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Relationship to Alma. The relationship of Chapter 37 to the rest of Chapters 36-42 is discussed at Chapters 36-42.
Story. Chapter 37 consists of two major sections:
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 37 include:
This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- Alma 37: What Alma is concerned with at the beginning of chapter 37. In verse 1 Alma tells Helaman to take the records. In verse two he tells him to continue to keep a record of the people, just like he had done, upon the records of Nephi. He gives him several guidelines; he wants him to keep them safe and secure, to polish and preserve them, and to continue recording the history of the people on them. It is interesting that Alma gives instructions that are so specific--down to polishing them. It seems Alma wanted to impress upon Helaman how important Helaman's responsibilities toward the plates were. Alma is very concerned with the idea of "the word." "The word" being symbolic of three things: Christ, the gospel of Christ, and the records.
- Alma 37:2. Alma, speaking to his son, is giving him a commandment to 'keep a record of this people' and to 'keep all these things sacred which I [Alma] have kept', and Alma is asking Helaman to do this 'according as [Alma] has done'. A key issue of the sacredness of text is brought up in this verse, but the question of what makes a text sacred does not seem to rest on the text that is written, but it is rather a question of 'keeping' the text as sacred.
- Alma 37:3-5. Beginning in verse 3 through 5, Alma sems to tie this notion of the sacred with the holy, as he further goes on to explain to Helaman how the brass plates are to also be kept until they are brought forth to ever nation, kindred, tongue and people, that they may know of the mysteries. (Interestingly, the brass plates have not yet been brought before the world, so that is a future event worth looking forward to). In verse 5, Alma makes the curious claim that any plates that are kept that contain that which is holy "must" retain their brightness. What is meant by this brightness? Does the brightness refer to the actual physical appearance of the plates (is this why our quads all have gold and silver lining on the edges...)? Or does the brightness refer to the brightness of the words? What does Alma mean by 'must retain'? Is it sort of an imperative to Helaman, that he ought to keep the plates from getting dusty, or is it just indicative, that plates that are kept sacred will be bright? Is brightness a sign of holy writing for Alma? Maybe. But the phrase 'if they are kept' is curious, because then brightness also becomes a question of keeping, the same as the sacredness of the plates. Holiness, on the other hand, does not seem to be dependant on whether the plates are kept or not. Alma simply states that holy writ is holy writ. Holy writing only becomes sacred once it is kept.
- Alma 37:4. In verse 4, Alma predicts an end to the keeping of the texts he is handing over to Helaman. "Behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation..." (italics mine). The concept of keeping the plates is complicated here because Alma mentioned a sort of double keeping, with the generations keeping the texts on the one hand and the Lord keeping and preserving on the other hand. Apparently once the plates have gone forth unto the world they are no longer designated as being kept anymore. Does this release of the text to the world at large diminish how sacred it is? Earlier keeping a text means keeping it sacred, or so my reading of verse 2 would make it seem, so once the text has been released from its keep does that change the very nature of the text? Is sacred to be understood as somewhat akin to secret, much like the relationship between the sacredness and the secretness of the temple ordinance? If that's the case, then the only ones who recognize a sacred text as a sacred text are those who understand its secret (or the text as a secret itself?). And what of brightness?
- Alma 37:6: Small and simple. These two words do not appear together in any other verse of Mormon scripture, although "small" and "great" do appear in many other verses (see an lds.org search here), sometimes in an inclusive way (e.g., "both small and great" in Gen 19:11), but most often in a contrasting way (e.g., Isa 54:7, "for a small moment have I foresaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee").
