Mosiah Chapter 18
Mosiah 18:8-10 The senior Alma's exhortation to his people at the waters of Mormon: As ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life. If this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized?
The author or first person now becomes the prophet Mormon. Alma is referred to in the third person.
1 And now, it came to pass that Alma, who had fled from the servants of king Noah, repented of his sins and iniquities, and went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi-
verse 1 It seems likely, living as one of Noah's priests, that Alma had much of which to repent (see Mosiah 23:9). His story is certainly one of true and complete repentance.
2 Yea, concerning that which was to come, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and the redemption of the people, which was to be brought to pass through the power, and sufferings, and death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven.
verse 2 "concerning that which was to come" Undoubtedly this phrase includes the essential doctrine-the mortal advent and atonement of Jesus Christ.
3 And as many as would hear his word he did teach. And he taught them privately, that it might not come to the knowledge of the king. And many did believe his words.
4 And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.
verse 4 This verse suggests that the place called Mormon was named after a previous Nephite king named Mormon of which we have no account. We will later learn that the prophet/compiler of the Book of Mormon-the prophet Mormon himself-was named after this land to which Alma has now fled (3 Nephi 5:12).
"being in the borders of the land" This phrase suggests that the land of Mormon was just outside the borders of the smaller land of Nephi. We gain the impression that it was quite near the city of Nephi-perhaps not more than a two or three day journey.
In 1 Nephi, we interpreted the word "borders" as mountains, though there seems little reason for that interpretation here.
"by times or at seasons" The use of this phrase in this verse is unique in all the scriptures. It seems to mean from time to time at certain seasons of the year.
5 Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the daytime from the searches of the king.
verse 5 "a fountain of pure water" A fountain is most commonly interpreted as a spring or source of water from the earth. It may also include a reservoir or lake wherein the water collects.
6 And it came to pass that as many as believed him went thither to hear his words.
7 And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.
verse 7 "after many days there were a goodly number gathered" We will learn in verse 16 that there were just over two hundred people gathered there.
verse 8-10 These verses contain five promises a person desiring to enter the kingdom of God must make and four promises which the Lord makes in turn to those who endure righteously in his kingdom. This two-way promise or covenant is the "baptismal covenant."
The promises made by the individual are that they are willing (they promise) to:
1. enter the fold of God,
2. be called by his name,
3. bear the burdens of their fellow sojourners, including their willingness to "mourn with those that mourn," and
4. stand as witness of God (Jesus Christ) at all times and in all places.
5. serve him and keep his commandments (2 Nephi 31:6-17; Moroni 6:2-4; D&C 20:37).
In turn the Lord promises that those baptized will:
1. be redeemed,
2. be numbered with those of the first resurrection, and
3. have eternal life.
4. pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life-
verse 9 "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places" Alma's counsel is a reminder to all of us of the importance of being willing to bear witness of Jesus Christ at any time and in any place. The recounting of one's witness clearly strengthens the faith of the testifier as well as the faith of those who receive his testimony.
"be numbered with those of the first resurrection" Review the commentary for Mosiah 16:11. In the Book of Mormon, the phrase "first resurrection" refers to those who are resurrected to inherit the celestial glory or eternal life.
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
verse 10 The ordinance of baptism is the witness before God that a person has entered into the baptismal covenant.
Alma is given credit for being the founder of a truly covenant church. Here he organizes not a loose association of interested people but rather a committed congregation bound to one another and to their God in a covenant relationship. See a discussion of the three periods of an organized Church of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon in the commentary for 2 Nephi 6:2.
11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts.
verse 11 Dr. Joseph L. Allen related a charming anecdote pertinent to this verse: "On one of our tours, my wife and I were walking through the market place in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Our group was shopping when a native Quiche woman came up to us and said, 'May I be your guide to take you through the church?' The church is the place where the native document, the Popol Vuh, was discovered, so we were eager to take the tour. On the tour, our guide not only explained about things in the church but also took us through the little museum. We joked a little with her, and she got so excited that several times she said something and then laughed and laughed. I asked my wife, 'Do you see what she's doing? Do you remember reading in Mosiah, when Alma baptized at the waters of Mormon, that all of the people clapped their hands for joy? Look at what she's doing every time she laughs.' We smiled and agreed. 'That's right. She swings her hands together so they meet about eye level. She then gives a little jump and laughs.' I then recalled that I had seen this behavior hundreds of times in Mesoamerica. Dona Sofia at the black pottery shop in Woxaca does the very same thing. We concluded, 'I guess that makes more sense than applauding like we do or giving high fives like the athletes do'" (Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 173-74).
