Monday, June 29, 2020

What is required of us to access grace?

This post continues my series on the connections between mercy and grace.  First, I'm studying each concept separately.  See my previous posts about mercy here and here. In this post, I'll present some thoughts on what the Book of Mormon teaches about grace.

As I studied the 27 times where "grace" appears in the Book of Mormon, one of the first questions I asked was this:


What is required of us to access grace?



Here's a summary of what I found. In the passages below, I've placed actions taken by the people who received grace in bold/italics:

  • they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God. (Mosiah 18:16)
  • And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God. (Mosiah 18:26)
  • Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God. (Mosiah 27:5)
  • 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, (Alma 7:3)
  • And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works. (Helaman 12:24)
  • ...my grace is sufficient for the meek....my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; (Ether 12:26)
  • ...seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. (Ether 12:41)
  • I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end. (Moroni 8:3)
  • Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. (Moroni 10:32)
  • Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember...it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved. (2 Nephi 10:24)

Here is the same list, stripped of all the other parts of those verses:

  • they were baptized
  • the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support
  • labor with their own hands for their support
  • humbled yourselves before God
  • continued in the supplicating of his grace
  • that men might be brought unto repentance and good works
  • the meek....humble themselves before me
  • ...seek this Jesus
  • through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.
  • come unto Christ
  • be perfected in him
  • deny yourselves of all ungodliness
  • love God with all your might, mind and strength
  • reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh;
  • remember...it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved

That is pretty powerful advice on how to seek grace!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The creation account in Alma 32

I posted on allusions to the creation account in the Book of Mormon and based much of it on David Bokovoy's article. The main theme in his article is to show Biblical creation themes in Alma 32 in particular. This is particularly interesting considering previous posts on this blog on symbolism involving Alma 32. I will summarize the parallels between the creation account and Alma 32 from Bokovoy's article and then try to frame it in the context of previous posts on related symbolism.

  • The basis for the allegory is "the word". In the creation account, God speaks. The prologue in John's gospel focuses on the "word" that was "in the beginning" and thereby draws on the creation account too, as has long been noted by commentators. The word, "word", is used 22 times in Alma 32. (See also Mormon 9:17)
  •  This one goes deeper, but I'll try to make it short and just refer to the article for details: In Alma 32:28, the word "enlightens" and Alma 32:35 states that "light is good". Similarly, in Genesis 1:4, "God saw the light, that it was good". John 1 also brings up the topic of light (see verse 5).
  • Alma 32:31: "every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness". Compare with Genesis 1:11: "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself,"
  • Alma 32:37: "let us nourish it with great care".  "let us . . . ," seems to parallel the divine language of creation in Genesis 1:26: "Let us make man in our image . . .". 
  • The "fruit tree yielding fruit" in Genesis 1 is exemplified in the tree of knowledge and the tree of life in Genesis 2. In Alma 32, the seed that is planted can grow into a tree and the tree of life is mentioned specifically, linking thematically to the Garden of Eden.
  • The Hebrew, samah, that is used in Genesis 3:18, is translated into “bring forth” in the KJV, but literally means to “spring up”. In Alma 32:41, Alma talks about the seed becoming a tree “springing up unto everlasting life”.
  • In Genesis 3:24, "[God] drove out the man" from the garden. In Hebrew, the verb translated as “drove out” (gāraš) literally means “to cast out”. Alma seems to play on this theme, as he uses this in conjunction with the Zoramites (Alma 32:12, 24), the seed (v.28) and the growing tree (v.38).
With all these references to the creation and Garden of Eden story, there is no doubt that Alma is creating an intentional parallell. In addition to the points summarized above from Bokovoy's article, we have posted similar connections on this blog before without realizing the full spectrum of references to the creation. For example:
  • This and this post explain how the growth from ground/dust to tree/fruit symbolize the ascension from (natural) man to God. Alma 32 relates to this growth.
  • This post explains how the preface to the creation account in the Book of Abraham also links to Alma 32 through the concept of using available room/space/place for creation
  • This post explains how "tilling the ground" from Genesis 3 also links to Alma 32 and covenants. It also contrasts the "make room" and "cast out" themes.
Even though it is cool that links between the creation and Alma 32 that we have found and posted on this blog, also are found independently by a scholar much more knowledgeable than us, this is not the point of the post. But with this link established, the point is to examine what this all means. A couple of years ago, Alma 32 was one of my favorite chapters and I thought I had the symbolism pretty much figured out. Then I realize there are layers upon layers and I love the chapter even more. 