- Alma 37:6. To begin in verse 6, it is best to start out by noticing a glaring textual ambiguity made by Alma here. When he says to Helaman that he may suppose that 'this is' foolishness in him, what is Alma referencing back to? Is it the notion that the brass plates will come forth before all nations, or is it the mention of the brightness of the plates of holy writ in verse 5. My own opinion is that the coming forth of the brass plates is not what Alma is referring to, but rather the contents of verse 5. I believe this because it is precisely Alma talking about the brightness of metal plates that seems to be the most foolish thing he said. One can imagine Alma discussing the coming forth of the plates with Helaman and Helaman nodding his head in understanding, but when Alma mentions brightness that Helaman just sort of gives his father this 'what?' look. Also, the plates having a brightness seems to be a much more small and simple thing than the arrival of a sacred text to the entire world. The question that remains to sort this reading out is how this small and simple thing confounds the wise. In fact, it is much easier to read Alma as defending the coming forth of the plates as that which will confound the wise because that seems a lot more straightfoward as an explanation for its purpose in being kept. Going on in verse 7, the argument Alma presents seems almost incontrovertibly to refer to the coming of the brass plates, saying that it will bring the salvation of many souls. Despite all this, I still for my own purposes would like to privilege my own reading if only for a bit just to explore why on earth Alma discusses this notion of brightness with his son. It does, to me at least, seem very foolish, not straightfowardly relevant to the rest of what Alma is teaching his son. The prophecy that Alma is referring to is found in 1 Nephi 5: 18-19, and there are a few interesting discrepencies worth sorting out here between Lehi's original prophecy and Alma's recounting of it to his son.
- Most importantly, Lehi prophecies that the plates will go forth to all nations, kindreds, tongues and people of his own seed, a detail Alma fails to leave out. Also, here we get the genesis of Alma describing the plates of having a brightness it seems, as Lehi prophecies that the plates will no more be dimmed by time.
- Alma 37:12: One eternal round. The phrase "one eternal round" does not occur in the Bible, but is found four other times in Latter-day scriptures: 1 Ne 10:19, Alma 7:20, D&C 3:2, and D&C 35:1.
- Alma 37:12: Course. While we have no idea what the original term translated here as "course" may have meant, in English, the word has several definitions, most of which suggest a connected series events which could be seen as a type of path or sequence:
- A series of educational lessons (eg. "she took a course in linguistics")
- A connected series of events, actions, or developments (eg. "the Senate took a firm course")
- A sport facility laid out with a sequence of features (eg. a golf course)
- A mode of action (eg. "his plan was on the wrong course")
- A pathalong which something travels or moves (eg. "the course of a river")
- A general line of orientation (eg. "the highway takes a mountainous course")
- Part of a meal served at one time (eg. "she served a four course meal")
- A layer of masonry (eg. "a course of bricks")
- The word "course" occurs 24 times in the Book of Mormon, most often in reference to a path or direction of travel (eg. Mosiah 7:4, Alma 46:31) but also in the phrase "course of my days" (eg. 1 Ne 1:1, Enos 1:24).
- Alma 37:12. Alma tells his son that the brass plates are preserved for a wise purpose because God counsels in widsom, his paths are straight and his course is one eternal round. These three reasons are positioned as explanations for why Helaman should have confidence in the wise purpose that God has preserved the records for. Consider each in turn.
- By saying God counsels in wisdom Alma is emphasizing the fact that the choices God makes are well thought out. Saying God's paths are straight emphasize the fact that God's choices are good. He will not choose evil. To understand what Alma may mean by God's course being one eternal round it is helpful to look at Alma 7:20 where Alma also uses this phrase to describe God. There Alma says that God's course is one eternal round because "he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong." It seems then that by saying God's course is one eternal round, Alma is emphasizing the qualities of God that do not change. Alma may be emphasizing that God is totally trustworthy by saying his course is one eternal round. Or it may be just to show how God is different (and better) than we are which should imply that we have faith and confidence in the purpose for which God preserves the brass plates--even if we don't fully understand what that purpose is, as Alma says he doesn't in verse 11.
- Alma 37:15: Chaff. Chaff driven by the wind, is a fairly common metaphor in our Old Testament, and these passages were probably present on the Brass Plates. The specific language of being "sifted" as chaff occcurs in the scriptures only here and at D&C 52:12
- Alma 37:23: Gazelem. Gazelem is a name given to a servant of God. The word appears to have its roots in Gaz – a stone, and Aleim, a name of God as a revelator, or the interposer in the affairs of men. If this suggestion is correct, its roots admirably agree with its apparent meaning – a seer.
