THE ZORAMITE CRAFT
In order to understand why Alma taught what he did in these chapters, we need to understand the interesting method of worship practiced by the Zoramites. The had a tower in the church called a Rameumptom, and only one person could climb it at a time. This was allegedly the only place they could worship. They said their prayer out loud in front of the congregation, and it was a set prayer. There apparently was a fee or a status or ssomething to belong to the church, because the poor were excluded. The Rameumptom itself was a symbol of their entire church society. What were some of the elements involved in worship via Rameumptom? Competition, exclusivity, self-elevation, etc. It was a type of priestcraft. The method of their so-called worship was just a reflection of their society, not an improvement upon it, as religion should be.
Looking over the prayer uttered upon the Rameumptom (Alma 31:15-18), we learn more. They believed God was just a spirit, there was no Savior, some (namely themselves) were elected over others, and no faith was necessary.
As Alma was trying to preach the true gospel to these self-centered people, some of the poor came to him and asked how they were supposed to worship without access to the Rameumptom. Alma could see that they were experiencing great trials which had humbled them. He said something which must have really struck them as odd: "I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye." (Alma 32:8) Why would it be a blessing to be "lowly in heart?" Well, isn't that the same as saying "poor in spirit?" This is the first step in the very important process of coming to Christ. "Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." (3 Nephi 12:3) (You may want to put up three wordstrips to form the following equation.)
Poor in Spirit + Come unto Christ = Kingdom of Heaven
They had the first part of the formula! The greatest missionary in the world cannot convince anyone of the truth if that person lacks this vital component. Alma said to the poor Zoramites, "It is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues that ye may be humble that ye may learn wisdom." Neither of these (humility or wisdom) was possible to achieve at the Zoramite church, because it functioned under priestcraft.
ALMA TAUGHT FAITH FIRST
Alma then began to teach them this most important concept that was lacking from what the Zoramites taught: The need to come to Christ. But in order to teach them about Christ, he had to teach them that they could believe in something they couldn't see. In other words, he had to teach them about faith. He began by first telling them what faith wasn't. (Alma 32:17-18,21) So if faith is not absolute knowledge about something, if faith means you don't see the Atonement yourself, how does faith help you know something is true?
Alma taught the people that they could find out truth by experimenting. The analogy he used was a seed. But let's be careful to establish what the seed is. The seed is not faith. The seed is the word. And what is the word? The doctrine of Christ and his Atonement. So here is the experiment:
THE EXPERIMENT, PART ONE
- ye give place (let the desire work in your heart)
- it be a true seed
- ye do not cast it out
it will swell in you
So, by virtue of empiricism (personal experience), pragmatism (producing the desired result--see verse 31), and revelation (see last week's lesson for an explanation of epistemology, or of ways of knowing things):
THE CONCLUSION IS...
"It must needs be that this is a good seed."
- it enlarges the soul
- it enlightens understanding
- it becomes delicious (or causes you to crave more of it)
THE EXPERIMENT, PART TWO
Now you have a sprouted seed. The next part of the experiment is:
you nourish it with great care
- it will get root
- it will grow up
- it will bring forth fruit
Now, an important question is, What does nourishing consist of? There are three things involved in nourishing. They are so important that they are mentioned three times in the next few verses:
- Faith (expecting success)
So what is the fruit? The best commentary on the scriptures is always other scripture. Is there another analogy in the scriptures with these same symbols, a fruit that is sweeter and whiter than any other? This one is a perfect match with Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life. (1 Nephi 8:10-11, 11:21-22)
Gospel Principle Lehi's Vision Alma's Analogy
WORD Rod of Iron Seed
LOVE OF GOD Fruit Fruit
EFFORT Holding the Rod Nourishing the Seed
FAILED FAITH Letting Go Barren Soil
So the second part of the experiment establishes that the seed (the Gospel of the Atonement), if nourished in us, will bring us the Love of God, and Eternal Life.
(Alma 33) Alma taught the people of Zoram that the simplest step, the beginning step, in nourishing the seed is prayer. Prayer requires
Verse 4--His fears
Verse 5--His work
Verse 6--His family
Verse 9--His "ward"
Verse 10--His enemies
Six times in his prayer Zenos thanked God for being merciful to him. Nine times he recognized that God heard him. The Zoramites also taught that God heard them and that God was merciful to them (only them). But what was different here was the addition of the reason that God was merciful. It is found in verse 11. "Because of thy Son!" In verse 16, another prophet, Zenock also stated that mercy from God comes "because of thy Son."
So it's an interesting circular concept: Prayer is the most elementary way to nourish the seed or bring the Atonement into effect in our lives. And, on the other end, the Atonement is what makes prayer effective. The two are inextricably connected.
Alma told the people just what the Atonement was and what it would do. "Christ will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works." (Alma 33:22)
And in closing, Alma did what all apostles do at the ends of their talks: He encouraged the listeners by telling them that they could really do what he just taught them, and that it would be a great blessing to them. " And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen." (Alma 33:23)
AMULEK ESTABLISHED ALMA'S WORD
Amulek, the missionary companion, the second witness, stepped in to add his testimony to Alma's, Zenos's, Zenock's and Moses's (Alma 34:7) that the Atonement is real and can save us. He established Alma's word.
Alma already explained what the Atonement is; now Amulek explained why it is needed.
(Alma 34:9) He expounded upon Alma's words. This is what a second witness does.
Then Amulek shared his own testimony about prayer and how personal it should be (verses 17-27). And one more thing that the Zoramites taught incorrectly: Prayer by itself is not true religion What is true religion? (James 1:27) Our good works prompted by prayer.
"And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith." (Alma 34:28)
THE ATONEMENT BLESSES US NOW
In verse 31, we find an interesting truth. "Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you." (Alma 34:31)
Notice the word "immediately." What does it mean that "immediately" the great plan of salvation will be brought about in us? Certainly it doesn't mean that as soon as we repent, we will die and be brought before the judgment bar? And it probably doesn't mean that as soon as we repent, we will have our calling and election made sure and be guaranteed Eternal Life.
Part of the purpose of Christ's Atonement was to make him able to succor his people "according to the flesh." (Alma 7:12) In both the vision of the Tree of Life, and in the Analogy of the Word as a Seed, we are told that we can reach the fruit of the tree in this life. The fruit is the Love of God manifest through the Atonement. "And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son." (Alma 33:23) The Atonement, then, is not just for Judgment Day, but for every day. As Zenos said in his prayer, the mercies of God help him, through the Atonement, in every aspect of his life.
The Atonement also has the power to change us, bit by bit, day by day, to become the Children of Christ.
(One of my awesome readers "The Brown Family" posted the following bit in the comments. For convenience, I have cut and pasted the information here. Thanks, Browns!!!) "The Chinese characters for repentance are hui gai 悔改. The first character, hui means 'regret, repent or feel sorrow for.' The second character, gai means 'to change, alter or transform.' The first character, hui is made up of two simpler characters: xin and mei 心 and 每. Xin is 'heart' and mei is 'every,' commonly used in 'every day'. So the meaning of the characters for repentance can be: 'with your heart, every day, change.'"
We need all the time we can get for this process; we shouldn't wait to repent. (Alma 34:34-35) This is what we call "working out your salvation (verse 37): It requires effort on your part. There is an effort in holding to the iron rod through mists of darkness and taunting of others. There is an effort in nourishing a plant from a seed to a full-grown tree. (Alma 34:38-39)
(If you have access to it, now might be a great time to read aloud to the class Ruth Krauss's darling short children's story, The Carrot Seed, or show this video of it being read on YouTube.)