12 And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying: O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.
13 And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
verse 13 This verse is either a baptismal prayer or a bit of counsel from Alma to Helam.
"having authority from the Almighty God" We have discussed previously the possible origin of Alma's priesthood (see the commentary for Mosiah 11:5). We know that he did have the priesthood from this verse and from verse 18 of this chapter. It is not clearly stated in the Book of Mormon whether or not Zeniff or any of his priests were properly ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. We would presume that the priesthood authority did reside with Zeniff and his priests. It seems unlikely the prophet Abinadi had an opportunity to ordain Alma before Abinadi's martyrdom. Thus, it is likely that Alma and the other priests of King Noah did trace their authority back to Zeniff's court.
"ye have entered into covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body" This phrase refers to this mortal probationary period.
"may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you" The ordinance of baptism carries with it a promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Baptism has been mentioned previously in the Book of Mormon text and has been acknowledged to be an essential step for salvation (2 Nephi 31:9; 2 Nephi 31:17-18). However, the context in which this ordinance is regarded in verses 13 through 17 is unique. This is the first time that baptism is represented as a necessary initiatory rite for entrance into the church.
14 And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit.
verse 14 "both Alma and Helam were buried in the water" This is a remarkable and unusual event. It is without precedent in all scripture. Was Alma baptizing both himself and Helam here? Joseph Fielding Smith taught that he was not (Answers to Gospel Questions, 3:203-4). Alma already held the priesthood, and it is therefore presumed that he had been previously baptized.
Perhaps his going down into the water with Helam was merely a token of his humility and full repentance and his desire to share in the first baptism in this new church. Perhaps he wished to recommit himself to God and to set the example for all who were to follow. Again, the Holy Spirit manifests himself following the ordinance of baptism.
We also learn that the proper method of baptism is to be "buried in the water" (Romans 6:3-6).
15 And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.
16 And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon; and they were in number about two hundred and four souls; yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God.
verse 16 "they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God" The phrase "grace of God" here simply means the love of God and his willingness to extend to mankind blessings that are not fully merited. The word grace is virtually always associated with the blessings of God received by virtue of his atonement. Yet Christ would not atone for the sins of mankind for another 170-180 years. Here is another manifestation of the infinite nature of Christ's atonement. Two of the obvious blessings received at the time of baptism are the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Both of these blessings can only be received by virtue of the Lord's atoning sacrifice.
17 And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.
verse 17 "And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ" Actually Alma is organizing here the second Nephite church. He is restoring the Church of Christ to the land. The first Nephite church was brought to the New World by Lehi and his traveling company. The apostasy occurred in the land of Nephi just prior to the time of the first Mosiah. This apostasy made necessary Mosiah's departure out of the land in about 210 BC. This was apparently an incomplete apostasy since the priesthood authority did remain among the people. The prophet Mormon will later refer to Alma's church as "the first church which was established among them after their transgression" (3 Nephi 5:12). Mosiah needed to find a new land, Zarahemla, where the church may one day again be established and be able to flourish. The instrument through which the church was restored was Alma (Mosiah 23:16; Mosiah 29:47; Alma 5:3), and ironically that restoration occurred in the very land of Nephi where the apostasy had occurred decades previously. The date of this restoration is about 145 BC. Though the church certainly existed at the time of Lehi and Nephi and Jacob, the first specific reference in the Book of Mormon to a church as an organized body of believers is here in connection with these events in the land of Nephi. There is no specific mention of the church's actually existing in the New World in the small plates of Nephi.
We will learn that after the arrival of Alma back in the land of Zarahemla in 121 BC, King Mosiah, the son of King Benjamin and grandson of the older Mosiah, will grant Alma permission to set up branches of the church throughout the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 25:19-22). References to the church are actually quite common in and after the book of Mosiah.
