The words which Alma, the High Priest according to the holy order of God, delivered to the people in their cities and villages throughout the land.
1 Now it came to pass that *Alma began to deliver the word of God unto the people, first in the land of Zarahemla, and from thence throughout all the land.
Skousen reads “declare” instead of “deliver” here.
What does “deliver” suggest to you about the word of God?
Is it significant or just coincidental that Alma begins in Zarahemla? (I am thinking that we could make some NT parallels if we wanted to, with “the word” being preached first in Jrsm and then spreading. This concept appears to be the organizational structure behind the book of Acts; see Acts 1:8.)
2 And these are the words which he spake to the people in the church which was established in the city of Zarahemla, according to his own record, saying:
Why did we need to know that this is Alma’s own record? (Should this verse lead us to assume that other speeches are not according to the speaker’s own record?)
We’ll learn in 7:3 that these people are wicked. As you read this chapter, consider whether and in what ways their wicked state shaped how Alma spoke to them, but note also that Alma does not make specific reference to their wickedness in this sermon (although he will to the people of Gideon–weird.)
3 I, Alma, having been consecrated by my father, Alma, to be a high priest over the church of God, he having power and authority from God to do these things, behold, I say unto you that he 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; yea, and he did baptize his brethren in the waters of Mormon.
Is “consecrated” different from “ordained”?
Are “power” and “authority” two different things or two ways or saying the same thing?
What are the “these things” he was consecrated to do? (Is it establishing the church from v1? That works grammatically, but is a little weird since v1 isn’t part of Alma’s record and v2 is.)
What do you conclude from the fact that the leader of their church was a “high priest” and not a “prophet”?
I find the reference to Alma1’s power and authority very interesting, since the issue of the source of Alma1’s authority to baptism is one of the first things we grapple with when we meet him.
We know all of the history in this verse already, and presumably the people in Zarahemla knew it even better than we did. So why is this verse in the record? Why does Alma begin his discourse with it?
What do you make of the fact that v1 shows Alma2 establishing churches but v2 shows Alma1 establishing them?
What work is “the borders of” doing? (Wouldn’t we understand the idea just the same without those words? Is the point to put some emphasis on the idea of borders, which might tie to the wild beasts that inhabited those borders?)
I like “his brethren.” (Remember that, at least in the NT, brethren can include women.)
4 And behold, I say unto you, they were delivered out of the hands of the people of king Noah, by the mercy and power of God.
Why “the people of” and not just “king Noah”?
I can understand being delivered by the power of God, but how does “mercy” play into what happened?
Note the flow from v3 to v4 and how it ties Alma to this history of bondage and deliverance. This isn’t ancient history–this is directly related to his situation, and he wants the audience to feel that I think.
5 And behold, after that, they were brought into bondage by the hands of the Lamanites in the wilderness; yea, I say unto you, they were in captivity, and again the Lord did deliver them out of bondage by the power of his word; and we were brought into this land, and here we began to establish the church of God throughout this land also.
It is interesting to think of Alma1’s people as enduring two captivities: first to Noah, then to the Lamanites. (Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as it were.) While captivity/deliverance stories are fairly frequent in scripture, the idea of a double captivity is less so. What might we learn from it? My thoughts go to Abinadi’s death here; I have the sense that the BoM may be a little less optimistic about life than the Bible: you are not always delivered from the fiery furnace, you are not always released from captivity into freedom. (Is it wrong to use a semicolon and a colon in the same sentence?)
What does “by the power of his word” mean? Does word mean Jesus Christ, or the Lord’s promises, or that his word is what delivered them (in the way that his word is what created the world in Genesis 1)? It is also an interesting phrase to use when we know the physical, logical, rational mechanics of these delivery stories.
Notice the shift from “they” to “we” in the middle of the verse. Again, Alma is treating this not as ancient history but as personal history?
I think one of the unexplored oddities of the BoM is that you have a basically righteous people in Zarahemla that gets church establishment imported into them from these upstarts out in the wilderness. It is as if Moses & Co., instead of kicking out and killing the Canaanites, found Canaanites who were basically righteous (and were led by a seer, in fact!).
Who is the “we” at the end of the verse? Alma2 seems obvious because he is the speaker, but he first began to destroy, not establish, the church! Alma1 began to establish it, but he isn’t speaking here.
6 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, 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 ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?
Does the “you that belong . . .” imply that his audience also included non-members? Or perhaps is it just a rhetorical technique in order to emphasize to the audience that they have entered into covenants?
Notice that, with this verse, Alma is pivoting from recounting history (history that they all know, and many of them probably lived through) to considering the impact of history on the audience’s lives. How does Alma manage that transition? What might you learn from this?
Since Alma is speaking to people in Zarahemla, a chunk of the audience would have either experienced this captivity themselves (if they were older) or heard a lot about it (from their parents). But a big chunk of the audience was living in Zarahemla during the three (or so) generations of misadventures in the land of Nephi, and while they presumably would have heard about all of this captivity, it would not have been their (or their ancestors) experience. Given that, what does “your fathers” mean in this verse? And what does its use suggest about appropriating history, and how might this be relevant to new converts on Pioneer Day?
So this verse begins Alma’s famous inventory of questions. This is a most unusual approach for a speech in the scriptures. With the exception of very short parallels (What think ye of Christ?, Who do men say that I am?), there is nothing quite like it. Can you suss out anything from the context of Alma2’s situation that made this speech an appropriate format for the occasion? Remember that we are just coming off of wars, pride, and government changes–is that related?
So, as you might have noticed, I am a big believer in the power of asking questions about scriptures. As you read through this chapter, consider what kinds of questions Alma asks and in what situations you could model him when you teach or preach.
In order to avoid being redundant, pretend that I ask these questions for every single question that Alma asks:
(1) Why did Alma want them to consider [question]?
(2) What difference would it make in your life if you were to ask yourself [this question]?
“Sufficiently” implies that one could retain in remembrance to an extent that would not be sufficient. What are the implications of this idea for your life?
“Retain” and “remembrance” feel like unnecessary duplication to me. Why were both words used?
In the larger culture, we think of memory and remembering as a strictly [um, not sure of the word I want here, maybe biological or natural or uncontrollable or rational] process: I either remember where my keys are, or I don’t. I may try to remember something and forget (or try to forget something unpleasant and remember it anyway). Clearly, the scriptural meaning of “remember” is a different beast. What is meant by this word?
Of all of the questions that Alma asks, why is the one about remembering captivity the very first one? The command to remember captivity is a huge them in the scriptures, especially the BoM. Why is this so important? Are we to be remembering past captivities, or are we to remember something else? What should you be remembering?
Webster 1828 long-suffering: “Long endurance; patience of offense.”
That’s an interesting definition because we would think that the captive people, not the Lord, would be the ones who had to endure long. Why is the Lord’s long-suffering highlighted here? How does it relate to mercy? (I’m on the edge of a thought about the combination of activity and passivity, but I’m not sure where to go with it.)
What should be the end result of remembering the Lord’s mercy and long-suffering? In other words, what difference might it make in your life if you were to remember these things?
Note that there are three questions asked in this verse. They seem to form a group, in that we switch to a little explanation in v7 (and no questions there) and since all three include “sufficiently retain in remembrance.” Note that the first two are history-test type questions, but that the third makes clear that the first two are meant to have a more-than-literal level of understanding; the remembrance of past events is not just history geekdom but rather seeing in the historical events a type of being delivered from hell (not just Noah and the Lamanites). What does this suggest to you about how we should interpret (and remember) the scriptures? What does it suggest to you about what precisely Alma wants them to remember about the scriptures? How do you know when to understand the scriptures on a more-than-literal level?
