Alma 5:8-9 — LeGrand Baker — Psalm 21, the song of redeeming love

Alma 5:8-9 — LeGrand Baker — Psalm 21, the song of redeeming love

Alma 5:8-9
8 And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.
9 And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved. (Alma 5:8-9)

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

8. And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.

If, as I suggested last week, Alma was speaking to a temple worshiping people, and the destruction he is talking about here has nothing to do with the danger the Lamanates placed them under. Rather it is the destruction he describes in the next verse as “the bands of death and the chains of hell.” This destruction, he reminds his listeners, was not about physical death, but a “this-world” spiritual death. Samuel the Lamanite later explained

16 Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual.
17 But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.
18 Yea, and it bringeth to pass the condition of repentance, that whosoever repenteth the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire; but whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire; and there cometh upon them again a spiritual death, yea, a second death, for they are cut off again as to things pertaining to righteousness.
19 Therefore repent ye, repent ye, lest by knowing these things and not doing them ye shall suffer yourselves to come under condemnation, and ye are brought down unto this second death.
20 But behold, as I said unto you concerning another sign, a sign of his death, behold, in that day that he shall suffer death the sun shall be darkened and refuse to give his light unto you; and also the moon and the stars; and there shall be no light upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death, for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the dead. (Helaman 14:16-20.)

To return to Alma 5:

9a. And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed?

We usually consider that the prophets have defined death in three different ways.

1) The one, of course, is when one’s spirit leaves this mortal body and goes into the spirit world to await the resurrection.

2) Another is the transition we experienced between leaving the pre-mortal spirit world and entering this mortal experience. The first to do that were Adam and Eve, but just as they became mortal as a result of their choices, so did we. Each of us came to this world because we chose to, and none was sent to a time or place that he or she objected to. President McKay taught. “Of this we may be sure, happy to come through the lineage to which he was attracted and for which, and only which, he or she was prepared.” {1}

But because we lost our memory of our previous relationships with God, the prophets also call our birth into this a death, because we were separated from God.

3) That same definition is applied by the prophets to describe a kind of death that is reserved to those who will spend eternity outside the presence of God.

But here in this sermon in Zarahemla, Alma is talking about what appears to be a fourth kind of death. It is also a separation from God, but it is one that occurs while one lives in this world. With reference to those who came to Zarahemla with his father, he asks,

9a. And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed.

In chapter 7, he will use that same phrase, bands of death, to mean the “temporal death,” but in our verse 9 he was not talking about a physical death, as is evinced in verse 10 where he asks, “What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?” Here he is equating the “bands of death’ with “the chains of hell.” In chapter 12, he defines “the chains of hell”as not knowing (or choosing not to know) the mysteries of God. So the death that he is describing in verse 9 is one from which the members of his father’s church were redeemed while they were still alive in this world.

That seems to me to be important in light of his next statement to the saints at Zarahemla:

9b . I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.

Later in his sermon, Alma will ask:

26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

While a friend and I were reading this chapter, he asked me a question I had never asked before: “What song is that?” It had never occurred to me that it might actually be a song that they really sang. My mind ran quickly over those few psalms that I know, and I came upon one that can actually be identified as a “song of redeeming love.” It is Psalm 21.

First, a quick review of the meaning of “redeem” may be useful. In the Greek, the word translated redeem means to purchase or ransom. The Hebrew word translated redeem means the same thing except in the Hebrew it is done by a member of one’s family. In the story of Ruth, Boaz is described as Naomi’s “kinsman”; and in Job’s testimony, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” both “kinsman” and “redeemer” are translated from the same Hebrew word. (Strong # 1350)

The oldest of all the biblical uses of that word is in Job. His full testimony is:

25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19:25-26)

The connotation of Job’s testimony: that to be redeemed is to see God, is the usual meaning of that word in the Book of Mormon. Here are four quick examples:

The Saviour said to the Brother of Jared:

13b. Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed [present tense] from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. (Ether 3:14)

Lehi said to his son Jacob:

3b-4a. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed [present tense], because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men. And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory.(2 Nephi 2:3b-4a)

Lehi testified of himself:

15. But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell [past tense]; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love. (2 Nephi 1:15)

Samuel the Lamanite used “redeem” to describe the final judgement.

16. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual.
17. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord. (Helaman 14:16-17)

Employing that definition of redeem as used by Job and the prophets of the Book of Mormon, now let us consider what might be the “song of redeeming love.” If to redeem, means to be brought into the presence of God, then I suspect it may be the psalm that celebrates one who stands at the veil and is invited into the presence of God. Let’s read Psalm 21 together. It is only 13 verses long. I suggest we do it as we would if we were together, that is, read it in full to catch its full content, then read it bit by bit.

1 The king shall joy in thy strength, O LORD;
and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
2 Thou hast given him his heart’s desire,
and hast not withholden the request of his lips.
3 For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness:
thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.
4 He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him,
even length of days for ever and ever.
5 His glory is great in thy salvation:
honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.
6 For thou hast made him most blessed for ever:
thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.
7 For the king trusteth in the LORD,
and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved.
8 Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies:
thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.
9 Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger:
the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath,
and the fire shall devour them.
10 Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth,
and their seed from among the children of men.
11 For they intended evil against thee:
they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.
12 Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back,
when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.
13 Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength:
so will we sing and praise thy power. (Psalms 21:1-13)

Now let’s read it more carefully:

During the ceremonies the king and queen were the main actors, but theirs were not the only parts. There must have been other actors on stage as well. This was a participatory drama in which all played an important part, for what the king and queen were doing, symbolically the members of the audience were doing also. We do not know the extent of their participation, but one may surmise that parts or all of the audience sang many, if not most, of the Psalms as a part of the ceremonies. {2}

In ancient Israel, a king was, by definition, one who had been foreordained in the Council in Heaven, and anointed in this life. {3} In this psalm, as in many of the others, the words are spoken by different voices. There are no stage directions, as there are in modern plays, so one has to pay attention to the words in order to know who is talking. Our psalm begins by one speaking who is describing the action on the stage. This may be a chorus, as in a Greek play, or it might be a narrator, or it may be the entire audience that sings this part.

1. The king shall joy in thy strength,
O Lord; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
2. Thou hast given him his heart’s desire,
and hast not withholden the request of his lips.

So the king has asked the Lord for something, and the Lord has granted that request. In the next verse there is an unusual word, “preventest.” The footnote in the LDS Bible helps with that. It says that the words “thou preventest him” might be translated “thou wilt meet him.” Using that phrase, this is the Lord’s response to the king’s request:

3. For thou wilt meet him with the blessings of goodness:
thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.

This is the concluding scenes of a coronation as performed by God himself — it is the confirmation of one’s kingship and priesthood. (Psalms 110:4 says of the king: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”) In the next verse we are to learn what blessing the king requested.

4. He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him,
even length of days for ever and ever. [i.e. through all eternity]
5. His glory is great in thy salvation:
honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.

“Honour and majesty” are the names of the clothing that represents his kingship and priesthood. “Majesty” clearly represents his kingship, just as it does elsewhere in the scriptures. In Psalm 45:3-4 the king is told by God: “Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.” In Job 40:10 the fact that the Lord is talking about clothing is made even more clear: “Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty.”

In his sode experience, Enoch is dressed properly so he can be in the presence of God.

8 And the Lord said to Michael: ‘Go and take Enoch from out his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment, [Charles’ footnote reads: “oil” ] and put him into the garments of My glory.’
9 And Michael did thus, as the Lord told him. He anointed me, and dressed me, and the appearance of that ointment is more than the great light, and his ointment is like sweet dew, and its’
10 smell mild, shining like the sun’s ray, and I looked at myself, and was like one of his glorious ones. (“The Book of the Secrets of Enoch,” 22:8-10, in R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. II, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976). The sode experience is in vol. 2:442-445.)

