Alma 31

Alma 31:3 Antionum...which was south of the land of Jershon...which wilderness was full of the Lamanites

The location of Antionum is in that strategic buffer zone between the Ammonites in the land of Jershon and the Lamanites to the south (Alma 27:23). The loss of this buffer zone would be very dangerous to the people of Ammon to the north and Zarahemla to the west. Hence the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites (v. 4). In later chapters, we learn that their fears were well founded for those Zoramites who were not converted by the preaching of Alma joined with the Lamanites and became a formidable force (Alma 35:10-11).

Alma 31:5 the preaching of the word had a...more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword

Alma's mastery of the spirit of prophecy and revelation had made him a powerful missionary like the sons of Mosiah. The prepared servant is the Lord's greatest weapon because he or she can preach the word by the Spirit. Mormon indicates that the word was more powerful than the sword. But the word of God is also a sword, a spiritual sword, which is sharper than any man-made weapon, For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of body and spirit, and of the joints and marrow (JST Heb 4:12).

This spiritual sword is part of the armor of righteousness, take...the sword of my spirit...and my word which I reveal unto you (DC 27:18). Therefore the sword of the armor of God is the word of God spoken by the Spirit. It is also a two-edged sword. Each edge has a different effect. To the wicked, one edge cutteth them to the very center (1 Ne 16:2). To the righteous, the word of God actually heals their wounds (Jacob 2:8). This amazing sword can make deep wounds in wicked flesh while simultaneously healing wounds in righteous flesh. What a remarkable tool!

In wielding this sword in the cause of truth, Alma will find that the word of God will cut the wicked to the very center. It will divide joints and marrow but stops short at those hearts which have been hardened as if with reinforced steel. This was what happened to Mormon prior to the destruction of the Nephites, when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them (Moroni 9:4).

Ezra Taft Benson

"The gospel is the only answer to the problems of the world. We may cry peace. We may hold peace conferences. And I have nothing but commendation for those who work for peace. But it is my conviction that peace must come from within. It cannot be imposed by state mandate. It can come only by following the teachings and the example of the Prince of Peace." (Title of Liberty, pp. 213-4 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 303)

Boyd K. Packer

"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." (Conference Report, Oct. 1986, p. 20 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 303)

Alma 31:11 they did pervert the ways of the Lord in very many instances

Often, it serves Satan's purposes better if his followers actually believe in a religion. If the religion can be superficial, meaningless, and institutionalized, the follower of Satan can, at once, consider himself religious while not paying any attention to the things of the Spirit. C.S. Lewis describes how devils think on this subject:

"I am almost glad to hear that he (the tempted man) is still a churchgoer...As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same...He will want his prayers to be unreal, for he will dread nothing so much as effective contact with the Enemy (God)." (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, pp. 45-7)

This spiritual famine is founded upon the Zoramite perversions of the Lord's plan. They are not as drastic as those of Korihor, for they do not deny the existence of God. They just ignore Him spiritually and ignore His commandments. The Zoramites had perverted the Law of Moses, ignored the commandments of God, begun to believe in dumb idols (although we are not told how this idolatry was expressed). They had also ignored the spiritual nature of the Nephite religion by ignoring the performances of the church with its emphasis on prayer and supplication (v. 10). The Zoramites had perverted prayer into rote, useless fanfare. Finally, they had perverted the doctrine of election to a greater extent than Calvin. All of these perversions served a purpose-to keep the minds of the people on anything but religion, at the same time criticizing the Nephites for following the 'foolish traditions' of their fathers.

"In the various apostasies, partial or total, that from time to time disgraced the Nephites there is one characteristic that seems universal to them, however much they differed on minor points. It was the denial of the coming of the Savior in the flesh and of the necessity of His atonement for the sins of the world. This was the evil one's strong point in his efforts to mislead the ancient Nephites. Thus it was with the Zoramites." (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 4, p. 79)

Hugh Nibley

"So here we have a competition between two religions as well as a fusion...They boasted a superior religion, and the Zoramite priesthood claimed to be eminently rational and spiritual, accusing the Nephites of 'childish' beliefs and practices--Alma lays great stress upon their boasting, in the manner of all barbarians. In short, 'they did pervert the ways of the Lord in very many instances' (Alma 31:11), but not in all. Did they still think of themselves as Israelites? They certainly thought of the Nephites as apostates. In particular, they rejected the redemption by the Messiah as naive and unnecessary (Alma 31:16-18, 29), for they considered themselves very advanced, very superior as they strutted amidst the almost comically exaggerated splendor of their Mesoamerican dress and architecture (Alma 31:25-27)." (The Prophetic Book of Mormon, p. 544)

Alma 31:15-18 the Zoramite prayer

The purpose of prayer is to communicate with God. The prayer of the Zoramites served another purpose entirely. Inspired by Satan, it served to reinforce religious complacency and stifle spirituality. Nowhere in the scriptures is there a better example of how not to pray! This prayer is self-righteous-a public parade rather than a penitent petition. It is vain, repetitious, meaningless, and empty. It denies the Christ, the atonement, and the religion of the Nephites.

