The words of Alma which he delivered to the people in Gideon, according to his own record.
1 Behold my beloved brethren, seeing that I have been permitted to come unto you, therefore I attempt to address you in my language; yea, by my own mouth, seeing that it is the first time that I have spoken unto you by the words of my mouth, I having been wholly confined to the judgment-seat, having had much business that I could not come unto you.
2 And even I could not have come now at this time were it not that the judgment-seat hath been given to another, to reign in my stead; and the Lord in much mercy hath granted that I should come unto you.
Social: Alma gives us a short glimpse into the nature of the political sophistication of Zarahemla at this time period. As we examine more of this discourse to the people of Gideon we will understand that Alma is generally pleased with them, and that they are generally faithful. In spite of his favor towards them, he has not been able to visit them because his duties as chief judge have so completely occupied his time that he was unable to leave Zarahemla. Of course we must remember that the chief judge was a political and not a legal position, so we are not talking of a number of legal cases, but rather of the complexities of governing. By this time period, Zarahemla is large enough that the affairs of government occupied Alma full time. It is quite doubtful that these tasks also included tilling the soil for his own sustenance.
We must therefore understand that the continued Nephite pressure for an egalitarian society was not one where the concept of working with one’s own hands necessarily applied to every single person in the society. It was rather a particular ideal, an ideal that Alma would have supported even if he could not say that he supported himself with the work of his own hands.
Textual: The introductory statement at the top of the chapter was included in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. This synoptic announcement of the inclusion of a sermon will continue through Mormon’s editing of Alma’s journeys. This is even further indication that it is the sermons that are of the greatest interest to Mormon.
3 And behold, I have come having great hopes and much desire that I should find that ye had humbled yourselves before God, and that ye had continued in the supplicating of his grace, that I should find that ye were blameless before him, that I should find that ye were not in the awful dilemma that our brethren were in at Zarahemla.
Alma appears unable to greet the people of Gideon without comparing them to those of Zarahemla, with those in Zarahemla suffering in comparison. As Alma begins his discourse he explicitly states that he hopes that the people of Gideon are following in the way. That he contrasts their expected state of righteousness to the “awful dilemma” of Zarahemla only highlights the importance of the contentions that are developing in the land of Zarahemla. Alma’s current mission wasn’t taken lightly, but out of a perceived necessity.
Social: Who are these people of Gideon? The text does not tell us. We know that the valley of Gideon was named for Gideon the captain of the Royal Guard from the city of Lehi-Nephi:
Alma 2:20And it came to pass that when Alma could pursue the Amlicites no longer he caused that his people should pitch their tents in the valley of Gideon, the valley being called after that Gideon who was slain by the hand of Nehor with the sword; and in this valley the Nephites did pitch their tents for the night.
It is a safe assumption that the city of Gideon lay in the valley of Gideon, and that both were named for the slain hero. It is, of course, speculation that the land of Gideon (comprising the city and dependent lands) was settled by the displaced Limhites, but it would be a reasonable speculation. With the naming of the land for a man who would have been a hero to those people, we have a logical reason to believe that the people living there were those to whom the name and the man had meaning.
If this were true, that the people who emigrated with Limhi settled together and founded this city and land of Gideon, then perhaps we have a reason to understand why the people of Gideon might have avoided the same contentions as were found in Zarahemla. The foreign ideas that were being adopted into Zarahemla were certainly similar to those adopted by King Noah. The people of Limhi would have had a clear remembrance of their own struggles against precisely those same beliefs, and their deliverance from them by the hand of the Lord. If Gideon himself had been slain not that many years earlier, we may assume that there were many living in the land of Gideon were knew firsthand the effect to the influence of the “things of the world” on a people. Their deliverance by the hand of God would clearly still be impressed on their minds, and they would be much more resistant to similar cultural incursions, as opposed to those of Zarahemla who did not have to fight that same war (though that war is coming for those in Zarahemla).
4 But blessed be the name of God, that he hath given me to know, yea, hath given unto me the exceedingly great joy of knowing that they are established again in the way of his righteousness.
In the last chapter we speculated that Alma may have tarried but a short time after his discourse to the church in Zarahemla. This verse would appear to confirm that Alma left not too long after, since it is God from whom Alma has the information that Zarahemla has returned to orthodoxy. Clearly Alma did not stay in Zarahemla long enough to see this change himself, receiving that confirmation spiritually rather than temporally.