Note how subtle Alma’s approach is here. First, he starts out by asking them to think about someone else; that is, he doesn’t immediately launch into a sharp attack of their own sins, which would probably just bring on defensiveness and resistance. And second, watch how that he starts with “yes” or “no” questions. He’s not asking for a lot of spiritual effort here; he just wants his listeners to follow along. Citation
I know that Alma has a lot more to say to these people than what is said in this verse, but we’ll learn later that this is a wicked audience. And the first thing he asks them is if they are remembering their parents’ captivity well enough. That might strike the modern reader as a rather esoteric rhetorical move. Why does Alma do it and what can you learn from it?
7 Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.
Remember that the “they” in this verse is Alma1’s people who were rescued from bondage to Noah and then the Lamanites.
In the Bible, “heart” usually means “mind.” If that is the meaning here, then what does it mean to say that the Lord “changed their minds”? What did they need their minds changed about? What does this suggest about conversion/salvation? What would it take for you to change your mind?
In a chapter that consists mostly of questions, why do you think Alma is not asking questions here? Is this an example of how the questions posed in v6 should be answered?
If you thought v6 was supposed to be about a physical release from a physical captivity, I think v7 should cause you to reconsider. Note how v6 may have begun with a physical, literal, historical event, but the meaning of it, as shown in this verse, is rather different. Nonetheless, I am feeling something of a disconnect between the literal/historical and the spiritual/metaphorical in this verse–what accounts for the change?
If you were to read this chapter without having read Mosiah, I think the understanding that you would develop would be that they were in physical bondage because of their sins. Perhaps this is the case to a greater extent with the people of Limhi, but it is hard to get that picture to fit given that Alma’s people had been baptized (and had risked their lives to align themselves with the church). How does this verse fit with the picture of Alma’s people as basically righteous?
Does the fact that the Lord changed their hearts imply that the captivity was their own fault? Another way to ask that: Why was the change of hearts and the awakening needed? (We might have thought that all that was needed was a physical escape from bondage.)
Are changing their hearts and awakening them two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
The awakening and deep sleep language is reminiscent of the creation of Adam; can you learn anything interesting by comparing these two events?
Is the “deep sleep” their captivity, or is it something else? Why is it a good metaphor for [whatever you think it is a metaphor for]? What does it mean to awake “unto God”?
Notice how many different metaphors are in this verse (and in v9): changed hearts, sleep/awake, darkness/light, bands/chains. To me it almost reads as if Alma2 is conceding his inability to explain what actually happened by resorting to so many different inexact metaphors.
In what ways is the word illuminating?
Why are the bands of death and the chains of hell a good metaphor?
8 And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.
This is an interesting verse because it is not a “thought question” but a “yes-no” question, and because Alma immediately gives us the answer. What factors might explain why it is so different from the bulk of questions in this chapter?
Why do you think Alma presented this material as a question (to which he immediately gives the answer)?
Isn’t “were they destroyed” sort of an odd question after v7? It seems that v7 used multiple images to illustrate salvation, making this question seem unnecessary or even pedantic. Why does Alma ask it?
Is this verse speaking of physical/literal destruction or spiritual destruction? (Does the potential ambiguity have anything to do with why Alma posed this as a question?)
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.
Is this verse describing the end of their physical captivity? (If so, why does it use this language? In what ways is it accurate?) Or is it describing spiritual salvation? (If so, why use this language for what was framed as physical release from bondage?)
Why does Alma pose this as a question, and then answer his own question right away?
What kind of question is this, when the answer was given two verses ago, it is a fact-based, yes-no question, and then Alma answers it again here? What effect did he hope this question would have on his audience?
What does it suggest to you about death to describe it as having “bands”? What about “chains” and hell?
Is the expansion of the soul related to the encircling chains of hell being broken? If so, for what is this a metaphor? What exactly is being described here?
Note that while v7 showed several images of salvation (awakening, light), it also left them in bands and chains at the end of the verse. (A bit of a cliffhanger. The light and awakening are, if anything, making their situation worse if it means that they are now aware of the bands and chains that still surround them.) In this verse, the bands are broken and the chains loosened–finally.
Is it significant that the bands are broken but the chains are only loosened? (I am wondering if the idea is that Christ makes it possible to get out of the chains, but then we have to actually act to get ourselves out of the chains.)
What does it mean to sing redeeming love? How is that related to the expansion of their souls?
Is being saved the result of singing redeeming love?
How does this verse relate to the end of their physical captivity? Or does it?
At this point, we’ve had an almost imperceptible-to-the-casual-reader shift from physical liberation to spiritual liberation. Why did Alma do this jujitsu on us? What is the point of beginning by talking about history when you want to end by talking about salvation?
What does this verse teach you about “being saved”?
10 And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?
Note that Alma is again asking questions that he is about to answer. What is interesting about this is that the answers to his questions will be . . . more questions!
Do you think Alma is anticipating their question about the conditions for salvation?
Does this verse have three different questions, or three different ways of asking the same question?
Are the bands of death and the chains of hell the same thing?
11 Behold, I can tell you—did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them?
Interesting that Alma2 believes Abinadi to be a prophet, but this is the first time (did I miss something?) that that title is applied to him.
What work is “the mouth of” doing in this verse? (The verse would make sense without it.)
Does the final question define “prophet”?
How does v11 relate to v10? In other words, how do these questions answer the questions posed in v10?
These are, presumably, rhetorical questions. Why does Alma ask them? What effect should they have on his audience?
Sidenote: remember that Zarahemla is the locus of a basically righteous culture, and the only reason that anyone was in the land of Nephi is because they either weren’t righteous enough to leave in the first place with Mosiah1 or they were “overzealous” and followed Zeniff there. And yet it is that location that gives rise to the true prophet Abinadi, who is here used as a model for salvation. What is the moral of this story?
12 And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.
This verse suggests, I think, that v7-11 were describing not the escape-from-bondage part of the story of Alma’s people, but the conversion part. However, v5-6 led us to expect more about the escape-from-bondage part. How might you explain the shift?
Think more about the mighty change of heart (=mind). What should we learn from it?
Why did Alma feel the need to bear testimony of the truthfulness of his words here?
Thinking about v11-12: I think when we think about things we believe (whether those things are about politics, or nutrition, or religion, or whatever), there is a sense of permanency, inevitability, and logic to them, with a big heapin’ dollop of unexaminededness. Yet the emphasis in these two verses is on changing beliefs. What should we take from that?
Why is the emphasis in this verse on faith, and not on the atonement, or works, or ordinances, or whatever else?
Thomas S. Monson:
The decision to change one’s life and come unto Christ is, perhaps, the most important decision of mortality. Such a dramatic change is taking place daily throughout the world. Alma chapter 5, verse 13, describes this personal miracle: “And behold, … a mighty change was … wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God.” Apr 97 GC
Cecil O. Samuelson:
Second, while we believe fully in the mighty change of heart described in the scriptures, we must understand it often occurs gradually, rather than instantaneously or globally, and in response to specific questions, experiences, and concerns as well as by our study and prayer. Apr 11 GC
Neal A. Maxwell:
Repentance requires both turning away from evil and turning to God. When “a mighty change” is required, full repentance involves a 180-degree turn, and without looking back! (Alma 5:12–13.) Initially, this turning reflects progress from telestial to terrestrial behavior, and later on to celestial behavior. As the sins of the telestial world are left behind, the focus falls ever more steadily upon the sins of omission, which often keep us from full consecration. Oct 91 GC
M. Russell Ballard:
We often think of conversion as applying only to investigators, but there are some members who are not yet fully converted and who have yet to experience the mighty change of heart described in the scriptures (see Alma 5:12). Oct 00 GC
Robert D. Hales:
I testify that the sacrament gives us an opportunity to come to ourselves and experience “a mighty change” of heart—to remember who we are and what we most desire. Apr 12 GC
13 And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.
Do you read “fathers” as gender-neutral?
