Home > The Book of Mormon > Alma > Chapters 31-35 > Chapter 32 > Verses 32:6-16
Previous page: Verses 32:1-5
Next page: Verses 32:17-25
This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.
This heading should be very brief. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
Relationship to Chapter 32. The relationship of Verses 32:6-16 to the rest of Chapter 32 is discussed at Chapter 32.
Story. Verses 32:6-16 consists of ___ major sections:
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Verses 32:6-16 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 32:6: They were in preparation to hear the word. Compare Alma 16:14-16 where "no inequality" and not having "any respect of persons" is linked to the people being prepared to receive God's word (although there, curiously, the word there refers to "the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming").
- Alma 32:6: In a preparation. This phrasing seems somewhat awkward. Saying "they were prepared" would seem more natural in English than "in a preparation." One way to understand this wording might be to consider "preparation" in somewhat scientific terms. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (try clicking here) lists definition II.8.b. as, "A specimen that has been prepared for medical or other scientific examination, display, etc." This way of reading this curious wording seems to highlight (1) the "experiment" wording that Alma will use later in the chapter, and (2) the way in which the poor were compelled to be humble by outside circumstances (cf. definition II.8.a., "A specimen prepared or made up of substance, as a medicine, cosmetic foodstuff, etc."). This second point seems to suggest that the people were in a situation of external circumstances such that they would react positively to hearing the word, not that there was anything particularly internal that was ready to hear the word.
- Alma 32:6. Alma is happy that the people are in teachable circumstances. He is not rejoicing because of their temporal trials, but that their trials have made them receptive to learning that they can worship the Lord in all aspects of their lives.
- The phrase "in a preparation to hear the word of God" seems a bit unusual, if not awkward. However, an interesting use of the word prepare in the KJV of Ex 15:2 might help open up an interesting reading of this phrase. In Ex 15:2, the Hebrew word navah is translated (effectively) as "prepare a habitation" in a hymn of praise. This lexical relationship in Hebrew between praising and dwelling highlights a kind of reversal that is going on here between the Zoramites who do not give place to the Zoramite poor to worship, and the Zoramite poor who give a place for Alma and Amulek to preach.
- Alma 32:7. The first word of this verse, "therefore," is curious. It seems to be a continuation of, and yet abrupt end to, the relationship between the poor and non-poor Zoramites which has formed such an important theme in these first few verses of the chapter. The very mention of the fact that Alma "say[s] no more to the other multitude" seems a bit superfluous. That is, why doesn't the narrator just move on with the narrative and let the course of the narrative demonstrate the fact that Alma says no more to the other multitude? It seems there is a kind of scarcity or economics that is being emphasized here: Alma turns away from the non-poor because the other multitude was humble—metaphorically, Alma is taking his seed and casting to the most fertile ground he can find. This first phrase of the verse might be profitably considered in light of Alma 12:10ff where Alma talks explicitly about those who will receive the "lesser portion" of the word. Although it seems there are many similarities between Alma's discussion there and here, such a comparison seems to make the "therefore" here all the more striking. That is, it seems here that the extent to which the non-poor receive the word is not just contingent on their own reception or hard-heartedness toward the word, but also on the next best alternative that Alma faces.
- Alma 32:8: Behold. The word "behold" is used several times in this sermon, esp. here in verses 8-10. In Alma 26, Ammon also uses the word "behold" very frequently. The use of the word in this chapter and in this part of the chapter seems significant because of the theme of being cast out vs. hearing, giving place, and receiving the word of God. Also, in the following chapter, Alma will refer to the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness who did not perform the easy task of casting their eyes on Moses's staff in order to be healed. Thus, "behold" might be taken here as an important and emphatic plea on Alma's part to ultimately look toward Christ and genuinely receive the word of God that Alma is preaching.
- Alma 32:8. Alma first addresses the mental/spiritual state of the Zoramite poor. The point is rather clear, and certainly rather common in scripture: if they are humble, and Alma judges them so to be, then they are blessed, because they are able to be taught. There is no mystery in his claim. But what is ultimately very interesting about this verse is that it is so isolated. It marks the first word of a chapters-long discourse, the first word of a widely celebrated speech by Alma, the first word of the event that will result in the all-out years-long war that consumes the remainder of the Book of Alma. And yet it seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the verses that immediately follow it. Either Alma is a very inconsistent speaker, changing gears a dozen words into his discourse (something the editor of the text had the duty to rearrange or fix somehow), or Alma is doing something rather surprising (something the editor of the text was well aware of, and which that editor would have wanted the reader to pick up on). If verse 9 marks a major departure from the content of this first word, Alma nonetheless returns to the subject in verse 12 to form an inclusio, that is, to section off verses 8-12 as a sort of textual unit worth discussing in and of itself. The role these five verses play in the discourse Alma is here giving is enormous: interpretation of the whole of the seed/word analogy depends on how one reads these first verses.
