Alma 13:14-20

And now on to the story of Melchizedek in verses 14-20. First, notice how Alma sets it up: it’s not just a story about Melchizedek, but a story about how a people and a high priest relate to one another. Verse 14 actually begins with “the people in the days of Melchizedek.” While this does make a nice transition from verse 13, I think Alma is doing more than just transitioning. I think he is wanting us to focus on “the people” and “Melchizedek” as two characters in the story that follows.

This idea isn’t shocking, I’m sure, but I think it’s important to take note of this. Before this point in the chapter, Alma seemed to be explaining what a priest was (a teacher) and how he got there (by a specific manner). Now Alma seems to shift the focus to how a high priest and a people relate to each other. I think that will become more and more significant as we go along.

(As the first of many tangents, I did some searching to see how priests were talked about before Alma 13. Were they described as teachers generally, or as teachers over a specific people? It turns out that Alma the elder was the first one to be called “a” or “the” high priest. Before that, we just have “priests” — in the plural — who are consecrated to teach. Under Alma and Alma the younger, many priests are called to assist in teaching the members of the Church. But only Alma, and then his son Alma, are called “the” high priest. Is this a significant switch? Are they being more like Melchizedek than other priests were before them? I wonder if part of what Alma is battling against in Alma 13 is the people’s idea that he is a teacher for members only, rather than a high priest over the whole people. See Alma 8:11.)

But, before we can get too far into seeing how a high priest relate to each other, we get this odd verse on tithing and Abraham (verse 15). Why does Alma talk about tithing in verse 15? Is it just to show how Abraham (an immensely important figure for the Nephites) relates to Melchizedek? Does it function like the discussion in Hebrews 7 does? Is there actually a reason to bring tithing itself up? 

I think there actually is a reason to bring it up, and I even want to explore the possibility that tithing has something to do with being a high priest of the Holy Order of God. In order to do that, I’m going to take a detour through the JST of Genesis 14. Now I know there will be concerns that I’m assuming too much, but I am not actually suggesting that Alma had exactly what we have in our JST (since the connections between the JST and the brass plates are completely obscured). What I am suggesting is that these two passages, however they relate to each other, are filled with similar themes, and that is enough to merit some comparisons. We have references in both to Melchizedek, Abraham, tithing, high priesthood, order of God, building a city, causing a people to repent, and a Prince of Peace. My goal is to see how the JST handles these same themes, and see how that might help us see things we’ve overlooked in our Alma 13 text.

So — with what I hope is enough justification for a little fun with the JST — onward! Here are verses 25-27 of the JST of Genesis 14:

“And Melchizedek lifted up his voice and blessed Abram.

Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire….

And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch”

Like Alma 13, this JST passage is careful to explain why someone was called as a high priest. Melchizedek was “a man of faith,” “wrought righteousness,” “feared God,” and controlled nature, even. God “approved” of his works, and Melchizedek became a high priest. I found it interesting that both the JST and Alma 13 found it important to explain why a high priest is called. (It’s also interesting how similar the “why” is to Alma 13.) I had assumed that Alma was explaining this to justify his position over the people, but perhaps there is more than just that going on here.

With a soft spot in my heart for anything connected to Enoch, Adam, or Abraham, it will be no surprise that I found the connection to Enoch fascinating, so forgive me as I indulge a bit (I think we’ll find it productive in the end). Enoch is the first person I know of who taught a wicked people well enough to get them to repent, build up a city, fend off all their enemies, and be translated into Heaven. Melchizedek is described as a high priest specifically “after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,” and I think that is language we shouldn’t pass over too lightly. I think we should hear in this that Melchizedek’s priesthood assignment was connected specifically with the work Enoch did: teach and build a city. I’m dying to know more about this “covenant” business too, but for now, I want to focus on the basic connection between Enoch, a preacher and city-builder, and Melchizedek, a preacher and city-builder.

On to JST verse 28:

It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God

The JST passage, like Alma 13, is intent on explaining that this order came directly from God (see Alma 13: 1, 2, 7, 9, and 16) and that it has no identifiable beginning (see Alma 13:8).

JST verses 29-31:

And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.

I like the personal nature of the first half of this verse (God calls by his own voice, and by his own decision) but the last part is tougher to understand. Like Alma 13:4, there is a suggestion that as long as someone is faithful, they will be come a high priest. But my personal experience tells me otherwise. How I can reconcile these two things? I can read this in a round-about way, knowing that everyone has the chance to receive saving ordinances, “as if” they had been a priest, but Alma 13 and this JST verse seem to be pretty clear. How do you make sense of this? I’ll offer one idea, that corresponds with my work elsewhere so of course I like it, but I’d like to hear more ideas on this.

