I’m interested on why on earth Alma talks about tithing in verse 15. Is it just to talk about how Abraham (a marker of time for the Nephites) relates to Melchizedek? Does the talk of Abraham paying tithes Melchizedek function something like the discussion in Hebrews 7:4, again setting up a relationship (“Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils”)? Is there actually a reason to bring it up, and even to define it (“yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed”)? Some, trying to wrestle with verse 16, have wondered if tithing was an “ordinance” which was given after a “manner” so that people “looked forward on the Son of God,” and that somehow tithing was a part of the Holy Order of God? At first I would have ruled out the last one, but right now all of the above seem viable options!
One option I want to explore this morning is that there really is a reason to bring up tithing specifically, right here, because it may actually really have a connection to the priesthood discussion in this chapter.
I want to draw some thoughts from the JST of Genesis 14. This is where Abraham (Abram) meets up with Melchizedek and pays these tithes, but we get lots more information about their meeting. I am not suggesting that Alma had what we had in our JST, since the connections between the JST and the brass plates have never been uncovered. Rather, I’m going to notice some patterns and themes in the JST that might open up some helpful possibilities while reading Alma 13. (Here is a link to the passage from the JST.)
In the following commentary, I’m going to be looking at both how the JST contains patterns and language similar to Alma 13, and how the details and themes of the JST might shed light on what is going on in Alma 13. The more similar the language and patterns are to Alma 13, the easier I think it will be to use the JST themes to elucidate Alma 13.
“And Melchizedek lifted up his voice and blessed Abram.
Now Melchizedek was a man of faith …
And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch”
This follows our reading that the first step in the “manner” of ordination for Alma is to have faith and choose righteousness, which allows God to call you out for a special work. The language of “high priest after the order” is similar to Alma 13, but here we get connections to Enoch that aren’t in Alma 13. I find the connection to Enoch very significant. It was Enoch who taught a wicked people enough to get them to repent, build up a city, fend off all their enemies, and be translated into Heaven. Being a high priest specifically “after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch” sounds like language we shouldn’t pass over too lightly. What covenant was given to Enoch? And why is Melchizedek connected with that covenant? At the least, it sounds like this high priestly assignment is connected specifically with the work Enoch did: teach and build a city. (Which is what we’ll find out Melchizedek did.) I’d like to know more about this covenant as well, 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.
It [the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch] 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
Alma 13 discusses “order” a dozen times, and Alma also clarifies that this order of the priesthood is really “after the order of His Son” (see verses 1, 2, 7, 9, and 16). Alma also clarifies that we should see the priesthood as ordained from the foundation of the world (perhaps) rather than a person being ordained from the foundation of the world (see verse 8: “which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end—”).
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.
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.
None of this is in Alma 13 of course, but it does shed light on the “covenant which God made with Enoch” mentioned earlier. God swore to Enoch, and to his seed, that every one being ordained after this order (“and calling”), would have this incredible power. To me it sounds like a way of describing the sealing power we attribute to Nephi (in the book of Helaman) and a few others. [In addition, Jacob never calls the power he has a “sealing” power, but he does say that, “and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea” (Jacob 4:7-8).] It also reminds me of how D&C 128:9 describes the sealing power:
Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?
The sealing power isn’t just sealing generations: it’s when a person on earth can declare something, and it is honored in heaven without any chance of it being annulled by man, mistake, time, etc. (Only another such declaration could change it.) It is a power that seals what is said on earth; or, it seals actions on earth and heaven; or, it approves words/actions in such a way that they have a seal or approval; or, as D&C 128 put it, “a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven.” Applying that to families is intensely powerful: someone on earth can declare this or that child to be a part of the Abrahamic Covenent, even if they weren’t literally born as such, and that declaration is honored in heaven!
So when we hear in the JST that God promised that everyone coming up to this order would have this power, how do we think about that? Were Enoch and Melchizedek different sorts of people, with a different sort of calling? Is this order here, which specifically includes Enoch’s name (“high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch”), different from what Alma is talking about in Alma 13? Or was is this power available to him, and high priests in his day, and is available to high priests in our day? (Or, at the least, to our presiding high priest?)
Is this what allows priests to become a “price of peace,” because they can use that power to defend their cities and end all wars around them? (See also D&C 45:67 and also v.70: “And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.”)
Anyway, lots to think about. But there may be reasons to just keep in mind that the JST describes Melchizedek as having these powers.
And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.