14 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?
I like the link he makes from the experience of their fathers to their own experience.
How would you know if someone had God’s image in their countenance? How would you know if you had God’s image in your countenance?
What does it mean to be spiritually born of God? (Does v13 answer that question)? Mosiah 5:7 might be useful here: “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.”
What does it mean to receive God’s image in your countenance? How is this related to the idea of being created in God’s image?
Is Alma asking three different questions in this verse, or is this three different ways of asking the same question? (Note that they all begin with “have ye.”)
Susan W. Tanner:
The pleasures of the body can become an obsession for some; so too can the attention we give to our outward appearance. Sometimes there is a selfish excess of exercising, dieting, makeovers, and spending money on the latest fashions (see Alma 1:27). I am troubled by the practice of extreme makeovers. Happiness comes from accepting the bodies we have been given as divine gifts and enhancing our natural attributes, not from remaking our bodies after the image of the world. The Lord wants us to be made over—but in His image, not in the image of the world, by receiving His image in our countenances (see Alma 5:14, 19). Oct 05 GC
Neal A. Maxwell:
We are sometimes so anxious about our personal images, when it is His image we should have in our countenances. Apr 88 GC
Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
The most effective way to preach the gospel is through example. If we live according to our beliefs, people will notice. If the countenance of Jesus Christ shines in our lives, if we are joyful and at peace with the world, people will want to know why. One of the greatest sermons ever pronounced on missionary work is this simple thought attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Apr 11 GC
15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?
What would exercising faith in redemption look like?
What work is “who created you” doing in this verse? (How) is it related to the idea of having his image in your countenance in the previous verse?
What would looking forward with an eye of faith look like?
Have you ever actually imagined the things Alma mentions in this verse (that is, your body raising, being immortal, being judged)? What might you learn from that if you imagined it?
What can you learn from the mortal : corruption :: immortal : incorruption idea in this verse?
How does the first question relate to the rest of the verse?
Are we judged just on our deeds, or on anything else?
What work is “in the mortal body” (at the end of the verse) doing? Does it imply that nothing pre-mortal or port-mortal is considered at the judgement?
In modern parlance, we might say that in this section (notice “imagine” in v16 and v17 and v18), Alma is encouraging his audience to participate in a guided visualization. Why did Alma choose this as a teaching technique? Are there any situations in which you might want to model it? What are its benefits and drawbacks? (It seems to me that you run the risk of having an immature saint conclude, “And then I imagined God telling me that it was no big deal that I had done X, Y, and Z!” but note how carefully Alma works against this possibility in the next few verses.)
Neal A. Maxwell:
Those with true hope often see their personal circumstances shaken, like kaleidoscopes, again and again. Yet with the “eye of faith,” they still see divine pattern and purpose (Alma 5:15). Oct 94 GC
16 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 works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?
Why the focus on hearing the voice of the Lord in this verse? (Given that the last verse had us before God, one might have thought we’d focus on the visual, not the auditory.)
Why “blessed”? Why blessed with no noun after it (e.g., child or whatever)?
Does this verse imply that intent (or anything else besides works) will not figure into our judgement?
I can imagine a super-righteous-but-humble person finding it virtually impossible to imagine the Lord saying this to them, regardless of how very, very good that person had been. I can also imagine a wicked-but-arrogant person assuming the Lord would say this to them (but I think Alma deals with that scenario in the next verse.)
17 Or do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day, and say—Lord, our works have been righteous works upon the face of the earth—and that he will save you?
Are you surprised at “our works” as opposed to “my works”? Is that just an odd construction, or is part of the problem that these hypothetical people think that the judgment will be a group affair?
Notice “upon the face of the earth,” especially the repetition of that phrase from the previous verse. What work is it doing?
It strikes me as odd that Alma would think that the unrighteous person’s first thought would be to lie about their mortal works. It seems more likely to me that the unrighteous person would think that the Lord would give them a pass for some reason–either because of a belief that everyone will be saved (a belief popular among heretics in the BoM), or because they would make excuses for their behavior, or because the atonement would cover their sins even if they hadn’t really repented. So why do you think Alma focused on this idea of lying to the Lord?
I think part of the message here is that, while we might be able to lie our way through life by deceiving others and ourselves, that tactic will ultimately fail.
18 Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?
So v16 presented a righteous person, v17 presented a liar, and this verse presents . . . what, exactly? Who is the v18 person?
Webster 1828 tribunal:
1. Properly, the seat of a judge; the bench on which a judge and his associates sit for administering justice.
2. More generally, a court of justice; as, the house of lords in England is the highest tribunal in the kingdom.
3. In France, a gallery or eminence in a church or other place, in which the musical performers are placed for a concert.
What does the word “tribunal” suggest to you?
Are guilt and remorse two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
The idea of “guilt and remorse” are somewhat surprising–wouldn’t those have at least indicated that the person was on the road to repentance? I think this verse is suggesting that there is a point at which all of your guilt and remorse can no longer lead to repentance and being right with the Lord, but then how would that idea mesh with the idea of a merciful Lord? (I’m picturing a bureaucratic angel saying, “I’m sorry–looks like you missed the repentance cut off by . . . let’s see . . . 23 minutes. That was a close one! Tough luck!”)
Again, remembering seems to be functioning very differently here than it does in common parlance.
Does this verse imply that the penitent will not “remember” these things?
19 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?
What do “pure heart and clean hands” suggest to you? Why are they a good metaphor?
What is a pure mind? How would you develop one? Once we get past of obvious “no porn” type answers, what else needs to happen?
The phrase “pure heart and clean hands” appears in Psalm 24:4, in the context of the requirements for being in the (symbolic?) presence of the Lord. Another interesting link is that that psalm is also full of questions posed to the audience.
Webster 1828 countenance:
1. Literally, the contents of a body; the outline and extent which constitutes the whole figure or external appearance. Appropriately, the human face; the whole form of the face, or system of features; visage.
2. Air; look; aspect; appearance of the face; as in the phrase, to change or alter the countenance.
3. The face or look of a beast; as a horse of a good countenance.
4. Favor; good will; kindness.
5. Support; aid; patronage; encouragement; favor in promoting and maintaining a person or cause.
6. Show; resemblance; superficial appearance.
7. In law, credit or estimation.
V14 referred to the image of God in one’s countenance, but not the idea of it being “engraven.” What difference does the change make?
Are these two questions two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
An interesting thing about this verse is that if you look up and you have the image on your countenance, then there is created a scene where the image of God is looking at God. It is as if God is looking in a mirror, but the mirror is you. What might we learn from this image?
This verse mentions heart (=mind), hands, and countenance (face, body). Why the emphasis on these parts?
Is there a link between engraven plates (2 Ne 5:32) and an engraven countenance? How about Jesus saying that we are engraved on the palms of his hands (Is 49:16)? What about the engraved stones of the high priest’s breastplate (Ex 28:11)? Who is doing the engraving? Of what is engraving symbolic?
20 I say unto you, can ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourselves to become subjects to the devil?
Is this “think” different from all of the previous “imagines”?
I think it is interesting to read v19 and v20 alongside each other: v19 says that if you follow God, you end up like God (=image in countenance) while v20 says that if you follow the devil, you become his subject.
21 I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; 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.
Again, it feels weighty when Alma departs from his question-asking. Why does he do so in this verse?
Why is the washing of garments a good metaphor? What are the garments?
