Book of Mormon Lesson 31 (Alma 43–52).
War in the Book of Mormon
Mormon and Moroni saw much war, and thousands killed in battle. Of the 522 pages in the Book of Mormon, 170 pages (68 chapters), or nearly 1/3 of the book, are devoted to recording the wars between the Lamanites and the Nephites. Why? Because Mormon knew we would live in a day of “wars and rumors of wars” (D&C 45:26) and desired to give us important information about how to live as saints in times of war.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “In the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming. A major portion of the book centers on the few decades just prior to Christ’s coming to America. By careful study of that time period, we can determine why some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet. From the Book of Mormon we learn how disciples of Christ live in times of war.”1
Beginning with Alma 35 and, with the exception of the next seven chapters (Alma 36–42), contains 44 consecutive chapters dealing with wars and their consequences. Thus began one of the longest periods of war in Nephite history.
This week’s article covers this entire period and is thus a little longer than usual. But given its relevance to the conditions of our own time, it is well worth reading.
THE LORD’S COMMANDMENTS CONCERNING WAR
Background to the Nephite Wars (Alma 43:1–8)
The year 74 BC was fraught with tests and trials for the Nephites of Zarahemla. During this year the Nephite missionaries finished their mission to the Zoramites and took back with them those Nephites who had accepted the gospel message. Unconverted Zoramites dissented from the Nephites and joined with the Lamanites in an effort to destroy the Nephites. (Alma 31:8–10). The Nephites feared the dissenters would join with the Lamanites; Alma endeavored to preach the word of God to the Zoramites to keep this from happening (v. 4–5). The Zoramites who believed in Alma’s preaching were cast out by the unbelieving Zoramites, who feared the loss of their wealth and power if conversion were widespread (Alma 35:3–6). The people of Ammon, also known as the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, provided for the welfare of the cast out Zoramites (v. 9). The apostate Zoramites threatened the people of Ammon, but the people of Ammon continued to help the rejected Zoramites (v. 8–9). The apostate Zoramites mixed with the Lamanites and stirred them up to war against the people of Ammon (v. 10–11). The people of Ammon and the converted Zoramites were evacuated, and the Nephite armies prepared for war (v. 13). Alma was concerned about the wickedness among his people (v. 15). Alma sent his sons, including a repentant Corianton (Alma 49:30), among the Nephites to call them to repentance (Alma 43:1–2). The apostate Zoramites became Lamanites (v. 4). The Lamanites moved into the land of the Zoramites in preparation for an attack upon the Nephites (v. 5).
Nephite vs. Lamanite Motivations
Zerahemnah was the Lamanites’ commander when they launched a war against the Nephites. His goals were not only to conquer the Nephites, but to gain greater power over his own people as well. He prepared the Lamanites for war by stirring up their anger toward the Nephites (Alma 43:3–5, 8).
The Zoramites and Amalekites were formerly Nephites (Alma 43:13, 6–8). These apostates were more hardened and ferocious than the Lamanites (Alma 47:36). Apostates nearly always become worse than those who never knew the truth (Alma 24:30). They become enemies to righteousness and to God (Mosiah 2:36–37).
Nephite motivations for war: (Alma 43:9–10; Alma 43:23, 29–30). The Lord commanded the Nephites to defend themselves (Alma 43:45–47). “Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second” (v. 46). They were also commanded to defend their families “even unto bloodshed” (v. 47). “For this cause” the Nephites fought to: (v. 47).
— Defend their homes and families
— Preserve their liberties
— Maintain their right to worship God
In the entire Book of Mormon, the first record of the Nephites initiating a battle is in Mormon 4:1–4. It was never the motivation for Captain Moroni, who wanted Nephite strategies and tactics to be righteous, as well as their motivations (Alma 43:30).
Lamanite motivation for war (Alma 43:43–44) was fierce anger. In their rage, they attacked and fought with unprecedented strength and courage.