5 And I trust, according to the Spirit of God which is in me, that I shall also have joy over you; nevertheless I do not desire that my joy over you should come by the cause of so much afflictions and sorrow which I have had for the brethren at Zarahemla, for behold, my joy cometh over them after wading through much affliction and sorrow.
Rhetorical: This verse depends upon the last line of the previous verse. Alma has indicated, concerning Zarahemla: “[God] … hath given unto me the exceedingly great joy of knowing that they are established again in the way of his righteousness.” The important concept is the “exceedingly great joy.”
In this verse, Alma picks up on that theme, and transfers it to the people Gideon. He trusts, “according to the Spirit of God”… “that I shall also have joy over you.” Thus Alma takes his divinely appointed gift of joy over those in Zarahemla and indicates that the same source gives him joy for those in Gideon.
After this comparison of the similarities (God-given joy for both peoples) Alma now highlights the contrasts. The joy over Zarahemla came after tears – “after wading through much affliction and sorrow.” In Gideon, he expects the joy without the sorrow, for they have not strayed from the way.
6 But behold, I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren; I trust that ye are not lifted up in the pride of your hearts; yea, I trust that ye have not set your hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world; yea, I trust that you do not worship idols, but that ye do worship the true and the living God, and that ye look forward for the remission of your sins, with an everlasting faith, which is to come.
Rhetorical: Alma begins with a series or phrases that begin with “I trust:”
I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren;
I trust that ye are not lifted up in the pride of your hearts; yea,
I trust that ye have not set your hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world; yea,
I trust that you do not worship idols,
These phrases must be seen in the context of his introductory sentence from the last verse:
I trust, according to the Spirit of God which is in me, that I shall also have joy over you..
Most important is the nature of Alma’s use of the phrase “I trust.” Standard modern English uses this formulation as a very weak affirmative: “I trust you are well… I trust you had a good night’s sleep…” It is a polite way of asking the question while assuming the response.
Alma’s usage is quite different. Note that his first “trust” comes “according to the Spirit of God.” Now, that kind of trust has a much stronger and sure base. When Alma “trusts” that he will have joy in the inhabitants of Gideon, he does so because he has already had confirmation of that future fact from the Spirit. It is in that connection that we must understand his catalog of parallel “trusts” in this verse. Alma is not hoping, he knows through the spirit that these things are true.
Social: The particular catalog of things that Alma chooses to highlight that the people of Gideon are not doing is fascinating. Any negative list requires some understanding of the nature of the list, since the possibilities of what the people of Gideon were not doing is endless. For instance, none of them were riding bicycles. None of them were fueling their lawnmowers nor painting their picket fences. Since there were an infinite number of things that they were not doing, why does Alma select these particular items?
“I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren. . :” This statement is the key to the rest of the list. The people of Gideon are not in the same state of unbelief as were those of Zarahemla. What will follow are the most egregious aspects of the Zarahemlaite mini-apostasy.
“I trust that ye are not lifted up in the pride of your hearts. . .:” Clearly pride was a problem for the Nephites, but what constituted that pride? Were they abnormally proud of their children? Were they abnormally proud of their crops? Such things are unlikely, for even were there a few who might be seen to be in such a category, it is hardly the kind of thing for which a people is universally condemned.
In the case of the Nephites, the “pride of [their] hearts” always appears to be related to an acceptance of outside definitions of who they should be and how they should act. Rather than adhere to the principles of the gospel, they looked to themselves and their own desires to find something that they wanted more. That something is further defined in the next two statements.
“I trust that ye have not set your hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world. . .:” Here is the “pride of [their] hearts” defined. They look upon “riches and the vain things of the world.” Modern readers will certainly see in this a reference to our modern consumer society, and the comparisons are not without their merit, and the cautions apply to we moderns as well as the ancient Nephites. However, the particulars of their “riches and the vain things of the world” were quite different.
To properly understand what Alma is talking about, we must remember that Nephite society was based on agriculture and trade. Those commodities, in surplus, could be exchanged for other goods. One is “rich” if one can accumulate goods that other people also desire, and have less of. The final key to the puzzle is that Nephite culture was based on barter, not money.