- Alma 32:9. Following the critical language of verse 8 (critical in the technical sense, not the pejorative), which draws very much on the face-to-face situation in which the Zoramites and Alma find themselves (simply put: Alma engages the Zoramites quite personally in verse 8), verse 9 is marked by an appeal to the realm of absolute reason, an appeal that is to come to fruition (albeit ironically) in verse 10. That is, if in verse 8 Alma engages the Zoramites personally in his critical assessment of their mental/spiritual state, in verse 9 he simply notes a fact--a particular statement by the proffered Zoramite--apparently leaving the relational (Alma and the Zoramites) to speak in more universal terms, in more absolute terms, in more rational or even philosophical terms. However, even in the appeal to reason, Alma relativizes it: this is not a question of a universal proposition ("one might say"), but of something the Zoramites have specifically said ("thy brother hath said"). In the end, then, this verse is marked by a sort of tension between the situational reality of Alma's facing the Zoramites and an appeal to reason (taken, as it always must be, in absolute terms). This tension, however, can be explored more carefully in the next verse, where it comes to fruition.
- Alma 32:10. This verse presents an obviously rhetorical question. But categorization is not enough here: the nature of rhetorical questions greatly affects the meaning of this verse. A rhetorical question is curious precisely because it is not to be answered. That is, a rhetorical question purposefully stops up conversation, encounter, engagement, and situation. In effect, a rhetorical question calls for an abolition of the existential reality of the face-to-face encounter, and it makes this call in the name of reason, of absolute reason. In other words, Alma's question, precisely because it does not call for an answer, is presupposed to have an answer logically bound up within itself anyway. The question, that is, is understood from the very start to call on a sort of universal or absolute reason in order to provide the answer, without the necessity of the situational realization of that answer. In short, a rhetorical question is always, in and of itself, an appeal to non-passional, non-situational, non-personal reason.
- But even as Alma's rhetorical question makes its obvious appeal, it calls that very appeal into question. In fact, it does so doubly, and it does so from the very start, questioning the absolution of reason through and through. Doubly: "Behold I say unto you" on the one hand, and "do ye suppose" on the other. In a sense, these two phrases cancel the nature of the rhetorical question. Or rather, they reveal more precisely the essence of a rhetorical question: a rhetorical question is precisely rhetorical because it is bound up with rhetoric, the situational reality, the face-to-face encounter that calls for rhetoric in the first place. In that Alma specifically mentions his own speaking, and because he specifically mentions the audience's supposing, he recognizes explicitly--and twice--that his appeal to absolute reason is situational, is relative. In short, just as verse 9, this verse is characterized by a fundamental tension: Alma at once makes an appeal to absolute reason and cancels the same in a return to the situational, the relative. The tension opens here, and it continues to build over the next two verses.
- Perhaps ironically, this textual insight into the tension between the situational and the absolute parallels wonderfully the actual content of Alma's rhetorical question (and in this way it prepares for the major discussion of the seed/word still to come). In suggesting, according to the unspoken answer to the question, that worship outstrips place (and in the next verse, time), Alma makes an appeal to a sort of absolute form of worship, perhaps a way of being that might saturate every place (and, for that matter, every time). At the same time, however, it is quite clear that worship must take place somewhere, at some time: worship--which most often means in the scriptures quite simply to bow before someone/something--is undeniably a situational reality, something performed in space and time. In other words, the same tension seems to be at work in the actual content of Alma's rhetorical question that appears in its structure: worship--what the Zoramite poor are being denied--is at once a question of situational reality and a question of absolute being. Alma confirms this point with his reference to the time of worship in the next verse, but then the subject is left off until Alma 33:2. In other words, if Alma makes an appeal here to the tension bound up in the very question the Zoramites have raised, he seems to think it worth discussing the nature of the tension--though not the tension itself--as some length before returning to the precise tension of the issue raised by the Zoramite question. It is the textual tension, then, more than the tension of the content, that must guide intepretation of the remainder of the present chapter, and the tension of the content can be returned to subsequently in discussion of chapter 33.
- Alma 32:11. Just as in verse 10, Alma presents a structural tension in his second rhetorical question: while the rhetorical question he asks makes an appeal to absolute reason, his "I would ask" and his "do ye suppose" together ground the question in the situational reality of the missionary encounter. That is, there is a tension between the absolute, non-situational reason one should employ in thinking the question being asked, and yet Alma is careful to keep things located immediately in the situation in which the question is asked. This tension has been building, of course, since verse 9, and it will come to a first fruition in verse 12; thereafter it will guide the interpretation of the remainder of the chapter (see the commentary for verses 8-10).
- Moreover, if the content of the previous verse also embodies the same sort of tension by intertwining the concrete act of worship with the abstract idea of a kind of absolute worship, the same is accomplished in this verse. Verse 10 at once points to and subverts the concrete reality of place in the act of worship, while the present verse at once points to and subverts the concrete reality of time in the same. That is, together, these two verses underscore the absolute necessity of a concrete place and time for the concrete act of worship, and yet in their very nature as rhetorical questions, they seem together to imply that worship is something abstract, a sort of broader way of being rather than a concrete act. This tension, however, is left off at this point until Alma 33:2, while the remainder of the present chapter deals with the structural tension discussed in the paragraph above.
- Alma 32:12: Learn wisdom. This phrase is used in 6 other instances in LDS scripture: 2 Ne 28:30; Mosiah 2:17; Alma 37:35; Alma 38:9; D&C 97:1; D&C 136:32. In 2 Ne 28:30, the image of a lengthened arm is used only two verses later (2 Ne 28:32), recalling Alma stretching forth his hand here in verse 7. Also, the teaching in that 2 Ne 28:30ff about more being given to those who receive seems quite similar to the situation here where the people seem willing to receive the Alma's word, and then Alma teaches them about how to exercise faith and receive more and more fruit from the tree growing from the word of God. Also of interest is the parallel in D&C 136:32 between the persecuted, modern Saints being driven out of their lands and homes they build with their own hands and these persecuted Zoramite poor who are driven out of the temple which they built with their own hands.
