Mosiah 24:13-23 — LeGrand Baker — covenants and power
Mosiah 24 contains one of my favorite stories about covenants and covenant-keeping in the Book of Mormon.
When, at the Waters of Mormon, the people of Alma were about to be attacked by the army of King Noah, the Lord warned Alma to get out of there, then he prevented the army from pursuing them. But somewhat later, under an almost identical circumstance, the Lord didn’t warn them when the Lamanites, under the command of Amulon, came suddenly upon Alma’s community. Rather, the Lord let his covenant people become enslaved by the Lamanites. He left them in that situation for a while, then provided a way for Alma and his entire community to escape. Given the similarity of the situations, one is left to ask, “Wouldn’t it have been a lot simpler for the Lord just to have warned Alma that the Lamanites were coming and helped them escape before they became slaves?” If one asks that, one misses the most important part of the story. A more relevant question would be, “Why did the Lord permit his faithful saints to be enslaved?” It is the answers to that question that makes the story so beautiful to me. The answers are found in the narrative, but much of their detail in encoded in the temple-language of its sub-text.
As you know, I am convinced that the Book of Mormon was carefully translated so that the words of the King James Bible map one-on-one to the words in the Book of Mormon, and visa versa. If that were not so we could not read the scriptures with understanding, but because it is so, we can go to the Old and New Testaments to know the meaning of words in the Book of Mormon, and we can go to the Book of Mormon to know the meaning of words in the Bible.
I also understand that the Book of Mormon and significant parts of the Bible are written in a double language. There is a very good reason for that. The Book of Mormon is the greatest missionary tool we have. The text of its surface stories and doctrines are about the things seminary students and new converts need to know – the first principles of the gospel, and how to gain a testimony of the Saviour. Those things can, and must be taught to everyone.
However, the sub-text is addressed only to the Lord’s temple covenant people. The sub-text the Book of Mormon is, in fact, a temple text. Those things cannot be taught. The Saints who know, understand because they already know; for those who do not know already, the sub-text is simply not there.
You know that I love to point out the sub-text to my friends – I can do that because I realize that my calling attention to it is all I have to do – because I know that you can supply for yourselves all the background information requisite to your understanding. So the purpose of my writing is simply to engage in my half of a conversation that begins, “Did you notice this?”
In this week’s chapter of Mosiah, the code words that are used so perfectly are “faith” (which is in the New Testament Greek, pistis; It does not mean belief, but the token of a covenant.) and “comfort” (which means empowerment and in the scriptures is related to the coronation ceremony of sacral kingship and priesthood.) My dear sister keeps reminding me that until we all have access to an archive of past comments, I need to do a better job of providing scriptural definitions of code words. So next week I will discuss both pistis and “comfort.”
In Mosiah 24, the people of Alma were threatened with death if they were caught praying to God, and even though the story does not say so, it is apparent that they were also prohibited from talking about God – or maybe even talking with each other at all. In any case, when the Lord made the covenant with them, he did not tell Alma and let Alma tell the rest. He made the covenant with each one individually.
13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort,
[“Comfort” may, of course, be read the way we usually read it: to mean something like the Lord said, “don’t be too concerned, because everything will be OK.” But if one reads the word to mean “empower,” and if the empowerment has to do with sacral kingship and priesthood as “comfort” does in Isaiah 61 and Psalm 23, then the words “be of good comfort” in our verse are a covenant. Verse 14 describes how that covenant will be fulfilled.]
….for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me
[The covenant they made at the Waters of Mormon was that they would give their all in support of each other, the Church, and Kingdom of God. They fulfilled that covenant – or demonstrated that they would fulfill it – when they lived the law of consecration in the wilderness before the Lamanites came and enslaved them.];
….and I will covenant with my people
[those words are a promise that there is another covenant yet to come. We will find that covenant later on in the story.]
….and deliver them out of bondage.
[and that new covenant will come before the people are delivered from bondage. But in the meantime, the Lord describes to each of them individually his covenant of empowerment:
14 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. [- and there we have the Lord’s reason for letting the Lamanites make them slaves.]
As I understand it, this is the story so far: The Lord let the Lamanites enslave the people of Alma so those saints could testify that the Lord keeps his covenants with his children even when they are under circumstances that would appear to the world as though the Lord had forgotten his people. The Lord said “that ye…” “Ye” is plural. He was using the plural form even though he was revealing his covenant to each person individually. It is significant that he did not say “that ye stand as witnesses of me hereafter” – rather he said, “that ye stand as witnesses for me hereafter.” The only way I can account for that wording is that when they got to Zarahemla their testimony would have a specific purpose. I presume, from the way events turned out, that purpose had something to do with King Mosiah’s surrendering his authority as the spiritual leader of his kingdom, and giving Alma permission to both establish and preside over the Church of Christ.