This final aspect is essential, because we must remember that the Nephites would still be making most of their necessities. They would grow their own food, they would make their own clothes, they would build their own homes. In such circumstances, how can one set their hearts upon “riches”?
The key is not in the word “riches” nor in “vain things,” but rather “of the world.” Let us take a simple case where a farmer has a surplus of corn. This farmer has a bumper crop, and his fields perform so much better than those of his neighbors that he has many times the amount of corn that they do. He clearly has more than he needs. Is he rich?
He cannot be rich simply for a surplus in corn, particularly if everyone else has enough, but not an abundance. What can he do with this surplus of corn? He can trade it for something else. If he trades it for a surplus of beans, is he rich? He is no richer than he was with the corn.
He becomes rich if and only if he can trade his surplus corn for something that other people recognize is valuable, but they cannot obtain because they don’t have the surplus of corn. This almost necessitates trade outside of the community. When a Nephite traded outside of the community, he is in contact with another community and perhaps another culture. From that foreign, and therefore exotic, land he can obtain items that others might recognize as valuable, but which are clearly not easily available to them. In this way, the barter of the corn can make the man “rich” in things that other people cannot easily obtain.
Alma is clearly indicating to the people of Gideon that it is this desire for the things of the world that is the danger. The Book of Mormon allows for riches when all share their prosperity. The pride of the heart comes in segregating oneself from others through possessions, and in the case of the Nephites, this appears to have always carried with it the danger of adopting the religion (and politics) of that foreign land.
“I trust that you do not worship idols. . .:” Alma concludes with the logical end of embracing the “things of the world.” Those who embraced the material goods too often embraced the economic/political/religious system that generated the goods. For Alma, the logical progression of the pride of the hearts was ultimately the worship of idols, the complete abandonment of their Nephite religions.
7 For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people.
Rhetorical: Alma is carefully crafting his discourse to move from topic to topic. His introduction praises the Gideonites while allowing him the opportunity to warn them against the specific problems of the Zarahemlaites. In this verse he picks upon on his last line from the previous verse: “and that ye look forward for the remission of your sins, with an everlasting faith, which is to come…”
Alma picks up the idea of this remission “which is to come” to highlight his theme of the Savior. He notes that “there be many things to come…” It would not be surprising if some of the Gideonites had heard rumors of impending wars, and perhaps civil wars. Certainly the rest of the book of Alma will show us that they are clearly coming. What Alma tells them is that of all the things that might come, the one that is most important is the Savior. Alma takes the assumption that “things to come” would be real things to increase the understanding that the coming of the Savior will also be a very real and literal thing.
8 Behold, I do not say that he will come among us at the time of his dwelling in his mortal tabernacle; for behold, the Spirit hath not said unto me that this should be the case. Now as to this thing I do not know; but this much I do know, that the Lord God hath power to do all things which are according to his word.
How literally does Alma believe in the coming of the Savior? He understands it so literally that he makes a distinction between the possible and probable time of his appearance. Alma understands that Jesus will live his life in the Old World, but he just as certainly knows and tells the people of Gideon that he will come to the New World, and will come to visit them, the Nephites.
9 But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth.
Alma is told to cry repentance to the Gideonites. Alma also urged repentance on the Zarahemlaites, but he clearly considered the people of Zarahemla to require a more drastic change than those of Gideon. Indeed, he has complimented the Gideonites and indicated that he will have joy in them – a joy that will not require that they make major changes first. How is it that they are being told to repent?
While the people of Gideon may not have been guilty of as great sins as those in Zarahemla, the call to repentance does not require great sins. It does not even require sins of commission. A call to repentance can come to any who are able to improve. Anyone less than perfect is in a position where repentance can usher a change, and improve the person. Thus the people of Gideon were good, yet still in a position where they might improve.
In this case, Alma is asking them to particularly prepare themselves to meet the Savior. This is no idle suggestion for something that is in the far future. The New World had the prophecies which marked the time of his coming, and Alma knows for certain that the day is approaching. These people are to literally to “prepare the way of the Lord.”
