Having finished sharing his testimony with his sons, Alma and his people now look to many years of war. One major thing to note: most of the Lamanites are not interested in having a war with the Nephites. We shall see that the wars are almost always caused by Nephite dissenters.
In this and the next lesson we find a lot of war, strategy, and bloodshed. I will not discuss much on these, but refer you to an excellent volume, “Warfare in the Book of Mormon” by William Hamblin and Stephen Ricks.
So it is in this first major war that introduces Captains Moroni and Lehi to the reader. The apostate Zoramites are angered because Alma has “destroyed their craft” of plundering the poor and turning them into slaves. As with American history, some of our biggest wars were fought over freedom and slavery. Alma liberating the poor Zoramites, caused a similar reaction to that of the American South, in regards to the Underground Railroad and limits being placed on future expansion of slavery. Feeling that their rights were being threatened, both Zoramites and Southerners felt they had no other recourse than to fight back.
In the case of the Zoramites, they quickly gained power, because they recruited the Lamanites to fight with them. A captain was called, Zarahemnah, who chose hardened Zoramites and other apostate Nephites to lead the armies against the Nephites.
The name “Zarahemnah” may simply be the word Zarahemla with an alternate ending, or perhaps was pronounced differently by either the Zoramites or Lamanites, and so was spelled as it was pronounced. It does show a distinct connection to the city of Zarahemla, and therefore the Mulekites. The Mulekites were descended from the kings of Judah and Israel, They may have felt they had the right to rule over the Nephites, being descended from King David.
Interestingly, Moroni does not see a problem in using strategy to defeat the oppressors. Have previous Nephite captains and leaders struggled with this issue in the past? His strategy includes using spies, seeking guidance from the prophet, and using an ambush to surround the Lamanite army. Why would Mormon note that Captain Moroni did not have a problem with such strategy, when it does not seem outlandish?
In chapter 44, Zerahemnah is about to surrender, but rejects the demand of Moroni to make an oath to never invade or attack again. Zerahemnah realizes that either his people or their children would some day break the oath, something too important for him to do, as oath keeping was a very serious thing to do in the Ancient Near East. Only when he sees his men about to be completely destroyed, does he agree to make such an oath.
We see Zerahemnah as the “bad guy”, and yet oaths are important enough to him that he would rather fight than to risk breaking it later. Also, the oath was important enough for Moroni to ask of it, and then accept it from Zerahemnah. Clearly, the characters involved are more complex than we often consider, and the culture is very different than ours today. Would you accept a promise from someone who was trying to kill you?
In refusing to make the covenant, Zerahemnah attacks Moroni and is quickly stopped by Moroni’s guard. The guard scalps Zerahemnah, places the scalp on the tip of his sword, and threatens the Lamanites with utter destruction if they do not surrender. The “sword” which was used to scalp Zerahemna was probably a “macuahuitl”, a wooden sword with obsidian blades, used as a slashing weapon. It could easily remove a person’s scalp with little effort.
Over the years, many LDS have thought this was the beginning of collecting scalps by Native Americans. However, the evidence suggests it is not the case. First, the Book of Mormon’s geography is most likely in Central America, around Guatemala and Honduras, etc. The people there were not known for collecting scalps of any kind. Second, this was not an intentional scalping, but occurred in an attempt to disarm the enemy. Third, the Book of Mormon does not mention anymore scalping incidents. It was likely a notable event, but nothing that started a trend toward scalping one’s enemies.
Alma turns the records and his position as chief priest over to Helaman, his son. He asks a series of believing questions: Do you believe what the records state? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Will you keep the commandments?
Helaman answers completely in the affirmative: Yea, I believe all of thy words. Yea, I will keep thy commandments with all my heart.
Because of his belief, Alma told Helaman that he would prosper in the land. Again, this directs us back to the original teachings of Lehi, where if we keep the commandments, we will prosper in the land of promise.
Alma then shares some secret things with Helaman. The Nephites would be visited by Christ, but would eventually reject him. Within 400 years of Christ’s visit to the Nephites, they would rebel against the perfect light of Christ they had received.