- Alma 32:12. If verses 9-11 are characterized by appeal to absolute reason, it appears quite clear that Alma abandons any such appeal in the present verse. That is, the rhetorical questions have ended, and Alma turns rather to a sort of direct engagement of the Zoramite poor in very existential terms. Leaving off the rhetorical questions entirely (Alma himself does not answer them here), he returns in full force to the situational reality of the face-to-face encounter: "I say unto you." In four words, Alma brings the Zoramites to a direct engagement with himself, and anything he goes on to say in this verse will be characterized by that situational reality. In fact, if one is inclined to read the phrase immediately following these first four words as universal in some sense, it is worth pointing out that Alma uses the word "well" rather than the word "good" to make his first point: rather than making some absolute claim about their being cast out of their synagogues, Alma describes the situation as "well," relativizing it by using an adverb. Likewise, when Alma goes on to speak of the necessity of learning wisdom, he immediately relativizes that point as well: "it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom." Undeniably, every hint of the universal, of the absolute, of non-passional reason has disappeared when Alma turns to this verse.
- Or perhaps not entirely, since Alma's injunction to the Zoramites is precisely that they "may learn wisdom," that universal, rational, absolute understanding that allows for the possibility of doing things well or decently. But if the very word "wisdom" reintroduces the absolute, it is only reintroduced in tension with the paired word "humble": "that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom." Without any doubt, humility is always a question of a direct encounter, of a face-to-face reality. The tension, then, of the previous two verses is reintroduced in the present verse: humility is connected with wisdom, in that the two arise together. Curiously, this same tension characterizes almost all of the Old Testament wisdom writings. While most scholars agree that the wisdom writings draw on universal understanding, on the collective wisdom of many nations, on ideas and beliefs that transcend the particularities of Israelite thinking, those same wisdom writings nonetheless relate learning this wisdom--constantly--to one's relation to Jehovah specifically. The tension is embodied wonderfully in the rather common saying: "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (see Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7; 9:10). If wisdom has some sort of absolute or universal appeal, it is nonetheless a direct result of the personal encounter one might have with a very personal and real God.
- In the end, this same tension between the universal and the particular characterizes the whole of the present chapter: right through to the end of chapter 32, there is a constant appeal to reason (even in the form of experimentalism) coupled with Alma's strict reminders that every word being spoken (every word and all the words) is spoken in a particular place and at a particular time and according to a face-to-face encounter that requires the personal engagement called "faith." Over the course of the chapter, the face Alma puts on the relation between faith and reason is constantly changing as each verse adds its conditional take on that relation (albeit implicitly). In order to watch the unfolding dynamic of that relation (between faith and reason) throughout the chapter, then, it is worth first taking the time to identify how that relation appears in these first five verses of Alma's discourse.
- What, then, is the relation between faith and reason as Alma lays it out in these first five verses, already shown to be quite rich in implication? And just asking the question this way draws out an important point that is too easily missed. Verse 9 offers an initial reading of the relation between faith and reason that the present verse overturns. When Alma cites the leading poor Zoramite's words, he seems to recognize in it an implicit exchange of faith for reason: "What shall we do?" makes an appeal to reason, seeks for reasons, for reasoning; and this appeal to reason overthrows what had been, before, an explicit life according to faith (the Zoramite poor had before been in their synagogues to "worship our God"). In a sense, the Zoramite appeal to Alma follows a simple logic: since we have been denied any possibility of a faith relation ("cast out of our synagogues"), we appeal to reason, we seek at the hands of reason some way to remain faithful. In short, the Zoramite poor seem to be trying to replace the faith relation with an alternate faith-like relation grounded in the categories of reason.
- Verses 10-11 overthrow that implicit shift, but only with verse 12 does Alma make his point explicit: being "cast out of your synagogues" does not issue in a sort of necessary appeal to reason, but rather in "a lowliness of heart," being "necessarily brought to be humble." That is, in the end, the denial of their places in the synagogue results in the very possibility of faith, according to Alma. Whether Alma means by this to suggest that their religious practices before were quite clearly a sort of rational religion rather than a religion of faith is not quite clear, but that Alma seems to be reversing the implicit logic of verse 9 is certainly suggestive on these lines: the rational is exchanged for the faithful, not vice versa. This reversal is vital to the development of Alma's theme.
- Alma 32:13-14. In a discourse perfectly saturated by the theme of the "word," verse 14 is undeniably fundamental: it marks the first instance of "word" in the discourse. The introduction is somewhat peculiar in that "the word" comes into the story in terms of the process of humiliation: "they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word." In fact, there are several difficulties about the very phrase in which "the word" appears, all of which must be dealt with at some length.
- The idea being introduced in this difficult phrase is, it must be noticed, a new idea. The "And now" with which the verse begins is a rather common locution in the Book of Mormon for clearing the slate, or for making some other necessary break in the logic of discourse. Here it is clear that the phrase means something like: "But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's leave off that business and take up an earlier statement as a new point of departure." Curiously, the statement he takes up appears only in the previous verse (13), but the latter part of the previous verse makes a rather rapid series of steps to a point well beyond the question of being blessed through compelled humility. Here Alma returns to that point.
