Alma Chapter 13
Alma 13 Alma's discourse on the Priesthood
Alma 13:3 Alma's teaching on the principle of foreordination.
In Alma 13, Alma provides us with an insightful and prophetic discussion of the higher priesthood, "the holy order of God." For a discussion of the doctrine of the priesthood and especially the rather confusing nomenclature having to do with matters of the priesthood see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 12, Priesthood.
Before undertaking a detailed consideration of each of the chapter's verses, it may be of interest to consider the history of the priesthood organization among the Israelites before the time of Lehi's family's departure from Jerusalem.
From Adam to Moses the high priesthood was administered through what we now refer to as the Patriarchal Order. The Patriarchal Order is a form of government in which worthy high priests preside over and govern their extended families in both civil and ecclesiastical matters. During this time period, the main office of the priesthood was that of patriarch. Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham were patriarch's and administered the Lord's work righteously and by the inspiration of God. A patriarch could bless his offspring by calling upon the powers of heaven. As he gave the birthright blessing to one of his sons, for instance, the keys and powers of the priesthood were extended to that son for the governing of the next generation. By the law of primogeniture, these birthright blessings normally were given to the eldest son. However, from Abraham to Ephraim the birthright blessing went to younger sons because of their righteousness (Genesis 21, 27-28, 48-49).
When the children of Israel proved unworthy to bear the fulness of the high priesthood, it was taken from among them by Jehovah. He also took from among them Moses himself, who held the keys of the priesthood-the right of presidency. Even though the people were then limited largely to the ministrations of the Aaronic priesthood, rather than the higher priesthood, the Lord did leave a few men among them who held the Melchizedek priesthood. These included most prominently the Lord's prophets. In the New World, some of these included Nephi, Jacob, Mosiah, Benjamin, Alma, Samuel the Lamanite, Mormon, and Moroni. These men clearly held the higher or Melchizedek priesthood. There is no evidence that the Aaronic priesthood existed among the Nephites until after the coming of Jesus to the Americas. To what extent all other male Nephites held the priesthood, how and under what circumstances it was conferred, and the exact nature of the priesthood organization between 600 BC and AD 34 are not made clear in the Book of Mormon text.
Before proceeding with our consideration of Alma 13, it should be made clear that each and every blessing offered to a man through his possessing and honoring his priesthood is available also to the righteous woman. Men have no advantages over women in the process of striving to earn their exaltation. In fact, the highest blessings afforded to those in the covenant order of the Melchizedek priesthood can only be bestowed upon the union of the man and woman, not upon the man alone. While she may not be said to "hold" the priesthood, she is a vital part of the covenant order, the higher priesthood.
1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
verse 1 "my brethren" Alma is still speaking to Antionah, a chief ruler among the Ammonihahites and a few others of Ammonihah who had responded to the preachings of Amulek and Alma (see Alma 12:19-20).
"I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children" To cite is to direct or urge. In this context, Alma is saying, "I would urge you to consider or think about . . .." In our terminology today we would say "I would cite your minds backwards or back in time." The word forward here means toward the beginning, or toward the front, or earlier in time.
"These commandments" likely refer to those "second commandments" spoken of in Alma 12:32; Alma 12:37. These were given "unto men" after Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden. The commandments were basically the commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The penalty for breaking these commandments consists of the second death, which was "an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness."
"his holy order . . . the order of his Son" In our dispensation we have been instructed to refer to the higher priesthood as the Melchizedek priesthood. In the Book of Mormon it is referred to as "the holy order," "the holy order of God," "the order of his Son," or in some instances simply "the order."
"the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son" Alma seems to be speaking here of those prophet high priests from Adam to Moses about whom he doubtless learned as he studied the brass plates. These men were patriarchs or presiding high priests.
An interesting question is raised by this phrase "the Lord God ordained priests." Since the time of Adam, has every priesthood ordination taken place by the laying of one mortal's hands on the head of another mortal? Or, has God ever dispatched a heavenly messenger to take care of the ordination without the mediation of another mortal? Certainly whenever a mortal priesthood holder has been available then the ordination has been handled from man to man. But has there ever been a time when no mortal priesthood holder was available to perform the ordinance? The restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods in this dispensation are two examples, of course. But have there been other instances? It is difficult to be certain. Joseph Smith did teach on one occasion: "All the prophets had the Melchizedek priesthood and were ordained by God himself" (TPJS, 180-81). Joseph's meaning is not clear. Perhaps he is referring to God's ordaining his prophets through other mortals that represented God.
"to teach these things unto the people" "These things," again, are the commandments of the gospel referred to in Alma 12:32.
2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.
verse 2 "ordained . . . in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption" This is a most provocative passage (see also verse 16), and it has caused some to speculate. Is it possible that the ordinance of ordaining to the priesthood among the Nephites was not accomplished simply by the laying on of hands as it is today? These verses suggest that when high priests were ordained, the manner of ordination itself somehow communicated information that would cause the people to "know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption." Perhaps the mechanism of ordination itself was more symbolic than the simple laying on of hands.
Perhaps another meaning was intended in verses 2 and 16. The patriarchs or prophets-those who were ordained to the office of high priest-were themselves to be considered types or symbols of the great high priest himself. Not only were they types, but also they were commissioned to teach of Christ and his gospel. "Those who preceded the Lord . . . pointed toward and anticipated his coming. . . . All prophets are types and shadows of the Savior. He was called and prepared from before the foundations of this world. So were they. He speaks the truth. So do they. He offers the words of life. So do they. He preaches as one having authority. So do they. He offers his life as a final testament. Such also is required on occasion of those who stand in the prophetic office. Thus the ancient prophets were living Messianic prophecies" (Robert L. Millet, The Book of Mormon: Alma, the Testimony of the Word, 65).
Yet another meaning may have been intended. The ordaining of a man to the priesthood is a type of the Savior as follows: In the great heavenly councils of the first estate, Jesus was called and ordained to his earthly ministry on account of his great faith and good works in that first estate. He had obeyed implicitly the will of his Father. He received the priesthood in the pre-existence, would receive it anew in mortality, and he will possess it for eternity. In like manner, we do not receive the priesthood capriciously or by chance. We were ordained to receive it because of our obedience and our good works in the first estate. Any ordination occurring during the premortal phase is referred to as foreordination. We may well have been foreordained then, will be ordained anew in this second estate, and we may possess it for eternity providing we are worthy.
