The War Chapters- Part Four: Responding to Trials
“[B]ehold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni, yea even at this time, in the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges.” Mormon wrote this right after he described how Moroni fortified the land of the Nephites against the impending attack of the Lamanites. Why would Mormon make this comment when he knew what was coming next in the history of the Nephites? Why would the people be happy when they were beset with troubles? The answer is in how the people were taught to respond to trials.
Relying on the Promises of the Gospel
After the defeat of Zerahemnah, the people rejoiced in the help they were given by the Lord. They took time to fast and pray, giving thanks for the quick victory they had had. After this, came the dissentions, including the dissention of Amalickiah discussed before. Helaman, the son of Alma, had been called as the prophet and saw these dissentions as a present danger to the survival of the people of Nephi. To combat the weakening of the nation, Helaman called upon his friends and brothers to help him preach the gospel to the people (Alma 45:22-24).
During their missionary work, they rebuilt the church, organizing teachers and priests to oversee the spiritual health of the people throughout the land. Their work succeeded in building a unified church and strong faithful people. Mormon said this of their efforts: “even for the space of four years did they have much peace and rejoicing in the church. And it came to pass that there were many who died, firmly believing that their souls were redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ; thus they went out of the world rejoicing.” Helaman and his brethren continued to teach the people and remind them that they would prosper in the land if they continued to follow the commandments of the Jesus Christ.
As Moroni was preparing the physical defenses of the people, Helaman and those who taught with him “were no less serviceable unto the people.” It was key that the people understood the gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to live in peace one with another. Helaman knew that when Amalickiah and the Lamanites came, the people of Nephi would need to be unified and looking to God for help. The Lamanites were far more numerous than the Nephites. There was no way that they could withstand the onslaught without heavenly help.
The first attack of the Lamanites failed to take any land from the Nephites. In response, Amalickiah cursed God swore in his anger to drink the blood of Moroni. The Nephite response was to rejoice in the help they received from Heavenly Father because of the “heed and diligence which they gave unto the word of God, which was declared unto them by Helaman[…], yea, and by all those who had been ordained by the holy order of God, being baptized unto repentance, and sent forth to preach among the people.”
Unfortunately, as mentioned above Alma chapter forty-nine speaks of the first attack and not the only attack. Over the next fifteen years, the Lamanites would attack again, and again, and again. At some points they even took over many cities from the Nephites, imprisoning the people and even coming close to taking over the land. This prolonged trial caused different responses in the people and affected Nephite history right up until the coming of Jesus Christ ninety years later. I would like to explore two responses to this trial.
“Our Mothers Knew It”
Shortly after the main phase of the war began, the people of Ammon- who had joined the church as Lamanites and then fled to the Nephites for protection- saw the hardship that was on the Nephites and desired to help. (Alma 56) They had previously promised to never take up arms against an enemy as a sign of their commitment to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So strong was their desire to help the Nephite armies, that they considered breaking the covenant they had made.
Helaman spoke to them and told them that they would help the Nephites more by holding to their covenant at this difficult time. Instead of the elder members of the people of Ammon marching to defend the land, two thousand of their sons chose to fight for the Nephites. The sons had not made the covenant their fathers had made, thus allowing them to stand in as soldiers for their fathers. Helaman was chosen to lead these young men and they were attached to the army of Antipus. Shortly after their arrival with the army, they began to retake the lost cities from the Lamanites.
The first battle that they participated in was the liberation of the city of Antiparah. (see Alma 56:31-42) Their job was to march past the city and convince the Lamanites to chase them. Then Antipus would follow behind and chase the Lamanites, hoping to catch them in a vulnerable spot. The ploy worked; the Lamanites chased Helaman and his stripling warriors and Antipus chased the Lamanites. For two days they chased each other. On the third day, Helaman and his soldiers discovered that the Lamanites had not followed them.
The decision to be made was whether to turn around and head back towards the last known location of the Lamanites. I would like to put a little bit of context in before recounting the decision that was made. Imagine being a young man (late teens to mid-twenties) who has just joined the army. Presumably there was little training available to you since the war was in full swing and every person who joined was needed right away. Now, imagine being with Helaman in your first engagement against the Lamanites. All that you have done for the last two days is march as fast and as far as possible from sunup to sundown over uneven ground with heavy armour and weapons. The raw Nephite soldiers would have been exhausted and worn out from marching for two days with only a few stops. Even today having soldiers march more than sixteen kilometers in a day and then be ready to fight at the end of that march is a huge task. To ask that these stripling warriors turn around after two and a half long marches then going into an uncertain situation would be a request too far for most commanders.