In our psalm the words, “honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him” suggests that God himself has dressed the king in royal garments.

6. For thou hast made him most blessed for ever:
thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.

The king has received a blessing that reaches “for ever,” and now the king is “exceeding glad” because he has seen the countenance of God.

7 For the king trusteth in the LORD,
and through the mercy of the most High
he shall not be moved. [i.e. the king will keep the covenants he has made with the Lord.]

The next 5 verses in the psalm are spoken by God to the king. It is easy for us to read them in the context of our own time — and that without much understanding. In the context of our time, these words sound like a battle hymn, whose emphasis is victory in war. But when one recalls that they were written in a time very unlike our own, then they have a different ring altogether. In the days of ancient Israel, there were no police forces that kept one safe as he traveled. People built walls around cities, and the wealthy built fortifications on their own estates. The words in our psalm, and many like them in the psalms and in Isaiah, are promises of protection — of invulnerability — the same kind of invulnerability he promises us, if we keep his commandments.

8 Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies:
thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.
9. Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger:
the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them.
10. Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth,
and their seed from among the children of men.
11. For they intended evil against thee:
they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.
12. Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back,
when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.

The final verse is an anthem of praise, sung by the people who sang the first verses of the psalm.

13. Be thou exalted, LORD, in thine own strength:
so will we sing and praise thy power. (Psalms 21:1-13)

I do not know whether this psalm was Alma’s referent in his sermon when he said: “If ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”

In any case, the psalm provides a relevant context in which one might ask one’s Self that question.

The consequences of one’s not knowing the mysteries of God, and of not keeping one’s eternal covenants, are very severe. Yet, we wander about in this world of darkness, going through life half awake, and uncertain about where and how to walk. After much thought and a good deal of watching other people, I have come to believe I have found the answer to the great question: “As one repents, what should one try to become?” I believe the answer is this: One should seek to be happy — that means to live according to the law of one’s own being – to become again one’s eternal Self and cover that Self with no facade that prevents family and friends from filling one’s life with companionship and joy. I believe that the object of this life is to demonstrate to one’s Self and to God, that what one was at the Council in Heaven, and what one is in this earthly environment are the same — and I believe that the major function of the Holy Ghost is to teach one the truth about who one is, and that the whole purpose of the principles and ordinances of the gospel is to give one the tools to be that.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
HERE IS THAT BIG LONG FOOTNOTE. It is also full of footnotes.

Frederick H. Borsch, after reviewing the symbolism of Adam’s role in the ancient New Year’s enthronement drama, asks,

Who, then, is the Perfect Man imaged from the one above, who yet must himself be saved by passing through the gate and being born again? Of course, in one sense it is this Adam below, but the implications are also vairly strong that this is not really the Primal Man on earth (for there is a way in which the true Man, or at least his counterpart, always seems to remain above). Rather is it the believer, the individual who himself would be saved by following in the way of the First Perfect Man. {4}

Mowinckel asserted that the congregation participated in the events of the drama through the actions of the king.

But both in Ps. cxxxii and in other cultic contexts, Israel’s king generally appears as the representative of the congregation before Yahweh, not as the representative of Yahweh before the congregation. He dances and sings and plays ‘before Yahweh’, and leads the festal procession (2 Sam. vi, 5, 14ff.; cf. Ps. xlii, 5). In the cultic drama he represents David: Yahweh is represented by His holy ark, by the ‘footstool’ before the throne on which He [God] is invisibly seated….
“It is the king who receives Yahweh’s promises, His blessings, and His power; and he transmits them to the community which he represents. {5}

Widengren observed,

…a covenant was made between Yahweh and the king and his people, as well as between the king and his people.” When David was anointed king of all Israel, the people made a covenant with the king, thus, “the king’s enthronement is coupled with the making of a covenant between him and his people. But David’s election by Yahweh to be king also implies a covenant between Yahweh and David.” So the whole foundation of the Kingdom as well as the relationship between God, the king, and the people was based on the principle of obedience to the terms of the covenant. {6}

