Sunday, September 17, 2006

Three Key Book of Mormon Themes

Near the end of his life, Alma the Younger sat down with each of his sons to give them fatherly counsel. We can read his counsel to his eldest son Helaman in Alma 36. In the first three verses, Alma provides the following counsel:

1. “...inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.” (verse 1)

2. “I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.” (verse 2)

3. “...whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” (verse 3)

Using the chiastic style of his Hebrew ancestors, Alma emphasized the importance of these three principles by repeating them in reverse order at the end of Alma 36:

3. “...I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.” (verse 27)

2. “...he has brought our fathers out of Egypt...and he has also brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem; and he has also, by his everlasting power, delivered them out of bondage and captivity...and ye...ought to retain in remembrance, as I have done, their captivity.” (verses 28-29)

1. “...inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and...inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence” (verse 30)

These three principles point us to Jesus Christ, and teach us of his love, mercy, and role as our Savior. All are taught abundantly throughout the Book of Mormon directly and symbolically. I will touch on each briefly here.

1. Keep the Commandments to Prosper in the Land

This principle is simple and oft repeated. Twenty verses in the Book of Mormon use nearly this same wording: If we keep God's commandments, we will prosper in the land. Some verses then continue with the corollary that if we do not keep God's commandments, we will be cut off from his presence. See 1 Nephi 2:20-21; 1 Nephi 4:14; 2 Nephi 1:9; 2 Nephi 1:20; 2 Nephi 1:31; 2 Nephi 4:4; Jarom 1:9-10; Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:7; Mosiah 2:22; Mosiah 2:31; Alma 9:13; Alma 36:1; Alma 36:30; Alma 37:13; Alma 38:1; Alma 48:15; Alma 48:25; Alma 50:20; Alma 62:45-51; Helaman 3:20; and 3 Nephi 5:22.

Many of the stories in the Book of Mormon teach this principle. The Nephite pride cycle, which we see repeated over and over, is a perfect example. When the Nephites—or the Lamanites—were living righteously, the Lord prospered them in various ways. Often, they enjoyed temporal wealth, a symbol of the more important spiritual wealth or treasure in heaven we will enjoy in the eternities. Prosperity also took the form of strength during battles with more numerous enemy armies. In most of the battles the Nephites fought, the Lamanites outnumbered them. However, when the Nephites called upon God in faith, he strengthened them that they could prosper against the greater foe.

2. Remember the Captivity of Our Fathers

Why would we be counseled to remember the captivity of our fathers? Alma answers this in Alma 5:6:

“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?”

Remembering our fathers' captivity reminds us that the Lord delivered them from both physical and spiritual captivity through his mercy and long-suffering. And if he could deliver our fathers from captivity, he can deliver us too. Any time we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we should turn to the Lord. He can help us to escape. We must also remember that through the Atonement, we can be forgiven of our sins and ultimately escape the chains of hell.

Like the first principle, this counsel is repeated throughout the Book of Mormon. See the following verses: Mosiah 27:16; Alma 5:6; Alma 9:9-10; Alma 29:11-12; Alma 36:2; Alma 36:28-29; Alma 60:20; Ether 7:27; Ether 10:2.

Not only is this principle expressly taught, but we also see many examples of it throughout the Book of Mormon. The verses above remind us of the children of Israel escaping from bondage in Egypt and of Lehi and his family being led away from Jerusalem. We should also remember stories like Alma and his people miraculously escaping their captivity in the land of Helam (Mosiah 24).

Note that throughout the Book of Mormon, the prophets exhort us to remember the Lord and what he has done for us:
  • “...remember how great things the Lord had done..., that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, and from prisons, and from all manner of afflictions, and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies.” (Alma 62:50)
  • “...remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world.” (Helaman 5:9)
  • “...remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation....” (Helaman 5:12)
  • “ in remembrance of the body of thy Son...and always remember him....” (Moroni 4:3)
  • “ it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son which was shed for them;...always remember him....” (Moroni 5:2)
  • “...remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men....” (Moroni 10:3)
3. Trust in God and Be Supported in Our Afflictions
Our mortality is a probationary period, a time to learn, grow, and prove ourselves so we can expect trials, troubles, and afflictions. While the Lord promises to lift us up at the last day, we must still endure challenges in life to prove ourselves faithful. However, if we will place our trust in him, he will grant us peace and strengthen us to endure our struggles.

We see many examples of this message of hope throughout the Book of Mormon. In one example, Helaman, Gid, and Teomner, and their small Nephite army are struggling to defend their lands against a greater Lamanite force. While suffering from hunger, fear, and a lack of support from their government, they turn to the Lord:

“Therefore we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, yea, and also give us strength that we might retain our cities, and our lands, and our possessions, for the support of our people.” (Alma 58:10)

As promised, the Lord visited his people in response to their prayer of faith:

“Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.” (Alma 58:11)

Alma and his people in the land of Helam provide another beautiful example of this principle. After escaping from the wicked King Noah and setting up their own community in the land of Helam, Alma and his people were discovered by a Lamanite army and became subject to one of the former priests of Noah.

“...Amulon began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children....[H]e exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them.” (Mosiah 24:8-9)

Putting their trust in God, “they began to cry mightily to God” (Mosiah 24:10). When their captors commanded them to stop praying, they “did pour out their hearts to [God]; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts” (Mosiah 24:12). Then came his reply:

“Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.” (Mosiah 24:13-14)

These three great themes in the Book of Mormon repeated point us to the Lord for prosperity, strength, and deliverance from our afflictions and captivity. Jesus Christ loves us. Through him we can endure and overcome all things.

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