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Relationship to Alma. The relationship of Chapter 36 to the rest of Chapters 36-42 is discussed at Chapters 36-42.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 36 include:
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- Alma 35:15-16. These two verses, thought part of Chapter 35, begin the next major section of Alma 36-42 by introducing a new situation and characters that will remain throughout Chapters 36-42..
- Alma 36. Capter 36 is a chiasmus that goes until the end of the chapter. In verse one, Alma says, “…inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.” This parallels verse thirty, “…inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.” The middle of the chiasmus is in verses 17 and 18.
- Alma 36:1. Alma tells his son that by keeping the commandments he will prosper in the land. Note that in the last verse of the chapter, Alma repeats this promise--that he will prosper in the land if he keeps the commandments. Most of what happens between the first and last verse of this chapter is that Alma tells the story of his conversion. One way of reading this is that Alma uses the story of his own life as an example of how someone who keeps the commandments of God prospers in the land. This reading suggests that the phrase "prosper in the land" isn't strictly about having material blessings like lots of flocks, riches or posterity. Why? Because instead of talking about these material blessings, Alma tells his son how by following the Lord he received spiritual blessings, for example, the blessings of great joy (verses 20-21; 25) and the blessing of support through trials (verse 27).
- Alma 36:8: A Literal Hebraism. Nibley points out in Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Part 2, p. 361, that the seemingly illogical statement "If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God" is standard Semitic usage for communicating the intended meaning. Read literally in English, the statement says "If you stop destroying the church of God, you will be destroyed," but it is clear that the opposite meaning is actually intended, i.e. "If you don't stop destroying the church of God, you will be destroyed." But, Nibley says, in Hebrew, one says when warning a child, "Don't do that if you want to get spanked" rather than as in English "Don't do that unless you want to get spanked." So the construction is valid for Hebrew, not valid for English. Joseph was apparently very literal in his translation.
- Alma 36:11-15: Being destroyed. While we don't know for sure about the teachings of the Nehors or other dissenters among the Nephites at this period, throughout Mesoamerica most people believed in the immortality of the human soul, so the thought of that soul being utterly destroyed would have been amazing and frightful. According to modern revelation, all people will be resurrected, though Brigham Young taught that those who become sons of perdition will eventually be destroyed and lose their identity as organized beings, with their eternal elements being recycled (Journal of Discourses 1:118). Perhaps Alma realizes at this point that he has had enough light and knowledge to become a son of perdition if he continues on his course of apostasy.
- Alma 36:18. Alma makes his plea to Jesus Christ to be delivered from his suffering. We must make a similar plea for ourselves to Christ.
- Alma 36:6-20. In verses 6-20 Alma tells the story how he was converted unto the church of Jesus Christ through an Angel. He described his feelings- horror, fear, amazement, torment, and finally joy that was as great as his pain. He shared this story with only Helaman. He wanted him to know, as he says in verse 21 that “…there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” Alma wanted Helaman to know that ever since that experience, he has spent his life serving and loving the Lord. He wanted to bring people to taste that sweet bitterness that he tasted during the conversion in his life. He wanted them to be born of God and be baptized into His church (verse 26). Alma wants Helaman to love the Lord just as much as he loves Him. He wanted him to follow in his footsteps and give his life in service to the Lord.
- Alma 36:22: Methought I saw. Here Alma expresses uncertainty about what he saw, specifically borrowing his language of uncertainty from Lehi. This idea is developed in the discussion regarding certainty of interpretation at 1 Ne 11:9-11. Unlike Lehi and Nephi, Alma's vision occurred in the midst of repentance from great sin, and thus may not have felt that he was in a position to request clarification regarding what he saw.
- Alma 36:27. Notice the parallelism found in this passage. "God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me."
- Alma 36:28-30. In verses 28-29 Alma cites examples of how the Lord has delivered His people in the past and exhorts them to retain [these things] in rememberance. In verse 30 he turns to the importance of keeping the commandments and how, if we do, we will not be cut off from the presence of the Lord. Alma's preaching to the people of Zarahemla in Alma 5 also called on the people to remember how the Lord had delivered their fathers from captivity. He then asks "And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?" Alma 5:6 Alma seems to be emphasizing the importance of retaining in rememberance that the Lord's deliverance is not only physical but also spiritual.
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Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
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- Alma 36:1: Why does Alma counsel his sons individually rather than together?
- Alma 36:1: What does Alma mean by "prosper"? What does it mean to "prosper in the land"? What is so important about the land?
- Alma 36:2: Why do we, like Helaman, sometimes need to be reminded of the miracles God has done to deliver his people in times past?
- Alma 36:2: Often when we think of God delivering people from bondage, we think of Jehovah, Moses, and the Exodus. Why does Alma instead refer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
- Alma 36:3: Why do you think Alma bears this particular testimony to Helaman: “whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day"? Why this rather than something else? What does it mean to be "lifted up at the last day"?
