The Lord Redeems His Covenant Children
Alma 1 -- Alma 44
Alma 5 Superscription The Words Which Alma . . .:
Sidney Sperry writes that the book of Alma contains an unusually large number of superscriptions. The reader should keep in mind that these are part of the original text. They will be found printed in italics over Chapters 1, 5, 7, 9, 17, 21, 36, 38, 39, and 45. These superscriptions are of more than passing interest. The fact that they are found over the chapters enumerated and over no others would seem to indicate that Mormon took them from Alma's original text, with the exception of that over Chapter 45. Otherwise, why do the chapters dealing with Helaman's and Shiblon's work not have any? It should be noticed that the superscription over Chapter one deals only with Alma's work ["The account of Alma, who was the son of Alma the first, and chief judge over the people of Nephi"]; no mention is made of the writings of Helaman and Shiblon. If Mormon had written the superscription, we might have expected him to have said something concerning the content of the records made by the sons of Alma. [Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium, p. 324]
Alma 5 (Content):
According to Hugh Nibley, Alma 5 is one of the most remarkable chapters in the Book of Mormon. It is a long chapter, over 60 verses long. . . . [Through Alma's use of key words and phrases] we are going to get the law of Moses here, and we are also going to get the rituals and ordinances carried out in the Day of Atonement, which he refers to here. Referring to the church [or covenant], notice how the word "establish" is used three or four times in a row here. Alma tells us how his father Alma Sr., began the whole thing [establishing the church or the covenant] by baptizing in "the land which was called the land of Mormon; yea, and he did baptize his brethren in the waters of Mormon." (Alma 5:3). . . . Alma 5 is an account of the Law of the Atonement--of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The same thing is told in Nephi 1-2 [Lehi's Vision of being taken into God's presence, and the Lord's promise to Lehi that "inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise . . . etc. And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.] and in Alma 42 [Alma's sermon to his son Corianton on the justice of God's plan--mercy is for those who repent].
Now here's the situation we have in Alma 5. Both Alma and his father had been having a constant struggle to keep the Nephites in the path of duty. They were always drifting away, as Israel does. . . . So here in Alma 5, Alma "establishes" the church once again by alluding to ordinances that were performed at the temple in Israel by the law of Moses on the Day of Atonement. The reader should note that the abridger Mormon specifically notes that "these are the words which he [Alma] spake to the people . . . according to his own record" (Alma 5:2). . . . What Alma refers to with these words is the day of establishment, the day of founding which is Yom Kippur, the New Year, and Rosh ha-Shannah, etc. It has all those names. It is the day of the founding of the [new] world in all ancient societies, when everything gets started. . . .
I've heard people actually say that the Book of Mormon can't contain the fullness of the gospel because it doesn't have anything about the temple in it. Well, don't fool yourself. It has all the ordinances in it, in their old form. This is an interesting thing because with the destruction of Jerusalem in the time of Lehi these rites disappeared and were never renewed again. The second temple didn't have this, so the Nephite people preserved it. They preserved the rites in their old form not in the later form. That's what we have in the Book of Mormon [and here in Alma 5]. . . .
This establishment of the church is an inauguration of the church, an initiation of the order. . . in the Day of Atonement, the word atonement means literally an at-one-ment. The word is not found in the new revised version of the Bible; they use reconciliation instead. . . . the only time it appears is in Romans in the New Testament. It means "sit down with somebody again." There were two parts to this:
Part 1. [The Lord's Acceptance] Very briefly, on the Day of Atonement you had the kapporet, the tent in which the Holy of Holies was, and only the high priest could enter the tent. . . . It is understandable that the kapporet is also translated in the King James Bible as "the mercy seat," where a man is reconciled at one with God on the Day of Atonement. . . . On the Day of Atonement when the people had atoned, the high priest came before the door of the tent, which was the paroket or the veil. He announced that the people had performed the rites of sacrifice properly with the shedding of blood, etc., and wished to enter the presence of the Lord to be atoned for their sins. The Lord parted the veil and invited the people of Israel to enter. Of course, it was only the high priest who entered. Only he was allowed to enter.
