3 Nephi 12:7 & Alma 38:1-15 — LeGrand Baker — duties of priesthood and kingship.

3 Nephi 12:7 & Alma 38:1-15

7 And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (3 Nephi 12:7).

Many of the Beatitudes are quotes or paraphrases from other scriptures, so to understand them we must place them in their original context. It is likely that this Beatitude is a paraphrase of Psalm 18 which reads:

25 With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright (Psalms 18:25).

That verse uses the Hebrew word hesed twice, but in different forms: “With the merciful [hesed as an adjective] thou wilt shew thyself merciful [hesed as a verb].”

Hesed is one of the most beautiful words I know. In Psalm 25, which is set in the context of our premortal covenants, hesed brings those covenants into a deeply personal friendship/relationship. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament shows the power of that friendship/relationship:

We may venture the conjecture that even in cases where the context does not suggest such mutuality it is nevertheless implicit, because we are dealing with the closest of human bonds.

An explanation and clarification of their phrase, “dealing with the closest of human bonds,” is found in a new edition of Strong’s Concordance:

hesed, unfailing love, loyal love, devotion. kindness, often based on a prior relationship, especially a covenant relationship.

Verse 7 might read, “And blessed are those who give hesed, for they shall obtain hesed.”

Even if that is not correct, verse 7 is so succinct and powerful that rather than leading to a specific referent, it leads us to an overarching idea. Its place in the Beatitudes teaches us that it is about how to be a priest and priestess — a king and queen in the Kingdom of God. That “how” is the key to all that follows: the Law of Consecration is what one DOES when Charity is what one IS. If one is charity, then the remaining promises of the Beatitudes will come in the course of time. If one is not charity, those blessings remain inaccessible.

The sequence of the blessings and responsibilities outlined in the Beatitudes is this:
(v. 1) follow the brethren,
(v. 2) first principles of the gospel,
(v. 3) endowment for the living,
(v. 4) endowment for the dead,
(v. 5) keeping eternal covenants,
(v. 6) living for righteousness [priesthood and temple correctness] and to be filled with the Holy Ghost,
(v. 7) How to be a king and a priest — Law of Consecration and Charity,
(v. 8) the pure in heart [Zion] shall see God,
(v. 9) peacemakers receive the new name of “children of God,”
(v. 10-12) invulnerability, and ultimate kingship
(v. 13) our responsibilities as missionaries,
(v. 14-16) our responsibilities to other members of the Church.

In that sequence, “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” is the bridge that leads to eternal life or the detour sign that leads to another place.

In his letter from Liberty jail, the Prophet Joseph described both the bridge and the detour. He urged the Saints:

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever (D&C 121:45-46).

But in that same letter he warned:

36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man (D&C 121:36-37).

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The focal point of Moses’s Tabernacle was the Mercy Seat, the throne of God that sat upon the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. It is significant that the word that is translated “mercyseat” in the New Testament is the same word which is translated “atone” elsewhere, so the name of the Lord’s throne might also be the “seat of Atonement.” That is consistent with Enoch exclamation, “naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne” (Moses 7:31). To be merciful is a primary characteristic of one who exercises in righteousness the judgment responsibilities of priesthood and sacral kingship. As the pattern for that, Psalm 98 is a celebration of God’s judgment in righteousness:

1 O sing unto the Lord a new song;
for he hath done marvellous things:
his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.
2 The Lord hath made known his salvation:
his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.
3 He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel:
all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth:
make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
5 Sing unto the Lord with the harp;
with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.
6 With trumpets and sound of cornet
make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.
7 Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof;
the world, and they that dwell therein.
8 Let the floods clap their hands:
let the hills be joyful together
9 Before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth:
with righteousness shall he judge the world,
and the people with equity
10 Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth:
the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved:
he shall judge the people righteously.
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.
12 Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein:
then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice
13 Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness,
and the people with his truth (Psalm 98:1-13).