- Alma 36:4: What kind of knowing is Alma talking about here? Wht does it mean to know "not of the carnal mind but of God"?
- Alma 36:5: What does Alma mean by "born of God"?
- Alma 36:5: Why does Alma get to know "by the mouth of his holy angel" whereas we mostly expect to just have faith on his words?
- Alma 36:5: If Alma was visited "not of any worthiness of [himself]", why can't we also expect to be visited?
- Alma 36:6: Why would Alma go into such great detail of how he was once a sinner that fought against the church of God?
- Alma 36:6: How did Alma and the sons of Mosiah think "to destroy the church of God"? What were they really trying to do? How did they expect to accomplish it?
- Alma 36:6: Why did an angel come to Alma when he was so wicked? Why doesn't God send an angel to stop all wicked people?
- Alma 36:7: How is the voice of an angel like "the voice of thunder"?
- Alma 36:7: Did the earth really tremble, or did they just go weak in the knees?
- Alma 36:7: Why were they afraid of the angel? Is this a common response to being visited by an angel?
- Alma 36:8: Why did the angel tell Alma to arise? Did he tell the others to arise as well, or just Alma?
- Alma 36:8: What does it mean that Alma "beheld the angel"? How are angels perceived?
- Alma 36:9: Why does Alma focus on this part of the message from the angel while speaking to his son?
- Alma 36:9: Why would this message cause Alma to fall to the earth with fear and amazement?
- Alma 36:9: We often think that fear is a negative thing, and that we shouldn't try to motivate people through fear. What is the role of fear in bringing people to God?
- Alma 36:10: It says that Alma couldn't speak or move his limbs. Was he otherwise conscious? What state was Alma really in? How did this look to those who might have seen him?
- Alma 36:10: Is there something important about the specific duration (three days and three nights) of Alma's experience?
- Alma 36:11: Why did the thought of being destroyed strike Alma with "such great fear and amazement"? What does it mean to be "destroyed"? How does being destroyed translate into our current LDS thinking? What might being destroyed have meant in Alma's cultural context?
- Alma 36:11: Alma distinctly misquotes what the angel actually said in verse 9. In nine it reads 'If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed,' but here Alma restates it as saying 'If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself.' Why? What is the difference in meaning here between these two phrases? Was Alms just not a very careful writer? Was the angel in fact saying that he would be destroyed once he stopped seeking the destruction of the church, but Alma misheard it? If so, what did the angel mean by that? How was Alma destroyed after his conversion?
- Alma 36:12: Is there a connection between the fear of being destroyed and remembering sin?
- Alma 36:12: What does it mean to be "racked with eternal torment"?
- Alma 36:12: What does it mean to have your soul "harrowed up"?
- Alma 36:13: Why could Alma remember all his sins in this moment?
- Alma 36:14: Why do you think that Alma describes what he had done as murder? (Compare Alma 5:23 and Matt 10:28 — what does it mean to destroy both soul, i.e., spirit, and body in hell?)
- Alma 36:14: How does how Alma the Younger feel imagining himself in the presence of God? How does this compare to how his father had asked the people to imagine feeling in that same situation Alma 5:15]?
- Alma 36:15: Why would Alma want to "become extinct both soul and body"? What does he mean by "soul"?
- Alma 36:16: What symbolism can we see in Alma being stricken for 3 days and 3 nights? How does this relate to other prophets' experiences?
- Alma 36:16: What are "the pains of a damned soul"?
- Alma 36:17: What does it mean to be "racked with torment"?
- Alma 36:17: How can the memory of sins harrow up a soul?
- Alma 36:17: Why is Jesus Christ referred to as "a" Son of God rather than "the" Son of God?
- Alma 36:17: What does Alma mean by "atone for the sins of the world"?
- Alma 36:18: Why does Alma pray to Jesus, rather than to God Almighty?
- Alma 36:18: What is the "gall of bitterness"?
- Alma 36:18: What does it mean to be "encircled about by the everlasting chains of death"?
- Alma 36:19: Why does Alma’s cry in v. 18 bring the results in v. 19? How is this connected to King Benjamin’s teaching in Mosiah 4? Is it significant that Benjamin delivered that address to a people who were diligent in keeping the commandments but that it also seems to apply to someone like Alma who has openly rebelled against those commandments?
- Alma 36:19: Since Alma is here telling us about the pains he experienced, what can he mean when he says “I could remember my pains no more"?
- Alma 36:20: What really happened here? How can merely calling on Jesus make one forget their sins and be filled with joy? What state of mind did Alma have to be in before he could have this redemptive experience?
- Alma 36:20: What does Alma mean by joy?
- Alma 36:20: What is this "marvelous light" that Alma "did behold"? What does it mean to "behold" light?
- Alma 36:20: Why might Alma have chosen to share his conversion story with his son Helaman? What did Alma want Helaman to learn from his past?
