The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children
Alma 1 -- Alma 44
Alma 37:1 Helaman, I command you that ye take the records (Illustration): Chart: Who Wrote Parts of the Book of Mormon? [John W. Welch and Morgan A. Ashton, "Charting the Book of Mormon," Packet 1, F.A.R.M.S.]
Alma 37:4 [The Plates of Brass] Should Go Forth unto Every Nation:
Alma 37:4 states the following:
"Behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they [the plates of brass] should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon."
According to David Palmer, this is an explicit prophecy by Alma that the brass plates would be published to the world some day. Of course this would probably necessitate that the record sanctuary where it was eventually stored by Mormon would someday be discovered. [David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, p. 218]
Alma 37:5-6 If They Are Kept They Must Retain Their Brightness . . . Now Ye May Suppose That This Is Foolishness in Me:
According to Brant Gardner, Alma 37:5 references an apparent tradition among the Nephites that the brass plates would " . . . retain their brightness; yea, and they will retain their brightness . . ." The antecedent that we have to this tradition is found in 1 Nephi 5:19: "Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time. And he prophesied many things concerning his seed."
After referring to this tradition, Alma goes on to state the following: "Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise." The conjunction of these two passages suggests that while there is a tradition that the plates of brass will retain their brightness, it is entirely possible that this brightness requires some human assistance, since Alma says that they are bright "if they are kept." This suggests that some aspect of keeping might include an action to maintain the brightness.
Now this "little thing" of the brightness of the plates is but a sign of the more important function of the plates to "go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of Nephi's seed" (1 Nephi 5:18). But what is the foolishness? It is hard to know. What we do know is that Alma linked the brightness of the entire plate tradition to the promise of the value of what was on those plates. For Alma, they were indelibly separated, and perhaps it is this that might have seemed "foolishness," that the brightness or physical appearance might have any impact on the value of the contents of the plates. [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma37.htm, pp. 3-4]
Alma 37:5 If They [the Plates of Brass] Are Kept They Must Retain Their Brightness:
According to Diane Wirth, as a rule brass deteriorates with time, but perhaps can be preserved because of the combination of copper, zinc, and possibly others metals. Bronze, which also has a copper base, has been found in the form of inscribed tablets from many ancient sites. One in particular has been dated to the sixth century B.C.; the same time the Book of Mormon states the plates of Laban existed. This bronze plaque was discovered in 1860 near Styria, Greece, and contained laws for the distribution of land. It is now housed at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, p. 42]
Two interesting words which appear for the first time in the Book of Alma are "Gazelem" (Alma 37:23) and "Liahona" (Alma 37:38). Possible meanings of these two words are given by Reynolds and Sjodahl as follows:
Gazelem is a name given to a servant of God. The word appears to have its roots in Gaz--a stone, and Aleim, a name of God as a revelator, or the interposer in the affairs of men. If this suggestion is correct, its roots admirably agree with its apparent meaning--a seer. . . .
Liahona. This interesting word is Hebrew with an Egyptian ending. It is the name which Lehi gave to the ball or director he found outside his tent the very day he began his long journey through the "wilderness" after his little company had rested for some time in the valley of Lemuel (1 Nephi 16:10; Alma 37:38). L is a Hebrew Preposition meaning "to," and sometimes used to express the possessive case. Iah is a Hebrew abbreviated form of "Jehovah," common in Hebrew names. On is the Hebrew name of the Egyptian "City of the Sun". . .L-iah-on means, therefore, literally, "To God is Light"; or, "of God is Light." That is to say, God gives light, as does the Sun. The final a reminds us that the Egyptian form of the Hebrew name On is Annu, and that seems to be the form Lehi used. (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon IV:162-178)
[Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, pp. 217-218]
Alma 37:23 And the Lord Said: I Will Prepare unto My Servant Gazelem, a Stone:
Brant Gardner notes in Alma 37:23 that Alma is citing a text that is no longer extant. It must be an old text because it is describing the creation of the interpreters that eventually find their way into Alma's hands. The Lord provided the stone (here in the singular, elsewhere specifically two stones, such as Ether 3:23) in order to "shine forth in darkness unto light." [Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma37.htm, p. 9]
Alma 37:23 And the Lord Said: I Will Prepare unto My Servant Gazelem, a Stone:
According to Millet and McConkie, the phrase "I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone" (Alma 37:23) may well be a play on words. Is Gazelem the seer stone or the servant? It is difficult to tell from the passage and depends very much on the placement of a comma in the sentence. Perhaps it could refer to both. It is interesting to note that when Jesus called Simon Peter to the ministry he said: "Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, a seer, or a stone" (JST, John 1:42). Though this name or title of Gazelem may be used in regard to any seer who utilizes seer stones, it seems in this instance to be a direct reference to Joseph Smith the Prophet. [Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 3, p. 278]
Alma 37:23 Gazelem:
In his translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith used the strange name Gazelem to describe a servant of the Lord who would use "a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light. . . . And now, my son these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled" (Alma 37:23-24) Here the word Gazelem is used as a metaphor for the prophet who made use of the sacred stone as well as a synonym for the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Deuteronomy 33:8; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65).
