Why Will Ye Die? – Helaman 7:17-18

17 O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die? Turn ye, turn ye unto the Lord your God. Why has he forsaken you?
18 It is because you have hardened your hearts; yea, ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd; yea, ye have provoked him to anger against you.
(Helaman 7:17-18)

When Nephi returned home from preaching the gospel in the north countries for about six years, he was horrified at how much his own society had deteriorated. The institutions of government which he knew very well, having served as chief judge for nine years (Helaman 3:37, Helaman 5:1), had been infiltrated by members of a secret society who valued loyalty to each other above the rule of law (Helaman 7:4-5). In agony, Nephi ascended a tower in his garden to pray for his people. This tower was located beside a busy road, and when people saw him praying for the people with so much intensity of feeling, a crowd gathered to observe the spectacle.

During the sermon which Nephi delivered to this crowd, he asked them a number of questions with a common theme: Why were they not acting in their own self-interest?

  • “Behold, why have ye gathered yourselves together? That I may tell you of your iniquities?”
  • “How could you have given way to the enticing of him who is seeking to hurl away your souls down to everlasting misery and endless wo?”
  • “Why will ye die?”
  • “How could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you?”

Why would people make decisions that are harmful to themselves? Don’t we all have a survival instinct, a desire for self-preservation? The answer is that we do in the short run. By and large, we react appropriately to imminent dangers. But when the consequence is further in the future, when the danger is not so immediate, we have a much harder time motivating ourselves to do what we know to be right.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen calls this the “resource allocation problem,” and he says that it affects the personal lives of many high achievers. They gravitate to activities which produce an immediate reward—a bonus, a promotion, recognition at work—and chronically neglect activities which will only produce a reward in the future, such as raising children and building strong relationships. “Starving those relationships of investments like your time doesn’t feel like it’s costing you anything,” he said, “all the way up until it’s too late” (“How Will You Measure Your Life?” Forbes, June 5, 2012).

What is the solution? We have to remind ourselves of our long-term priorities and discipline ourselves to align our daily decisions with our goals. We need to have patience and intentionally forego immediate rewards when they interfere with our steady progress toward the achievements that are more important. As Nephi urged his people to do, we can ask ourselves where our current decisions are leading us. “Why will ye die?” he asked them.

As Elder Quentin L. Cook has counseled us:

I encourage everyone, young and old, to review goals and objectives and strive to exercise greater discipline. Our daily conduct and choices should be consistent with our goals. We need to rise above rationalizations and distractions. It is especially important to make choices consistent with our covenants to serve Jesus Christ in righteousness. We must not take our eyes off or drop that ball for any reason.
This life is the time to prepare to meet God. We are a happy, joyous people. We appreciate a good sense of humor and treasure unstructured time with friends and family. But we need to recognize that there is a seriousness of purpose that must undergird our approach to life and all our choices (“Choose Wisely,” General Conference, October 2014).

Today, I will evaluate my decisions and ensure that they are aligned with my highest priorities, with my own health and happiness, and with the long-term happiness of the people I love. I will adjust my activities as needed to ensure that I am working toward long-term and meaningful goals, not wasting my time and energy on short-term ephemeral accomplishments.

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Without Beginning of Days or End of Years – Alma 13:8-9

8 Now they were ordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end—
9 Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.
(Alma 13:8-9)

As we discussed yesterday, the priesthood provides a way for God to organize our worship and to point us collectively toward the redemption that His Son makes available to us. That’s why priests are “ordained” and why they perform “ordinances.” Both of those words are derivatives of the word “order.”

Joseph Smith taught that the proper name of the high priesthood is “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God” (D&C 107:3). But to avoid frequent and potentially irreverent or disrespectful references to God, the members of the church in ancient times called it the Melchizedek Priesthood, after the great high priest to whom Abraham paid tithing. (See Genesis 14:18-20, Alma 13:14-19).

That explains why, in the 110th psalm, David prophesies that God would tell the Messiah, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4). The Apostle Paul explained the background of this promise in his epistle to the Hebrews:

For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually (Hebrews 7:1-3)

Melchizedek’s name means king (melchi – מַלְכִּי) of righteousness (sedek – צֶֽדֶק). He served as the king of Salem (שָׁלֵ֔ם), which means peace. So he can be called both “king of righteousness” and “king of peace.” Both of these titles are appropriate descriptions of Jesus Christ, whose ministry Melchizedek’s service anticipated.

Even though Melchizedek was mortal, the priesthood he held was eternal: “without beginning of days, nor end of life.” (See JST Hebrews 7:3.) As Alma teaches the people of Ammonihah in the passage above, God’s power and authority are “without beginning or end,” just as the Son of God, “the Only Begotten of the Father…is without beginning of days or end of years.” Thus, mortals who are ordained priests participate in something much bigger than themselves, bigger even than this life, something immortal, something divine.

Today, I will be grateful that our Heavenly Father shares His power with His children. I will remember that, when I exercise priesthood authority or power, I am acting on behalf of God and doing something of eternal significance.

