Alma Chapter 33
1 Now after Alma had spoken these words, they sent forth unto him desiring to know whether they should believe in one God, that they might obtain this fruit of which he had spoken, or how they should plant the seed, or the word of which he had spoken, which he said must be planted in their hearts; or in what manner they should begin to exercise their faith.
verse 1 "whether they should believe in one God" The Father designated Jesus Christ to be our God. The Savior possesses all of the characteristics of the Father by the principle of divine investiture of authority.
2 And Alma said unto them: Behold, ye have said that ye could not worship your God because ye are cast out of your synagogues. But behold, I say unto you, if ye suppose that ye cannot worship God, ye do greatly err, and ye ought to search the scriptures; if ye suppose that they have taught you this, ye do not understand them.
3 Do ye remember to have read what Zenos, the prophet of old, has said concerning prayer or worship?
verse 3 The ancient Israelite prophets Zenos and Zenock are mentioned in this verse and in verse 15. We know very little of these prophets. We do know that they lived "since the days of Abraham" (Helaman 8:19). An interesting verse in 3 Nephi (3 Nephi 10:16) suggests that the Nephites actually descended from the prophets Zenos and Zenock. It is likely that Zenos and Zenock were descendants of ancient Joseph the son of Abraham. The prophet Zenock was apparently martyred for his beliefs (Alma 33:15-17), as was Zenos (Helaman 8:19). For further commentary on the prophet Zenos, see the introductory commentary for Jacob 5.
verses 4-11 Zenos teaches that the real issue is not where or when one prays but how and to whom. These verses are referred to as the thanksgiving psalm of Zenos. Perhaps Alma knew this ancient poem well enough to recite it from memory.
Brother John W. Welch has called our attention to a most interesting fact of uncertain significance (Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, 331-32). This poem of Zenos contains, ten times, the word hear in various tenses. This is made especially interesting by the fact that a few of the important prayer sermons in the Book of Mormon which call upon God, especially when seeking atonement, also contain the pattern of a significant word's being repeated ten times. For example, The word Lord, in expanded form occurs ten times in King Benjamin's speech (seven times as "Lord God," and three times as "Lord Omnipotent"). The word Lord also appears exactly ten times in the psalm of Nephi, which also deals with the atoning embrace of God (see 2 Nephi 4:16-35), and the words Lord and Son are each mentioned precisely ten times in Alma's speech on the plan of redemption and atonement in Alma 12-13. The phrase O Lord is found exactly ten times in Alma's prayer in Antionum, when he called upon God for strength in bringing souls to Christ (Alma 31:26-35). Brother Welch wonders if all this might have something to do with the ten commandments, which date to preexilic Israel. Certainly we cannot be sure that Zenos, Nephi, Benjamin, or Alma were aware of this numerological character of their texts, and we cannot conclude with certainty that all preexilic Israelites placed religious importance on counting to ten, especially in connection with prayer and atonement. It seems unlikely that Joseph Smith was aware of this phenomenon.
4 For he said: Thou art merciful, O God, for thou hast heard my prayer, even when I was in the wilderness; yea, thou wast merciful when I prayed concerning those who were mine enemies, and thou didst turn them to me.
verse 4 "thou didst turn them to me" Zenos was reconciled to his enemies by the principle of charity.
5 Yea, O God, and thou wast merciful unto me when I did cry unto thee in my field; when I did cry unto thee in my prayer, and thou didst hear me.
6 And again, O God, when I did turn to my house thou didst hear me in my prayer.
7 And when I did turn unto my closet, O Lord, and prayed unto thee, thou didst hear me.
8 Yea, thou art merciful unto thy children when they cry unto thee, to be heard of thee and not of men, and thou wilt hear them.
9 Yea, O God, thou hast been merciful unto me, and heard my cries in the midst of thy congregations.
10 Yea, and thou hast also heard me when I have been cast out and have been despised by mine enemies; yea, thou didst hear my cries, and wast angry with mine enemies, and thou didst visit them in thine anger with speedy destruction.
verse 10 "thou didst visit them in thine anger with speedy destruction" Obviously, in the name of justice, God will not always deal with a righteous man's enemies as he did in verse 4, that is, by reconciling a man with his enemies.
11 And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son.
verse 11 It is comforting to learn that even to a righteous prophet, afflictions can lead to a greater fervency or sincerity as he prays to the Father.