It is becoming clear to me that Alma 32 is a creation account. How? When God saw that there was room, he spoke and created the world. The whole purpose was to give man a chance to develop and become like Him. In order to achieve that, we have to go through a similar process. When the word of God finds a place in our heart, a creation process can start. We can practice becoming Gods by participating in this creation. Just like God planted a garden and let the tree of life grow there (Genesis 2:8-9), we can plant God's word in our hearts and grow a tree of life.

It is important that we practice and learn to become Gods by participating in this creation and growth.
22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. (Genesis 3)
When step one in becoming Gods, knowing good and evil, was achieved, step two (living eternally) could not follow immediately. Rather then just "put forth his hand", man was to till the ground and learn to become a creator and a gardner himself and produce his own tree of life, just like God had created, planted a garden and grown the tree of life (see Genesis 2:8-9). When we make room in our heart for the word of God, (the word that initiated all creation), then we can learn to be creators too and grow our own tree of life. As we discussed in the previous post, God has already shown in the creation account what his word can do. This means we can fully rely on the power of the word to grow the tree in us as long as we nourish it. When nourishment of the word has resulted in a tree of life to us, the purpose of being cast out of the garden and till the ground has been fulfilled. The way to the tree of life is not blocked anymore and we can freely participate of its fruit. This is what Alma 32 is teaching us.

I know I have been referring to these things a lot lately and am repeating myself at this point. But seeing all the connections to the creation account adds another dimension to the symbolism in Alma 32. I used to think about Alma 32 as a chapter on faith. It still is, but there is so much more. It is a chapter about creation and learning to become as God, among many other things.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Mercy is associated with...

I'm studying references to "mercy" in the Book of Mormon.  In my last post, I looked at 5 references to "the arm of mercy."

In this post, I've compiled a list of attributes mentioned in association with mercy.  I've noticed that God's "mercy" is often mentioned in a list of other attributes. Before you look at this list, ask yourself which attributes you might think are most often connected with God's mercy.

In the list below, I've highlighted attributes which show up in more than one list, and italicized attributes which only show up once.


Passages containing lists about attributes of God which include mercy


"through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things" (Mosiah 5:15)
"
by the mercy and power of God" (Alma 5:4)
"
have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them?" (Alma 5:6)
"
the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth." (Alma 5:48)
"
if it had not been for his matchless power, and his mercy, and his long-suffering towards us" (Alma 9:11)
"
the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity, and truth, full of patience, mercy, and long-suffering," (Alma 9:25)
"
who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men?" (Alma 26:16)
"
he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation" (Alma 26:35)
"
that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also" (Alma 42:15)
"
let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart" (Alma 42:30)
"according to the mercy, and the justice, and the holiness which is in Christ" (3 Nephi 26:3)
" the mercies and the long-suffering of the Lord" (Mormon 2:12)
"his justice and mercy" (Mormon 6:22)
"may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life" (Moroni 9:25)
"thy power, and goodness, and mercy" (1 Nephi 1:14)
"through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2 Nephi 2:8)
"the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God" (2 Nephi 2:12)
"O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace!" (2 Nephi 9:8)
"his greatness, and his grace and mercy" (2 Nephi 9:53)
"his justice, and power, and mercy" (2 Nephi 11:5)
"he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy" (Jacob 4:10)


Mercy is associated with...

