Alma 12

 

The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children

      Alma 1 -- Alma 44


   

 

Alma 12:9 It Is Given unto Many to Know the Mysteries of God:

 

     Alma teaches that God will provide men access to certain "mysteries," but only according to the "heed and diligence" that they give (Alma 12:9-11). While we cannot be certain that Alma was alluding in his speech to specific elements of a Nephite temple ordinance, many factors support that idea.54 For one thing, the word mysteries seems to refer to priesthood or temple ordinances. Benjamin unfolded the "mysteries of God" to his people by speaking to them at the temple (Mosiah 2:9). Likewise, in ancient religions, for example from the Hellenistic world, the word mysteries was often used to describe "cultic rites . . . portrayed before a circle of devotees," who "must undergo initiation" and who are promised "salvation by the dispensing of cosmic life," which is sometimes "enacted in cultic drama," accompanied by a strict "vow of silence."55 Alma told the wicked Ammonihahites that many people knew the Nephite mysteries, but, like himself, they were laid under a strict condition of secrecy (see Alma 12:9). Nevertheless, the plan of life, as taught by Alma, provided all people a chance to know these mysteries in full, on conditions of humility (see Alma 12:10-11; 13:13-14) and through the administrations of righteous priests and teachers (see Alma 13:16; cf. Mosiah 2:9; Alma 26:22). . . .

     Based on the appearance of the following elements in Alma 12-13, the Nephite temple ceremony utilized familiar temple motifs, including:

     1. Abundant creation imagery regarding the fall of Adam and Eve (see Alma 12:22-26),

     2. The redemption (see Alma 12:25-33),

     3. The issuance of commandments (see Alma 12:31-32),

     4. One's calling (see Alma 13:3-8),

     5. Clothing (see Alma 13:11-12),

     6. The facing of judgment (see Alma 12:14,32-35),

     7. Symbolic entrance into the presence of God (see Alma 12:36; 13:12).

 

     Alma 12-13 gives the best information about sacred Nephite ordinances during the time of the Nephite judges. Presumably these rites were administered primarily at the temple in Zarahemla and possibly also at other sanctuaries or sacred places under the direction of a high priest. [John W. Welch, "The Temple in the Book of Mormon," in Temples of the Ancient World, pp. 364-366] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 1:1]

 

Alma 12:11 Chains of Hell:

 

     According to Robert Matthews, Alma uses the phrase "chains of hell" twice in this discourse; once in Alma 12:11 and once in Alma 13:30. This very descriptive term is apparently one that Alma liked, for he used it three times in an earlier sermon to the people of Zarahemla (Alma 5:7,9,10). It occurs one other time in the Book of Mormon, in Ammon's jubilant recounting of missionary success in which the Lord loosed many persons from "the chains of hell" (Alma 26:14). The term also occurs in the Doctrine and Covenants 138:23. The exact phrase "chains of hell" does not occur in the Bible or the Pearl of Great Price, although Peter speaks of those who are in "chains of darkness" (2 Peter 2:4). [Robert J. Matthews, "The Probationary Nature of Mortality," in The Book of Mormon: Alma, the Testimony of the Word, p. 52]

 

Alma 12:14 And Our Thoughts Will Also Condemn Us:

 

     In speaking to Zeezrom and the people of Ammonihah (who were apparently of Mulekite descent--see Alma 8:20), Alma perceived that Amulek had caught Zeezrom in his lying and deceiving to destroy him,

           and seeing that he began to tremble under a consciousness of his guilt, he opened his mouth and began to speak unto them, and to establish the words of Amulek, and to explain things beyond, or to unfold the scriptures beyond that which Amulek had done. Now the words that Alma spake unto Zeezrom were . . . on this wise: Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou has not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit . . . they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and by his will down to destruction. . . . For our words will condemn us, yea, . . . and our thoughts will also condemn us . . . (Alma 12:1-3, 11, 14)

 

     It is significant that Alma testified to Zeezrom that "our thoughts will also condemn us," for John Tvedtnes links this concept of being judged for one's thoughts with something that Jesus said to the Jews in his Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17; 3 Nephi 12:17). According to Tvedtnes, in order to fully understand this statement, we must begin by examining the law of Moses [and the history of Israel as it applies to the Nephites and Lamanites in type and shadow].