We have previously discussed the importance of types or symbols of Christ. Perhaps Lehi summed up this topic best when he taught that "all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world unto man are the typifying of him" (2 Nephi 11:4, italics added). These "things" include ordinances (verse 16), the law of Moses (Alma 25:15), and his prophets. Put in another way, all of God's creations made available for the use of man are designed by him to help us recognize, understand, and appreciate the Son of God and his atonement (see Moses 6:63 which says, "all things are created and made to bear record of me").
Perhaps this verse is best explained by its intention to teach that ordination to the priesthood is symbolic of Christ's redemption in at least two ways. (1) Both (Christ and the priesthood) were "prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God;" and (2) verses 11-12 (see below) will suggest that at the time of ordination, a number of these new priesthood holders undergo a redemptive experience. If verse 16 were to be placed following verse 12, it would fit perfectly, the phrase "these ordinances" referring to priesthood ordinations.
3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained-being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
verse 3 An important general principle is illustrated in this verse, the doctrine of foreordination. Just as our behavior in this mortal phase of our existence-our "second estate"-influences our condition in the eternities-our "third estate"-so does our behavior in our pre-existent phase-our "first estate"-influence our condition here in mortality. Of all of God's spirit children in the premortal world, some few distinguished themselves by their valiance, their obedience, and their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. These have been foreordained to have the greatest opportunities and blessings here in mortality. Foreordination implies no guarantees from God, but rather extra opportunities and often extra obligations and challenges. Foreordination is like all other blessings. It is a conditional bestowal subject to our faithfulness. Just as a prophet's prophecies may accurately predict events without determining their outcome, so is foreordination a bestowal of a blessing or an opportunity which foresees but does not fix the outcome.
Some notable mortals have, of course, failed their trusts. David and Judas come to mind. In spite of his doubtless sublime foreordination, David saw Bathsheba from the balcony, lusted after her, and sent for her. God was obviously not pleased with David, but neither was he surprised, since he had perfect divine foreknowledge of David. Judas Iscariot was foreordained to a critical role in the dispensation of the meridian of time. He was to become one of Christ's chosen apostles during the Savior's mortal ministry. He received the testimony that Jesus was the Son of God. Yet, in the full light of that conviction, he turned against his Lord and betrayed him to death.
Foreordination is a powerful doctrine that must be understood carefully in context of other gospel principles. If misunderstood it can encourage a belief in fatalism, lead to a misunderstanding of our agency, cause us to focus on status or position in the kingdom rather than service, and prompt us toward a belief in predestination. Predestination is not a valid gospel concept. While some, because of their outstanding performances in the first estate, may be foreordained to great accomplishments here in mortality, no one is predestined to be exalted without regard to the quality of their mortal lives.
Elder Orson Hyde said of our premortal perspective, "We understood things better there than we do in this lower world." Given this heightened eternal perspective, Elder Hyde speculated about the agreements we made there, "It is not impossible that we signed the articles thereof with our own hands-which articles may be retained in the archives above, to be presented to us when we rise from the dead, and be judged out of our own mouths, according to that which is written in the books. . . . Just because we have forgotten, our forgetfulness cannot alter the facts" (JD, 7:314-15). Our forgetting notwithstanding, on occasions there are inklings of remembrance that penetrate the veil, moments that Elder Neal A. Maxwell has referred to as "doctrinal deja vu's." President Joseph F. Smith said:
But in coming here, we forgot all, that our agency might be free indeed, to choose good or evil that we might merit the reward of our own choices and conduct. But by the power of the Spirit, and the redemption of Christ, through obedience, we often catch a spark from the awakened memories of the immortal soul, which lights up our whole being as with the glory of our former home (Gospel Doctrine, 13-14).
One might well ask, "Why have the prophets revealed to us the doctrine of foreordination?" It would seem that, surely, an understanding of the precious doctrine of foreordination can and should encourage us in good works here on earth.
This particular verse is a treatise on foreordination to the priesthood. Here we learn that our accountability began before this earthly phase of our existence. It began in the premortal phase. No man is called to the higher priesthood in the second estate (this mortal life) without being prepared, qualified, called, and foreordained in the first estate-the pre-existence. Thus priesthood holders in this second estate are "doubly called."
We may expand the concept of foreordination to include other prerogatives of the Lord. Generally, the Lord eschews any interference with our agency. But he does reserve to himself one particular privilege-that of "staffing" the mortal earth. He seems to dispatch the premortal spirits to earth where and when he wishes. How else, for example, would prophets be able to prophesy of this final gospel dispensation-that it will not fail prior to the Lord's second coming. He doesn't, after all, force the kingdom of God to survive. He has rather "guaranteed" its success by virtue of those whom he has dispatched to earth during this period. Thus, by this staffing privilege (foreordination) he ensures the kingdom's success until that splendid moment.
Doubtless the foreordination of individuals in the premortal world to accomplish particular things here in mortality is dependent upon the attributes they acquired through their obedience in that pre-existent sphere. Depending on their unique abilities, or combinations of abilities, hands are laid upon the spirit heads of pre-existent spirits, and they are foreordained to specific earthly tasks. They are thus called to specific earthly callings. These callings become-for those of us so called-stewardships or spiritual obligations here on earth (D&C 72:3-4). Those who magnify and accomplish these callings or these stewardships may then be chosen for exaltation. There is ample evidence in scripture, however, that many are called (foreordained) but only a few are chosen or exalted (see Matthew 7:13-14; 3 Nephi 27:33).
It would not be surprising to one day learn that these foreordained stewardships include even highly individual tasks the Lord would have us identify, prepare for, and accomplish here on earth for the benefit of his earthly kingdom. Each of us comes to earth with a unique combination of hard-won attributes earned in that "first place" by our obedience to the Lord's laws. It is just possible that there await us here on earth opportunities that we alone might best fulfill. The stumbling block, however, to complete fulfillment of our stewardship here, may well be the necessity of identifying our latent abilities and redeveloping them to a point where they will be truly useful to the Lord and his earthly purposes.
"And this is the manner after which they were ordained" Alma seems to be referring here to the ancient patriarchs. Does this verse apply only to them or does it also apply to all those of us with lesser station in the church? It likely applies to the rest of us as well. Read on!
