BOMB*: A Voice to Shake the Earth

A lot of water passed under the bridge between Alma the Younger’s dramatic conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a young man and his exclamation of desire to speak with the same voice of an angel that had shaken him to his very core those decades earlier.

After the horrors of Ammonihah and other missionary tribulations, Alma declared his desire to speak with the voice of an angel:

1 O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
2 Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth. Alma 29:1-2

This would be merely poetic from most writers but opens an extra dimension of meaning coming from Alma who speaks from experience when invoking the power of the voice of an angel to shake the earth in declaring repentance. His own conversion stems from being party to such a powerful message. Alma’s experience is recorded in detail twice in the Book of Mormon, once in Mosiah 27 by Mormon as the compiler and editor of the plates and then again in Alma 36 by Alma himself in a letter to his son. Each retelling offers insight into this particular aspect of the angel declaring repentance with a “voice of thunder” to “shake the earth”.

In Mosiah 27:8-18 Mormon describes the experience as follows, apparently quoting from a primary source in some instances, e.g. for the words of the angel:

8 Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.
9 And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.
10 And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king—
11 And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;
12 And so great was their astonishment, that they fell to the earth, and understood not the words which he spake unto them.
13 Nevertheless he cried again, saying: Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people.
14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.
15 And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
16 Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.
17 And now it came to pass that these were the last words which the angel spake unto Alma, and he departed.
18 And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.

In verse 15 we find the salient point, expressed by the angel himself, that Mormon likely hoped to express by emphasizing that the angel spoke with a voice of thunder that shook the earth: “And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.” A powerful testimony of repentance indeed.

Later Mormon saw fit to include Alma’s own first-hand account of the encounter with the angel by copying the entire text of Alma’s letter to his son Helaman in Alma 36 and 37:

6 For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to adestroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.
7 And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us.
8 But behold, the voice said unto me: Arise. And I arose and stood up, and beheld the angel.
9 And he said unto me: If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God.
10 And it came to pass that I fell to the earth; and it was for the space of three days and three nights that I could not open my mouth, neither had I the use of my limbs.
11 And the angel spake more things unto me, which were heard by my brethren, but I did not hear them; for when I heard the words—If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of God—I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more. (Alma 36:6-11)

It is no wonder that, after so many difficulties in preaching the Gospel over the decades between his conversion at the thunderous voice of the angel and his musings in Alma 29, Alma wished that he too could speak with that angel’s voice.

But Alma does not stop his contemplations with such a wish to shock his hearers as with the thunderous voice of an angel. Rather, he explains what the angel’s voice meant to him substantively once the shock and awe had gotten his attention: it rescued him from the spiritual bondage of his old ways. This liberation was so much on his mind after his experience with the angel that he included it in many of his sermons thereafter as a major theme of his ministry. Mormon points it out in Mosiah 27, quoting Alma the Younger there as follows:

29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.
30 I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all. (Mosiah 27:29-30)

Alma’s meditation on speaking with the voice of an angel in Alma 29 also leads to this theme of remembering his liberation from spiritual bondage — and God’s liberation of his fathers from physical bondage:

10 And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.
11 Yea, and I also remember the captivity of my fathers; for I surely do know that the Lord did deliver them out of bondage, and by this did establish his church; yea, the Lord God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did deliver them out of bondage.
12 Yea, I have always remembered the captivity of my fathers; and that same God who delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians did deliver them out of bondage. (Alma 29:10-12

And, after retelling his experience with the thunderous voice of the angel and pointing out the importance of remembering the hand of the Lord in freeing those who follow him from captivity in his later letter to his son Helaman, Alma the Younger brings it down to a very practical level in words that explain the mechanics of preaching with the voice of an angel:

26 For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God.
27 And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.
28 And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory; yea, and I will praise him forever, for he has brought our fathers out of Egypt, and he has swallowed up the Egyptians in the Red Sea; and he led them by his power into the promised land; yea, and he has delivered them out of bondage and captivity from time to time.
29 Yea, and he has also brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem; and he has also, by his everlasting power, delivered them out of bondage and captivity, from time to time even down to the present day; and I have always retained in remembrance their captivity; yea, and ye also ought to retain in remembrance, as I have done, their captivity.
30 But behold, my son, this is not all; for ye ought to know as I do know, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and ye ought to know also, that inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence. Now this is according to his word. (Alma 36:26-30)

Conveniently for Mormon as an editor of a book of scripture, Alma rounds out his account of his conversion at the voice of an angel with what is effectively the thesis statement of the Book of Mormon: inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and ye ought to know also, that inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence.
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*Book of Mormon Blogging

2 Responses to BOMB*: A Voice to Shake the Earth

  1. Steve Evans says:

    Unfortunate timing on the post title: see here.

  2. A good post, though. (you got listed on the word press home page with that title!)

    Alma 29:1-2 is the theme of one of my favorite vocal solos. Such a beautiful piece of music. These verses were chosen as my mission scripture, and to me Alma’s declaration is always the verse I hear when I see an angel Moroni atop our temples. There is so much longing in his desire to spread the gospel quickly. he acknowledges that it is sinful to be impatient with people, and we have to let them progress at their own rate, but once in awhile you would just like to give them a good shaking!

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