Ancient Records by James Fullmer

Towards the end of the book of Alma (starting in Alma 36), Alma (the younger) documented his final counsel to his sons.  While it’s worth reviewing everything that Alma wrote, there is a connection that I’d like to make as I’ve been thinking about the responsibility we have as parents and/or leaders of the youth these days.  

In Alma 37:1 Alma commands his oldest son Helaman to “take the records which have been entrusted with me”.  Then he also commands Helaman to “keep a record of this people (according as I have done)” and then lastly he says “keep all these things sacred which I have kept, even as I have kept them for it is for a wise purpose that they are kept.”

  1. Take the records
  2. Keep a record (as I have done)
  3. Keep all these things sacred (even as I have kept them)

Alma then spends verses 3-9 highlighting why and how the records are so important, and some of the power that they hold, including the fact that the records are responsible for so many thousands of conversions among the people of Ammon.  Following that, in verses 10-12,  Alma writes about how future generations will also be converted, likely in ways which we can’t imagine – by Helaman obeying these commandments to take and keep these (records) and the commandments that he’d just been given1.  

Then, in verse 14 he says “God has entrusted you with these things”, which is similar to what Lehi told Nephi when he relayed the message to his sons to go back to Jerusalem and get the brass plates.  Alma, is emphasizing to Helaman that he (Alma) is just the messenger, and that any of these commandments aren’t Alma’s – they are God’s.  But then Alma adds an interesting note as he continues, he says “God has entrusted you with these things, which are sacred, which he has kept sacred, and also which he will keep and preserve for a wise purpose in him, that he may show forth his power unto future generations.”   Here, Alma is telling Helaman that God himself has kept these records sacred, and that he will continue to do so.  Just to recap, as it relates to these records, Alma says that God himself has:

  1. Kept them sacred

And God himself will:

  1. Keep them sacred
  2. Preserve them

And he (God) will do this “for a wise purpose in him, that he may show forth his power unto future generations”.  In other words, we don’t really know or need to know the details of the future benefits that will occur by keeping and preserving these records, other than God thinks it’s wise and it will display his power somehow unto future generations.  

This little exchange creates some questions for us to ponder.

  1. Why is it necessary for Helaman to take the records, keep the records, and keep/consider them sacred (even as Alma has done) if God has already been doing and will continue to do that, and he will preserve them anyway?
  2. Why would the Lord (through Alma) give this reminder to Helaman that God has entrusted him (Helaman) with these things (given number 1 above)?
  3. How do the first two questions, and how we’ve answered them help us think about and identify the “wise purposes” that the Lord may be referring to in that same verse.
  4. What is the difference between taking the records, and keeping the records (since Alma used them separately and in that order), and with that in mind, what does it mean to keep them sacred (since that was a different charge altogether), and lastly what does it mean for the Lord to preserve them (is/can that be different than how we preserve them? 

To make sure Helaman really understands what is at stake here, after Alma gives Helaman his charge to take care of the records he clearly outlines (in verse 15) the consequence for not keeping these things sacred, or not keeping the commandments which he’s just given him. Alma says “that if ye transgress the commandments of God, behold, these things which are sacred shall be taken away from you by the power of God, and ye shall be delivered up unto Satan, that he may sift you as chaff before the wind.”  Yikes. No pressure right?

However, despite the necessary warning, the good consequences of obeying commandments outweigh the bad (as always), and Alma says in verse 16 “if ye keep the commandments, and do with these things (which are sacred) according to that which the Lord doth command you… behold, no power of earth or hell can take them from you, for God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words.”  And just in case we missed that, Alma repeats himself twice more in verse 17 and reminds us that God will preserve them for a wise purpose again just to be safe.  

I would like to point out that there is a very similar promise made to Joseph Smith as he came into possession of some of these records (much later than Helaman did) and is proof that God was still preserving and keeping up his end of the bargain).  It comes from JSH 1:59-60 (which happens to be a footnote in verse 16).  The promise is in verse 59 and the reason for the promise is just as important (outlined in verse 60).  Verse 59 (the promise) reads “ the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me with this charge: that I should be responsible for them; that if I should let them go carelessly, or through any neglect of mine, I should be cut off; but that if I would use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he, the messenger, should call for them, they should be protected.”

