Alma 7

 

The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children

      Alma 1 -- Alma 44


 

 

Alma 7:6 I Trust . . . I Trust . . . I Trust . . . I Trust:

 

     In Alma 7:6, Alma begins a series of statements concerning the people of Gideon with the words "I trust":

     I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren

     I trust that ye are not lifted up in the pride of your hearts; yea,

     I trust that ye have not set your hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world; yea,

     I trust that you do not worship idols.

 

     According to Brant Gardner, these phrases must be seen in the context of Alma's introductory sentence from the previous verse: "I trust, according to the Spirit of God which is in me, that I shall also have joy over you . . .

     To the modern reader, the phrase "I trust" might be understood as a very weak affirmative: "I trust you are well . . . I trust you had a good night's sleep." It is a polite way of asking the question while assuming the affirmative response.

     Alma's usage is quite different. Note that his first "trust" comes "according to the Spirit of God." Now, that kind of trust has a much stronger and sure base. When Alma "trusts" that he will have joy in the inhabitants of Gideon, he does so because he has already had confirmation of that future fact from the Spirit. It is in that connection that we must understand his catalog of parallel "trusts" listed here. Alma is not hoping, he knows through the spirit that these things are true.

     What is intriguing is the particular list of things that Alma chooses to highlight that the people of Gideon are not doing. Inasmuch as there were many possibilities of things that the people might not have been doing, one has to wonder just why Alma selected these particular items. Alma's first statement is the key to understanding why these items were selected. He says, "I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren [at Zarahemla]." In other words, the people of Gideon are not in the same state of unbelief as were those at Zarahemla (and possibly elsewhere). Moreover, those particular things which Alma lists were probably the most egregious aspects of the mini-apostasy that was going on among the people at Zarahemla and elsewhere: "Pride," "riches," "vain things of the world," "idol worship."

     To properly understand what this list of items implies, we must remember that Nephite society was based on agriculture, and everyone was still making and growing their own necessities. Commodities in surplus could be exchanged for other goods, but if they remained strictly within the community it would be difficult for one to become "rich" in Nephite society. A man becomes rich if and only if he can trade his surplus corn for something that other people recognize as valuable. This almost necessitates trade outside of the community. When a Nephite traded outside of the community, he was in contact with, in many instances, another culture. And from that other culture came "vain things of the world." Alma is clearly indicating that it is this desire for the things of the world that has become dangerous to the people, for it has also led to the worship of idols, the mark of foreign religions. Those who embrace the material goods too often embraced the economic/political/ religious system that generated the goods. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma7.htm, pp. 3-4]

 

Alma 7:7 There Is One Thing Which Is of More Importance Than They All:

 

     In Alma 7:7 Alma declares: "For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all--for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people." Joseph Smith taught that "the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it" (Teachings, p. 121). If such is the case, how could God be just if he did not declare this "thing which is of more importance than they all" from the beginning of man? How many religions other than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints subscribe to the belief that a knowledge of Christ and his Atonement was had from the days of Adam? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 7:10 He [Christ] Shall Be Born of Mary:

 

     According to Hugh Nibley, in Alma 7:10 Alma says an interesting thing. He talks about the Lord who's going to come. He talks familiarly, as if they already knew about Mary. Well, imra'a means a human being, but it also means a woman. He shall be born of a woman, of Mary or of Miriam, at Jerusalem. They are all just words for woman. She's a special woman, and her name is Mary. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 296] [See the discussion on Nephi's Asherah--commentary 1 Nephi 11:21]

 

Alma 7:10 He [Christ] shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem (Illustration): The Birth of Jesus. [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gospel Art, #200]

 

Alma 7:10 He [Christ] Shall Be Born . . . at Jerusalem:

 

     Book of Mormon critics point to Alma 7:10, "He [Christ] shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers" as an anachronism. It is obvious to any Bible reader that Christ was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-7). However, according to John Tvedtnes, there is evidence that in the Old World, Bethlehem was considered to be part of the "land of Jerusalem." One of the Amarna texts speaks of "a town in the land of Jerusalem" named Bit-Ninib. Some scholars give the name as Bit-Lahmi, which is the Canaanite equivalent of the Hebrew name rendered Beth-lehem in English Bibles. Thus, we can conclude that Lehi's descendants in the New World followed authentic Old World custom in denominating each land by the principal city in the land. . . . To the Nephites, whose society revolved around cities controlling larger lands, it would have been perfectly logical to place Bethlehem in the land of Jerusalem. (Bethlehem is only about six miles from the city of Jerusalem) [John A. Tvedtnes, "Cities and Lands in the Book of Mormon," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Fall 1995, F.A.R.M.S., p. 150] [See also Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, pp. 85-86]

     According to an article by Robert Smith, the "land" or district of Jerusalem was administratively distinguished from the city of Jerusalem. Indeed, the land of Jerusalem extended far beyond mere district borders during its phase as a Latin kingdom, covering about 500 to 550 square kilometers. Thus it is quite apparent that Jerusalem "did double duty as the royal and the district capital." As early as Canaanite times, Jerusalem held royal status, and it was termed mat URU sa-lim ("land of Jerusalem") in the Amarna Letters.