Richardson, Richardson and Bentley write that while the name Gazelem is not found in dictionaries of ancient hebrew, the name is actually a compound Hebrew word. It is apparently a combination of the Hebrew words Geh and Zelem. The prefix geh is simply a demonstrative pronoun meaning "this," and the suffix zelem means "illusion, resemblance, representative figure, or image" as one might see by means of the seer stone or Urim and Thummim. (See James Strong, "Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary," in Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, pp. 26, 99)144 [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson and Anthony E. Bentley, 1000 Evidences for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part Two-A Voice from the Dust: 500 Evidences in Support of the Book of Mormon, p. 226]
Alma 37:23 My Servant Gazelem:
Orson Pratt said "Gazelem" meant a person who has been given the Urim and Thummim (see Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16, p. 156). According to Cleon Skousen, after Joseph Smith received the Urim and Thummim he was sometimes referred to as "Gazelem" (see D&C 82:11). We should also observe that the first Jaredite to receive the Urim and Thummim was Jared's brother (D&C 17:1) and therefore he would appear to be the original Gazelem or Seer to whom the Lord was referring to here in Alma 37:23. God prepared this sacred instrument in anticipation of the secret combinations which He knew would eventually need to be exposed among the Jaredites. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3044]
Alma 37:23 I Will Prepare unto My Servant Gazelam, a Stone, Which Shall Shine Forth in Darkness unto Light:
Matthew Brown notes that it appears from scriptural and historical texts that Joseph Smith's premortal identity is known: "I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light," (Alma 37:23). "Gazelam" was the codename for Joseph Smith in D&C 78:9; 82:11; 104:26, 43 up until late twentieth-century editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. Orson Pratt indicated that Gazelam referred to "a person to whom the Lord had given the Urim and Thummim" (JD 16:156). At the Prophet's funeral, W. W. Phelps stated that Joseph Smith was Gazelam in the premortal spirit world and also spoke of the Prophet's high premortal status. "Surely, as one of the holy ones commissioned by his Father among the royal seventy, when the High Council of Heaven set them apart to come down and 'multiply and replenish this earth,' he was the 'last,' and who knows but the 'greatest,' for he declared we knew not who he was! So, I may say, as the last is to be first, and the first last in eternal rotation, that Joseph Smith, who was Gazelam in the spirit world, was, and is, and will be in the endless progress of eternity--The Prince of Light. Tis so, and who can dispute it?" (Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 23, no. 1, Winter 1983, 12) [Matthew B. Brown, All Things Restored: Confirming the Authenticity of LDS Beliefs, p. 62]
Alma 37:23 Gazelem:
In Alma 37:23 it says, "I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light." According to Hugh Nibley that's a person he is talking about; Gazelem is not the stone. His servant Gazelem has the stone; he is preparing it for him. Incidentally, that word Gazelem is a very interesting one. It's an Aramaic word, and it has definitely to do with the shining stone. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 462]
Alma 37:23 I Will Prepare unto My Servant Gazelem, a Stone:
According to Roy Weldon, there have been stories, traditions, etc., of a chocolate-colored stone used by Joseph Smith in translating. Inasmuch as this work is concerned with claims in the Book of Mormon, and there is no mention of a chocolate-colored stone in either the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants, we offer only brief references.
James Lancaster in an article in the Saint's Herald, "By the Gift and Power of God," November 15, 1962, deals extensively with the chocolate stone theory.
F. Edward Butterworth has prepared a paper, "The Mystery of Urim and Thummim," in which he has done considerable research regarding the Urim and Thummim in ancient Israel. He has a paragraph entitled "The Chocolate-Colored Stone," in which he states:
Besides the two stones on the shoulders of the high priest, there were twelve stones in the breastplate. These twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel were arranged in the breastplate in the order of the birth of Jacob's twelve sons. In this case the eleventh stone represented Joseph the eleventh of Jacob's twelve sons, and the elder son of Rachel. Oddly enough the eleventh stone in the breastplate was described by Josephus as made of "onyx," a dark or chocolate-colored stone. As might be expected, since the Book of Mormon is the history of a remnant of Joseph's tribe, this was the color of the seer stone used by Joseph Smith, Jr., in his translation.