  • justice x 8
  • long-suffering x 7
  • grace x 5
  • wisdom x 4
  • power x 3
  • truth x 2
  • equity x 1
  • patience x 1
  • understanding x 1 
  • goodness x 1
  • greatness x 1
  • holiness x 1
  • hope of his glory x 1
  • sufferings and death x 1
  • merits x 1
  • the showing his body unto our fathers x 1

Conclusions


Should we be surprised that God's mercy is most often associated with His justice? Or that long-suffering, grace, wisdom, power, and truth show up more than once on this list? I'm not sure any of those findings surprise me too much. It seems that studying each of these concepts in more detail would likely enhance my understanding of His mercy, too.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Allusions to the creation account in the Book of Mormon

In this article, David E. Bokovoy gives several examples of Book of Mormon prophets and sermons drawing on creation imagery and language. In Hebrew tradition, the essence of the creation is to make order out of chaos. It demonstrates the power of God on which humans can rely. Therefore, in the Old Testament, we frequently see the authors refering to the creation to promote faith. One well-known example is Job 38:4-7
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Another is Isaiah 45:12
I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.
The context here is freeing the captive exiles of Israel and the message is that God who has power to create the earth also has power to help his people. Here is Bokovoy's explanation of this ancient Israelite thought:
Since Israel’s God had assumed ownership over the unorganized primordial earth and miraculously provided that chaotic base with the structure manifested in the historical era, those encountering biblical references to creation should follow the example of chaos and obey the divine will. 
It seems that the Nephites carried on this tradition because we see many examples of this in the Book of Mormon. For instance, in Mormon 9:17
17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought?
This fits the pattern from the Old Testament. We notice the chaos motif, dust, and we see how Moroni uses the creation to argue that God is a God of miracles. He miraculously created the earth and therefore can work miracles in our lives too. This is only one quite obvious example that fits this ancient Israelite thought. But Bokovoy argues that...
...while some Book of Mormon passages draw in a relatively vague manner on this broad biblical trend, certain Book of Mormon sermons can be shown to allude specifically to the creation stories in Genesis and to do so in a manner much more intricate in nature than what appears in comparable biblical sources. 
Mosiah 2:21 is an example of a more intricate and subtle allusion to the creation.
I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
I haven't made this connection before, but it becomes apparent when the multiple parallels are pointed out
  • "created you from the beginning" reminds us of Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created..."
  • "day to day" reminds us of the daily sequence in the creation account
  • "lending breath" is an allusion to the "breath of life" in Genesis 2:7
  • "serve" is less obvious, but the word often translated as "tend" or "dress" in Genesis 2:15, comes from the Hebrew root, "abad", which means to serve
All this in just one verse. Only a few verses later, in Mosiah 2:25, we read
And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.
The dust motif shows up again and King Benjamin talks directly about the creation. Later in his sermon, King Benjamin refers to the creation again.
Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. (Mosiah 4:9)
We are back in Genesis 1:1 where God created "the heaven and the earth".

Like Moroni, King Benjamin uses the creation account to argue that God has infinitely more power and wisdom than us, his creations. We would therefore be wise to humble ourselves and rely on Him.

Monday, June 22, 2020

What does it mean to "call upon" the name of God?

Calling upon the name of God is mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon.  One reference particularly stands out to me:

27 Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name. (Helaman 3)

"Thus we may see" is typically Mormon's way of pointing out important lessons we should learn from the verses immediately preceding this kind of statement. So let's look at the verses leading up to this statement, along with a few verses which come after and offer additional insights about what lessons we can learn:



24 And it came to pass that in this same year there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did join themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance.
25 And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure.
26 And it came to pass that the work of the Lord did prosper unto the baptizing and uniting to the church of God, many souls, yea, even tens of thousands.
27 Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.
28 Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.
29 Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—
30 And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out. (Helaman 3)

It seems this passage, in addition to revealing the underlying meaning of "call[ing] upon [the name of God]," also connects other phrases with making and keeping sacred covenants. I've highlighted these in various colors above.  Each of these can be connected to covenant symbols found in other parts of the Book of Mormon (especially on the small plates).

