Alma Chapter 31
Alma 31-35 Alma leads a mission to the apostate Zoramites.
Alma 31:5 Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
In this chapter we will encounter the Nephite apostate Zoram. In the book of Mormon text, he is the fourth of the charismatic, learned, and eloquent former Nephites who were successful in leading many Nephites from the truth. All four have some things in common. For example, they all denied that Christ would come. It may be a useful review to consider each of these briefly in turn.
Sherem lived in the days of the prophet Jacob and the account of his ministry is found in Jacob 7. He taught that salvation came through the law of Moses (Jacob 7:7). He denied the possibility of prophecy but then proceeded to prophesy himself: "I know that there is no Christ, neither has been, nor ever will be" (Jacob 7:9). After asking for a sign and being struck down by the Lord, he recanted his apostate teachings, confessed Christ, and died.
Nehor lived at the time of the younger Alma, and we read of him in Alma 1. He taught the doctrine of universal salvation for all men: "For the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life" (Alma 1:4). He advocated a paid ministry and introduced priestcraft among the Nephites. After slaying the elderly Gideon, he was executed, but not before he acknowledged the falsity of his teachings.
Korihor was the only person specifically referred to as "Anti-Christ" in the Book of Mormon. He also lived at the time of Alma the younger, and we read of him in Alma 30. He denied the existence of anything that could not be experienced with the physical senses. He advocated the law of the jungle ("every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime"-Alma 30:17). He asked for a sign and was struck deaf and dumb. He blamed his apostasy on a deceptive vision in which Satan appeared to him in the form of an angel. Korihor appealed for removal of the sign but was denied. He was later trampled to death while begging for food in the land of the Zoramites.
We are never given Zoram's lineage, though it is possible he descended from Laban's servant of the same name. He, with his followers, had apostatized from Alma's church of Christ.
1 Now it came to pass that after the end of Korihor, Alma having received tidings that the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord, and that Zoram, who was their leader, was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols, his heart again began to sicken because of the iniquity of the people.
verse 1 "leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols" What were the specific gods or idols the Zoramites worshiped? The answer is found in verse 24: gold, silver, and all manner of fine goods. Idol worship has been common in all ages of the world and is common today. Each idol worshiper creates his own idols from things of the world. The Lord said of people in our dispensation: "They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol" (D&C 1:16).
2 For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.
3 Now the Zoramites had gathered themselves together in a land which they called Antionum, which was east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites.
verse 3 Each of the "which's" in this verse refer to the land Antionum, except for the final "which." It refers to the wilderness. It may seem difficult to visualize the relative location of this land. See the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
4 Now the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites, and that it would be the means of great loss on the part of the Nephites.
verse 4 The "correspondence" spoken of here likely refers to a military treaty. While Alma sorrowed greatly because of the iniquity of the Zoramites, the possibility of their combining forces with the Lamanites against the Nephites was also an issue of national security. The Nephites' fears were well-founded as we will later learn (see Alma 35:10; Alma 43:4).
5 And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just-yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them-therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
verse 5 One of the grand themes of the entire book of Alma is that the preaching of the word of God is mightier than politics or the sword or intellectual logic and reasoning in establishing peace and goodness among a people. Indeed, the word of God is a most powerful influence in bringing people to the gospel and church of Jesus Christ. The reason is simple: The Spirit is committed to bear witness to those potentially responsive souls who hear the word of God preached to them and who seek to know the truth.
"it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God" How might we define the word of God? It is simply all of the communication that passes from God to all the intelligences in his universe. This communication is initiated by God intentionally and for his good purposes. We are reminded again and again in scripture that God's primary yearning for his creatures is that they return home to live with him forever in the celestial heaven following this mortal phase. And indeed, we gain the sense from the scriptures that it is a powerful yearning (Moses 1:39). There is nothing arbitrary about the information he makes available to us. His "word" is made available to us for a purpose. It is intended to bring us home to him if we will seek for it, come to truly understand it, and respond to it. Some other attributes of the word of God described in scripture include: It is the foundation for faith (Alma 5:11-13; Romans 10:17). It may lead one to Christ (Helaman 3:29-30). It heals the wounded soul (Jacob 2:8). It spiritually nourishes the soul (Moroni 6:4).