     Appearing to Moses in the Sinai wilderness, the Lord said, "When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (Exodus 3:12). When the children of Israel had assembled at the base of the mountain, the Lord promised, "If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people. . . . And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:5, 6).

     In the end, however, only a few of the Israelite leaders were allowed to go atop the mountain to see God (Exodus 24:9-11 . . . The reason for this change is found in the intervening events. Immediately after the Lord recited the Ten Commandments to all Israel:

           all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die (Exodus 20:18-19).

 

     That report indicates the people's unwillingness to communicate directly with God and their desire to have Moses be their intermediary. By so doing, they rejected the responsibility of being a "kingdom of priests." Joseph Smith explained that "God cursed the children of Israel because they would not receive the last law from Moses. . . . The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law" (History of the Church, 5:555). In so doing, they were rejecting the higher priesthood, which holds the keys of communing directly with God (D&C 107:18-19), and consequently did not become the "kingdom of priests" God intended them to be. (See also D&C 84:21-26.) . . . Brigham Young explained the situation thus:

     "If [the children of Israel] had been sanctified and holy, they would not have travelled one year with Moses before they would have received their endowments and the Melchizedek Priesthood. But they could not receive them, and never did. Moses left them and they did not receive the fulness of that Priesthood. After they came to the land of Canaan, THEY NEVER WOULD HAVE DESIRED A KING, had they been holy. (Journal of Discourses, 6:100, emphasis added).

     The seventh chapter of Hebrews notes that, with the coming of Christ as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, there was necessarily a change in the law. [But compare the tone of Alma 13 which touches on the same subject matter] The prophet Jeremiah recorded the Lord's promise of a "new covenant" that was to replace the covenant made in the days of Moses. This new law would be placed in the people's hearts and they would all have direct access to the Lord, along with forgiveness of sins (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

     Hebrews 8:7-13 and 10:16-20 cite the Jeremiah 31 passage as evidence that the covenant of Moses was to be replaced by a higher covenant under Christ. For this reason, the early Christians saw themselves as the chosen of God in the place of Israel, leading Peter to paraphrase the Lord's original promise at Sinai (Exodus 19:6), saying, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9).

     To the Jews in the Sermon on the Mount [and also to the Nephites in the Sermon at the Temple], Christ said that he was not "come to destroy the law, or the prophets . . . but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17; 3 Nephi 12:17), and he reiterated the need to keep the commandments (Matthew 5:19-20; 3 Nephi 12:19-20). He then proceeded to explain the difference between the law of Moses and the higher law that he was establishing. Whereas the law of Moses commanded not to kill (Exodus 20:13), Christ teaches that we should not be angry (Matthew 5:21-22; 3 Nephi 12:21-22). The law of Moses forbade adultery (Exodus 20:14), but Christ tells us not to lust in our hearts (Matthew 5:27-28; 3 Nephi 12:27-28).

     Thus, while the higher law condemns sinful acts, its real emphasis is on the thoughts that engender those acts. This is what is meant by the law's being written in our hearts instead of on tablets of stone, as in the days of Moses (see Jeremiah 31:33; Isaiah 51:7; Proverbs 3:3; Ezekiel 11:19-20; 2 Corinthians 3:3). It may also explain what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he said that the Israelites "would not receive the last law from Moses," if he was referring to the last of the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt not covet" (Exodus 20:17). This was the one commandment for which one could not be punished under the law of Moses, since it would be impossible to find witnesses who could testify about the thoughts and intents of another person. Under the higher law, God judges us not only on the basis of our outward actions and words, but also by taking into account even our thoughts (Mosiah 4:30; Alma 12:14). [John A. Tvedtnes, "The Sermon on the Mount: Restoration of the Higher Law," in Insights, F.A.R.M.S., February 1999, pp. 4-5]