Neal A. Maxwell

"How fascinating to see adherence to a false religion in which superficial ritual, proud contentment, and a haughty rejection of prophecy were so adroitly combined! Sanctioned agnosticism can be very insistent on its own orthodoxy." (Plain and Precious Truths, p. 67)

Alma 31:16 thou hast elected us to be thy holy children

The first component is the perversion of the doctrine of election. According to the Zoramites, election was granted unto them while the rest of the world was condemned to suffer. The natural extension of such a doctrine is that the elect have no responsibility to keep the commandments. They will be saved regardless of how they feel about God or how they treat their fellowmen. It is a conveniently ethno-centric doctrine.

"Although the Zoramites used the terminology of election, what they really fostered was the idea of elitism, which almost always has at its heart a disdain for others.  True election promotes a genuine concern for the welfare of others.  Elitism seems to cause people to forget God six out of seven days because it turns them selfishly inward.  But the true doctrine of election promotes a daily desire for communion with deity and a search for the divine within us." (Book of Mormon Symposium Series, "Helaman Through 3 Nephi 8" edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 118)

Alma 31:17 whilst all around us are elected to be cast...down to hell

The carnal man enjoys the opportunity to put down others in order to hide his own insecurities. So the opportunity to preach that all but the Zoramites are sinners was particularly appealing. In this respect, the Zoramites approximated the Pharisees:

'And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
'Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
'The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
' I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
'And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
'I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.' (Lu 18:9-14).

If we are to liken the scriptures to ourselves, we must read the story of the Zoramites with an introspective eye. Rather than look down our noses at their hypocrisy and self-righteousness, we should ask ourselves if we are not guilty of self-righteous attitudes in a lesser degree. For example, some members testify of the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth (DC 1:30) with a tone which is reminiscent of the Zoramites. The privilege of being associated with the only organization which has the power to exalt its members should not be translated into a religious superiority complex.

"Joseph Smith clearly identified why self-righteousness is so dangerous: it prevents repentance and keeps a person from developing the love of God. In an 1842 discourse, he said, 'All the religious world is boasting of its righteousness-it is the doctrine of the devil to retard...our progress by filling us with self-righteousness.' (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Ensign, Feb. 1987, p. 20)

Hugh Nibley

"These lessons have always been hard for the Latter-day Saints to learn, and it is clear from the words of Brigham Young that we still have a long way to go. There are a few absolute and categorical 'Thou Shalt Nots' in the scriptures which we are far from taking to heart: we have been told that under no circumstances are we to contend, accuse, coerce, aspire, or flatter. These practices will be readily recognized as standard procedure in getting to the top in our modern competitive society. What all of them have in common is a feeling of self-righteousness.

"Next to covetousness it was self-righteousness against which Joseph and Brigham most urgently warned the Saints. 'Let not any man publish his own righteousness,' said the Prophet Joseph (not even, one might, add, in testimony meeting).  'Don't be limited in your views with regard to your neighbor's virtue, but beware of self-righteousness, and be limited in the estimate of your own virtues. . . . You must enlarge your souls towards each other. . . . As you increase in innocence and virtue, as you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand, let them be enlarged towards others. . . . You must not be contracted, but you must be liberal in your feelings.'  'Christ was condemned by the self-righteous Jews because He took sinners into His society.'  'All the religious world is boasting of righteousness: it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. . . . We are full of selfishness; the devil flatters us that we are very righteous, when we are feeding on the faults of others.'" (Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, pp. 225-6)

Hugh B. Brown

"The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches the universality of God's concern for men and that obedience is a universal and fundamental law of progress, both temporal and spiritual. The aristocracy of righteousness is the only aristocracy that God recognizes. This leaves no room for self-righteous expressions in words or actions of being 'holier than thou.' There is a real unity in the human race, and all men have a right to equal consideration as human beings, regardless of their race, creed, or color.

"For any church, country, nation, or other group to believe that it is the only people in whom God is interested or that it has special merit because of color, race, or belief, that they are inherently superior and loved by God without regard to the lives they live, is not only a great and dangerous fallacy but is a continuing barrier to peace. This is demoralizing, whether it is the exploded and presumptuous myth of an Aryan race of supermen or disguised in more subtle forms. Let us steadfastly avoid such demoralizing arrogance." (Conference Report, Apr. 1966, p. 119)

Alma 31:20 every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers

What an example of vain repetitions! 'But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them' (Matt 6:7-8).