Part 2. [The People's Offering] There was only one law given to Israel at any time--only one law given to the human race, and the law of consecration was it. It was a minimum requirement. Incidentally you will find all this in the Old Testament in Zechariah 14:18 and following. It's a minimum requirement. Anyone can be expected to keep it, like the Word of Wisdom which can be kept by the "weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints." It was given complete to Moses, but the people would only accept it in part. It has always been that way. As we are told in Exodus 32:19, when Moses smashed the tablets, they did not get the higher priesthood because they were not worthy of it. They got only the lower priesthood. Moses prophesied at the end of Deuteronomy in his farewell, just before he was about to leave the people. (It's quite a speech here.) He says, you're a stiffnecked people. If you are rebellious while I am still with you, what will yo do when I'm gone [paraphrased]. Then he says, I "call heaven and earth to record against them. For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you" (Deuteronomy 31:27-29). And they did in record time. Therefore, he leaves upon them just what [blessing and curse] we have on the promised land. He says, Behold I set before you this day a blessing and a curse. They go together, and you understand why. If thou wilt not hearken, these curses are for you [paraphrased]. Then he lists the promises and blessings and the curses, which are the blessing in reverse in Deuteronomy 28:15. He says in short, "I have set before you [this day] life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). Well, the people accepted the conditions wholeheartedly, just as they did in the time of King Benjamin. They all voted and chose to go into it. In one voice they shouted, "Amen," for they were accepting the curse along with the blessing. It's the same in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
So Moses points out that this is the reason why his people have to be different. They can't just go back and be like ordinary people. He really rubs this in, and you will find most of this in the book of Deuteronomy. "Ye all stand this day before Jehovah your God that he may establish you this day for a people unto himself." There are to be no mental reservations as to what you are to be sworn to; God is not mocked. Don't say, "This won't bother me; I'll go just my way. I'll take the oath." The Lord will not spare him that does, but "all the curses written in the book shall be upon him." Because you are something different from the world, he says--holy, set apart, chosen, special, peculiar, am se gullah (that's the word sealed, a sealed people), not like any other people on the face of the earth. "God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6).
So Moses (and Alma) say, That's why you can't do just like other people. For you, this will remain the law until God himself sees fit to change it. The temple ceremonies and covenants teach you this, and so that is what you do. First you must establish the center, the temple, according to the Lord's instructions. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 263-269, 275]
Alma 5:1 Alma began to deliver the word of God unto the people (Illustration): Alma Teaches the People [Robert T. Barrett, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 7]
Alma 5:3 He (Alma1) Began to Establish a Church . . . in the Land Mormon:
Alma 5:3 states that "he [Alma1, the father of Alma2] began to establish a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; yea, the land which was called the land of Mormon." The reader should understand that this verse is referring back to the time of Alma1 when he escaped from king Noah and established a church in the wilderness. Notice that the land of Mormon was in "the borders of Nephi." The question we could ask is, Which borders, the borders of the local land of Nephi or the borders of the general land of Nephi? The original Nephites that went to the land of Nephi remained there over 380 years before Mosiah1 left the area and settled in the land of Zarahemla. Then Zeniff returned to the land of Lehi-Nephi to inherit the land. His group stayed there about 55 years before Alma1 fled from king Noah to the waters of Mormon. How far could the "borders of Nephi" have extended in 435 years? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Mosiah 18:4 and 18:5]
Alma 5:3 The Land Which was Called the Land of Mormon:
We are now told in Alma 5:3 that Mormon was a "land" in addition to being just a "place" as it was called in Mosiah 18:4. [See the commentary on Mosiah 18:4]
Alma 5:5 The Lord Did Deliver Them out of Bondage by the Power of His Word, and We Were Brought to This Land:
According to Brant Gardner, there are three elements in Alma 5:5, and each one is a planned and important point in Alma's sermon. Alma needs to establish the important elements of connection between their current situation and that of his father's church by the Waters of Mormon. The first point Alma makes is that they were in bondage to the Lamanites. While this is certainly historically accurate, it is also a point that Alma wants to make for the current situation with the Amlicite contention. The social ideas of the Nehors were precisely the types of changes that King Noah had made in Lehi-Nephi, and they are precisely the things that would have led to a similar bondage with the Amlicites. Alma the Elder's people and Alma the younger's people were both delivered from bondage through the power of God, but that power relies on continued faith. Alma's final comment is that after his father's people came to the land of Zarahemla they established churches, thus implying that those who were present had this same responsibility to continue establishing churches. [Brant Gardner, "Book of Mormon Commentary," at http://www.frontpage2k.nmia.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/ Alma5.htm, pp. 3-4]
Alma 5:5 And Here We Began to Establish the Church of God throughout This Land Also:
Why would it be necessary for Alma1 to establish churches throughout the greater land of Zarahemla? Wasn't there a church already in existence? After all, Mosiah2 was referred to by Ammon as "a seer" which "was greater than a prophet" (Mos 8: 13-18), so wouldn't churches already be established? Part of the answer might be found in Mosiah, chapters 25 and 26, which deals with the circumstances which Alma1 found when he arrived in the land of Zarahemla governed by king Mosiah2. There it says that: "Now this [establishing churches] was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly" (Alma 25:20). According to Alma 25:2, "there were not so many of the children of Nephi, or so many of those who were descendants of Nephi, as there were of the people of Zarahemla, who was a descendant of Mulek, and those who came with him into the wilderness." And Alma 26:8 states, "king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the [whole] church." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 5:6 Have Ye Sufficiently Retained in Remembrance:
According to Donald Parry, cycloides or "circular repetition," as Bullinger explains, "is so called because the sentence or phrase is repeated at intervals, as though in regular circles." This figure, therefore, features an identical phrase, expression, or sentence repeated regularly throughout the paragraph.