 

Alma 12:20 Antionah:

 

     Gordon Thomasson notes that the name "antion" first appears in Alma 11:19 referring to the largest Nephite weights and units of measure of gold. According to Thomasson, what is intriguing is that this name appears in later chapters of the text of Alma as part of other names. It first appears in Alma 12:20 referring to a chief ruler of Ammonihah, one "Antionah," a big man in status and self-esteem. Later the name "antion" appears as part of the name of "Antionum" (Alma 31:3), the pride-in-wealth city of the Zoramites.

     With respect to the name Antionah, Thomasson hypothesizes that in order to facilitate editorial condensation of the Nephite records, Mormon used a process of metonymic naming wherein he substituted symbolically or historically "loaded" names for the actual personal names of given individuals. Metonymy or metonymic naming involves "naming by association," a metaphoric process of linking two concepts or persons together in such a way as to tell us more about the latter by means of what we already know about the former. Thus the name for the largest unit of gold was linked to the chief ruler of Ammonihah. [Gordon C. Thomasson, "What's in a Name? Book of Mormon Language, Names, and [Metonymic] Naming," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 3, Number 1 (Spring 1994), pp. 8, 10, 16] [See the commentary on Alma 12:20, 31:7]

 

Alma 12:21 God Placed Cherubim and a Flaming Sword on the East of the Garden of Eden:

 

     In Alma 12:21, Antionah, who was a chief ruler among the people of Ammonihah, asked an intriguing question:

           What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever.

 

     According to McConkie and Millet, Antionah's query is actually a valid one: If, according to the earliest scriptural accounts [and according to the chief ruler's way of thinking] God prevented Adam and Eve in Eden from partaking of the fruit of the tree of life (and thereby prevented them from living . . . forever), why would Alma and Amulek speak of the gospel plan as a means whereby men and women could live forever through Christ? Alma of course, will explain that God . . . made known a plan whereby [his children] could be made ready, after a life of mortality, to enter through Christ [or through His covenant actions and our covenants built upon His covenant actions] into resurrected immortality. . . . If Adam and Eve had been permitted to partake of the fruit of the tree of life before living out their mortal lives, they would have been taken into immortality without the experience--the pains, the struggles, the opportunities to overcome, the posterity, and thus the joys---of this life. They would have been damned in their progress. And the rest of us would have known no progress; we would have remained forever as unembodied spirits. [Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. III, pp. 88-89]

     

 

Alma 12:21 God Placed Cherubim and a Flaming Sword on the East of the Garden of Eden:

 

     In Alma 12:21, Antionah, who was a chief ruler among the people of Ammonihah, asked an intriguing question:

           What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever.

 

     The question arises as to why God would put the guardians of the tree of life "eastward in Eden" (Moses 4:31; Alma 12:21; 42:2; Genesis 3:24) when the tree of life was "in the midst of the garden" (Abraham 5:9; see also Revelation 2:7). This would seem an ineffective manner of guarding the tree of life, inasmuch as an intruder could enter from the north, south, or west, and partake of its fruit without encountering the guardians.

     According to Corbin Volluz, it is possible that the reason the Lord put cherubim eastward in Eden to guard the tree of life which was located in the midst of Eden is because there was only one entrance to the garden, and that entrance was located in the east. In Genesis 3:24 it states that the cherubim were put there to guard "the way of the tree of life." A "way" to the tree of life would naturally lead from the entrance in the east part of the Garden of Eden to the tree itself, situated "in the midst of the garden" (Abraham 5:9). Perhaps it would not be too much to also assume that the way spoken of could have been a strait and narrow path. Thus it seems possible that when Lehi saw the tree of life in his dream (1 Nephi 8), he was in reality seeing a representation of that same tree which existed in the midst of the Garden of Eden, and which continues to exist for the future enjoyment of the faithful in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7). The history of the earth from Adam to the winding-up scene is one great drama in which Adam and Eve (all of us, respectively), after having been cast out of the Garden of Eden, lose their access to the tree of life and eternal life. They must now find their way back and gain readmittance to the garden so that they may once more partake of the fruit of the tree of life and lay hold on immortality and exaltation. The play ends where it begins--the Garden of Eden and the tree of life.