This verse is one of many in the Book of Mormon indicating clearly that the Book of Mormon prophets understood clearly the nature of the godhead and the separate identities of the Father and the Son.
"thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son" "Thy judgments" are the demands of the law of justice. After all we can do, we still cannot earn our own salvation according to the law of justice. We depend utterly and completely upon the mercy of our Savior.
12 And now Alma said unto them: Do ye believe those scriptures which have been written by them of old?
verse 12 When Alma refers to "those scriptures," which specific scripture does he have in mind? The brass plates of course.
13 Behold, if ye do, ye must believe what Zenos said; for, behold he said: Thou hast turned away thy judgments because of thy Son.
14 Now behold, my brethren, I would ask if ye have read the scriptures? If ye have, how can ye disbelieve on the Son of God?
15 For it is not written that Zenos alone spake of these things, but Zenock also spake of these things-
16 For behold, he said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.
verse 16 "because they will not understand thy mercies which thou has bestowed upon them because of thy Son" Among its many blessings, the atonement brings peace of mind. It not only cleanses us, but it consoles us. Occasionally the leaders of the Church today encounter members who, by all accounts, have repented and should feel peace in their souls. The members confess, however, that they still live with troubled consciences. While believing in Christ and his atonement, some people have innocently, but incorrectly, placed limits on his regenerative powers. They have somehow converted an infinite atonement (see the commentaries for 2 Nephi 9:7 and Alma 34:8-10) into a finite one. They have taken the atonement and circumscribed it with an artificial boundary that somehow falls short of their particular sin. Stephen Robinson observed: "I have learned there are many who believe Jesus is the Son of God and that he is the Savior of the world, but they do not believe that he can save them. They believe in his identity, but not in his power to cleanse and to purify and to save. To have faith in his identity is only half the principle. To have faith in his ability and in his power to cleanse and to save, that is the other half" (Believing Christ, 26).
In a sense, these saints have adopted their own parameters of justice and mercy. C. S. Lewis observed: "I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal that him" (Quotable Lewis, 221). The Savior's loving offer, "My peace I give unto you" (John 14:27), transforms itself from some abstract hope to a profound personal reality. At such a time we receive not only of the cleansing power, but also the consoling power of the atonement. Paul spoke of this blessing: "Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace" (2 Thessalonians 2:16). The invitation was extended by the Savior during his mortal ministry: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me . . . and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29). Nephi spoke of those glorious days when "the Son of righteousness shall appear unto them [the righteous]; and he shall heal them, and they shall have peace" (2 Nephi 26:9).
17 And now, my brethren, ye see that a second prophet of old has testified of the Son of God, and because the people would not understand his words they stoned him to death.
verse 17 We know from other scripture that the prophet Zenos was killed for his beliefs (Helaman 8:19). This verse suggests that Zenock also was martyred. For more information on the non-Biblical prophets mentioned in the Book of Mormon, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 5:16, 1 Nephi 19:10, and the introductory commentary for Jacob 5.
18 But behold, this is not all; these are not the only ones who have spoken concerning the Son of God.
19 Behold, he was spoken of by Moses; yea, and behold a type was raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live.
verse 19 Moses, of course, knew of the coming Christ and prophesied of him though we find no such specific prophecy in the Bible.
"a type was raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live" Here is yet another reference to the incident described in Numbers 21:4-9 when the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the Israelites (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 17:41 and 2 Nephi 25:20). Moses set a serpent of brass upon a pole, and each Israelite bitten by a serpent was saved if he looked upon the pole. The pole, of course, was a type of Christ.
20 But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.
verse 20 "and this because of the hardness of their hearts" See the discussion of hard-heartedness in the commentary for Alma 10:6.
21 O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?
22 If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.
23 And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen.
verse 23 "it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting light" We might well compare this tree to the "tree of life whose fruit is more precious and most desirable above all other fruits" (1 Nephi 15:36). We have learned that the tree of life symbolizes Jesus Christ himself and carries with it the promise of exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
Alma's metaphor, carefully considered, suggests that the individual who plants the seed of the word of God in his heart and who then nourishes the seed by his deliberate obedience to gospel law, becomes himself the tree. That is, he becomes endowed with an abundance of "revealed faith"-the attributes of Christ-and he is exalted.
"may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light" The most onerous burden is the burden of sin. Through Christ this may be lifted from us. Other vicissitudes of this mortal experience may also become burdensome. From these also we may find relief in Christ.
"And even all this can ye do if ye will" Each man has his agency.