have you sufficiently retained in remembrance
the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and
have you sufficiently retained in remembrance
his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover,
have you sufficiently retained in remembrance
that he has delivered their souls from hell? (Alma 5:6)
[Donald W. Parry, The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted according to Parallelistic Patterns, F.A.R.M.S., p. xlii]
Alma 5:6 Have You Sufficiently Retained in Remembrance (Circular Repetitive Parallelism):
Note* Richardson, Richardson and Bentley note that more examples of circular repetitive parallelism are found in Mosiah 3:25-26; 11:21; Alma 3:15-16; 14:29; 24:7-10; 60:20; 62:41; Helaman 11:10-16; and Mormon 7:2-5. (See Parry, Ensign, October 1989, p. 61) [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, pp. 280-281] [See the commentary on Mosiah 4:30]
Alma 5:7 Behold, He Changed Their Hearts:
According to Angela Crowell, hinneh is the Hebrew word for "lo," "behold" or "see." It is used for pointing out persons, things, places and action. Hinneh occurs over a thousand times in the Old Testament Hebrew text. In English usage we consider it unnecessary. "Behold" is used frequently in the Book of Mormon and can be found on almost any page. Its common use gives evidence of a literal rendering of Hebrew into English. [Angela M. Crowell, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, p. 5]
Alma 5:9 Their Souls Did Expand:
Alma 5:9 reads in part, "their souls did expand." According to Paul Hoskisson, the context would call for a meaning such as "they became happy," to parallel the phrase in the same verse, "they did sing redeeming love" to celebrate their freedom from the "bands of death" and the "chains of hell." Nowhere in the King James Bible does soul occur in conjunction with the word expand; neither does it occur with the verbs enlarge and swell, each of which accompany soul once in the Book of Mormon (Alma 32:28 and 34 respectively). . . . The Oxford English Dictionary under soul gives no evidence of the phrase "their souls did expand" occurring in English; neither are there usages of enlarge and swell with soul. This and other evidence appears to indicate that the phrase "expand the soul" does not have its origin in English. . . .
It is interesting that one translation of the Semitic word for "liver," etc, is "soul." . . . In Semitic languages related to Hebrew (closely, Ugaritic; and more distantly, Akkaadian) "the liver expands (with feeling)" can be translated "the soul expands with feeling." [Paul Y. Hoskisson, "Textual Evidences for the Book of Mormon," in The Book of Mormon: First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, pp. 284-286]
Alma 5:9 They Did Sing Redeeming Love:
In Alma 5:9, Alma says, "their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love." Now according to Hugh Nibley, here we have [a verse referring to] the song of redeeming love, which is a very interesting thing mentioned also in Alma 5:26. Remember, the old temple rites were last performed in Lehi's generation. After that, Jerusalem was destroyed. Well, it was rebuilt again, but they [the Jews] never restored these rites [like singing the song of redeeming love] again. This is where you have to go to the Book of Mormon for the old rites the way they were performed. And this is the way we find them in the law of Moses, too. . . .
I've heard people actually say that the Book of Mormon can't contain the fullness of the gospel because it doesn't have anything about the temple in it. Well, don't fool yourself. It has all the ordinances in it, in their old form. This is an interesting thing because with the destruction of Jerusalem in the time of Lehi these rites disappeared and were never renewed again. The second temple didn't have this, so the Nephite people preserved it. They preserved the rites in their old form not in the later form. That's what we have in the Book of Mormon. . . .
Archaeologists have found allusions to the song of redeeming love in paintings preserved in the oldest known synagogue, the ruin of Dura Europos, discovered in 1932. . . . [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 281-282, 274, 287] [See the commentary on Alma 5:26; 26:13]
Alma 5:14 Have Ye Been Spiritually Been Born of God?:
In Alma 5:14, we find Alma asking the question, "Have ye spiritually been born of God?" According to Hugh Nibley this verse is alluding to a great birthday celebration for all those who identify with the Great King. In ancient Egypt everybody who was born on the same day as the Pharaoh [the king] had a birthday identified with him. He could go live in the palace with him or anything like that. And in Egypt everybody dated his own birthday not from the day he was born, but from the day the Pharaoh assumed the throne. That was the beginning of years. In the Western world we call it the Natalis, this great birthday. Everybody is born. That's the Saturnalia when everybody celebrates, etc. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 282]
Alma 5:14 Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances:
Ann Madsen notes that Alma the Elder had a profound encounter with Abinadi which was to influence his own conversion and thus the conversion of many others. More than 60 years later, Alma the Younger testified of this conversion account of his father:
Did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he [Abinadi] not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them? And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. (Alma 5:11-12; emphasis added)
Thus Alma the Younger points to the transformation of his father as he himself pleads for the mighty spiritual change to come into the hearts of his own people:
I ask of you my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14)
Where did Alma the Younger get this imagery and these words? The Lord's image in one's countenance? Being spiritually born of God? A mighty change?
1. Have ye been spiritually born of God?:
While the words "spiritually born of God" (Alma 5:14) are found in the conversion story of Alma the Younger (see Mosiah 27:10-29; Alma 36:5-27), they are not found in the conversion story of Alma the Elder. However, they are alluded to in the story of the people Alma is preaching to--the people of the city of Zarahemla, whose parents and grandparents had been present at the speech of king Benjamin:
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mosiah 5:7)
2. Have ye experienced this mighty change?:
While Alma describes his father's conversion as "a mighty change" (Alma 5:12), that phrase is not found in either his father's conversion story or his own. Once again, however, it is found in the heritage of the people Alma is preaching to at the city of Zarahemla, whose parents and grandparents were present at the speech of king Benjamin:
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. (Mosiah 5:2).