Are you surprised that all of that “imagining” had to do with our “works,” but here we learn that salvation really depends on the atonement? Does it suggest that we might need to rethink what was meant by “works” in the previous verses?
The idea of blood cleansing garments from all stains is, obviously, not a “realistic” one. What might we learn from it and its departure from reality?
Why not use a name for Christ in this verse? What is accomplished by the rather elaborate and somewhat awkward circumlocution?
Are “washing” and “purifying” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
I think we all “get” the garment imagery (and the cleansing of the garments), but it seems to me that a weakness of this imagery is that it suggests an overemphasis on that which is external. This is perhaps magnified by Alma’s later questions about being “stripped” of vices, where a point one might draw out is that the vices are not the core of the person. Similarly, how do we avoid the implication that the cleansing of garments is an external change?
Remember that Alma is speaking to an audience of, presumably, people who have been baptized. What does his discourse then teach about baptism?
22 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?
What does the image of the “bar” suggest?
I’m curious about Alma’s emphasis on our feelings in this verse.
I presume “all manner of filthiness” is a euphemism for poop.
Why is blood a good metaphor for sin? (In the law of Moses, the blood is “the life” of the animal, if that is relevant.)
23 Behold will they not testify that ye are murderers, yea, and also that ye are guilty of all manner of wickedness?
Does he mean “murderers” literally here?
24 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?
What does “sit down” suggest to you about the kingdom of God?
Why mention Ab, Isaac, and Jacob here? Why mention the prophets?
Note that their garments are spotless because they were cleansed, not because they were never dirty.
Consider v15-24–what do they teach about judgment day? In what ways is this message appropriate to a wicked audience? (How might Alma teach differently to a righteous audience is a question that we’ll get answered in ch7, when he speaks to righteous people in Gideon.)
25 I say unto you, Nay; except ye make our Creator a liar from the beginning, or suppose that he is a liar from the beginning, ye cannot suppose that such can have place in the kingdom of heaven; but they shall be cast out for they are the children of the kingdom of the devil.
Why is “Creator” the title Alma chose here?
It seems odd to me that Alma uses this “liar” angle–I would think that our hypothetical sinner here would resort to thinking that God would excuse her for some reason, not that God is a liar. Why does Alma couch the issue this way?
What work is “from the beginning” doing here?
What does “children” tell you about the devil? What does the fact that he has a kingdom tell you about the devil?
More on children of the devil here.
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?
Why is singing a song a good metaphor for a change of heart?
What work is “I say unto you” doing when it is obvious that he is saying this?
Notice the emphasis on feeling here. What does “feel” mean in this verse? What is the link between feeling and obedience?
Joseph Smith used the available vocabulary of his day to express the concepts that Alma is describing. Such phrases as the “mighty change” and the “song of redeeming love” were common phrases in the religious revival camps with which Joseph was familiar (see Thomas, Mark D. Digging in Cumorah. Signature Books, 1999, 132-4). The presence of this particular phraseology is no more surprising than the clear usage of New Testament phrasings in the Book of Mormon which took place prior to the New Testament times. It indicates no more than that Joseph used models of speech in his translation with which he was familiar. Citation
27 Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?
Why is walking a good metaphor?
Think more about humility.
The image of garments being made white because they are washed in blood is counter-factual. Why is this image used?
Note the verb tense of “have been cleansed” versus “will come to redeem.” What does the BoM teach about time and the atonement?
From the FEAST wiki: “What is the correct answer to the question in verse 27: “Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble?” This sounds like a trick question. Won’t both a “yes” and a “no” keep us out of heaven because either answer indicates that we lack sufficient humility?” As Elder Eyring said, “You see, it’s hard to feel that you are sufficiently humble. If you did, you might not be.” (Citation)
28 Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.
Webster 1828 stripped: “Pulled or torn off; peeled; skinned; deprived; divested; made naked; impoverished; husked, as maiz[e].”
Does “stripped” suggest some relationship to the garments mentioned above (see also v29)?
What I like most about “stripped” is that it implies that pride, envy, etc. are not at the core of anyone’s being, but are husks that can be removed.
What is the kingdom of heaven? In what way was it “soon at hand” when Alma said this?
What has been helpful to you in better identifying and rooting out pride?
29 Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.
The first question here is a little weird (same with v30), because it asks the audience to focus on the sins of other people, instead of on their own sins. (One hopes that it was mostly rhetorical.) Why do you think Alma encouraged them to consider other people’s sins?
Is the shift from a personal, positive phrasing in v28 (“are ye stripped of pride”) to the negative, communal phrasing in v29 (“is there one among you who is not stripped of envy”) significant?
Are these references to short time pointing to Jesus’ visit to the new world (which at this point is almost a century away and almost certainly not within the life span of his audience) or to something else and, if so, what?
30 And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?
In what situations might we be tempted to mock someone? (Is mocking ever OK? What about sarcasm? Cynicism?) Is mocking really in the same category as pride and envy?
Is there a relationship between mocking and persecution?
What does the word “heapeth” suggest to you about persecutions?
31 Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!
Does Alma not believe in the possibility of post-mortal repentance?
Is this just boilerplate (“Act fast . . . before we sell out! Offer ends today!”) or is there some real sense in which the time for these people to repent is ending? Is this true today?
32 Yea, even wo unto all ye workers of iniquity; repent, repent, for the Lord God hath spoken it!
The specific sins that Alma has mentioned are: lack of humility, pride, envy, mocking, and persecuting. What do you conclude from this list and its order? (It occurs to me that they all have to do with how we relate to other people.)
33 Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
What does the image of open arms suggest to you about the Lord?
34 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;
What does this verse teach about the fruit of the tree of life? How does that relate to how you understand the story of the fall and Lehi/Nephi’s vision?
What does this verse teach you about the bread of life?
Is the fruit, bread, and water symbolic of three separate things or of one thing?
35 Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire—
Skousen reads “cut” instead of “hewn” here.
What does this image of the harvest suggest to you?
How does this verse relate to Matthew 3:10 (“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”)?
How is this verse related to the tree of life imagery in the previous verse?
36 For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn.
Would it be useful to read this section in light of Zenos’ allegory?
Why is “bringing forth good fruit” a good metaphor for doing works of righteousness? (Or, does the fact that Alma feels the need to explain the metaphor mean that it is not a particularly good one and, if so, then why did he use it?)
37 O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are puffed up in the vain things of the world, ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd, notwithstanding a shepherd hath called after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not hearken unto his voice!
Why do you think the sheep/shepherd imagery is so common in the scriptures?
Does “workers of iniquity” describe the entire audience, or does Alma do it because this section only addresses a certain part of the audience?
Is the Lord or is Alma the shepherd in this verse? (I think v28 answers this, unless you want to posit an under-shepherd, which might be suggested by the addition of “good” to v38’s description of the shepherd.)
Dallin H. Oaks:
If allowed to become an object of worship or priority, money can make us selfish and prideful, “puffed up in the vain things of the world.” (Alma 5:37.) In contrast, if used for fulfilling our legal obligations and for paying our tithes and offerings, money can demonstrate integrity and develop unselfishness. The spiritually enlightened use of property can help prepare us for the higher law of a celestial glory. Oct 85 GC
38 Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
There is an interesting thing happening in this verse: the shepherd is calling out his own name, and that is what the sheep are supposed to hear and respond to. What might we learn from this counter-factual image?
39 And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.
Liar and child of the devil are very strong words–why do you think Alma uses them here?
What does the image of devil as shepherd suggest to you?
Alma posits a binary choice here, but is it possible not to have a shepherd?
This verse hints at the problem of self-delusion (“who can deny this . . . whosoever denieth this . . .”). That strikes me as the toughest stumbling block to overcome.