 "gate of heaven" -- 2 Nephi 9:41; 2 Nephi 31:9, 17-18; 2 Nephi 33:9

"lay hold upon the word of God" -- 1 Nephi 8:24, 30; 1 Nephi 11:24-25; 1 Nephi 15:24-25

"strait and narrow course" -- 1 Nephi 8:20

"right hand of God" -- Mosiah 5:9 ("for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ"); Mosiah 26:23-24 ("in my name they are called"); Alma 5:58 ("the word of God must be fulfilled"); Ether 12:4; Moroni 9:26

"kingdom of heaven" -- Alma 11:37; Helaman 5:32; 3 Nephi 14:21

"sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob...to go no more out" -- Alma 7:25; 3 Nephi 4:30; Mormon 9:11-13; 1 Nephi 17:40

Variants:


"enter in at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow" Jacob 6:11
"lay hold upon every good thing" -- Moroni 7:19-21, 25 (see this post for more detail about how "every good thing" relates to covenants)
"lay hold upon the gospel of Jesus Christ" -- Mormon 7:8


Conclusion

This is an excellent example of what I believe to be a pattern throughout the Book of Mormon -- covenants are spoken of through symbolic language rather than at the surface level.  It isn't until you attempt to connect one passage with others that you see numerous clear and consistent references to the importance of covenants.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Alma's teachings on the word -- Part 2

I posted a couple of months ago about Alma's consistent teachings on "the word" in Alma 5 and Alma 32. As a small appendage to that, I just noticed that the term "look forward with an eye of faith" is only found in these two chapters in all scripture (Alma 5:15 and Alma 32:40).

One common denominator for these two chapters was the tree of life. Reading Alma 12, another chapter mentioning the tree of life, I noticed further connections to Alma 32. In some ways, it seems that Alma already knew all the principles and ideas that he laid out later in Alma 32. In Zarahemla and Ammonihah, he touched upon a few of those. But studying these principles in Alma 5, 12 and 32 together gives a deeper understanding of his teachings. Notice for instance Alma 12:9
It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
Alma 32 is the only other chapter in all scripture using the expression, "portion of his/my word".
let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Alma 32:27)
Alma 32 also talks about diligence in nourishing the seed (word of God). Alma 12 goes on to say
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word (Alma 12:10)
Alma 32 goes on to say
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 (Alma 32:28)
The soft heart is the good soil for the seed/word of God. A hard heart can only handle a lesser portion of the word because it doesn't provide the kind of soil that the seed needs to grow. Alma 12:11 talks about the hard hearts ultimately leading to knowing "nothing concerning his mysteries" and Alma 12:13 talks about the word of God not found in us:
Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful
This also corresponds well with Alma 32, where the word was planted in our hearts. At some point we will be examined to see if the word can be found in us. Reading about the process from desire to faith to knowledge in Alma 32, we realize there are various possibilities for us to remove the word from within us at different stages.

  1. Desire stage: Alma 32:27 quoted above asks us to "give place" to a portion of the word. If we don't, the word will not be found in us
  2. Faith stage: Alma 32:28 talks about the possibility to plant the seed but immediately "cast it out because of [our] unbelief". This is another way for the word to be discarded and not found in us.
  3. Knowledge stage: In Alma 32:38, the seed has started growing so we know it is good but we don't keep nourishing it. It withers away and we "pluck it up and cast it out". When we do, the word cannot be found in us anymore.
Combining the teachings from Alma 12 and 32 we learn that we must keep the word in us. In order to do that we must have soft hearts. Then the word will grow. It doesn't stand still. Either we have a soft heart and nourish the word and it grows or we have a heard hart and discard it or neglect it and it withers away. 