3. Have ye received his image in your countenance?:
While Alma the Younger talks about receiving God's image in one's countenance, such an occurrence is not specifically mentioned as a personal transformation in his own conversion, yet we do find some allusions in the other stories. In king Benjamin's speech to the people of Zarahemla: "ye . . . have become his sons and his daughters" (Mosiah 5:7). Moreover, Alma refers to the fact that his father, Alma the Elder, had believed in a courageous prophet who was willing to suffer in the pattern of his Redeemer to the last moments of his life (see Alma 5:11). It is from that scriptural story that we find the following:
Now it came to pass after Abinadi had spoken these words that the people of king Noah durst not lay their hands on him, for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him; and his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses' did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord. (Mosiah 13:5; emphasis added)
So we have an interesting correlation of phrases and imagery in the heritage of conversion stories of all the individuals involved here. Such subtle historical and textual correlations would be more than one could expect had Joseph Smith made all this up. [Alan C. Miner, adapted from Ann Madsen, "'What Meaneth the Words That Are Written?': Abinadi Interprets Isaiah," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 10, Num. 1, 2001, p. 14]
Alma 5:14 Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances?:
The reader should notice that Alma uses the Hebrew manner of associating the condition of one's soul with outward physical appearance or physical organs. For example, in Alma 5:14 he says, "And now behold, I ask of you my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?" A little later in the same sermon, Alma asks the question, "I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances" (Alma 5:19). The reader should keep this symbolism in mind when considering the curse of the "dark skin" or the blessing of the "white skin." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 5:21]
Alma 5:14 Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances?:
According to Andrew Skinner, an "image" is not just an outward visual impression but also a vivid representation, a graphic display, or a total likeness of something. It is a person or thing very much like another, a copy or counterpart. Likewise, countenance does not simply mean a facial expression or visual appearance. The word comes from an old French term originally denoting "behavior," "demeanor," or "conduct." In earlier times the word countenance was used with these meanings in mind.
Therefore, to receive Christ's image in one's countenance (Alma 5:14) means to acquire the Savior's likeness in behavior, to be a copy or reflection of the Master's life. [Andrew C. Skinner, "Alma's 'Pure Testimony,'" in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 1, p. 301]
Alma 5:14 Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances? Have Ye Experienced this Mighty Change in Your Hearts?:
In Alma 5:14 Alma asks: "Have ye received [the Lord's] image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this might change in your hearts?" The poetic picture of the image of God engraven on their countenances appears to be unique to Alma. But when Alma ties it to "a mighty change in your hearts" there is a good possibility that Alma is referring to the covenant language made specifically by the fathers of those who are listening to Alma. In Benjamin's speech it is the heart and not the face that is the focus, but the concepts are parallel:
"I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you."
To have "the name written always in your hearts" implies a covenant. Similar covenant imagery of what it implies to be a covenant person or people with Christ is also alluded to by Paul in the New Testament:
"Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." (2 Corinthians 3:3)
[Adapted from Brant Gardner, "Book of Mormon Commentary," at http://www.frontpage2k.nmia.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/ Alma5.htm, pp. 14-15]
Alma 5:16 Can You Imagine to Yourselves That Ye Hear the Voice of the Lord, Saying unto You, in That Day: Come unto Me Ye Blessed:
Alma has drawn allusions from historical covenant group salvation by the power of the Lord and now is alluding to individual covenant salvation. In fact it is his intention to inspire a personal covenant renewal. He declares:
I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your [covenant] works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?
It is not enough for covenant people just to believe, for Alma specifically points to the fact that the Lord will know them by their "works." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [For more on the covenant ceremonial background of Alma 5 see Hugh Nibley's commentary on the content of Alma 5]
Alma 5:19 A Pure Heart and Clean Hands (Inverted Quotations):
In Alma 5:19 we find the following: "I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? Here Alma essentially reverses the order found in Psalms 24:4: "He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart."
According to David Bokovoy, when the Book of Mormon appeared in 1830, the Western world had only a limited knowledge of the literary techniques utilized by Semitic authors. One such discovery came to light in 1955 when a scholar named Seidel published a study of what has come to be called "inverted quotations" in the Bible,10 and today scholars refer to such inverted quotations of earlier sources as an example of Seidel's law. The Bible contains many examples of inverted quotations.11 For example, in Leviticus 26:4 the Lord declared," and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruits." When Ezekiel later referred to this promise, he intentionally reversed its original sequence: "and the trees of the field shall yield their fruits, and the land shall yield her increase" (Ezekiel 34:27).12 [David Bokovoy, "Inverted Quotations in the Book of Mormon" in FARMS Update, Number 139, in Insights, October 2000, p. 2] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 2:15]
Alma 5:21 There Can Be No Man Be Saved Except His Garments Are Washed White:
Donna Nielsen writes that a knowledge of scriptural marriage imagery can greatly enrich our understanding of how God relates to us through covenants. In the Bible we find that Jesus taught the people using examples of weddings and feasts, and of Himself as the Bridegroom. It was meaningful to the Jews in a way that it is not to us because we lack understanding of their culture.