What type of information is included in the word of God? Into what categories might we divide this information, this communication? In simple fashion, and somewhat arbitrarily, we may separate his word to us into: (1) his commandments, his ongoing instructions and ministrations, and (2) his doctrines. His word is communicated to us through his prophets, and he intends that we have constant touch with his prophets while we are here on earth. This word may be passed along to us orally from living prophets or in written scripture, from prophets past. We must also include those communications that occur from God to us as individuals. These arrive via the influence of the Holy Ghost and are referred to as inspiration or revelation.
It is possible that a man may live out his mortal experience literally awash in the word of God, and yet not perceive even a particle of it and therefore not benefit from it. A man can take full advantage of the word of God only through the merciful intervention of the Spirit of God. It is only through the Spirit's instrumentality that man may come to understand and realize the significance of God's word. The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to render God's word understandable and therefore influential to us here on earth. The Spirit's ministrations are not available to us without cost. What must we pay? We must acknowledge the existence of the Spirit's influence, seek for that influence, and live worthy of it through our striving to live the commandments of God. Then we must also labor diligently to acquire God's word through scripture, through his prophets, and through other prayerful strivings and ponderings. Also, we must labor diligently to attune our life to his teachings.
And what is the virtue of the word of God? Virtue, in this context, is the beneficial effect, the enabling power-that which makes things happen. In short it is that quality of the word of God that brings us home to him. Considering the separate categories of the word of God, it is obvious how his commandments and his ongoing instructions and ministrations work in bringing us back to him. We must strive to obey him, and we must remain close to him so that we may receive his succor. This obedience brings to us vital spiritual growth during which he blesses us with incremental divine attributes-blessings given beyond that which we merit. We cannot successfully negotiate this mortal phase without his ongoing help. For further discussion of spiritual growth see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume one, chapters 7, Spiritual Growth-Gifts of the Spirit-and 8, The Blessings of Spiritual Gifts.
But what about his doctrines? Do they have power in our lives? Do they help bring us home to him? Do they have virtue? We may simply define God's doctrine as the way things are and the way things work in God's universe. In a broader sense, we may define God's doctrine as all of his teachings. In this sense doctrine is virtually identical to the word of God. In a more limited sense, doctrine is the truth about God. It is the concepts, the principles, the characteristics of God and all things surrounding him. Doctrine includes all of the characteristics of his plan of salvation. Doctrine includes the truths about all of the dynamics of God's universe-how things work, how they fit together, how they interact.
An oft-neglected characteristic of doctrine is its force and influence in our spiritual lives. A study of the doctrine, enriched and enabled by the Spirit of God, eventually brings one to marvel over the consistency, the logic, and the majesty of the doctrine. A persistent study of the doctrine leads, almost inevitably to a testimony of the truth of it all. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught: "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior" (CR, October 1986, 20). In short, a study of true doctrine leads to conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church.
As Alma consider the approach he ought to utilize with the rebellious Zoram and his followers (and who would doubt that he discussed this approach with his missionary companion Amulek), the decision was made that they would try to bring the Zoramites to Christ through teaching them the doctrine. Alma hoped that hearing the doctrines might lead to the Zoramites' being nudged by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost and to their desiring to know more.
6 Therefore he took Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner; and Himni he did leave in the church in Zarahemla; but the former three he took with him, and also Amulek and Zeezrom, who were at Melek; and he also took two of his sons.
verse 6 It is interesting to note that this mission of Alma and company to the Zoramites took place about one year prior to Alma's supposed death.
7 Now the eldest of his sons he took not with him, and his name was Helaman; but the names of those whom he took with him were Shiblon and Corianton; and these are the names of those who went with him among the Zoramites, to preach unto them the word.
verse 7 "Corianton" It is of interest to learn that names that begin with "Co" or "Ko" are common in the Mayan language. There are other names in the Book of Mormon that begin with the same prefix: Cohor, Korihor, and Coriantumr.