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The Lord God Ordained Priests – Alma 13:1-2

1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.
(Alma 13:1-2)

In the prior chapter, Alma described the predicament we face, being subject to both physical and spiritual death. He taught the people of Ammonihah that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can overcome both kinds of death. Then he explained how prophets fit into the plan: God saw that His children needed to understand how to overcome death, so He sent messengers to teach them. As long as they remained teachable and didn’t harden their hearts, they could receive a remission of their sins through the Atonement and enter His rest.

In this chapter, He talks about the role of priests. Not only did He send messengers to teach us, He also ordained priests to help us worship Him in an organized way. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, an early meaning of the word “order” in English was a “body of persons living under a religious discipline.” The 1828 Websters Dictionary gives many definitions of “order,” including a “methodical arrangement of things,” a “settled mode of operation,” a “command,” and “government or discipline.”

To create order is to “ordain” (from the Latin ordinare – “put in order, arrange, dispose, appoint”). A tool or mechanism to put things in order is an “ordinance” (from the present participle of ordinare – roughly: “ordaining”).

As Alma teaches in the passage above, priests are ordained to instruct and direct people so that they know how to be redeemed by the Savior. The priesthood enables God to organize His disciples, so that they can worship Him together in an organized way.

Priests are humans who represent the Savior. As Elder Boyd K. Packer taught, “When priesthood authority is exercised properly, priesthood bearers do what He would do if He were present” (“The Power of the Priesthood,” General Conference, April 2010). So priests not only provide guidance, they also act as substitutes for the Savior. As we interact with them, we prepare for the time when we will interact with Him.

Today, I will remember the role of the priesthood in God’s plan of redemption. I will be grateful for the opportunity I have to participate in priesthood ordinances, which give order to my life and which show me how to receive the grace of God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

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He Shall Have Claim on Mercy – Alma 12:33-35

33 But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;
34 Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.
35 And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest.
(Alma 12:33-35)

I like Alma’s promise to the people of Ammonihah, which must have been inspired by this passage from the 95th psalm:

To day if ye will hear his voice,
Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.
Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest (Psalm 95:7-11)

The author of the psalm reminds Israel of a time when their ancestors were not able to enter into God’s rest—a place where they were secure, where they were at peace and free from anxiety. Why were they not able to receive that blessing? Because they had hardened their hearts and rebelled against God.

Earlier in the chapter, Alma taught the newly repentant Zeezrom that the mysteries of God are only available to people who choose not to harden their hearts. A person with a hard heart cannot understand some things, not because God doesn’t want to teach them, but because they are unwilling to learn.

By the same token, in the passage above, Alma teaches that those who repent and don’t harden their hearts “have claim on [God’s] mercy through [His] Only Begotten Son.” They will therefore enter into God’s rest, while those who harden their hearts cannot enter.

I have to believe that God’s rest is a state of being, not a location.  People with hard hearts will always be anxious. They cannot rest from their worries and doubts, not because God isn’t willing to have mercy on them and give them peace, but because they are unwilling to receive the gift.

Today, I will remember that understanding and peace can only come to me only if I open my mind and heart to receive them. I will choose not to harden my heart. I will choose to repent, so that I may have claim on God’s mercy and may enter into His rest.

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The Loosing of the Bands of Death – Alma 11:40-41

40 And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else.
41 Therefore the wicked remain as though there had been no redemption made, except it be the loosing of the bands of death; for behold, the day cometh that all shall rise from the dead and stand before God, and be judged according to their works.
(Alma 11:40-41)

Amulek was taught by Alma, who learned the gospel from his father Alma, who was taught by the prophet Abinadi. It’s not surprising to see some of the concepts and phrases which Abinadi taught to the priests of King Noah echoed in the words of Amulek. As I wrote last week, Abinadi taught that, if we refuse to receive the blessings of the Atonement, it is as though the Atonement never happened. Amulek echoes that principle in the passage above.

Additionally, Abinadi used the phrase “the bands of death” five times in teaching about the effects of the Atonement (Mosiah 15:8, 9, 20, 23, Mosiah 16:7). Alma the Younger used this phrase in his sermons to the city of Zarahemla (Alma 5:7, 9, 10) and Gideon (Alma 7:12). And Amulek also uses the phrase in the passage above to emphasize the great blessing of being rescued from the effects of death through the resurrection.

Although this phrase does not appear in the King James Version of the Bible, the same concept appears multiple times. For example, Psalm 18:4 and Psalm 116:3 both use the phrase “the sorrows of death” to translate the Hebrew phrase heble-mawet (חֶבְלֵי־מָ֑וֶת). Other translations render this phrase as “the cords of death” or “the ropes of death.” (See Psalm 18:4 and Psalm 116:3 on biblehub.com.)

How is death like being bound with ropes? According to the prophet Joseph Smith, the spirit cannot obtain a fulness of joy without being united with a body. (See D&C 93:33-34). His nephew, Joseph F. Smith, saw in a vision “an innumerable company of the spirits of the just” waiting anxiously for “their redemption from the bands of death.” They believed  that:

Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy (D&C 138:12, 16-17).