"being called and prepared from the foundation of the world" The phrase "from the foundation of the world" refers to man's pre-existence or first estate.
"according to the foreknowledge of God" This calling and foreordination to the priesthood (and to other special stations in life) is not made capriciously. It is made "according to the foreknowledge of God." Was our being foreordained a free gift to us, or did we have to earn it? The latter is true, of course. The first estate was an important period of testing to see if we would "choose good or evil." Those who chose the good qualified to become foreordained to receive the higher priesthood and doubtless many other foreordinations here in mortality. Joseph Smith wrote: "Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council" (TPJS, 365). Referring to this statement of the prophet's, J. Reuben Clark, Jr. said: "I do not know whether we have a right to interpret the prophet's statement . . . but I like to think that it does include those of us of lesser calling and lesser stature. . . . I like to think that perhaps in the Grand Council something at least was said to us indicating what would be expected of us, and empowering us, subject to the re-confirmation here, to do certain things in building up the kingdom of God on earth" (CR [Sept-Oct 1950] 170-71).
Referring to the foreknowledge of God, Elder James E. Talmage wrote:
Our heavenly Father has a full knowledge of the nature and disposition of each of his children, a knowledge gained by long observation and experience in the past eternity of our primeval childhood; a knowledge compared with which that gained by earthly parents through mortal experience with their children is infinitesimally small. By reason of that surpassing knowledge, God reads the future of child and children, of men individually and of men collectively as communities and nations. He knows what each will do under given conditions and sees the end from the beginning. His foreknowledge is based on intelligence and reason. He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because he has arbitrarily willed that it shall be (Jesus the Christ, 29).
Both the Father and the Son have divine foreknowledge concerning all mortals regarding their responsiveness to the gospel message. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine" (John 10:14, italics added). On another occasion he said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27, italics added). In this dispensation he declared, "And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts" (D&C 29:7). It is no wonder that the Lord could say to Jeremiah, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee and I ordained thee a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). Paul said of God, "He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4). With our primitive mortal intellects, we cannot possibly understand, in full, this divine foreknowledge. In some way, the past, present, and future are before God simultaneously, though we certainly cannot understand just how. In a revelation to Moses, the Lord said, "And all things are present with me, for I know them all" (Moses 1:6). In a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord described himself as "The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes" (D&C 38:2).
We commonly observe in life some individuals with special limitations and challenges. These are all in the Lord's hands, and he loves them perfectly. According to his divine foreknowledge, he has placed, or at least he has allowed to be placed-doubtless mostly through "mortal accident"-a "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Like him who was "blind from birth," (John 9:1-2) some will come to bring glory to God because of their infirmities. Certainly we should not assume that all circumstances here on earth are micromanaged and dictated by the Lord, but he does, on occasion, direct circumstances in the spirit of divine tutorials. For these occasional instances, a proper understanding of the doctrine of foreordination can help us in understanding and coping with the vicissitudes of life. We can be more comfortable with the things allotted to us in life.
"on account of their exceeding faith and good works" Was it really necessary for us to exercise faith when we lived in the pre-existence-referred to here as "the first place"? After all, did we not live with our heavenly parents and see them with our eyes and converse with them? Was it really necessary for us to exercise faith in that setting? Did we not walk by knowledge and not by faith? We know that it was necessary to exercise faith as we all strove, with various degrees of success, to be obedient (see particularly the discussion of deliberate faith in Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith in volume 1, chapter 10 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine). Based on that obedience some qualified for more blessings from the Father than did others. Abraham was allowed a vision of the individuals in the first estate, and he saw "many [who were] noble and great ones." This implies that there were some there also who were not as noble and not as great. None of the talents or gifts we possess here on earth was given to us gratuitously. Rather, they were earned. For example, those born into this life with the gift of deliberate faith (the compelling inclination to obey even when circumstances make it difficult, or inconvenient) merit that blessing. We are taught that there is a law "irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated" (D&C 130:20-21). This eternal principle pertained in the first estate as well as in the second estate. It should not be surprising, then, that the Lord has selected certain individuals for particular assignments before they came here. These individuals have been foreordained to these assignments.
Those men who demonstrated "exceeding faith and good works" were ordained in that "first place" to receive the higher priesthood in this second estate. This is the doctrine of foreordination. A man's foreordination is based upon his faithfulness in the pre-existence and God's foreknowledge of that faithfulness and the man's unique combination of spiritual gifts.
The reference made in this verse and the verses which follow to the first estate or pre-existence-the "first place"-is probably the first reference in modern scripture, made available in this dispensation, to our premortal phase. More specific references were eventually made available to the saints in the book of Moses.
Did righteous men hold the priesthood in the pre-existent world? Or is the priesthood saved for a man's second estate? Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: "In regard to the holding of the priesthood in the pre-existence, I will say that there was an organization there just as well as an organization here, and men there held authority. Men chosen to positions of trust in the spirit world [the pre-existence] held priesthood" (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:81).
"in the first place being left to choose good or evil" The "first place," again, is the premortal world. There the spirit children of our Father in Heaven had their agency and abundant opportunities to choose between good and evil.
"they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling" Those who were valiant in the first estate were "called with a holy calling"-that is, they were foreordained to receive the higher priesthood. If it was possible to hold the priesthood in the premortal world, then perhaps this being "called with a holy calling" refers to actually receiving the higher priesthood in the first estate as well.
"that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such" This phrase is at first a bit confusing. Let us consider its meaning carefully. "That holy calling" refers to the higher priesthood. The phrase "which was prepared with, and according to" means that the higher priesthood "was created for the purpose of." Thus far the meaning is that "the higher priesthood was created or prepared for the purpose of." Of what? Why was the higher priesthood created? What is its essential purpose here on earth of those who bear this higher priesthood? Their purpose is to assist in the "preparatory redemption" of man. What is this "preparatory redemption"? The primary function of those called with this "holy calling" to the higher priesthood is to assist in the redemption of fallen man. Their calling is to aid, to strengthen, to encourage, to bless lives and ultimately to assist in the exaltation of their fellow mortals. Their work is preparatory in the sense that before Christ's mortal advent, the work of the priesthood was to prepare the people for his coming. The work of those who have lived or are living in this final dispensation is to prepare the world for his second coming. Whom are these bearers of the higher priesthood supposed to assist in their redemption from the fall? They are to provide help "for such" people as those priesthood bearers encounter here on earth.