The responsibility and power that are implicit in the titles of priest and sacral king are to judge righteously. As in English, the Hebrew word for judge means one is empowered to condemn, absolve, or to choose. It can also mean to establish a standard of excellence by which one may conduct one’s Self and to help one adhere to that standard. Thus, in anticipation of learning how to do that, the psalmist sang:

7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart,
when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments
(Psalm 119:7).

In his letter from Liberty jail, the Prophet Joseph echoed that sentiment. He urged the Saints:

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever (D&C 121:45-46).

And in section 88, the Lord explained why that must be so:

40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things (D&C 88:40).

Mercy is a necessary attribute of both priests and sacral kings. In the Beatitudes, the Savior has brought his audience to the place in the festival temple drama where the king has also shown that he—in the depths of this world’s experiences, the worst environment and the closest to hell that his eternal odyssey has brought him—here he has again shown himself to be worthy of his crown.
It is apparent that the Beatitudes are not just a list of desirable attributes and blessings. They are tied together as a chain with the conjunction “and,” making them a sequence of ideas that build upon each other. In that sequence, learning to judge with mercy is the crowning characteristic of the meek, just as it is prerequisite to what follows.

In the festival drama, this is where the people sing the 24th Psalm. Jehovah has conquered death and hell, but in a less powerful way, the king has also. They come in triumph together to the new kingdom where there is a new Jerusalem, a new temple, and the people are Zion. In the 3 Nephi chronology, it is when the Savior comes to his temple, commends Nephi for his steadfastness, and gives him the authority of priest and king. To all the others who had gathered at the temple, it is the time when the Savior celebrates their integrity, and acknowledges them as priests and sacral kings.

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Alma 38:1-15 — LeGrand Baker — duties of priesthood and kingship.

A few days ago, my friend Thomas Hardin suggested we read Alma 38 together. As we read, we realized that the Savior’s words “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” are a magnificent synopsis of the principles taught by Alma to his son Shiblon. This is not the place to do a careful analysis of that chapter, but I would like to go through it with you and just point out some of the code words and phrases Alma uses.

1 My son, give ear to my words, for I say unto you, even as I said unto Helaman, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence.

Here, as elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, the phrase “prosper in the land” is code for something that is much more important than a good potato crop. Its antithesis is to be cut off from the presence of the Lord. In that context, the code meaning of “to prosper in the land” is to be in, or to be invited to come into his presence.

2 And now, my son, I trust that I shall have great joy in you, because of your steadiness and your faithfulness unto God; for as you have commenced in your youth to look to the Lord your God, even so I hope that you will continue in keeping his commandments; for blessed is he that endureth to the end.

All of the ideas in this verse are focused on the same theme: “Trust.” In the Old Testament trust is equated to “faith” in the New. “Faith” is translated from the Greek word pistis, which denotes making and fulfilling the terms of a contract. We can wish something will happen without there first being a covenant or contract, but without one there is no rational basis for trust or pistis. Similarly, “faithfulness” means keeping one’s covenants — like integrity where there is no gap between what one says and what one does, and “enduring to the end” is a Job-like lifelong integrity.

3 I say unto you, my son, that I have had great joy in thee already, because of thy faithfulness and thy diligence, and thy patience and thy long-suffering among the people of the Zoramites.

Whether deliberate on Alma’s part or not, this verse is an echo of the principles in Psalm 25 which is referenced by the Savior in verse 5 of the Beatitudes. There the meek are defined as those who keep the covenants they made at the Council in Heaven, and all of those attributes (faithfulness, diligence, patience, and long-suffering) are referenced in that psalm.

4 For I know that thou wast in bonds; yea, and I also know that thou wast stoned for the word’s sake; and thou didst bear all these things with patience because the Lord was with thee; and now thou knowest that the Lord did deliver thee.
5 And now my son, Shiblon, I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

These two verse are an acknowledgment of the validity of the Covenant of Invulnerability. It is the covenant that God made with us that he will enable us to keep the covenants we made at the Council in Heaven. Stephen and I have discussed that in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition pages 285-290, second edition pages 201-206. The second edition is available on this website under “published books.”