In Alma 12, a man named Antionah asked why the way to the tree of life was blocked. Wasn't the whole point that man should live forever? Alma explains that it is, but it couldn't happen that way. Having no preparatory state first would frustrate the plan of redemption (see v 26). He goes on to explain that we must not harden our hearts in this preparatory state so that we can enter into his rest. In Alma 32, Alma teaches the Zoramites that a soft heart can become the soil for the word. If we use this preparatory state to nourish it, the word will be "found in us". The blocked tree of life in Eden is not an issue anymore because the word in us has grown into one and we can partake of its fruit.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

"Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you"

In a landmark address in 2007, Elder Bednar encouraged "searching in the scriptures for connections, patterns, and themes." He offered a few examples of connections we can study.  I previously posted on my study of the relationship between the Father and the Son, here and here. This was the first example given by Elder Bednar.  This post will cover the second example he gave -- the connection between mercy and grace.

I first began my study by reading about mercy and then about grace.  I then focused on passages which discuss both concepts together.

Elder Bednar encourages us to study without "sophisticated study aids." We should not "rely extensively upon the spiritual knowledge of others."
We simply need to have a sincere desire to learn, the companionship of the Holy Ghost, the holy scriptures, and an active and inquiring mind.

The arm of mercy


This post will cover one topic which immediately caught my attention as I studied Book of Mormon references about mercy -- the symbol of Christ's "arm of mercy" extended towards us.  This wording appears five times in the Book of Mormon. One variant appears in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is not found in the other standard works.

  • Doctrine and Covenants 29:1
  • 3 Nephi 9:14
  • Mosiah 16:12
  • Alma 5:33
  • Mosiah 29:20
  • Jacob 6:5

In studying these six passages (the verses listed above plus the surrounding verses for additional context), I've drawn the following conclusions about the arm of mercy:


  1. Like hands, "arms" are a symbol of strength to bring something about. Thus, the arm of mercy is a symbol of God's strength to bring about mercy and is all about Jesus Christ.
  2. Christ Himself makes it clear that those who come unto Him will find mercy, as I previously pointed out in an example of this scriptural pattern.
    • "Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me." (3 Nephi 9)
  3. Christ's atoning sacrifice makes mercy possible, whereby He gained "victory over death" and was given "power to make intercession." With "bowels of mercy," He stands "betwixt [us] and justice." (Mosiah 15:8)
    • "Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I Am, whose arm of mercy hath atoned for your sins;" (D&C 29:1)
  4. Mercy is the means by which we are "sealed His," "brought to heaven, [to] have everlasting salvation and eternal life." (Mosiah 5:15) "...Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men..." (Moroni 7:27)
  5. A vital component of "the arm of mercy" involves divinely authorized messengers proclaiming the "word of God" and "call[ing] men to repentance."  Referring to ministering angels, Moroni calls this "the office of their ministry." Covenants are a crucial part of this ministry. (Moroni 7:29-32) This work of "angels" is a manifestation of the Lord's "great mercy." (Alma 38:7)


What is asked of us?


In the five Book of Mormon passages listed above, we are given specific information about what is required of us in order to access this mercy:

  • "come unto me" -- 3 Nephi 9:14
  • (Contrasting negative example) "Having gone according to their own carnal wills and desires," "having never called upon the Lord," "they would not depart from [their iniquities]," "they would not repent" -- Mosiah 16:12
  • "repent" -- Alma 5:33
  • "they did humble themselves before him," "they cried mightily unto him," "put their trust in him" -- Mosiah 29:20
  • "repent," "come with full purpose of heart," "cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you," "harden not your hearts" -- Jacob 6:5

"He remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches"


It's probably worthwhile to spend a little more time discussing the passage in Jacob 6. "Remember" is a term frequently connected to covenants.  In Jacob 5, Zenos' allegory clearly connects "nourishing the roots" with temple covenants.  Thus, the passage in Jacob 6 clearly connects the "arm of mercy" with the words of the prophets encouraging us to make and keep covenants with God. Notice a three-fold repetition of this injunction to repent "today" and "harden not your hearts":