     Where then was Jesus born? Truly, in Bethlehem of the land of Judaea (see Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-6; Luke 2:4) -- any child could tell you that in Joseph Smith's time as well as in ours. What no one in modern times would have known for sure (before the 1887 discovery of the Tell El-Armarna Tablets) was that Bethlehem was also part of an area anciently called the land of Jerusalem.

     Only once in the King James Bible is the term land of Jerusalem even remotely recognizable (2 Samuel 5:6), yet the Book of Mormon twice refers to a "land of Jerusalem" in which Jesus was to be born (Alma 7:10; Helaman 16:19). It is apparent now that the Book of Mormon's casual statements about the "land of Jerusalem" are in full agreement with what recent scholarship tells us about the geography of ancient Judaea. [Robert F. Smith, "The Land of Jerusalem: The Place of Jesus' Birth," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 170-171] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 10:10]

 

Alma 7:10 He [Christ] Shall Be Born . . . at Jerusalem:

 

     Matthew Roper notes that Jerusalem at the time of Lehi was more than just a city. Babylonian documents refer to Jerusalem as "the city of Judah,"27 representing everything under the control of the king. Even the book of Jeremiah describes the siege of Jerusalem as a time when Nebuchadnezzar's armies fought "against Jerusalem, and against all its cities" (Jeremiah 34:1, New American Standard Bible). Since Jerusalem was the royal and national capital of Judah "all its [Jerusalem's] cities" clearly means all those cities under the national government of Jerusalem, i.e., all the cities of Judah (Jeremiah 34:7). Even if we are more conservative and interpret the phrase "all its cities" as referring only to the Jerusalem district, this would still take in Bethlehem, which was under Jerusalem's jurisdiction. It also needs to be remembered that the term "Jerusalem" is sometimes also used as a general name for the whole southern kingdom (2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 10:10-11, Ezekiel 23;4; Micah 1:1,5), just as Samaria is a national designation for Israel in the north (1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:24, 26; 23:19; Ezra 4:16). So whether Alma was using the term "Jerusalem" as a national designation for the kingdom of Judah or only the Jerusalem district, he is correct on both counts. [Matthew Roper, Book Review in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4 1992, pp. 88-89]

 

Alma 7:10 Chosen Vessel:

 

     Donna Nielsen writes that anciently, travelers were often desirous to take home a representative vessel showing the workmanship of the craftsmen in that area. One could request that the potter choose the very best from among all his vessels. After selecting the vessel the potter would hand it to the traveler saying, "I will never be ashamed to send this vessel to any part of the world, for I have chosen it, and I know it will never put me to shame. It is a chosen vessel. It may look the same to you as the other vessels; it may not even seem very attractive, but it will stand the test. Because it will bring me honor, I have chosen this vessel (See Ephesians 1:4)."28

     Mary was named in scripture as having this title of honor:

           And behold, he shall be born of Mary . . . she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost; and bring forth a son, yea, even the son of God. (Alma 7:10)

 

     It is also interesting that Paul the Apostle was also identified with the same phrase: "But the Lord said unto him [Ananias], Go thy way: for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." (Acts 9:15) [Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom: Finding Christ in Ancient Jewish Marriage and Family Customs, pp. 153-154]

 

Alma 7:11 He Will Take upon Him the Pains and the Sicknesses of His People:

 

     According to Angela Crowell, an example of an accurate literal translation found in the Book of Mormon is a reference in the book of Alma to Isaiah 53:3-4. The King James Version and Inspired Version both read:

 

He is despised and rejected of men;

A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

And we hid as it were our faces from him;

He was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,

Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.29

 

     Notice the closer literal translation of the same verse in the 1955 Jewish Publication Society's English translation of the Old Testament, The Holy Scriptures:

 

He was despised, and forsaken of men,

A man of pains, and acquainted with disease,

And as one from whom men hide their face:

He was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried;

Whereas we did esteem him stricken,

Smitten of God and afflicted

 

     The key words here are "pains" and disease."

 

     In the Jewish Publication Society's most recent (1985) English translation, Tanakh The Holy Scriptures, the verse reads:

 

He was despised, shunned by men,

A man of suffering, familiar with disease.

As one who hid his face from us,

He was despised, we held him of no account.

Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing,

Our suffering that he endured.

We accounted him plagued,

Smitten and afflicted by God;30

 

     The key words here are "suffering," "disease" and "sickness."

