Book of Mormon Central Archive
|Publication Type||Encyclopedia Entry|
|Year of Publication||1992|
|Authors||Millet, Robert L.|
|Secondary Authors||Ludlow, Daniel H.|
|Secondary Title||Encyclopedia of Mormonism|
|Place Published||New York|
|Keywords||Alma the Younger; Prophet|
Author: Millet, Robert L.
Few individuals have had greater influence upon a civilization than Alma2, son of Alma1. He was a key figure in the rise of the Nephite church and republic, serving as the first chief judge in Zarahemla, commander-in-chief of the Nephite army, and high priest (c. 90-73 B.C.). His efforts to protect his people from war, dissension, and wickedness were exceeded only by his single-minded dedication to the Savior, whom he came to know through revelation.
This crusader for righteousness first appears in the Book of Mormon as a rebellious young man. He and four of the sons of King Mosiah2, described as "the very vilest of sinners" (Mosiah 28:4), rebelled against the teachings of their parents and sought to overthrow the church. As they went about that work (c. 100-92 B.C.), the angel of the Lord appeared to them, spoke with a voice of thunder, calling these wayward young men to repentance, and explaining that he did so because of the prayers of the people and of Alma's father. For three days and three nights Alma lay in a physically comatose state, during which time he spiritually confronted all his sins, "for which," he later said, "I was tormented with the pains of hell" (Alma 36:12-14).
In the depth of his anguish of soul, Alma remembered his father's words concerning the coming of Jesus Christ to atone for the sins of the world. As Alma cried out in his heart to Christ, pleading for mercy and deliverance from "the gall of bitterness" and "the everlasting chains of death," he stated: "I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more" (Alma 36:17-19). After their conversion, Alma and the sons of Mosiah devoted their lives to preaching repentance and the joyous gospel (Alma 36:24).
For about nine years Alma served as both the high priest over the church and the chief judge or governor over a new political system of judges among the Nephites. He was well educated, the keeper of sacred and civil records, an inspiring orator, and a skillful writer. As a young civil and religious leader, he faced a number of challenges. Several religio-political factions were emerging in Nephite society, notably the Zoramites, Mulekites, members of the church, and an anti-church group, the followers of Nehor (see Book of Mormon Peoples). Maintaining Nephite leadership over all these groups proved impossible. In a landmark case in his first year as chief judge, Alma held the popular Nehor guilty of enforcing priestcraft with the sword, which resulted in his execution (Alma 1:2-15). This soon led to civil war with Alma himself slaying the new rebel leader, one of Nehor's protegés, in battle (Alma 2-3). There followed a serious epidemic of pride and inequality among many in the church (Alma 4) and the secession of the arrogant Zoramites. "Seeing no way that he might reclaim [the people] save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them" (Alma 4:19), Alma resigned his position as chief judge and devoted himself completely to the work of the ministry (Alma 4:19;31:5). His religious work, especially in the Nephite cities of Zarahemla (Alma 5, 30) and Gideon (Alma 7), the Nehorite stronghold of Ammonihah (Alma 8-16), and the Zoramite center in Antionum (Alma 31-35), revitalized the church and set the pattern of administration for the next century down to the coming of Christ.
Alma's most enduring contributions are to be found in his sermons and his blessings upon the heads of his children. No doubt as a result of his own conversion (Mosiah 27), Alma's words frequently center on the atoning sacrifice of the Redeemer and on the necessity for men and women to be born of God, changed, and renewed through Christ. To the people of Gideon, Alma delivered a profound prophetic oracle regarding the birth of Jesus and the Atonement he would make, "suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind…that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy…that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:11-12). In Zarahemla, Alma stressed the need for the new birth and for acquiring the image and attributes of the Master; in doing so, he provided a series of over forty questions that assess one's depth of conversion and readiness to meet one's Maker (see Alma 5).
In Ammonihah, Alma and his convert Amulek were accused of a crime, taunted, and imprisoned for several weeks without clothing or adequate food. After being forced to witness the burning of several faithful women and children, Alma and Amulek were miraculously delivered and their persecutors annihilated. The discourses of Alma and Amulek on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement are among the clearest and most fundamental theological statements on these subjects in scripture (see Alma 11-12, 34, 42). In explaining humility, faith, and prayer to the poor in Antionum (Alma 32-34), Alma and Amulek set forth a pattern whereby those without faith in Christ (or those within the fold who desire to strengthen their belief) would plant the seed of the word of Christ in their hearts and eventually receive the confirming impressions of testimony that come by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Some of the most penetrating doctrinal information in the Book of Mormon comes through words that Alma spoke to his sons. To Helaman1, his eldest son and successor, Alma eloquently recounted the story of his own conversion, gave him loving fatherly counsel, and entrusted him with custody of the plates of brass, the plates of Nephi, the plates of Ether, and the liahona (Alma 36-37). To Shiblon, he gave wise practical advice (Alma 38). To his errant youngest son, Corianton, who eventually went on to serve valiantly in the church, Alma explained the seriousness of sexual sin, that wickedness never was happiness (Alma 39, 41:10), that all spirits will be judged after death and will eventually stand before God after a perfect resurrection (Alma 40), and that the word "restoration" does not mean that God will restore a sinner to some former state of happiness (Alma 41), for divine mercy cannot rob justice when the law of God has been violated (Alma 42).
A relatively young man at the time of his conversion, Alma lived fewer than twenty years thereafter. Yet in those two decades he almost single-handedly invigorated and established the cause of truth and liberty in the Nephite church and society. Never forgetting the thunderous voice of the angel at the time of his conversion, Alma always carried with him this unchanging desire: "O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!…that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth" (Alma 29:1-2). When he left one day and was never seen or heard again, his sons and the church supposed "that [the Lord] received Alma in the spirit, unto himself," even as Moses (Alma 45:19), drawing an apt comparison between these two great lawgivers, judges, commanders, spiritual leaders, and prophets.
For Latter-day Saints, Alma's life and lessons are rich and timeless. He serves as a hope to parents who have wandering children, and as a beacon to those who stray. He stands as a model public servant, a sterling illustration of the new life in Christ, a fearless preacher, missionary, and gifted theologian. Alma was a prophet who received a prophet's reward.Illustration Alma the Younger Called to Repentance, by James C. Christensen (1980, leaded stained glass). The angel of the Lord rebukes the young and rebellious Alma: "If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God" (Alma 36:9). Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Brigham Young University.
Holland, Jeffrey R. "Alma, Son of Alma." Ensign 7 (March 1977):79-84.
Perry, L. Tom. "Alma the Younger." CR (April 1979):16-17.
ROBERT L. MILLET
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