- But if Alma returns to the question of compelled humility, he returns to it only to set it against a far better situation. That is, verse 14 opens up a kind of humility that outstrips the humility of verse 13, a kind of humility that is, regardless of its apparently lesser nature, nonetheless exalted (from "mercy" to being "saved" in so many words). If compelled humility, despite its lesser nature, results in salvation, it is worth considering the comparison and relation Alma introduces in verse 14 quite carefully. Set against compelled humility is a sort of chosen humility, perhaps even--as awful as it sounds--a willful humility. But the nature of this chosen humility is somewhat peculiar: one humbles oneself "because of the word." Perhaps what is emphasized here is the "heard" nature of the word: humility that issues from hearing is being exalted over humility that issues from something else, in fact, from seeing, as will become clear in verse 17.
- At work, then, in verses 13-14 is a comparison between two kinds of humility, one that issues from seeing (the lesser) and one that issues from hearing (the greater). If the former can ("sometimes") result in repentance and therefore mercy (which, if found and maintained through endurance to the end, can result in salvation), the latter is only summed up for now as resulting in being "more blessed." What perhaps deserves closest scrutiny within consideration of these two verses particularly is how it is that "seeing" compels humility but not salvation, while "hearing" apparently does not compel humility but when it results in humility it is apparently more likely to result in salvation.
- It might be, though there is of course absolutely no evidence for it, that there is a play on words at work on the level of the ancient language (assuming that some relation to the original Hebrew was, by this point, still intact). The most common root in the OT that becomes one form or another of the word "humility" is `nh, which has two different, but perhaps related, meanings (most scholars claim that there are two very different roots at work in the Hebrew language, though some try to connect the two roots as linked etymologically). In one register, `nh means "to answer" or "to respond"; in another register, it means "to subjugate" or even "to browbeat." Variations of the word "humility" are generally only read into the word when it appears to derive from the latter of these two meanings: to be humble is, in Hebrew, to be subjugated or conquered (the verb can even have reference to rape). Suggested here is a compelled humility, a humility that results from a show of power, an act of subjection. But over against this might be set the former meaning of the root: "to answer" or "to respond." If this verbal root might also be read as a facet of humility, it might be read to suggest a kind of chosen humility like the one mentioned above: in response or as answer to a call, one comes in humility before the caller. In short, there may be a play between two very different meanings of the same Hebrew root: a humility-as-subjected (`nwh) and a humility-as-response/answer (`nwh also?).
- Ultimately, though, whether the linguistic speculation above is justified, something like the distinction worked out there is helpful in thinking about the two kinds of humility Alma discusses: one that responds to a call, over against one that is forced into its submission by a show of power. In the end, "seeing" issues in the latter kind of humility because the eyes are dazzled by the power of the other that imposes, while "hearing" issues in the former kind of humility because the ears are open to the calling word (the cry, even, for help?) of the other: a word, a summons, or a petition draws out a very different humility from a brazen show of absolute or total power.
- It might be that "hearing-humility" opens the way to a greater blessing because it results in communion or in a real, personal relation: the one who hears a summoning word is called to an encounter, called perhaps to help the other, and so is called to communion, to a common work. On the other hand, "seeing-humility," because it follows the unquestionable show of power, is unavoidable, but it does not necessarily issue in salvation (which apparently must be thought relationally, communally) because one's ultimate subjection cancels the possibility of community. (All of this might be thought in terms of the difference between the servant and the son: the son hears the words of his father, while the servant receives the physical--the visible--rod.)
- Alma 32:14-15. This comment focuses on political and rhetorical context discussed in the exegesis on verse 4. Why does Alma tell the poor people who are listening to him and who have been compelled to be humble that others who are humble without compulsion would be more blessed? Why risk alienating his audience by tactlessly saying that here, especially when he will say much the same thing more diplomatically in 24 - 25? The most likely answer is that the poor are not the intended audience for these remarks. Prior to the arrival of the poor, Alma had been addressing a multitude of the rich and powerful. While he is now directing his comments primarily to the poor, his previous audience is also still present. His suggestion that those who voluntarily humble themselves are especially blessed is probably meant for them.
- Alma 32:15. An unresolved difficulty from the previous verse carries over into verse 15: how is it that one can "humble oneself" without the process being ultimately self-centered or proud by nature? That is, how can self-deprecation not be selfish? The wording this verse uses is curious though: "he that truly humbleth himself...." Might it be that Alma has two kinds of self-humiliation at work, one that he would label "true," and another he would label false? This calls on the wording at the close of verse 14: "who truly humble themselves because of the word." This phrase might be understood to suggest, along with the wording of verse 15, that all humbling is self-humbling, but that there are different ways to go about doing it. However, verse 6 may suggest otherwise, since there Alma rejoices because "their afflictions had truly humbled them." This may, in fact, suggest another way of reading the phrase with which verse 14 closes: that Alma feels it necessary to say "truly" as well as "because of the word" suggests that these are two separate, ultimately unconnected concepts: the trueness of one's humility is not a function of how one humbled oneself (whether "because of the word" in verse 14 or whether "compelled" to do so in verse 25).
