Book of Mormon Lesson 29 (Alma 36–39)
ALMA COUNSELS HIS SONS
These four chapters contain Alma the Younger’s counsel to his three sons: Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton. Alma counseled his children individually, speaking to them “separately” through letters (Alma 35:16). This way, he could tell each son what he specifically needed to hear.
We should recall that Alma himself for a while had rejected the counsel of his father (Mosiah 26:1). He also had been guilty of very serious sins and of prideful rhetoric when he was young (Mosiah 27:8). Alma wanted his sons to avoid the mistakes he had made in his youth (Alma 37:35).
ALMA’S MESSAGE TO HIS SON HELAMAN
Alma Bears His Testimony
Alma advised his sons to learn from his own personal experience and from the experiences of their ancestors (Alma 36:1–3). He promised his sons that “[If ye] keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land” (Alma 36:30). Alma’s knowledge and testimony of these things came not in a temporal way, but of God at the time of his conversion (Alma 36:4–5; Alma 38:6).
Alma’s Personal Example
Alma used his personal experience to illustrate the principles he sought to teach his sons. As part of this process, he revealed many important facts concerning his own repentance and conversion. As a result, we get several versions of his conversion story.
—Mosiah 27:7–37 Contains the original historical account of these events.
—Alma 36:5–26 Contains Alma’s re-telling of the story to his son Helaman.
—Alma 38:7–8 Contains Alma’s re-telling of a few facts of the story to his son Shiblon.
As part of these recitations of his own life, Alma encouraged his sons to follow his example:
Alma told Helaman of his own sins. He did this to help Helaman to avoid similar problems, to emphasize the validity of his counsel, and to reinforce the seriousness of his parental concern (Alma 36:6–13).
Alma also told his sons how he had lived since then and the blessings he had received (Alma 36:17–23). From this we can see that Alma’s motivations for serving God were purely charitable (Alma 36:24–26).
The Process of Conversion
The process by which Alma the Younger was “converted” is the same for us: (Alma 36:12–26).
—A clear realization of sins and iniquities (v. 13).
—Deep godly sorrow for sins (vv. 12–16).
—Suffering and torment for sins (vv. 12–13).
—An appeal to the Savior (vv. 17–18).
—Forgiveness, spiritual enlightenment, and great joy (vv. 19–23).
—A life of righteousness and service (vv. 24–26).
There are many ways in which we receive personal revelation, including a testimony:
—While studying the scriptures, alone or with others.
—While listening to prophets or others speak.
—During personal interviews.
—During or following prayer.
—While meditating upon the things of God.
—In patriarchal blessings.
—In father’s blessings.
—In special priesthood blessings.
The Lord gives his servants inner peace as they face life’s trials (Alma 36:27–29).
Revelation comes by a “still, small voice” that communicates to both our minds and our hearts (D&C 8:2). The Spirit enlightens our minds with new ideas or insights, flashes of inspiration, and strong feelings or impressions (D&C 128:1).
At the same time, the spirit touches our hearts with a feeling of peace or “burning” within our bosom is usually manifest as a confirmation that what we are thinking is correct and is of God, not as a independent sign (D&C 85:6; D&C 6:15; D&C 11:13–14).
Hence, the need to “study it out” in our minds and then take it to the Lord for confirmation (D&C 9:7–8). This is the process by which most revelation comes to us, and we must learn to understand it properly if we wish to avoid frustration or deception.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “Some [people] have looked exclusively for the great manifestations that are recorded in the scriptures and have failed to recognize the still, small voice that is given to them. . . .We need to know that the Lord rarely speaks loudly. His messages almost always come in a whisper. . . . Not understanding these principles of revelation, some people postpone acknowledging their testimony until they have experienced a miraculous event. They fail to realize that with most people . . . gaining a testimony is not an event but a process. . . . Visions do happen. Voices are heard from beyond the veil. I know this. But these experiences are exceptional. . . . Most of the revelation that comes to leaders and members of the Church comes by the still, small voice or by a feeling rather than by a vision or a voice that speaks specific words we can hear. I testify to the reality of that kind of revelation, which I have come to know as a familiar, even daily, experience to guide me in the work of the Lord.”1
The Importance of the Scriptures
Alma delivered the sacred records to his son Helaman and commanded him to “keep a record of this people . . . upon the plates of Nephi, and keep all these things sacred,” noting that “it is for a wise purpose that they are kept” (Alma 37:1–2). He prophesied that the brass plates will retain their brightness and eventually go forth to all nations (Alma 37:4–5).