[Roy E. Weldon, Book of Mormon Deeps, Vol. III, pp. 339-340]
Alma 37:28 There Is a Curse upon This Land:
Enos 1:10 and Alma 37:28 in the Book of Mormon speak of "a curse upon this land." Some have wondered why the wording depicts the land rather than the people themselves being curses. Richardson, Richardson and Bentley note that this was an authentic idiomatic expression in ancient times. It meant that those who dwell in certain lands would be cursed if they refuse to obey the commandments of the Lord, and will be blessed if they obey. (Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, pp. 189 and 214)145 [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson and Anthony E. Bentley, 1000 Evidences for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part Two-A Voice from the Dust: 500 Evidences in Support of the Book of Mormon, p. 284] [See the commentary on Enos 1:10]
Alma 37:37 Night . . . Morning (Merismus):
Richardson, Richardson and Bentley note that an ancient Hebrew poetic form, known as merismus (the comparing and contrasting of adjectives and nouns) has been found int he Book of Mormon. Angela Crowell notes that in the Bible we find this inclusive concept by the use of a pair of adjectives: young and aged = everybody (Job 29:8); sea and dry land = the universe (Psalms 95:5); flesh and blood = sacrificed animals (Psalms 50:13). In the Book of Mormon (Alma 37:347) we find the use of "night" and "morning" to convey the concept of "all the time."146
It is also interesting that among the Aztecs, for example, skirt and blouse signified woman in her sexual aspect, flower and song meant poetry and art, and face and heart signified personality.147 "My hand, my foot" meant my body, while "in the clouds, in the mist" conveyed the idea of mystery. Thus, Edmonson comments on "the extraordinary difficulty" in reading such texts. The "obvious" meaning of an expression frequently must be modified to extract its "synthetic or esoteric meaning." Furthermore, "thee [religious] texts are purposely obscure. They are not intended to make sense to outsiders--and they don't." They were meant to be "read and pondered rather than skimmed over or recited." (John L. Sorenson, Angela Crowell & Allen J. Christensen, "View of the Hebrews an Unparallel," Re-exploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 83-87.)148 [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson and Anthony E. Bentley, 1000 Evidences for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part Two-A Voice from the Dust: 500 Evidences in Support of the Book of Mormon, p. 272]
Alma 37:37 And If Ye [Always] Do These Things:
According to Shirley Heater, in some places words on the Printer's Manuscript were omitted in the 1830 edition (and subsequent editions). One of these omissions (which will be marked with brackets [ ] ) is found in Alma 37:37 of the 1981 LDS edition. It reads, "Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do [ ] these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day." The meaning is weakened because the word "always," (which is present in the Printer's Manuscript) is missing. Here Alma's instruction is that our hearts be full of thanks when lying down and when rising; his conclusion should read, "And if ye always do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day." [Shirley R. Heater, "The 1830 Edition: History and Manuscript Comparison," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, pp. 95-96]
Alma 37:38 Liahona:
Jeff Lindsay notes that the word "Liahona" (Alma 37:38) was used to describe the unusual spherical compass or director that was miraculously given to Lehi to guide him through the Arabian peninsula, apparently telling them not only which way to travel but when to travel or stop as well. Rabbi Yosef ben Yehuda, a non-LDS author of the former Jewishness of the Book of Mormon Website suggests that the word Liahona was probably coined by the Nephites but represents very good Hebrew (e-mail from Dec. 1997). Liahona (lamed-yud-hey-vav-nun-alef in Hebrew), is related to known Hebrew words, as Rabbi Yosef explains:
LIA (lamed-yud-hey), Strongs 3914: something round; a wreath
LAWAH (lamed-vav-hey), Strongs 3867: to bind around; to wreathe; to start or stop
LON (lamed-vav-nun), Strongs 3885, from LAWAH: to abide, to dwell, to remain or to continue.
Alma 37:38 A ball . . . our fathers called it Liahona (Illustration): (1) An extract from a Mexican codex in the Selden Collection depicts a bundle, wrapped and tied shut. However, to the right, the native historians have rendered a cut-away drawing, revealing the content of the package, which is none other than a ball, apparently depicted with a window or reflective surface. (2) The round object within the bundle also receives singular attention in the codex, as we find it illustrated apart from other items, as shown. [Ammon O'Brien, Seeing Beyond Today With Ancient America, p. 154]
Alma 37:41 Those Miracles Were Worked By Small Means:
Brant Gardner notes that here in Alma 37:38 we have, for the first time, the name for the director or ball given to Lehi as recorded in 1 Nephi 16:10. This name is not in Nephi's record, so the name must have been given on the Large Plates. But why does Alma bring up the Liahona at this time, after so long in which we hear nothing of it? While we cannot know for certain, it is probable that it is because Nephi used the "small means" analogy with the Liahona in the Small Plates. It is a theme that Alma has picked up earlier in his charge to Helaman, and which he will highlight again in verse 41: "Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. . . ." Those marvelous works came from "small means." In Nephi's description of the "small things" we find the following:
I Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them. And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.
Alma describes the "small things" as follows:
it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go; behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day. (Alma 37:40).
[Brant Gardner, Book of Mormon Commentary, http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/ Alma37.htm, pp. 14-15]
Alma 37:45 Is There Not a Type in This Thing?:
[See the commentary on 1 Nephi 16:35]