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Prompts for life application
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- Alma 37:6: Small and simple. For those who feel that they are small and simple as to the things of the world, verse 6 should be of comfort to you. As individuals in the church, we may feel small and simple compared to the great body of the church or the universal plan of the Lord. However, as Alma points out, small and simple things can bring great things to pass. Not only do small and simple things bring great things to pass, in many instances, they confound the wise as well. Those learned of the world who choose to not accept the gospel or reject these glad tidings because they cannot see or feel with their senses can be overcome with a small and simple testimony from an individual of the church. Never sell yourself short in comparing your qualities or abilities with others. The Lord looks upon us all as equals - His children. Therefore, remember that being small and simple is a good thing; in the end, we will be made great and powerful if we simply fulfill our covenants given to us in this life.
Prompts for further study
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- Alma 37:1: Which records did Alma receive from Mosiah (Mosiah 28:20)? Does Alma have both the large and small plates of Nephi? Which records were being kept at this time? Was there a parallel secular and spiritual history still being kept? Did Nephihah and succeeding chief judges keep records as well, or were records now only kept by the leaders of the church?
- Alma 37:2: Is Alma maintaining just a history on the large plates of Nephi? Or is he maintaining a history on other plates as well? What does it mean to 'keep all these things sacred'? In what way has Alma kept the plates sacred, or how would the plates be kept non-sacredly?
- Alma 37:3: What do we know about the contents of these plates of brass? How are the "holy scriptures" on them different from what we have in the Old Testament? Why might any differences be important to us?
- Alma 37:4: Where are these plates of brass? Why haven't they gone forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people yet? When will these be revealed?
- Alma 37:4: What does it mean that the plates of brass will "be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord"?
- Alma 37:4: What mysteries are contained on the plates of brass that we don't have yet?
- Alma 37:4: Does the modern Church look forward to having these plates? Is there something that we need to do in order to bring these plates forth to the world?
- Alma 37:5: What does it mean for the plates to "retain their brightness"? Does this just mean that they will not oxidize?
- Alma 37:5: What is the connection Alma sees here between 'brightness' and the plates that have 'holy writ'? Why 'must' they retain their brightness? What is their brightness?
- Alma 37:6: What does Alma think some may suppose as "foolishness"? Why might he think Helaman would think it foolish?
- Alma 37:6: What are the "small and simple things" Alma is referring to? What are the "great things"?
- Alma 37:6: What does it mean to confound the wise? How might the mysteries on the plates of brass "confound the wise" in our day? When will this prophecy come to pass?
- Alma 37:7: What does it mean that "the Lord God doth work by means"? What are these means?
- Alma 37:7: How might the revelation of the plates of brass bring about the salvation of many souls?
- Alma 37:8: How were the plates of brass of so much importance to convincing people "of the error of their ways" and bringing them "to a knowledge of their God"?
- Alma 37:8: If these plates were so important for the descendants of Lehi, why don't we have them today?
- Alma 37:8: Why did they assume that the scriptures enlarged the memory of the people? Is it possible that the accumulation of plates/records reduced the need for Nephite oral tradition to transmit the people's memory? Or is this verse talking about a different kind of memory?
- Alma 37:9: How did Ammon and his brethren use the plates of brass if Alma had them? Did they have copies? Did they just memorize them? What would the Lamanites have seen of these records?
- Alma 37:9: How did Ammon and his brethren teach the word from the plates to the Lamanites? Was it just to establish the teachings about Jesus Christ, or was it to somehow assert some other kind of legitimacy to their teachings?
- Alma 37:10: What is Alma's appraisal of the Nephites at this time? Why does he say they are "hardening their hearts in sin and iniquities"? Are they less righteous than the converted Lamanites at this time? Why would they not have a "knowledge of their Redeemer"? Didn't they have that knowledge already?
- Alma 37:11: Mysteries. What does the word "mysteries" mean in this verse? Does it mean something different here than in verse 4 or verse 21?
- Alma 37:11: Why does Alma seem to view the possible future restoration of the Nephites to righteousness as a mystery?
