The alienation of Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah from the beliefs and teachings of their fathers, and their “going about rebelling against God” (Mosiah 27:10–11) follows a pattern that has existed from the time of Adam until today. What is uncommon is that God sends an angel to turn the situation around. Though by no means infringing on the rebels’ free agency, the angel confronts them with the error of their ways and the consequences of their actions. At the same time, he demonstrates the power of God that backs up his heaven-sent mission (Mosiah 27:11–15).
Such direct divine intervention, though it doesn’t occur easily, nevertheless follows a scriptural pattern. Through his infinite wisdom and foreknowledge, God has intervened in the affairs of humanity at different times in order to correct a situation. But there are always other players involved, in this case Alma the Elder and his people. The angel told the estranged young man, “The Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith” (Mosiah 27:14).
The key to this formula for occasioning divine intervention is Alma the Elder’s praying “with much faith,” as distinct from his just praying. In that respect, the “power and authority of God,” of which the angel convinces Alma, doesn’t refer only to the power and authority God has to do these things, but to the power and authority of God Alma the Elder has when he prays for his son. It is possible to reach a point in one’s spiritual progression, as did Nephi the son of Helaman, when God fulfills every petition of his servant, making a person “mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works,” so that “all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will” (Helaman 10:5; cf. Isaiah 44:26).
Alma the Elder had received “power and authority from God” to minister to the Nephites and ordain men to the holy priesthood (Alma 5:3). He himself served as the “high priest” and “founder of their church” (Mosiah 23:16). While the individual circumstances of his receiving power and authority from God are unclear, we may assume, considering all that transpired in his life, that he had received a personal manifestation from the Lord just as other priests and prophets did of old. After the time of Moses, “all the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself” (TPJS, 181). We can’t simply assume that Alma the Elder’s formerly serving as a priest of King Noah lent him such authority.
We can assume that when Alma the Elder prayed, he did so for specific things, things he believed would happen. He didn’t pray in nebulous generalities or allow himself to disbelieve the things for which he prayed. When Nephi the son of Helaman asked the Lord for a famine in order to stir up his people to repentance, he too believed it would happen (Helaman 11:3–5). Without the element of his faith, nothing would have occurred (cf. D&C 8:10; 63:10–11). Melchizedek’s exercising “mighty faith” in God, for example, helped him convert a wicked people into a Zion society (Alma 13:17–18; Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 14:26–34).
In these spiritual manifestations, we see at work the “power” of the priesthood, which comes through personal righteousness, as distinct from the “authority” of the priesthood, which comes through ordination. Therein lies the ability to have power with God, which power we also receive from God.
In the Book of Isaiah, the spiritual level one may attain that is characterized by direct divine intervention is identified as that of “seraphim” and “watchmen.” These persons are the same as, or the equivalent of, those who receive “the spirit and power of Elijah,” also called “the fulness of the Priesthood” and the “sealing power,” which is a stage of spiritual progression beyond making sure one’s calling and election (see TPJS, 335–40; cf. D&C 77:11). These are persons who “call upon the Lord” day and night (Isaiah 62:6), who, like Daniel, pray individually to the Most High God three times a day (Daniel 6:10) for themselves and others. God blesses their ministry to his people, through which service they gain eternal life.
The Prophet Joseph Smith, in his Lectures on Faith, which were once a part of the Standard Works, teaches that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things . . . and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God . . . by this means obtain[ing] faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life . . . But those who do not make the sacrifice cannot enjoy this faith, because men are dependent upon this sacrifice in order to obtain this faith”(Lecture Sixth, Lectures on Faith).
We can be assured that Alma the Elder, Nephi the son of Helaman, Melchizedek, and others had similarly “covenanted with the Lord by sacrifice” (Psalms 50:5) sufficient for them to attain the faith they demonstrated so as to prevail with God to answer their prayers. Would they, in emulating the Son of God, expect him to sacrifice his all and they not do likewise? On the contrary, their obtaining the highest order of the holy priesthood possible on earth depended on this very sacrifice of themselves, while their successful ministries demonstrated its fruits.
As the Book of Mormon contains “less than a hundredth part” of the Nephites’ spiritual history, there doubtless occurred many other instances of angels personally visiting God’s people, just as they do to this day. Because covenanting with the Lord by sacrifice is not limited to persons holding positions of authority, but is the privilege of all of God’s people, so the faith in God necessary to obtain divine intervention is likewise the privilege of God’s people, though such intervention may occur indirectly as well.
See Isaiah Decoded, 221–62.