Helaman put the question to his sons, as he called them, reminding them that if they did turn around they did not know what was awaiting them. The Lamanites could be waiting in ambush. Antipus and his army could have been destroyed and the Lamanites back in the city of Antiparah. It was also possible that the Lamanites had been defeated. The stripling warriors answered with this: “[B]ehold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth…” They continued by saying that they would go and rejoin with Antipus.
“Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” The response of the Stripling Warriors was one of simple knowledge that God would take care of them in their time of need. They knew that it was their duty to defend the people from attack. They also knew that if they died, their spirits would live on in the Spirit World waiting for the resurrection. Their mothers had taught them the gospel, that Jesus would come to earth, atone for the sins, pains, afflictions, concerns, and cares of all of God’s children. Their mothers taught them that Jesus would then die and be resurrected showing them how they could one day return to their Heavenly Father. Their mothers had taught them that if they followed the commandments of God, they would be preserved and delivered from evil.
Helaman was moved by their simple courage and led them back towards the Lamanites. When they reached the Lamanite army, they saw that Antipus had caught up with them and attacked. Sadly, Antipus and many of the leaders of his army had been killed- due to the speed of their march- and the Nephites were beginning to break and flee. Helaman and his warriors were able to come up on the rear of the Lamanite army and were able to help Antipus’s army surround the Lamanites. Eventually, after exceptionally heavy fighting, the Lamanites surrendered to the Nephites.
With the victory, Helaman set about reorganizing his command so he could tally the dead. He feared that many would have been killed because of their vigorous marching and the fierceness of the fighting. “But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought a if with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength…”
Through out the rest of the war, the Stripling Warriors fought firm in their faith in Jesus Christ. Not one of them was killed in the fighting even though many would receive serious wounds. This continued knowledge that they would be delivered and preserved by God if they kept the commandments helped sustain these warriors through the great trial of war.
I would now like to turn to the second reaction of people to the trial of war amongst the Nephites and Lamanites. This second reaction had its roots in the dissensions of Amalickiah and others. Not all of Amalickiah’s followers were able to escape with him. Many were left behind to be captured by Moroni. These people were given the choice to either support the government or be executed for treason. Many did choose to support the government and work to preserve it (See Alma 46:31-35).
Over the course of the war, with many of the cities being overrun by Lamanites, there was a rebellion against the government. This rebellion forced Pahoran who was the Chief Judge (essentially the president), and the rest of the government out of Zarahemla, the Nephite capital. The rebels were called king-men because they wanted to create a monarchy and weaken the power of the church. They decided the right time to act was when the Nephites looked weakest- that way it would be easier to set up their government and also make peace with the Lamanites.
Pahoran wrote a letter to Moroni explaining the motives and actions of the king-men that we can read in Alma chapter sixty-one. He said that there were many in the land of the Nephites that rejoiced in the struggles Moroni and his other commanders had in fighting the Lamanites. Pahoran said they loved the problems that were happening so much that they rebelled against the government and denied sufficient aid to the armies so they could be defeated.
There were those who rose up and used Amalickiah’s tricks of flattery to get many people to support the idea of a new government system and rapprochement with the Lamanites. It was the desire of the king-men to get rid of the freely elected judges and replace them with a monarchy and noble class that would control the affairs of the people (See Alma 51). The flattery of the king-men caused many to either forget or forsake the teachings of Helaman and his brethren and abandon their trust in God. These people put their trust in people who were seen to be strong, and seemed to be acting at a time when the people of Nephi were in a deep crisis.
The king-men were able to make an alliance with the Lamanites and promised to hold Zarahemla against the Nephites. With the capital under hostile occupation, it would be hard to supply and support the armies of Moroni. This arrangement was short lived as Moroni and Pahoran united their armies and attacked Zarahemla and captured many of the king-men (Alma 62).
The king-men let fear and a distrust of the power of God propel their choices and actions. With the setbacks against the Lamanites, they allowed themselves to doubt- which in turn allowed Satan to influence them and encourage them to attempt the overthrow of the government. This is a real-world example of the Parable of the Sower given by Jesus during His ministry in Judaea. These people were like the seeds that fell among the stones, grew quickly but then dried up quickly. Jesus said: “Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”
Us and Our Trials
At the end of the Book of Alma, Mormon wraps up the war chapters by sharing what happened to the people over the many years of conflict. He wrote “because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites, many had become hardened… and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.” Why would this dichotomy happen? Everyone went through the same titanic struggle to preserve their families from conquest and had done it successfully. What would cause such different reactions?