Aubrey Johnson, during his discussion of Psalm 72, “which is one of the more famous of the so-called royal Psalms,” observed,

The parallelism of the opening line makes it clear that we are here concerned with no simple portrayal of some future scatological [eschatological] figure (although this is not to say that the Psalm is in no way scatological), but with a prayer for the ruling member of an hereditary line of kings which bears every appearance of having been composed for use on his ascension to the throne; and the whole Psalm admirably depicts the literally vital role which it was hoped that he might play in the life of the nation….What is more, it is clear from the outset that the king is both dependent upon and responsible to Yahweh for the right exercise of his power; for his subjects, whatever their status in society, are one and all Yahweh’s people. {7}

In that same study, Johnson commented on Psalm 149.

…Psalm cxlix, which apparently introduces the worshipers as themselves sharing in this ritual performance….What is more, we have to note that they are summoned to sing a ‘new song’; and this, one need hardly say, is a thought which is particularly appropriate to our festival with its exultant anticipation of a new era of universal dominion and national prosperity.{8}

The scriptures focus on the role men played in the ceremonies, but in her study of “Women in Ancient Israel,” Grace Emmerson insists that women also played a vital role.

It is commonplace to remark that male members only of the community were required to attend the three major annual festivals (Exod. 23.17; Deut. 16.16). But difference of obligation does not necessarily imply inequality, and in this case probably arose from practical considerations attendant on the birth and care of children. Certainly Deuteronomy makes it clear that women were present at the festivals, sharing in the rejoicing (Deut. 12.12), and participating in the sacrifices (Deut. 12.1`8). The feasts of weeks and booths are specifically mentioned (Deut. 16.10f., 13f.). This may well represent an advance on earlier law in the direction of equality, a feature which seems to be characteristic of Deuteronomy. This book presents women as participants in the covenant ceremony (Deut. 29.10-13), and consequently under full obligation to observe Yahweh’s law (Deut. 31.12). Equally with men they could be held guilty of transgressing the covenant, for which the penalty was death (Deut. 130-11; 17.2-5). The evidence suggests that it was deuteronomic law which first explicitly brought them within the covenant. The view that women are fully accountable before Yahweh continues in the post-exilic period (2 Chron. 15f.; Neh. 8.2).

Was there discrimination against women within the covenant community? It seems not. Although in general the male head of the household represented the family in the offering of sacrifice, where an individual offering was stipulated a woman was expected personally to fulfill the requirement (Lev. 12.6; 1 Sam. 1.24)….The exceptional consecration entailed under the Nazirite vow was open to women (Num. 6.2-21). Indeed, this passage with its single feminine reference (v.2) is a timely reminder that grammatically masculine forms may be intended in any inclusive sense, and the linguistic convention must not be misunderstood. We may compare also Deut. 29.18ff. Where women are specified inv. 18, but masculine forms are used thereafter in vv. 19f.

The one role in worship from which women were certainly excluded was the priesthood, as also were the majority of men….Female members of priestly families were permitted, however, to eat of the ‘holy things’ set aside for the priests (Lev. 22.13). It is open to debate whether there were women who had an official place in worship. Exod. 38.8 speaks of ‘women who ministered at the door of the tent of meeting’. Although the nature of their service is not clear….Whether officially or not, women shared in cultic worship, dancing, singing and playing musical instruments (Exod. 15.20; Jud. 21.21; Ps. 68.26).

The regular involvement of women in the cult is implied by the strict regulations concerning their ritual purity….Though the examples are few, there are several instances in the Old Testament of women in encounter with God. {9}

Robert Davidson does not mention women apart from men, but implies the same thing.