The conversion of Alma's people and the later conversion of king Benjamin's people in 124 BC were the two great enabling events that prepared the way for the establishment of the church among the Nephites ruled by King Mosiah.
18 And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
verse 18 "Alma, having authority from God" See the commentary for Mosiah 11:5 for a discussion of the possible origin of Alma's priesthood.
"Alma . . . ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty" We will later learn that there were also "teachers" ordained among them (Mosiah 25:21-22). We should not suppose that these "priests" or "teachers" correspond to the office of priest or teacher in the Aaronic priesthood. There is no evidence the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood existed among the Book of Mormon peoples. These priests may have assisted in the rituals of the law of Moses, but the text suggests they were mainly involved in teaching the people.
19 And he commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.
20 Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.
verse 20 "he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord" We might use this scripture to justify a failure to study the scripture and gospel principles and doctrines. "After all," we might rationalize, "if we understand repentance and faith, then that should suffice." Certainly this was not Alma's intent. To "preach repentance" is to teach of Jesus Christ, the fall, the atonement, resurrection, obedience to the ordinances and principles of the gospel, repentance, and the possibility of exaltation. Indeed it is to teach all the principles of the gospel.
21 And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.
verse 21 Unity was to be their watchword. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). This verse also contains the idea that there is only one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one true church (Ephesians 4:5-6).
22 And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God.
verse 22 "they became the children of [Christ]" We are all, of course, children of God the Father. Through the fall, however, we have all become in a sense alienated from him. By accepting Christ and his atonement, and through repentance and righteous living, we are restored to full membership in the family of the Father and the Son. Our membership in the family of Jesus Christ applies to our mortal sojourn and beyond.
23 And he commanded them that they should observe the sabbath day, and keep it holy, and also every day they should give thanks to the Lord their God.
verse 23 "every day they should give thanks to the Lord their God" Here is a reminder that one day in church does not compensate for six days of spiritual carelessness.
24 And he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support.
25 And there was one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together.
26 And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God.
verse 26 "for their labor they were to receive the grace of God" See the commentary for verse 16 above. The blessings promised to the priests for their labors would have included closer association with the Spirit, greater knowledge of spiritual truths (D&C 121:42), and the ability to speak and teach with authority.
verses 27-29 It is apparent that Alma sought to establish among his people a Zion society in which the people would live the law of consecration and stewardship.
We have previously studied Benjamin's counsel to the effect that we cannot be free of sin lest we voluntarily impart of our substance as we are able for the care of those less fortunate (Mosiah 4:26). For those of us who might be inclined to hoard our excesses, these verses contain another reminder that this principle is not going to go away.
27 And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.
28 And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.
29 And this he said unto them, having been commanded of God; and they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants.
verse 29 "according to their needs and their wants" The proper relationship between needs and wants has been clarified in this dispensation when the Lord taught, in referring to the claim each person has upon the goods in the bishop's storehouse: "You are to have equal claims on the properties . . . every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just" (D&C 82:17, italics added).
30 And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever.
verse 30 The first "they" in this verse has, as its antecedent, the waters and forest of Mormon. The other two "they's" seem to refer to those converted and baptized at the place called Mormon.
31 And these things were done in the borders of the land, that they might not come to the knowledge of the king.
verse 31 The phrase "in the borders of the land" may mean "in the outskirts of the land," or perhaps in the mountains of the land. In either case, it implies that Alma wanted to be far enough away from Noah, and sufficiently inaccessible, so that Noah would not discover Alma's doings.
32 But behold, it came to pass that the king, having discovered a movement among the people, sent his servants to watch them. Therefore on the day that they were assembling themselves together to hear the word of the Lord they were discovered unto the king.
verse 32 "they were discovered unto the king" The use of the word discovered here is an archaic one and means their presence was made known to or revealed to the king.
33 And now the king said that Alma was stirring up the people to rebellion against him; therefore he sent his army to destroy them.
34 And it came to pass that Alma and the people of the Lord were apprised of the coming of the king's army; therefore they took their tents and their families and departed into the wilderness.
verse 34 The duration of Alma's sojourn in the place called Mormon is not known. A few weeks to several months seems reasonable.
35 And they were in number about four hundred and fifty souls.
verse 35 Obviously, as Alma sojourned in Mormon, people continued to gather with the saints (see verse 16).