When Israel was betrothed to God at Sinai, she was commanded to cleanse herself with a mikvah. This is symbolically represented in Exodus 19:10: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothes."
Not only their bodies, but their clothing-their garments-were washed. Brides in ancient times went to a mikvah before marriage. A mikvah was a ritual immersion in "living water." It symbolized many things. Besides representing a preparation for holiness, it also represented a separation from an old life to a new life--from life as a single woman to life as a married woman. It also symbolized a change in status and authority; a woman came out from under the authority of her father to the authority of her husband (Lash 18).
Water immersion was a type for the more complete cleansing that came from the Holy One of Israel. A rabbi from the first century taught:
Who cleanses you from your transgressions? Your Father in Heaven. . . . It also says Mikvah-Israel [which can be translated either "the hope of Israel" or "the ritual immersion of Israel" (Jeremiah 17:13]. Just as a ritual bath cleanses the unclean, so does the Holy One, blessed be he, cleanse Israel.13
Our bodies and our clothing both need to be washed and kept clean to make us fit covenant companions. Jesus Christ is our "hope"-our "Mikvah-Israel"-and he can sanctify and cleanse us in every needful way:
. . . for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins. (Alma 5:21)
There are Bible scriptures which are helpful in understanding the wedding clothing and their metaphorical extension to righteous behavior. In Ecclesiastes 9:8 it says, "Let thy garments be always white and let thy head lack no ointment." The Hebrew translations of this verse gives white garments the connotations of purity and cleanliness; and the ointment mentioned wa a synonym for anointing oil. Originally, kings were anointed with oil (primarily made from pressed olives) before receiving their crown. The anointing symbolized joy, honor, favor, and long life.
The white clothing had both religious and royal associations. Kings in the Old Testament wore fine white linen-similar in texture to modern damask with a silky feel. The best of these materials came from Egypt. The robes from this material were also called "garments of splendor and beauty."
Priests who served in the temple also wore garments of fine white linen during their ministrations. These garments came from the weaver seamless, bound at the waist with a girdle decorated by needlework. The priest's robe nearly covered the feet and was skillfully woven (like damask) in a diamond or chessboard pattern.14 This special clothing was worn to distinguish between the sacred and the everyday, and it was a reminder to assist them in their task to become holy. It was thought that donning a white garment symbolized man's vesting himself with good moral qualities.
Therefore, the groom's wedding clothing was very helpful in reminding him of his role and responsibilities as a new husband and father-to-be. His main article of clothing was a kittel, which was a white coat or tunic girded with a white sash. (The word "coat" in Hebrew is "kethoneth," meaning "to cover" or "to hide." It is the same word used in Genesis 3:21.) This coat was associated with purity, forgiveness of sins, and solemn joy. The white color and simple design were thought to eliminate distinctions between the rich and the poor.15 The white sash was a symbol of service, since sashes were used to gird loins, and girded loins denoted alertness, strength, and readiness for action. The groom also wore a miter or linen cap on his head, a headdress similar to that worn by the priests in the temple.16
Isaiah 61:10 describes some of these customs:
I delight greatly in my Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest and a bride adorns herself with her jewels (NIV).
It was thought that this white cap was a symbol of being crowned with holiness and righteousness. Since the head denotes authority, wisdom, and experience, the white miter also represented the wisdom that comes with age.
Two scriptures that reflect this understanding are Proverbs 16:31 and Daniel 7:9. In Proverbs it says: "The hoary (white) head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness." Daniel continues the metaphor: "I beheld until the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of Days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head was like the pure wool [white]."
The word for this special cap17 is derived from a word which means "to elevate" or "to lift up" signifying the honor due to this new head of the household in Israel.
One Jewish commentator, Benno Jacob18 taught that this special clothing represented a restoration of the garment of light that was lost in the Garden of Eden. By the act of clothing Adam and Eve, God was consecrating them to be parents. There is much in Jewish thought connecting the new bridal pair to the very first married couple in the Garden of Eden. [Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom: Finding Christ in Ancient Jewish Marriage and Family Customs, pp. 2, 53-55, 125-126]
Alma 5:21-24 One Can Have a Place . . . Whose Garments Are Cleansed and Are Spotless, Pure and White:
In Alma 21-24, Alma speaks of the dual nature of garments "stained with blood" and garments "cleansed from all stain through the blood":
And now I ask of you, my brethren, how will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness? Behold, what will these things testify against you? . . . Behold, my brethren, do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white? . . . yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins.
According to Hugh Nibley, we have two kinds of conditions associated with blood and related to garments in Alma 5:21-24, the one condition results from the blood and filthiness that stains your own garment. Alma says the blood will testify against you. We are guilty of what we assent to. We may not have shed very much blood, but we are all guilty of what we assent to. We all pay the same half shekel. It's a very interesting thing that everybody must pay a sin tax, a tax for sin, on the Day of Atonement. But the interesting point is you don't know how to valuate sin. Who is more guilty than the other? There's no way of knowing that, how guilty a person really is. So everybody must pay, whether it's a woman, child, rich, poor; it makes no difference. Everyone must pay exactly the same amount, because only God knows who the real sinners are. So everybody pays the half shekel. . . .
