Alma 1:1 having warred a good warfare
"King Mosiah had fought against wickedness and battled Beelzebub all his days. He had been true and faithful to his trust to lead his people in paths of truth and righteousness. He had passed the tests of mortality. His salvation was secure. He was like his colleague on another continent, Paul the Apostle, who said just prior to his death: 'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing' (2 Timothy 4:7-8)." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 3, p. 3)
Alma 1:3 he had gone about...declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular
Alma introduces us to the second anti-Christ in the Book of Mormon-Nehor. He sought for fame and riches by establishing religious position based on popularity not worthiness. His idea was in direct conflict with what had been taught in Zarahemla for decades. King Benjamin had taught that even the king should not set himself apart from his subjects, even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes (Mosiah 2:14). The same doctrine was practiced and preached by his son Mosiah, all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support (Mosiah 27:5). Therefore, a popular priesthood goes against everything that had been taught so far among the Nephites. In his day, Nehor was an ideologic rebel. Yet, if he was born in our day, he would have been a televangelist.
Hugh Nibley explains how Nehor's doctrine is really designed to set his class apart and gain prestige.
"Next comes Nehor, the Great Liberal, 'declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they . . . ought to be supported by the people' (Alma 1:3). This is a familiar 'liberal' paradox. The liberal is unpretentious and open-minded, just like everybody else--yet he forms a jealously guarded clique for the exploitation of the general public, and distinguishes sharply between the intellectual class to which he belongs as a special elite and the layman, who is expected to support him and to seek instruction at his feet." (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, p. 366)
Alma 1:4 he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved
We have previously stated that flattery, as used in the Book of Mormon, is to preach what is pleasing to the carnal mind. Let's look at Nehor's doctrine on salvation. Every carnally minded soul loves this doctrine. In effect, it says whatever sin you commit, whatever whoredoms you are guilty of do not matter. The sinner and the righteous can expect the same reward. What does this doctrine say about the atonement? It mysteriously states that the Lord has redeemed all men. This doctrine single-handedly negates the entire plan of salvation. It negates the importance of faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, and good works. None of these are really necessary if the train headed to the celestial kingdom is really a free ride. But what a great doctrine for the free-riders of the world!
"What is wrong with this upbeat, cheerful religion-this popular message? ... It says, 'In the end, all men shall have eternal life'-and that's the whole story. Everyone is saved, and that is that. This short circuits and bypasses the whole plan of salvation, which is that this is a time of probation here, accepting salvation the hard way...Should we lower our standards to gain converts? Well, that's the great thing. The great Catholic Church historian-not only of our time, but I think the greatest of them all-was Duchesne. He said that's exactly what happened. The church was able to expand and conquer after the fourth century because it just kept lowering its standards, lower and lower. Every time it lowered them, it could get more people in. Finally, everybody was willing to join because they didn't have any standards at all as far as morals were concerned. This is the thing that happened here with Nehor; he made himself very popular. He was like a popular evangelist, and this is what people want to hear." (Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 42, p. 216-7)
Alma 1:7-8 he began to contend with him sharply...but the man withstood him
This may be the most violent "Bible bash" in scriptural history. Gideon was no stranger to conflict. He seemed to rise to the occasion whenever faced with adversity. He took it upon himself to rid his people of the wicked king Noah (Mosiah 19:4). He was the first to offer advice to Limhi about who had kidnapped the 24 daughters of the Lamanites and how to escape from bondage (Mosiah 20:17; 22:3-8). If ever there was a threat to the welfare of the people, Gideon was the first to face it. Accordingly, Gideon confronted Nehor because his doctrine represented a threat to the welfare of the people. His arguments were so filled with the Spirit that it made Nehor angry, for the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center (1 Ne 16:2). Nehor, having lost the "Bible bash," took it upon himself to kill the winner.
Alma 1:12 this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among this people
The term, priestcraft, is defined in 2 Ne 26:29 as the practice in which men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.
Dallin H. Oaks
"The Book of Mormon applies this principle (priestcraft) to those who seem to be serving the Lord but do so with a hidden motive to gain personal advantage rather than to further the work of the Lord: 'Priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion' (2 Nephi 26:29; see also Alma 1:16).
"Priestcraft is the sin committed by the combination of a good act--such as preaching or teaching the gospel--and a bad motive. The act may be good and visible, but the sin is in the motive. On earth, the wrong motive may be known only to the actor, but in heaven it is always known to God.
"...During my lifetime, I have seen more than a few persons in positions of responsibility in various churches whose activities in the 'work of the Lord' seemed to be motivated predominantly by personal interest. The commandment to avoid priestcraft is a vital challenge to religious persons in every age of time." (Pure in Heart, pp. 16-18)
Bruce R. McConkie
"Priesthood and priestcraft are two opposites; one is of God, the other of the devil. When ministers claim but do not possess the priesthood; when they set themselves up as lights to their congregations, but do not preach the pure and full gospel; when their interest is in gaining personal popularity and financial gain, rather than in caring for the poor and ministering to the wants and needs of their fellow men -- they are engaged, in a greater or lesser degree, in the practice of priestcrafts.
