What Does It Mean to Be “an Hungered?”

Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts about the meaning behind unusual words or phrases in the Book of Mormon. 

Alma was badly mistreated in the city of Ammonihah. Despite his dedicated efforts on behalf of the people—preaching the word of God, laboring in the Spirit, and “wrestling with God in mighty prayer”—he was reviled, spit upon, and cast out (Alma 8:8-13). As he began traveling to another city, an angel appeared to him and told him to go back (Alma 8:14-17). The angel didn’t say, “Go back, and you’ll be successful this time.” He said, “Go back, and tell them they’ll be destroyed if they don’t repent.” Not an easy assignment!

When he arrived at the city again, “he was an hungered.” He asked a stranger, “Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat?” The stranger, a man named Amulek, took Alma into his home, fed him, and took care of him for many days before going out with him to preach to his fellow citizens (Alma 8:19-22, 27).

Why was Alma “an hungered” instead of just “hungry?” (Alma 8:19, 26, Alma 10:7)

Most of the time, when people need food, the scriptures describe them as “hungry.” Sometimes, the people “hunger.” The noun form—”an hungered” or “an hungred”— appears only a few times in the scriptures: in this story about the prophet Alma, and in three stories in the New Testament:

  1. When Jesus was tempted, He had fasted forty days and was afterward “an hungred” (Matthew 4:2).
  2. Jesus’s disciples plucked corn in the field on the Sabbath day because they were “an hungred” (Matthew 12:1). When the Pharisees questioned Him, Jesus reminded them of a precedent: David had eaten shewbread when “he was an hungred, and they that were with him” (Matthew 12:3, Mark 2:25, Luke 6:3).
  3. Jesus taught that, if we take care of people in need, it is as though we were taking care of Him: “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat;… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:31-46).

I think the use of the term “an hungered” in the story of Alma and Amulek serves to connect that story with the stories which use the same term in the King James Version of the Bible. (Most other translations of the Bible simply use the adjective “hungry” in those passages. Several translations use “an hungered,” with the same spelling as the Book of Mormon.)

What did Alma’s experience have in common with these stories?

  1. He was doing the work of the Lord when he became hungry.
  2. He “had fasted many days,” just like the Savior in the first story. (See Alma 8:26.)
  3. He desperately needed someone to help him, empathize with him, and provide the nourishment he needed, not to ignore him or to subject him to further abuse.

Today, I will remember Amulek’s act of charity toward a stranger who was “an hungered.” I will remember that the Savior expects me to see the worth in the people around me, have compassion for their needs, and provide nourishment and support as needed.

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