15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
[Their submitting “cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” was the pistis – their token of the covenant. They did not “submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the” Lamanites, but “to all the will of the Lord.”]
16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith [pistis – the token of the covenant] and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again [again to each individual, and not just to Alma], saying: Be of good comfort [a second promise of empowerment], for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.
[Under the intense pressure of those circumstances, each individual had to know for oneself that the time had come, so that each person could make the necessary preparations to leave quickly. This time the promise of empowerment was not that their burdens would be light, but that they would have the ability to prepare so quickly for their departure.]
17 And he said unto Alma
[It is significant that the Lord gave different instructions to Alma than to the others. The fact that Mormon differentiates between the revelations that were given “to them” and “to Alma” reinforces the idea that in the first two instances the revelation did not come “to them through Alma” but “to them” individually.]:
….Thou shalt go before this people, and I will go with thee and deliver this people out of bondage. [There is the promised covenant that preceded the deliverance: “I will go with thee -Alma – and because they have a prophet to lead them, I will deliver this people…”]
18 Now it came to pass that Alma and his people in the night-time gathered their flocks together, and also of their grain; yea, even all the night-time were they gathering the flocks together.
[Thus, the second covenant of empowerment was fulfilled in a single night. I grew up on a farm, and to me that is an amazing story. Their gathering their flocks and preparing them to move was one thing. Getting all the grain into sacks and then getting it on their pack animals was quite another. It is a wonder that they were able to do all that, and still prepare the necessary meals, pack their belongings, get the children ready – and all that in one night without any previous preparations that would alert the Lamanites.]
19 And in the morning the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites, yea, and all their task-masters were in a profound sleep.
[Thus the promise that they would be delivered. This time they didn’t have to get their overlords drunk, the Lord himself just kept them sound asleep.]
20 And Alma and his people departed into the wilderness; and when they had traveled all day they pitched their tents in a valley, and they called the valley Alma, because he led their way in the wilderness.
21 Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens [He kept the first covenant of empowerment], and had delivered them out of bondage [He kept the second covenant of empowerment]; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God.
22 And they gave thanks to God, yea, all their men and all their women and all their children that could speak lifted their voices in the praises of their God.
[As I imagine that scene, I am sure they didn’t all sound like a replay of the confounding of tongues in Babylon. Rather, I suspect that this is one of several places in the Book of Mormon where it is intended to be understood that all the people spoke and/or prayed in unison.]
23 And now the Lord said unto Alma: Haste thee and get thou and this people out of this land, for the Lamanites have awakened and do pursue thee; therefore get thee out of this land, and I will stop the Lamanites in this valley that they come no further in pursuit of this people. [That is the way the Lord had saved them before, so his system still worked when he wanted to use it again.]
This conclusion of the story is a further testimony that the Lord had purpose in letting his people be enslaved, just as his strengthening them and then delivering them, testifies that his purpose had nothing whatever to do with punishing them, or making their lives more difficult than they needed to be. This story is also a testimony to us that one’s pain, sorrow, disappointment, and hardship are not the curses of this lonely, dreary world, but they are blessing of empowerment if we will accept them as such and “submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”
24 And it came to pass that they departed out of the valley, and took their journey into the wilderness.
25 And after they had been in the wilderness twelve days they arrived in the land of Zarahemla; and king Mosiah did also receive them with joy.
It is always important, when one considers the temple/sub-textual meanings of passages in the scriptures, to compare them with other places in the scriptures where the same words and phrases are used.
There is a beautiful example in the New Testament where the Saviour says essentially the same thing to a lone woman that he had said to each of the people in Alma’s covenant community: “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.” We are only told the conclusion of the story, but if the phrase “good comfort” and the word “faith” mean the same thing there as they do in Alma’s story, then we can also know that this dear woman and her Heavenly Father had made a covenant, and that the Saviour recognized that covenant as the source of her empowerment; and that, for her, the token of that covenant was simply to touch the Saviour – even if only the garment he was wearing.
43 And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any,
44 Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.
45 And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?
46 And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.
47 And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him and how she was healed immediately.
48 And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.(Luke 8:43-48, see also (Matthew 9:20-22.)