The Church’s Teachings Concerning War
We live in a time of war. War has been “poured out upon all nations,” and bloodshed takes place somewhere on earth every single day, just as the Prophet Joseph Smith predicted (D&C 87:3). There have been two world-wide wars in the past century, and multiple regional conflicts and a war on terror that have all involved members of the Church. In all of these conflicts, brave men and women have given their lives to defend our freedoms, but they have also taken the lives of enemies. And whenever this occurs, the question always arises, “is this murder?”
Both the Book of Mormon, in Alma 43, and modern day prophets, make it clear that such killing is justified in the eyes of the Lord and is not a violation of His commandments.2
Moroni’s Uncommon Charity in War
Consider the miilitary strategy and techniques used by Moroni (Alma 43:17–22):
—They were wise, especially for such a young (25 year old) man (v. 17).
—He prepared his people with breastplates, arm-shields, thick clothing, and shields to protect their heads. (v.19), and they went into battle “armed with swords, and with cimeters, and all manner of weapons of war” (v. 18).
—By contrast, the Lamanite armies “had only their swords and their cimeters, their bows and their arrows, their stones and their slings; and they were naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins” (v. 20). All, that is, except the Zoramites and the Amalekites who were not so scantily dressed (v. 20).
—The Lamanite armies “were not armed with breastplates, nor shields—therefore, they were exceedingly afraid of the armies of the Nephites because of their armor, notwithstanding their number being so much greater than the Nephites” (v. 21).
—They did not engage the Nephites in battle at Jershon, but went instead through the wilderness to the land of Manti, where the River Sidon originated, hoping to take possession of that area (v. 22).
When the Nephites had the Lamanites surrounded and could have destroyed them, Captain Moroni stopped the bloodshed, hoping to achieve his objective of ending the Lamanite threat without further loss of life (Alma 43:53–54)..
Captain Moroni was more interested in converting the Lamanites than destroying them (Alma 44:1–4). He called out to them, “ye behold that the Lord is with us; and ye behold that he has delivered you into our hands. And now I would that ye should understand that this is done unto us because of our religion and our faith in Christ” (v. 3). Rather than fall upon them and wipe them out, Captain Moroni was seeking here to convert and save them. What military leader in ancient or modern history would have done the same? Can we imagine General Eisenhower calling out to the German forces on D-Day, offering to stop the assault if they would repent? Captain Moroni was indeed a rare and special military leader. There has never been another one like him.
If there were such military leaders today, the ugliness of war could, in fact, be diminished. But we know from the words of the prophets that the world will not repent of its hatred and lust for power. President David O. McKay said, “No peace, even though temporarily obtained, will be permanent unless it is built upon the solid foundation of eternal principles. The first of these (is) . . . when we sincerely accept God as our Father and make Him the center of our being. . . . Of equal importance is the acceptance of the Son of God as the Savior of mankind. . . . Men may yearn for peace, cry for peace, and work for peace, but there will be no peace until they follow the path pointed out by the living Christ.”3
When Moroni demanded that the Lamanites take an oath never to attack the Nephites again, Zerahemnah refused because he knew he would break it (Alma 44:6–9). Lamanites who refused to take the oath were either killed or driven from the land. This brought peace and security to the Nephites for a brief time (Alma 44:10–24). In times of war, we should maintain our righteousness and exercise faith in Christ (Alma 43:23, 49–50).
THE PROPHET ALMA DEPARTS
Chapter 44 ends the record kept by Alma which was written upon the plages of Nephi (Alma 44:24). The end of this chapter also marks the end of the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges (73 BC).
Alma turned the record over to his eldest son, Helaman. He interviewed his son concerning his faith in the records of their fathers (the plates), his faith in Jesus Christ, and his willingness to keep the commandments of God. Then, having confidence that Helaman had sufficient faith and would be obedience, he commended the records into his hands and blessed him (Alma 45:2–8).
Before leaving his people, Alma prophesied their future (Alma 45:10–17 ). When Mormon recorded these words, he had already witnessed the fulfillment of Alma’s prophecies.
—Wickedness will bring about the Nephites’ complete destruction (vv. 12–14).
