REL A 121 – 51
Prof. Avram Shannon
19 November 2015
As I examined the context of Alma 7:9-17, I came to better understand the heart of the scriptural message and how it directly applies to my life. In this section, I am going to share the contextual knowledge I acquired about Alma 7:9-16 in hopes of giving readers an increased understanding of its underlying gospel message. This passage is a speech given by Alma the Younger to the Gideonites in about 83 B.C. He prophecies of Jesus Christ’s birth and the breadth of His Atonement, as well as the requirements to attain eternal salvation.
When this message is addressed, Alma the Younger is the high priest over the church and has just appointed Nephihah to take his position as the chief judge over Zarahemla. In chapter six, Alma cleanses and establishes the order of the church in Zarahemla, and then travels to the city of Gideon to preach. Alma 6:7 reads, “He departed from them, yea, from the church which was in the city of Zarahemla, and went over upon the east of the river Sidon, into the valley of Gideon, there having been a city built.” Alma goes to Gideon to declare the word of God, according to the spirit of prophecy given to him as the high priest, unto the church which was already established in the valley.
In chapter seven, Alma begins his message by explaining why he has not yet come to Gideon to prophecy. He says, “It is the first time that I have spoken unto you by the words of my mouth, I having been wholly confined to the judgement-seat, having had much business that I could not come unto you” (7:1). He explains that he was able to come and preach in Gideon because he resigned and allowed Nephihah to reign in his stead—his responsibilities as chief judge consumed his time and kept him from magnifying his calling as high priest.
In the following verses, Alma speaks to the Gideonites regarding the pride, wickedness, and unbelief in Zarahemla. He explains that, in about 86 B.C., the Zarahemlites were “awakened to a remembrance” (4:3) and Alma baptized thousands of converts; the church was more fully established with continual peace. After a few years passed, however, iniquity began to enter the Church and hinder its progress. He explained that “the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their hearts upon riches and upon the vain things of the world … Now this was the cause of much affliction to Alma … for (he was) sorely grieved for the wickedness which they saw had begun to be among their people” (4:7-8). Naturally, Alma is weighted down with sorrow and mighty affliction because of the Zarahemlites’ wickedness, and he worries that the Gideonites are in a similar state of unbelief.
When he arrives in Gideon, Alma takes great joy in learning that the Gideonites walk in righteousness. He proclaims, “I come having great hopes and much desire that … I should find that ye were not in the awful dilemma that our brethren were in at Zarahemla” (7:3). Because the Gideonites were already “in the path which leads to the kingdom of God” (7:19), Alma’s message to them is less chastising than his message to the Zarahemlites. As he preaches to the people in Gideon, he encourages them to use Jesus Christ’s Atonement and live according to the doctrine of Christ. These people are prepared to receive Alma’s powerful message because they already believed in Jesus Christ and chose to faithfully align their lives with His.
Nature of the Message
In Alma 7:9-17, Alma the Younger prophecies that the Savior will soon be born on earth and that the Gideonites must prepare themselves for His coming. Alma exhorts the Gideonites to repeatedly repent of their iniquities and continuously “walk in (the Lord’s) paths, which are straight” (7:9). Starting in verse ten, Alma describes the birth of Jesus Christ and the breadth of His Atonement.
In verse ten, Alma explains that Jesus will be born of Mary in Jerusalem. He describes her as “a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God” (7:10). This scripture, which reveals that Mary will be a virgin who will conceive Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost, directly relates to the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. It reads, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Both of these scriptures are foreordinations of Jesus Christ’s birth, but Alma’s prophecy is even more specific: he declares that the virgin’s name will be Mary, lists another name for the Savior, and states that he will be born in Jerusalem (Bethlehem is in Jerusalem). This prophecy must have brought great humility, faith, and comfort to the Gideonites. Their faith in Jesus Christ and God already waxed strong, but receiving this revelation directly from the high priest of the Church and a prophet of God must have exhorted them to more earnestly prepare for His coming.