The second condition results when blood washes a garment white. But how can blood wash garments white? If you have ever attended a kosher slaughter, you know that the priest has to wear his priestly robes, the rabbi, though he does not have authority . . . still puts on the robes, and when he cuts the throat of the beast he becomes completely spattered with blood. . . . After Aaron and his sons performed this rite and had slain the pascal lamb, they appeared before the people with their garments splattered with blood, which showed that the atonement had been made. The blood had been shed, after the similitude. That means that the people's own [blood-stained garments] had been washed white (see Leviticus and Deuteronomy). . . . It was here on the Day of Atonement that the priest entered the tent, that the people's garments were all made white by the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 274, 285]
Alma 5:25 Such Can Have Place in the Kingdom of God:
According to Hugh Nibley, along with the ritual embrace (see the commentary on Alma 5:33), we have the ceremonial formula "have place" (Alma 5:25) which means "a place on my right hand"--"Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father" (Enos 1:17). We are quoting Enos, Alma, Moses, etc. "There is a place prepared for you." Thus Nephi promises Zoram: "therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us" (1 Nephi 4:34). [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 274] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 4:34]
Alma 5:26 Sing the Song of Redeeming Love:
The phrase "sing . . . redeeming love" is found three times in the Book of Mormon, all of which occur in the book of Alma:
Alma 5:9: And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.
Alma 5:26: And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
Alma 26:13: Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?
It is interesting that just preceding Alma 5:9 and Alma 5:26, Mormon says, "And these are the words which he [Alma] spake to the people in the church which was established in the city of Zarahemla, according to his own record" (Alma 5:2). In the same interesting circumstances, just preceding the quote in Alma 26:13 Mormon says, "And now, these are the words of Ammon to his brethren" (Alma 26:1). Thus we might say that the phrase "sing . . . redeeming love" has a special niche in not only the vocabulary of Alma and Ammon, but in the message of that time. That message and that vocabulary might stem from the same unique experience which Alma and Ammon shared, the visitation by an angel of God and the gift of his redeeming love (see Mosiah 27 and Alma 36). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Alma 5:28 Behold, Are Ye Stripped of Pride?:
Professor Sami Hanna, a Semitic language expert, has pointed out that there are some basic characteristics of the Semitic family of languages. Taken in context, these characteristics reveal Joseph Smith to be as he purported--a translator, not an author, of the Book of Mormon. . . . One of these characteristics concerns idioms. An idiom is an expression of thought that is peculiar to a given culture. Several Indo-European idioms are : "Kick the bucket," "Hit the hay," "Get the show on the road." Perhaps the most recognizable Semitic characteristic in the translated Book of Mormon is the popular use of Semitic idioms. In Alma 5:28, the phrase "ye are stripped of pride" is a Semitic idiom. [Brenton G. Yorgason, Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon, pp. 35-36]
Alma 5:33 The Arms of Mercy Are Extended toward Them:
According to Hugh Nibley, it was the custom for one fleeing for his life in the desert to seek protection in the tent of the great sheik by crying out, "Ana dakhiluka--I am thy suppliant." The lord had to take you into his tent, and then he would place his robe over your shoulder, the kaf, and declare you under his protection. . . . This puts him under the Lord's protection from all enemies. They embrace in a close hug, as the Arab chiefs always do. The Lord makes a place for him and invites him to sit down beside him. They are at one
Yom Kippur means embrace. Kippur means atonement, and it also means embrace, the literal act of hugging. It means enfolding or hugging a person. And I should have told you that when the priest goes to the door to be received by the Lord [on the Day of Atonement], they embrace each other. There are interesting old Jewish pictures of the Lord's hand coming through the door of the tent and Moses taking the hand (see illustration). . . . In early Christian representations the hand of God reaching through the veil is grasped by the initiate or human spirit who is being caught up into the presence of the Lord. Philo of Alexandria, who for all his philosophizing had a thorough knowledge of Jewish customs, compares all the hangings in the tabernacle with the main veil. "But in a sense the curtains are also veils, not only because they cover the roof and the walls but because they are woven of the same kinds of material." They represent the cosmos . . .
In the Law of Atonement (at-one-ment), how do you become one? Well, the ultimate becoming one is a fusion in an embrace. That's how you signify it, whether it's the marriage vow that "they two shall become one flesh," or something like that. This embrace is a very important thing, and it figures here.
The two parts of the Yom Kippur are the yeshivah and the teshuvah. Teshuvah is to return home; it is when you return and are let in. Yeshivah is when you sit down. Yashab means to sit down beside your Lord. In one you return home, and in the other you enter the tent and sit down beside your Lord. That's what you do. These are very nicely set forth in the Book of Mormon in Alma 5 and 2 Nephi. This is what happens. This is the imagery of the Atonement. This is what 2 Nephi 1:15 tells us: "But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally with the arms of his love."
