Sunday, June 14, 2020

Come Follow Me: Alma 13-16

Come Follow Me: Alma 13-16

Alma 13 
In the previous lesson, we saw that the teachings of Alma and Amulek in Alma 9-12 were oriented toward the temple endowment and the focus of returning to the presence of the Lord.  Here in chapter 13, we find the culmination of their teaching. 
All good endowments have a story that takes us from the pre-mortal existence, through creation and fall, and then, through Christ's atonement lead us back into God's presence.  We've seen some of these components in the previous chapters, including the discussion of Adam and the Fall, and how all mankind will resurrect through Christ's atonement and enter back into God's presence (Alma 11).  For the wicked, the glory of God will cause them great pain of conscience and they will wish the rocks would fall and cover them up (Alma 12). 
For Alma 13, we will begin in the pre-mortal existence, even prior to the Creation, back to the great Council of Heaven, where God's children are offered a great gift: the priesthood.  We learn that the priesthood is "after the order of his Son" (Alma 13:1-2).  This holy and high priesthood preceded this earth, where righteous men were foreordained to the priesthood after the order of the Son of God,  This foreordination was performed in God's heavenly temple, and its next partial fulfillment occurs in the holy temples here on earth, with a final anointing occurring with our Calling and Election. 
"And this is the manner after  which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation  of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their  exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose  good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising  exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that  holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory  redemption for such. 
And  thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their  faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the  hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had  not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their  brethren" (Alma 13:3-4). 
Here we learn about events prior to this earth's creation.  God's spirit children existed prior to this earth.  There is no creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing). In this pre-mortal existence, the spirits of men were left to choose good or evil.  Some chose good and exercised great faith, and so were entrusted with the holy priesthood in mortality.  The difference between those foreordained and those who were not is based on their level of faith. Those not ready to exercise great faith were not ready for such a foreordination.  In connection to the covenant with Israel, we would consider that Israel was foreordained to be the covenant people.  LDS understanding is that the Melchizedek Priesthood primarily falls to the tribe of Joseph and his son, Ephraim, as the right to rule the spiritual kingdom (as Judah has the right to rule the physical kingdom of Israel). 
Whether foreordained or not, any man can become worthy through exceeding faith in Christ, to receive this priesthood in mortality.  But for those who harden their hearts, there will be no priesthood given unto them.  In fact, we learn in D&C 121:33-46 that the priesthood only works on the principles of righteousness, and when a man attempts to rule wickedly, it is "amen" or the end to that man's priesthood. 
Note that the priesthood is a "privilege" and not a right.  It is not something we earn or demand as a right, but is a gift given to those who prepare themselves to use it.  That preparation requires great faith, repentance, and good works.  If a man is ordained to the priesthood, while lacking the preparation, he may hold the priesthood, but will not have the power that comes with it. 
"Or in fine, in the first  place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy  calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as  would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the  Only Begotten Son, who was prepared— 
And  thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high  priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the  children of men, that they also might enter into his rest" (Alma 13:5-6). 
All spirit children of God were born equal.  It is what we did in our pre-mortal existence and here that determines whether we are ready to receive any gifts from God. It is not an issue of meriting such gifts, but of being ready and able to receive it.  Why give the gift of the Spirit to a man, who refuses to listen to it?  The priesthood is given to help us help others enter into God's "rest" or presence. 
"This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was  from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without  beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all  eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things" (Alma 13:7). 
Here we get an interesting definition of some terms.  "in other words" notes we are to receive a definition or meaning of a term.  "without beginning of days or end of years" and "eternity to all eternity" does not necessarily mean forever into the past and future, but that it began with the foundation of the world!  In the Book of Mormon, we thrice find the term "eternal round" (1 Nephi 10:19, Alma 7:20, 37:12. see also D&C 3:2, 35:1).  Interestingly, Alma uses the term twice, once just prior to going to Ammonihah to preach, and the other in teaching his sons.  Such view of time is in keeping with ancient Israel, which did not see time as linear, but as a cycle. 
It seems that an eternal round is a period or a cycle of time, during which there is a Creation,  a Destruction, followed by a new Creation.  During this period, God's work is performed to create spirit children, send them to a newly formed earth, allow them to Fall, offer them an Infinite Atonement, and bring those who will follow Christ back into His presence. 
"they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only  Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of  years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen" (Alma 13:9). 
This ordination to high priest is an eternal ordination. It does not end with death, but continues on into the eternities.  It is the priesthood which Jesus Christ had (Hebrews 5-7), as well as his apostles. It is the priesthood that Moses held, and desired to use to bring Israel back into the presence of God at Sinai (D&C 84:19-26).  We will now see that it is also the priesthood that Melchizedek the King of Salem held. 
"Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified,  and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their  garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look  upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly  great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord  their God" (Alma 13:11-12). 
Here we see the ancient guidance given by God to Moses in preparing Aaron and his sons to serve as high priests in the Tabernacle.  They were to be sanctified, washed clean, and made pure in order to enter into God's presence.  So it is with us if we want to see the face of God and live in His kingdom.  Mormons attending the temple dress in white clothing to symbolize such purity, as they seek to be sanctified by the Holy Ghost and purified in the blood of Christ (sanctification and justification). The grea t purpose of the temple is for us to symbolically learn to be pure and enter into God's rest. 
Alma begins speaking of Melchizedek, his people, and the priesthood and ordinances that led them into God's presence. According to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the people of Melchizedek were a wicked people, but repented and became righteous and sanctified (made holy) to where their city was caught up to the city of Enoch in a state of paradise (JST 14). 
Melchizedek is a name that is two words: Melchi (King) and Zedek (Righteousness), or the King of Righteousness.  Being King over the city of Salem (Peace), he is also the Prince of Peace (Alma 13:18). Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and the King performed great miracles throughout his life as a priesthood holder.  As with Enoch and Moses, he becomes a symbol of the future Christ.  Today, the priesthood after the order of the Son of God is nicknamed the Melchizedek Priesthood, or the Priesthood of the King of Righteousness! 
As Melchizedek is a great king and priest under God, so we can also be.  The highest form of this priesthood is found in the temple ordinances.  When man and woman are sealed in eternal marriage, they receive together the Patriarchal Priesthood.  This priesthood was given to Abraham, and through this priesthood all the nations of the world are blessed with the gospel and the binding ties (Book of Abraham 1).  In the temple, man and woman learn to become kings and queens and priests and priestesses under the tutelage of Jesus Christ.  As Melchizedek becomes a symbol of Christ, so too do those who receive the fullness of the priesthood become a symbol of the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. 
Alma tells the people of Ammonihah that it is now the time to repent, for  "angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is  for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to  receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory" (Alma 13:24).  Alma and Amulek are two witnesses of the coming of angels, who prepare all of us for the coming of God in glory.  Alma concludes his sermon telling them that, 
"Having faith on the Lord;  having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God  always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and  enter into his rest. 
30 And  may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his  wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell,  that ye may not suffer the second death" (Alma 13:29-30). 
Alma 14
We will find in this chapter that the few righteous among the people will be cast out or burned in the fire (along with the holy scriptures), showing (as noted in the previous lesson) the people of Ammonihah were inhospitable and sought to impose their wickedness upon the righteous. Bible scholar Harold Bloom noted that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they were inhospitable. We will see the same extreme inhospitality here. Alma and Amulek are cast into prison, and tortured for days, also a sign that the city was ripened in wickedness.  Even the miraculous rescue of the prophets from prison did not cause the people to repent.  All that was left was for the Lord to allow the Lamanites to destroy them (Alma 16), and allow them to "suffer the second death" (Alma 13:30) out of the presence of God. 
In Alma 14, we find that many accept the teachings of Alma. However, many not only reject it, but violently reject it. Some LDS scholars suggest that what happens next will haunt Alma for the rest of his life.
Zeezrom and many of the new believers, are cast out of Ammonihah. They go to a nearby city, where they are taken in as refugees. Their wives and children do not fare well.  They are cast into a fire, along with the scriptures.
Alma and Amulek are set before this scene, where they can see the faces of terrified women and children, and hear their screams as they are burned alive. Alma will never again teach about fire and brimstone (Alma 12:17), after the chief judge smites him on the cheek and demands, "After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?" (Alma 1414). 
The chief judge has simulated the lake of fire and brimstone and tossed innocent women, children and holy scriptures into the pit. Three days later, the fire is still burning hot, as the judge questions Alma in prison:

"And it came to pass that the judge stood before them, and said: Why do ye not answer the words of this people? Know ye not that I have power to deliver you up unto the flames?" (Alma 14:19).
 In Alma 12, Alma taught that the wicked would fear God's presence so much that they would wish the mountains would fall upon them and cover them up, so they would not be in the presence of God.
"...we [the wicked] 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..." (Alma 12:14-15)
 Here in prison (Alma 14), the prophets are mocked and beaten daily. Finally, Alma calls forth the power of God to deliver them. The cords binding Alma and Amulek are broken, they stand up. Fear falls upon the wicked and they wish to flee from God's power. Before they can escape, however, the rock walls fall down upon them, covering them up. Yet they did not escape the presence of God, nor his judgment.

Alma 15

Traveling over to Sidom, Alma and Amulek find Zeezrom sick with a burning fever, caused by his guilt. It is possible this is another representation of the lake of fire and brimstone that occurs several times as a theme in this story. It is only the power of God that can rescue a person from this fire. It is interesting to contrast Zeezrom's painful conversion to that of the Lamanite kings Lamoni (Alma 18) and his father (Alma 22), and compare it with Alma's own conversion (Alma 36). 

Generally, Alma has preached the gospel for about ten years, and finally returned to his own house, thankful for the converts in many cities, but, along with Amulek, is traumatized by the fiery deaths in Ammonihah.

Alma 16

We find that the cycle of iniquity in Ammonihah is complete when the Lamanites destroy the city. The city is so completely devastated that the bodies are heaped up, and it becomes a new land of Desolation, the Desolation of Nehors. This is another fulfillment of Alma's teachings. As with the chief judges in the prison, when Alma taught the wicked would be covered up with rocks and mountains, the mass grave is a rock covering that attempts to hide the wicked from the presence of the Lord here in the Promised Land.

This shows some of the complexity of the Book of Mormon. While Alma is preaching to Ammonihah, the Lamanite converts of Ammon and Aaron are attacked by the wicked Lamanites (prodded on by Nephite apostates of the Amalekites and Amulonites). When the righteous Lamanites refuse to fight and many are slain, there are many more converted to God. The rest of the Lamanites refuse to slay their unarmed friends, and decide to blame the Nephites for the civil unrest. Their first target? Ammonihah (Alma 24-25).

We also see the end of the Nehor religion and priestcraft that has plagued the Nephites for about a decade, ever since Alma's first year as chief judge (Alma 1). So, we see several story lines emerge here: the Jaredite and Nehor Desolations are compared, Ammonite conversions lead to the destruction of the wicked in Ammonihah, Alma's lake of fire and brimstone literally occurs, and so forth.

With this tragic end to a decade of ministry for Alma, we are ready to see the triumphant story of his former companions, the sons of Mosiah.

Joseph Smith Translation of Bible on Melchizedek:

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