1. Alma gives a powerful discourse on the priesthood and foreordination.
Alma 13:1 Priests
“Book of Mormon prophets gave the title priest to officers known in this dispensation as high priests. That is, they were priests of the Melchizedek Priesthood, or as Alma expressed it, ‘the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son.’ (Alma 13:1-20.) Since there was no Aaronic Priesthood among the Nephites in Alma’s day (there being none of the lineage empowered in pre-meridian times to hold that priesthood), there was no need to distinguish between priests of the lesser and greater priesthoods.” (Bruce R McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 599)
Alma 13:3 Called and prepared from the foundation of the world
“Why were some spirits sent to earth among the Amalekites, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians, while others at the same moments found birth in the house of Israel? Why was Antipas sent as the son of a debauched and evil Herod, while John the Baptist came into the home of a priestly Zacharias and a saintly Elisabeth?
All of these things operate by law; they are the outgrowth of long years of personal preparation in the preexistence on the part of each individual; they come to pass according to the laws that the Lord has ordained. This second estate is a continuation of our first estate; we are born here with the talents and capacities acquired there. Abraham was one of the noble and great spirits in the premortal life. He was chosen for his mortal ministry and position before he was born, and as with the father of the faithful so with all of the spirits destined to be born as his seed.
The greatest and most important talent or capacity that any of the spirit children of the Father could gain is the talent of spirituality. Most of those who gained this talent were chosen, before they were born, to come to earth as members of the house of Israel. They were foreordained to receive the blessings that the Lord promised to Abraham and to his seed in all their generations. This foreordination is an election, Paul tells us, and truly it is so, for those so chosen, selected, or elected become, in this life, the favored people. Though all mankind may be saved by obedience, some find it easier to believe and obey than others. Hence the concept, taught by Jesus, that his sheep know his voice and will not follow the dissident voices of the world” (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.512 p.513).
Alma 13:4 While others would reject the Spirit of God
“God gave his children their free agency even in the [premortal] spirit world, by which the individual spirits had the privilege, just as men have here, of choosing the good and rejecting the evil, or partaking of the evil to suffer the consequences of their sins. Because of this, some even there were more faithful than others in keeping the commandments of the Lord. …
“The spirits of men had their free agency. … The spirits of men were not equal. They may have had an equal start, and we know they were all innocent in the beginning; but the right of free agency which was given to them enabled some to outstrip others, and thus, through the eons of immortal existence, to become more intelligent, more faithful, for they were free to act for themselves, to think for themselves, to receive the truth or rebel against it” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:58–59).
Alma 13:6 To teach his commandments
‘Inherent in the calling of an elder is the responsibility to teach the commandments. They require no further calling, invitation, or setting apart, although these may take place. By virtue of their priesthood alone, they are both commissioned and authorized to teach the commandments and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord referred to this in his words to Sidney Gilbert, take upon you mine ordination, even that of an elder, to preach faith and repentance and remission of sins, according to my word (DC 53:3). See also DC 42:12.’ (Bryan Richards, Gospeldoctrine.com)
Alma 13:9 They become high priests forever
‘Alma does not mean to say that a high priest will retain his priesthood without regard to righteousness. Rather, his explanation points out that the priesthood was designed to be eternal, all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God, abiding a priest continually (JST Heb 7:3, see also Heb 7:17). It was not meant to be tried and then rejected. Once a man is called to this high and holy calling, there is no going back—at least not without severe punishment. The Lord warns, whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come (DC 84:41). This punishment is so severe because to reject the priesthood of the Lord is to make a mockery of God’s great power and benevolence to the children of men. It also makes a mockery of the eternal nature of the priesthood.’ (Bryan Richards, Gospeldoctrine.com)
Alma 13:10 Many who were ordained
“God may have called and chosen men in the spirit world or in their first estate to do a certain work, but whether they will accept that calling here and magnify it by faithful service and good works while in mortality is a matter in which it is their right and privilege to exercise their free agency to choose good or evil.
“… I fear there are many among us who because of their faithfulness in the spirit world were ‘called’ to do a great work here, but like reckless spendthrifts they are exercising their free agency in riotous living and are losing their birthright and the blessings that were theirs had they proved faithful to their calling. Hence as the Lord has said, ‘there are many called but few are chosen’” (Harold B Lee, Decisions for Successful Living , 169).
Alma 13:11-12 Sanctification
“I will put my own definition to the term sanctification, and say it consists in overcoming every sin and bringing all into subjection to the law of Christ. God has placed in us a pure spirit; when this [the spirit] reigns predominant, without let or hindrance, and triumphs over the flesh and rules and governs and controls … , this I call the blessing of sanctification. Will sin be perfectly destroyed? No, it will not, for it is not so designed in the economy of heaven.
