, when he may have noted “I know one thing, that I know nothing.  Socrates actually did know many things, and was smarter than most other Greeks around him.  Yet, he realized that compared to all things in the universe, his knowledge was like a speck of dust in the wind.  

An Infinite and Eternal Sacrifice
Alma 34

Amulek arises and begins his speech by reaffirming the things Alma has taught.  He then discusses more in-depth the atonement of Christ.

“For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34:9-10).

When we think of Christ’s atonement and resurrection, we usually think of Gethsemane and the Calvary.  While these two moments were perhaps the pinnacle of Christ’s suffering, they only are a portion of the “infinite and eternal sacrifice” of the Lord.  Christ’s atonement is infinite.  It extends back to before the Creation and will extend long beyond this earth’s mortal existence.  LDS believe he is the Savior of all God’s worlds.  This means that Jesus’ atonement was in place on worlds previously created, and will continue impacting other worlds in the future. Gethsemane and Calvary bring about the resurrection, and help Christ to understand the pains, sins and sufferings of mankind.

There are various theories on how the atonement works.  Many of these require that Christ must suffer or pay the penalty so that we may be saved.  God being God, why could he not put something else into place where an innocent man would not have to pay such a penalty?  Alma previously noted:

“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” Alma 7:12).

Christ’s resurrection broke the bands of death.  His suffering allows him to understand our sufferings so he knows how to succor, or comfort and heal us.  Christ has sent out many types and levels of grace to mankind since the beginning.  He sent out the Light of Christ throughout the universe, filling “the immensity of space” (D&C 88:12).  This gives life and light to the universe, and a conscience to the human mind (D&C 88:11-13, Moroni 7).

Christ provides an abiding saving grace. It just waits for us to stop being stubborn and accept his gift through faith and repentance.  Once we accept it, we are rescued from spiritual death and hell, even as Alma was (see next lesson).  It may be that Gethsemane may not directly pay for our sins, but was an experience Jesus needed so that he could fully understand the human condition.  How could he heal others, when he did not know their sufferings first hand?  The atonement, then, is infinite and eternal. Christ is able to succor and heal us because he’s suffered as we have and more.  In descending below all things, he now can lift us above all things.  His simple embrace absorbs our pain, our sins, our weakness, and makes us whole.  It makes us able to stand in God’s presence again.

“And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption” (vs 15-16).

What great work is required for us to be worthy of the atonement? Must we perfectly keep all the commandments?  Must we crawl humbly upon the ground to show our humility? No.  We only need to believe to the point where we humbly repent.  At that point, Christ’s atonement overpowers all things  Justice states that we are fallen and in our sinful state are unworthy to enter into God’s presence.  We are out of God’s grace, because we refuse to accept it on God’s terms.  Faith and repentance means we have humbled ourselves sufficiently to believe and repent.  Once this is done, we are instantly snatched from the jaws of death and hell by Christ’s mercy.  Commandments come later, as we develop greater faith and desire to “do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2) as an outward sign of our mighty change of heart.

Amulek continues with a psalm that encourages them to humbly pray in all times and places, again answering the Zoramite’s first question regarding worshiping in the synagogue.  He then refers back to Korihor:

“And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men” (28-29).

Doing good comes after we are saved by grace and mercy.  The judgment of our works determines our level of salvation.  Here the people are warned about their previous actions to the poor and needy.  Korihor was not charitable.  He was literally cast out and trodden under the Zoramites’ feet! Amulek is telling them to repent and do good works, or they will find themselves in Korihor’s position.