6 Now, my son, I would not that ye should think that I know these things of myself, but it is the Spirit of God which is in me which maketh these things known unto me; for if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things.

When Alma says “it is the Spirit of God which is in me which maketh these things known unto me,” he is talking about the words of the (patriarchal) blessing he has just pronounced. That is, his statements about the quality of his son’s soul, the promise of invulnerability that assures him that if he endures to the end he will receive all the blessings that were promised to him at the Council. Alma will now use his own experiences as the criteria for understanding the blessing he has given his son.

7 But behold, the Lord in his great mercy [mercy is probably hesed, just as it appears to be in the Beatitude] sent his angel to declare unto me that I must stop the work of destruction among his people; yea, and I have seen an angel face to face, and he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth.
8 And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul.

Alma equates receiving a remission of his sins with “peace to my soul.” Like most temple-code words, “peace” is a word that is very common in our everyday language, so the word is not something that catches our attention when we casually read it in the scriptures. However, this “peace” is the ultimate power to transcend sorrow and uncertainty. As the Savior promised his apostles,

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27).

Peace is the highpoint of the Beatitudes where the Savior says in verse 9, “And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called (that is, they will receive a new covenant name) ‘the children of God’ (3 Nephi 12:8-9).” I will discuss that in more detail when we get to that verse in the Beatitudes.

9 And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness.

There is an insightful essay on the qualities of wisdom in the first four chapters of Proverbs. It credits one who has wisdom as being one who understands truth in the way that God understands truth. Here Alma uses that same definition by equating learning “wisdom” with learning “that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness.” In short, wisdom, as it is used here and elsewhere in the scriptures, means knowing the ways of God and the powers and the person of the Savior. Similarly, when Abinadi tells the priests of Noah, “Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise (Mosiah 12:27),” he is telling them that they neither know the truth of the scriptures nor of the gospel.

When Alma identified that the Savior as “the life and the light of the world…the word of truth and righteousness,” he has given his son a comprehensive definition of who and what the Savior is.

10 And now, as ye have begun to teach the word even so I would that ye should continue to teach; and I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all things.

“Diligent and temperate” sounds like an oxymoron. Yet, when they are brought together as a single personal attribute, they describe an awesome personality. “Diligence” is the matrix in which all of the sequence of Peter’s qualities of perfection fit into a beautiful whole. (2 Peter 1:5-10.) Alma describes that personality trait in the next four verses:

11 See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength.

That statement presupposes the reality of Shiblon’s wisdom and “much strength,” and it does not suggest that Shiblon try to denigrate those virtues. However, his father continues,

12 Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness.

The most profound of all Alma’s statements in this blessing may be this one: “bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” Love — pure love transcends all other passions. It is charity — the sealing power that characterizes celestial people. Lesser passions, if not bridled, erode that sealing quality with a need to indulge and satisfy One’s Self. Alma’s words are a promise that is a key all the other parts of the blessing he has given his son: “bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.”

13 Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom

Here is another definition of “wisdom.” In their self-righteousness, the Zoramites could not recognize that the wisdom they displayed was only an illusion. As they strutted themselves in its glory they were naked, just as in the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Nephi described them perfectly:

28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish (2 Nephi 9:28).

Alma continues:

14 Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy—yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times.

Alma concludes his blessing with a prayer. The prayer and the blessing are both encapsulated in a single word. The word is peace.

15 And may the Lord bless your soul, and receive you at the last day into his kingdom, to sit down in peace. Now go, my son, and teach the word unto this people. Be sober. My son, farewell.

The other day, when Thomas suggested we read Alma 38 together, he told me that when he was a young teenager, his father sat with him and read this chapter, recommending it to him as the standard by which he should conduct his life. Thomas has a very wise father.

( For a discussion of the foreordained responsibilities of the king and queen, see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, the chapters beginning, “Act 1, Scene 2: The Royal Wedding in Psalm 45.”)

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