“Do not suppose that we shall ever in the flesh be free from temptations to sin. Some suppose that they can in the flesh be sanctified body and spirit and become so pure that they will never again feel the effects of the power of the adversary of truth. Were it possible for a person to attain to this degree of perfection in the flesh, he could not die, neither remain in a world where sin predominates. Sin has entered into the world, and death by sin. [Rom. 5:12.] I think we shall more or less feel the effects of sin so long as we live, and finally have to pass the ordeals of death” (Brigham Young, in Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon , 2:248–49).
Alma 13:14 Melchizedek
‘Melchizedek is one of the most enigmatic figures in Judaeo-Christian history. Legends about Melchizedek abound in Jewish traditions, in Christian literature and art, and among the writings of the Qumran sectaries. . . In some Jewish and Christian writings he is identified as Shem, the son of Noah, while later traditions hold that he was a descendant of Shem. Others suggest that he was named Melchizedek by God when the priesthood was bestowed upon him.
Josephus explained that the city of Salem, over which Melchizedek reigned, later became known as Jerusalem. (“The Antiquities” 1.10.3) In writing of Jerusalem, Josephus observed: “He who first built it was a potent man among the Canaanites and is in our tongue called [Melchizedek] the Righteous King, for such he really was; on which account he was [there] the first priest of God, and first built a temple[there], and called the city Jerusalem, which was formerly called Salem.” (“The Wars” 6.10.1; emphasis added). And, most important for our study the legends attest that Melchizedek was both king and priest in Salem (Hebrews 7:1; Ginzberg 1:233).
The scriptures also make clear that Melchizedek is a marvelous type of Christ. His name comes from two Hebrew roots, melekh (king), and tzedek (righteousness), Melchi-tzedek meaning literally “king of righteousness” or “my king is righteousness.” ‘[Robert L. Millet, “The Holy Order of God,” in The Book of Mormon: Alma, The Testimony of the Word]
Alma 13:27 Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance
‘Christ bridged the gulf between the mortal and immortal. The grave no longer holds its captives; justice can be satisfied through mercy; the wondrous Atonement, infinite and eternal in scope, is in place (see Alma 34:8–10, 14–16) Christ is the resurrected Lord, our Savior and Redeemer. Therefore, do not wait any longer. (Keith B McMullen, General Conference, April 1999)
Alma 13:28-29 Humble yourselves before the Lord
‘Alma does not simply charge the people to repent, but tells them how to do it.
“Humble yourselves” is the essential first step. Humility requires that we see ourselves against the measuring stick of gospel ideals and recognize our shortcomings. Acknowledging the difference in where we are and where we want to be is the first step. There are two possible human but dangerous ways we decline to repent in the face of such a gap. The first is denial, perhaps as mild as making excuses or justifying ourselves. The second is an extreme rejection, perhaps taking the form of exploding in anger and violence against whatever showed us the difference. Many of the Ammonihahites took this second path.
The proper reaction to seeing the difference is humility, which includes the ability to be willing to change, to admit that we are mistaken. Humility accepts that it is we who must change, not the gospel or the person who shows us our faults.
The second and third steps are to “call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually.” Repentance is not a solo journey. It is a road we walk with our hand in the Savior’s. We call on his name. This injunction invokes the ancient concept of the power of the name, calling his presence into our lives. We are not to simply request an affidavit of forgiveness but to implore the comforting blessing of the Atonement in our lives. Alma tells us to pray continually for that blessing and watch continually so that we are following the true road.
One purpose of constant prayer is “that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear.” This promise is an important one. Although we desire to repent and we begin the process, temptations do not cease. In fact, they may actually increase as we turn away from them. Through learning to resist those temptations we become stronger, until we can be as those Alma has said: “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” (Alma 13:2). While Alma’s reminder of the need to be continually alert may suggest the possibility of irresistible temptation, this is not the case. Paul tells us: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
Paul, like Alma, recognizes the reality of temptation, but both men promise that we will not be tempted above our capacity to resist. With every temptation will come “a way to escape” or resist. Thus, should we ever succumb to temptation, it will always be our own fault. We can never blame God for confronting us with an overwhelming temptation. We must accept the fault ourselves and repent of it ourselves.
The effect of daily pleading with God is that we can “be led by the Holy Spirit,” or Comforter. This Spirit is the close and intimate reminder of God’s goodness that will uphold us through our weaknesses.