- But whatever else might be said about how one arrives at "true humility," it is clear in these verses that Alma understands the process to be a reflexive one: one humbles oneself. And so the difficulty remains: how can "true humility" (whether compelled or voluntary) be achieved through a self-imposed act (which would seem to imply a kind of self-ishness)? The difficulty seems to be all the more frustrating because the very nature of pride—presumably the opposite of humility—is self-ishness. Humbling onself sounds like an act of abrogating pride proudly. On the other hand and at the same time, how could humility ultimately be "true" if it were absolutely imposed on one? If pride is self-centeredness, it is not at all clear how any outside force could ever, in and of itself, annihilate one's focus on oneself. In the end, all that any "outside" influence can do is either to call (as a word) or to compel (as a force, but not as an absolute force). In fact, humility, it appears, is something that can only be an act of self, a kind of self-abrogation brought about by the self. This is as much as to say that humbling oneself is a paradoxical act: the self asserts itself in its own self-disregard. That is, in losing its "life," it finds it. One might say in the end that humility amounts to a reorientation of the self, a rupture of the self that allows it to survive precisely in that it becomes something else or is directed toward something else: rather than beholding nothing but itself in a mirror (pride), the self becomes a reflection of God's continually directedness towards the poor, the suffering, the teachable. Hence in humbling oneself, one humbles one's self, de-centers it, draws attention away from it, shows it that the whole world does not bow before it.
- These musings clarify the call of the word: the suffering (servant?) speaks the word, calls one to offer relief, and so summons the self to relativize itself. But if what Alma means in speaking of those "who truly humble themselves because of the word" becomes clearer here, the meaning of being "compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty" becomes somewhat more difficult. That is, because the compelling agent cannot have absolute sway, it is not entirely clear where one should delineate the power of that agent. Where does one draw the line? Perhaps the answer is in verse 12, where Alma employs the phrase, "ye are necessarily brought to be humble." This might imply that being compelled is less a question of force than it is a question of necessity: when one is compelled to be humble, outside circumstances have made it necessary for one to humble oneself; that is, if one does not humble oneself, there are to be negative consequences the would-be humble would like to avoid. In a sense, this establishes the difference between the two kinds of humility Alma is describing. The greater one is to humble oneself because of the petition of the suffering; the lesser is to humble oneself by—essentially—threat. This seems to make sense of the tendency Alma has to label the greater "to humble oneself" and the lesser "to be compelled to be humble." In the one, one is active, while in the other, one is passive.
- If this is ultimately the difference Alma is establishing here, then all of this opens onto the most important new point this verse introduces: that "much more blessed" are those who humble themselves according to the petition of the sufferer than those who "are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty." In fact, after all of the above comments, this last phrase becomes all the more significant. It suggests, in the end, a further difference between the two kinds of humility Alma is describing, and one that may ultimately go to the heart of the matter. The greater kind of humility—the one that results in the greater blessing—is a responsive humility, while the lesser kind of humility is ultimately a petitionary humility. That is, the two kinds of humility being explored here represent two figures who come face to face in a very real existential encounter: the one who is "compelled to be humble because of [his] exceeding poverty" petitions the one who "truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins." The one who is, in the end, compelled to be humble seeks sustenance at the hands of the one who willingly humbles herself, and far blessed is it to give willingly than to beg necessarily.
- It is worth noting that something very like this situation is at work in the very encounter in which all of these words are spoken. Alma and his brethren have been teaching in all willing humility (though not one of his sons, which will become a major question later on; cf. Alma 39:2), and suddenly the Zoramite poor have come forward in compelled humility to petition Alma. The humble encounter the humble, but there are two very different kinds of humility at work here, as Alma himself is describing: responsive humility (when one humbles oneself) and petitionary humility (when one is compelled to be humble). Perhaps the most fascinating detail of all in all of this is that the former, the responsively humble, humble themselves precisely at the word of the latter, the petitionarily humble. All of this grounds the sharp turn the discourse takes in the next couple of verses.
- Alma 32:16: Stubbornness. This word is used four other times in the Book of Mormon, all of which occur in the book of Alma: Alma 44:17; Alma 50:35; Alma 51:14, 21. In each case stubbornness is used in the pejorative. In Alma 44:17, it is used to describe Zerehemnah's defeated army that is not willing to enter into a covenant of peace. This may describe a degree of stubbornness analogous to the possibility that Alma suggests with the word "sometimes" in verse 13 ("for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance"). In Alma 50:35, stubbornness is used to describe a battle that broke out that was caused by a group of rebels lead by Morianton. It is perhaps suggestive that stubbornness lead to contention and violence, an extreme form of pitting-of-wills that is the opposite to the contrasting humility that Alma is describing here. In contrast, stubborness in Alma 51:14 and 21 is seemingly used to describe a starkly contrasting situation where Captain Moroni is addressing the kingmen who will not take up arms to defend their liberty. A point of similarity seems to be that, like the Zoramites here, the kingmen there seemed to be separating themselves from their own people.
- Alma 32:16: Even. The use of "or even" here is odd. The context would suggest that "or even" would better modify "compelled to know" than "brought to know." With that reversal the sentence would read, "blessed is he that believe in the word of God, and is baptized ... without being compelled to know the word, or even brought to know, before they will believe." more...
