Friday, August 3, 2012
Book of Mormon Lesson #32 "And They Did Obey Every Word With Exactness"
(For an alternate lesson plan, follow this link.)
A BASIC THEME: FREEDOM AND COVENANTS
In the war chapters of Alma (43-62), the word "liberty" is used 33 times, and the word "freedom" is used 26 times--two similar terms, for a total of 59 times. The word "covenant" is used 26 times, and the word "oath" is used 12 times--two similar terms, for a total of 38 times. As we read through these war stories, we can find a couple of themes among all these repetitive words, and the first one is:
Freedom is vital.
This applies to the entire plan of salvation, to societies here on earth, and to individuals. Freedom is the very essence of the plan of salvation. Without it there would be no progress. Without it there would be no point. It is important enough to go to war over. Jesus Christ led us in a war in heaven and the cause was liberty over slavery. Most wars here on earth are fought over the same thing. Over and over in the Book of Mormon account, we can see that the Nephites "did think more upon...liberty...than they did upon their lives (Alma 56:47).
Fighting alone will not bring freedom, however. Freedom is bought with righteous living, with the keeping of covenants. This is what confuses a lot of people in our day. The more we discipline ourselves to keep the commandments, which some see as restrictive, the more free we will be. The more we give in to passions or foolishness, the more restricted our lives actually become. So the second principle we see is:
Keeping covenants brings freedom.
One of the finest examples of covenant keepers of all time is found in the people of Ammon. 15-20 years before the conflict we read about in this week’s assignment, a group of Lamanites joined the church due to the missionary efforts of Ammon and his brethren. They included the high king of all the Lamanites and two of his sons who were lesser kings. At the time of their conversion, the king led them all to make an oath that they would never fight again, even in self-defense. The reason for this oath was that they had been such a blood-thirsty people, the king did not think they could be forgiven of any more killing, even for a righteous cause. (See Alma 24:16-18.)
They kept their oath. Twice the other Lamanites came upon them and slaughtered them, and they offered no resistence. Once, their massacre resulted in the conversion of many of their persecutors, but after the second time, the Lord told Ammon to remove them from the land of the Lamanites, and take them to dwell with the Nephites where they could be protected without having to fight themselves. This they did.
Wars continued. These people of Ammon (also known as the Anti-Nephi-Lehies) sent their support to the Nephite armies in the way of food and provisions, but they kept their oath to never fight again themselves. After 15-20 years of this, however, they began to wonder whether keeping their oath was a good idea. (Alma 53:13) When they had been Lamanites, they were always moved to fight by anger and hatred for the Nephites. Now they were “moved with compassion” to take up arms in defense of the Nephites—opposite reasons for engaging in war. Helaman and his brethren (in present-day terms, the General Authorities) convinced them that the keeping of their covenant was vital (Alma 53:14).
In the midst of this difficulty, someone thought of something: The young men of Ammon had been babies when the oath was taken, and therefore had not participated. They would now be in their teens or 20s, an age at which they could take up arms.
These young men entered into a covenant in their new role as soldiers. (Alma 53:17) This was the exact opposite covenant their parents had entered into! Their parents’ oath was to give up their lives rather than to ever fight again. The young men’s covenant was to fight “in all cases” for liberty, even unto death. Both covenants were righteous covenants and were motivated by pure love.
Who did this battalion of new solders ask to be their commander? Helaman! Not a trained army officer, but a prophet of the church. (See entry on Helaman in the Book of Mormon Index.) He was only in his 30s by now. There is no indication that he had previously been a leader in the armed forces, but their trust was in the Lord, not in the arm of flesh. Helaman, therefore, left his ministry and became a military leader.
THE FAITH OF THE STRIPLING WARRIORS
These young men, “the stripling warriors” or the “sons of Helaman,” are most well-known for their faith that they would be spared, despite their youth and inexperience. They may never have remembered seeing their fathers go off to war, or practice any fighting techniques. The only training they would have had would have been what Helaman gave them. (Alma 56:45-48) Even though they valued liberty over life and were not afraid to die, they did not doubt they would be delivered. Why? Because their mothers had taught them so.