—”The cursing and the blessing” on this land (v. 16; compare Ether 2:8–12).
Alma departed for the city of Melek and was never heard of again (Alma 45:18–19). Mormon observed that “he was a righteous man; and the saying went abroad in the Church that he was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses” (v. 19). Not knowing precisely what this means, he notes that “the scriptures saith the Lord took Moses unto himself; and we suppose that he has also received Alma in the spirit, unto himself” (v. 19). Modern prophets and apostles such as Joseph Fielding Smith4 and Bruce R. McConkie5 confirm that Alma was translated.
CAPTAIN MORONI’S RIGHTEOUS LEADERSHIP
Following Righteous and Wise Leaders
Mormon gave a glowing appraisal of Captain Moroni (Alma 48:11–13). It should be no surprise that Mormon chose the name Moroni for his own son nearly 500 years later. For one thing, they had a lot in common. Both men named Moroni lead their armies at a very young age—Captain Moroni was only 25 years old (Alma 43:17; Moroni 2:1–2). Additionally, they were both men of great faith and courage. Mormon describes Captain Moroni as:
—a strong and a mighty man (v. 11)
—a man of a perfect understanding (v. 11)
—a man that did not delight in bloodshed (v. 11)
—a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery (v. 11)
—a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people (v. 12)
—a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people (v. 12)
—a man who was firm in the faith of Christ (v. 13)
—a man who had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood (v. 13).
Moroni and the Nephites looked to the Lord for strength in war, knowing he would guide them if they kept his commandments (Alma 48:14–16).
Pride and Dissension Lead To War
After the battles with the Lamanites, Helaman and his brethren went throughout the land, preaching and reestablishing the organization of the Church (Alma 45:20–22). However, in the nineteenth year of the reign of judges (73 BC), dissensions arose and many would not listen to them (Alma 45:23–24). The leader of the dissenters was a man named Amalickiah who was a very ambitious man who sought to become king (Alma 46:1–7).
— Divided the people.
— Sought to overthrow their form of government.
— Promised power to those who would support him in his quest.
— Undermined their faith in God.
Mormon used the phrase “thus we see” to point out important lessons learned from events (Alma 46:8–10):
—How quickly the people had forgotten God.
—What a negative impact just one wicked man can have.
Captain Moroni Raises the “Title of Liberty” (Alma 46:11–15)
Moroni created the title of liberty to produce unity and mobilize the people to defend themselves (v. 20). We should read and ponder what was written on the title of liberty (vv. 14–15).
They were called Christians: New Testament scholars suggest that the early Saints were called “Christians” by their detractors but that this name eventually became one of respect (Acts 11:26). Perhaps the same process occurred among the Nephites.
The title of liberty also symbolized Joseph’s coat of many colors (Alma 46:18–26). Jacob’s comment about the preserved remnant of Joseph’s coat is not included in our present Bible though it is preserved in several other ancient Middle Eastern texts. The Nephites may have had these words on the brass plates or learned of them by revelation. In either case, this illustrates how the Book of Mormon not only confirms but often expands on the Bible.
NEPHITE–LAMANITE WARS CONTINUE
Moroni’s Uncommon Charity Toward Prisoners
Moroni prevented Amalickiah and his armies from fleeing to the land of Nephi (Alma 46:28–33).
His approach was humane and just, and remarkable for two reasons (Alma 46:34–39). First, his prisoners of war were given a chance to swear their allegiance to the government and then be freed, even though the war still continued. Those who would not make such a covenant were put to death (v. 35). Second, it illustrates once again the great importance these people placed on making and keeping oaths. A simple oath was sufficient to trust his captives. Moroni then “caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites” (v. 36). They enjoyed peace in the land until “nearly the end of the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges” (72 BC) (v. 37), and especially in the Church, which for “four years. . . [had] much peace and rejoicing” (v. 38).
Interesting Comments on Climate (Alma 46:40–41)
Mormon observes that “there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate” (v. 40). This suggests a tropical or sub-tropical climate in and around Zarahemla. Other than this passage, very little information is provided in the Book of Mormon about the climate where the Nephites and Lamanites lived.