“But whosoever remaineth, and is not destroyed in that great and dreadful day, shall be numbered among the Lamanites, and shall become like unto them, all, save it be a few who shall be called the disciples of the Lord; and them shall the Lamanites pursue even until they shall become extinct. And now, because of iniquity, this prophecy shall be fulfilled” (Alma 25:14).
Interestingly, Mormon shares this secret telling between Alma and Helaman at a time when the young chief captain is called, Moroni. Mormon’s own son, Moroni, would be one of the few disciples of the Lord, who would be pursued until he was extinct.
Alma blesses Helaman, the land for the righteous’ sake, and the Church. Then he curses the wicked, who have ripened in iniquity, so that only destruction will be left them. Why? Because the wicked will bring the destruction upon themselves. They are not wiped out by plagues, volcanoes, or earthquakes, but by the sword and their intense hatred.
Alma then walks into the wilderness and never returns. Mormon speculates that Alma may have been “taken up by the Spirit” or translated, which he believes also happened with Moses. To be translated means to be changed from a mortal existence to something more. The body can no longer be hungry, tired or sickened. One can be saddened by the sins and iniquities of the world.
The Great War
The wars do not end with the promises made by Zerahemnah. It isn’t that the Lamanites want to return to war, but new players, who have not made an oath of peace, enter in.
Amalickiah sought to be king of the Nephites. He flattered the lower judges, bribing them with positions of royal power, if they would support him as king. As I mentioned before when Mosiah created the reign of judges, the lower positions were given out to satisfy the various groups wanting power. It is very likely that many Mulekites were elected as lower judges, and were eager to gain more power. When King Mosiah II found them, the Mulekites were a people who had dwelt among the Jaredites for centuries, and had lost their language and religion. When they escaped the final wars of the Jaredites, the Mulekites brought with them to Zarahemla all of secret combinations and intrigues of the Jaredites. Amalickiah was their chance to gain more power.
Here we get a true contrast between two men: Amalickiah and Moroni. Amalickiah uses flattering words to deceive and get gain. Moroni writes a few words upon his cloak and uses it as an ensign and Standard of Liberty to the people to call them to fight for their freedoms, family and God. Amalickiah has to offer positions of power and gain. Moroni only asks the people to defend their rights and families. Amalickiah seeks to use and abuse power. Moroni uses power to tear down power, and will retire immediately after the war is over.
Unlike Amalickiah, Moroni quotes scripture from the Brass Plates. The patriarch Jacob received a remnant of the coat he made for Joseph. While he believed his son dead, Jacob still believed that somewhere was a remnant of young Joseph’s seed that would be blessed by God. As Moroni likened the scriptures to the Nephites, he proclaimed that they were to defend their faith and freedoms against tyranny.
Moroni obtains a covenant from the Free Men, to fight for those things God had given them. Meanwhile, Amalickiah seeks a new strategy and flees to the Lamanites.
In chapter 46, we read of the Title of Liberty. Realize that while Moroni promotes liberty that he is not beyond selective freedom. He takes free speech away from those who would have Amalickiah as their king. In fact, those who will not defend freedom and country, perhaps what some may call pacifists, are forced to take up arms or are put to death. What is the limit of freedom, and does a free nation have the right to place such a restriction upon it?
In chapters 47, Amalickiah uses his flattery and intrigue to gain the trust of the Lamanite king, then the Lamanite army. In both instances, he betrays them. The Lamanite captain is poisoned and the king slain, so that Amalickiah may become king himself. His pattern is like that of the Jaredites, willing to do anything in order to get gain and power. Jaredite history was filled with intrigue, betrayals, and overthrows. While the Nephites have experienced the Jaredite methods for a couple generations now (since coming to Zarahemla), the Lamanites have never seen it before, and are totally gullible.
We can see the goodness in the Lamanites, as most of them desire not to war with the Nephites. It is possible that they recalled the oath Zerahemnah made to Moroni, to never come again to battle with the Nephites. Oaths being so important, they would not have wanted to break it, and so ran away from the Lamanite king. Only Amalickiah’s treachery and trickery could stir up the Lamanites against the Nephites sufficiently to fight them.
