In the Book of Mormon there is a lot written about war, especially in the last half of the book of Alma where twenty consecutive chapters are devoted wholly to discussing matters connected with warfare. Because of this, many people have wondered why a book that is specifically meant to convince both the Jews and the Gentiles "that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations" (title page of the Book of Mormon), spends so much time detailing the military movements, strategies, victories and defeats of two opposing armies?
But the Book of Mormon also spends a lot of time talking about politics as well, although most of it is scattered throughout the book rather than devoting a large number of continuous chapters on the subject as it does about war. So the question has been asked: Why does the Book of Mormon spend so much time talking about political matters when its purpose is to bring people to a knowledge of and a faith in Jesus Christ? More than that, in the fifth chapter of 3 Nephi, Mormon explains that he has not even written one-hundredth of what happened to his people (verse 8), so why did he choose to write so much about war when there was so many other things he could have written about?
The answer is found in Mormon's own words.
In his title page, Mormon states that he is writing this abridgement of Nephite history "by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation." Mormon was a prophet of God and the role of a prophet is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Throughout most of his life Mormon diligently preached repentance to his people but he only had very limited success. In fact, he eventually became so discouraged with their wickedness that he withdrew his services from them and retired from public life, where he devoted his time to going through the ancient Nephite historical and religious records and then making an abridgement of them.
But Mormon didn't just make an abridged version. As we read his work, we find many instances where he interjects his own comments into the historical narrative, often prefacing his remarks by saying, "And thus we see..." The purpose of these commentaries is to use the events he has just written about to teach us important spiritual truths. Since Mormon is a prophet, and prophets preach, what he is doing is quoting scripture from the Nephite records and then expounding on them, which is what all preachers do.
Therefore it is clear that Mormon is using his abridgement as a means of teaching those who will someday read his writings. We also know that he is making this record "by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation," so the question is, who is he writing to?
From his own account, we know that Mormon was not writing for the benefit of his own people because, at the time he was making his abridgement, they were beyond listening to his words. In fact, we know that the ancient records, which were written on plates of gold, had to be hidden even from the Nephites because they would have destroyed them had they been discovered, so obviously they were meant to be read by someone else.
In the 8th chapter of his own account, we read where his son Moroni writes that he has seen in a vision that his father's record will be brought forth at a time in the future "when the power of God shall be denied and churches become defiled and lifted up with pride" (verse 28). He then writes, "Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present but ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ has shown you unto me, and I know your doing" (verse 35). Although this was written by Mormon's son, Mormon also declared that he wrote "by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation" so it's certain that he likewise knew of those who would eventually read his writings and that's who he was preaching to.
With this knowledge, we then have the key to understanding why Mormon talked so much about war. He saw our day and he knew what conditions we were going to be facing, so he deliberately choose those parts of his people's own history that he felt would be of most benefit to us in our day.
There is a saying that "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." In Mormon's abridgement he is giving us a record of his people's history in hopes of helping us to avoid making the same mistakes they did. In fact, the word "remember" is used 157 times in the Book of Mormon, and nearly every Nephite prophet pleaded with their people to remember the past and not forget what the Lord had done for them and to them as a way to bring them back to Christ. And, as a prophet, Mormon is doing the same thing in his writings, even when he is talking about war.
The Book of Mormon was to be brought forth in the last days when the whole earth will be in engulfed in wars and rumors of wars, where nations will rise up against nations and, in time, all nations will be aligned against Israel with the intent of driving them into the sea. Historians have already concluded that the 20th century has been the bloodiest and the most violent century in the history of mankind, and the 21st century is already shaping up to be even worse. Mormon saw our day and deliberately wrote about war precisely because it would be a large part of our life.
So the real question we should be asking ourselves is: What did Mormon want to teach us by spending so many chapters writing about Nephite wars? There are quite a number of things we can learn from these accounts, both at the temporal and on the spiritual level, and many of them have political implications as well, but for now we will only look at a few of them.
It is not a coincidence that the Book of Mormon was brought forth in a land that has been blessed with the greatest amount of freedom than any nation in the history of the world, but it is still susceptible to being subverted by corrupt men who would like to take away that freedom and replace it with their own power to rule over us. And without true freedom, governments are then able to dictate how and who we are to worship. Therefore, politics plays an important part in our spirituality. But how will we be able to recognize corrupt men who desire to take away our freedom when they first begin to arise?
