Alma 12 — LeGrand Baker — The psalms in Alma 12 – 13

Alma 12 — LeGrand Baker — The psalms in Alma 12 – 13

The Psalms are not quoted in the Book of Mormon as much as Isaiah, but they are there. Perhaps the most frequently quoted or paraphrased psalm in the Book of Mormon is Psalm 95:11. There, referring to wayward Israel, the Lord is quoted as saying, “I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” That phrase, “enter into my rest,” is not found anywhere else in the Old Testament. However, in the Book of Mormon Jacob refers to that idea once, and it is referred to ten times in the book of Alma, once again by the Saviour in Third Nephi, and once more after that by Mormon. {1}

Another, most interesting use of the Psalms by Alma is in his sermon about kingship and priesthood in Alma chapters 12 and 13. Alma was confronting a political/religious revolution and he delivered an address on the question of legitimacy of priesthood/kingship, {2} which is precisely what the New Year’s festival is about. The argument he uses is apparently drawn from both the New Year’s festival and the Psalms. As in the festival, Alma tells the outline of the story of Adam and Eve {3} and speaks of “holy works” (“Works” are ordinances in Doctrine and Covenants 22, and are probably ordinances here as well.) associated with that story. At the beginning of chapter 13 he does a flash back to the pre-existence where we see God the Father ordaining his children to the priesthood of his Son. (The Saviour’s title found in Psalm 2.) In few places in the Old Testament does one find the idea of a fore-ordination or pre-earth life ordinations (anointings) addressed more clearly than in the Psalms. There an anointing in the pre-mortal existence appears to be prerequisite to an earthly anointing and to earthly kingship. This idea is also consistent with practices among certain gnostic Christians. Borsch explains,

They now account themselves Christians, having been made perfect by entering through the gate which is Jesus, and there having been anointed with oil from the horn, like David. This being chosen from out of the waters and the mention of anointing again suggest something like a cultic or liturgical background. The ceremony is said to take place in the heavenly realms just as the royal ritual was often described as though it were taking place in heaven. Let us notice, too, that the anointing act here is not associated primarily with cleansing or healing, but rather with a rite like king David’s. It is said that the ceremony makes the pneumatic into a god as well, just like the one above. In other words he will be a royal god. {4}

Alma, in chapters 12 and 13, talks about faith and obedience in the pre-existence, as do the Psalms, then he discusses the legitimacy of kingship {5} in terms of the priesthood of Melchizedek, as does the Psalms (Nowhere in the Old Testament is the office of “priest after the order of Melchizedek” spoken of except in the Psalms.). Also in that same sermon of Alma one finds, “in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren.” That is not the same wording, but perhaps it is the same idea as “He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.” {6} But one of the strongest evidences that Alma was basing his arguments in his sermon on the Psalms and (perhaps) also on the teachings implicit in the New Year’s festival itself, is that he cites a passage directly from the Psalms. Alma said,

36  And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first. (Alma 12:36)  {7}

The passage from Psalms reads,

8  Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.
10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest. (Psalms 95:8-11)

Zeezorm, to whom Alma’s words were addressed, was entirely convinced by the Spirit and by Alma, leaving us to wonder if Alma’s ideas were new to him, or if they were just a powerful review of what he already knew. It would be interesting to know how much of the New Year’s festival Alma was calling to mind in order to show Zeezorm that without proper priesthood authority kingship can only be usurpation.

Later, we will discuss another evidence in the Book of Mormon that the Psalms were familiar to the people. It is the fact that when the Saviour came to America, he quoted or paraphrased the Psalms as though he assumed the people understood both the Psalms and their significance. As the Nephites huddled in the darkness after the great earthquake, the Saviour reassured them by quoting one of the Psalms and reminding them of another. {9} He also made several other references to the Psalms, quoting some verbatim.



{1} Jacob 1:7; Alma 12:34, 12:35-37; 13:6, 13, 16, 29; 16:17; 60:13; 3 Nephi 27:19; Moroni 7:3.

{2} In his discussion of Psalm 110, Booij observes, “Priesthood, obviously, is essential in the office of him who rules from Zion (v.2). By entrusting the sovereign with it ‘for ever’. YHWH firmly establishes his dominion.” Thijs Booij, “Psalm 110: “Ruler in the Midst of Your Foes!” in Vetus Testamentum, 41:401.

{3} See: Stephen D. Ricks, “Liturgy and Cosmogony: The Ritual Use of Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East,” in Donald W. Parry, ed., Temples of the Ancient World, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1994, p. 118-125.

{4} Frederick H. Borsch, The Son of Man in Myth and History, SCM Press Ltd., London, 1967, p. 184. In this, and all subsequent quotes where italics occur, the italics are in the original.

{5} It is interesting to note that while this sermon about the legitimacy of kingship draws heavily on both the Psalms and the nyf, it does not mention, as does the Psalms, that Nephite kings were anointed. However, we learn that Nephite kings were anointed in Jacob 1:9, where we are told that Nephi “anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people.

{6} Psalm 33:15.

{7} Alma 12:36. Jacob also mentions the same idea in Jacob 1:7.

{8} Psalms 95:8-11.

{9} 3 Ne. 9:19-20 quotes Psalms 51:16-17; 3 Ne. 10:4-7 is about the 91st Psalm.

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