So, after we die, we will feel incomplete, and we will long for the time when our spirits might be reunited with a body, never again to be separated. As Amulek testifies in the passage above, this is the promise of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to every man and woman who lives in mortality.

Today, I will be grateful that God has “loosed the bands of death,” as testified by Abinadi, Alma, and Amulek. I will remember that, although some of the blessings of the Atonement are limited to those who willingly receive them, this gift of resurrection will come to all of God’s children who have ever lived on the earth. The incompleteness that they feel after experiencing death will one day end. Their spirit and their body will be reunited “never again to be divided.”

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To Blind Your Eyes – Alma 10:24-25

24 And now it came to pass that the people were more angry with Amulek, and they cried out, saying: This man doth revile against our laws which are just, and our wise lawyers whom we have selected.
25 But Amulek stretched forth his hand, and cried the mightier unto them, saying: O ye wicked and perverse generation, why hath Satan got such great hold upon your hearts? Why will ye yield yourselves unto him that he may have power over you, to blind your eyes, that ye will not understand the words which are spoken, according to their truth?
(Alma 10:24-25)

Henry David Thoreau once lamented the plight of students who could discover new satellites (or moons) of Neptune, and yet “not detect…to what vagabond he is a satellite himself” (Walden, New York: Thomas E. Cromwell & Co., 1910, p. 66). It is difficult to be objective about ourselves, and we so often fail to acknowledge the influence of others in our decisions because we want to believe that we are independent and self-directed. The truth is that we are self-directed, but only to a point. As Lehi taught, we act for ourselves by deciding whether to follow the enticings of God or of the devil (2 Nephi 2:16).

Because the devil is tempting us to do things that are not in our self-interest, he tries to hide his identity from us and make us believe that his temptations are our ideas. He says, “I am no devil, for there is none” (2 Nephi 28:22). He wants us to believe that he doesn’t exist so that we will assume that his temptations are actually our own thoughts and desires.

In the passage above, Amulek counters this strategy by pointing out to the people that they are under the power of the devil—surely not a message they wanted to hear, but an important one nonetheless. He acknowledges that they are agents, that they have the power to choose whether or not to “yield [themselves] unto him.” And he explains the consequences of that decision: Satan will blind the eyes of his followers. He will harden their hearts so that they refuse to understand and accept truths which they are taught. Amulek had experienced this himself. As he confessed in his opening remarks: “I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know” (Alma 10:6). An unwillingness to accept truth when you see it is an indication that you are under the power of an adverse influence.

Today, I will remember that Satan wants me not only to do evil but also to reject truth. If I give in to his temptations and do things I know to be wrong, he will use that influence to confuse me, to desensitize me, and ultimately to convince me not to listen to truths which might otherwise help me repent and get back on the right track. I will avoid yielding to his temptations so that I can see clearly and discern right from wrong.

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Unto All Who Call on His Name – Alma 9:17

17 And at some period of time they will be brought to believe in his word, and to know of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers; and many of them will be saved, for the Lord will be merciful unto all who call on his name.
(Alma 9:17)

One of the Ten Commandments teaches us that we should not take the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7). But as we learn from the passage above, it is not enough to refrain from using the Lord’s name inappropriately. We need to also learn to use it correctly: to call upon Him using His name, reverently and in an attitude of worship.

Near the beginning of the Old Testament, after mentioning the births of Seth and Enos, the author rather abruptly announces, “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26). The Joseph Smith translation clarifies the meaning of that sentence: “And then began these men to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them (Moses 6:4, italics added). It’s not that no one had ever called upon God before the birth of Enos. Rather, each one of the people mentioned in this narrative had to reach the point where they began to pray appropriately. When they did so, each began to receive God’s blessings.

The prophet Joel prophesied of a time when God would pour out His Spirit upon everyone. People would prophesy, have spiritual dreams, and see visions. Even though there would be great natural disasters in that time, he promised that “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered” (Joel 2:32).

Alma made the same promise to the inhabitants of the city of Ammonihah in the passage above.

Sister Carol F. McConkie reminded us of the importance of learning to pray appropriately:

Prayer is essential to developing faith. When the Lord comes again, will He find a people who know how to pray in faith and who are prepared to receive salvation? “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We are children of a loving Heavenly Father, and we may enjoy personal communion with Him when we pray “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” and then act in accordance with the answers we receive by the promptings of the Holy Ghost. In faith we pray, we listen, and we obey, that we might learn to become one with the Father and the Son….
We pray to our Father in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, thus engaging all three members of the Godhead in our utterances (“The Soul’s Sincere Desire,” General Conference, October 2016).

Today, I will seek to elevate the quality of my prayers. I will use God’s name appropriately as I pray to the Father in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ. I will remember that God’s blessings are available to those who use His name appropriately, calling on Him with sincere hearts and real intent, listening to the answers received through the Holy Ghost, and then acting on those answers.

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