The effect of the Spirit will result in our “becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering.” It may seem ironic that this list of virtues begins with humility, which was also the trait necessary to begin the process of repentance. However, those engaged in this process know that the Spirit stands always ready to assist, even if our first efforts at humility are inadequate. The Spirit aids those beginning steps, strengthening our humility and leading to meekness and submission. These are not the traits of a weak character, but rather the traits of one who is growing in greater gospel understanding. As we repent, the Spirit is more strongly with us, leading us to desire greater understanding. The reward of humility is more humility, an increased outpouring of knowledge about God’s ways as revealed by the Spirit, and greater love for God and greater experience of his love for us.
For the Ammonihahites, their first step would be an acceptance of the Atoning Messiah—even if it was a shaky and doubtful one. Then, by humbly exercising faith and seeking enlightenment of the Spirit, they would achieve “a hope” of “eternal life.”’ (Brant Gardner, Second Witness)
Alma 13:29 The rest of the Lord
‘It appears that the concept of the “rest of the Lord” is used occasionally in terms of what other scriptures call the Church of the Firstborn (see Heb 12:23; D&C 76:54). The Church of the Firstborn is the church of the exalted, an organization of saved souls, a body of believers who have passed the tests of mortality and received the approval of God. They qualify for life in the celestial kingdom, and because they have been true to all their trusts, are worthy to be joint heirs with Christ, co-inheritors with him to all of the blessings of the firstborn. The phrase “Church of the Firstborn” is not found in the Book of Mormon, but it may be that to enter the rest of the Lord is to enter the Church of the Firstborn. In speaking of the ancient worthies, Alma said: “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” (13:11–12). From one point of view we can grasp and apply this vital lesson from the past: those of us who magnify our callings in the priesthood are sanctified—made pure and holy—by the renovating powers of the Spirit (see D&C 84:33). We come in time to hate sin and to love and cherish righteousness. We are at peace in a troubled and turbulent world. We enter the rest of the Lord. From another perspective, these qualify, through the atonement of Christ, for the highest of priesthood blessings spoken of in the revelations. “These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.” Further, “They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn” (D&C 76:67, 94). Indeed, the ultimate privileges of God’s holy authority are spoken of as follows: “The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—to have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 107:18–19).'[Robert L. Millet, “The Holy Order of God,” in The Book of Mormon: Alma, The Testimony of the Word]
2. Alma, Amulek, and other believers are persecuted for their righteousness.
Alma 14:1 Many of them did believe on his words
‘This chapter is a vivid demonstration of what happens when good and evil run their course and finally reach their ultimate climax. During such a contest it always seems that during most of the time evil prevails. Not until God intervenes with all his divine power does the good overcome evil.
It must have been heartening to Alma to see that at least a few of the people of Ammonihah responded to his message. As for the remainder of the people, Alma carried a heavy burden on his heart because he had already been told what would happen to them.’ (Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon)
Alma 14:1-5 A divided people
“The Gospel of salvation is perfectly calculated to cause division. It strikes at the root of the very existence of mankind in their wickedness, evil designs, passions, and wicked calculations. There is no evil among the human family, but at the foundation of which it strikes effectually, and comes in contact with every evil passion that rises in the heart of man. It is opposed to every evil practice of men, and consequently it disturbs them in the wicked courses they are pursuing” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses)
Alma 14:7 Behold, I am guilty
“An important lesson seems to emerge from the experiences of Zeezrom and the other repentant transgressors who have been mentioned. It is never safe for us to judge a person to be beyond the reach of the Lord’s merciful hand. Even those whose lives have been tainted by corruption and apparent rebellion against the things of God can, through sincere repentance, become forces for great good in the accomplishment of the Lord’s purposes.
“We do know that Zeezrom’s life was dramatically redirected. It appears that in spite of his having yielded to the influence of the environment in which he had gained notoriety, a spark of spiritual light must have endured in his soul.” (Dean L Larsen, Heroes From the Book of Mormon, p. 116)
Alma 14:8 Cast into the fire
‘An ancient practice of the wicked is to destroy the family of the enemy before their eyes. Accordingly, Zedekiah was forced to watch the murder of his sons before his eyes were gouged out (2 Kings 25:7). Yet in Ammonihah, this display of unbelievable cruelty is not designed for the eyes of the fathers who believed, for they had been stoned and cast out of the city (Alma 15:1). This wicked display of barbarity is designed specifically for Alma and Amulek, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire (v. 9).