- Alma 32:16: Blessed. Starting in verse 8, the word blessed is used in this chapter eight times, this being the final occurrence. The word is not used again in Alma and Amulek's preaching to the Zoramite poor, except for Amulek's reference to blessings in Alma 34:38 at the very end of Alma and Amulke's preaching. Alma does, however, describe a process for obtaining fruit from a tree which grows from the word (the word of God, presumably). It may be that the description of the process for obtaining this fruit is effectively taking the place of Alma's repeated affirmation that the Zoramite poor are blessed. Or, perhaps the discontinuance of this phrase on Alma's part is implicitly emphasizing the contingent status of this blessed state, that the Zoramite poor are initially blessed because they are prepared to hear the word, but that blessed state will not last unless last unless they nourish the word that they are prepared to receive (and whether or not they nourish the word is yet to be seen). Another possibility is that this discontinuance is following the shift in Alma's discourse, moving away from a discussion of (individualistic) humilty and toward a discussion of (self-transgressive) faith and knowledge. In this case, the shift seems to suggest a forgetting-of-onself once one has become truly humble (see more on this in the discussion of negation and affirmation in the verse 17 exegesis).
- Alma 32:16. It is only with this verse that Alma finally brings these questions of humility to bear on the question of faith—or at least, of belief. This change is perhaps signaled by the transitioning word "Therefore" with which the verse begins: the first part of this verse ("Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble") seems essentially to be a summary of everything that has gone before. If this is how Alma intended it, it is somewhat peculiar in a number of ways. For example, in the previous verses, there was a clear emphasis on the difference between two types of humility and hence on the relative blessedness of those who come to be humble in these two very different ways. Here, however, Alma reduces this whole discussion to a single point: blessed are those who humble themselves without the necessity of being humble. In fact, if this verse marks a kind of departure from earlier emphases, it might also be read as effecting a retroactive interpretation on the verses that precede it. When Alma introduces the theme of relative blessedness in verse 14, it appeared that he was simply introducing a better kind of humility, a kind of "extra mile" way of becoming humble. But here it becomes clear that he meant something else, really. Now it becomes clear that he meant something like "If one is compelled to be humble, praise the heavens because there is a possibility of repentance; but let's not allow anyone to believe that that is the way things are supposed to go: God's plan is ultimately laid out for those who will humble themselves because of the word!" If this more exclusive view is difficult to read in verses 14-15, it becomes clear at this point. In short, the place Alma has got to by this verse makes quite clear that verses 14-15 are to mark a corrective transition, a clarification of the use of the word "blessed" in relation to those who are humble because they are compelled to be so.
- This retroactive interpretation Alma offers in clear terms here opens the possibility for a major transition in the discourse, from the question of humility to the question of faith. After reinterpretively summarizing the thrust of the previous verses, Alma announces quite explicitly that he is changing the story: "or rather, in other words...." These two little phrases are of the utmost importance interpretively: Alma is ready to translate this question of humility into another language so to speak, that of "belief" (or "faith"?) and "knowledge." It is significance that any mention of humility drops out of the verse after the word "rather." The new terms will dominate the remainder of the discourse (Alma does again return to the question of humility in verse 25, but only for a moment, and only as a kind of aside that assures that he does not consider all of the Zoramite poor to have been compelled to be humble. Even so, that verse seems somewhat out of place, and it is possible that there is an editing error at work in the text). From the start, it appears that the "translation" being effected is quite simple: "belief" or "faith" replaces "humbling oneself," and "knowledge" replaces "being compelled to be humble." But if this "translation" seems so simple at the beginning, it is not long before it becomes as complex as the previous verses.
- It is interesting that baptism appears here in the discourse not only for the first time, but also for the last time! In fact, it is perhaps of vital importance that it only appears here, of all places, at the heart of this major transition in Alma's language (shifting from humility to the question of faith/knowledge). It is perhaps, on this account, also important that the phrase "stubbornness of heart" appears only at this point of the chapter and directly in connection with the question of baptism. But if both "baptism" and "stubbornness of heart" are introduced here, the role they play in the logic of the discourse is hardly clear at first. For example, one might expect them to mediate the "translation" of terms, that is, to come between the question of humility and the question of faith/knowledge. In a broad sense, perhaps they do, but in the strict sense—looking very closely at this verse, that is—they do not: strictly speaking, "baptism" and "stubbornness of heart" are introduced between belief and knowledge. Literarily, one might say that the question of "baptism" and "stubbornness of heart" is stretched out between faith and knowledge, that it is posed by the clash between faith and knowledge, that it forms the very tension between faith and knowledge. And reading the verse quite straightforwardly, this seems precisely to be the point: if one might be "baptized without stubbornness of heart," which would apparently be an active manifestation of one's belief, there seems to be the implication that one might also do so with stubbornness of heart, which would apparently be an active manifestation of one's knowledge.