In Isa. 55.3 there seems to be an attempt to democratize this everlasting Davidic covenant and to transfer its privileges and responsibilities to the community as a whole and thus to ensure that its continuing validity was not permanently tied to the continuance of the Davidic dynasty….Unless we are prepared to see nationalism and particularism as the key to second Isaiah’s thinking, the description of the purpose of this covenant in Isa. 55.4-5 may be interpreted in a universalistic sense. This is also the case with the occurrence of covenant in Isa. 42.6 where Servant-Israel is summoned to be ‘a covenant of the people, and a light to the nations’. Yet this promise of a Davidic covenant for ever could also find a new and rich future within the hope of a Davidic king still to come, who would renew the old royal covenant temporarily annulled by events. {10}

ENDNOTES

{1} Llewelyn R. McKay, Home Memories of President David O. McKay [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1956], 230.

{2} The best book I know about the ceremonial importance of the Israelite king is: Aubrey R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel (Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1967) For a discussion of how and when some of the Psalms were used, see Sigmund Mowinckel, translated by A.P. Thomas, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, 2 Vols., Abingdon, Nashville, 1962, vol. 1, p. 2-3. Also, Johnson, A. R., “Hebrew Conceptions of Kingship,” in S. H. Hooke, ed., Myth, Ritual, and Kingship, Oxford, 1958, p. 215-235.

{3} Widengren quotes Pseudo Clement to further elaborate on the idea of an anointing with the oil from the Tree of Life. He writes,

This idea of an anointing with oil from the Tree of Life is found in a pregnant form in the Ps. Clementine writings, from which some quotations may be given. In the passage concerned, the author (or rather his original source) discusses the problem of the Primordial Man as Messiah. He is represented as stressing the fact that the Primordial Man is the Anointed One:

But the reason of his being called the Messiah (the Anointed One) is that, being the Son of God, he was a man, and that, because he was the first beginning, his father in the beginning anointed him with oil which was from the Tree of Life.

Ps. Clem. Recognitions syriace, ed. Frankenberg, I, 45, 4

Primordial Man, who had received the anointing, thanks to which he had been installed in the threefold office of king, high priest, and prophet, is then paralleled with every man who has received such anointing:

The same, however, is every man who has been anointed with the oil that has been prepared, so that he has been made a participant of that which is possessed of power, even being worth the royal office or the prophet’s office or the high priest’s office. Ps. Clem. Recognitions syriace, ed. Frankenberg, I, 47, 1-3

(Geo Widengren, “Baptism and Enthronement in Some Jewish-Christian Gnostic Documents,” in, S. G. F. Brandon, ed., The Saviour God, Comparative Studies in the Concept of Salvation Presented Edwin Oliver James [New York, Barns & Noble, 1963], 213-214.)

{4 } Frederick H. Borsch, The Son of Man in Myth and History, SCM Press Ltd., London, 1967, p. 184.

{5} Sigmund Mowinckel, He that Cometh (New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 84. As examples Mowinckel’s footnote gives Psalms 132:11ff; 82; cf. 20:8f; 21:10; and Isaiah 55:3. (The word “cult” has received bad connotations since Mowinckel wrote. It simply means an organization which employs ordinances in its ceremonies. Used that way, the Baptists with their practice of baptism are as cultic as the Mormons with their temple rites.)

{6} Widengren, Geo, “King and Covenant” in Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol. II, No. I, 1957, p. 21-22.

{7} Aubrey R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1967, p. 7-8.

{8} Aubrey R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1967, p. 91.

{9} Grace I. Emmerson, “Women in Ancient Israel,” in R. E. Clements, ed., The World of Ancient Israel, Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989,371-394. This is an exceptionally insightful article which deals with many facets of the woman’s position in ancient Israel. The above quotes are taken from pages 378-379. On page 382 she writes, “Still more significantly, the imagery of marriage is considered appropriate to describe both Yahweh’s love relationship with Israel (Hos. 1-3; Jer. 2.2), and Israel’s joy when redeemed by the Lord (Isa. 62.4f.). Here is the Israelite ideal of marriage, from which in practice many no doubt fell short. The crude idea of ownership is entirely inappropriate here, as it is also in Jer. 31.32. To suggest that a wife was little better than a slave is certainly incorrect.”

{10} Robert Davidson, “Covenant Ideology in Ancient Israel,” in R. E. Clements, ed., The World of Ancient Israel, Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989), 342-343.

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