And 2 Nephi 4:33 says: "O lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! [see the chief puts his robe around his servant, and this is at the time when he is running away from his enemies]. O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies!" That's exactly what he does. When the lord puts his protecting robe around your shoulder, that protects you from your enemies.
"Behold, he sendeth an invitation to all men, for the arms of his mercy are extended toward them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you" (Alma 5:33). This is the hepet, the ritual embrace that consummates the final escape from death in the Egyptian funerary texts--and the release, where Horus is received into the arms of his father Osiris, which takes place at the veil in the last scene of the Book of the Dead, where he passes through.
The prophets repeatedly invite Israel to return to God who is waiting with open arms to receive them if they will only repent (Jeremiah 3:14; Leviticus 16:30). [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 270-273] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 1:15; 2 Nephi 4:33]
Alma 5:34 Come unto Me and Ye Shall Partake of the Fruit of the Tree of Life:
According to Matthew Brown, a direct connection between two sacred temple objects and the fruit of the tree of life is suggested in a Book of Mormon passage where the Savior is recorded as saying: "Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely" (Alma 5:34; see also Alma 32:26-43).
In the Holy Place of the tabernacle constructed by Moses were some ritual objects. One was a "table of shewbread," which was stationed near the north wall (see Exodus 25:23-30). Priests were to gather inside the Holy Place every Sabbath day and consume the bread that lay upon the golden table (see Leviticus 24:8-9). Biblical texts indicate that pitchers and cups of pure gold were also set upon the table of shewbread. Some biblical scholars believe that these vessels were used for the purpose of distributing and consuming wine along with the bread every Sabbath day.19
Near the south wall, opposite the table of shewbread, was a golden lampstand called the menorah. One oil lamp was placed on the top of each of the seven branches of the menorah so that light would be provided for the tabernacle's interior (see Exodus 25:31-40). Because of its arboreal shape and floral decorations, many biblical interpreters have concluded that the tabernacle menorah was a stylized representation of the tree of life.20 This image is enhanced when one considers that the menorah sat upon a three-pronged or tripedal base that imitated the pattern of tree roots.21
The lamps that sat atop the seven branches of the menorah contained pure olive oil. By divine decree these lamps were to burn continually (see Leviticus 24:2), thus presenting the image of a burning or luminescent tree that was never consumed. Biblical commentators have not failed to notice a connection between this burning tree and the burning bush that was seen by Moses on the holy mountain of God.22
In the positioning of the menorah directly across from the table of shewbread, the fruit of the tree of life may be seen as a representation of the emblems of the sacrament, which in turn are emblems of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the marvelous visions of the tree of life that are recorded in the Book of Mormon, it is explained by an angel of God that the tree is symbolic of the Son of God.23 This fact is confirmed in Zechariah 4:1-14 where we find that the menorah is explicitly identified as a symbol of "the Lord of the whole earth." [Matthew B. Brown, The Gate of Heaven, pp. 70-72]
Alma 5:34 The Fruit of the Tree of Life . . . the Bread and the Waters of Life:
In Alma 5:34 we find a parallelism drawn between "the fruit of the tree of life" and "the bread and the waters of life: "Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely;
According to McConkie and Parry, the bread and the waters of life signify the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, those who partake of this fruit [of the tree of life] are those who have been baptized into the Lord's true Church (Alma 5:62) and are making Jesus' atoning sacrifice effective in their lives. This fruit is "most precious and most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it is the greatest of all the gifts of God" (1 Nephi 15:36; Alma 12:21). [Joseph Fielding McConkie & Donald W. Parry, A Guide to Scriptural Symbols, pp. 56-57] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 11:25]
Alma 5:37 O Ye Workers of Iniquity: Ye That Are Puffed Up in the Vain Things of the World:
According to Dr. Sami Hanna, a Semitic language expert, both phrases in Alma 5:37, "workers of iniquity" and "puffed up," are Semitic expressions. [Brenton G. Yorgason, Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon, p. 36]
Alma 5:38 The Good Shepherd Doth Call You:
According to Daniel Rona, the symbolism of "the Good Shepherd" (Alma 5:38) speaks volumes. The shepherd leads his sheep with usually about a dozen older sheep. They are lead sheep that carry bells around their necks. When the shepherd calls, the lead sheep, having more experience than the others, respond first and run toward him. The ringing bells become a signal for the rest of the flock to gather and follow their shepherd. [Daniel Rona, Israel Revealed: Discovering Mormon and Jewish Insights in the Holy Land, p. 162]
Alma 5:38 The Good Shepherd Doth Call You:
According to McConkie and Millet, perhaps no messianic designation was better known among the ancients than that of the good shepherd (see Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:10-11; Ezekiel 34:2; see also John 10:14). [Joseph F. McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 36]
Alma 5:38 The Good Shepherd doth call you (Illustration): The Lost Sheep. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. Artist: Del Parson. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 278]
Alma 5:38 In His Own Name He Doth Call You:
According to McConkie and Millet, entrance into the kingdom of heaven requires that we take upon ourselves the name of Christ. Salvation is found in no other name (see Mosiah 5:9-10; Acts 4:12; D&C 18:23-25). The significance of this proclamation is worthy of careful consideration. How is it that the power of salvation is vested in a name? Be it remembered that Christ in his mortal ministry was careful to establish the fact that he came in his "Father's name" (John 5:43), that all his works were done in the name of the Father (see John 10:25), and that he sought to glorify the name of the Father in all he did (see John 12:28). Thus the Son assumed the name and power of his Father and through the name and by that divine investiture he extended the promise of salvation to all who would take upon themselves his name [by covenant] as he had taken upon himself the name of his Father.