     It has been suggested by numerous Latter-day Saint scholars that the Garden of Eden was the first temple, inasmuch as it was there that God first revealed himself to man. In addition to this similarity, the garden of Eden may have possessed a number of other features similar to later temples, thus serving as the great archetype of the House of the Lord.

     First, as noted above, there is apparently some sort of barrier that surrounds the Garden of Eden such that no one may gain entrance except at a particular spot. Although there my be some other explanation, a walled garden does not seem out of the question. According to Jewish legend, the serpent, while tempting Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, "suspended himself from the wall surrounding Paradise." The same legend refers to "the gate of Paradise" which Eve opened, thus allowing the serpent admittance.56

     Second, the only entrance to the garden seems to face east. Having the entrance to the temple face east has long been recognized as the established pattern for building temples.

     Third, the entrance to the garden is guarded by angels to make sure that no unclean thing passes to the tree of life. Similarly, at the entrances to latter-day temples are located guardians, put there for the purpose of making sure that only the righteous are allowed admittance.

     Fourth, the tree of life, representing the presence of God or eternal life, is located in the middle of the garden of Eden. According to temple-building procedure, it is customary to place the celestial room, the symbol of the presence of God and the attainment of eternal life, in the center of the structure, even as anciently the holy place and the holiest of holies were located in the center of the temple complex.

     Finally, just as one must traverse the way that leads from the entrance of the Garden of Eden in order to arrive at the tree of life, so must the temple patron proceed along the "way" of the temple ordinances, oaths, and covenants in order to arrive at the celestial room.

     The fact that the Lord placed angels (cherubim) to guard the way of the tree of life may give additional insight into Brigham Young's oft-quoted definition of the endowment:

           Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell. (John Widtsoe, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 416)

 

     It is conceivable that the angels the Lord placed as guardians to the tree of life after the expulsion of Adam and Eve are the very same angels that Brigham Young tells us we must pass in order to gain our eternal exaltation. [Corbin T. Volluz, "Lehi's Dream of the Tree of Life: Springboard to Prophecy" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 2/2, Fall 1993, pp. 35-37]

 

Alma 12:21 Cherubim:

 

     According to Bruce R. McConkie, a cherub is an angel of some particular order or rank to whom specific duties and work are assigned. That portion of the Lord's word which is now available among men does not set forth clearly either the identity or work of these heavenly beings. The concept of sectarian scholars that they are "mythological creatures," who filled for the Hebrew people the same position that the griffins did for the Hittites, is utterly false. (Griffins were supposed to be winged sphinxes having the bodies of lions and the heads and wings of eagles, and they were in fact mythological creatures.) [Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 124]

 

Alma 12:22 By [Adam's] Fall, All Mankind Became a Lost and Fallen People:

 

     According to Rodney Turner, a major doctrine of the Book of Mormon is that as a result of Adam's transgression, "all mankind became a lost and fallen people" (Alma 12:22). Exactly why one man and woman's transgression led to everyone's transgression is not explicitly revealed in scripture. However, God is just; we are no more accountable to him for someone else's acts in one estate than we are in another. Possibly, the Fall affected all people because all people--exercising their agency--became willing co-partners in Adam's foreordained fall. That is, humanity covenanted to accept the Fall's temporary negative consequences (spiritual and physical death) so as to obtain its ultimate blessings (immortality and eternal life). [Rodney Turner, "The Infinite Atonement of God," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, p. 38]