Amalickiah’s Unbridled Desire For Power
Amalickiah fled to the Lamanites and soon became their king by treachery (Alma 47:1, 4, 8). Amalickiah wanted to rule over the Nephites as well, and prepared to attack. They knew the Nephites’ strengths and weaknesses (Alma 48:1–6).
Moroni’s Wise Preparations For War
Temporal Preparation: Moroni prepared the Nephites for Amalickiah’s attack by strengthening their defenses. When the Lamanites invaded, they were astonished and were beaten decisively (Alma 48:7–9; Alma 49:2–4, 13, 18). Moroni continued to strengthen Nephite defenses (Alma 50:1–6). He fortified the Nephite cities with “heaps of earth round about” them. Upon the top of these ridges of earth he built timbers to the height of a man, with a frame of strong and high pickets. He caused towers to be built that overlooked these pickets. In recent years, earthen fortifications that are precisely like those described in the Book of Mormon have been discovered at several places in Peten, Guatemala, Belize, and the southern Yucatan peninsula.
Spiritual Preparation: The Nephites kept the commandments of God and followed their Church leaders (Alma 49:28–30).
The Need Also for Spiritual Strength
The Book of Mormon teaches that a people must prepare to defend themselves if they are to remain free, for war may sometimes be required to defend that freedom. It also teaches that mere physical defenses and armaments are not sufficient preparation.
Elder John A. Widtsoe said, “Preparedness is today on every tongue. There is danger ahead, and defenses must be set up. . . . [But] we have taught and continue to teach that full preparedness and complete defense against the devastation by evil is the acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ we may look for the peace of Eden, but not before. Our land is setting up defenses of powder and steel. That is well enough. But there are intangible defenses more powerful which direct the use of material defenses. These must be fostered, if our preparedness shall be adequate.”6
KINGMEN AND FREEMEN
While righteous, the Nephites were prosperous and happy, even in times of war (Alma 49:30; Alma 50:23). They enjoyed “continual peace among them, and exceedingly great prosperity in the Church because of their heed and diligence which they gave unto the word of God” (Alma 49:30).
Mormon says, “behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni [71–68 BC]” (Alma 50:23). Surely this how we should live today in the midst of world-wide conflict. The Book of Mormon, once again, shows itself to be the best resource we have for knowing how to live righteously in times of trouble and war.
The Role of the Government in Maintaining Peace
Nephihah, the second chief judge, died in the 24th year of the reign of the judges (68 BC).
Pahoran, his son, was appointed to replace him. The sacred oath and ordinance which was administered to Pahoran shows the Nephite concept of the role of government (Alma 50:39):
—Keep peace and freedom
—Grant the people the privilege to worship the Lord
—Support and maintain the cause of God
—Bring the wicked to justice
Renewed Contention Among the Nephites
Morianton and his people in the land of Morianton rebelled against the government (Alma 50:26–35). The people in the land of Lehi “fled to the camp of Moroni, and appealed unto him for assistance; for behold they were not in the wrong” (v. 27). This caused the people of Morianton “who were led by a man whose name was Morianton” (v. 28) to fear “lest the army of Moroni should come upon them and destroy them” (v. 28).
Morianton instructed his people to flee to the land northward (north of the land of Zarahemla) “which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land” (v. 29). However, in the meantime, “Morianton being a man of much passion. . .was angry with one of his maid servants, and he fell upon her and beat her much” (v. 30). She escaped and “came over to the camp of Moroni, and told Moroni. . .concerning their intentions to flee into the land northward” (v. 31).
The land northward was a strategic place, obtainable only through a narrow pass in the mountains that separated it from the land of Zarahemla, and the former homeland of the Jaredites who had reduced it to a state of desolation. If the people of Morianton were to obtain this land it would create serious consequences “which . . . would lead to the overthrow of their liberty” (v. 32). Moroni sent an army to stop them “by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward” (vv. 33–34). The commander of this Nephite army was Teancum, who killed Morianton and defeated his army, then “returned to the camp of Moroni” (v. 35).