Thus salvation centers in our accepting Christ as our Savior [by covenant], being born again into the family of the Father through the waters of baptism, and living worthy of all the [covenant] ordinances of the house of the Lord wherein we are endowed with the powers of heaven. Those rejecting such, like the rebellious children in the families of men, will be disinherited from the royal family of heaven and left to seek citizenship in some other kingdom. [Joseph F. McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, pp. 36-37]
Alma 5:39 A Child of the Devil:
According to McConkie and Millet, just as we can take upon us the name of Christ and become the sons and daughters of God and heirs to his kingdom, so we can choose to take upon us the name of the adversary and become heirs of his kingdom. Thus Cain, through his rebellion, took upon himself the name Perdition (see Moses 5:24). In the Old Testament, such were called the sons of Belial (Deuteronomy 13:13; Judges 19:22; 20:13; 1 Samuel 10:27). [Joseph F. McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 38]
Alma 5:40 Whatsoever Is Good Cometh from God, and Whatsoever Is Evil Cometh from the Devil:
According to an article by Donald Parry, the writers of ancient scripture often contrasted one idea in one line or stanza with an opposite or anti-thetical idea in a parallel line or stanza. Proverbs 13:9 records an example of antithetical parallelism:
The light of the righteous rejoiceth:
but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.
Notice that the contrasted elements (righteous/wicked) are not simple contradictions but opposite aspects of the same idea. The Book of Mormon contains many fine examples of antithetical parallelisms. Alma, in his great discourse to the saints of Zarahemla, utilized this poetic form:
Whatsoever is good
cometh from God,
and whatsoever is evil
cometh from the devil.
[Donald W. Parry, "Antithetical Parallelism in the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 167] [See the commentary on Alma 5:9]
Alma 5:44 The Holy Order of God:
According to McConkie and Millet, the "holiest order of God" is the Melchizedek Priesthood (see D&C 84:18-19). Before the day of Melchizedek, this priesthood was called "the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God" (D&C 107:3). Melchizedek, we are told, "having been approved of God, . . . was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, it being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God; and it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name" (JST, Genesis 14:27-29; italics added).
It is marvelously significant that the word order constitutes part of the proper name of the priesthood. The Lord's house is a house of order, and all that is done in it must be done in proper and orderly fashion. Such words as ordain and ordinance, which are associated with the governing of the Church, are rooted in the word order. The holy order of God is the priesthood. It is the priesthood received by the young elder, the priesthood associated with the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, and the fulness of priesthood bestowed upon those ordained kings and priests of the Most High God (see Teachings, p. 322). [Joseph F. McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. III, pp. 39-40]
Alma 5:49 Both Bond and Free:
In Alma 5:49, Alma declares: "And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free."
According to Brant Gardner, since Alma has been called to preach in the land of Zarahemla, we might assume that either his words here are pure rhetoric, or there actually were bond and free in the land of Zarahemla. It is hard to make the case for pure rhetoric, since the statement has no rhetorical force if it is not a possibility. For the rhetoric to have any power, it had to have indicated a possible condition. This leaves us with the fascinating possibility of slavery in the land of Zarahemla. This would be in direct contrast to the Zarahemla of King Benjamin where Benjamin had prohibited slavery (see Mosiah 2:13). If there is now slavery in the land of Zarahemla, it must be seen as one of the several cultural imports that have accompanied the adoption of other foreign ways, such as the wearing of costly apparel. [Brant Gardner, "Book of Mormon Commentary," http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/Alma5.htm, pp. 34-35]
Alma 5:59 Sheep . . . Wolves:
In Alma 5:59 we find Alma declaring: "For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? Brant Gardner notes that there is a good deal of sheep imagery in this text, and this passage appears to appeal to common knowledge of the problems of shepherds.
This is an imagery that is completely at home in the world of the Bible, as attested by several references (see, for example, Ezekiel 22:27; Luke 10:3; Acts 20:29). So Alma's words about sheep and wolves might have been understood because of imagery on the brass plates.
However, wolves and sheep are not well attested for the New World, in particular the Mesoamerican area. John Sorenson notes that while this is generally true, we may not yet have all the necessary data:
The Eurasian sheep is not supposed to have been in pre-Columbian America either, yet real sheep's wool was found in a burial site at Aholula, Puebla, Mexico, in an archaeological setting that gave no other indication of dating after the Spaniards arrived. This lone specimen doesn't take us far toward a literal reading of the Book of Mormon term sheep, but perhaps we should keep this door too ajar a little. (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p. 296)
[Brant Gardner, "Book of Mormon Commentary," http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Alma/ Alma5.htm, pp. 40-41]