Post on the board before class: "What is the best counsel your father/mother ever gave you, and how has it affected your life?"
Alma had spent nine years teaching the people of Nephi, enjoying throughout that time greater or lesser degrees of success. At the end of this time, many of the people began to return to their old ways, and he felt very downhearted.
"Now Alma, being grieved for the iniquity of his people, yea for the wars, and the bloodsheds, and the contentions which were among them; and having been to declare the word, or sent to declare the word, among all the people in every city; and seeing that the hearts of the people began to wax hard, and that they began to be offended because of the strictness of the word, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful." (Alma 35:15)
So what did he do about this situation? He redoubled his efforts in his own home and with his own family.
"Therefore, he caused that his sons should be gathered together, that he might give unto them every one his charge, separately, concerning the things pertaining unto righteousness. And we have an account of his commandments, which he gave unto them according to his own record." (Alma 35:16)
This is a very good example for us of what we can do when the world around us seems almost beyond improvement: Do what we can at home. The importance and the far-reaching effects of teaching the gospel to our own children and grandchildren in our own homes cannot be overemphasized.
THE VALUE OF A PARENT'S COUNSEL
Invite all class members to be thinking about the question on the board, whether they decide to share their answer with the class or not.
Hopefully everyone in class had at least semi-good parents, but there may be some people in every ward who suffered at the hands of abusive parents. In that case, it is good to remember the words from the movie "God's Army:" "At least you've always got your Real Father." We all have the blessing of the counsel of our Real Father through the scriptures and prayer and other means of revelation. So hopefully, this lesson does not exclude anybody, and we will be able to learn from the good counsel others have received in our ward and in the scriptures so we can pass that along to our children.
Alma knew the value of a parent's teaching. He himself, in the depths of despair over his sins, remembered his father's words, and they saved him. (Alma 36:17) When he really wanted to know what to do, those words came back to him. And so Alma wanted to give that blessing to his own sons. He called them all together, but gave each individualized counsel.
There were three sons: Helaman, Shiblon and Corianton. Chapters 36 and 37 are to Helaman, chapters 39-42 are to Corianton, and Shiblon at first glance seems overlooked, a real "middle child syndrome" situation, with only one little chapter of his own, chapter 38. But if we examine these more closely, we can see exactly what Alma was trying to accomplish. We can see that he was a very wise parent.
COUNSEL TO HELAMAN (CHAPTERS 36-37)
First, to his oldest son, Helaman, Alma gave the great chiastic poem about his conversion, which we have already studied in a previous post. (You may want to give handouts of the chiasm to class members who may have been absent that day.) This must have been carefully worked out and written down as something that would be passed on to future generations because of the complexity of it.
Ask: What impressed you about the counsel to Helaman?
Alma reminded Helaman to counsel with the Lord, words which every Latter-day Saint should have underlined in his or her scriptures:
"O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.
"Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.
"Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day." (Alma 37:35-37)
The rest of the counsel to Helaman involves, for the most part, one subject and that is the scriptures. Helaman was the new steward over the scriptures, as we see in 37:1. His father's counsel could have left no doubt in his mind about the importance of preserving the holy words. In verse 8 we can read, "the [records] have enlarged the memory of this people." Remembering is so important! All through his counsel to all three sons, Alma keeps emphasizing, "Remember! Remember!" We should study the scriptures in order to remember the goodness of the Lord to his people throughout history, and we should keep our own writings, our own journals, in order to remember his goodness to us in our own lives. If we record spiritual experiences, our journal can be a real faith-strenthener to us in times of trial. Without writing them down, we tend to forget, or to trivialize them later.
Helaman, as the new keeper of the records, also was going to be the new prophet. So the words Alma gave to him were in this context: for the benefit of the whole church.
COUNSEL TO SHIBLON (CHAPTER 38)
Ask: What did you like best about the counsel to Shiblon?
Although Shiblon got the smallest chapter of all, his is the most personal and the most complimentary.
"And now, my son, I trust that I shall have great joy in you, because of your steadiness and your faithfulness unto God; for as you have commenced in your youth to look to the Lord your God, even so I hope that you will continue in keeping his commandments; for blessed is he that endureth to the end.
"I say unto you, my son, that I have had great joy in thee already, because of thy faithfulness and thy diligence, and thy patience and thy long-suffering among the people of the Zoramites.
For I know that thou wast in bonds; yea, and I also know that thou wast stoned for the word's sake; and thou didst bear all these things with patience because the Lord was with thee; and now thou knowest that the Lord did deliver thee." (Alma 38:2-4)
Alma's only counsel to Shiblon was to do in the future what he had done in the past:
"And now my son, Shiblon, I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day." (Alma 38:5)
Alma then told how he knew this, giving a condensed version of his conversion story to Shiblon, who undoubtedly had heard it many times before. And then he counseled Shiblon to continue as he had begun (verse 10), and to stay away from pride, passion, idleness, and self-righteousness. His final word (well, almost the final word) of counsel is a curious one to those who are concerned with "building their child's self-esteem": "acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times." (verse 14) Why is this so important? We'll see when we study Alma's words to his third son, Corianton.
(All of the photographs on this page were taken by me, and I hold the copyright, but you may copy them for personal, home, or church use if you so desire.)