At the time when Moroni was the captain over the Nephite armies, a man named Amalickiah was desirous to be a king so he could rule over the Nephites, and there were the greater part of the lower judges of the land who supported his efforts because they too were seeking power. "Because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, he [was able to] lead the hearts of many people to do wickedly." In this way "they were led away to dissensions" (Alma 46:4-6). And it was by dividing the people, whereby they became angry and contentious with one another, that Amalickiah hoped to take control of the government.
The scriptures tell us that contention, discord, strife, jealousy, hatred, and similar feelings all come from the influence of the devil, so when we see these things happening in our society we can easily tell what kind of spirit is leading people to exhibit this kind of behavior. When we see political leaders whose rhetoric tends to foment this kind of behavior in people, or they don't take a strong stand against such conduct, we can likewise know what kind of spirit motivates them.
On the other hand, a person who not only talks about championing Christian values but whose actions show he practices them in his personal and public life is someone who is more worthy of our trust. Moroni was such a man. We are told that he was "a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people. Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood." (Alma 48:12, 13).
What Mormon is doing here in his abridgement is contrasting two different types of individuals who are seeking to become leaders of their people and showing us, through his narrative, the motives and actions behind both of them. By studying the techniques of these two men we may be able to likewise recognize the motives behind those who seek to become our leaders.
Amalickiah was stopped by Moroni in his effort to make himself king over the Nephites and he fled to the Lamanites to avoid capture, but once there he continued his devious ways and eventually managed to make himself the king of the Lamanites. Filled with hatred and anger, he was now in a position to incite the Lamanites to launch an all-out, full-scale attack on the Nephite nation.
The gospel of Jesus Christ preaches a message of love and peace, so what do Christians do when confronted with the prospect of war? There are those who say we that should hold to our values of showing love to all men, including our enemies, arguing that the taking of anyone's life, even in a wartime situation, is an act of murder. There are some Christians who say that it is acceptable to serve one's country in times of war but only in non-combat roles, while others say it is perfectly justified for a Christian to kill another enemy soldier who is trying to kill them. So what is the correct course of action for someone who says they are a follower of Christ?
The Book of Mormon helps settle this argument. It was the desire of the Lamanites to "bring [the Nephites] into subjection… that they might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage" (Alma 43L7,8). Freedom is an inalienable gift from God that He has endowed all of His children with. When someone tries to take away that freedom then we not only have a God-given right to defend and protect it but it is also our duty. As the Book of Mormon puts it, "And they (the Nephites) were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God" (Alma 43:46).
We should certainly use all peaceful means at our disposal to protect our freedoms, but when all peaceful options have been exhausted, or are not feasible, then God justifies armed conflict to defend ourselves, our families, our freedoms, and our country. This is why Moroni's banner read "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children" (Alma 46:12). These are things worth fighting for and even dying for if necessary.
But war is not something that Christians should enter into lightly. It is an action that requires great and deliberate consideration. Amalickiah stirred his people up to action with soaring speeches that played to their baser emotions of greed, envy, and revenge. On the other hand, Moroni, after "he had poured out his soul to God… he went forth among the people… crying with a loud voice, saying: Behold, whosoever will maintain this title of liberty, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord" (Alma 46:17-20). And "when Moroni had said these words, he went forth, and sent forth, in all parts of the land and gathered together all the people who were desirous to maintain their liberty" (Alma 43:28).
From the record that Mormon has left us, we learn that Captain Moroni took his case to the people and let them decide whether they wanted to join his cause or not. There was no coercion, compulsion, bullying, or intimidation. The people were allowed the freedom to make their own decisions, and those who joined Moroni's cause did so of their own free will. More importantly, they were joining themselves to a righteous cause.
This is how a follower of Christ should behave, especially when striving to win people to their beliefs. It is acceptable to state one's position with passion, but we must never do it with force or with duress, and always by speaking the truth. On the other hand, Amalickiah couldn't speak the truth concerning what he was trying to do if he hoped to get people to support his cause, so he lied and pressured them into following him.