Alma had prophesied to them about their fate if they did not repent. He warned them of a lake of fire and brimstone (Alma 12:17). These wicked men were determined to show Alma that it is the believers who are cast into a lake of fire (v. 14). While they hoped to demonstrate the weakness of Alma and Amulek who were seemingly unable to save the people, all that they really demonstrated was their own wickedness—that indeed their deeds qualify them for the torments which are as a lake of fire and brimstone.’ (Bryan Richards, Gospeldoctrine.com)
Alma 14:10-11 The Spirit constraineth me
‘I think it would have been easier for both of them to leap into the fire and die with their converts than to observe and do nothing when God had given them such great power. This is an important lesson. We must always be ready to act (or not act) in accordance with the will of the Father and the Son, no matter how much it might contradict our own will.’ (Ted L Gibbons, LDSliving.com)
3. Zeezrom is healed and baptized.
Alma 15:3 Caused by the great tribulations of his mind
“I recently asked a doctor of family medicine how much of his time was devoted purely to correcting physical disorders. He has a large practice, and after thoughtfully considering, he answered, ‘Not more than 20 percent. The rest of the time I seem to be working on problems that very much affect the physical well-being of my patients but do not originate in the body.
“‘These physical disorders,’ the doctor concluded, ‘are merely symptoms of some other kind of trouble.’…
“There is another part of us, not so tangible, but quite as real as our physical body. This intangible part of us is described as mind, emotion, intellect, temperament, and many other things. Very seldom is it described as spiritual.
“But there is a spirit in man; to ignore it is to ignore reality. There are spiritual disorders, too, and spiritual diseases that can cause intense suffering.
“The body and the spirit of man are bound together. Often, very often, when there are disorders, it is very difficult to tell which is which.” (Boyd K Packer, Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 59)
Alma 15:6 Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?
‘The most important question is whether Zeezrom believes in the Messiah, especially that he believes in the “power of Christ unto salvation.” This question is all-important because it requires the complete abandonment of his Nehorite denial of Yahweh-Messiah as the Atoning Messiah. He must also see that sin is real and that its redemption requires this atonement, another doctrine denied by the Nehorites. Alma is asking if Zeezrom has been completely converted.’ (Brant Gardner, Second Witness)
Alma 15:12 He began from that time forth to preach unto the people
“Alma’s administration is instantly effective. Zeezrom leaps to his feet, healed not only physically but spiritually as well. The report of this incident is spread throughout Sidom.
“One cannot reflect upon this episode without recalling the conversion of Saul of Tarsus in New Testament times. Saul, who had been a tormentor of the Christians and had condoned Stephen’s martyrdom (see Acts 8:1), requires a similarly dramatic conversion experience. His sightlessness is healed under the hands of Ananias. He is brought to a recognition and acknowledgement of his folly in attempting to thwart the Lord’s work. In a flood of repentant anguish he makes a dramatic reversal in the course of his life. His fervor and energy are redirected to promulgate and sustain the work he has previously sought to destroy.
“So it is with Zeezrom. He is baptized by Alma, and, just as was the case with Paul, he immediately begins to preach among the people, later becoming a trusted companion of Alma and Amulek. It is perhaps not adding too much to reality to suppose that Zeezrom’s healing, his conversion, and his testifying of Christ contribute much to the missionary success enjoyed by these three servants of the Lord. The record tells us that the people ‘did flock in from all the region round about Sidom, and were baptized’ (Alma 15:14).
“That Zeezrom proves himself in the eyes of his mentor, Alma, is confirmed by the fact that he regularly appears in the accounts of Alma’s ministry as one of his most trusted and reliable companions and fellow servants. Years after the events in Ammonihah and Sidom, when Alma undertakes one of the most difficult challenges of his life’s ministry-the conversion of the Zoramites-Zeezrom is chosen along with Ammon, Aaron, Omner, Amulek, and two of Alma’s sons to be a part of this seasoned missionary force (see Alma 31:6).” (Dean L Larsen, Heroes From the Book of Mormon, pp. 118-9)
Alma 15:15 Ammonihah remained a hard-hearted and a stiff necked people
‘Mormon spells out the contrast between the happy and hopeful state of the believers in Sidom and the hard-hearted Nehorites in Ammonihah. The contrast is all the more poignant because Zeezrom, who heeded the call to repentance, shows that such a mighty change was possible. Blinded by Nehorism, those remaining in Ammonihah were about to reap the consequences of their choice.’ (Brant Gardner, Second Witness)
Alma 15:17 That they might be delivered
‘In ancient Israel a person accused of committing a serious offence could flee to an altar to avoid immediate death. The Old Testament refers to this tradition in the so-called Covenant Code of Exodus (see Exodus 21:12–14). 1 Kings 1:50–51, 2:2 relate that Solomon’s enemies Adonijah and Joab fled to the tabernacle and “caught hold on the horns of the altar” in hopes of deliverance, albeit with different results.