8 Now the Zoramites were dissenters from the Nephites; therefore they had had the word of God preached unto them.
9 But they had fallen into great errors, for they would not observe to keep the commandments of God, and his statutes, according to the law of Moses.
verse 9 We already know that the Nephites offered sacrifices and kept the law of Moses. We often equate the offering of sacrifices with the law of Moses, but did not Adam and Abraham offer sacrifices? Could it be that the offering of sacrifices is a part of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ? A statement of Elder Bruce R. McConkie is interesting in this regard: "We cannot always tell . . . whether specific sacrificial rites performed in Israel were part of the Mosaic system or whether they were the same ordinances performed by Adam and Abraham as part of the gospel law itself." Speaking of the Nephites, Elder McConkie continued: "Since they held the Melchizedek priesthood and there were no Levites among them, we suppose their sacrifices were those that antedated the ministry of Moses and that, since they had the fulness of the gospel itself, they kept the law of Moses [only] in the sense that they conformed to its myriad moral principles and its endless ethical restrictions" (Promised Messiah, 427). If sacrifices are a part of the fulness of the gospel, why do we not offer them today? We do indeed live the law of sacrifice, as anyone who has made sacred covenants in the temple can attest.
10 Neither would they observe the performances of the church, to continue in prayer and supplication to God daily, that they might not enter into temptation.
verse 10 "the performances of the church" We may interpret the word "perfomances" as the commanded behaviors or rituals.
11 Yea, in fine, they did pervert the ways of the Lord in very many instances; therefore, for this cause, Alma and his brethren went into the land to preach the word unto them.
verse 11 To "pervert" is to distort, corrupt or lead astray.
verses 12-23 The Zoramite ritual described in these verses is uncharacteristic of people with a Hebrew origin. Perhaps this is further evidence of influence from other indigenous cultures among whom the Zoramites may have intermarried (see also the commentary for Jarom 1:6).
Rodney Turner has described the religion of the Zoramites as, "false, superficial, undemanding, impotent, and Christless." He has also observed: "The religion of the ancient Zoramites in the Book of Mormon is paralleled by much of the religion practiced in our modern world. . . . Consequently, the message of God's prophets to that misguided people is as relevant now as it was over two thousand years ago. . . . While religious illusions [such as those held by the Zoramites and their modern-day counterparts] may serve us in time, they will fail us in eternity" (Studies in Scripture, Volume eight, Alma 30 to Moroni, 16).
12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;
verse 12 "they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together" Synagogues in the Book of Mormon are simply places of worship. The English word synagogue consists of a prefix and a root. The prefix syn means together. The root ago is a verb which means to gather or to bring together. It is interesting to note that in this verse the phrase "gather themselves together" appears in close association with the term "synagogue."
The Zoramites seem to have been a relatively sophisticated and enterprising group who had moved into this land and probably had taken over from other less sophisticated inhabitants (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 542-44).
13 For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head, and the top thereof would only admit one person.
14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:
15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
verse 15 "thou wilt be a spirit forever" Here is evidence of their antichrist and false beliefs. They did not believe the teachings of the prophets-that God would condescend to come to earth and minister among men.
16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
verse 17 "thou hast elected us that we shall be saved" For a discussion of the true doctrine of election, see the commentary for Helaman 10:4-7 and also Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 16, Calling and Election Made Sure.
This doctrine sounds a note that is all too familiar in the religious world today. The teachings of historical Christianity, such as that accepted by the Protestants (Evangelicals), is just that. They maintain that once an individual has confessed Christ, he is saved in heaven forever (see the three chapters in the section titled Salvation in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 4).
18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.
verses 16-18 The Zoramites believed that God had singled them out for special blessings and spiritual insights. They were more blessed than their former Nephite brethren. Does this sound familiar? Do the Zoramites have any modern-day counterparts? How about some of the fundamentalist apostate groups who have separated themselves from the LDS Church. Some of them feel that they are privileged to know a "higher law" or "higher doctrine" than those who are committed to the Church.
For further discussion of what it really means to be a chosen people, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:19-20.
19 Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure.
20 For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.
21 Now the place was called by them Rameumptom, which, being interpreted, is the holy stand.
verse 21 The Rameumptom apparently was a type of praying stand at the top of a stairway. This design is suggestive of the standard motif of the ancient Central American ceremonial centers, the tall towers or pyramids with their steep stairways (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 542-44).
22 Now, from this stand they did offer up, every man, the selfsame prayer unto God, thanking their God that they were chosen of him, and that he did not lead them away after the tradition of their brethren, and that their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.
verse 22 Selfsame means the very same; identical.