Alma called keeping the sacred records a “small and simple thing” that will bring about “great things” (Alma 37:6–7).
Alma then listed some reasons why the scriptures are important: (Alma 37:1–19)
—They contain the scriptures and a genealogy of their forefathers (v. 3).
—They fulfill prophecy (vv. 4–5).
—They confound the wise (v. 6).
—They bring about the salvation of many souls (v. 7).
—They “enlarge the memory of this people” (v. 8).
—They convince many (e.g., the Lamanites) of errors in their traditions (vv. 8–9, 19).
—They bring men to a knowledge of God (vv. 8–9).
—They bring men to repentance (vv. 9–10).
—They show the power of God to future generations (vv. 14, 18–19).
Helaman was to withhold information from the 24 plates about wicked oaths and plans of the Jaredites because they might corrupt the people (Alma 37:21–31).
My Servant Gazelem: The unveiling of secret works of darkness would be accomplished through the Lord’s “servant Gazelem” by means of “a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light” (Alma 37:23).
Gaz A stone
Aleim A name of God as a revelator
Gaz-Aleim Means “a seer who uses a stone”
Urim and Thummim: Alma also explained the role of the interpreters (stones) in revealing to prophets the secret plans and oaths of the wicked.
Alma commanded Helaman is to teach the gospel, not mysteries (Alma 37:32–34).
He also counseled his son to “learn wisdom in thy youth” and “counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good” (Alma 37:35–37).
Liahona: Alma described the “small means” by which the Liahona provided directions to Lehi’s family (Alma 37:38–42).
LA Hebrew preposition meaning “to”
iah A Hebrew abbreviated form of “Jehovah”
on The Hebrew name of the Egyptian “city of the sun.”
a Makes it an Egyptian form of the Hebrew name
Therefore, L-iah-on-a means “to God is Light” or “of God is Light.”
Are we sometimes guilty of taking important but “small” things for granted? Do we neglect our daily prayers, our daily scripture study, our family home evenings, or other things we have been continuously counseled to do, because we see them as “small” things that do not produce spectacular and immediate results?
The Brass Serpent: Speaking of other “simple things” that have been neglected, Alma spoke concerning this symbol of Christ that Moses raised in the desert. To avoid death from snake bites, all the children of Israel had to do was look upon it—which they refused to do because it was “too simple” (Alma 37:43–47; Numbers 21:5–9; 1 Nephi 17:41).
ALMA’S MESSAGE TO HIS SON SHIBLON
Testimony and Praise for Shiblon
Alma had only promises and praise for his son Shiblon because of is righteousness (Alma 38:1–5). It is important for parents to recognize and praise their children’s strengths as Alma did here.
Alma also bore his testimony to his son Shiblon (Alma 38:6–9). Do we bear our testimonies privately to our children in this manner? From Alma’s example, it appears that we should.
Alma’s Counsel for Missionaries and Teachers (Alma 38:10–15).
—Be “diligent and temperate” (devoted but not extreme) (v. 10).
—Avoid pride and “boasting in your own wisdom” (v. 11).
—Use “boldness, but not over-bearance” (v. 12).
—”Bridle all your passions” (anger, lust, etc). (v. 12).
—Be motivated by (“filled with”) love (v. 12).
—”Refrain from idleness” (don’t be lazy) (v. 12).
—Don’t be like the Zoramites—making a show of your religion (v. 13).
—Don’t be arrogant or think you are better than others (v. 14).
—Be sober (serious) in your work (v. 15).
ALMA’S MESSAGE TO HIS SON CORIANTON
Alma Admonishes Corianton to Repent
Alma’s counsel to his son Corianton was somewhat different because Corianton had committed serious sins (Alma 39:1–4).
—He boasted in his own strength and wisdom.
