Alma 10:17; 12:3,7, 14. LeGrand Baker, “he perceived their thoughts”
Now they knew not that Amulek could know of their designs. But it came to pass as they began to question him, he perceived their thoughts, and he said unto them: O ye wicked and perverse generation, ye lawyers and hypocrites, for ye are laying the foundations of the devil; for ye are laying traps and snares to catch the holy ones of God. (Alma 10:17)
3 Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit;….
7 Now when Alma had spoken these words, Zeezrom began to tremble more exceedingly, for he was convinced more and more of the power of God; and he was also convinced that Alma and Amulek had a knowledge of him, for he was convinced that they knew the thoughts and intents of his heart; for power was given unto them that they might know of these things according to the spirit of prophecy….
14 For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence. (Alma 12:3,7,141-15)
There are many evidences in the scriptures that God knows the thoughts of everybody, and that his prophets can know, but this story is different from that. It is not only about people knowing each other’s thought, it is one of the few places in the scriptures that apparently reports a conversation that included no audible words. I would like to briefly explore the question of communicating without words, then return to this story.
There are ways that people can perceive other people’s attitudes and intentions. One is through the other’s body language (unless the other person also knows how to read body language and can use body language as well as spoken language to convey whatever he wishes to say.)
Another is more difficult to fake. We communicate with others by the light—or the darkness—that radiates from our person. Sensitive people can feel the essence of what another person is—we can feel another’s love or antagonism. However the art of the shyster is to use words, smiles, and a velvet voice to disguise what he truly is inside. So while that system of knowing another often works, sometimes it does not.
In this comment, I’m not talking about body language, or about light that can be counterfeited. I’m talking about one’s actually knowing what the other person is thinking. Job said to God, “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.” (Job 42:2) The gospels are replete with stories of Jesus knowing the thoughts of the people he spoke with. (Matthew 9:4, 12:25; Luke 5:22, 6:8, 9:47, 11:17; 3 Nephi 28:4-6.) This is a power that only God has, so when humans experience it, it must be by the gift of God. The Lord assured Oliver Cowdery, “…there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.” (D&C 6:16. See also Psalms 94:11, Isaiah 66:18, 1 Corinthians 3:20, Hebrews 4:12, D&C 33:1)
When John wrote the story of Nicodemus, he introduced it by explaining,
24 But Jesus did not commit [entrust] himself unto them, because he knew all men,
25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.(John 2:24-25)
The principle is very simple: as God knows all things, even our thoughts, it is certainly within his power to teach others what we are thinking. It is also within his power to teach us what others are feeling. When the Spirit conveys that information, one can feel the love or antagonism of another, and know, unerringly what it means—the problem for must of us is how to know unerringly that it is the Holy Ghost who is the source of our information.
The Holy Ghost is the great communicator. He causes people to let missionaries who are strangers come into their homes. He lets missionaries sense their investigator’s questions and teaches the missionaries the correct answer. He teaches each of us that the testimonies of others are true. He warns us when we hear something that is false. He assists friends to talk about the gospel in the sacred language of the scriptures, so that without violating any sacred trust, each can speak and each can understand the intent of what the other says. He teaches us how to read the scriptures so the ancient prophets can communicate with us that same way. He teaches bishops, Relief Society presidents and scout masters how to solve problems they didn’t even know were there. (see D&C 100:5)
Both faith and the priesthood powers are exercised through words—but the words need not always be spoken. Thought can be as powerful as spoken words. That is certainly true with God. Isaiah wrote,
24 The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: (Isaiah 14:24)
For Nephi, the word “thought” (the past tense of to think, i.e. to understand) conveyed the whole depth and range of this father’s understanding:
8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. (1 Nephi 1:8)
For the newly ordained apostle Spencer W. Kimball “thoughts” may have embodied the whole foundation of his apostleship. His son records,
At home the new apostle underlined three sentences in his written copy of the blessing President Grant had given him: ;Therefore, we admonish you to look upon this calling and this Apostleship which we are now giving unto you as paramount to everything else upon the earth. Therefore, set your heart upon the service of the Lord thy God. From this very moment resolve to make this cause and this labor first and foremost in all your thoughts.’ (Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball, Jr., Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1977], 205.)