Amulek continues to discuss the importance of good works.  This is the time of our probation.  We determine in this life, by our works, whether we become Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial.  Salvation is freely given by grace, upon faith and repentance.  Exaltation requires us to become as Christ is.  Why? Because we would not be happy in God’s presence if we do not have a “portion of the Celestial glory (D&C 88:28-32) within us.  In Alma 12, we see those who are not righteous, will wish the rocks would fall upon them and hide them from the Lord’s presence after the resurrection.  Our time of probation isn’t just the time to be saved, which Alma has already taught regarding faith and repentance, but is a time for the saved to now do good works, so as to become like Jesus.  It is not too late to do believe and repent after we are dead and in the Spirit World. However, if the saved wait until death to do good works, they are too late to become holy. Becoming holy and like Jesus is necessary for growth in spiritual things and to receive a greater portion of exalting grace.

In Revelation 20:12-15, the Book of Life and other books are brought forth.  Those not found in the Book of Life are cast into fire (Outer Darkness). To be saved means one’s name is in the Book of Life. To be in the Book of Life requires faith in Christ and repentance. Then we are judged for our works from the other books. Note that it says men will be judged of their works by the books, not the Book of Life, and those not found in the Book of Life are cast out.  Therefore, those judged of their works are among the saved, who then will receive the exalting grace of God depending on who they have become.

“For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked” (vs 35).

The worst thing we can do is procrastinate our day of repentance. To refuse to repent until spiritual death kicks in, means we have given up salvation.  Even in the Spirit World, there is time to believe and repent. However, it will be difficult.  The same stubbornness we have here will follow us there. In the Spirit World, until one repents, the devil has power over them. As with Alma (discussed in next lesson), there is a space of time allotted to repent.  But if we refuse to do so, we remain wicked.  We refuse Christ’s grace, atonement, and rescue.  It becomes the final state of the wicked.

Only in believing in Jesus and repenting fully of our sins, does grace embrace us.  We are rescued from sin, death, hell and pain, when we humbly come forward to Christ, and stop fighting him. We are justified by his mercy when we repent.

“...he has also said that the righteous shall sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out; but their garments should be made white through the blood of the Lamb” (vs 36).
Here, Amulek notes temple symbols: being made holy to dwell in God’s presence (sanctification), and being washed clean and made sinless in the blood of Christ (justification).

Zoramite craft destroyed
Alma 35

In converting the poor to Christ, Alma destroys the priestcraft of the Zoramites. They designed a government and religion wherein the rich and powerful got gain off the backs of the poor and needy.  In freeing them from worship in the synagogues, and in worshiping the strange God of the Rameumptom, Alma also freed them from being slaves to the wicked Zoramites.

Those who believed in Alma’s words were cast out.  They moved to the land of Jershon.  This is interesting, because they were once cast out from the Nephites (or felt they had), and so joined with others who also had been cast out from God’s presence until they repented.

The wicked Zoramites then realized that the poor castaways were being treated humanely and as equals among the Ammonites. This enraged them, as they wanted the poor to receive the same destruction as Korihor received when he was cast out.  

The Zoramites went into league with the Lamanites and began a war with the Nephites. Amulek warned of those who refused to repent being sealed to Satan.  Here, is a symbolic embrace between evil men among the Zoramites and Lamanites, even as with Cain and Satan (Moses 5:18-28).  Today, many of us make peace with the Devil. Some are in league with him, and don’t even realize it.  The Zoramites were a religious people that were certain the Nephites were wrong. For them, it was better to join up with the Lamanites than to see the Nephites be right.  Sadly, many believers of God make leagues with the devil  through a variety of political/religious/social/humanist movements and organizations that replace Christ with their own version of what God should be like.  They seek to justify sin as something good, because they refuse to truly believe in Christ and repent of their sins.  They refuse to let God heal them, because they believe their marks are emblems of glory.

Let us hope they do not procrastinate their repentance until it is everlasting too late for them.  And let us quit fighting against God and his Christ, and offer up to them a humble heart in sincere faith and repentance.


“An Experiment Upon the Word: Reading Alma 32”, Adam S. Miller editor: http://saltpress.org/

Higgs Boson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson

Documentary Hypothesis from Book of Mormon lesson one: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/12/book-of-mormon-gospel-doctrine-lesson-1.html

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