Alma Chapter 29
Alma 29:1-3 O that I were an angel and could have the wish of mine heart.
Alma 29:4 Alma teaches that the Lord granteth unto men according to their desires.
Alma 29:9-10 I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it.
Now Mormon abruptly shifts gears and inserts a remarkable soliloquy of the prophet Alma. Alma 29 is often referred to as "Alma's Psalm."
1 O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
verse 1 Here Alma laments that he cannot do more to make people accept the only plan that will result in their exaltation. Yet, he knows that God grants salvation or damnation to people only according to their own desires (verse 4). And he repents of aspiring to be more than he really is (verses 6-7).
What is an angel? It is a messenger sent by God or Satan to minister or teach. Those sent by God teach by the power of the Holy Ghost. The different types of angels include:
1. Resurrected beings having celestial bodies of flesh and bone. They have obviously come forth in the "first resurrection," since that is the only resurrection that has already commenced. They therefore have earned and received their celestial glory, their celestial bodies, and they can appear in glory. Perhaps they are also permitted to withhold their glory as they appear.
2. The "spirits of just men made perfect" (D&C 76:69; D&C 76:129:3). These are righteous individuals who have died and have been assigned to a state of paradise but have not yet been resurrected. They are assured that they will inherit the celestial glory. Because of their righteousness, they are allowed to appear in the glory they will possess when they are resurrected.
3. Translated beings. These are individuals who have lived their mortal sojourn, had their calling and election made sure, and have been called to take upon themselves a terrestrial-like body and continue to serve the Lord among mortals. As they minister on the earth they are likely not distinguishable from other mortals. For a more complete discussion of translated beings, see the commentary for 3 Nephi 28:6-10 and Doctrine of Translation in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 17.
4. Pre-existent spirits.
5. Satan or one of his spirit colleagues. Obviously the title "angels" is a misleading euphemism here. These may actually appear "in glory" as angels of light since they know how to fake the light or glory of God.
2 Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.
verse 2 The "plan of redemption" would undoubtedly include the concepts of the fall of man, the atonement of the Savior, and obedience to the laws of God.
Alma admits to a temptation to superimpose his will upon the agency of man-that is, he feels so strongly that men would be happy here on earth and beyond if they would only accept Jesus Christ and his gospel, that sometimes he finds himself wishing he could speak so powerfully ("as with the voice of thunder") that men's agency would be momentarily suspended and they would all be persuaded to accept the gospel and joint with God's earthly kingdom.
"that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth" Contemplate for a moment what the world would be like if all of its inhabitants would live the principles of the gospel and look forward joyously to their exaltation.
3 But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.
verse 3 Here, Alma apologizes to the Lord for desiring more ability than the Lord has given him.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell commented on this verse: "The truth about foreordination also helps us to taste of the other deep wisdom of Alma. He said we ought to be 'content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto' each of us (Alma 29:3). If, indeed, the things allotted to each of us have been divinely customized, then why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?" (But for a Small Moment, 101).
4 I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.
verse 4 "I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God" We have encountered the verb "harrow up" or "harrowed up" previously in our study of the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 9:47; Alma 14:6; Alma 15:3). In all instances in the Book of Mormon, thus far, to "harrow up" is to vex or cause mental distress. The meaning in this verse is different. According to Webster, one archaic meaning of the verb "to harrow" is to despoil or to take away the value of a thing. This meaning seems applicable here. Alma says in effect, "I ought not, by my own vain or selfish desirings, try to alter the firm decree of a just God."
"the firm decree of a just God" And just what is this "firm decree of a just God"? It is that every man possesses his unfettered agency, and that he will reap eternal happiness or sorrow according to his exercise of that agency.
"I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire" Here is a sobering thought. A man's "desire" has little to do with his momentary wishes or statements of preference. Rather his "desire" is what he truly is in his heart. Ultimately a man is judged by his desire-what really lies deep within his heart. A man's thinking, feelings, words, and actions (his behaviors) are inevitably determined by what is in his heart. No amount of pretense, excuse, deceit, ostentation, or rationalization can hide what is really there. A man may try to deceive others by acting this way or that way, but ultimately what truly lies in his heart will manifest itself through his behaviors. The Lord's judgment of a man will thus always be based on that man's real desires, and that judgment or decree is "unalterable."
An individual who has yielded his heart to God, overcome his natural self, and willed himself to obey will eventually be born of the Spirit. He will be changed from his carnal and fallen state. He will experience a change of heart. That man will desire eternal life for all of the right reasons. His heart and his motivations will be pure. There will be nothing of selfishness or self aggrandizement. He will not simply prefer to live with God; he will long to be there. He will have a consuming desire for the things of God. He will have lost all desire to sin. He it is who is granted "according to his desire"-knowing that he will not ask amiss. The Lord will see to it that "it is done even as he asketh" (D&C 46:30). The Lord has said of him: "Whatsoever things [he] shall ask the Father in my name shall be given unto [him]" (3 Nephi 27:28).
