The War Chapters- Part Two: Revelation
In part one of the War Chapters series, we looked at how Moroni prepared the people. In this second article, we will be seeing how he used revelation to guide the war efforts.
Moroni was a devout follower of Jesus Christ. He knew that value of revelation his efforts to defend the Nephites from the Lamanites and those who sought to bring down the government and the church. We read last time that when he had created the Title of Liberty, he prayed for his people and their welfare. He also prayed for the land and its freedom. His love for the people and Heavenly Father drove him to prayer to seek the will of God.
The First Battle
I would like to turn to one of the major moments of revelation seeking in the War Chapters. Around 74 BC the Lamanites, joined by Nephite dissenters, gathered an army to attack the Nephites. They were led by a Zoramite (a group of dissenters) named Zerahemnah.
The dissenters from the Nephites were those who rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the government (see Alma 35:2-14). Many had been believers in the past. Many rejected the teachings of the church and followed what Nehor had taught (that there would be no Christ and that the commandments were not necessary because everyone would be saved no matter what they did). Such was their anger and malice towards the church, that they wanted to tear the whole civilization of the Nephites down. They sought the help of the Lamanites and became citizens of that nation.
Zerahemnah used his anger to stoke the Lamanites fires of hatred towards the Nephites so they could conquer the Nephites. Zerahemnah placed these dissenters in control of the army units so their anger and fury could be passed to their men. He knew that without the constant stoking of anger from their leaders, the Lamanites would eventually slacken in their resolve and wish to retreat from the Nephites. The leaders' job was to keep the army focused on utterly destroying the Nephite civilization.
The first target of Zerahemnah’s army was the People of Ammon. These people were the former Lamanites who had converted to the Gospel through the missionary efforts of Ammon and his brothers twenty years earlier. The account of the mission to the Lamanites can be found in chapters 17-27 of Alma. Many of the Lamanites would have had relatives that had joined the church. This was seen as a betrayal by many Lamanites, who held the belief that the Nephi stole power and authority away from his older brothers Laman and Lemuel. Therefore, all the descendants of Nephi and those that followed him were liars, cutpurses, and usurpers. Since the People of Ammon joined with the worst of humanity, they were traitors to their family heritage. Zerahemnah wanted to destroy these people first and then move on to the rest of the Nephites.
Moroni knew that this was the first place the Lamanites would go, so he had placed his army in the way of the Lamanites so the People of Ammon would be protected. When the Lamanite army arrived, they saw the Nephite army blocking their path and decided to withdraw and attack a different target. They dissolved into the wilderness and avoided detection by Moroni.
Moroni decided to do two things. First, he sent spies to locate and report the movements of the Lamanite army. Second, he sent messengers to Alma, the prophet, to ask him to pray to God and learn where the Lamanites would be so Moroni and the army could intercept them. Moroni knew that as good as spies are, they take time to return and report. He would not be able to move his army until they returned so they could find their way back and report which would cause a great delay in the response time. There was also the possibility that the spies would misjudge the movements of the Lamanite army and have Moroni move his troops to the wrong area leaving the people vulnerable to attack. His decision to ask Alma to petition Heavenly Father would provide a quicker response and a more definite place to stop the invasion.
The messengers sent to Alma returned and told Moroni that the Lamanites would be attacking the Land of Manti, which was lightly defended at the time. So Moroni left a garrison force behind to defend the People of Ammon and then marched the rest of his army to Manti. Moroni called on the citizens of the area to join the army and defend their homes and families (Alma 43:24-26). There they waited, hiding themselves, ready to receive the Lamanites who had to take a longer way around to avoid revealing their position.
The trap was sprung with the Lamanites being surrounded by the Nephites. The Lamanites had no choice but to try and fight their way out. Their anger towards the Nephites could only do so much however. Their fury could not protect their bare bodies from the weapons of the Nephites. The Lamanites had decided to go to war in just a loin cloth- perhaps expecting this show of bravado to intimidate the Nephites. With many of their comrades dying, the soldiers of the Lamanite army broke and fled. They ran towards the river Sidon and tried to escape over it.