One’s thoughts are the most intimate expression of one’s Self. That is no more true of the apostles and prophets than it is of each of us. It is not uncommon for the Lord to tell his servants what other people are thinking, or how they are feeling, but the story of Alma and Zeezrom is unique. In this story the principals seem to be carrying on a dual conversation: they speak audibly and everyone else can hear, but there seems to be another spoken conversation happening that only they are privy. Our thoughts are the window to our soul. When Zeezrom realized that Alma and Amulek had access to his most confidential and personal Self, it startled, then frightened him.
Zeezrom tried to bribe Amulek, and Amulek accused him of never intending to pay. That seems to me to be a reasonable deduction on Amulek’s part, so why was Zeezrom so taken aback by Amulek’s insight. It seems that the only answer (except that Zeezrom was not very bright, and that is disallowed by what else we know about him) is that Zeezrom had more evidence than just guessing that Amulek had guessed correctly. Alma then picked up the conversation and said,
3 Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit;
Something is going on here we can not read and the others could not hear. It caused Zeezrom to tremble? That is an amazing reaction for one who had a great deal of political experience and was accustomed to hard legal debate, as we are led to believe Zeezrom was.
7 Now when Alma had spoken these words, Zeezrom began to tremble more exceedingly, for he was convinced more and more of the power of God; and he was also convinced that Alma and Amulek had a knowledge of him, for he was convinced that they knew the thoughts and intents of his heart; for power was given unto them that they might know of these things according to the spirit of prophecy. (Alma 12:3,7)
Why? The only answer that satisfies me is that by that same spirit of prophecy, Zeezrom knew what Alma and Amulek were thinking. That is, they actually exchanged ideas—spoke together—without saying the words. I believe it was the power of this unspoken conversation that caused Zeezrom to tremble exceedingly. One can’t cite Zeezrom’s worthiness in this life as a reason for the Lord to teach him in that way, any more than one can cite Alma’s worthiness in this world for his seeing the angel. But missions and responsibilities were made by covenant long before we came here, and the Lord keeps his part of the covenant so we can keep ours. Sometimes that requires what we perceive as rather dramatic action on the Lord’s part to pull us back on course. I believe that when the Lord finds it expedient or necessary, people can communicate with each other by unspoken words, and that people can both speak and hear by the power of the Spirit. That is why this is one of the most interesting stories in the Book of Mormon to me.
The ultimate example, of course is the power of inspired thought, and the way our thoughts bring us into one-on-one contact with the divine. It is beautifully expressed in the 139th Psalm. The psalm is spoken by one who is awed by God, but who is comfortable in knowing that God knows him more intimately than he knows himself. It is a beautiful expression of the power of thought, and therefore of the power of prayer:
1 O LORD, thou hast searched me,
and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising,
thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down,
and art acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue,
but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou hast beset me behind and before,
and laid thine hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit?
or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:
if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall thy hand lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me;
even the night shall be light about me.
12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee;
but the night shineth as the day:
the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
13 For thou hast possessed my reins:
thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made:
marvellous are thy works;
and that my soul knoweth right well.
15 My substance was not hid from thee,
when I was made in secret,
and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Thine eyes did see my substance,
yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written,
which in continuance were fashioned,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God!
how great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them,
they are more in number than the sand:
when I awake, I am still with thee.
19 Surely thou wilt slay the wicked,
O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
20 For they speak against thee wickedly,
and thine enemies take thy name in vain.
21 Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee?
and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred:
I count them mine enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me,
and know my thoughts:
24 And see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalms 139:1-24)