4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
verse 4 This verse teaches the simple idea that some of those foreordained in the premortal world to receive the Melchizedek priesthood on earth will fail to live worthy of that privilege and miss out on the blessings they might have had.
"And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith" Once these faithful and foreordained men arrive on earth to live out their mortal experience some of them live up to their foreordination, accept the gospel, and receive the priesthood.
"while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds" Others of these foreordained men may prove to be unresponsive to the promptings of the Spirit and never receive the gospel or the priesthood.
"if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren" If it had not been for the "hardness of their hearts" and the "blindness of their minds" they might well have received the same blessings here on earth as their brethren who lived up to their foreordination. The following verse reiterates this tragic irony.
5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared-
verse 5 "In fine" means in summary or in conclusion.
"in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren" The "first place" is the premortal world. This refers to those potential priesthood holders who were valiant in the pre-existence and who thus were foreordained to receive the priesthood here on earth. Unfortunately they were not valiant at some subsequent time in their progression-either later in their pre-existent sojourn or here on earth. In the pre-existence they earned the "same standing" or the same foreordained blessings as did their brethren who later received the priesthood here on earth. Yet the "hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds" caused them to lose the blessings of the priesthood.
Here, then, is the difference between the valid concept of foreordination and the false concept of predestination: If God had seen fit to pronounce a man predestined to receive the priesthood, then he would do so without regard to his obedience or valiance. On the other hand those who are foreordained in the pre-existence may indeed lose their blessings through sin and ultimately "live beneath their privileges." In the "first place" they qualify for marvelous earthly blessings, but, once in mortality, they fail to respond to the promptings of the Spirit, become lost in worldliness, and lose their rewards. President Harold B. Lee explained the meaning of a pertinent scripture in this regard: "Despite that calling which is spoken of in the scriptures as 'foreordination,' we have another inspired declaration: 'Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen' (D&C 121:34). This suggests that even though we have our agency here, there are many who were foreordained ["called"] before the world was, to a greater state than they have prepared themselves for here. Even though they might have been among the noble and great, from among whom the Father declared he would make his chosen leaders, they may fail of that calling here in mortality [they are not "chosen" for the priesthood calling on earth or for celestial glory] (CR, [Oct 1973] 3-10). For additional discussion of the scriptural word chosen, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:19-20.
An interesting aside as that while the Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of the pre-existence, as in this verse, there is no mention in the Book of Mormon of the spirit creation of all things which is known from Moses 3:5 and D&C 29:31-34.
"being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son" Here is a phrase that might at first cause confusion. For example, what is the antecedent of "being"? What does the phrase "in and through" actually mean? How does the atonement of the Savior tie in to our present topic?
The antecedent of this phrase seems to be the higher priesthood or at least a foreordination to this priesthood-"this holy calling."
If one utilizes modern scripture-search technology to study the uses in scripture of the phrase "in and through," it is interesting to note that it is found exclusively in the Book of Mormon. There are six other places where it is used (2 Nephi 2:6; 2 Nephi 10:24; Mosiah 3:17; Mosiah 3:18; Mosiah 16:13; Alma 38:9). Its meaning in each of these instances is to show the absolute obligatory relationship between the salvation of man and the Savior's atonement. Here in verse 5, then, we might conclude that this phrase "in and through" signifies an absolute obligatory relationship between the higher priesthood and something else. What is that something else? It is "the atonement of the Only Begotten Son."
In what way is the higher priesthood obligatorily dependent upon the atonement? The covenant order of the higher priesthood could not exist had there been no atonement made. The very real blessings a man receives by virtue of his holding the priesthood are well out of proportion to his works in meriting those blessings. Had not the Savior atoned, he could not bestow those blessings. It would not be fair. It would not be just. The law of justice would be offended and would not allow it.
"who was prepared" Here is a reminder that the Savior himself, in the pre- existence and here on earth, had to progress line upon line, from grace to grace until he received the "fulness of the priesthood (D&C 124:28)," the "fulness" of his Father (D&C 93:11-14).
6 And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest-
verse 6 Those who had been foreordained to receive the higher priesthood-those "called by this holy calling"-who did not harden their hearts are then ordained to the "high priesthood of the holy order of God." This verse speaks of the covenant order of the higher priesthood as the "holy order of God," while the following verse refers to "the order of his Son." We would presume that these two orders are one and the same. We might define an "order" as a group of individuals who are distinguished by some particular characteristic. In this "order" the individuals are characterized by certain blessings and certain obligations.
It is apparent there are certain levels within this holy order of God. We gain entrance into this order when we receive the Melchizedek priesthood. Another level is achieved when we receive the ordinances of the temple-the endowment and the ordinance of eternal marriage. The ultimate level is reached when an individual is sealed up to eternal life or has his calling and election made sure, a state which the scriptures refer to as receiving the "fulness of the priesthood" (D&C 124:28) or gaining entrance into the "Church of the Firstborn" (Hebrews 12:23; D&C 76:54; D&C 76:71; D&C 76:94; D&C 76:102). Joseph Smith taught: "If a man gets a fulness of the priesthood of God, he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord" (TPJS, 308). He later added: "Those holding the fulness of the Melchizedek priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings" (TPJS, 323).
Understanding this highest level of the Melchizedek priesthood sheds significant light on some choice scriptural references. For example, that priesthood order into which Enoch and his people were received (which is the same that was later conferred upon Melchizedek) is described in JST, Genesis 14:30-32: "For God having sworn unto Enoch and his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course . . . to stand in the presence of God." Some people were even taken from the earth because of their righteousness: "And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven."
Just as there are different degrees of blessings in the higher priesthood, there are also differing levels of obligation. As we receive more and higher blessings we place ourselves under increasing obligation to be true to the covenants of the priesthood. Every man who is introduced into this covenant order is provided an explanation of the "oath and covenant of the priesthood" as contained in D&C 84:33-42. Simply stated, when a man receives the higher priesthood, he must understand that he places himself under obligation to be true to the covenants he makes. If he is not true to them, then it would have been better for him in the eternities had he never entered into them in the first place. The more blessings he receives, the greater is his obligation. Ultimately, if he receives the highest blessing and is sealed up to eternal life, then his obligation is so sacred and binding, that a complete disavowal may even constitute grounds for being found guilty of committing the unpardonable sin or the so-called sin against the Holy Ghost.