Staircase parallelism in this section:
O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are puffed up in the vain things of the world, ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd, notwithstanding a shepherd hath called after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not hearken unto his voice! Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd. And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil. Citation
40 For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
This verse builds on the binary nature of v39. Is that black-or-white thinking accurate in all situations?
Let’s say a mass murderer did something good. That good, according to this verse, came from God. The point is that no one is either or inherently purely evil or purely good.
A note on the antithetical parallelism in this verse.
James E. Faust:
In our day, we are bombarded by messages from many sources, both profane and spiritual. How can we determine the ones that are most vital to us? I suggest that we may look at the source of the messages and the motivation behind them. The Lord has given us a guide through the prophet Alma: “Whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.” We must strive to be worthy so that we do not miss the profound messages that come from God. Apr 04 GC
41 Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him.
If you asked Alma, “What about the good works done by evil people?”, how do you think he would respond?
An interesting thing: this verse seems to invert the normal order we would expect to have of a person (1) listening to a source and then (2) doing good or evil. In this verse, the order appears to be reversed. My question is: Is that a rhetorical move (and, if so, to what end) or is it theologically valid?
42 And whosoever doeth this must receive his wages of him; therefore, for his wages he receiveth death, as to things pertaining unto righteousness, being dead unto all good works.
What do you learn from the idea of “death, as to things pertaining unto righteousness”?
How is this verse related to Romans 6:23 (“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”)?
43 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should hear me, for I speak in the energy of my soul; for behold, I have spoken unto you plainly that ye cannot err, or have spoken according to the commandments of God.
“Hear” obviously has more than just a literal meaning here.
Does the “or” mean that the two phrases surrounding it mean the same thing?
I wonder if “energy of my soul” is meant to allude to 1 Nephi 16:24 (“And it came to pass that he did inquire of the Lord, for they had humbled themselves because of my words; for I did say many things unto them in the energy of my soul.”)
44 For I am called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus; yea, I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people the things which have been spoken by our fathers concerning the things which are to come.
V49 will show us that v44-48 explain what it means to be “according to the holy order of God.” (Does this or does this not have anything to do with the priesthood?)
45 And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
Skousen reads “Do you suppose that I know not of these things” instead.
46 Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.
James E. Faust:
To be instructed by an angel would be a great blessing. However, as Alma taught us, his final and lasting conversion came only after he had “fasted and prayed many days.” His complete conversion came from the Holy Ghost, which is available to all of us if we are worthy. Apr 06 GC
Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
My dear brothers and sisters, Alma received his witness by fasting and prayer more than 2,000 years ago, and we may have the same sacred experience today.Oct 06 GC
47 And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God.
48 I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.
Note that “the sins of the world” and “the sins of every man who . . .” do not appear to be the same set.
What do v44-48 have to teach about epistemology? How do they compare with traditionally Catholic, Protestant, and secular ways of knowing? I find the following ways of knowing in these verses:
–verse 44: priesthood authority, taught by leaders/scriptures
–verse 45: personal knowledge from Spirit
–verse 46: fasting and prayer, from Lord by Spirit
–verse 47: personal revelation confirming leader’s teachings
49 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; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation; yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again.
Usually “male and female” is paired with old/young and bond/free. Is its absence here significant? Was it “replaced” by the reference to three age groups? Note that the pattern of the binary nature of old/young and bond/free is broken with aged/middle aged/rising, and that those three seem to re-state old/young, but with the addition of middle aged. What’s going on here?
Dallin H. Oaks:
Bond—the opposite of free—means more than slavery. It means being bound (in bondage) to anything from which it is difficult to escape. Bond includes those whose freedom is restricted by physical or emotional afflictions. Bond includes those who are addicted to some substance or practice. Bond surely refers to those who are imprisoned by sin—“encircled about” by what another teaching of the Book of Mormon calls “the chains of hell” (Alma 5:7). Bond includes those who are held down by traditions or customs contrary to the commandments of God (see Matt. 15:3–6; Mark 7:7–9; D&C 74:4–7; D&C 93:39). Finally, bond also includes those who are confined within the boundaries of other erroneous ideas. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that we preach to “liberate the captives.” Apr 06 GC
We’ve talked before about how slavery appeared to be verboten for the Nephites (see Mosiah 2:13). What do you make of the reference to “bond” in this verse?
44 A For I am called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, B which is in Christ Jesus; yea, I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people the things which have been spoken by our fathers concerning the things which are to come. 45 C And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know (random repetition) of their surety? 46 D Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. E Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. E And now I do know of myself that they are true; D for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me. 47 C And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God. 48 I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; B and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name. 49 A And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, Citation
50 Yea, thus saith the Spirit: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand; yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. Yea, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, that the Spirit saith: Behold the glory of the King of all the earth; and also the King of heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men.
It is interesting that even in the prophetic foreknowledge of the atoning mission of the Messiah, the more humble circumstances were not a part of the general understanding. Citation
51 And also the Spirit saith unto me, yea, crieth unto me with a mighty voice, saying: Go forth and say unto this people—Repent, for except ye repent ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of heaven.
What does the word “inherit” teach you about the afterlife?
52 And again I say unto you, the Spirit saith: Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it.
This language seems very similar to that which John the Baptist used; in what ways does Alma fulfill a similar role in the New World to John’s in the Old World?
53 And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?
So . . . how much can you spend on clothes?
I like “can ye withstand;” it seems to suggest that there is no way that this message cannot penetrate the core of their beings.
Once again, I am struck by how much emphasis the sin of public displays of wealth gets in the BoM.
Compare 1 Nephi 19:7 (“For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.”) Is it significant that Alma owns the “trample under your feet” language while Nephi walks back from it?
54 Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God, wherewith they have been brought into this church, having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and they do bring forth works which are meet for repentance—
In what ways might we think we are better than other people? Are there any circumstances in which it is OK to think that we are better than other people?
55 Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?
56 And finally, all ye that will persist in your wickedness, I say unto you that these are they who shall be hewn down and cast into the fire except they speedily repent.
These are strong words. Note that the sins mentioned aren’t fornication, but sins related to wealth and how we think about others.
The irony of this situation is that the coming events will have those who follow the church in greater danger of death by fire than the wicked. Citation
I’d add to that: this scripture should not be read literally. (I think our default setting is to read literally unless proven otherwise; that’s probably the inverse of what it should be.)
57 And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;
I think you could have a very interesting discussion on “be ye separate,” especially since that phrase is hard on the heels of a verse that we just decided couldn’t be taken literally. So what does it mean?
58 For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand. And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this? I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled.
How literally do you take “the book of life”? Of what might it be a symbol? Why might it be a good metaphor?
59 For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him.
Note that v57 pictured the righteous leaving the wicked, but this verse pictures the wicked being cast out from the righteous. Is that a significant shift?
Does God drive the wicked out from the faithful? If not, why is this a good analogy?
None of these reasons can easily explain Alma’s use of the imagery, however. Neither wolves nor sheep are attested for the New World, in particular the Mesoamerican area that we are considering. It should be noted that while this is generally true, we may not yet have all necessary data. As John L. Sorenson has noted: “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 Cholula, 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. An Ancient American Setting For The Book Of Mormon. FARMS 1986, p. 296). What does this mean for Alma’s text? It may mean that once again the Bible’s imagery and language is influencing the translation given by Joseph Smith. While the Mesoamerican peoples might not have been familiar with sheep and wolves, they were certainly familiar with kept animals and predators. Thus the intent of the imagery is applicable, and the particular language may be more directly due to the Biblical influence than a direct translation of what was on the plates. Citation
60 And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.
What does it mean to allow a ravenous wolf to enter? What might be some modern applications of this principle?