As mentioned above, we can look to the Parable of the Sower. Jesus speaks of seeds being spread over many different types of ground. Some fell on good ground, others on rocky, thorny, or hard packed ground. Jesus speaks of most of the seeds germinating and growing for a time. He also tells us of the trials and tribulations that come to each of the sprouted seeds. We looked at what the thorns do. The seeds in the rocks were beat down and withered by the sun because they did not have good earth beneath them. The seeds on the hard earth were picked up right away by the birds.
Noticeably, the seeds in the good ground were also beset with trials. The sun still beat upon them- the same sun that withered the seeds in the stony places. They survived, and even flourished, under the sun because they had the depth of earth needed to grow strong roots and use the moisture it found to harvest the energy from the sun.
Recently the whole world has been through the same trial. We have all experienced the Covid Pandemic. Billions of people were affected in one way or another. Some got sick; others lost family members. Some faced financial troubles; while others seemed to profit. Many felt alone or ostracized for their choices and beliefs. There were others who felt united and safe.
In the April 2020 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson called for a worldwide fast to call upon God for relief from the pandemic. This invitation was open to all- not just members of the church. He called upon us to unite as God’s children to petition the Lord for help. There were many who did so and pooled their collective faith in fasting and prayer. Now, as we know, the pandemic did not simply vanish. There was no quick deliverance from the pestilence. I cannot speak for all people, but I did notice that my fears and worries about the pandemic lessened. I knew that I would be okay.
Shortly after this fast, there began to be many ways people did to be together through the depths of the pandemic. They would clap for frontline workers. They would sing with each other from their apartment balconies. They made signs and videos and blog posts encouraging people to be happy. We saw that we could influence others and help them in their trials without being in physical contact with them.
As the pandemic kept rolling along, there were those who tired of the “don’t worry be happy” mantra. They railed against the “thoughts and prayers” of others thinking that those did not help. They did not accept that something intangible could have a tangible effect in their lives. These people chose to reject the counsel of President Nelson and looked only for what was going wrong. It seemed that no matter what good was happening, only the bad news mattered. Eventually, many of the outward actions of unity faded away as those who sought to only highlight the badness of the situation gained more of an audience.
Even though these voices against “thoughts and prayers” and “don’t worry, be happy” were loud and often, there were many great and important good things to happen during this time. Eighty-two temples were announced between April 2020 and October 2022. People continued to get married. Babies continued to be born. Degrees and diplomas were granted. Careers began; retirements achieved. Thousands of people were baptised and confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thousands of children who turned eight years old were also baptised. It is when we look to our covenants and follow the commandments that we will be one of the seeds that fell into good ground; where we will find the moisture and depth necessary to withstand the trials and persecutions of life.
The apostle Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians gave them this counsel: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” When we hold to our covenants and keep the commandments we will have peace. Helaman preached it, the stripling warriors knew it and we can trust in it. Peace will come when we move closer to our Saviour.
When we are in the midst of a trial it is up to us to choose whether we will hold fast to Christ or if we will seek our own counsel in dealing with it. We have been promised that we will be delivered and preserved if we keep on the Covenant Path. In Christ we will find the refuge from the storms of life. One of the best ways we can keep close to our Saviour during trials is to serve others- even it is only a smile as we walk past someone. It is amazing what even a simple smile can do. It is almost impossible to not smile back. As we do small things, our capacity to act and understand will grow. The more we trust in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, the more opportunities we will be given to lean on that trust.
We have come to the end of the War Chapters series. There is much we can learn from this troubling time in Nephite history. There is nothing that is included in the Book of Mormon that is not for our benefit. Mormon was inspired as to what needed to be included in it. He put the war chapters in so we can become stronger in our faith in Jesus Christ. We learn how to better prepare for trials by studying how Moroni prepared the soldiers and cities. We learn where we can turn for answers by seeking revelation as Moroni did when Zerahemnah attacked. We learn how to lead in the Saviour’s way when we look at the example Moroni gives us. We learn how to respond in times of trial by seeing how the people of Nephi reacted to their struggles.
These chapters are for us to learn and grow from. They teach us practical ways for us to seek Jesus. It is my encouragement that we all continue to reach for the Saviour and cleave unto him. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.