This information proves significant for an understanding of altars in Nephite society. One of the four references to altars in the Book of Mormon establishes a direct correlation between that record and the Old Testament. Alma 15:17 notes that after Alma established the church at Sidom, the people
“began to humble themselves before God, and began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar, watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction.”
This verse invokes Israelite custom by identifying the altar as a location of deliverance, a subtlety that provides further evidence that the Book of Mormon clearly reflects the traditions of antiquity.’ [David Bokovoy, “A Place of Deliverance: Altars in the Hebrew Bible and Book of Mormon,” in FARMS Update, No 143, Vol. 21, 2001, in Insights, Vol. 21, 2001, p. 2]
Alma 15:18 Took him to his own house
‘Early in the Spring of 1840 we went to Nauvoo. Here we were all sick with ague, chills and fever, and were only just barely able to crawl around and wait upon each other. Under these trying circumstances my ninth child was born. Joseph, upon visiting us and seeing our change of circumstances, urged us at once to come and share his accommodations. We went to live in the Prophet Joseph’s yard in a small cottage; we soon recruited in health, and the children became more like themselves.
One day while coming out of the house into the yard the remembrance of a prophecy Joseph Smith had made to me, while living in our house in Kirtland, flashed through my mind like an electric shock. It was this: that even as we had done by him, in opening our doors to him and his family when he was without a home, even so should we in the future be received by him into his house. We afterwards moved upstairs over the brick store.’ (Elizabeth Ann Whitney in Hyrum Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, 40)
4. The words of Alma are fulfilled as the Lamanites destroy Ammonihah.
Alma 16:2 Began to slay the people
‘This was an amazing development. Of all the cities among the Nephites, the one that would have been the most likely to have welcomed the Lamanites and joined them in conquering the Nephites, would have been the people of Ammonihah. In fact Ammonihah was the headquarters of a growing conspiracy to completely conquer the rest of the Nephite nation.’ (Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon)
Alma 16:5 Aha
‘The name “Aha” in Egyptian means warrior. It was a very common name. The first king of Egypt was called Aha. That was one of his epithets; he was Aha, the warrior. It’s always written with a pair of arms, one holding a club and one holding a shield. That’s the nameAha, which means “a leader in war.” . . . The reader should note that in the Jaredite record we also find the name “Ahah” (Ether 1:9; 11:10)’. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 354-355]
Alma 16:11 Desolation of Nehors
“The desolation of the city of Ammonihah is an important part of the message of the Book of Mormon. Ammonihah and Nehor are symbols-history as prophecy. Ammonihah and Nehor were to the nation of the Nephites what the Book of Mormon is to us-a warning voice! They were types casting shadows upon the cities of Zarahemla, Moroni, Moronihah, Gilgal, Onihah, Mocum, Jerusalem, Gadiandi, Gadiomnah, Jacob, Gimgimno, Jacobugath, Laman, Josh, Gad, and Kishkumen, all of which, like Nehor, had the blood of the prophets and the Saints upon their hands, and all of which were destroyed before the coming of Christ to the Nephites in the meridian dispensation (see 3 Nephi 8, 9).
“How perfect the type-Ammonihah, a city pretending religion, a religion perfectly tolerant of any action save it be the preaching of the gospel of repentance! To preach repentance, to testify of Christ, to speak of the necessity of good works-these were sins too grievous to be borne. Their effect was to unite in wrath and bitterness the diversified factions within the congregations of this ever-tolerant religion. These missionaries of righteousness must be mocked, ridiculed, beaten, and imprisoned. Their adherents must be stoned, driven from the community, or burned at the stake. Such were the seeds they planted and such was the harvest they reaped in the desolation of Nehors. We are left to wonder to what extent Ammonihah is a prophetic foreshadowing of that which the scriptures denominate as the ‘desolation of abomination’ (D&C 84:114, 117; D&C 88:85), events that will precede and attend the coming of our Lord and Master that will bring again that peace once known to the faithful of the Nephite nation.” (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 3, p.119)
Alma 16:13 Synagogues
‘When the temple in Jerusalem was taken away in the Old World (at the time of Lehi) the authoritative priestly order that went with it also went away. Then the synagogue became the important thing, though they had used it before. When they lost the temple they lost everything. An entirely new order of Judaism was established. Before then their practices were different, their doctrines were different, and everything else was different. . . . A rabbi is not a priest; he has no authority. He is just a learned man who has been chosen by a community. They are very jealous of the temple. The rabbi-controlled synagogues didn’t begin until the temple disappeared. . . . What the Book of Mormon student should realize is that the Book of Mormon represents temple-centered Judaism. ‘[Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 3, p. 42]