In chapter 49, we find that Moroni’s preparations for war are very useful in the beginning. Throwing up walls around the Nephite cities gave greater protection. The Lamanite hearts would sink, and possibly many would run away.
In this we find that military preparations only help so far. Once the heart of the people is corrupted, no fortifications can protect from outside invasion for long.
In the incident between the cities of Lehi and Morianton, we discover some interesting things. Moroni set up cities in the wilderness in order to create a border defense against the Lamanites. He kicked the redneck Lamanites living in the wilderness (often described as vicious, wearing loincloths, and eating raw meat) out of the disputed territory. While this gave the Nephites greater security, it could have been used by Amalickiah as a reason for the Lamanites to attack. Such an action would disturb the status quo, as Lamanites had lived in the wilderness territory for centuries.
Next, Morianton is a Jaredite name (Ether 1:22). Here we can see that there is still a physical division between Mulekites (Morianton) and Nephites (Lehi). Again, there is a border dispute involved, as Moroni had not established strong boundaries between cities and lands. The people of Morianton are viewed immediately as the bad guys in black hats, while those in Lehi are the good guys. The man Morianton is described as being of “much passion”. He and his people take up arms, forcing the people of Lehi to flee to Moroni for protection. Well, of course Moroni would take their side, as he also is a Nephite! (or so the Mulekites would have thought). Morianton only sees one option, ally with the Lamanites. Only a battle with Moroni keeps them from escaping.
We see that the frontier was dangerous. Allies were not always dependable, trustworthy, nor good. This could have been another reason for the Lamanites to attack - obviously Moroni was forcing people against their will! The Lamanites could swoop in and save those enslaved by their Nephite captors.
“And thus were the people of Morianton brought back. And upon their covenanting to keep the peace they were restored to the land of Morianton, and a union took place between them and the people of Lehi; and they were also restored to their lands” (Alma 50:36).
Again, the oath was something very important to all involved. I’m sure Morianton had told his people that Moroni would slay them all if they did not fight or escape. To find themselves restored to their land, must have seemed incredible. Moroni was still willing to trust them to defend the border and have their own autonomy, as long as they worked in union with the city of Lehi.
King Men and Free Men
But the internal contentions do not end with Morianton. Instead, many refuse to fight against the Lamanites. They want Amalickiah’s troops to come in and take over. They want a king. In refusing to fight, they weakened the armies of Moroni and risked sabotage and internal intrigue. Moroni was forced to shut down their rebellion by moving much of his army away from the frontier with the Lamanites, and back into the heart of the Nephite lands.
Suddenly, there was a new division among the Nephites. Where they once were divided by kinship, now they would divide on political lines. Free men wished to maintain the freedoms given them by King Mosiah, while the King Men wished to return to the greatness and power the nation had under its kings. Moroni was again forced to take arms against them. Those who would not covenant to fight for freedom were slain.
During this dangerous period, with the nation divided, the Lamanites attacked. Though the cities were well defended, they were not impregnable. It did not take long for the Lamanites to find the weaknesses of the Nephite cities and overthrow them. The Nephite armor, the Nephite reinforced cities, and all of Moroni’s technological advances could not protect the Nephites. Even with such advances, the Nephites fled before the Lamanite army even to the borders of the land Bountiful.
The only thing that could stop them was a strong and true heart, as we find in Teancum.
Teancum was a diligent soldier. His small army was trained in discipline and the art of war, so that he could stop the Lamanites cold at Bountiful’s border. Bravery was also a pillar for Teancum. Braving death, Teancum crept among the Lamanite army’s tents until he found Amalickiah and slew him in his sleep.
Such bravery has won impossible battles time and again in history’s wars. Because of such actions, the Lamanites ended their drive to the north. With Moroni’s strategies, the Nephite armies of Teancum and Lehi were able to regain some cities.
But the war is only begun.
“Warfare in the Book of Mormon” by William Hamblin and Stephen Ricks: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/