4 And how merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long; and they are a stiffnecked and a gainsaying people; but as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
5 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of the day, harden not your hearts.
6 Yea, today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; for why will ye die? (Jacob 6)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Amulek and his kin

Amulek's story is intriguing. He wasn't actively fighting against the church and didn't have the dramatic conversion story like Alma, but he too needed a change of heart and was visited by an angel. Initially he was not living the way he should even though he had a certain knowledge of the gospel, just like most people in Ammonihah at the time it seems. As he said himself
I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know (Alma 10:6)
That is an interesting description and may apply to many of us on different levels, perhaps.

One thing we learn about Amulek's background is that he had "many kindreds and friends".
And behold, I am also a man of no small reputation among all those who know me; yea, and behold, I have many kindreds and friends (Alma 10:4)
His life changed forever on the fourth day in the seventh month in the tenth year. On this particular day he was "journeying to see a very near kindred" (Alma 10:7). But he was told by an angel to go back and receive a prophet of the Lord. Amulek obeyed, took care of Alma, who in turn blessed his kindred
For behold, he hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed, and the blessing of the Lord hath rested upon us according to the words which he spake. (Alma 10:11)
Amulek became a great missionary and entrusted companion of Alma. Whatever blessing Alma pronounced on the rest of his kindred did not bring about the same response on their part. Ultimately, Amulek was rejected by his kindred and friends.
And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek, Amulek having forsaken all his gold, and silver, and his precious things, which were in the land of Ammonihah, for the word of God, he being rejected by those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred (Alma 15:16)
Instead, Alma points Amulek to Christ, his true kinsman. This post describes the ancient Israelite concept of a kinsman-redeemer. Especially the term, "redeem his people", conveys that idea. When Amulek had been taught by Alma, he went along with him to preach to the people of Ammonihah and he testified of Christ:
And he shall come into the world to redeem his people (Alma 11:40)
This post shows how Alma-2 likely got this expression from his father, Alma-1, who in turn got it from Abinadi.

I don't know if Amulek himself or Mormon, who wrote the abridgment of this story, had it in mind, but I like the fact that Amulek, having "many kindreds" got his life turned around when he was on his way to one of them. When he accepted the gospel, they turned their backs on him, but he found and turned to his true kinsman-redeemer instead. It's as if the angel and Alma wanted to show him who his true kinsman was: Christ who would never reject him.

Similarly, he also described having many friends, but they also rejected him. Instead, Alma showed him true friendship.
Now as I said, Alma having seen all these things, therefore he took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord. (Alma 15:18)

Monday, June 15, 2020

Come, Follow Me, June 15-21. Alma 13-16: “Enter into the Rest of the Lord”

This week's Come Follow Me study covers the rest of Alma and Amulek's mission in Ammonihah and the aftermath, in Alma 13-16. Click on the links below to read previous blog posts about these chapters

Alma 13 -- The office of the ministry of angels in Alma 13, Alma 13 in the context of Margaret Barker's works, Entering into His rest and temple connections, etc.

Alma 14 -- The ironic fate of the leaders in Ammonihah, Alma's use of Psalms, Internal consistency in Mormon's previews, etc.

Alma 15 -- Returning a favor to a friend, Internal consistency in prophecies about Ammonihah, etc.

Alma 16 -- The consistent geography of Ammonihah, Tree symbolism, Keeping a consistent timeline, etc.

Internal Consistency in Alma's commandments to Shiblon

In his commandments to his son Shiblon, Alma-2 says:



13 Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom.
14 Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy—yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times. (Alma 38)

This is consistent with the earlier account of the prayers of the Zoramites:


14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying...
16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ. (Alma 31)

We know from Alma 31:7 that Shiblon was among the missionaries Alma-2 took with him, so the statement "ye have seen" in Alma 38:13 is confirmed as accurate from the previous account. Had he said the same thing to Helaman we'd have a problem.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Symbolism in Alma 5

Alma 5 is drenched in symbolism. This article from the Book of Mormon Central also links Alma 5 to the temple. I don't think that is a coincidence. Taking a closer look at these symbols, there are a lot of temple and covenant connections.