They were caught and surrounded again. Imagine the fear that would have come over the Lamanites at this point. They were surrounded, dressed in a loincloth, and being hunted by a superior force that seems to know where they would be before they got there. How would they react?
The Lamanites had been taught how evil the Nephites were and were stirred up by their leaders to fight for their lives because surrender would be worse than death. The Lamanites began to fight “like dragons” and took a heavy toll on the Nephite army. Mormon, compiler of the Book of Mormon, tells us that they “did smite in their fierce anger.” He then follows up immediately with this statement:
“Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church. And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies…Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed.”
The fierceness of the Lamanites caused some Nephites to flee. Moroni sent messengers to his army to remind them of why they were fighting and inspire them to stand firm. The messengers were successful in rousing the spirits of the Nephites and they were able to turn back the Lamanites and once again surround them (see Alma 43:48-52). Seeing this, Moroni stopped his men from attacking the Lamanites and initiated a parlay with Zerahemnah.
Moroni spoke to Zerahemnah and told him that the Nephites were preserved by the Hand of God. He also said that was the collective faith of the Nephites and their knowledge that they would be led and defended by God that put the Lamanite army in danger of being destroyed. Moroni then offered an ultimatum. If the Lamanites dropped their weapons and vowed not to attack the Nephites again, they would be free to go home to their families.
Zerahemnah dropped his weapons but did not make the vow. Moroni returned the weapons and said that the battle would resume. Zerahemnah tried to take advantage of the situation and kill Moroni, but he was intercepted, disarmed, and had his scalp cut off. The soldier then placed the scalp on his sword and promised that each person who did not vow to leave under oath, would fall like the scalp had done. The Lamanites quickly dropped their weapons and swore the oath (Alma 44:8-20).
Our Relationship with Revelation
Why relate that whole long episode? I did it to show how seeking revelation can benefit our lives. For Moroni and the Nephites, revelation led to a quick end of an invasion and the restoration of peace. Moroni knew that he did not have all the answers, but he knew where he could go to find the answers he needed.
It is pertinent at this point to answer the question of “What is Revelation?” It is, simply put, communication from Heavenly Father. It is how He warns, encourages, praises, implores, urges, and corrects us.
People of all faiths and backgrounds have sought revelation for many thousands of years, knowing that it can be a source of help and guidance. In ancient Greece, people sought out oracles of the gods to receive guidance. The most famous one was at a place called Delphi. There, a woman called the Pythia would sit in a misty cave and speak after hearing a question. The answer she gave usually could be interpreted in many different ways. One of the most famous examples of this was when King Croesus of Lydia sought guidance on whether to fight or submit to the Persian Empire. He was told that if he fought, a great empire would fall. He interpreted this as a victory for him and his country. What happened was the utter defeat of his kingdom and its absorption in the Persian Hegemony.
Heavenly Father does not do that to us. He never leaves room for doubt. When He reveals something to us, it is a clear direction for us to follow. He does not, however, always reveal what he wants us to know all at once. In April 2011 General Conference, Elder David A. Bednar said that while there are times for us to receive full and complete instructions through revelation, most of the time the revelation we are given comes one step at a time. He likened it to the difference between flipping the light switch in a dark room and watching night turn to day.
When speaking of the light switch he said:
Remember how in an instant a bright flood of illumination filled the room and caused the darkness to disappear. What previously had been unseen and uncertain became clear and recognizable. This experience was characterized by immediate and intense recognition of light.
This kind of revelation gives exceedingly clear knowledge and understanding- leaving no room for doubt as to what needs to be done. We are able to comprehend the Will of the Lord.
