Book of Mormon Lesson 24 (Alma 13–16)
June 15–21

ALMA’S TEACHINGS ON THE PRIESTHOOD

Foreordination and the Priesthood
Alma taught that men are ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood because of their faith and good works in the premortal life (Alma 13:1–5, 10). When he “cite[d] your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children” (v. 1), he meant, “I would call your attention to an earlier time, even to the very beginning.”1

This “order of his Son” (v. 2) was the Melchizedek priesthood, but there was more to it than merely being ordained. President Ezra Taft Benson explained, “To enter into the order of the Son of God is the equivalent today of entering into the fulness of the Melchizedek priesthood, which is only received in the house of the Lord.”2 These ordinances were done “in a manner that thereby the people might know . . . to look forward to his Son for redemption . . .” (v. 3).

Alma taught that priests after the order of  Melchizedek were “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works” (v. 3). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand council of heaven before this world was.”3

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Alma says that those ‘ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God’ were ‘in the first place’— that is in premortal existence—‘on the same standing with their brethren,’ meaning that initially all had equal opportunity to progress through righteousness. But while yet in the eternal worlds, certain of the offspring of God, ‘having chosen good, and exercising exceeding great faith,’ were as a consequence ‘called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God’ to enjoy the blessings and powers of the priesthood. These priesthood calls were made ‘from the foundation of the world,’ or in other words faithful men held priesthood power and authority first in premortal existence and then again on earth.”4

Whereas some were “called to this holy calling on account of their faith . . .” others rejected the Spirit of God “on account of the hardness of their hearts” and “if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren” (v. 4).  This tells us much about our agency in premortal life, and that some made righteous choices while others did not.

President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “Before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. You are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and Apostles!”5

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “God gave his children their free agency even in the spirit world, by which the individual spirits had the privilege, just as men have here, of choosing the good and rejecting the evil, or partaking of the evil to suffer the consequences of their sins. Because of this, some even there were more faithful than others in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Some were of greater intelligence than others, as we find it here, and were honored accordingly.”6

Purposes and Privileges of the Priesthood
Alma then listed the reasons why men receive the Melchizedek priesthood (Alma 13:6).

— So they can teach God’s commandments to the children of men
— That they might “enter into his rest.”

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “When we receive the priesthood, we do so with the understanding that it will be used for the benefit of others. This is an obligation we take upon us. In fact, priesthood blesses us in two ways: first, it is the means through which exaltation comes to those who hold it; second, it is to be used in behalf of others that they also may be blessed. . . . No man has been given the priesthood as an ornament only. He is expected to use it in behalf of the salvation of others.”7

The Presiding High Priest
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “God’s chief representative on earth, the one who holds the highest spiritual position in his kingdom in any age, is called the high priest. This special designation of the chief spiritual officer of the Church has reference to the administrative position which he holds rather than to the office to which he is ordained in the priesthood.”8 The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The duty of [the presiding] high priest is to administer in spiritual and holy things, and to hold communion with God. . . . [The Melchizedek priesthood] is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter is revealed from heaven.”9

The powers and responsibilities of the priesthood.
In our own day, the Lord has specified the reasons why he gives the priesthood to his children (D&C 84:19–25):

—    First, “this greater priesthood administereth the gospel” (v. 19), meaning that those who are called to presiding positions in the Church and its stakes and wards must hold this priesthood.

—    Second, the Melchizedek priesthood “holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” (v. 19), which means the ordinances of the holy temples. Without the ordinances thereof, “the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh” (v. 20–21).

—    Third, “without this [the Melchizedek priesthood and temple ordinances] no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” (vv. 24–25). Our exaltation depends upon our faithful obtaining of this priesthood.

Sanctification
Those who honor this priesthood and use it to serve others are made pure and enter into the rest of the Lord (Alma 13:12–13). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “By reclaiming an erring brother, we save both him and ourselves. Our sins are hidden (remitted) because we ministered for the salvation and blessing of another member of the kingdom. In principle this special reward for Christ’s ministers applies also to those who preach the gospel and bring souls into the kingdom. The minister is rewarded with salvation and, of necessity, in the process, is freed from his own sins.”10

The process by which we are sanctified is also important to understand:

—    The Atonement of Jesus Christ satisfies the demands of justice.
—    But the actual sanctification of our souls is performed by the Holy Ghost, who purges the sins and weaknesses for which we have repented and for which the Savior has paid.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The baptism of fire . . . is the actual enjoyment of the gift which is offered by the laying on of hands at the time of baptism. ‘Remission of sins,’ the Lord says, comes ‘by baptism and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost’ (D&C 19:31; 2 Nephi 31:17). Those who receive the baptism of fire are ‘filled as if with fire’ (Helaman 5:45). . . . Sanctification is a state of saintliness, a state attained only by conformity to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. The plan of salvation is the system and means provided whereby men may sanctify their souls and thereby become worthy of a celestial inheritance.”11

THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST MELCHIZEDEK

Alma used Melchizedek’s people as an example of a wicked people who repented and were blessed (Alma 13:14–17). The people in Salem were just as wicked as the people in Ammonihah, but because they chose to repent, they were forgiven and blessed.  Because the people of Ammonihah did not do this, they were eventually utterly destroyed.

Melchizedek was a great high priest who lived in the days of Abraham (Genesis 14:18–20). Abraham knew that Melchizedek “was the priest of the most high God” [meaning he held the keys of the high priesthood] (v. 18), and that he [Abraham] was accountable to him.  It was for this reason that he paid him his tithes. Unfortunately, this is about all we get from the Old Testament concerning Melchizedek.

Daniel H. Ludlow said:

“Melchizedek is one of the most misinterpreted persons in the Bible. He lived approximately 2000 BC, was a contemporary of Abraham, and was one of the most righteous men who ever lived on the earth. Yet little is known about him, and the little that is said about him in the Bible has been misunderstood by most biblical scholars. For example, in the book of Hebrews we read the following concerning this great prophet:

“‘For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God . . . To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually (Hebrews 7:1–3).’

“Some biblical scholars have interpreted these verses to mean that Melchizedek was born without a mother or a father! In other words, they believe that the words ‘without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life’ refer to Melchizedek. That these words do not refer to Melchizedek, but instead refer to the priesthood he held, is made clear in both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon.”12

The Melchizedek priesthood is eternal—“without beginning of days or end of years” (D&C 84:14, 17). And Alma taught that the authority of Melchizedek priesthood holders is also eternal (Alma 13:8–9). This higher priesthood was named after Melchizedek “out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid. . .too frequent repetition of his name” (D&C 107:1–4).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “To the man Melchizedek goes the honor of having his name used to identify the Holy priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. . . . Of all God’s ancient high priests ‘none were greater’ (Alma 13:19). His position in the priestly hierarchy of God’s earthly kingdom was like unto that of Abraham (Heb. 7:4–10), his contemporary whom he blessed (Gen. 14:18–20; Heb. 7:1; JST Gen. 14:17–40), and upon whom he conferred the priesthood. (D&C 84:14).”13

When Melchizedek preached repentance, his people responded and established peace in the city of Salem (Alma 13:17–18). He was called the “prince” of peace because he “reigned under his father” (the former king). He was called the prince of “peace” because the name of the city—Salem—means “peace.” Thus, he was the “prince of peace.” This exalted title was later to grace only one other person: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, of whom Melchizedek was a prototype.

DIVISION AND PERSECUTION IN AMMONIHAH

The People of Ammonihah Are Divided over Their Preaching
Alma pleaded with the people of Ammonihah to repent, to cast off their sins, and not to procrastinate the day of their repentance, but to become childlike before God. As he dis this, we can note his great love for the people of Ammonihah (Alma 13:27).

Alma identified the keys to obtaining eternal life: (Alma 13:28–31)

—Humble yourselves and be meek and submissive.
— Be patient, full of love, and long-suffering.
—Watch and pray continually.
—Have faith in the Lord.
—Have hope for eternal life.
—Have a love for God always in your hearts.

Many of the people of Ammonihah believed, began to repent and search the scriptures. The majority, however, desired to kill Alma and Amulek because they had “testified so plainly against their wickedness.” President Brigham Young said, “The Gospel of salvation is perfectly calculated to cause division. It strikes at the root of the very existence of mankind in their wickedness, evil designs, passions, and wicked calculations. There is no evil among the human family, but at the foundation of which it strikes effectually, and comes in contact with every evil passion that rises in the heart of man. It is opposed to every evil practice of men, and consequently it disturbs them in the wicked courses they are pursuing.”14

Alma and Amulek were bound and brought before the chief judge, where many witnesses gave false testimonies. The judge was also of the “order of Nehor,” so they had no chance for a fair trial (Alma 14:1–5, 16). Zeezrom, who had been the leading spokesman against Alma and Amulek, recognized the evil effect he had had on the minds of the people. His lies had caused the “blindness of the minds” of the people.  He pleaded for the lives of Alma and Amulek, but he was cast out along with the others who believed in their words (Alma 14:6–7).

