Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blessing by Sevens: The Covenantal Revelation of Alma

The fullness of Blessing, brim with joy, powerfully overflows in the revelation given to Alma the Elder. Alma and the members of the Church of God are told seven times in the first five verses that they are blessed: blessed art thou, and blessed are they, thou art blessed, and blessed are they, and blessed art thou, blessed is this people, thou art blessed. As Psalms 119:164 intones: "Seven times a day do I praise Thee" (see Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, 93).

After the seventh blessing, given to Alma precisely, and touchingly, because he "poured out his whole soul" for "the transgressor," Alma receives the covenant of eternal life: Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life (26:20; see also verses 14 and 19). Why should it not be so? for Alma now becomes a type and shadow of the Christ, who "poured out his soul unto death; and he was numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53 and Mosiah 14:12). Man's incalculable transgression thus finds at-one-ment in the perfect numbering of Christ, what Elder Neal A. Maxwell often referred to in Lincoln's sad, expiatory terms as the " 'awful arithmetic' of the atonement."

Although the revelation continues another 13 verses, the word blessed never appears again (Mosiah 26:15-32). As countless readers of the Book of Mormon have doubtless noticed (and the book's constant and discerning readership is countless), the seven expressions of blessedness answer to the seven days which complete the creation in divine rest, and thus also to seven as the number of perfection and fullness (an idea common throughout the Ancient Near East).

Because seven also becomes the number of oaths (in Hebrew oath and seven are akin), we can see why the covenant or oath of eternal life comes to Alma after the sevenfold, perfect repetition of the blessing. The nature or name of God himself can be expressed in the number (as Cyrus Gordon suggests). The Hebrew name Elizabeth can, suggests Gordon, be understood in two ways: El + i (My God) zabeth (swears, makes oath), meaning: It is my God who swears (that blessings shall be granted); or as El + i + zabeth (My God is the one who is Seven, that is, Perfect; or who makes sevens = makes an oath).

The word name, here meaning the name of Jesus Christ, receives emphasis in the revelation (five times), e.g., "Yea, blessed is this people (the sixth blessing) who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine." Again: "thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name."

The full weight of blessing, cascading upon the head of Alma, her founding high priest, finds continuance in the Nephite church. It is Alma's covenant that makes possible the mediation of a fullness of blessing, in my name, to his people. And so it is with Joseph Smith.

As with the prayer of Alma the Elder at the baptism of Helam, as with the sacrament prayers found in Moroni, the revelation to Alma comes to us as a complete and perfect Book of Mormon gem.

Notes: Compare the Seven Prayers in Judaism: Seven times a day do I praise thee.

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