This contention caused the Nephites to fight among themselves and allowed the Lamanites to gain power over them (Alma 51:2–8).
King-Men: This group of people of “high birth” sought to be kings by challenging Pahoran’s authority (vv. 2–5, 8). They wanted to . . .
—Alter “a few points of the law”
—Overthrow free government
— Establish a king in place of elected judges
—Obtain power and authority over the people
Freemen: The matter was settled by the voice of the people, who voted for Pahoran and a group of “freemen” who supported him and the judges (vv. 6–7).
This was a critical time to have internal problems. Amalickiah had stirred up the Lamanites and was preparing them for war (Alma 51:9, 13–16). The Nephites were more vulnerable now because of a border dispute between the cities of Lehi and Morianton, and the division between the kingmen and freemen.
Moroni supported the government at this critical time by sending “a petition, with the voice of the people” seeking permission to compel the king-men to take up arms and defend their country (v. 15). Moroni’s petition “was granted according to the voice of the people” (v. 16). Moroni was forced to slay 4,000 dissenters in this civil war (Alma 51:17–21).
Meanwhile the Lamanites attacked and captured many Nephite cities along the eastern coast (Alma 51:22–28). Among them were the two that had the border contention—the cities of Lehi and Morianton (v. 26). The Nephites “were not sufficiently strong in the city of Moroni” and were therefore driven and slain by Amalickiah’s forces (v. 23). The Lamanite army pushed forward, taking possession of many cities—Nephihah, Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid, and Mulek, all of which were on the eastern seashore” (vv. 25–26).
All of these cities “were strongly fortified after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni” making it easier for the Lamanites to hold them (v. 27). The Lamanites “marched to the borders of the land Bountiful, driving the Nephites before them and slaying many” (v. 28).
At Bountiful the Lamanite armies were met by Teancum (Alma 51:29–37). He and his men were “great warriors; for every man of Teancum did exceed the Lamanites in their strength and in their skill of war, insomuch that they did gain advantage over the Lamanites” (v. 31). When the two armies pitched their tents for the night, Teancum and his servant stole forth in the night and killed the Lamanite king with a javelin to his heart while he slept (v. 34).
The Nephites outsmarted the Lamanites and defeated them (Alma 52:22–40). They enticed them out of their camp for what the Lamanites thought would be an easy victory against Teancum’s small army, and then surrounded them with the forces of Teancum, Lehi, and Moroni. Moroni then commanded his men that they should fall upon them “until they had given up their weapons of war” (v. 32).
Being a Zoramite—an apostate Nephite—and “having an unconquerable spirit, [Jacob] led the Lamanites forth to battle with exceeding fury against Moroni” (v. 33). Many were slain on both sides of the battle, and “Moroni was wounded and Jacob was killed” (v. 35).
Lehi “pressed upon their rear with such fury with his strong men, that the Lamanites in the rear delivered up their weapons of war; and the remainder of them, being much confused, knew not whither to go or to strike” (v. 36). Moroni said unto them, “If ye will bring forth your weapons of war and deliver them up, behold we will forbear shedding your blood” (v. 37). The chief captains of the Lamanites took him up on this offer and commanded their men to do the same (v. 38). The rest were disarmed and taken prisoners (v. 39). The number of these prisoners was greater than the number of men that had been slain on both sides of the battle (v. 40).
“They That Take the Sword”
The Savior said: “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Those who follow him are emissaries of peace, even during war. Although Moroni was a great warrior, he was always reluctant to take the sword and quick to lay it down, because even when they were victorious, thousands died (Alma 52:37). In this, he set the example for Saints in all ages during times of war.
1. A Witness and a Warning: A Modern-Day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon, 20–21.
2. Charles A. Penrose of the First Presidency, in Conference Report, Oct. 1917, 21.
3. The Improvement Era, October 1960, 703.
4. Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. , 5:38.
5. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 805.
6. In Conference Report, October 1940, 61–62.