Severe Persecutions for the Righteous
So intense was the hatred of nonbelievers toward the preaching of Alma and Amulek, that believers, along with their holy scriptures, were cast into a fire. Alma and Amulek did not use their priesthood powers to stop the awful scene that they were forced to witness because Alma was constrained by the Spirit from helping them (Alma 14:8–11). Alma later explained why God permits the righteous to suffer (Alma 60:13).

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“Now, we find many people critical when a righteous person is killed, a young father or mother is taken from a family, or when violent deaths occur. Some become bitter when oft-repeated prayers seem unanswered. Some lose faith and turn sour when solemn administrations by holy men seem to be ignored and no restoration seems to come from repeated prayer circles. But if all the sick were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the Gospel, free agency, would be ended.

“If pain and sorrow and total punishment immediately followed the doing of evil, no soul would repeat a misdeed. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good and not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, no Satanic controls.

“Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death; and if these were not, there would also be an absence of joy, success, resurrection, eternal life, and godhood.”15

Alma and Amulek were spared from death because their work was not yet done. But they were abused and thrown into prison (Alma 14:12–17). Then, after sitting in prison for many days, Alma and Amulek were miraculously freed from prison when they were given super-human strength to break their cords, and at the same time a powerful earthquake destroyed the prison (Alma 14:18–-29).

THE MISSION TO SIDOM

Zeezrom Repents and Is Healed and Baptized
Alma and Amulek went to the land of Sidom, where they met those who had been cast out of Ammonihah, including Zeezrom (Alma 15:1–2). Zeezrom was suffering both spiritually and physically because of his wickedness. He asked Alma and Amulek to heal him (Alma 15:3–5), and Zeezrom was healed according to his faith in Christ (Alma 15:5–11).

Great Success in Sidom
Unlike the people who remained in Ammonihah, the people in Sidom believed the message of Alma and Amulek and were baptized (Alma 15:12–14, 17). Alma returned to his home in Zarahemla, taking Amulek—who had forsaken everything for the sake of the gospel—with him (Alma 15:16, 18–19).

THE FINAL RESULTS OF ALMA AND AMULEK’S PREACHING

The Lamanites Destroy Ammonihah
The people of Ammonihah continued in their wickedness.  Being of the profession (philosophy) of Nehor, they did not believe in sin or the need for repentance (Alma 15:15). About one year after Alma and Amulek preached in Ammonihah, the Lamanites invaded them, destroying every person in the city.  This was thereafter called the “desolation of Nehors” (Alma 16:1–3, 9–11). All of this was a fulfillment of Alma’s prophecies (Alma 9:4–5, 12, 18).

The Church Is Established Everywhere Else
In every city, the Lord prepared people’s hearts to receive the word preached by Alma, Amulek, and others who were chosen for the work (Alma 16:13–16).

The people were taught that the Savior would come soon and bring about the resurrection of the dead. The Nephites were also thrilled to learn that Christ would appear among them after His resurrection in Jerusalem (Alma 16:16–21).

Mormon concluded this section of Alma’s ministry by noting that the Church had been established throughout all the land, “having got the victory over the devil”; and the gospel had been preached “in its purity” in all the land; and the Lord had poured out his blessings upon the people.

Notes:

1.  George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. [1987–1992], 3:93.
2.  Ensign, August 1985, 8.
3.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 365.
4.  Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 2nd ed. [1966], 477.
5.  “The Role of Righteous Women,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 102.
6.  Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:58–59.
7.  In Conference Report, April 1966, 101.
8.  Mormon Doctrine, 355–356.
9.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 21, 166–167.
10.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 3:279.
11.  Mormon Doctrine, 73, 675.
12.  A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon [1976], 204.
13.  Mormon Doctrine, 474–475.
14.  In Journal of Discourses, 1:235.
15.  “Tragedy or Destiny,” Improvement Era, March 1966, 180, 210.

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