 

     The verse in the Book of Mormon which totally agrees with Hebrew scholars of today is Alma 7:11:

 

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind;

And this that the word might be fulfilled which saith,

"He will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of the people;

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which binds his people;"

 

     The key words here are "pains," "afflictions" and "sickness," which are correct literal translations from the Hebrew text.

     How can we account for a Book of Mormon translation which is more precise than the King James Version in the previous example? . . . How could a young man, who did not have the knowledge of Hebrew or any other Semitic language, produce a work such as the Book of Mormon? [Angela M. Crowell, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, pp. 9-10]

 

Alma 7:14 The Lamb:

 

     [For interesting commentary relative to "the Lamb," see 1 Nephi 10:10; 11:32-33; 12:11; 12:18; 13:28; 13:39; 14:3]

 

Alma 7:14 The Lamb of God, Who Taketh Away the Sins of the World:

 

     According to Daniel Rona, once a year in ancient Israel, on Yom Kippur--the Day of Atonement--an unblemished, firstborn lamb or goat would be allowed to escape through the eastern gate of the temple. This Gate Beautiful was the most significant gate of the Temple. It also became known as the "Gate of Mercy" and the "Gate of Forgiveness," Sha'ar HaRahamim in Hebrew. In the Day of Atonement rites, the firstborn lamb or goat was first "blessed" with the sins of the congregation. The priest would have had to interview the congregation, probably individually. Their confessions of mistakes or experiences of grief and tragedy would then be repeated vocally by the priest as he laid them on the head of the firstborn, unblemished offering. Bearing the sins of the multitude, this scapegoat truly became a symbol of a redeemer to come to take away the sins of the people (see Leviticus 16:21-22). Tradition relates that the scapegoat was marked with a crimson ribbon to indicate that it was an animal not to be killed. It was to die on its own, outside the temple.

     There was another special sacrificial rite in which the Gate Beautiful was an exit for an unblemished, firstborn animal, but it was a totally red-haired calf. According to well-documented traditions, the red calf was led out of the eastern gate across the Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives. It was then sacrificed high enough to be over the temple, yet in a straight line with the Gate Beautiful and still be northward of the altar. The red calf would be totally burned and its ashes used in special immersion ceremonies for purification of sins (see Numbers 19:2-10).

     Thus we find symbols of the Messiah, who would take the sins of the world upon himself and would die on his own outside the temple. His experience of taking sins upon himself would render him red. He would bleed from every pore. [Daniel Rona, Israel Revealed: Discovering Mormon and Jewish Insights in the Holy Land, pp. 155, 184] [See the commentary on Mosiah 3:7]

     Note* It is interesting that to be across the Kidron valley and straight in line with the eastern gate of the temple would approximate the location of the garden of Gethsemane, where the Savior suffered. Although there is a traditional site (The Church of All Nations) located at the base of the Mount of Olives, there are also olive trees higher up on the hill, adjacent to the Orson Hyde Memorial. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

     Note* According to Jeffrey Marsh, the word Gethsemane comes from the Hebrew gath, "press," and shemen, "oil." Gethsemane was a small olive grove with an olive press. The process for extracting oil from olives is an instructive one. Ripened olives are harvested and placed in a circular trough. A large and very heavy stone is then rolled around and around, passing over the olives to break them up. At first the olives are bruised, and then they are broken, and eventually the weight of the stone turns the olives into a gray-green mash. The mash is transferred into burlap sacks and tied off tightly. The bags are placed on a second type of press, this one having a large stone attached to a lever. The stone is lowered onto the bags of olive mash, and immense pressure is applied by turning the lever. Soon the oil begins to ooze from the olives and out through the pores of the bag. The first thing to appear is a bright red juice, which is followed by the clear-colored olive oil.

     Note* Olive oil was used for healing and anointing If the Olive tree or tree of life represented Christ and his covenant, then the anointings and healings derived their power from that covenant. Kings, prophets, and High Priests were the ones anointed. Jesus was the only prophet king and High Priest. The name Jesus Christ or the Messiah refers to Jesus' role as the Anointed One. The Greek word "Cristos" means anointed, and is the equivalent of Messiah, which is from a Hebrew and Aramaic term meaning anointed. [W. Jeffrey Marsh, His Final Hours, pp.42-43, 53]

 

Alma 7:24 And See That Ye Have Faith, Hope, and Charity:

 

     In Alma 7:24 it says, "And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works." According to Hugh Nibley, one might say, "Well, here's the Book of Mormon being lifted from the New testament." No, it isn't. Richard Reitzenstein showed many years ago that the formula--faith, hope, and charity--is a very ancient one. It's found in Hebrew writings, and it's a formula found in the Hermetic writings quite commonly. It's not limited to the New Testament at all. It's very ancient. These three [virtues] go together. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 300]