Charles W. Penrose

"It seems that many who have accepted the Christian religion...act as if they expected to be heard because of their many words.  They also use what here are called vain repetitions.  Now, prayer is not acceptable for its rhetoric.  It is that which comes from the heart, the sincere sentiment, the secret feeling, which ascends to our Father and which He, who sees in secret, will reward openly.  It is not a multitude of words and repetitions that is pleasing to the Lord, but the earnest desire of a humble heart.  And this will be answered, no matter how broken or ungrammatical the language may be.  On the other hand, no matter how flowery the language of the petition may be, if it does not convey the feelings of the heart, it is not true prayer." (Collected Discourses, vol. 2, Charles W. Penrose, March 22, 1891)

Alma 31:23 they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again

The hypocrisy of the Zoramites is amazing. They had fashioned a religion which had no effect on the human soul. Their attitude was the opposite of that proposed by Nephi in which the righteous are always speaking of their God, we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies (2 Ne 25:26). Yet again, we must ask if we are not guilty of the same hypocrisy in a lesser degree. There are many who do their duty at church but return to their homes to live a lifestyle in conflict with the teachings of the gospel. From Monday to Saturday, they are much more likely to gossip about other members of the ward than they are to speak of God and Christ. In the words of Neal A. Maxwell, "true Christian soldiers are more than weekend warriors." (Ensign, Nov. 1996, p. 22)

Elder William H. Reeder

"If it were my prerogative to preach a sermon, I should like to cry out against the hypocrisy that seems to prevail among some of our members. I am sure there is no greater offense against the Holy Ghost than insincerity, inconsistency, and hypocrisy. The Savior denounced it most vehemently. It does not get any of us--who do not practice what we preach and profess to be--anywhere or anything. Those who are true and loyal are the ones who reap the benefits." (Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 151)

Joseph Smith

"I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm yet deals justice to his neighbors and mercifully deals his substance to the poor, than the long, smooth-faced hypocrite." (History of The Church, vol. 5, p. 401)

Neal A. Maxwell

"(quoting Alma 31:23) Values that are unassimilated into home life obviously fail to touch the major portion of our lives and, therefore, cannot help us either in that most important laboratory of all, the laboratory of our families. But when our homes help us to be compassionate and selfless...then we have a school on whose graduates all of society depends." (That My Family Should Partake, p. 151)

Alma 31:26 And he lifted up his voice to heaven, and cried, saying...

If the Zoramite prayer is an example of how not to pray, Alma's petition is an example of a true, sincere communication with God. While the Zoramite prayer is rote and empty, Alma's prayer is full of emotion and meaning. While the Zoramite prayer is ostentatious and proud, Alma's is that of a humble servant. While the Zoramite prayer is selfish, Alma's prayer is selfless (v. 35). While the Zoramite prayer was a faithless exercise, Alma's wielded the powers of heaven because he prayed in faith (v. 38).

Alma 31:28 their costly apparel...and all their precious things...their hearts are set upon them

"Our society may well be as guilty as the wealthy Zoramites of using fashion as 'the science of appearances, inspiring us with the desire to seem rather than to be' (Edwin Hubbell Chapin). In our day the costly apparel syndrome may be identified as one aspect of the modern-day term 'conspicuous consumption.' The word conspicuous alludes to the visual side of vanity-the need to be seen, to be recognized. Consumption refers to that which we take in or that which we consume. Conspicuous consumption may be defined as that which we take to ourselves in order to be recognized and approved by others. By its very definition, the person trapped in conspicuous consumption, especially as it applies to 'costly apparel,' must be focused on the opinions of others, because what is 'in' today may be 'out' tomorrow. Vanity then becomes its own punishment, because there is never time to be satisfied-the eyes and opinions of others can turn so quickly to embrace someone else. For us, the disease that afflicted the Zoramites encompasses more than clothing. It can include cars, houses, boats, diplomas, and anything else that has a foundation where the need for the approval of man carries more weight than the need to be accepted by God." (K. Douglas Bassett, Doctrines of the Book of Mormon, 1991 Sperry Symposium, pp. 18-19)

Hugh Nibley

"The wickedest people in the Book of Mormon are the Zoramites, a proud, independent, courageous, industrious, enterprising, patriotic, prosperous people who attended strictly to their weekly religious duties with the proper observance of dress standards. Thanking God for all he had given them, they bore testimony to his goodness. They were sustained in all their doings by a perfectly beautiful self-image. Well, what is wrong with any of that? There is just one thing that spoils it all, and that is...they are really thinking of something else. 'Behold, O my God, their costly apparel...all their precious things...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.' (Alma 31:27, 28; italics added.)" (Old Testament and Related Studies, p. 222)