—He had been immoral while serving a mission.
Alma called unchastity the “most abominable above all sins save it be murder and denying the Holy Ghost” [Alma 39:5–8; see particularly v. 5]. We should understand why immorality is such a serious sin.
The Hierarchy of Sins:
The Sin: It’s Nature: Why?
Sin Against the Holy Ghost Unpardonable Denying an open vision of Christ
Murder Unforgivable Once taken, life cannot be restored
Adultery and fornication Most grievous Once taken, virtue is lost
1. The sin against the Holy Ghost is the most serious of all sins, and one for which there is neither forgiveness nor pardon. This sin is unpardonable. Prisoners receive pardon when they have served their allotted time and paid their allotted price for their crimes. At the time of pardon, the suffering ceases and the prisoner is set free. For a crime which is “unpardonable” the prisoner is never set free—his suffering continues without ever ceasing. So it is with the “unpardonable sin.” One who is guilty of this sin will suffer forever, without ceasing. The unpardonable sin is more than just having a testimony and then later denying it. It is more than receiving the priesthood and then turning against the Church. It is a sin that is committed only by those who have had an open vision of the Savior and then turned against him as though it had never happened. D&C 76:31 defines it as follows:
(1) They ‘know my power, and
(2) have been made partakers thereof, and
(3) suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and
(4) to deny the truth, and
(5) defy my power’
When one commits this sin, he becomes a “son of perdition.” Very few people have or will become sons of perdition.
2. Murder is the second most serious sin and is unforgivable. The General Handbook of Instruction for the Church defines murder as “the deliberate and unjustified taking of human life” (p.10). This sin is unforgivable. For crimes which are forgivable, the prisoner must personally pay the price. There is no avoiding it. But after he has paid the price, he will eventually receive pardon, so his suffering will not be endless. Such is the case with the sin of murder. It is not forgivable. The atonement of Jesus Christ cannot atone for it, and the murderer will have to suffer in “hell” for a while for this very serious sin. But at some point—known only to God— the murderer will have paid his price and will be set free from spiritual prison.
3. Unchastity is the third most serious sin. It is forgivable, though it is the most serious of all sins except the sin against the Holy Ghost and murder. Adultery is both pardonable and forgivable, but if committed again, it is unforgivable (D&C 42:24–26).
Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “Much of the happiness that may come to you in this life will depend on how you use this sacred power of creation. . . . If [Satan] can entice you to use this power prematurely, to use it too soon, or to misuse it in any way, you may well lose your opportunities for eternal progression. . . . God has declared in unmistakable language that misery and sorrow will follow the violation of the laws of chastity.”2
Alma’s counsel concerning sexual sin: (Alma 39:9–14)
—”Go no more after the lusts of your eyes” (v. 9). Choose not to respond to immoral images and/or suggestions.
—”Cross yourself” (v. 9). This is akin to the Lord’s command to “take up your cross”—to deny ourselves of all unrighteousness. (3 Ne.12:30; Matt. 16:24).
—”Counsel with your elder brothers” (v. 10). Counseling with righteous family members, friends or priesthood leaders can help to strengthen our resistance to temptation.
—”Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing” (v. 11). Moral sins often occur while engaged in silly, loud or boastful behavior (e.g., wild parties, drinking, etc).
—Consider your influence on others (vv. 11–12). Moral sin is not a strictly personal matter, but our immorality also causes others to sin. Corianton was causing the Zoramites to sin because of his bad example.
—Forsake your sins (v. 13). “Turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength.” Reject all former wickedness and be devoted to the Lord and his purposes.
—Confess your sins (v. 13). “Acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done,” both to those you have harmed and to the Church. Moral sins require confession to the bishop.
—Forsake all forms of worldliness (v. 14). “Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world.” Worldliness drives away the spirit and weakens our resolve and self-confidence.
Our self-control and confidence is directly connected to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (D&C 121:45).
Having spoken plainly against Corianton’s sins, Alma next taught him of the hope he can have for forgiveness through Christ’s atonement (Alma 39:15–19). This is the topic for next week’s lesson.
1. “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, March 1997, 11–12, 14.
2. Ensign, July 1972, 111–113.