61 And now I, Alma, do command you in the language of him who hath commanded me, that ye observe to do the words which I have spoken unto you.
What does “in the language” mean? (Does it mean quoting?)
The idea of “doing” “words” is interesting.
62 I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.
We learned previously that the Lord made invitations; how might that be related to this verse? Are invitations only for non-members?
What do you learn from this verse about tailoring your message to your audience? How should this verse inform missionary work?
General thought about ch5 from Grant Hardy: “The trouble, of course, is that the people he will be addressing don’t see themselves as sinners. They regard their comfortable lifestyles as well-deserved, their beliefs as superior, and social inequality as just and fair. In order to break through to them, ‘to stir them up in remembrance,’ Alma’s sermon at Zarahemla is organized around the most extensive spiritual checklist to be found anywhere in scripture.” (Citation) Hardy is on to a scary point: we have a hard time seeing ourselves as sinners.
Grant Hardy divides ch5 up as follows:
verses 1-13: Remember the Deliverances of Your Fathers – 12 questions
verses 14-25: Imagine the Judgment Day – 17 questions
verses 26-32: Repent and Prepare – 7 questions
verses 33-42: Hearken to the Call of the Good Shepherd – 2 questions
verses 43-49: Alma’s Testimony – 2 questions
verses 50-52: The Words of the Spirit – 0 questions
verses 53-56: To those Who Persist in Wickedness – 7 questions
verses 57-61: To Those Who Desire to Follow the Good Shepherd – 3 questions Citation
Here’s another proposal for understanding the organization of the questions. Is that the best way to organize the questions? What can you learn from that structure?
1 And now it came to pass that after Alma had made an end of speaking unto the people of the church, which was established in the city of Zarahemla, he ordained priests and elders, by laying on his hands according to the order of God, to preside and watch over the church.
What work is “which was established in the city of Z” doing, given that we already know that?
Would you read ch5 differently if you thought of it as preparation for about-to-be-ordained priests and elders?
What are we to do with the info that Alma did ordinations? Why did we need to know this?
This is the one and only instance of the word “preside” in the BoM. Why does it occur here? What does it mean?
Are “preside” and “watch over” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
In the OT, laying on of hands is used when the priest lays hands on an animal as a part of the sacrificial ritual (see, for example, Leviticus 1:4). (How) is that meaning relevant here?
What does “order of God” mean in this verse? Here’s a link to all other BoM uses of the phrase.
Brant Gardner does a nice job here of summarizing the development of leadership roles and use of titles in the BoM. What struck me about this is that, given the sketchy and poorly-explained development, it seems pretty clear that having us understand leadership roles and organization was not a prime goal of the redaction of the record. (On the other hand, warnings about wealth, displays of wealth, and attitudes towards the poor, for example, or the reality of the coming of the Messiah, for another example, receive a huge and clear amount of attention.)
2 And it came to pass that whosoever did not belong to the church who repented of their sins were baptized unto repentance, and were received into the church.
3 And it also came to pass that whosoever did belong to the church that did not repent of their wickedness and humble themselves before God—I mean those who were lifted up in the pride of their hearts—the same were rejected, and their names were blotted out, that their names were not numbered among those of the righteous.
“I” is most unusual in scriptures–why is it used here? (We have lots of in-text clarifications in the BoM and they are usually formulated by “or rather.”)
What does this verse teach you about excommunication?
4 And thus they began to establish the order of the church in the city of Zarahemla.
What does “began” mean here, given that they began to establish the church a generation ago?
5 Now I would that ye should understand that the word of God was liberal unto all, that none were deprived of the privilege of assembling themselves together to hear the word of God.
Webster 1828 liberal:
1. Of a free heart; free to give or bestow; not close or contracted; munificent; bountiful; generous; giving largely; as a liberal donor; the liberal founders of a college or hospital. It expresses less than profuse or extravagant.
2. Generous; ample; large; as a liberal donation; a liberal allowance.
3. Not selfish, narrow on contracted; catholic; enlarged; embracing other interests than one’s own; as liberal sentiments or views; a liberal mind; liberal policy.
4. General; extensive; embracing literature and the sciences generally; as a liberal education. This phrase is often but not necessarily synonymous with collegiate; as a collegiate education.
5. Free; open; candid; as a liberal communication of thoughts.
6. Large; profuse; as a liberal discharge of matter by secretions or excretions.
7. Free; not literal or strict; as a liberal construction of law.
8. Not mean; not low in birth or mind.
9. Licentious; free to excess.
Is the “I” in this verse related to the “I” in v4?
What does “word of God” mean in this verse? (Jesus Christ, the scriptures, the gospel, something else?) What does it mean to say that the word of God was liberal?
Note that assembling is described as a privilege.
I’m curious about the relationship of v3 to v5–v3 seems to describe excommunication, but I think v5 is saying that those people were still welcome to worship with the church. But I’m not sure. How else might we read it?
6 Nevertheless the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God.
How does the “nevertheless” relate v5 to v6? Does it suggest that there were some meetings that only “the children of God” could attend?
Why do you think “children of God” as opposed to “members of the church” or something similar was used here?
What do you make of the communal aspect of fasting here?
What is the difference between “prayer” and “mighty prayer”?
What does this verse teach you about missionary work?
7 And now it came to pass that when Alma had made these regulations he departed from them, yea, from the church which was in the city of Zarahemla, and went over upon the east of the river Sidon, into the valley of Gideon, there having been a city built, which was called the city of Gideon, which was in the valley that was called Gideon, being called after the man who was slain by the hand of Nehor with the sword.
In what ways does what happened in v1-6 constitute “regulations”?
The last time we heard about Sidon was in the context of warfare; is that significant here?
What effect does the 3x repetition of “Gideon” have on the reader?
We can easily remember that Gideon was “the man who . . .” So why is that information repeated here? (“With the sword” seems particularly egregious.)
8 And Alma went and began to declare the word of God unto the church which was established in the valley of Gideon, according to the revelation of the truth of the word which had been spoken by his fathers, and according to the spirit of prophecy which was in him, according to the testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who should come to redeem his people from their sins, and the holy order by which he was called. And thus it is written. Amen.
This short chapter is also its own chapter in the original English edition. (Given that the original chapters were generally much longer than the current ones, this one really sticks out.) I suspect that this is here only to make the bridge to the sermon in the next chapter. How else might we read it? What might we learn from it?
The words of Alma which he delivered to the people in Gideon, according to his own record.
1 Behold my beloved brethren, seeing that I have been permitted to come unto you, therefore I attempt to address you in my language; yea, by my own mouth, seeing that it is the first time that I have spoken unto you by the words of my mouth, I having been wholly confined to the judgment-seat, having had much business that I could not come unto you.
What is “in my language” doing? Who else’s language would he use? (Presumably, if this is a new city named after Gideon, they all speak the same language that Alma does.)
What effect is the emphasis on “by his own mouth” supposed to have on the audience?
I suspect that Mormon wants us to compare this sermon to the people of Gideon with the sermon Alma just gave in Zarahemla, so we’ll need to look for that as we go. The first difference that strikes me is that in Alma 5:61, Alma said he was speaking in the language of him who hath commanded me.” So perhaps we are not speaking of literal language, but of whether Alma was given specific words to speak by inspiration, or was speaking otherwise. Does that make sense? How else might we understand what work that phrase is doing?
Brant Gardner speculates that this city was settled by the people of Limhi, which makes sense given that they would have been the ones to most revere Gideon. However, in the Book of Mosiah, when we contrasted the Limhites with the people of Alma, it was the Limhites that came up with the unrighteous end of the stick. Now, Alma’s people (plus those who stayed in Zarahemla the whole time) are the naughty ones and it is Limhi’s people who are more righteous.