10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
Alma explicitly describes Jesus’ birth in Jerusalem of Mary. As was noticed earlier, Nephi had seen the vision of the birth of Christ, but had not named his mother. We have the first indication of the name of the mother in Mosiah 3:8 as part of King Benjamin’s speech. We cannot tell if any other prophet had received that information, but Benjamin certainly could have been the first. In the case of Alma, he may also have had first hand information, or he could have received his information from reading the plates of Nephi. Either possibility is valid, and he could also have read it and received a spiritual confirmation. Since Alma is writing in the large plates, it is guaranteed that he was familiar with them. Nevertheless it is not clear that this was the source, or the only source for this passage.
The passage in Benjamin does not list the mode of conception. Alma indicates that Mary “shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Benjamin does not discuss the mode of conception at all. To find any information on the mode of conception we must go back to Nephi’s secondary set of plates, the “small” plates. On those he indicates: “And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! 20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms” (1 Ne. 11:19-20).
The language is not identical, although the Holy Ghost is mentioned. In this case, it cannot be conclusively stated that Alma did or did not read Nephi’s account, and the language of this particular verse very clearly owes a debt to Luke: “Luke 1:35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
As has been noted previously, Joseph used the vocabulary and phraseology of the New Testament when similar ideas appeared on the plates. Alma may have been quoting Nephi, but Joseph used the more familiar (to him) configuration from Luke.
Place of birth: This verse suggests that Jesus was born “at Jerusalem.” How is it that the Book of Mormon lists Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem? If Joseph were citing Luke, why did he get the words right, but miss the location? The answer lies in the nature of territories conceived as attached to Jerusalem, or under the political purvey of that city.
“For anyone honestly concerned with the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, there was little to argue about after Hugh Nibley showed in 1957 that one of the Amarna letters, written in the 13th century B.C. and discovered in 1887, recounted the capture of "a city of the land of Jerusalem, Bet-Ninib" (Nibley, Hugh. An Approach to the Book of Mormon. Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, FARMS 6:101). Predictably, this evidence, along with further evidence of the general usage of this type of terminology in the Old World (see John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 170-72) has been ignored by critics of the Book of Mormon.
Now from the Dead Sea Scrolls comes an even more specific occurrence of the phrase "land of Jerusalem" that gives insight into its usage and meaning - in a text that indirectly links the phrase to the Jerusalem of Lehi's time.
Robert Eisenmann and Michael Wise, in The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (1993), discuss one document that they have provisionally named "Pseudo-Jeremiah" (scroll 4Q385). The beginning of the damaged text reads as follows:
the Prophet before the Lord
In their discussion of this text, Eisenmann and Wise elaborate on the significance of the phrase "land of Jerusalem," which they see as an equivalent for Judah (Yehud):
"Another interesting reference is to the 'land of Jerusalem' in Line 2 of Fragment 1. This greatly enhances the sense of historicity of the whole, since Judah or 'Yehud' (the name of the area on coins from the Persian period) by this time consisted of little more than Jerusalem and its immediate environs." (p. 57)
Based on the evidence from Qumran, and in the words of Eisenmann and Wise, we can conclude that consistent usage of such language among a people of Israel who fled Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah also "greatly enhances the sense of historicity" of the Book of Mormon.” (Thomasson, Gordon. “Revisiting the Land of Jerusalem.” In: Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1999, p. 139--40).
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
Textual: This reference echoes the ideas found in Mark 9:12: “And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought.” Alma is very certainly citing some previous Old Testament or Book of Mormon author rather than Mark, but we do not have the particular reference that he is citing.
Alma has a very interesting take on the nature of Jesus’ suffering. For Alma the “pains and afflictions” refer to his mortality, and his complete subjection to mortality. As a human, Jesus, suffered pain when bruised, and illnesses. For Alma these become symbolic of the sacrificial atonement for pains and sicknesses. Jesus endures them to remove them from the people. In this he appears to be echoing the idea expressed in Genesis:
“Ex. 23:25 And ye shall serve the LORD your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.”
For Alma, this is not an expiation for sin, but rather a removal of the pains and illnesses. In this context, the reference to Christ’s earthly mission would be to the miraculous healings rather than the experience in Gethsemane.
12 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.