"Apostasy is born of priestcrafts (2 Ne. 10:5; 3 Ne. 16:10; D. & C. 33:4), for those who engage in them follow vain things, teach false doctrines, love riches, and aspire to personal honors. (Alma 1:12, 16.) Men are commanded to repent of their priestcrafts (3 Ne. 30:2), and eventually, in the millennial day, these great evils will be done away. (3 Ne. 21:19.)" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 593-4)
In a talk given to seminary and institute instructors, Robert Millet, a co-author of Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon stated:
"There is a difference between developing and enjoying the needed rapport with our students on the one hand, and developing a following on the other....We cannot always control how people feel toward us or what we teach, but we can strive to be certain that our own motives are pure. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I believe if I have begun to attract people to myself rather than to the Lord, that I need to undergo some serious introspection. My colleague Joseph McConkie observed to this group some years ago: 'Sometimes we get in our own way. We block the light because we are standing center stage when we should have stepped to the side and just let the [message] speak for itself. We cause what I call a spiritual eclipse.' (CES Symposium, 8-82, p. 1). If I am driven more by ego than by a desire to lead people to Christ; if my desires for acclaim are greater than my desires to love and serve the Lord and his children, then my eye is not single to the glory of God (Matt. 6:22-23; D&C 88:67-68), and I will obstruct the light that might have been seen and felt. If, on the other hand, I am humbled to be in the presence of my students, sobered by the sacred assignment to instruct them, and fully cognizant of and willing to trust in Him who [is] the real Teacher and Converter, then I will have the privilege of witnessing miracles, men and women coming unto Christ and being perfected in him." (CES Symposium, Aug. 1993, p. 11 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, pp. 245-6)
Alma 1:13-14 thou art condemned to die, according to the law
The subject of capital punishment is still widely debated. There is a common perception that any society who kills its citizens, even if they are murderers, is uncivilized. Appropriately, they worry about the state executing innocent inmates. The concept that they fail to understand is that the state is obligated to exact an appropriate punishment. The blood of the victims will cry from the ground for justice. Alma apparently understood this concept and, as the chief judge, was concerned that if the state did nothing, the blood of Gideon would come upon us for vengeance.
Joseph Fielding Smith
"CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: It has been the law of the Lord from the beginning that
'...flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.
Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.' (Gen 9:4-6)
"Moreover, Moses reiterated this commandment to Israel as the Lord commanded him, and it has never by divine decree been revoked. The Nephites taught and practiced it. In this, the last dispensation, the Lord has confirmed this penalty upon those who deliberately kill.
President Charles W. Penrose, speaking of capital punishment, has said:
'This divine law for shedding the blood of a murderer has never been repealed. It is a law given by the Almighty and not abrogated in the Christian faith. It stands on record for all time--that a murderer shall have his blood shed. He that commits murder must be slain. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. I know there are some benevolent and philanthropic people in these times who think that capital punishment ought to be abolished. Yet I think the Lord knows better than they. The law he ordained will have the best results to mankind in general.'" (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 1, P. 189)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"There is a growing notion in the world today that it is adding a crime to a crime to take the life of those who deliberately murder--a cruel retaliation which cannot benefit the murdered person and likewise the murderer can reap no benefits therefrom. The real purpose which the Lord gave for the taking of life has long been forgotten. The taking of the life of the murderer was never intended to be a benefit to the murdered person or even a benefit to humanity. It was intended to be a benefit to the murderer himself. There are sins which cannot be forgiven, except by the guilty person paying a price by the shedding of his blood. Capital punishment was to benefit the guilty to obtain a better resurrection when the sin had been one unto death." (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 3, p. 104)
Alma 1:16 this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft
"Nehor's teaching caught on, and years later we find one of his followers, a judge, using peculiarly brutal and cruel methods against those guilty of preaching the old faith (Alma 14:15-18). It is significant that the most violent and inhuman mass persecutions in history--those of the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, the Mutazilites in Islam, and the Inquisition--were initiated and carried out by idealists and intellectuals. Churches of Nehor's persuasion dotted the land as evidence of the popularity of his teaching, 'that God will save all men,' as well as his common-sense rejection of 'foolish traditions,' and the belief in such things as angels or the possibility of prophecy (Alma 21:6-8). It was simply not scientific to believe such stuff! To remonstrate with these open-minded believers was to incur both their wrath and their mockery (Alma 21:10). Now let us recall that it was the 'priestcrafts' of the Jews at Jerusalem that made things hard for Lehi in the beginning; when he tried to tell his fellow citizens in simple straightforward terms that he had seen a vision they 'did mock him,' and planned to put him to death (1 Nephi 1:19-20)." (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, p. 366)
Alma 1:19 whosoever did not belong to the church of God began to persecute those that did belong to the church of God
In Zarahemla, the people could be divided into two big groups-the believers and the non-believers. This sort of division is bound to bring conflict. Those that did not belong to the church felt threatened and began to lash out against the believers. The history of the state of Utah has been ridden with a similar conflict as the non-members have often felt threatened by the massive Mormon majority. Their natural position is to take a defensive stance and to criticize. In Alma's day, the members did not deserve the persecution they received. In our day, we should be careful not to contribute to the misunderstandings. Rather, we should try to weather the persecution, break down the prejudices, and broaden our friendships to include those who are critical. Alma's people were a great example for they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them.