- Alma 37:12: Counsel in wisdom. What does this phrase mean? How are we to relate to His counsel? What does it mean that he counsels "over" all his works? What is meant here by wisdom. Is this meant to be the same Wisdom from the Hebrew Wisdom literature we have in the Old Testament?
- Alma 37:12: Paths are straight. What does this mean?
- Alma 37:12: One eternal round. What does the phrase "one eternal round" mean? How can the Lord's paths be "straight" while his course is "round"?
- Alma 37:12: Course. What does the term "course" mean here?
- Alma 37:13: What does Alma mean by saying the commandments of God are "strict"?
- Alma 37:13: What does Alma mean by "prosper in the land" or "cut off from his presence"? Are these meant to be opposites? Is there a connection between being in the presence of God and prospering?
- Alma 37:14: What does it mean for God to entrust these men with the records? In what ways did the see this responsibility as a trust?
- Alma 37:14: Why does Alma consider the records sacred? What does it mean that they are "kept sacred"?
- Alma 37:15: What allows Alma to tell Helaman these things "by the spirit of prophecy"? Why mention that in this counsel to his son?
- Alma 37:15: How might the sacred things "be taken away...by the power of God"? Why weren't they taken away from Omni, who considered himself "a wicked man" Omni 1:2?
- Alma 37:15: Delivered up unto Satan. What does this mean?
- Alma 37:15: Sifted as chaff before the wind. What does this mean? Does it say something about Nephite agriculture, or is it just an ancient expression?
- Alma 37:16: Why does Alma say that Helaman "must appeal unto the Lord for all things whatsoever [he] must do with" the plates? What does he mean by "all things"? Do we each have sacred things entrusted to us that we should treat the same way, such as sealed family members?
- Alma 37:16: Alma promises Helaman that if he keeps the commandments and specific instructions given for "all things" that he should do with the plates, "no power of earth or hell can take them from [him]". Can we obtain the same promise about our own sacred trusts?
- Alma 37:17: What are meant by the promises of God? How does he make these promises?
- Alma 37:17: Of what value is referring back to promises made and fulfilled with "our fathers"? What role is there for such remembrance in maintaining faith?
- Alma 37:17: Is there a difference between a vague faith in God that everything will be OK, and faith in specific promises given to our fathers?
- Alma 37:18: Why would God promise over many generations to preserve the records "for a wise purpose" but keep the nature of the fulfillment of that purpose "in him"? Is there a need to get revelation about the operational things that are beyond our own lifetime?
- Alma 37:19: What does it mean for the Lord to have "shown forth his power in them"? What does "them" refer to, the plates? If so, how was his power "shown forth in" the plates?
- Alma 37:19: Do the plates merely function as sacred relics, or do they serve some other function? Is it the teachings on the plates that are important, or the preservation and maintenance of the plates themselves?
- Alma 37:20: What would it mean for Helaman to "be diligent in fulfilling all [of Alma's] words?
- Alma 37:20: hat is the difference between fulfilling Alma's words and "keeping the commandments of God as they are written?"
- Alma 37:23: The Lord said that he prepares for his servant Gazelem (see lexical notes) a stone to "discover unto my people who serve me ... the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness and their wickedness and abominations." Why does the Lord emphasize bringing to light the secret works and works of darkness? Why is this emphasized especially given that, in verse 27, Alma tells Helaman not to let the people know about their secret oaths, covenants, sign and wonders?
- Alma 37:37: Why doesn't verse 37 instruct us to "Receive counsel from the Lord in all thy doing?" Is it possible the Lord wants us to give him advice? Is there a chance that he wants us to recommend a course of action for him to follow?
- Alma 37:43: What does shadow mean in this verse?
- Alma 37:46: Why did Alma use the phrase "easiness of the way" when he was talking about the liahona? A similar phrase is used in 1 Ne 17:41: "…He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished" (emphasis added).
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- Alma 37:12: Nibley on "one eternal round. Hugh Nibley has written about on "one eternal round" in Temples and Cosmos. In particular, see the chapter 4 entitled "The Circle and the Square" and chapter 9 entitled "One Eternal Round: The Hermetic Version". Here is a page for quotes, summary, and discussion of these chapters.
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