The male does not make this ascent in the priesthood by himself. While an unmarried male may hold the higher priesthood, it is the completed eternal unit, the male and the female joined in eternal marriage, that may receive the blessings of the fulness of the priesthood and become exalted to the highest degree in the life to come. Certainly the Melchizedek priesthood is not an automatic ticket into the celestial kingdom. Each man and woman must painstakingly earn their own way by repeatedly repenting and striving to obey the commandments. Also each must receive the full ordinance of baptism including the baptism of water, the baptism of the Spirit, and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. See Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth in volume 1, chapter 18, of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
"to teach his commandments unto the children of men" The antecedent of "his" is, of course, "the Only Begotten Son" in verse 5. Certainly one of the most important charges of those who hold the Melchizedek priesthood is to teach the doctrines of salvation. The Lord stated in D&C 84:19 that the "greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God." Joseph Smith taught that the Melchizedek priesthood "is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter is revealed from heaven" (TPJS, 166-67).
"that they also might enter into his rest" For a discussion of the rest of the Lord, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 21:10. See also "The Rest of the Lord" in chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1. See also a discussion of the closely related gift of hope in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine: see "Two Little-Appreciated Gifts of the Spirit" in volume 1, chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith. See also "The Fruits of Faith" in volume 1, chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith.
Moses, as he traveled with the Israelites in the wilderness wanted his beloved Israelites to share in the sacred privilege which he had had-that of seeing God face to face. He taught them that in order to have this privilege they had to possess the highest degree of the Melchizedek priesthood (the "fulness of the priesthood" spoken of above) which, of course, required them to be responsive, obedient, and worthy. Unfortunately they failed the test. Hence the higher priesthood was removed from them, and even Moses was taken from them. Read the account of this incident in D&C 84:19-25:
And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this [the power of godliness] no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also.
7 This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things-
verse 7 "in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things" A similar expression is found in Hebrews 7:1-3 where it has caused much confusion. In Hebrews, in apparent reference to Melchizedek, king of Salem, we read that "Melchisedec" is: "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually." We learn from the JST and from this verse in the Book of Mormon that Hebrews 7:3 was not intended by Paul to say that Melchizedek was endless. Rather it was the priesthood to which he was ordained that is endless. The priesthood is from eternity past to eternity future. In further explanation of Hebrews 7:3, Joseph Smith wrote: "The Melchizedek priesthood holds the right from the eternal God, and not by descent from father and mother; and that priesthood is as eternal as God himself, having neither beginning of days nor end of life" (TPJS, 323).
Joseph Smith taught: "The priesthood is an everlasting principle, and existed with God from eternity, and will to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years" (TPJS, 157). President George Q. Cannon taught that the priesthood "had no beginning; [it will have] no end. It is [as] eternal as our Father and God, and it extends into the eternities to come, and it is as endless as eternity is endless, and as our God is endless: for it is the power and authority by which our Father and God sits upon his throne and wields the power he does throughout the innumerable worlds over which he exercises dominion" (JD, 26:245). Thus we learn that the holy priesthood after the order of the Son of God was in operation in the first estate or pre-existence. It exists here in mortality. And, it will play a vital role in the spirit world and in the kingdoms of glory.
8 Now they were ordained after this manner-being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end-
verse 8 "they were ordained after this manner" They, again, refers to those who had been foreordained to receive the higher priesthood who did not harden their hearts and were ordained here on earth to the "high priesthood of the holy order of God."
We have learned then from these verses in Alma 13 that in order to hold the priesthood one must be called of God (one cannot appoint oneself), be valiant in one's loyalty to the Savior and his gospel, and then receive the priesthood according to the order of the Church, that is by the laying on of hands.
Here is a provocative question: Are women excluded from the opportunity of receiving "holy callings," or foreordinations, from God? It seems clear they are not.
9 Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.
verse 9 "Thus they become high priests forever" There are apparently two meanings of the title "high priest." First, it is one of the ordained offices within the Melchizedek priesthood. Second, Elder Bruce McConkie taught that a high priest is "God's chief representative on the earth, the one who holds the highest spiritual position in his kingdom in any age. . . . This special designation of the chief spiritual officer of the church has reference to the administrative position which he holds rather than to the office to which he is ordained in the priesthood" (Mormon Doctrine, 355).
10 Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;
11 Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.
verse 11 The process of being sanctified has two separate parts. It occurs in response to an individual's successfully obeying a commandment. First, it means to have an increment of the natural self burned out of one's soul "as if by fire." Second, sanctification refers also to the receiving of an increment of a gift of the Spirit-a portion of an attribute of Christ. Sanctification is an ongoing process that occurs as an ongoing reward for an individual's obedience to the commandments of the gospel. For a more complete discussion of the principle of sanctification see Justification and Sanctification in volume 1, chapter 17 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
For a discussion on the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost and the so-called "baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, see Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth, in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 18. The sanctified individual is worthy of a celestial reward. He earned this state through striving to conform to the principles of the gospel and through repeatedly repenting of imperfections and striving and striving again and again.
12 Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.
verses 10-12 Alma's repeated references to "they" as he spoke to the people of Ammonihah refers to those, in prior history, that had been ordained to the higher priesthood after being foreordained to such in the premortal world.
It seems that we human beings in any era tend to regard our own generation and our own people as enlightened and advanced and smugly regard those of other times and other cultures as less informed, less sophisticated, and less capable. It is humbling to note that Alma was inspired to report on "many, exceedingly great many" who lived between the time of Adam and his own day who were righteous souls who were ordained to the higher priesthood, sanctified by the blood of Christ, and who entered into the rest of the Lord. In like manner, President Joseph F. Smith in October 1918 saw in vision "an innumerable company" of righteous spirits who had assembled in paradise to greet the Christ who visited them between his crucifixion and resurrection (D&C 138).