Alma 1:24 their names were blotted out, that they were remembered no more
A revelation on excommunication had been recently received by Alma (Mosiah 26:29-32). Its implementation at this crucial time allows for the preservation of the church in Zarahemla. Imagine what would have happened if this growing crowd of dissidents were allowed to remain as members. They would continue to influence the weakest of the members and become a festering cancer amongst the faithful. The proper process of excommunication is more than just cleansing the inner vessel, it preserves the integrity of the church, protects the weaker members, and allows the church to move forward. Spiritually speaking, however, excommunication is a tragedy for the individual soul.
Spencer W. Kimball
"The scriptures speak of Church members being 'cast out' or 'cut off,' or having their names 'blotted out.' This means excommunication. This dread action means the total severance of the individual from the Church. The person who is excommunicated loses his membership in the Church and all attendant blessings. As an excommunicant, he is in a worse situation than he was before he joined the Church. He has lost the Holy Ghost, his priesthood, his endowments, his sealings, his privileges, and his claim upon eternal life. This is about the saddest thing which could happen to an individual. Better that he suffer poverty, persecution, sickness, and even death. A true Latter-day Saint would far prefer to see a loved one in his bier than excommunicated from the Church. If the one cut off did not have this feeling of desolateness and barrenness and extreme loss, it would be evidence that he did not understand the meaning of excommunication.
"An excommunicant has no Church privileges. He may not ... partake of the sacrament, serve in Church positions, offer public prayers, or speak in meetings; he may not pay tithing except under certain conditions as determined by the bishop." (Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 100)
Alma 1:26 the preacher was no better than the hearer
"In the Lord's Church the members are a congregation of equals; there are no degrees, no academic titles, no worldly attainments that separate members of the group. The gospel has been restored in our day, for example, that every man and woman may speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world (see D&C 1:20). The bishop perhaps is a plumber, while his clerk is the vice president of a large corporation. The stake president is a farmer, while his high council is composed of lawyers and physicians and professors." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 3, p. 10)
Alma 1:31 they did prosper and become far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church
One might ask if there is a financial advantage to being faithful. The answer comes from page after page in the Book of Mormon and is a resounding, "Yes!" However, the Nephites became rich because of their generosity with their goods and because they did not set their hearts upon riches (v. 30). Is it reasonable then for an individual seeking wealth to join the faithful in order to reap their reward? The answer is a resounding, "No!" because if that is their motivation, they are guilty of priestcraft and will not be blessed with riches. The only way in which wealth can be righteously sought after is for the benefit of humanity, after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good-to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted (Jacob 2:19). Jacob makes it clear that it is the motivation that is important. If the motivating factor is charity, the riches will come. If the motivating factor is greed, then you have no promise. It is one of the great ironies of the gospel-if you really want wealth for yourself, you won't get it as a blessing from the Lord. But if you don't care about your own riches, then you will be blessed with them.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we find a promise as true as any the Lord has given, if ye seek for the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old (DC 38:39).
Gordon B. Hinckley
"Continuing with the words of Paul, 'For the love of money is the root of all evil' (1 Tim 6:10). It is the love of money and the love of those things which money can buy which destroys us. We all need money to supply our needs. But it is the love of it which hurts us, which warps our values, which leads us away from spiritual things and fosters selfishness and greed." (Ensign, May 1997, p. 49 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 175)
George F. Richards
"The Lord expects us when he blesses us with the good things of this earth to remember those who are not so fortunate. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, comfort those who mourn, and minister unto those who are poor and needy, and thus become of that class to whom the Lord, when he shall come, shall say: 'Come, ye blessed of the Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'" (Conference Reports, Oct. 1939, p. 109)
"I will promise the Latter-day Saints that if they will go into these things allowing God to dictate in the interests of Israel and the building up of his Zion on the earth, and take themselves and their individual interests out of the question, feeling they are acting for him and his kingdom, they will become the wealthiest of all people, and God will bless them and pour out wealth and intelligence and all the blessings that earth can afford." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 20, p. 164)