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Cover image: Melchizedek Blesses Abram by Walter Rane.
To read Ted Gibbons’ companion piece on the Aaronic Priesthood, click here.
The day was Sunday, March 7, 1965. I was a little less than a week from my nineteenth birthday when a member of my Stake Presidency walked into my priesthood quorum meeting and told me that he was there to ordain me an Elder. My mission call had come in February with the announcement that I would serve two years in the Brazilian Mission. I knew that my ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood could not be far away. My date for reporting to the Missionary Home in Salt Lake was Monday, April 5th.
Even so, the arrival of President Morris in my quorum meeting was unexpected. No one had alerted me. I had no indication of the date or circumstances of that ordination.
President Morris and I walked together to the room where the Elders were meeting. I sat in a chair, and he conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon me and ordained me an elder.
There were no drum rolls. No choirs sang the Hallelujah Chorus. No one gave a speech. The event was simple and uncomplicated, and when it was over, President Morris departed and the instructor continued with his lesson. And yet that experience was as significant in my life as almost anything that happened in the previous 19 years.
I became, during a quiet moment in a basement room of the old Seventh and Thirteenth ward building in Logan, Utah, a bearer of the Melchizedek Priesthood. I did not understand. I suppose that few of us who have had those conferring hands placed upon our heads have had a clear understanding of the meaning of such a calling.
Alma tried to teach that meaning to (of all people) the people of Ammonihah. I have often wondered why the sublime message of Alma 13 should have been given to people as debased and corrupt as the Ammonihahites. Perhaps it was Alma’s intent to clarify the difference between the Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God and the blind and bitter operations of the Order of Nehor. Alma 15:15 tells us that “the people that were in the land of Ammonihah . . . were after the profession of Nehor” and Alma 14:16 and 18 inform us the judge of Ammonihah “was after the order and faith of Nehor.” and that “the lawyers, and judges, and priests, and teachers . . . were of the profession of Nehor.”
Nehor taught the Nephites that every priest and teacher “ought to become popular,” (Alma 1:3) that is, they ought to be selected (not sustained) by the voice of the people—by a popular vote!
Alma taught these degenerate and unholy people that men who receive the Melchizedek Priesthood come to that honor after being “called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order . . .” (Alma 13:8).
There is a difference between the ballot box and the uplifted hand, but there is a more significant difference between winning the popular vote and being called by a holy calling and a holy ordinance to a holy order. Perhaps that is one of the important lessons Alma wanted to convey; the word holy is used fifteen times in this chapter to communicate the correct and expected attitudes of those who possess this priesthood.
In addition, Alma also explains what holders of this priesthood are expected to do, and he focuses on two important activities.
The first is to teach. Melchizedek Priesthood holders are to be teachers. “The Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people” (Alma 13:1). Melchizedek Priesthood holders are expected to be ready at any moment to bear testimony and witness of the atonement and the gospel.
The second thing Alma identifies as a proper activity for those who hold the higher priesthood is to be examples of Christ-like living, which the leaders of Ammonihah certainly were not. “And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption” (Alma 13:2). “Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (Alma 13:12).
A great description of what it means to be such an example appears in Alma 14. Alma and Amulek were arrested and forced to watch the fiery martyrdom of the women and children who had believed in their teachings (see Alma 14:8). The men who believed were stoned and driven out of the city (see Alma 14:7; 15:1).
The time these two spent as prisoners teaches a wonderful lesson about what it means to be an example of righteousness and obedience: that is, to be holy. These were men who possessed great power, but who intended to use that power only in the way the Lord instructed: “And they had power given unto them, insomuch that they could not be confined in dungeons; neither was it possible that any man could slay them; nevertheless they did not exercise their power until they were bound in bands and cast into prison. Now, this was done that the Lord might show forth his power in them” (Alma 8:31).
Alma and Amulek stood bound by the fire pit as the innocents and the scriptures were burned. Then the chief judge came before them. “Now it came to pass that when the bodies of those who had been cast into the fire were consumed, and also the records which were cast in with them, the chief judge of the land came and stood before Alma and Amulek, as they were bound; and he smote them with his hand upon their cheeks, and said unto them: After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?” (Alma 14:14).
Then he began to mock them about their lack of power. “Behold, ye see that ye had not power to save those who had been cast into the fire; neither has God saved them because they were of thy faith. And the judge smote them again upon their cheeks” (Alma 14:15). Of course they had power, but they waited on the will of the Lord to use it.
This cycle of abuse and ridicule continued for many days (see Alma 14:23) when they were cast into prison following the martyrdom of those innocent mothers and children. Day after day these awful men came to the prison with this question: “If ye have such great power why do ye not deliver yourselves?” (Alma 14:20).
After repeated episodes of beatings and ridicule and observations about the obvious lack of power in these two men, the city leaders came a final time to the prison: “If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words” (Alma 14:24).
How many days they were confined we do not know, but the mistreatment ended on “on the twelfth day, in the tenth month, in the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi” (Alma 14:23). Alma arrived in Ammonihah for the second time and found Amulek on “the fourth day of this seventh month, which is the tenth year of the reign of the judges” (Alma 10:6). Thus we can conclude that Alma spent at least three months and five days in Ammonihah with Amulek. Part of that time was spent preparing Amulek (See Alma 8:27), and some days teaching the people. The rest of the time was spent in prison.
Mormon’s edited account of the time these Melchizedek Priesthood holders were incarcerated tells us it was many days. It must have seemed much longer: ”Thus they did mock them for many days. And they did withhold food from them that they might hunger, and water that they might thirst; and they also did take from them their clothes that they were naked; and thus they were bound with strong cords, and confined in prison” (Alma 14:22).