First a bit of background: Alma is the high priest of the church. The church in its current form seems quite young. Only about 40 years earlier, King Benjamin's people entered into a covenant after some time of war and unrest (see Words of Mormon 1:12-18). About the same time, another group of Nephites, led by Alma's father had just established a church after years of corruption and wickedness under king Noah. These two groups who had entered into a covenant with God, merged in Zarahemla where the church was organized. They had both had a change of heart (see Mosiah 5:2 and Alma 5:7). Alma 4 describes how wickedness started to creep into the church. In verse 9 we read
And thus, in this eighth year of the reign of the judges, there began to be great contentions among the people of the church; yea, there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God.
Alma's decision to leave the judgment seat and preach to the people is a natural reaction to this. Note the questions he asks the people in Alma 5
28 Behold, are ye stripped of pride?...
29 Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy?...
30 And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?
But to get rid of the problems in the church, Alma is not just concerned with addressing the symptoms but the root cause: Forgetting the physical and spiritual captivity of their fathers and the covenants they have made. To remind them he uses a lot of symbolism, often in pairs: Sleep/awakening, darkness/light, bands of death/chains of hell, "encircled", etc. (see especially verses 7-10)

From the linked Book of Mormon article, it also seems that he wants them to renew their covenants and be temple worthy. Again, Alma invokes symbolic images, this time related to temple and covenants. The most obvious symbol he uses in this regard is "pure heart and clean hands" in verse 19, which quotes Psalm 24, a temple entry psalm.

Let's consider the other symbols Alma is using in this context. Most of them have been discussed in previous posts.

Blood and garments

This post gives a bit of context for Alma 5:21-23, including the ancient temple worship. 

Bread and water of life

Alma invites his listeners to "eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely". The shewbread in the ancient temple pointed towards the Savior. He told the Jews that he was "the bread of life" (John 6:35). Ezekiel saw the waters of life running from the temple in a vision in Ezekiel 47. It gave life, growth and healing.

Tree symbolism

I don't even know where to begin. There is so much depth in tree symbolism in the scriptures and I cannot link to all of the previous posts about it. The tree of life is brought up twice in Alma's sermon. It is a central element of the journey of Adam/mankind from the Garden of Eden to the dreary wilderness, where they need to till the earth themselves. In a spiritual sense, the ground to be tilled can be your own heart and the resulting growth can be paralleled with the journey back to God's presence, where we enter into his rest and partake of the fruit of the tree of life. This is the same spiritual journey we walk in the temple. Alma expands on these teachings later in Ammonihah and among the Zoramites (see this and this post).

This article states:
Jewish literature outside the Old Testament also contains tree of life references. The Books of Enoch, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and 4 Ezra are the best-known of such books. When Enoch journeyed to the Seven Sacred Mountains, he saw a sacred tree similar to a date palm but more beautiful and grand than any he had ever beheld. (See 1 Enoch 29.) His guide on the visionary journey, Michael, told Enoch that the fruit of the tree could not be eaten by mortals until they were purified after the judgment and that they would have to enter the temple of God to partake of it. (See 1 Enoch 25.)
In addition, Alma is using Israel/covenant metaphors from Zenos' olive tree, like bringing forth fruit and "hewn down and cast into the fire" (v.35, 36, 52, 56).

Shepherd and sheep

Alma uses this symbolism in verses 37-41 and 57-60. Another covenant symbol frequently used both in the Old Testament, New Testament and the Book of Mormon. See this post, for example.


Many of us may be so used to reading these metaphors in the scriptures that we hardly stop and think about them. But diving deep into the symbolism and trying to understand what it might have meant to those who wrote it can be very rewarding.








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