13 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.
verse 13 "bring forth fruit meet for repentance" The meaning of the adjective "meet" in this context is an archaic one. It means consistent with or indicative of. "Fruits" of repentance implies tangible works and deeds rather than mere intentions or professions.
verses 14-19 The subject of these six verses is the man Melchizedek. To those whose sole source of information about Melchizedek is the Bible he is an enigmatic character about whom many traditions abound. For example, by some he is identified as Shem, the son of Noah. Others hold that he was a descendant of Shem. One tradition suggests that he was named Melchizedek by God when the priesthood was bestowed upon him (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews. 2 volumes Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1937, 1:233; 5:225-26). In the Bible Melchizedek suddenly appears on the scene at the time of Abraham. Abraham unhesitatingly recognizes him as a man of superior spiritual status, pays tithes to him, and receives from him a blessing. Melchizedek then disappears from the biblical record for a thousand years. King David then refers to the eternal "order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4). Another thousand years passes, and then Paul refers to him in Hebrews 7.
His name is derived from two Hebrew roots, melekh (king), and tzedek (righteousness). Thus the name Melchizedek literally means "righteous king." Josephus explained that the city of Salem, over which Melchizedek reigned as king and presided as high priest, later became known as Jerusalem (Josephus Flavius, Josephus: Complete Works. Translated by William Whiston. Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1981, 1.10.3). In writing of Jerusalem and referring to Melchizedek, Josephus wrote: "He who first built it was a potent man among the Canaanites and in our tongue called the Righteous King, for such he really was; on which account he was [there] the first priest of God, and first built a temple [there]" (Ibid., 6.10.1).
What additional information do we in the Church have today about this interesting character? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Today we have an advantage in learning about Melchizedek. We are able to study these verses in Alma 13 along with the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14, Joseph's lectures on the priesthood, and the Joseph Smith Translation of Hebrews 5 and 7, all of which contain considerable information about this good man.
It is clear that Melchizedek was a remarkable type or symbol of Christ. His was a life of devotion to duty, a life that truly pointed people toward the Christ. The church in ancient days and the church today call the higher priesthood after his name. This is done both to honor the name of Melchizedek, because he so closely emulated Christ, and to avoid the too frequent repetition of the sacred name of Deity (D&C 107:3-4). Elder Franklin D. Richards reported that the prophet Joseph said that the power of Melchizedek was "not the power of a prophet, nor apostle, nor patriarch only, but of a king and priest to God, to open the windows of heaven and pour out the peace and law of endless life to man. And no man can attain to the joint heirship with Jesus Christ without being administered to by one having the same power and authority of Melchizedek" (Words of Joseph Smith 245; spelling and punctuation corrected). Melchizedek is the prototype of the righteous priesthood holder. He magnified his priesthood callings and chose righteousness.
Joseph Smith's inspired translation of the Bible provides us with provocative insights into the man Melchizedek:
Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire. And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch. It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God; And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name. For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course; to put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world. And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace. And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world; And hath said, and sworn with an oath, that the heavens and the earth should come together; and the sons of God should be tried so as by fire. And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace (JST, Genesis 14:26-36).Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire. And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch. It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God; And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name. For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course; to put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world. And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace. And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world; And hath said, and sworn with an oath, that the heavens and the earth should come together; and the sons of God should be tried so as by fire. And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace (JST, Genesis 14:26-36).
Also from the JST we learn that Melchizedek was the keeper of God's storehouse and that God had appointed him to receive tithes for the poor. "Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need" (JST, Genesis 14:37-39).
14 Yea, humble yourselves even as the people in the days of Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same order which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever.
verse 14 "Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same order which I have spoken" This is the "holy order of God" or the "holy order of the Son of God."
"who also took upon him the high priesthood forever" It is sobering to realize that those of us who are blessed with the priesthood, like Melchizedek, may be privileged to exercise it forever-for all time and eternity.
15 And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed.
verse 15 This is an interesting bit of information about Melchizedek and dates Melchizedek's sojourn on earth as being about 1900 BC. An old Jewish tradition states, "Melchizedek, the king of righteousness, priest of God Most High, and king of Jerusalem, came forth to meet [Abraham]," as Abraham was returning from war "with bread and wine. And this high priest instructed Abraham in the laws of the priesthood and in the Torah" (Ginzberg 1:233). Modern revelation teaches us that "Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah; And from Noah till Enoch, through the lineage of their fathers; And from Enoch to Abel, who was slain by the conspiracy of his brother, who received the priesthood by the commandments of God, by the hand of his father Adam, who was the first man" (D&C 84:14-16). Joseph Smith reported that Abraham said to Melchizedek: "I believe all that thou hast taught me concerning the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man; so Melchizedek ordained Abraham and sent him away. Abraham rejoiced, saying, now I have a priesthood" (TPJS, 322-23).
16 Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord.
verse 16 "these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God" See the commentary for verse 2.
"it being a type of his order, or it being his order" This may be an example of a "typo," and the correction of that typo, made during the engraving of the plates. It obviously is not possible to erase errors that are engraved onto the plates. The writer may have decided mid-sentence that the manner of priesthood ordinations is not just a type or symbol of God's order; it is actually the order of God itself.
I mentioned previously that scholars have suggested that this verse is actually out of place and probably should have been placed between verses 12 and 13 of Alma 13 (Grant Hardy, "The Book of Mormon as a Written/Literary Artifact" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 12/2, 2003, 107-09), and that it may well have been intended to fit between verses 12 and 13. Because of the dictated nature of the translation process (see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, Appendix A, The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon), and the fact that this verse has always been placed just where it is now (including the original and printer's manuscript and all subsequent editions), the misplacement of the verse must have happened prior to its being recorded on metal plates.
The first clue to this verse's being out of place is that if it were omitted, we would never miss it. In fact, it interrupts the smooth flow of ideas in the discussion of Melchizedek (verses 14-20). The second clue is that the expected connections do not make sense. The phrase "these ordinances" in this verse must refer to some ordinances mentioned earlier, and the only possible antecedent that immediately precedes this verse is tithing. Though we might consider tithing as an ordinance, it is difficult to see how paying tithing encourages people to "look forward on the Son of God." Also why would paying tithing be referred to by the plural form: these ordinances?