In the context of the way Alma sees the relationship of pains and afflictions to Jesus, the reference here to “he will take upon him death” comes into higher focus. Just as the function of Jesus’ acceptance of the peoples pains and afflictions was to remove them from the people, so to his acceptance of death is particularly to remove it. This is confirmed by the very next phrase, that indicates that Jesus will “take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people. He has used the acceptance of pain and death as a mode of removal of those consequences (perhaps in the same way as the community of Israel cast their sins upon the scapegoat, and they were removed from the people and placed onto the goat – see Leviticus 16:20-22).
In the final phrase of this verse, Alma expands his meaning. Not only does the Messiah take upon himself sin as a means of removal, but also so that Jesus’ experience will allow him empathy for mankind.
13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
Alma has broached a topic which some of his listener’s might question. He has stated that this coming Atoning Messiah will actually learn something. Alma understands that there will be those who might not understand what he means, so he clarifies. Alma confirms that “the Spirit knoweth all things.” In other words, this experience of pain, afflictions, and death, is not teaching the Messiah anything that he would not have understood on some level. Nevertheless, the entire experience is what allows the Messiah to be merciful and “blot out their transgressions.” Alma testifies that this process is essential to the mission of the Atoning Messiah.
14 Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.
Alma repeats uses the theme of being born again here in Gideon just as he did in Zarahemla:
14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
For Alma, this process of being born again is intimately connected to the acceptance of the Atoning Messiah. When Alma was recounting his conversion experience, he explains this process of change, of rebirth:
25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
For Alma, this is a “new creature” who has new parents. This change entails becoming “sons and daughters” of the Atoning Messiah. It is precisely this transformation that Benjamin described for the new covenant of his people during his famous discourse:
“Mosiah 5:7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.”
15 Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.
The way of acceptance of this rebirth is twofold. The first requirement is repentance. The second step, and a natural path from the first, is to be baptized.
Historical: There is not enough information about the nature of baptism in the Book of Mormon to known whether or not Alma was speaking to those who had already been baptized or not. It is most probable that baptism was not seen as a “once in a lifetime” proposition during Book of Mormon times. The Jewish practice to which it is most similar was a full body washing that could be done at any point in one’s life where a recommitment was desired. In modern times, the idea of rebaptism as a renewal of commitment was practiced in Utah, though that practice is now discontinued.
Alma is speaking to righteous people in Gideon, and because of their righteousness, one might suppose that they had already been baptized. However, the people in Gideon were probably those who came with Limhi and Ammon. Those people were from the land of Lehi-Nephi as was Alma the Elder, but they left at different times, and Alma the Elder began his baptizing after his departure from that community. It is therefore possible that the people of Gideon might not yet have been baptized, even though they were believers in the Nephite religion and the Atoning Messiah.
16 And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me.
Alma provides a promise to the people of Gideon. Those who are baptized (“whosoever doeth this”) and keep the commandments, will have eternal life.
Textual: This verse has an interesting “correction.” Alma begins in the present tense, and then shifts to the past tense: “will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him…” There are two possibilities for this shift. The first is that it is an accurate transcription of Alma’s discourse. In a live discourse, it would not be surprising that Alma might use the present tense, and then realize that he was speaking of a future state of his audience, when his current words would necessarily be past.
The second possibility is that this is part of a dictation sequence by Joseph. Since there is a logical explanation for the original, the first possibility is the most likely. However, there are several such shifts, and the possibility that they represent an artifact of the dictation sequence should not be dismissed to quickly.
17 And now my beloved brethren, do you believe these things? Behold, I say unto you, yea, I know that ye believe them; and the way that I know that ye believe them is by the manifestation of the Spirit which is in me. And now because your faith is strong concerning that, yea, concerning the things which I have spoken, great is my joy.
Rhetorical: Alma now reiterates his introductory theme (verse 5 and 6) indicating his spiritual witness that those of Gideon were believers. He asks, therefore, a rhetorical question about their belief in this things, and then answers it for them. Alma uses this technique to focus their attention on the issue, and then to pay them the great spiritual compliment for their faithfulness.
18 For as I said unto you from the beginning, that I had much desire that ye were not in the state of dilemma like your brethren, even so I have found that my desires have been gratified.