- In fact, this last way of putting things emphasizes what is certainly central to this singular mention of baptism: here—and only here in this discourse—are faith and knowledge, compelled humility and willful humility, translated into action, into something that the believer or knower, the compelled-to-be-humble or the willfully-humble, does. Here, then, at the very heart of the discourse, where Alma can exchange the language of humility (with its individualistic emphasis) for the language of faith/knowledge (with its inter-personal emphasis, that is, with its emphasis on self-transgression), all of these questions surface, as it were, rising up into the level of the active, of the "real." What is fascinating about this "surfacing" is that both faith and knowledge, just as both kinds of humility, (can) result in the same outward, active manifestation: baptism. That only here is there a question of this outward, active manifestation highlights an important facet of Alma's discourse: he is not so much trying to teach the Zoramite poor about what they should do as he is trying to get them to think about the motivations and—more importantly—the relations that underlie or even propel one's doings. At least to some degree, it is this de-emphasis on the active that grounds the Zoramites' question in the first verse of the next chapter. In fact, the way the Zoramites ask the question there perhaps betrays the fact that they hardly understood what Alma was trying to accomplish in this discourse, but that question will have to be explored further along in the text.
- In the course of these last comments, a most important aspect of what is at work has emerged: this "translation" of terms amounts to an emphatic shift from the individualistic to the self-transgressive, and this shift remains to be explored. And it will become clear that the transitioning "stubbornness of heart" will lie at the core of this question. It should be pointed out that humility is, of course, always a question of engagement: one only humbles oneself at the call or under the gaze of another. However, whether it is the commanding gaze or the petitioning word that brings it about, humility is ultimately something individual, an act—to some degree at the very least—that one wills to do. Moreover, the word "humility" points more to a state of affairs, to a way of being in the world, than it does to an interpersonal relation. That is, humility remains a question of the individual, though it bears a mark or the trace of an-other. Over against this, however, is the relation of belief/faith, as well as the relation of knowledge. If the former is quite clearly an inter-personal relation in English, the latter certainly is in Hebrew (and in the Indo-European root from which the English comes): one knows someone or something, just as one believes (or has faith in) someone or something. Both faith and knowledge, that is, imply a transgression of the self, a kind of transcendence. The importance of Alma's "translation" here is therefore to be found in the connection between these two forms of self-transgression and the relative marks or traces they leave on the humble individual. Alma draws a connection between humbling oneself by the word and believing, as he draws a connection between being compelled to be humble and knowing. This is made especially clear by the phrases "being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know." The point, in the end, seems to be this: though both knowledge and faith result in humility, the humble knower bears the mark of the violence of knowledge, while the humble believer bears the trace of the revelation of faith. The difference between these two kinds of humility is bound up with one's stubbornness—or greatness—of heart: the hard heart must be broken in the violence of "being brought to know..., even compelled to know," while the soft heart has written in it the lawful word of the other (cf. Jer 31:33).
- But if in the previous verses (that is, before the translation) Alma deals only with the distinction between the two kinds of humility, it is only here with the translation of humility into the faith/knowledge distinction that Alma can begin to relate the two to each other productively. That is, in dealing with humility alone, Alma only opposes the two kinds of humility, but here he begins to explore the relation between faith and knowledge. That these two intertwined or are connected is vital, since the interrelation between them becomes the subject matter of the remainder of the discourse. It is probably important to note, on this point, that Alma can only explore the relationship between the two kinds of humility once the common term of "humility" is translated out of the discussion. Though the two humilities are different from each other, Alma has intimated from the start that both are good situations, precisely because they are both humilities. In order to discuss how they relate to one another, or in order to set the one above the other and then explore how one might exchange the one for the other, Alma must translate the two versions of humility into a stronger opposition, an opposition that is not obviously mediated by a shared middle term. The translation of humility into the pair faith/knowledge allows Alma to do this, and it is already in this first verse that he begins to explore the curious relationship between faith and knowledge. The relationship, as Alma lays it out in this first verse on the subject: faith can but does not need to follow knowledge.
- Obviously the terms of this first formulation are hardly clear yet (having only just been translated), but perhaps a couple of basic things can be said about this first explanation of the relation between faith and knowledge. To say that faith—or belief—can follow knowledge is to call into question common presuppositions about the relation between faith and knowledge. Alma's very first word on this subject clearly suggests that while faith does not need to follow knowledge, it certainly can. Over against this, one generally assumes that faith is a necessary step on the way towards knowledge, not vice versa. This common view might be confirmed on one level in the assertion that one can believe before knowing, but it seems to be quite clearly contradicted with the assertion that one might be "brought to know... or even compelled to know, before they will believe." There are several possible ways of explaining this difficulty from the start. For example, one might assume that belief or faith is a kind of practical relation while knowledge is a purely intellectual or rational relation. On such a reading, one might point to the example of the person who knows better than to do something, but does it anyway because she does not exercise belief/faith in the practical moment. While there is a certain appeal in this reading, however, it seems to do some violence to the meaning of the word "belief." Another way this might be read is to suggest that Alma is trying to talk about a very unlikely occurrence when he mentions knowing before believing. That is, perhaps he assumes with the rest of humankind that belief generally precedes knowledge as it clearly does in scientific method, but that there are occasions where someone will simply confront something so directly that anything like "method" has been canceled by the suddenness of the knowledge, as when someone experiences a phenomenon before being taught about it. There is perhaps also some appeal in this reading of the situation, but there is obviously some danger in reducing all knowledge and belief relations to a scientific or methodological point of view.
