The sons of Helaman
The Ammonites, those Lamanite converts that swore to never take up weapons of war again, were ready to break their covenant of peace, in order to help rescue the Nephites. The prophet Helaman, however, would not have them break their covenant. Instead, a different solution was brought forth. The children had not made the oath to bury their weapons of war.
Note here that the Ammonites could not really be called pacifists, as they are willing to recognize the necessity of arms to defend oneself and home, nor had they taught their children to refuse to fight. But their covenant was instituted for a higher and different purpose. When they were Lamanites, they were divided and continually sought to get gain and power over one another. Of the incident of Ammon and the conversion of Lamoni, Brant Gardner explained that it fit nicely in with Mayan culture. The king struggled to maintain his power, while others subtly awaited the moment to overthrow him. One method to weaken the king was to scatter his flocks, which represented wealth and power to those who not only owned flocks, but could afford servants to watch over the flocks. Any misstep on the matter by the king could lose him his throne, as power hungry enemies were involved in the scattering of the flocks, who had access to the king’s court.
When Jesus visited the Nephites, he noted two doctrines: the doctrine of Christ and that of Satan.
“26 And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water.
27 And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.
28 And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me” (3 Nephi 11:26-32).
Satan’s doctrine is contention. He seeks that all mankind be in disarray, contending one against another, even as Lamoni and the Lamanites, prior to conversion. The Doctrine of Christ, however, is the opposite of Satan’s doctrine. It is a doctrine of unity, of being one. I won’t go into the details of how we are to become one here, but will discuss it when we study 3 Nephi 11. For now, it is enough to know that “Being One” is the number one thing in Christ’s doctrine.
Imagine a warlike people laying down and burying their “weapons of war, for peace” (Alma 24:19). Rather than following the doctrine of contention, seeking to get gain, destroy, and eliminate one’s enemies, the Lamanite converts now sought to be one. Together they would make a covenant that they would not break, even in times of desperate war.
Yet, they also would not leave the Nephites to fight on their own. They gladly deliver their sons to Helaman to defend the Nephites. In the fierce battles ahead, not a single one of them dies, even while many Nephites fighting with them die. What difference was there between a believing son of Helaman and a believing Nephite?
The “sons of Helaman” were taught by their mothers the importance of unity. They are diligent in obeying the commands of Helaman and God. They fight as a unit. They believe as one. There is no disunity, no contention, no struggle between them.
How about for the Nephites? In the lesson, we read that the Nephites suffer because they are not getting supplies nor reinforcements. An exchange of patriotic letters between captain Moroni and chief judge Pahoran reveals dissension among the Nephites. Kingmen have taken control of the central government in Zarahemla. They are corresponding with the Lamanites, and conspiring against Pahoran and Moroni. Even righteous Nephites, like Pahoran, are confused as to what they should do regarding the uprising. It is possible that Pahoran was a milquetoast politician, afraid to do anything of consequence, leaving the tough decision to Moroni.There is political dickering and diffidence abounding, even among some of the leaders. We often chuckle at how Moroni was so stern in his letter towards Pahoran, and then Pahoran sort of shuts him up in the return correspondence. Yet, the fact remains that Pahoran has fled Zarahemla, yet done nothing about it. He has never bothered to mention to Moroni before that there is trouble brewing in the capital city. He never mentioned before that he had to flee for safety. While he was gathering men from around the country to him, he still was not sending any of them to aid Moroni and Helaman. Pahoran has allowed contention to spill throughout the land, dividing the nation from within, and leaving it on the verge of destruction from without.
Such contention caused the Nephites to lose cities and lives. It spread chaos throughout the land and the ranks of the army. I can only imagine that Nephite armies that suffered from wounds, disease, starvation, and facing an overwhelming opposing force, would lose faith and desert in droves. Such would likely join the Kingmen in seeking a peaceful solution with the Lamanites (one of surrender).
Yet, among all of this death, destruction, contention and fear, we find this one anomaly: the sons of Helaman. They courageously fight. Never do they run from a battle. Because they are united, they create order wherever they go. That order brings forth the additional power and grace of God, keeping them alive and successful, even against huge odds.
So, mothers (and fathers) of latter-day youth, what are you teaching your children? Are you teaching them about the covenant of unity with God? Are you teaching powerfully enough to save them from the contentions and evils of the spiritual warfare they face everyday?
Teancum has always been one of my favorite characters in the Book of Mormon. He was fearless. Just as Helaman’s stripling warriors were united and effective in battle, so too were Teancum’s soldiers. When the Lamanites first invaded and headed to the land of Bountiful, it was Teancum’s small army that stopped them cold. While other armies and fortresses caved to the overwhelming Lamanite forces, Teancum faithfully trained his men. They were prepared long before they went into battle. They fought as a unit, with order and structure.
While many were involved in the wars, one man did more to end the war than any other. Teancum, as captain of his army, went quietly into the Lamanite camp and slew Amalickiah. Later, he would again sneak through their camp to find Ammoron asleep. In losing his life, Teancum ended a war that likely would have continued for several more years, simply because Ammoron would not have allowed it to end.
Possibly as controversial as the dropping a nuclear bomb on Japan, the assassination of another nation’s leaders is a topic of discussion today. Is Teancum’s slaying of two Lamanite kings/Nephite dissidents any worse than Nephi slaying Laban?
One thing we do learn from this long and tragic war between the Nephites and Lamanites, war is terrible and there really never are any winners. Even though the Nephites maintained their freedoms, it was done at huge cost in human life, destroyed crops, and the psychological trauma left upon much of the people afterward. What else can we learn from endless wars?
In such instances, we need to do as Helaman did after the war ended.
“And Pahoran did return to his judgment-seat; and Helaman did take upon him again to preach unto the people the word of God; for because of so many wars and contentions it had become expedient that a regulation should be made again in the church.
Therefore, Helaman and his brethren went forth, and did declare the word of God with much power unto the convincing of many people of their wickedness, which did cause them to repent of their sins and to be baptized unto the Lord their God.
And it came to pass that they did establish again the church of God, throughout all the land” (Alma 62:44-46).
Only the atonement of Jesus Christ can heal those who are broken and hurt because of war and other tragedies. Reestablishing the Church created for people a spiritual hospital, where their deepest wounds could be healed in Christ.
“The Case for Historicity”, Brant Gardner, 2004 FAIR Symposium: http://en.fairmormon.org/Template:Video:Gardner:2004:The_Case_for_Historicity