Is it possible that a man might ask amiss? That is, might a man request an eternal benefit which is incompatible with those desires that are truly found in his heart? The prophet Samuel wrote, "The LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Ultimately, the Lord's judgments will be based, not upon what a man says, or upon what a man may think he wants, but rather upon what a man is.
5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.
verse 5 "I know that good and evil have come before all men" Mortality offers to all people, once they are beyond the age of accountability, ample opportunities to knowingly decide between good and evil.
"he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless" Those below the age of accountability, and those whose mental capacities render them unable to judge between good and evil, are not responsible.
"but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires" President Ezra Taft Benson taught: "We are free to choose, but we are not free to alter the consequences of those choices" (Come Unto Christ, 40). The primary determinant of a man's choices and behavior is his desires-who and what he really is. Ultimately a man's desires will be made overtly manifest in his outward behavior. In the unusual case of a man whose desires, whether they be good or evil, are not manifest due to circumstances beyond his control, a just God will reward or punish that individual as if he had actually manifest those desires (D&C 137:5-9). Elder Dallin H. Oaks wrote: "The laws of God can reward a righteous desire or attitude because an omniscient God can determine it. If a person does not perform a particular commandment because he is genuinely unable to do so, but truly would if he could, our Heavenly Father will know this and will reward that person accordingly. Upon the same principle, evil thoughts or desires are sinful under the laws of God even though not translated into the actions that would make them punishable under the laws of man. Similarly, if a person performs a seemingly righteous act but does so for the wrong reasons, such as to achieve a selfish purpose, his hands may be clean but his heart is not pure. His act will not be counted for righteousness" (Pure in Heart, 12-13).
6 Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?
7 Why should I desire that I were an angel, that I could speak unto all the ends of the earth?
8 For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.
verse 8 Alma teaches that God grants gospel knowledge including spiritual insights unto his children according to his divine wisdom. This likely applies to nations as a whole and to each individual. We will receive that portion of his word we are prepared to receive. We have already learned that "he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full." Also "they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction" (Alma 12:9-11).
"the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word" From other scriptures we have learned that the gospel will be preached unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (Revelation 14:6-7) and that it will go to all nations in their own language (D&C 90:11). Here we learn that the people of each nation will hear the gospel declared by their own people-"of their own nation and tongue."
9 I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy.
verse 9 Here, Alma reaffirms the idea that he has no desire to seek for callings from the Lord that may bring him notoriety or some other selfish benefit. He is content with and indeed glories in "that which the Lord hath commanded" him.
10 And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.
verse 10 "I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me" It is unlikely that Alma, even to the end of his mortal life, ever ceased shaking with panic over how close he had come to eternal damnation in those months and years prior to his miraculous conversion.
11 Yea, and I also remember the captivity of my fathers; for I surely do know that the Lord did deliver them out of bondage, and by this did establish his church; yea, the Lord God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did deliver them out of bondage.
12 Yea, I have always remembered the captivity of my fathers; and that same God who delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians did deliver them out of bondage.
verses 11-12 By recalling here the captivity of his ancestors in the land of Helam and the land of Nephi, Alma is actually following a commandment of the Lord delivered to him by the angel who participated in his dramatic conversion. That angel told him: "Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them" (Mosiah 27:16).
13 Yea, and that same God did establish his church among them; yea, and that same God hath called me by a holy calling, to preach the word unto this people, and hath given me much success, in the which my joy is full.
14 But I do not joy in my own success alone, but my joy is more full because of the success of my brethren, who have been up to the land of Nephi.
verse 14 Here, Alma refers, of course, to his brethren the sons of Mosiah.
15 Behold, they have labored exceedingly, and have brought forth much fruit; and how great shall be their reward!
16 Now, when I think of the success of these my brethren my soul is carried away, even to the separation of it from the body, as it were, so great is my joy.
17 And now may God grant unto these, my brethren, that they may sit down in the kingdom of God; yea, and also all those who are the fruit of their labors that they may go no more out, but that they may praise him forever. And may God grant that it may be done according to my words, even as I have spoken. Amen.
verse 17 "that they may sit down in the kingdom of God" Alma yearns aloud for the sealing up to eternal glory of his friends, the sons of Mosiah.
"that they may go no more out" This particular "they" refers to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies-those Lamanites converted during the ministrations of the sons of Mosiah. This phrase means: May the converted Lamanites always remain faithful and never again wander off the strait and narrow path.