- Perhaps the best and most fruitful way to read this curious relation between faith and knowledge is to relegate faith to one kind of experience, something one might call "religious" or even "ethical" (both of which might be summed up in the word "spiritual"), and knowledge to another kind of experience, something one might call "historical" or even "scientific" (both of which might be summed up in the word "temporal"). This reading perhaps has the potential to reduce or even to cancel the implied relation between faith and knowledge, but if it is treated carefully, it will not. But what does it mean to divide things up this way? Perhaps a few words can be said about it even at this early point in the discourse.
- Even this early in the discourse, one can delineate the difference between knowing the word and believing the word. To believe something—to trust something, to have faith in something—is to give oneself to it without reserve. That is, it is not to count the cost, not to subject the thing in question to a kind of economic test. Rather, to believe is simply to give onself over, for better or for worse. On the other hand, to know the word is to appropriate it. If faith is a handing over of oneself, knowledge is a grasping, a taking, a kind of conquest. To know the word, one must be able to define it (that is, to finitize it), to label or name it, to explain it. To trust the word, one needs merely to fall before it, to give it full sway. It seems quite clear, then, what it means to say that faith can be called "religious," "ethical," or "spiritual": to believe is to sacrifice oneself in the name of the trusted, in the name of the other, of God. And it seems quite clear what it means to say that knowledge can be called "historical," "scientific," or "temporal": to know is to draw the other into one's own history, into one's own way of thinking about the world. But what is most important about the way this verse says things—and from the very beginning—is that faith and knowledge both center on the word. The word is, of course, the very mainstay of the scientific (from nomenclature to the published paper); but the word is just as much what the calling God and the petitioning sufferer speaks (from "be ye perfect" to "help!"). In short, the word can play two very different roles, and the remainder of this discourse is to work out these interrelations.
- Alma 32:16: Without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know. It seems curious that Alma seems to be describing here a state which does not apply to those whom he is addressing. That is, if he is addressing the poor who have been compelled to be humble, why does he mention the possibility that they could've humbled themselves through the word of God without being compelled? It may be that Alma is describing a process which will apply to them again in the future sometime—that is, just because they're currently humble, does not mean that they will remain humble. This idea seems to be supported in verses 24-25 where Alma elaborates on what he may've been intending here. It may also be that that Alma knows that his words will be heard by those who have not humbled themselves and so he is mentioning this for their benefit.
This section is for questions along the lines of "I still don't understand ..." Please do not be shy. The point of these questions is to identify things that still need to be addressed on this page. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
Prompts for life application
This section is for prompts that suggest ways in which a passage can influence a person's life. Prompts may be appropriate either for private self reflection or for a class discussion. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
Prompts for further study
This section is for prompts that invite us to think about a passage more deeply or in a new way. These are not necessarily questions that beg for answers, but rather prompts along the lines of "Have you ever thought about ..." Prompts are most helpful when they are developed individually, thoughtfully, and with enough background information to clearly indicate a particular direction for further study or thought. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- Alma 32:6: Did Alma actually listen to everything the chiefest member of the multitude of the poor said to him? "And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him." It almost seems like he wasn't really paying attention until perhaps some key phrase (that perhaps verse 8 and 9 hint at) was mentioned, and then he decided to engage the multitude seriously. How can this response to the multitude help us understand Alma's discourse?
- Alma 32:6: Turned him about and face. In Hebrew, the word for face, paniym comes from a root meaning "to turn." Might there be a sort of underlying word play at work here? What is the significance of Alma facing the multitude before he rejoices in their humility? In 2 Ne 13:15 and 2 Ne 26:20, the phrase "faces of the poor" is used. Is there something significant about looking into someone's face (cf. the phrase "face to face" used in these scriptures), esp. the face of the poor, that is at work here?
- Alma 32:7: Stretched forth his hand. Why is it that Alma "stretched forth his hand"? Why is this an important detail to note? Note that Christ does this when blessing the multitude in 3 Ne 12:1. See also the note at Ex 6:6 for more cross-references.
- Alma 32:8: Behold. The use of the word "behold" in the beginning of this verse is followed in verses 8-10 with the use of the word "behold" (the word "beheld" is also used in verse 7). What is the significance of the repetition of this word? Is this related to the discussion of sign-seekers who want to see before they will believe? Is this related to the turning and facing that Alma is said to do in verse 7? Might this word mark the beginning of a genuine discourse, where Alma is attentively taking in the particular state of the multitude, and asking (in v. 9) for the multitude to carefully pay attention to, or give place to, his words?
- Alma 32:12: Necessary and necessarily. Why does Alma say "it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom"? Is it necessary in order to obtain something, or something else? Does the statement "ye are necessarily brought to be humble" related to this? Is the "forced" sense in which they are brought to humble related to the reason it is necessary to learn wisdom? Is there a better, non-necessary way to learn wisdom, or is it necessary for everyone to learn wisdom, as Alma is using the phrase?
- Alma 32:12: Wisdom vs. knowledge. What does Alma have in mind when he says "wisdom" here? How should this be understood in light of the later discussion of knowledge? How does wisdom differ from knowledge? How does wisdom relate to humility? Is a particular action required to be humble?
- Alma 32:12: Exceeding poverty. Why does Alma refer to the "exceeding poverty" of his listeners here? Should "exceeding" be read as equivalent to "very," or is something more going on with the use of this adjective? Might this be suggesting an over-whelming role of their poverty, poverty that exceeds their pride or something?
This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.
Previous page: Verses 32:1-5
Next page: Verses 32:17-25