Now I have a question for you: Why on earth would their mothers teach them this? Many, many of the Nephite soldiers who were valiant and righteous men died in battle. Look just a few verses previous and read that a “vast number” of Nephite men had been slain. Were these warriors less righteous; were they lacking in faith? It doesn’t sound like they were. (Alma 56:11; 60:12-13) Teancum, for example, was a righteous soldier who was killed after he single-handedly assassinated the Lamanite king, Ammoron, in an effort to end the war (which actually was the beginning of the end of the war. Teancum had faith in God and lost his life in a righteous cause. In fact, never in the entire Book of Mormon is there another army recorded that did not lose men to death, whether for a righteous or an evil cause. If these people of Ammon had access to the records of the Nephites up to that time (which they did—Helaman kept the records), they would never have seen a scriptural precedent for a righteous army being totally spared of death. So why did their mothers impress this promise upon them?
I think the answer can be found in Alma 27. After the second massacre upon the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, when Ammon asked the Lord whether he should take them to live with the Nephites, the Lord gave them a promise (Alma 27:12) that he would preserve that generation. The stripling warriors were that generation. Now, after 15-20 years of actively living the gospel, their mothers knew the Lord. They knew he was a God of Truth. They knew he kept his promises.
Why the Lord gave them this promise while letting others perish is one of those questions we can’t answer. Perhaps He felt the people of Ammon had sacrificed enough with the loss of so many of their loved ones in the massacres. Perhaps He knew they would rather fight themselves than send their children off to war, and this promise gave them great comfort in that situation.
Helaman also promised them that the Lord would strengthen them because they kept their covenants. (Alma 56:8) Being completely unseasoned, and properly under-trained warriors, they would need this help.
THE LORD FULFILLED HIS PROMISES
The Army of Helaman fought in three recorded battles to retake Nephite cities from the Lamanites, and participated in another conflict without fighting. In each case they were successful because they and their parents kept their (opposite) covenants and followed the commandments.
Before the Army of Helaman was formally given a commission, two opposite areas of the Nephite country were under attack, one near Bountiful and one near Zarahemla. Moroni and Lehi were leading the defense on the Bountiful end. Antipus was leading the defense on the Zarahemla end. Antipus needed help the most, so that’s where the Army of Helaman headed. The Lamanites had taken four cities there, and Antipus had only 6,000 soldiers with which to defend a fifth city, the city of Judea. The Lamanites were about to come against the city until they saw the 2,000 warriors coming to join Antipus; then they chickened out. And here is the first time we see the promise of preservation realized. (Alma 56:19)
Battle of Antiparah
The next year, in the 27th year of the judges, they engaged in their first battle. This is the battle we are most familiar with. 2,000 more Nephite soldiers had enlisted, giving Antipus a total number of 10,000. The Lamanites had taken the city of Antiparah, as noted above. The Nephites had made their cities into such excellent fortresses that they were very easy to defend, but it made it almost impossible to take one back after the Lamanites had conquered it. So Antipus decided the only thing to do would be to draw the Lamanite army out of the city where they could fight them on even terms. To do this, he set up Helaman and the 2,000 warriors as bait. They were to march past the city, near enough for spies to detect, looking like easy prey. The Lamanite army would then come out and attack them, but Antipus and the remaining 8,000 would catch them from behind and engage them in battle.