Alma 31:30 such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul

The only pain that God feels is the pain for the wickedness of his children. Alma is feeling this same divine pain. The interaction between the Lord and Enoch is instructive:

'...the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying...How is it that thou canst weep?...
'...The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands...
'And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.' (Moses 7:28-33)

Alma 31:35 their souls are precious

"In a modern revelation the Lord explained that 'the worth of souls is great in the sight of God' (D&C 18:10).  Latter-day Saints are fond of quoting this verse and then skipping down the scriptural page to those verses that speak further of the joy that comes from bringing the blessings of the gospel into the lives of many.  The question might be asked:  Why is the worth of souls great? ... We might respond that as children of the Man of Holiness we have marvelous possibilities.  As sons and daughters of God, we are possessed (although now in rudimentary form) of the attributes of godliness.  The Lord provides an additional answer from scripture:  'For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.  And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.  And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!  Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.' (D&C 18:11-14.)  Simply stated, the soul is of infinite worth.  We are not our own.  We have been bought with an infinite price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), even with 'the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot' (1 Peter 1:19)."  (Robert L. Millet, An Eye Single to the Glory of God, pp. 34-35) 

Alma 31:36 as he clapped his hands upon them, they were filled with the Holy Spirit

There is always a tendency to describe Book of Mormon ordinances in latter-day terms. At first glance, this passage appears to indicate that Alma is bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. However, he is "clapping his hands" upon fellow laborers who had been members for some time. Amulek, Zeezrom, and two sons, Shiblon and Corianton were Alma's companions, and it is not likely that they never had the Holy Ghost prior to this occasion. Amulek in particular has already taught great things by the power of the Spirit (see Alma 11). Therefore, Alma must have been setting them apart to perform missionary work among the Zoramites. Hugh Nibley referred to this instance as a setting apart (see Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 54, p. 435).

"The text of Alma 8:30 indicates that Amulek had previously enjoyed the Holy Ghost.  The same gift must also have been enjoyed previously by the others.  We should assume, then, that Alma was able to bless his brethren in this particular instance with a special manifestation of God's goodness." (Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium, chap. 28)

Alma 31:38 afflictions...swallowed up in the joy of Christ

James E. Faust

"I humbly come to this pulpit today to speak about a sure cure for heartache, disappointment, torment, anguish, and despair. The psalmist stated, 'He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.' (Ps 147:3) The healing is a divine miracle; the wounds are a common lot of all mankind. Shakespeare has said, 'He jests at scars that never felt a wound.' (Romeo and Juliet, II.ii.1.) It seems that no one escapes the troubles, challenges, and disappointments of this world.

"...Someway, somehow, we must find the healing influence that brings solace to the soul. Where is this balm? Where is the compensating relief so desperately needed to help us survive in the world's pressures? The onsetting comfort in large measure can come through increased communion with the Spirit of God. This can bring spiritual healing.

"...We find solace in Christ through the agency of the Comforter, and he extends this invitation to us: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' (Matt. 11:28.) The Apostle Peter speaks of 'casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.' (1 Pet. 5:7.) As we do this, healing takes place, just as the Lord promised through the prophet Jeremiah when he said, 'I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. ... I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.' (Jer. 31:13, 25.)

"In the celestial glory, we are told, 'God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.' (Rev. 21:4.) Then faith and hope will replace heartache, disappointment, torment, anguish, and despair, and the Lord will give us strength, as Alma says, that we 'should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.' (Alma 31:38.) Of this I have a testimony, and I so declare it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." (Conference Report, May 1992, p. 6)

Neal A. Maxwell

"Jesus, who bore the greatest and heaviest burdens, knows how to help His followers absorb afflictions in a unique way: '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.' (Alma 31:38.)

 "Even so, we will not be free of affliction. But we will be given help in bearing affliction, especially if our wills are swallowed up in the will of the Father and Christ. Being swallowed up in the will of God can help us cope not only with afflictions but even with death (see Mosiah 16:8; Alma 22:14).

"It is noteworthy that this particular prophet, Alma, while trying to reactivate people, was efficient, because he was determined to 'try the virtue of the word of God,' the very approach which has 'a great tendency to lead the people to do that which [is] just' (Alma 31:5).

"Having faith in Jesus includes having faith in the assurance that our trials and difficulties 'are but for a small moment,' even when at the moment they seem to us to be extended and unremitting (D&C 122:4). Faith includes having faith in God's timing.

"As we see the valiant reach breaking points without breaking, it inspires the rest of us to trust in the divine design in our own circumstances, which may not be immediately apparent to us during our trials: 'Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God . . . and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation' (D&C 58:3)." (If Thou Endure It Well, p. 118)