Notice also that Moroni didn't initiate the war. He was only taking up arms to defend what was his, as opposed to the Lamanites who were seeking to take what rightfully belonged to others. During the Middle Ages, European Christians went to war with the Muslims in what was called the Crusades in order to take control of the city of Jerusalem. The Christians believed that Jerusalem was a holy city that belonged under their control rather than in the hands of what they considered to be infidel heathens, so they took the city away from the Muslims by force. The Book of Mormon clearly shows that this kind of action is not the way a believer in Christ should behave.
As the war progressed we read how the Lamanites began capturing towns and we read of the difficulties the Nephites had in driving them back into their own lands. We then read about how Moroni caused bulwarks of timber to be erected around the cities and how some of these cities still fell into Lamanite hands, and how Moroni was able to retake them. We read of Helaman's army of 2,000 "stripling warriors" and how they were able to help defeat the Lamanites, and we read of Moroni's letter to Pahoran asking for supplies. And as we read about these events people may wonder, "What has any of this got to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ?" But that's the wrong question to ask. The real question is, "What is Mormon trying to teach us about having faith in Christ?"
There are two ways of teaching. One is by lecturing, where a principle is directly stated and explained, and the other is by use of illustrations and examples, where a principle is shown in action. The Book of Mormon uses both approaches to teaching, but in the war chapters, Mormon is using the second method.
What motivated Amalickiah was the lust for power and that led him to exhibit the spirit of greed and hatred. The people who followed him were those who were quick to "forget the Lord their God, yea quick to do iniquity and to be lead away by the evil one. Yea, and we see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men." (Alma 46:8,9).
It was because the people had allowed themselves to become wicked through the beguiling influence of Amalickiah that caused the Nephite nation to fall into a long war. Had the Nephites had been a righteous people, the Lamanites would have been defeated much sooner. And so we see, through example, what happens when a nation turns from its righteousness and embraces wickedness. When the Spirit of the Lord withdraws, the people suffer.
The same thing happened to the Nephites more than four hundred years later when the prophet Mormon was writing his record. No matter how hard Mormon tried to get his people to repent, they wouldn't listen to him, and, as a result, they kept losing one battle after another and were forced to give up more and more of their lands to the enemy. This is a spiritual principle that still applies to us today and Mormon was dramatically illustrating this point with his stories.
In the war chapters we also see what happens to those who place their trust in God, as did the people of Ammon. When they were about to break their oath never to take up weapons again, the Lord provided a way for them to keep their promise by having their sons go to war in their parent's place. And because of the great faith in God of these young men, out of the 2,000 who went forth under the leadership of Helaman, not one of them died in battle.
And that same principle applies to us today. The Lord protects His own and will provide a way for His people to escape destruction if they remain faithful to Him. When we do as He commands, we will be blessed, but when we do not as He commands, then we have no such promise. At a time when the whole world seems to be stirred up to anger and political leaders are struggling to cope with today's many serious problems that seem to be getting worse instead of better, the war chapters provide a great spiritual lesson for us to learn from.
But the temporal wars we see happening all around us today are just a symptom of the spiritual war that we are engaged in. Satan is abroad in the land seeking to destroy the souls of men and there is a parallel between how we successfully fight an earthly war to how we successfully win a spiritual war.
During a lull in the fighting, but knowing that the enemy was preparing to attack with greater intensity, Captain Moroni feverously worked to fortify each of his cities to protect them from being taken by the enemy. In the same way, we need to fortify ourselves to keep Satan from capturing our souls. But through carelessness and clever strategy, the Lamanites were able to take a number of fortified cities, and if we are not careful Satan can likewise penetrate our spiritual defenses.
However, through great effort, the Nephite armies were able to find a strategy of their own to recapture their lost cities. In the same way, no matter how hopeless a situation maybe that we find ourselves in, if we trust in the Lord, He will give us the victory.
These are just a few of the things we learn from reading the last half of the book of Alma. What Mormon knew was that the spiritual and the temporal are just two sides of the same coin. As such we can't really separate them from one another because they affect each other. And we see this most clearly as we read and study the war chapters.
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