As he spoke about watching the sun was rise, Elder Bednar asked this question: “Do you recall the slow and almost imperceptible increase in light on the horizon?” He made the point that the sun does not suddenly burst forth in a blaze of glory, but that light grows slowly brighter.
[G]radually and steadily the intensity of the light increased, and the darkness of night was replaced by the radiance of morning. Eventually, the sun did dawn over the skyline. But the visual evidence of the sun’s impending arrival was apparent hours before the sun actually appeared over the horizon. This experience was characterized by subtle and gradual discernment of light.
With the gradual growth of understanding when we seek answers and revelation, we are able to move forward a little at a time, becoming more surefooted as we go. As we are given more information, we can take a few more steps towards resolving our questions. This slower pace to revelation allows us to put the pieces together at a speed we can keep up with and use in the future. This is the most common form of revelation that we receive.
It is a great gift to receive revelation. We have been granted the ability to speak to our Heavenly Father and are promised that He will answer us. The answers we receive can come in many ways. They can be dreams, visions, spoken words, the actions of others, conversations we have with friends, the good music we listen to, passages we read in scripture and even other good books. The Holy Ghost, who is the member of the Godhead that is sent to deliver revelation, comes to us as a still small voice (see 1 Kings 19:8-12). It is when we seek out good that we are in the best position to receive the revelation we have asked to have.
We have been commanded to “stand in holy places.” When we do so, we will be acting in such a way that we will be receptive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. The way we receive revelation is dependent on our need or circumstance. Mary was told in one visit that she was to be the mother of the Son of God. It was not something that was reveled in small increments. When we are seeking answers to questions such as where to go to school, what career to choose, or even whether to serve a mission, we are usually led slowly as we learn what we are good at and strive to live the commandments.
I must take a moment and discuss the order of revelation. When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was young, the idea of receiving personal revelation was new to many people. The idea that a person was to expect communication from heaven was not taught in many denominations. A man named Hiram Page believed that he was receiving revelation for the direction of the Church through a stone that he had in his possession. Many members of the church believed that these revelations were true revelations from God on how the Church was to be run. Even Oliver Cowdery, the Second Elder of the Church and scribe for Joseph Smith during the translation of the Book of Mormon, believed.
Joseph received a revelation for Oliver that is found in Section 28 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In it the Lord says:
…behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses. And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church. And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it. But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom; And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church; For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.
Here the Lord clearly states that the only person that will receive revelation on how to direct the affairs of the Church as a whole is the President of the Church.
The Lord has organized His church in such a way that we can know He directs the work of gathering Scattered Israel here on the earth. We each as individuals can receive revelation on how we should direct our lives. Our fathers, who preside in our families can receive revelation about how to help his family members. Bishops receive revelation that relates to direct the work of salvation in their wards. Stake Presidents organize and direct the stake through revelation. The President of the Church is the living prophet called by God to serve and guide the church. He holds all of the Keys of the Priesthood which allow him to receive the revelation necessary to direct the work of the church.
Much has been revealed about the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and can be found in the third and thirtieth chapter of the General Handbook; as well as in Sections 20, and 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants. These chapters and sections help us understand the order of revelation. In Doctrine and Covenants 1:38 the Lord declares that what His servants say to us is the same as He Himself speaking to each of us. There is great comfort we can take knowing that when Russell M. Nelson speaks to us in General Conference, the various broadcasts the Church produces, and the announcements made by the Church of new policy, it is the voice of our Lord and Saviour speaking to us.
Revelation is a wonderful gift and tool that we have been given. When we ask in faith, without wavering, we will be granted the knowledge we need in the hour that we need it. It is incumbent upon us to act according to the revelation we receive. When we do so, we will be given more revelation and be led to places of safety, where we can stand in holy places. Revelation from Heavenly Father does change our lives when we heed it. Just as revelation saved the Nephites from a ferocious and determined foe, we can use it to help us fight off the temptations hurled at us by Satan and his followers. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.