The plan worked except for one thing: The Lamanites were a lot faster marchers than the Nephites expected. The Army of Helaman had to really clip along to stay out of their reach, and the Army of Antipus couldn’t catch up from behind for two days. Then, suddenly, Helaman realized that the Lamanites were no longer on his tail, and he had no spies back there to tell him what had happened. He didn’t know whether the Lamanites were waiting to ambush them, or whether Antipus had caught up. But he and his young men decided to go back and fight. When they got there, Antipus had been killed, as well as most of the other leaders, and the soldiers were in confusion and fear. The presence of the 2,000 with their leader Helaman buoyed them up, and they all took courage and won the fight. In the end, the remaining Lamanites in Antiparah were frightened and deserted the city. The objective was won, and the promises of the Lord were fulfilled. (Alma 56:56 to “strength of God”)
The Battle of Cumeni
Their next recorded battle was a year or two later. They were deployed to recover the city of Cumeni. Once again, straightforward hand-to-hand combat was useless because of the fortifications of the city. Antipus was gone and Helaman was now in charge of the whole group. This time they placed the city under siege, and when the Lamanite supply train came, they attacked it. They sent the prisoners from the supply train off to Zarahemla under guard. Within a few days, the army within the city of Cumeni surrendered. Now the Nephites had a huge number of prisoners which were very difficult to control with the forces they had. So they sent them with a large guard off to Zarahemla as well. The very next day, a fresh army of Lamanite soldiers arrived at Cumeni. The number of Nephites left behind to guard the city were too few to manage the battle. They sent a messenger to tell the guards of the prison train that they were under attack. Unfortunately, the prisoners heard, took heart, and revolted. Because they had no weapons, most of them were killed by the guards, but a few escaped. The guards then returned to help Helaman with the battle. They won, but it was a very sore battle in which 1,000 Nephite soldiers were killed. Not one youth of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies died, but every single one was wounded. (Alma 57:26). Once again, why were they preserved? (Alma 57:21) It wasn’t just that they obeyed their military leader, Helaman; it was that they obeyed their prophet Helaman.
The Battle of Manti
Later in the year, they prepared to retake the city of Manti. Due to the fall of the government, of which they were unaware, they had received no provisions or reinforcements for quite some time. They were malnourished and small in numbers. They had to come up with a very clever plan to be successful this time.
Like the other Nephite border cities, the city of Manti was mightily fortified. After praying for God’s help to strengthen and deliver them once again (Alma 58:10), their whole (small) and receiving his renewed promise that he would (Alma 58:11), they came up with a plan. They brought their whole (small) army near the city and camped, making it appear that they planned to put the city under siege, like they had done at Cumeni. The Lamanites saw how small their numbers were and decided to attack them, rather than risk an ambush on their supply trains. When the Nephite spies saw that the Lamanites were preparing to come out, Helaman split the small army into three tiny squadrons. Two of the squadrons hid, leaving the stripling warriors as the decoy again. As the Lamanites came out to battle them, the Army of Helaman began to retreat. The Lamanites pursued. The hidden squadrons cut off the Lamanite spies so they couldn’t return to warn the city, and then they attacked and conquered the city easily because very few had been left to guard it.
The 2,000 warriors traveled for days, with the Lamanites right on their tails. Suddenly, the Lamanites realized that they were heading toward the big Nephite city of Zarahemla and decided they had better back off. They camped for the night, intending to turn back to Manti the next day. But Helaman commanded his soldiers to march all night, going around the Lamanite camp, so that they reached the city of Manti first. When the Lamanites arrived and realized that the city was full of Nephite warriors now, they fled into the wilderness. With very little bloodshed, the city of Manti was regained. (Alma 58:39)
We also will be strengthened and preserved as we follow the example of the people of Ammon and their sons, the 2,060 stripling warriors (60 more enlisted during the war). (Alma 58:40)
· LIBERTY: They stood fast in liberty. We can do this in the defense of our countries at war time. We can also defend our religious rights from attacks of those who would remove them. And we can resist giving away our personal agency to any sin or addiction on a daily personal basis.
· MEMORY: They remembered God, day to day. They remembered what he had done for them in the past, and they remembered his promises for the future. We can do the same through our church worship (specifically the sacrament and the temple), our daily prayers and scripture study, our patriarchal blessings and other blessings.
· OBEDIENCE: They kept the commandments. We have all covenanted to do the same and the keeping of our covenants will strengthen and preserve us as it did them. Like the stripling warriors, we need to obey every word of the prophet with exactness.
· FAITH IN CHRIST: They had “faith in the prophecies of that which is to come.”
As the children’s song says, we must follow the example of the Army of Helaman with courage and conviction that the Lord will preserve us in our daily battles for freedom.
Here are a few links to "We'll Bring the World His Truth" (AKA "The Army of Helaman") Primary song on YouTube.
Brett Raymond's high energy version from his "Primarily For Grown-Ups" album (This is probably also available on I-Tunes, if you want to buy it.)