We have already drawn a connection between this verse and verse 2 of this chapter (see the commentary for that verse), and verse 16 certainly fits better if it is read in the context of the discussion on priesthood ordination in verses 1-12. Note also that the phrase "that rest" in verse 13 demands an antecedent, which it would have if it followed verse 16. Thus if verse 16 were shifted to follow verse 12, it would fit better with both what comes before and what follows. The discussion of Melchizedek which follows, beginning in verse 14, then proceeds smoothly to the end of Alma's speech, save for the odd break in verse 16.
Is it possible that this apparent error might have been made by the prophet Mormon or someone working with him? It is entirely possible. Brother Hardy has pointed to a few examples in the Bible of verses generally thought to be out of place:
1. Judges 20:23 which should probably be moved to precede verse 22;
2. Isaiah 38:21-22 which should be moved between verses 6 and 7 (thus bringing Isaiah 38 in line with 2 Kings 20:6-11); and
3. A few manuscripts place 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 after verse 40.
The fact that such mistakes happen challenges scholars to try to determine the cause. How could a block of text come to be misplaced, and why would that error be carried forward? Generally such errors are the result of (1) scribal additions; (2) editorial comments in the margins becoming part of text; or (3) mistakes by scribes as they looked back and forth from the manuscript they were copying to the one they were writing.
How could such an error have gotten into a text written on metallic plates? Errors might have crept in before the text was committed to the metal plates of Mormon (please make certain that you are familiar with the Book of Mormon plates by reading the supplemental article Those Confusing Book of Mormon Plates). Perhaps someone transcribing the passage onto the plates of Mormon from other plates forgot verse 16, caught his mistake three verses later, and then wrote in verse 16 with an arrow or similar sign-which Joseph did not reproduce in English-or in the margins. In this particular case there is something that would immediately catch the attention of textual scholars. Verses 12 and 16 both end with virtually the same phrase: "enter(ed) into the rest of the Lord." A copyist could have read verse 12 and looked down to write it out, but then as he looked back at the original, his eye could have skipped to the next rest of the Lord (at the end of verse 16, which may have been the next verse), resulting in the inadvertent deletion of an entire sentence. Realizing his mistake three verses later, he then copied what he had missed, out of order, so as not to lose any of the precious words. This very phenomenon has, in fact, occurred and is the explanation for an entire verse being omitted just after Alma 32:30 in the 1830 edition (the missing words were finally restored only in 1981-see Robert J. Matthews, "The New Publications of the Standard Works-1979, 1981," BYU Studies, 22/4 [fall 1982]: 387-424). The latter example, however, was a mistake in the transmission of the English translation, whereas Alma 13:16 seems to be a problem that predated the translation. That is, it was on the plates of Mormon themselves.
There is, in this rather protracted discussion of the misplacement of Alma 13:16, an evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. The misplacement of Alma 13:16 appears to be the result of some kind of mechanical problem in copying at a particular time in the ancient history of the text. Such errors are fairly common when people are working with handwritten materials, but is it difficult to see how such shifts of textual blocks could have occurred if the work was originally an oral composition (as critics must assume of the Book of Mormon if they imagine that Joseph Smith was making it up as he went along). This particular irregularity in the text is best explained as the result of ancient copying of written materials, long before Joseph Smith ever came in contact with the plates. This particular mistake actually strengthens the book's claim to be an ancient written text.
17 Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness;
18 But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.
verses 17-18 We learn that in the land of Salem the people were initially wicked, but through Melchizedek's priesthood ministrations, his mighty faith, and his preachings he established peace and righteousness among his people. We are taught elsewhere that Melchizedek and his people established Zion and attained a level of transcendent righteousness, even as Enoch (JST, Genesis 14:33-34; Genesis 14:36).
"he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father" We are not given the name of Melchizedek's father, but we learn that Melchizedek reigned "under" him. The term "under his father" appears to be a Hebrew idiom which means that he "takes the place of his father" or "reigns in his father's stead"-literally he succeeds his father (John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon" in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, 90-91).
19 Now, there were many before him, and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater; therefore, of him they have more particularly made mention.
verse 19 It is no wonder that Alma closes his discussion of Melchizedek with a tribute to that great man! "They" refers to the prophet-authors of the scripture.
20 Now I need not rehearse the matter; what I have said may suffice. Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction.
verse 20 "if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction" To "wrest" the scriptures is to distort; pervert; twist their true meaning-to derive meaning from them that was not intended by the Lord.
There are a number of instances in original manuscript of the Book of Mormon where Dr. Royal Skousen feels that Oliver made a mistake in transcribing Joseph Smith's dictation. If a word or a phrase was unknown to him, he substituted a more common word or phrase (but with varying degrees of success). In each of these cases, the substitution is found in the original manuscript and was later copied into the printer's manuscript. It was then either corrected by the typesetter or appeared in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. This particular phrase offers such an example. In the original and printer's manuscripts, this phrase read ". . . if ye will arrest them it shall be to your own destruction." The word arrest was allowed to stand by the typesetter, and it therefore appeared in the 1830 edition. By the 1837 edition, it was changed to wrest, as is found in our present edition. Dr. Skousen feels that the reading in the present edition is the correct one.
Who is it that is speaking in this verse? The text suggests that it is still Alma (see verse 21) though it might as well have been Mormon inserting an editorial comment directed at those in this final dispensation who are reading the Book of Mormon. In essence he says, "There, in a nutshell, is the doctrine of the priesthood. Be careful with it. For while it is the mechanism of the ultimate blessings, it may also result in your eternal destruction.
21 And now it came to pass that when Alma had said these words unto them, he stretched forth his hand unto them and cried with a mighty voice, saying: Now is the time to repent, for the day of salvation draweth nigh;
verse 21 What did Alma mean by "the day of salvation"? He may have been referring to the day of the Savior's birth into mortality, or he might have been simply trying to emphasize the vital nature of this brief mortal trial.
22 Yea, and the voice of the Lord, by the mouth of angels, doth declare it unto all nations; yea, doth declare it, that they may have glad tidings of great joy; yea, and he doth sound these glad tidings among all his people, yea, even to them that are scattered abroad upon the face of the earth; wherefore they have come unto us.
verse 22 "doth declare it unto all nations" Consider, for a moment, the significance of this most provocative phrase. It is certainly one you might be likely to pass right by in casual reading. "It" refers to the good news of the Savior's birth, the "glad tidings of great joy," a testimony of the Savior. Prior to this great event, the announcement of his birth was made to "all nations"-to "all his people!" Does this include even the heathen and gentile nations? Most certainly!