"things to come, which they knew nothing about" The Zoramites denied the reality of prophecy.
23 Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner.
verse 23 Rodney Turner wrote of the Zoramites' almost comical form of worship:
Their choral exercise in vanity sufficed to appease their God and permitted them to freely indulge themselves. Having been predestined to holiness and salvation, they had no need for daily prayer or obedience to restrictive commandments. The issue of life after death had been fully and happily settled; they could get on with the things of this world. Such is the underlying assumption of every 'Sunday religion.' It renders God a practical irrelevance. He exists, but he need not be taken too seriously. [These] false doctrines . . . were both predictive and representative of those apostate religious beliefs-Christian and non-Christian-that shroud the world in spiritual darkness in these latter days (Studies in Scripture, Volume Eight, Alma 30 to Moroni 18-19).
24 Now when Alma saw this his heart was grieved; for he saw that they were a wicked and a perverse people; yea, he saw that their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods.
25 Yea, and he also saw that their hearts were lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride.
26 And he lifted up his voice to heaven, and cried, saying: O, how long, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh, to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?
27 Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride. Behold, O God, they cry unto thee with their mouths, while they are puffed up, even to greatness, with the vain things of the world.
28 Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say-We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.
verses 24-28 See the discussion on idolatry in the commentary for Omni 1:20.
29 Yea, and they say that thou hast made it known unto them that there shall be no Christ.
30 O Lord God, how long wilt thou suffer that such wickedness and infidelity shall be among this people? O Lord, wilt thou give me strength, that I may bear with mine infirmities. For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul.
verse 30 Alma is certainly disgusted and spiritually tormented by the wickedness of the Zoramites. Might there be a suggestion here also that his physical health is not good?
31 O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me, because of the iniquity of this people.
verse 31 "comfort my soul in Christ" There is considerable comfort available to us who are struggling here in mortality. It comes from Christ and may be experienced by those who know and love him through the mediation of the Holy Ghost.
32 O Lord, wilt thou comfort my soul, and give unto me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me-yea, Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and also Amulek and Zeezrom and also my two sons-yea, even all these wilt thou comfort, O Lord. Yea, wilt thou comfort their souls in Christ.
33 Wilt thou grant unto them that they may have strength, that they may bear their afflictions which shall come upon them because of the iniquities of this people.
verses 31-33 Alma apparently anticipates ridicule, scorn, rejection, and even persecution as the group proselytes among the Zoramites. We sense that Alma is not certain he personally can tolerate it, perhaps because of his physical condition.
34 O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ.
35 Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.
verse 35 "their souls are precious" Just exactly why is the worth of souls so great? Not only does each soul have infinite potential, but each has been bought with an infinite price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), even "the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:19). Having offered these explanations, we must remind ourselves that human logic seems to fall short in trying to explain the love the Father and the Son have for each of us.
"many of them are our brethren" (emphasis mine) We know that the Zoramites are dissenters from the Nephites (see verse 8). Apparently the "brethren" Alma is referring to are those former Nephites who are of Nephite, Lamanite, or Mulekite ancestry. People in these three categories are typically referred to in the text of the Book of Mormon as "brethren" (Mosiah 1:5; Mosiah 7:2; Mosiah 7:13; Alma 24:7-8). We may well wonder about those living among the Zoramites who are not considered their "brethren." Again, it is likely that when the Zoramites first settled this land, they took over from former indigenous inhabitants.
36 Now it came to pass that when Alma had said these words, that he clapped his hands upon all them who were with him. And behold, as he clapped his hands upon them, they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
verse 36 "he clapped his hands upon all them who were with him" This phrase implies some type of physical ordinance, perhaps involving the striking of his hands together, by which Alma set his brethren apart to their callings and bestowed upon them the Holy Spirit. An alternate explanation is that clapped is an alternative form of thrust or placed his hands upon the heads of his co-workers and set them apart for their missionary labor.
37 And after that they did separate themselves one from another, taking no thought for themselves what they should eat, or what they should drink, or what they should put on.
38 And the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith.
verse 38 "he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ" We will all suffer afflictions in mortality, but we hope, as Elder Neil A. Maxwell phrased it, that, "the sour notes are lost amid a symphony of salvational sounds" (Not Thy Will, but Thine, 119).