- Alma 36:21: What does Alma mean by "exquisite" pain or joy?
- Alma 36:21: Why does Alma contrast pain and joy with the descriptors bitter and sweet?
- Alma 36:21: What does Alma mean by bitterness? If we feel bitterness, does that mean that we are still bound by sin?
- Alma 36:22: How could Alma have seen God at this point? Three days earlier, he had been a vile sinner--and now he's having a greater spiritual experience than most members of the modern Church will probably ever have. How is that possible?
- Alma 36:22: What are "concourses of angels"? Why are they "singing and praising their God"?
- Alma 36:22: Alma had just said that he would rather be extinct than brought before God. Now here he is, longing to be there. What happened to cause this change?
- Alma 36:23: Alma seems to have wanted to stay in the vision, but instead he is brought out of it. Why would that happen?
- Alma 36:23: What does Alma mean by having "been born of God"? What would that experience be similar to in our own experience?
- Alma 36:24: After his experience, Alma serves God without ceasing. What does that mean? How are we similar or different from Alma? Do we have to have a similar type of experience before we can really serve God?
- Alma 36:24: Do we share this same motivation with Alma? Why or why not? Should we take his experience as somehow a measure by which we can gauge our own level of motivation?
- Alma 36:24: What does it mean to "taste" exceeding joy?
- Alma 36:24: What is the connection between the type of experience Alma has and being "filled with the Holy Ghost"?
- Alma 36:25: Alma receives "exceedingly great joy." Is this a reward for his labors? Why would it be important for Alma to feel one way or the other about his labor? Is this joy a motivator? Is it in any way selfish? Should we be motivated by a desire to have that same kind of joy, or would that be a selfish motive?
- Alma 36:26: How has the word "imparted unto" Alma brought many to "have been born of God"? How does the word do that?
- Alma 36:26: What does it mean that many have "seen eye to eye as [Alma has] seen"? Does that mean they all saw the throne of God too, or just that they have been filled with joy?
- Alma 36:26: How does Alma know that "the knowledge which [he has] is of God"?
- Alma 36:27: How does the Lord deliver us in our daily trials?
- Alma 36:27: What is the difference between being "supported under trails and troubles" and being delivered from them?
- Alma 36:27: What does Alma mean by being "delivered"?
- Alma 36:27: In what sense is the outcome of a trial more important than avoiding trials?
- Alma 36:28: Is this verse parallel to v. 2? Why would Alma begin and end the account of his conversion by reminding Helaman of this scriptural type?
- Alma 36:28: How does Alma know that he will be raised up at the last day?
- Alma 36:28: What does it mean to "dwell...in glory"?
- Alma 36:28: What is the importance of the testimony that Alma has of divine intervention in history?
- Alma 36:29: How important is this concept of being delivered out of bondage?
- Alma 36:29: Why does Alma always retain in remembrance the captivity of his ancestors? Why does he tell his son to always retain that remembrance as well?
- Alma 36:29: Alma sees to identify somehow with those who have been captive and delivered in past ages. Are we to do the same? Is this different from seeing ourselves as co-workers in the kingdom with people from past dispensations?
- Alma 36:30: How are verses 28-29 (and, therefore, also v. 3) a type for what Alma says in this verse?
- Alma 36:30: Here Alma repeats the promise made in verse 1 but adds the warning "and ye ought to know also, that inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence." Why is this warning not included at the beginning of their discussion (in verse 1)?
- Alma 36:30: How does this promise reflect the message of Deuteronomy? How does this teaching relate to modern "prosperity gospels"?
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- User:Jaromhansen comments on these verses here.
- User:Amberdawnwp comments on these verses here.
- See User:Brettferre/Alma 36:1-5 for a related quote by Joseph Fielding McConkie.
- For a poem that thinks through the meaning of the intertextual character of Chapter 36, see User: Joe Spencer/Alma 36, a proslogion.
- Alma 36:21. Marcus B. Nash, "The Great Plan of Happiness," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 49–50. Elder Nash warns: "As to any evil and unclean thing..., do not even touch it! Disguised in such things is a hook that sets subtly and much more suddenly than you dare think—and it can be an excruciatingly painful process to extract the hook [see also vv. 12-16]... There may be some of you who have been involved with that which is evil or unclean. Take hope in the doctrinal and historical fact that Alma's faith in the Lord led him to repent, and as a direct result of his repentance he experienced such happiness through the power of the Atonement of Christ."
- Alma 36:24. Anthony D. Perkins, "‘The Great and Wonderful Love’," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 76–78. Elder Perkins offers this advice: "One source of joy is service, for when you are busy helping others, you will have less capacity to agonize over your own shortcomings."
- Alma 36:27-28. User:Amberdawnwp comments on this chapter and specifically verses 27 & 28 here. See User:Brettferre/Alma 36:26-30 for a related quote by M Russel Ballard.
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