The next three verses foretell of Christ’s death and the Atonement. Alma testifies that the Savior will suffer pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, infirmities, and sins of every kind. He will do this “that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (7:12). According to Jeffrey R. Holland, “succor” is a word used to describe Christ’s care for and attention to us. He explains that, “It literally means ‘to run to.’ What an absolutely magnificent way to describe the Savior’s urgent effort in our behalf! Even as He calls us to come to Him and follow Him, He is unfailingly running to help us” (Succor His People). Christ took upon himself every kind of hardship so He would know how to “run to” each of God’s children and be a source of comfort and strength. Going further, “(Christ) will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people” (7:12). Alma teaches that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will willingly suffer death so His people—God’s people—can receive eternal life and escape eternal torment and damnation. This message is significant to the Gideonites because they (as well as the Zarahemlites) had suffered great afflictions and “every soul had cause to mourn” (4:3). As they applied their faith in Jesus Christ and believed Alma’s prophecy concerning the Atonement, they must have felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and peace, because they knew that they and their loved ones could be saved.
Alma loves the Gideonites and wants them to be saved, so he implores them to “repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance” (7:14). Because Christ made the ultimate sacrifice and “took upon him the sins of his people, so that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of deliverance” (7:13), the Gideonites can be wholly purified by repenting and being baptized. Alma teaches them that they must lay aside all of their sins, or else those sins will bind them down to destruction. Laying aside every sin is a process that requires them to have faith in Christ, pray to God, show Him that they have repented, and enter into a covenant to henceforth keep all of God’s commandments. If they do those things, Alma promises that they will “have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me” (7:16). Alma ends by confirming that he knows the Gideonites believe his words, according to the Spirit which is in him. He then says that his joy is great because their faith is strong and they believed his words concerning Christ.
I have a firm testimony of Jesus Christ’s love for each of us and I know that he truly did suffer pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, infirmities, and sins of every kind. Because he did this, he knows how to best succor each of us individually. I know that as we “have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (7:14), we will be given the courage to repent, be baptized, keep the commandments, and prepare to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
I remember reading this scripture in the past and thinking it was neat, but it was not until recently that I came to understand its power and significance. About two months ago, some difficult trials from my youth that I thought I had overcome began to resurface. I felt completely alone and thought that no one else understood the complex and somewhat conflicting emotions I was experiencing. Then, a friend told me to read Alma chapter seven. As I read it, I was overcome with the Spirit and with a special sense of peace. In a General Conference talk entitled “He Heals the Heavy Laden,” Dallin H. Oaks states:
Christ walked the path every mortal is called to walk so that he would know how to succor and strengthen us in our most difficult times. He knows the deepest and most personal burdens we carry. He descended below all such grief in order that he might lift us above it. There is no anguish or sorrow or sadness in life that he has not suffered in our behalf.
I love this quote because it accurately captures the take-away message of Alma 7:11-13: Jesus Christ suffered the pains of the world so we never have to feel alone. He overcame death so that we can repent, be forgiven of our sins, and ultimately receive eternal life.
This scripture passage reminds me that Jesus Christ is truly my Savior. An Ensign article from May 2009 entitled “Adversity” states that, “It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. The Book of Mormon gives us the certain assurance of His power to comfort. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.” He suffered pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, infirmities, and sins of every kind; He suffered my pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, infirmities, and sins. He has a perfect understanding of my trials and knows how to comfort me. Since rereading this scripture passage a few months ago, I have been able bear a mighty testimony of the enabling power of the Atonement.
Alma 7:14-17 taught me that salvation is not free. Jesus Christ has already paid the price of redemption, but we must earn it by having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of our sins, being baptized by immersion for the remission of our sins, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. We, like the Gideonites, must “fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset (us), which doth bind (us) down to destruction” (7:15). Once we put aside the vain things of the world and stop committing sin, we must repent and covenant with Heavenly Father to keep His commandments through baptism. I strive to live righteously and constantly come closer to Christ so that I may have eternal life. I hope that, if I had been a Gideonite, Alma could honestly say that he knew that I believed his words, according to the manifestation of the Spirit in him.
I cannot begin to imagine how overcome by the Spirit the Gideonites must have been when Alma originally delivered this message. They already believed in Christ and were striving to follow his straight path, so learning of His Atonement and the implications of His love for them must have been very powerful. This message brought significant peace, comfort, and joy to the Gideonites.