Once again Alma compares Gideon (favorably) to Zarahemla. It is interesting that he characterizes those in Zarahemla as being in a “state of dilemma.” This would appear to indicate that Alma understands that there are multiple options of how these people might lead their lives, and that he also understands the attractiveness of the other option. Of course he would do so, because at one time he himself elected that other path. He himself succumbed to the dilemma. Just as forcefully as he can see their dilemma, however, he also forcefully sees the better choice.
19 For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness; I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God; yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight.
Alma is making a scriptural reference in this verse. He introduces the concept of the paths as a logical outgrowth of the dilemma of Zarahemla. A dilemma has at least two aspects, and Alma visualizes them as paths that must be walked. He uses this path imagery to further compliment his audience by making a reference to Isaiah:
3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
When Alma tells his audience that “I perceive that ye are making his paths straight,” he is very directly telling them that the choices they are making are preparing them for the coming of the Atoning Messiah.
20 I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong; therefore, his course is one eternal round.
Rhetorical: Alma takes the basic image of “straight paths” and now reapplies the image. Where the original intent was a metaphor for the preparation for the Atoning Messiah (which context he did use) he now restructures the metaphor into a description of the path of the Lord itself. This is no longer the prediction or preparation for the Lord, but the experience of one who is walking in the path of the Lord. This path is already “straight” in that “he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he had said…”
21 And he doth not dwell in unholy temples; neither can filthiness or anything which is unclean be received into the kingdom of God; therefore I say unto you the time shall come, yea, and it shall be at the last day, that he who is filthy shall remain in his filthiness.
As has been previously noted, it is quite possible that there is a cultural context to the phrase “unholy temples” that had a stronger image for Alma’s audience than it does for us. In the context of Mesoamerica, there were multiple options for temples, many of them dedicated to foreign gods, which would clearly qualify as “unholy.”
Alma does note that the filthiness is removable – after all, he has called for repentance and baptism. Nevertheless, he does indicate that the ability to remove the filthiness is not permanent.
22 And now my beloved brethren, I have said these things unto you that I might awaken you to a sense of your duty to God, that ye may walk blameless before him, that ye may walk after the holy order of God, after which ye have been received.
Rhetorical: Alma uses the imagery of the path again. In this case, he uses the imagery of walking on the path as a metaphor for following the gospel. The idea of walking a path is an apt metaphor for the gospel, because the idea of walking implies movement and action, both of which are required of those who accept the gospel. This is not an idea to be assimilated, but a way of life to live. It is not an intellectual exercise, but a very real exercise of the soul that should move us from the natural man to the man of God.
23 And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
24 And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works.
Alma describes the qualities of a believer who is striving to live the gospel.
Humble: Humility is a difficult concept in that it appears to be scripturally desirable, but literarily undesirable. We want to be humble before God, but not necessarily from humble circumstances. It becomes even more difficult to define what that humility before God might actually be. One way to understand the type of humility we are to have is to define humility in contrast to another trait that we might understand better. This is the approach taken in 1 Peter:
1 Pet. 5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
In this verse there is an implicit contrast between humility and pride, a contrast that we understand as a viable means of defining the nature of our humility before God. Before God we are to be humble rather than proud.
It is this explicit definition by contrast that underlies President Benson’s definition of pride:
“Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.
The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.
Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.” As Paul said, they “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philip. 2:21.)
Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled. (See Alma 38:12; 3 Ne. 12:30.)
The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6.) They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works.
Our enmity toward God takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers. The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s. (Benson, Ezra Taft, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, p. 4).
Submissive: To be submissive is the conceptual companion of humility. It is another word for the attitude we are to have toward God. Our will is submitted to the laws of God and we do not resist following his way.
Gentle: We are to be gentle in our relationships with others. This does not preclude the righteous fury of a Jesus overturning the money tables in the temple, but does describe the interpersonal relationships he demonstrated with those who were around him. In a similar way, we may have times when action and forcefulness are required of us, but as a general description of our attitude toward our brethren, we should be gentle.
Easy to be entreated: We have yet another synonym for the concepts of humility and submissiveness. Who entreats us? God. We are to be easily entreated to the way of the Lord. Certainly we are to much less easily entreated should Satan choose to do the entreating.
Full of patience: In our relationships with others, patience is typically of the highest virtue.