     Note* Additionally, as co-creator of the world, would not Adam (Michael) along with Christ (Jehovah) have the right to act in behalf of that world? [Alan C. Miner, Personal notes]

 

Alma 12:36 The First Provocation:

 

     The phrase "first provocation" (Alma 12:36), mentioned by Alma2 in his lecture on the plan of redemption to the people in Ammonihah, refers to the events which took place in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve transgressed the commandments of the Lord. Subsequently, they were banished from the garden (the Lord's presence) and given another set of [priesthood] covenants to live by. By strict obedience to these covenants, Adam and Eve were able to regain God's presence and not suffer the consequences of "the last provocation" which would mean a "second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness" (Alma 12:32). There was another "provocation" very similar to that of Adam, which the children of Israel experienced during Moses' time and which consequences the Nephites (and more especially the Mulekites) were still living under. This "provocation" happened with the children of Israel in the wilderness when they rejected God's higher covenant law [the Melchizedek Priesthood]. Subsequently, God withdrew his presence and gave them another set of covenants to follow [after the order of the Aaronic Priesthood]. Because of their unrighteousness, God did not allow those who came out of Egypt to enter the promised land, but caused them to die in the wilderness.

     According to Robert Millet, we find some insight into this "provocation" of the Lord by the Israelites in the wilderness elaborated in D&C 84:

           And this greater priesthood [the Melchizedek priesthood] administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; for without this [the power of godliness] no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

           Now this [the higher covenant concept] Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also. (D&C 84:19-25)

 

     This is a significant scriptural statement, especially as we consider Alma's remarks to the people in Ammonihah [the more part of which were Mulekite and not "Nephite" as Amulek's proclamation "I am a Nephite" implies]. Alma's invitation for them to "enter into the rest of the Lord" (Alma 36) is built upon the notion that ancient Israel provoked God and proved unworthy of this blessing (see Alma 12:36-37). Moses desired to make available the highest privilege of the [Melchizedek] priesthood to Israel--the privilege of seeing the face of God, of coming directly into the divine presence. Of the Israelites, Jehovah said: "I have sworn in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my presence, into my rest in the days of their pilgrimage" (JST, Exodus 34:2; emphasis added). Here the rest of the Lord is equated with being in the personal presence of the Lord while the recipients are still mortal. [Robert L. Millet, "The Holy Order of God," in The Book of Mormon: Alma, The Testimony of The Word, pp. 72-75]

 

Alma 12:36 He Sendeth down His Wrath upon You As in the First Provocation, Yea, according to His Word in the Last Provocation . . . to the Everlasting Destruction of Your Souls:

 

     Brant Gardner notes that Alma has been discussing the Atonement in the abstract, and now he makes it personal. He specifically tells the people of Ammonihah that their hearts are hard, and that they will not enter into the rest of the Lord. The next set of phrases pronounce penalties upon Ammonihah. First, Alma tells them that their iniquity "provoketh" God. In other words they have incurred his just wrath. God is not turning on them unjustly. Alma then speaks of two "provocations." The two provocations will lead to two destructions.

     The first provocation is their current cultural rejection of the gospel. The Lord has warned them that they will be destroyed if they do not repent. When they do not repent, Ammonihah is destroyed according to the word of the Lord.

     The second provocation is much more serious. While their unrepentance will lead to their temporal destruction, their unrepentance will also lead to a second destruction. This second will not just kill the body, it will be "the everlasting destruction of your souls" [unto the last death, as well as the first]. The "last death" is the spiritual death, or the second death. The "first" is the temporal death. Alma indicates that both temporal and spiritual death await them. In this case both come because of their unrepentant state.

     Thus Alma has very nicely tied his entire sermon together at this point. He has described a temporal death, and a spiritual death. Now he makes both very personal by declaring that both of them imminently await the unrepentant people of Ammonihah. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma12.htm, pp. 17-18]