With this (these) promises in mind, I’d like to include verse 60 of the Joseph Smith History to give us an idea of why the Lord needed to make a promise to preserve them.  Verse 60 reads “I soon found out the reason why I had received such strict charges to keep them safe, and why it was that the messenger had said that when I had done what was required at my hand, he would call for them. For no sooner was it known that I had them, than the most strenuous exertions were used to get them from me. Every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to for that purpose. The persecution became more bitter and severe than before, and multitudes were on the alert continually to get them from me if possible. But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand. When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day…” 

This statement basically gives Helaman an absolutely foolproof promise that if he 1) takes the records, 2) keeps a record, and 3) keeps them sacred, that not only will there be no power in earth or hell that can take them from him, they will be used by the Lord to show forth his power unto future generations.  What an awesome promise for Helaman right?     

Now, let’s review something King Benjamin said much earlier (in a very similar circumstance).  In Mosiah 1 he (King Benjamin) is talking to his sons and says “I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them…”

I love the phrase these things. I envision Mosiah in his home with his kids (during FHE or Come Follow Me) taking such care of his records and I can see him and his face and his love for the records when he says “these things”.  It’s a phrase that can somehow incorporate years and years of diligent study and care and respect and gratitude that his kids can feel. I think the BoM video also had a flashback that was really good regarding King Benjamin) that sort of fits this idea. 

I also love the phrase “they know nothing concerning these things” because it’s the exact opposite of his love and care for these (same) things.  Here we have Mosiah who is one of the best of the best, a king who serves and teaches truth and righteousness changing the world by changing how his kids feel about small and simple things in a non grandiose, intimate family setting – letting them know in clear terms that not everyone will value them, when he says (referring to the Lamanites) “they know nothing concerning these things”.  I’ve written about the literal and truthful use of the word all in Alma 30:44 and Moses 6:63 (all things testify of him, etc.) so when Mosiah uses nothing – I take it literally as well.  They know absolutely nothing about how powerful and layered and deep and important these records are. They will miss out on literally the greatest treasure this earth has to offer (and they’ll likely be smug and sarcastic and hateful about it all your life) because “the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14) and “their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not”. (2 Ne. 9:28).

So, now that we’ve reviewed what Alma’s charge to Helaman was (regarding the records) and how that was so similar to King Benjamin’s, let’s ask ourselves what this has to do with our stewardships as parents or as leaders in today’s world and more specifically, what this has to do with our youth and our charge to assist the rising generation to seek revelation, exercise agency, build relationships, and follow the Savior in all areas of their lives.

We can review the same questions above, but ask ourselves what ‘records’ we could have charge over (our own children, quorums, classes, families, responsibilities, etc.), and what ‘sacred things’ we should revere. And, maybe most important of all, can this same idea give us a similarly foolproof promise that if we 1) take the records, 2) keep a record, and 3) keep them sacred, there be no power in earth or hell that can take them from us, and that they will be used by the Lord to show forth his power unto future generations?

I don’t have the answers, but I do love the questions, and I can promise that as you ask yourself these questions, and as you ponder what ‘records’ you have charge over, and how you should be taking them, keeping a(n additional) record of them, and keeping them sacred, you will start to get answers for not only what it means, but why the Lord charged Alma with commanding Helaman to do it (like he has done repeatedly in the Book of Mormon) and how that relates to the same tasks that the Lord is doing (keeping and preserving).  


1 – Reference/Summary of Mosiah 18:30 and the 2 references (Alma 37:9 and 37:10) that Alma uses to take the reader (and Helaman) back to where Alma’s father Alma is fresh off his own repentance and conversion and is teaching the people in the land of Mormon, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, etc. with the point that this phrase is a key to us understanding why the Book of Mormon is named that (and I don’t think it has to do with it’s author/compiler) – he just happened to be named after the same place (which could also explain why he was the perfect choice for that job – and someone who understood the Book’s true purpose, which is to “bring people to the knowledge of their Redeemer”.     

In both verse 9 and in verse 10, Alma references that the word, or the record will bring them (future generations) “to the knowledge of their Redeemer”.  This is a phrase that likely gets overlooked by many, but is a reference back to Mosiah 18:30 – and when we make that connection (what that phrase means, where it took place, and what that place and name means, and who wrote this letter, who recorded this letter, who compiled the book that contains this letter, and where his name came from), you start to realize just how much depth the scriptures have, and really even just this one letter to Helaman.  Then, you connect Alma 36:1, 3, and Alma 37:13 and the use of ‘prosper’ and you start to realize that Alma is giving a sermon here.  Something like what we could consider a patriarchal blessing, which Helaman could have gone back to over and over and over again in order to glean wisdom from.  We (as readers of the Book of Mormon) can do the same thing, because Alma didn’t take the time to explain to Helaman what these references were, nor did he even identify that they were important references at all.  They are hidden gems for future readers to find, which help us appreciate Alma and his knowledge and his heavy use of the scriptures in this blessing to Helaman.