Just how many times the heartless leaders of Ammonihah came to the prison to challenge the power of these men and to knock them around, we are not told. But until the 12th day of the tenth month of the tenth year, their response was always the same: “And it came to pass that Alma and Amulek answered… nothing” (Alma 14:17,18). But their silence did not seem to discourage the rulers of the city. “And thus they did mock them for many days (Alma 14:22).
It was on the twelfth day of the tenth month mentioned above. “And the chief judge stood before them, and smote them again, and said unto them: If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words” (Alma 14:24). “And it came to pass that they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last; and when the last had spoken unto them the power of God was upon Alma and Amulek, and they rose and stood upon their feet” (Alma 14:25). The physical abuse had put them on the floor. That the beatings had knocked these two to the ground is irrefutable evidence of the viciousness of the treatment they were receiving .At this moment the Lord whispered to Alma, “That is enough!”
Alma prayed: “How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound” (Alma 14:26).
I would love to have a movie of the faces of these awful men at that moment. Unable to comprehend men who had power but would not use it, their mistreatment of these missionaries continued through days and weeks. How they must have hated Alma and his companion (they certainly did not treat all their prisoners this way) as they beat Alma and Amulek day after day and convinced themselves that the warnings of death and destruction they had given need not be taken seriously.
Alma and Amulek had suffered continuous abuse and scorn for many days, but had borne it all patiently in order to obey God and to show forth a good example to any who might see them or hear of their circumstances. But now the time for submission had passed.
When these two men stood up and broke the ropes that bound them (see Alma 14:25) it terrified the city leaders. “So great was their fear that they fell to the earth, and did not obtain the outer door of the prison; and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof” (Alma 14:27).
Imagine these events from the perspective of a family in the city who had just settled down for breakfast when a terrible shaking spilled their milk and cereal in every direction. They raced to the door and saw, where the prison used to stand, a great swirling cloud of dust and debris, and they saw two men walking from the destruction into the city wearing . . . nothing.
“Now the people having heard a great noise came running together by multitudes to know the cause of it; and when they saw Alma and Amulek coming forth out of the prison, and the walls thereof had fallen to the earth, they were struck with great fear, and fled from the presence of Alma and Amulek even as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions; and thus they did flee from the presence of Alma and Amulek” (Alma 14:29).
This chapter, together with chapter 13, contain a remarkable essay on the meaning of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Here are men who bore powerful testimony to really wicked people, calling them to repentance, and then suffered in silence while they waited to see if there would be a change. For some there was a change. We are informed that “many of them did believe on his words, and began to repent, and to search the scriptures” (Alma 14:1). These are the ones that were burned or driven out. Thus, when only the fully ripe remained in the city, we were invited to see a different facet of the power of this priesthood as the bands broke and the walls fell and the ruthless, perverted, and decadent leaders of Ammonihah died in a collapse of wood and stone and hope.
Jacob had access to this priesthood power as well. “Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, 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 4:6). The Brother of Jared commanded Mount Zerin to move and it moved.
Enoch had this power: poor, young, hated, and slow-speaking Enoch was called to cry repentance to God’s children. They were not all receptive. “And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.
There also came up a land out of the depth of the sea, and so great was the fear of the enemies of the people of God, that they fled and stood afar off and went upon the land which came up out of the depth of the sea” (Moses 7:13,14).
Modern-day examples are more common that we might think. I remember a period of weeks in a branch of devoted members in Brazil, a branch that would soon become a ward in the first stake in South America, when a contagious illness swept among the members. The four elders in that city were invited multiple times almost every day to give blessings. We made our way from home to home and everyone who was blessed was healed. We knew they would be. They knew they would be. In a heavenly dispensation of divine power, we missionaries were permitted to participate in a sweet demonstration of the love and power of God through his servants.
Consider the priesthood power of Enoch. The following text comes from the Joseph Smith Translation Appendix to the Bible, in Genesis 14:30, 31: “For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order [the Melchizedek Priesthood] 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 [including the power of disease]; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world”.
This oath of God was sworn “unto Enoch and his seed.” Enoch had a son named Methuselah who was not translated with the City of Enoch (see Moses 8;2). Methuselah had a son named Lamech, and Lamech had a son named Noah, who built an ark.
Since every person on this planet can trace his genealogy back to Noah, we realize we are all the seed of Enoch. The oath of God in Genesis 14:30,31, JST, is as much for those of us now who have been called with a holy calling and a holy ordinance to a holy order as it was for Enoch and his children.
In a previous article called “The Underestimated Power of the Aaronic Priesthood,” I used an edited version of the following quote from Brigham Young. If it applies to those who hold the lesser priesthood, with all of its powers and potential, how much more must it apply to those of us called to The Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God? “There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God’s people, he may have the Spirit of the Lord to signify to him his will, and to guide and to direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. and arr. by John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973, p. 32; emphasis added).
As a final observation, let us be clear that the Melchizedek Priesthood is not just about teaching and patience and power. There are other major purposes of this priesthood in its work among the children of God: Holders of this power and priesthood are to bless and to preside and to exalt. “The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 107:18-19).
I was not aware of much of this as I sat in that chair over fifty-two years ago and felt the hands on my head. But as I attended a quorum meeting of the High Priests of our stake last Sunday, I was instructed by the Stake President and by the gentle whisperings of the Spirit. I realized how little comprehension I had of the kind of goodness and power possessed by those two hundred men in that room and a multitude of others throughout the world. We have an endowment of power beyond the language of the greatest writers on earth to articulate. The Lord described it this way:
“And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live” (D&C 84:19-22).