It’s certainly possible to read “entered into the rest of the Lord their God” of Alma 13:12 as equivalent to “translated and taken up into heaven.” But for now, I want to focus on how each passage describes the timing of the event, whether or not the events are the same thing. Both Alma 13 and this JST passage describe something happening as a result of their ordination, or, along with their ordination. I think Kim is right that the experience of being washed clean and entering into God’s rest in Alma 13:11-12 isn’t the same exact thing or at the same exact time as the priest’s ordination to this order of the priesthood. Similarly, I don’t get the sense that this JST passage is suggesting that all three elements of this sentence happened at the same time (faith, coming to this order, and translation). There seems to me to be a progression and sense of the passing of time. Men, over time, showed their faith. Then, they came to this order — that use of the word “coming” implies some amount of time, it seems. And then, after those things, at some point they were translated and taken to heaven. It seems like it would be impossible for these three things to happen simultaneously, since the point of being ordained a priest, especially with all those powers we’ve read about, is to do things on earth! To teach, to preach repentance, to build a city, to defend it miraculously, and to become a Prince of Peace.
Moving on now to the part more specifically about Abraham, we get these two verses which have a lot 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.
These two seem remarkably similar. Again I’m not taking guesses as to what Alma had on his brass plates, but I do want to note that they have at least 4 points in common: priest/priesthood of/according to this/the (holy) order, obtained/established peace, called the Prince of peace/called the price of peace, people wrought righteousness/they did repent. And if we add in the JST verse just previously analyzed, we have a fifth point: men having faith/having exercised mighty faith.
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.
This seems to be part of the covenant, given to Enoch: that the heavens and the earth should come together — that is, I think, that his city would return to the earth when another Zion city was built here again?
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 see why this might actually shed light on 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 he was not just any high priest, but a high priest like Enoch was, one who was also building a city. When Abraham pays tithes he is helping build that city, yet, strangely, he is not going to be a part of that city.
This distracts me to all sorts of questions I have about Abraham. Was he appointed to stay on earth, like Noah was after Enoch’s city left? (see Moses 7:42). Abraham is even compared to Noah in Abraham 1:19, though I’m not sure exactly what the connection is (“As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee.”) Was Abraham seeking to be someone who built up a city, but instead, was given the promise that he would be a father, rather than just a king? He will have lands for an “everlasting possession,” but his promised city is set in the future: “a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice” (Abr 2:6). In addition, his seed is assigned to teach the whole world in such a way that anyone and everyone can be a part of Abraham’s family (Abr. 2:9-11). While Abraham sought to be a “price of peace” (Abr. 1:2), he got (perhaps instead) the promise of being a father with a land that wouldn’t be a Zion city for many, many years.
This mention of wanting to be a “prince of peace” makes me again think of Melchizedek who was called a prince of peace. Was Melchizedek an example for him? Did Abraham go to him in order to receive his priesthood? Abraham says, “I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same,” and finally that “I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers” (Abr. 1:2). Could that be referring to this particular visit with Melchizedek? The last verse of the JST says that:
And it came to pass, that God blessed Abram, and gave unto him riches, and honor, and lands for an everlasting possession; according to the covenant which he had made, and according to the blessing wherewith Melchizedek had blessed him.
It doesn’t specifically mention priesthood or appointments to any specific calling, but it does mention a covenant, and also a blessing given my Melchizedek. There’s definitely room for speculation anyhow.
But to finish this post off, at the least it seems to be that Abraham gets these things in return for his tithing. He tithes “Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had … more than that which he had need.” Melchizedek is “the keeper of the storehouse,” and the one “God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.” And in return, Melchizedek, “being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God,” “lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram” with riches, honor, lands. It sounds more like consecration of Joseph Smith’s time: consecrate what you have, and you will be given a stewardship back!
And what does this have to do with Alma 13 and priesthood? I am fascinated that tithing, which at first appeared to have very little to do with the priesthood discussion in Alma 13, might be right at home here. A high priest such as Melchizedek doesn’t just teach the commandments, they are a price of peace. They establish a city. The receive tithes and distribute blessings. Whether or not verse 16 actually belongs where it is, I think that what is going on with Melchizedek and Abraham could actually be called “ordinances.” If I think of this meeting as not just a payment of tithes like we think of filling out a tithing slip, but rather, a moment of consecration where a stewardship is given, and this according to a blessing associated with a covenant, then yes I think I could call that an ordinance or an ordination! Even if Alma didn’t have what we know as the JST of Genesis 14, it might still be important to think of tithing as a moment of consecration, and that Melchizedek is the receiver as something that points out his role as high priest over a Zion city.
[Also, great article by John Welch at the Maxwell site. I’m not even half way through it, but it is very helpful! I just read the part where he traces the theological readings of Melchizedek in many different traditions. He ends that part by saying insightfully: “From this brief sampling of the literature, it is clear that people have said of Melchizedek primarily what their theologies required.” I think that statement is a rather important idea to keep in mind when studying any theological argument.]