And by what mechanism was this announcement made in all nations? Angels-both seen and unseen-declare the word of the Lord or "voice of the Lord" unto the Lord's "chosen vessels" (Moroni 7:31). The angels teach of Christ's birth and ministry and death and resurrection. These "chosen vessels" or prophets then in turn declare these teachings unto "the residue of men" (Moroni 7:32).
"to them that are scattered abroad upon the face of the earth" This phrase refers to scattered Israel.
"wherefore they have come unto us" Because we are scattered Israel, those angels have come unto us to make the announcement of the "glad tidings of great joy."
23 And they are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land; therefore, we are thus highly favored, for we have these glad tidings declared unto us in all parts of our vineyard.
verse 23 "they are made known to us in plain terms" This might be more simply rendered: "The angels are assigned to speak to us plainly."
24 For behold, angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land; and this is for the purpose of preparing the hearts of the children of men to receive his word at the time of his coming in his glory.
verse 24 "For behold, angels are declaring it unto many at this time in our land" Most of us who acquire a testimony of the Savior do so by means of personal revelation from the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost. To some select few is extended the opportunity to enjoy the direct ministrations of angels (Moroni 10:14).
"at the time of his coming in his glory" It seems clear that Alma (and/or Mormon) are referring to Christ's coming at the time of his mortal ministry. The phraseology in this verse ("coming in his glory"), however, is usually preserved to refer to his second coming-not when he is born in a lowly stable. Then he comes in glory for all to see.
25 And now we only wait to hear the joyful news declared unto us by the mouth of angels, of his coming; for the time cometh, we know not how soon. Would to God that it might be in my day; but let it be sooner or later, in it I will rejoice.
verse 25 The phrase "of his coming" might be rendered "that he has come."
"For the time cometh, we know not how soon" How is it that Alma was not aware of the time of Christ's coming? After all, had not the prophet Nephi predicted specifically that the Savior would be born "six hundred years" after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 10:4; 1 Nephi 19:8; 2 Nephi 25:19)? It is possible that the prophet Alma was not even aware of Nephi's prophecy! He did have in his possession the small plates of Nephi, but they existed among voluminous other records. The prophet Mormon seemed to be unaware of the small plates of Nephi until he "searched among the records which had been delivered into [his] hands" (Words of Mormon 1:3).
26 And it shall be made known unto just and holy men, by the mouth of angels, at the time of his coming, that the words of our fathers may be fulfilled, according to that which they have spoken concerning him, which was according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them.
verse 26 Wouldn't it be fascinating to have a biographical sketch of all those "just and holy men" to whom the angels announced the blessed news, "He is born." Apparently some of the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were among them.
27 And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance;
28 But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;
verse 28 How does an aggressive and carnal man become "humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering"? It is only by the gradual, painstaking, transformative influence of the Holy Ghost. See the important discussion of the ordinance of baptism in the chapter Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth, in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine referenced above. Pay particular attention to the "baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost."
"watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear" Some confusion has arisen regarding the concept of temptation. The confusion probably originated with a verse of scripture written by Paul the apostle: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). The misconception that has arisen out of this verse might be expressed as follows: God will never allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist. We are thus safe from committing major sin. Even if we are a bit careless and find ourselves in compromising circumstances, we may be certain that God will never allow us to destroy ourselves spiritually. We may even flirt with sin a little and stray somewhat off the strait and narrow. It doesn't matter. He will rescue us. The more complete truth is contained in this phrase here in verse 28. God will not rescue the indifferent sinner. The promise that Paul intended was that if we are careful, diligent, vigilant, indeed if we "watch and pray continually," then there is no temptation from which he will not rescue us or at least empower us to rescue ourselves. Guarding against sin cannot be a passive exercise. Rather we must be most actively engaged.
29 Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.
verse 29 For a discussion of the "rest of the Lord" see the commentary for 2 Nephi 21:10. See also "The Rest of the Lord" in chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1. See also a discussion of the closely related gift of hope in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine: see "Two Little-Appreciated Gifts of the Spirit" in volume 1, chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith. See also "The Fruits of Faith" in volume 1, chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith.
30 And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death.
verse 30 "may the Lord grant unto you repentance" Does man repent of his sins, or does God grant him repentance? True repentance requires more than "worldly sorrow." It also requires "godly sorrow" (2 Corinthians 7:10). See a discussion of this important concept in the commentary for Mosiah 26:29 and in Repentance in volume 3, chapter 4 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine. There, you will read that godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit received from the Lord by personal revelation after a person qualifies himself by his behaviors (feelings, thoughts, words, and actions).
"second death" We have discussed previously this important concept (see the commentary for Alma 12:16). For the convenience of the reader I will repeat that discussion here. What exactly is this "second death"? To understand clearly the answer to this question, let us review part of the concept of the fall. Because Adam transgressed in the garden, all mankind will temporarily suffer two penalties: (1) Each person will be cut off from the presence of God while here in mortality, the so-called spiritual death. This may also be referred to as the "first death." (2) Every man will also suffer physical death, the separation of his spirit from his body. These penalties are temporary because, as we will learn, their effects will automatically be some day reversed. No man will be eternally punished for Adam's transgression (Article of Faith 2). Remember, that the law of justice includes the concept that it is unjust to punish one man for another's sins. Thus, all men will be resurrected, and also no man will be excluded from the presence of God because of Adam's sin. At a point in time every man will be returned to the presence of God to be judged. It mattereth not how wicked and unrepentant, after the resurrection every person will be brought back into the presence of God for judgment. This returning to God's presence of every man is proof that no one suffers a permanent spiritual death because of Adam's transgression. Once in God's presence each person is judged. Each will either be exalted in the kingdom of God and thus remain in his presence or they will be sent out of his presence a second time-hence they will suffer the so-called "second death." They will be cut off from the presence of God, and from his happiness and joy, forever. These will be consigned to one of the lower two kingdoms or they will suffer a complete second death and live with Satan forever as sons of perdition. The term "second death" is used several times in the Book of Mormon. Sometimes it refers to that place of eternal damnation where Satan and his sons live, so- called outer darkness (see Jacob 3:11).
31 And Alma spake many more words unto the people, which are not written in this book.