The next verse in the JST could be use to imply that it’s not that anyone who believes will receive the high priesthood, but all those of Enoch’s line who believe. Note how verse 30 starts with the word “For:”

For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself …

This seems to say that God gives the priesthood because of a promise God made to Enoch and to his seed. Was it meant only for their seed? Hard to tell for sure, but that does line up with D&C 107:40.  I’ve looked around a lot in scripture for places that talk about a “chosen seed” which has a right to the priesthood, while anyone else is just helping them. (See lots of speculative ideas here.) If that’s at all on to something, then even if there are many people (who aren’t of the chosen line) who believe/are faithful/perform good works, etc., that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will become a high priest. They may, but it’s not automatically the case.

I think this is a fair enough reading of the JST, though it may or may not be a good way to read Alma 13.

All of verses 30-31 now:

For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;

To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.

While none of this matches up directly with Alma 13, sorry, it’s way too fun to pass up! What an incredible power! But not only incredible, it’s a power described elsewhere in scripture. Besides Enoch himself, it’s similar to Nephi’s power (in Helaman 10), and also to Jacob’s (see Jacob 4:7-8). In addition, the idea that this power is given over and over again throughout history is affirmed in D&C 128:9.

I wonder if this what allows priests to become a “Prince of Peace,” because they can use that power to defend their cities and end all wars around them? (See also D&C 45:67 – 70.) 

But now on to JST verse 32:

And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.

While “translated and taken up into heaven” is pretty close to the idea of “entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (in Alma 13:12), it’s really the timing of the experiences that I want to talk about. In both cases, it appears to me that it is a result of being a faithful high priest, rather than a part of or the definition of the priest’s ordination. (Kim argued already for this point in this post.) Thinking about this again made me realize it would be impractical for these things to happen simultaneously, since the point of being ordained a priest is to work with people on earth.

Now to verses 33-34, which have quite a bit in common with Alma 13:18:

And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace.

And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world;

And here is Alma 13:18:

But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.

I noticed at least these similarities: 1) priest/priesthood of/according to this/the (holy) order, 2) obtained/established peace, 3) called the Prince of peace/called the prince of peace, 4) people wrought righteousness/they did repent. And if we add in verse 32, we have a fifth similarity: 5) men having faith/having exercised mighty faith. Why so many similarities? More importantly: Why are these five points so crucial to the understanding of Melchizedek that all five are mentioned in both passages? How do these details explain the role of high priest in relation to a people? I’ll leave that an open question for now.

Verse 35:

And hath said, and sworn with an oath, that the heavens and the earth should come together; and the sons of God should be tried so as by fire.

Enoch’s covenant seems to have included the promise that the heavens and earth should come together. I think this refers to other Zion cities that unite with Enoch’s city (see Moses 7: 62-64). If so, I think this supports the idea mentioned earlier that when Melchizedek is ordained after the covenant given to Enoch, he was given the assignment to build up a Zion city.

Verses 36-39:

And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.

And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God;

Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.

Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need.

And now finally we get back to tithing, and we can begin to see why tithing is in Alma 13. If Melchizedek is building a Zion city, it would make sense that he would find a way to have no poor, like Enoch did. Melchizedek was a high priest and keeper of the storehouse. That signals that he was not just any high priest, but a high priest like Enoch was, one who was also building a city. So finally coming full circle, that little inclusion of Abraham paying tithing in Alma 13:15 actually strengthens the idea that a high priest, at least this kind of high priest, is more than a teacher of the commandments. (And I left tangents about Abraham himself here.) A high priest’s role is to teach a whole people, and in such a way, that they can create a Zion community. To that end, Alma can’t pass by the people in Ammonihah or anywhere else. Alma isn’t just performing teaching duties associated with a calling within and to the Church, it appears he is fulfilling his role as the high priest, the kind of high priest Melchizedek was.

So in summary again, I think here Alma shifts in verse 14 from talking about priests themselves to how a people and a high priest relate to one another. I think this is in part to answer his audience’s comment in Alma 8:11. A high priest is called, given powers, and assigned to bring a whole people into God’s rest. And Alma is working to that end, I think.

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8 Comments

Filed under Alma 13

8 responses to “Alma 13:14-20

  1. Awesome work, Karen. That was a post worth waiting for!

    I totally agree that Alma’s broader point is about “how a people and a high priest relate to one another,” and I love the idea that building Zion is a priesthood task in the literal sense it held for Enoch and Melchizedek, socioeconomic ramifications included! (Seeing the mention of tithing as implicating Melchizedek’s mechanism for eliminating poverty in his city… that is so creative. I never would have thought to go in that direction.)