2 And even I could not have come now at this time were it not that the judgment-seat hath been given to another, to reign in my stead; and the Lord in much mercy hath granted that I should come unto you.
Again, is this further evidence that Mosiah2’s legal reforms were not such a hot idea?
Are you surprised by the word “reign”? Is that an appropriate word for a judge?
Remember the repeated big honking deal about priests laboring with their own hands? Do you think Alma was doing that?
3 And behold, I have come having great hopes and much desire that I should find that ye had humbled yourselves before God, and that ye had continued in the supplicating of his grace, that I should find that ye were blameless before him, that I should find that ye were not in the awful dilemma that our brethren were in at Zarahemla.
Why might he have expected that these people were doing better spiritually than the people in Z?
4 But blessed be the name of God, that he hath given me to know, yea, hath given unto me the exceedingly great joy of knowing that they are established again in the way of his righteousness.
V5 will make clear that the “they” in this verse refers to the people in Z.
So does this verse imply that the talk in Alma 5 did the trick of increasing righteousness in Z? If that is indeed the case, this is one of the very rare instances in scripture where a leaders’s preaching actually has an effect.
5 And I trust, according to the Spirit of God which is in me, that I shall also have joy over you; nevertheless I do not desire that my joy over you should come by the cause of so much afflictions and sorrow which I have had for the brethren at Zarahemla, for behold, my joy cometh over them after wading through much affliction and sorrow.
Odd: He’s in Z, but needs God to let him know that the people have repented. He is not in Gideon, but doesn’t yet know if they are righteous.
What I like about this verse: it speaks against the very bad vibe you get sometimes that people think it better to have sinned and repented than to never have sinned at all.
6 But behold, 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, but that ye do worship the true and the living God, and that ye look forward for the remission of your sins, with an everlasting faith, which is to come.
What effect does the repetition of “trust” have on the reader?
Standard modern English uses this formulation 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 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” in this verse. Alma is not hoping, he knows through the spirit that these things are true. Citation
Notice the progression in this verse from unbelief to attitudes (pride, setting heart) to actions (worship) to faith.
Brant Gardner points out that there is an infinite number of things that Alma could have included in this list of sins that they were not committing. Why do you think Alma chose to mention these?
7 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.
8 Behold, I do not say that he will come among us at the time of his dwelling in his mortal tabernacle; for behold, the Spirit hath not said unto me that this should be the case. Now as to this thing I do not know; but this much I do know, that the Lord God hath power to do all things which are according to his word.
This fascinates me–we see a gap in his knowledge (he isn’t sure where the Redeemer will live) and how he responds to that gap in his knowledge. What might we learn from this about how to think about the gaps in our own knowledge? Notice his unwillingness to speculate or to claim more certainty for knowledge than he is entitled to.
Does this verse stealthily imply that the Lord is not omnipotent (“which are according to his word”)?
This verse is a backhanded testimony of the reality of the resurrection, if he knows that the Lord will come to them, but maybe not when he is a mortal.
Remember that “tabernacle” is just a fancy word for “tent.” But it is also linked to the site of worship in the OT. Why use that word here?
9 But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth.
Skousen reads “repent ye, repent ye” here.
Does this verse suggest that Alma is a John the Baptist figure?
What does it actually mean to “prepare the way of the Lord”?
10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, 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.
Why do you think Mary’s name was revealed before Jesus was born? (Or, do you think this is a gloss from Joseph Smith?) (Note that Mary’s name is not in Nephi’s vision but is in Ben’s speech in Mosiah 3:8.)
Do you think it was weird for them to hear that the messiah would be born in the land of their forefathers, when their own ancestors had been told to leave that land?
This verse feels like it puts a lot of emphasis on Mary’s body (virgin, precious, chosen). Contrast Luke 11:27-28: “And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”
Here’s a list of all the uses of “overshadowed” in the scriptures. What does the word mean and why did Alma want the people of Gideon to know about this?
Compare 1 Nephi 11:19-20: “And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.” Notice that the conception is described in a different way.
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 his people.
Are “pains” and “afflictions” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
What do you make of the shift from pains-afflictions-temptations at the beginning of the verse to pains-sicknesses at the end?
This appears to be a quotation of or allusion to Isaiah 53:4 (“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”), as indicated by the reference to “the word” in this verse. Thomas Wayment writes, “The version of the text quoted by Alma is quite similar to the Hebrew textthat has been passed down to us (known also as the Masoretic Text) but is unlike the English translation provided in the KJV.” (Citation–the entire article is interesting) If this is a quotation from Isaiah, then does that impact how you understand “the word” in the rest of Alma’s writings? (Wayment also points out that Matthew 8:17 also quotes this passage, but the KJV re-translated it from Matthew instead of just cut-and-pasting it from Isaiah, which isn’t entirely relevant here, but was interesting. Joseph Smith also translated and didn’t cut-and-paste from Isaiah.)
Interesting that we usually describe Jesus’ mortal ministry in terms of miracles and teaching. Note how this verse is different.
This verse sorta makes it sound as if Jesus suffered so that prophecy would be fulfilled. We would say that he suffered to bring about the atonement. Why the difference?
This verse describes Jesus’ mortal life as if it were one long atonement; we usually think of the atonement occurring just at the end of his life.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
Why would taking upon him death result in loosing the bands of death?
bowels = heart
I think this verse is suggesting that the reason that Jesus took our infirmities upon him was so that he would grow and develop (in this case, in mercy and knowledge of how to succor). But that doesn’t sound quite right to me. How do you understand this verse?
The repetition of “death” in this verse calls attention to the paradox that Jesus took upon him death to loose the bands of death.
Parallelism: death to loose death, infirmities to fill bowels with mercy. What might you learn from this pattern?
What does “according to the flesh” mean?
Consider v11-12. Why do we focus on Jesus suffering for sins but not Jesus suffering for our pains more generally?
13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
How does “now the Spirit knoweth all things” relate to the suffering of the Son of God? And does it relate to the end of v12 or the rest of v13?
General question: Why do we see such a developed Christology among BoM writers but not in the OT?
Alma has broached a topic which some of his listener’s might question. He has stated that this coming Atoning Messiah will actuallylearn something. Alma understands that there will be those who might not understand what he means, so he clarifies. Alma confirms that “the Spirit knoweth all things.” In other words, this experience of pain, afflictions, and death, is not teaching the Messiah anything that he would not have understood on some level. Nevertheless, the entire experience is what allows the Messiah to be merciful and “blot out their transgressions.” Alma testifies that this process is essential to the mission of the Atoning Messiah. Citation
. . . which raises the question of experiential knowing versus book learning. Now, there are a lot of ways to get into this topic, but, for the sake of being inflammatory, let’s pick a feminist one: If experiential knowledge is so darn important, how can a male Savior save or be a model for women?
14 Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.
Note the shift from prophecy/testimony in the previous verses to what you (y’all) must do in this verse.
Does this verse imply that faith is a result of baptism? (Read it closely.)
Are saving and cleansing two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
Is this discussion of being born again related to the recent discussion of Jesus’ birth?
15 Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.
Why does Alma think that fear might be an issue?
What does the image of “laying aside” suggest to you about sins?
Why say “which does easily beset you”? (Especially to these basically righteous people.) What effect should that have on the audience? Is it true that sins “easily” beset?
Notice the (imperfect) parallel of “come and fear not” and “come and go forth.” What is Alma doing here?
Now, this verse implies that these people have not been baptized. Is that what we expected? (Note that the 19th c. church practiced repeated baptisms, something we don’t do today.)
