Patterns of 4 in Alma’s sermon to the Zoramites (Alma 32-33)

Jul 23, 2020
4 min read

In a Come Follow Me study session with my family, we pointed out the four aspects of what planting the word/seed would do and how the first letter of each aspect formed the word S-E-E-D.

Most people are aware of this, it is a fun little thing to point out and is helpful in remembering what the good word does within us.

When we were reading about what we should believe concerning the Son of God, I noticed another pattern of four. This immediately brought to mind other patterns in the text. As I lay in bed that night, I started thinking about what would happen if I found multiple sets of four and what that could mean. I thought of some ideas to explore and pursued this line of thought the next day.

I wasn’t disappointed with what I found. There are a variety of patterns at play, but I want to focus on the patterns of 4 which are the most prevalent.

From verses 8-16 we have the word blessed occurring 8 times and 8 is a multiple of 4 which could have some significance. When you double a number (2) you have meanings such as creation, covenants, and witnesses as potential meanings.

The first pattern of four in Alma’s sermon has to do with the phrase perfect knowledge of which there are only four mentions that form a chiasm that could potentially be a lot more complex but you’ll find the middle two mentions of perfect knowledge frame the word perfection which occurs only once in the sermon.

a – perfect knowledge (21)
    b – perfect knowledge (26)
        c – perfection (26)
    b – perfect knowledge (26)
a – perfect knowledge (29)

There are 4 things that Alma asks the people to do:

  1. awake and arouse your faculties
  2. experiment upon my words
  3. exercise a particle of faith
  4. even if ye can no more than desire to believe

The phrase good seed is mentioned only 4 times in the sermon.

As already mentioned, there are 4 things the word will do when planted if it is a good seed in verse 28:

  1. Swell within your breasts
  2. Enlarge my soul
  3. Enlighten my understanding
  4. [beginneth to be] Delicious to me

There are 4 mentions of the word sprouteth as part of these phrases:

  1. swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow (30)
  2. swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow (30)
  3. sprouteth and beginneth to grow (30)
  4. swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow (33)

In verse 42 there are 4 things that the fruit is:

  1. is most precious
  2. is sweet above all that is sweet
  3. is white above all that is white
  4. pure above all that is pure

In the same verse there are 4 interactions with the fruit:

  1. feast
  2. until ye are filled
  3. that ye hunger not
  4. neither shall ye thirst

There are four witnesses of the Son of God in Alma’s sermon:

  • Zenos
  • Zenock
  • Moses
  • Alma himself

In Alma ch.33, in Zenos’ words, the phrase “O God” is mentioned 4 times as is the word “heard” and the phrase “hear me” along with 8 circumstances (4 x 2) in which God hears us:

  1. in the wilderness (4)
  2. praying for enemies (4)
  3. in the field (5)
  4. in the house (6)
  5. in the closet (7)
  6. in congregations (9)
  7. when cast out (10)
  8. because of afflictions (11)

In Alma 33:22, there are four things about Jesus that we should believe:

  1. that he will come to redeem his people
  2. that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins
  3. that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection
  4. that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works

In the last verse (23) Alma has four expectations for his audience, 2 that they should do with the word, plant and nourish, and 2 things that should happen to the word as a result, it will swell and become a tree of everlasting life.

  1. plant this word in your hearts
  2. it beginneth to swell
  3. nourish it by your faith
  4. it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life

The fact that we have so many sets of 4 could mean a number of things. The number 4 has many potential meanings, and based on the context of the sermon I think that the focus could possibly be the earth or ground.

Right about in the middle of the sermon, which may or may not be the crux of a large chiasm, are the words:

Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.

Alma 32:39

This is the only time the word “ground” appears in the sermon but it is significant because the ground is where the seed must be planted. In Alma 32:28, Alma says, “Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart…”

Just like Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the heart is the soil in which the word must grow. This is why I think the possible multiples of 4 are drawing attention to the archetype of earth and soil, which is appropriate where the narrative is so strongly structured around planting and nourishing a seed.

These are just some of the things I have found thus far. As I go, I may add more to this post but for now, I think this is a good starting point to explore some of the intricate complexities of Alma’s sermon.

If any readers notice any other patterns continue the discussion in the comments below and share what you find. I think there is a treasure trove of patterns in this sermon.

2 Comments

  1. Just a thought but the fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet is daleth. Physical representation is a door. Christ states in John 10:7 that He is the door. Alma could just be using pattern of 4 as a reference to Christ for added significance.

    • Excellent point. I did some additional research and found that Dalet also “represents lowliness and the consciousness of possessing nothing of one’s own.” (https://hebrew4christians.com/Grammar/Unit_One/Aleph-Bet/Dalet/dalet.html)

      Alma was speaking to the poor so perhaps these references to 4 highlighted the state of his audience as well.

      The reference above continues, “As a door Dalet also symbolically represents the choice to open ourselves to the hope of our dreams or to remain closed off and alienated.”

      Perfect fit. Thanks for your comment!

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