    To respond to some of the questions you posed, I see at least a couple of different possibilities in JST Gen 14:29-30. The sticking point, I think, is identifying the “it” of “it was delivered unto men” (v. 29). On the one hand, it could be referring back to the covenant, rather than the “order” of the priesthood, and then the “for” of v. 30 is simply explaining where that covenant came from. On the other hand, if the “it” is the priesthood, then I’d want to solve the difficulty by pointing out the really general sense of “delivered unto men.” To me, that means something like “delivered unto mankind,” in this case the believers. It’s the same sense in which we can say “the Mormon church has the priesthood” without meaning that every single member is a priest.

    But since you got me looking at the JST, I’m really intrigued by v. 30. To me, the “for” sounds like it’s trying to explain what the covenant with Enoch amounted to, and it’s referring back to the promise in Moses 6:34 that he’ll be able to move mountains and rivers. That’s a little odd, since the only time the word “covenant” appears in conjunction with Enoch is when it’s referring to God’s promise to spare Noah and his family (Moses 7:51; 8:2). Why does JST Gen 14:30 see this as the covenant instead? Especially since it adds this priesthood context, which is not at all on display in Moses 6…

    Finally, in light of your post, I’m intrigued at Alma 13:17-18. Verse 17 describes the extreme wickedness of the people, and verse 18 says that Melchizedek established peace and repentance. But the beginning of v. 18 talks about his priesthood, implying that he was able to help turn things from such extreme wickedness to such extreme righteousness because of his priesthood. It’s what mediates these two extremes; it’s the hinge on which they swing. So I’m curious about that. But I need to think through my question a bit more before I can express the stakes I see in it…

    Anyway. Thanks for the post, Karen! It’s awesome!

  2. This is exactly what I was going for:

    But the beginning of v. 18 talks about his priesthood, implying that he was able to help turn things from such extreme wickedness to such extreme righteousness because of his priesthood. It’s what mediates these two extremes; it’s the hinge on which they swing.

    This is just what I think Alma is trying to imply here. Anyone can talk, so these priests have got to be doing something a bit more than just mere communication. So I think you are right, priesthood is crucial to preaching in such a way that a city or people can change. And I think that v. 18 actually sets up that by its very sentence structure. V. 18 says “Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith and received…priesthood,” he “did preach.” The tenses of the verbs in that verse make it sound like his faith and ordination were primary, both in that they were chronologically first, and in that they were a prerequisite to his preaching.

  3. So moving backwards through your comments Kim, I was thinking about your point that Enoch’s “covenant” in the JST is different than Enoch’s “covenant” in Moses. They could be reconciled, in that Enoch’s city needs another such city to be built in the latter-days, so that heaven and earth, Zion and Zion, can be brought back together. Also, this promise of power to move mountains etc was given to Enoch and his seed. If we put these two together, then promising that Noah would survive amounts to promising that there will be someone left with the priesthood that can keep passing on the priesthood and the message to preach and build Zion. So the two could be reconciled in that way.

    It sounds similar to the promises Nephi, Jacob, and Enos seek from God, that if their people are destroyed there will be a book, a sort of remnant, that will cause a restoration of Lehi’s family in the last day.

  4. As a third reply, I’m now looking at the “it” you pointed out in verse 29 of the JST. I hadn’t noticed that difficulty at all and I’m glad you brought it up!

    The way I’m reading it is that the order of the covenant with Enoch is under or after the Order the Son of God, and here’s how I see that developing: I see the Order of the Son as something given to Adam and passed down father to son until Enoch. At Enoch’s reception, and because of his vision, God also promises that anyone coming up to this order of the priesthood will also have miraculous powers. From that point on perhaps, then, “every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas….” It sounds to me like those of the order of the covenant made to Enoch will be high priests with these powers, whereas before Enoch, those of the Order of the Son were a high priests without the express promise of these powers. (They may still have had them, but it wasn’t necessarily promised to them.)

    So the “it” in verse 29 would be the “order of the covenant which God made with Enoch.”

    To talk about the question I raised, I’m fine with reading “delivered unto men” in a general sense, but how do you read the last part of the verse: “unto as many as believed on his name”? I’m not saying there’s not a way around it, I just can’t see one right now.

    Thanks Kim for all your responses!

    • “Unto as many as believed on his name” I would read as referring to something like ‘the community of believers.’ The priesthood is among those who believe.

    • Now that I have a few more seconds to clarify…

      I don’t actually have a horse in the race at all. I’m fine with any interpretation we want to give, and looking more closely at JST Genesis 14 is showing me just how many we might suggest. 🙂

  5. I think if there’s any lingering question from this discussion that we might want to talk about before moving on, it’s why the priesthood allowed Melchizedek to change and sanctify a whole people. How does the Priesthood enable this work? Why is it necessary? Kim you said you wanted some time to think about your question. Do you have any other thoughts to bring up before we leave Alma 13?

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