The idea of the person being baptized functioning as a witness is not well-developed in modern Mormon thought. (We think of the witnessing role as belonging to those who witness the baptism.)
Note how frequently the BoM emphasizes not just baptism but “the waters of baptism.” What might we learn from this?
16 And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me.
Is this verse suggesting that obedience improves memory? (Perhaps not memory in the ‘where did I put my car keys sense?’ but spiritual memory.)
This verse has an interesting “correction.” Alma begins in the present tense, and then shifts to the past tense: “will remember that I sayunto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him…” There are two possibilities for this shift. The first is that it is an accurate transcription of Alma’s discourse. In a live discourse, it would not be surprising that Alma might use the present tense, and then realize that he was speaking of a future state of his audience, when his current words would necessarily be past. The second possibility is that this is part of a dictation sequence by Joseph. Since there is a logical explanation for the original, the first possibility is the most likely. However, there are several such shifts, and the possibility that they represent an artifact of the dictation sequence should not be dismissed to quickly. Citation
17 And now my beloved brethren, do you believe these things? Behold, I say unto you, yea, I know that ye believe them; and the way that I know that ye believe them is by the manifestation of the Spirit which is in me. And now because your faith is strong concerning that, yea, concerning the things which I have spoken, great is my joy.
This question reminds us that the last discourse we got from Alma was chock-full of questions, but this one isn’t.
What does Alma hope to accomplish by posing a question and then immediately answering it himself?
Note the role of joy in this verse.
18 For as I said unto you from the beginning, that I had much desire that ye were not in the state of dilemma like your brethren, even so I have found that my desires have been gratified.
“Dilemma” is a most interesting word–what exactly was the dilemma in Zarahemla?
It is a little weird that Alma gains knowledge of the people’s spiritual state by preaching at them.
19 For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness; I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God; yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight.
What does it mean to make paths straight?
20 I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong; therefore, his course is one eternal round.
OK, I know this is metaphorical, but I’m stuck on the impossibility of a straight path with no turning left or right that is also one eternal round. (I suppose if you imagine him walking around a globe as opposed to walking in a circle it works. Weird, though.)
21 And he doth not dwell in unholy temples; neither can filthiness or anything which is unclean be received into the kingdom of God; therefore I say unto you the time shall come, yea, and it shall be at the last day, that he who is filthy shall remain in his filthiness.
22 And now my beloved brethren, I have said these things unto you that I might awaken you to a sense of your duty to God, that ye may walk blameless before him, that ye may walk after the holy order of God, after which ye have been received.
23 And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
“Submissive” has been tainted by its gendered association, but that isn’t the context here. Can we redeem this word?
Neal A. Maxwell:
One of Jesus’ prophets delineated—with submissiveness thrice stipulated—how a disciple can become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19.) Three other clusters of scriptures stress these towering qualities. (See Alma 7:23; Alma 13:28; D&C 121:41–42.) Stunningly parallel, they form an almost seamless litany of attributes to be developed, with submissiveness at their catalytic center. This repeated clustering is too striking to be random. Apr 85 GC
Are patience and long-suffering two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?
Webster 1828 temperate:
1. Moderate in the indulgence of the appetites and passions; as temperate in eating and drinking; temperate in pleasures; temperate in speech.
2. Cool; calm; not marked with passion; not violent; as a temperate discourse or address; temperate language.
3. Proceeding from temperance; as temperate sleep.
4. Free from ardent passion.
Temperance is an idea we don’t hear about very much. Should we really be temperate in all things? (What about fasting, prayer, faith, etc.?) What would it look like for you to be temperate in all things?
Is “gentle” always good? (Was Jesus gentle when he was pronouncing “wo”s or chasing the money changers out of the temple?)
I’m fascinated by “ask” in the middle of a list of virtues–why would this be considered an affirmative duty?
To be long-suffering is a parallel concept to patience, and should not be understood with an emphasis on the word “suffer.” Similar to the usage in the passage: “Mark 10:14 . . .Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God,” “suffer” should be understood in its meaning of “allow.” What then do we “allow” for a long time? We allow our fellow men to be as human as we allow ourselves. It is part of the patience required of us all as we walk on the path toward God. Citation
24 And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works.
Neal A. Maxwell:
Significantly, those who look forward to a next and better world are usually “anxiously engaged” in improving this one, for they “always abound in good works” (D&C 58:27; Alma 7:24). Thus, real hope is much more than wishful musing. It stiffens, not slackens, the spiritual spine. It is composed, not giddy, eager without being naive, and pleasantly steady without being smug. Hope is realistic anticipation taking the form of determination—a determination not merely to survive but to “endure … well” to the end (D&C 121:8). Oct 94 GC
25 And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out.
Interesting parallel with Alma’s last recorded sermon (Alma 5:24): “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?”
26 And now my beloved brethren, I have spoken these words unto you according to the Spirit which testifieth in me; and my soul doth exceedingly rejoice, because of the exceeding diligence and heed which ye have given unto my word.
27 And now, may the peace of God rest upon you, and upon your houses and lands, and upon your flocks and herds, and all that you possess, your women and your children, according to your faith and good works, from this time forth and forever. And thus I have spoken. Amen.
Note sure if I should be ticked because he included women as part of “all that you possess” or if it would be better to read these as separate items (i.e., women are not part of what you possess).
Note that there is no blessing at the end of the Zarahemla sermon, just an invitation (to non-members) and a command (to members).
Brant Gardner points out that the peace would not, as we will see, have anything to do with political peace.
(1) What patterns do you see in the questions that Alma asks in ch5 and the order that he asks them in? (A few weeks ago, I switched from teaching Gospel Doctrine to adults to teaching it to the 16-18 year olds in my ward. I think for this lesson, I am going to give each student an envelope containing all of Alma’s questions, one per slip of paper, and ask them to organize the questions in whatever way seems logical to them. This is one of those open-ended activities that either sinks like a stone or works really well–we’ll have to see . . . Even if the organization doesn’t show any interesting patterns [although I hope it will!], it will at least get them thinking about the questions and how they relate to each other.)
(2) When we read of the miraculous conversion of Alma2 and the sons of Mosiah, and then we read of the sons of Mosiah heading off on a mission to the Lamanites, it is easy to think that Alma was a bit of a slacker. But with this text, we see him serving a sort of mission to reclaim his own people. It is good to remember that different people have different assignments.
(3) This lesson presents us with two different discourses from Alma: one in Zarahemla and the other in the land of Gideon. I think it would be most interesting to compare them. Perhaps the most obvious issue is: Why did Z get the Q-and-A treatment about their personal spirituality while the people of Gideon got prophecies of Jesus Christ? What other comparisons might be useful to consider? Also, why does Alma discuss the sinfulness of Zarahemla with the people in Gideon (see Alma 7:3-5) but not directly with the people in Zarahemla? Grant Hardy writes:
When I read Alma 5, I am even more impressed when I continue on to chapter 7, which is a transcript from the next sermon on Alma’s preaching tour. This address, given at the city of Gideon, stands in striking contrast to the first: it is less than half as long, and rather than presenting fifty rapid-fire questions, it has just one, which Alma answers himself: “And now my beloved brethren, do you believe these things? Behold, I say unto you, Yea, I know that ye believe them” (Alma 7:17). The people in Gideon had suffered greatly during the Amlicite Rebellion, and they still retained their faithfulness and desires for righteousness. Consequently, they were mostly in need of comfort and encouragement, unlike the inhabitants of the capital Zarahemla, whose pride required the sort of spiritual shock treatment that a lengthy series of leading questions might provide. Citation
(4) Interesting article on applying Alma’s sermon here.