Long-suffering: To be long-suffering is a parallel concept to patience, and should not be understood with an emphasis on the word “suffer.” Similar to the usage in the passage: “Mark 10:14 . . .Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God,” “suffer” should be understood in its meaning of “allow.” What then do we “allow” for a long time? We allow our fellow men to be as human as we allow ourselves. It is part of the patience required of us all as we walk on the path toward God.
Temperate in all things: This admonition appears to be a general value. Temperance rather than excess will keep us closer to the Lord.
Diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times: This suggestion is rather clear. When seen in this general set of attitudes, it is most interestingly placed along with “long-suffering” in the emphasis on the duration of our struggle to be like Christ. This is not an overnight change, but rather one to be achieved and re-achieved throughout our lifetime.
Asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, Always returning thanks unto God: These two belong together as a paired set. They both deal with prayer, and form two of the important aspects of a prayer, that we ask for our needs, but never forget to give thanks for what we do have. This paired admonition is what allows prayer to remain humble. If we were to continually ask, and forget to give thanks, we might slip over into the arrogance that God owes us. We might say to God, “I have done that thing for you, therefore you should do this thing for me.” Humility does not bargain with God, but rather reminds us of our submissiveness to his will. The gratitude we should carry in our hearts is defense against that small kind of pride.
Faith. Hope, Charity: Clearly this triplet owes its particular wording and construction to Paul. As it becomes a more distinct theme later in the Moroni, it will be more fully analyzed there.
Literary: In this set of attributes, notice how many of them are actually conceptual repetitions of other attributes in the same paragraph. This technique of using multiple similar yet different words to “triangulate” on meaning is a literary technique known for both the Maya and later Aztec people of Mesoamerica. Of course there is no way to know if there is an organic connection between this usage and that Mesoamerican literary tradition, but it is worth the note that the parallel exists.
25 And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out.
Translation: While the imagery of sitting with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is clearly Jewish, the particular language is most closely tied to the New Testament rather than the Old. The only parallel from the Bible to this phrase in the Book of Mormon is found in Matthew:
Matt. 8:11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
As has been noted before, this suggests that the translation process allowed Joseph the freedom of expressing the plate text in terms that were familiar to him, and his most familiar reference text was the New Testament rather than the Old Testament.
26 And now my beloved brethren, I have spoken these words unto you according to the Spirit which testifieth in me; and my soul doth exceedingly rejoice, because of the exceeding diligence and heed which ye have given unto my word.
At the close of the sermon Alma reiterates the basic foundational theme of his discourse, that he is under the influence of the Spirit which has confirmed to him that the people of Gideon are following the path of God. This is a speech of comfort and encouragement to continue on a path rather than the exhortation to repentance that we saw in the Zarahemla sermon.
27 And now, may the peace of God rest upon you, and upon your houses and lands, and upon your flocks and herds, and all that you possess, your women and your children, according to your faith and good works, from this time forth and forever. And thus I have spoken. Amen.
At the conclusion of his discourse, Alma leaves a blessing on the people. In the modern church, this might be termed an apostolic blessing. Alma is moved by the Spirit to provide this blessing. Rather than read it as a casual polite ending, it is best seen as a formal declaration. Notice the contrast between this conclusion and the conclusion of Alma’s sermon in Zarahemla:
61 And now I, Alma, do command you in the language of him who hath commanded me, that ye observe to do the words which I have spoken unto you.
62 I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.
In Zarahemla there is no blessing, on the very firm call to repentance. We may suppose that it is not Alma’s habit to idly bless when there is no call for the blessing. In Gideon, Alma has proclaimed their faithfulness from the beginning, and now closes his address with an appropriate blessing for that faithfulness.
The blessing is for the “peace of God.” With the events that will transpire in the next several years, it is clear that the “peace of God” is not going to equal political peace. Wars are coming, trials are coming. Nevertheless, for the people of Gideon, as well as for all of the righteous, the peace of God is internal and transcendent, it will overarch the conflicts of the world and tap into the nature of heaven, bringing a taste of that eternal realm into one’s heart, and into the heart of the family. When Alma blesses Gideon, he does not bless a city, he blesses families, the head of the house (“upon your house” should be seen as directed to the head of the house, not the physical building) and the family, and the lands and flocks required to support that family.
Textual: This ends a chapter in the 1830 edition, following the standard process Mormon has used of breaking chapters at the end of inserted cited sermons.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2000