Large in Stature
By John A. Tvedtness
“I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers” (1 Nephi 2:16).
Nephi’s description of himself includes the fact that, though yet in his youth, he was “large in stature,” which seems unrelated to his “great desires to know of the mysteries of God.” On a subsequent occasion, his physical endowments did play a role, for he wrote, “I, Nephi, being a man large in stature, and also having received much strength of the Lord, therefore I did seize upon the servant of Laban, and held him, that he should not flee” (1 Nephi 4:31).
From passages like these, one gets the impression that large stature and physical strength were qualities admired in Nephite society, even when the strong man was an enemy of the people. 1 The leader of the Nephite group who went to spy out the Lamanites is said to have been “a strong and mighty man, and a stiffnecked man” (Omni 1:28). When some of these Nephites settled in the land of Lehi-Nephi, “a strong man” named Gideon led a revolt against their king, Noah (Mosiah 19:4). A generation later, “king Mosiah granted that sixteen of their strong men might go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi , to inquire concerning their brethren . . . having with them one Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was also their leader” (Mosiah 7:2-3).
The first case brought before the chief judge Alma was that of a murderer named Nehor, “a man who was large, and was noted for his much strength” (Alma 1:2). In the time of chief captain Moroni , Amalickiah, “the leader of those who were wroth against their brethren was a large and a strong man” ( Alma 46:3). Similarly, ” Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding” (Alma 48:11). Mormon himself wrote, “And notwithstanding I being young, was large in stature; therefore the people of Nephi appointed me that I should be their leader, or the leader of their armies. Therefore it came to pass that in my sixteenth year I did go forth at the head of an army of the Nephites, against the Lamanites” (Mormon 2:1-2).
It seems that a large physical presence made people think that one was capable of being a good military leader. For example, we read of the Lamanites, preparing to “pitch battle against the Nephites. And they were led by a man whose name was Coriantumr; and he was a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was a dissenter from among the Nephites; and he was a large and a mighty man. Therefore, the king of the Lamanites, whose name was Tubaloth, who was the son of Ammoron, supposing that Coriantumr, being a mighty man, could stand against the Nephites, with his strength and also with his great wisdom, insomuch that by sending him forth he should gain power over the Nephites” (Helaman 1:15-16).
The Jaredites, too, admired strength in men, especially among their rulers. The brother of Jared is described as “a large and mighty man” (Ether 1:34). Shule said said to have “waxed strong, and became mighty as to the strength of a man; and he was also mighty in judgment” (Ether 7:8). “Lib was a man of great stature, more than any other man among all the people”? (Ether 14:10). Two individuals, each described as “a mighty man” successively managed to take the kingdom from Moron for a time (Ether 11:15-18), and the last of the Jaredite warriors to die “were large and mighty men as to the strength of men” (Ether 15:26).
The admiration of physically powerful men was probably brought to the New World by both the Jaredites and later Book of Mormon peoples from their Near Eastern homeland. The Bible uses the Hebrew term gibbor, usually rendered “mighty man” in the King James version, to denote a special class of strong warriors. 2 It is first used in reference to the “mighty men which were of old, men of renown” mentioned in Genesis 6:4. Among the individuals called by this term are such notables as Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-9), Goliath (1 Samuel 17:51), the Israelite judge Jephthah (Judges 11:1), the Syrian general Naaman (2 Kings 5:1), King David (1 Samuel 16:18), Kish , the father of Saul (1 Samuel 9:1), and Saul and his son Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19-27).
Saul, chosen as Israel ‘s first king, was said to be “was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward” (1 Samuel 10:23). We read that “when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he took him unto him” to serve in an elite military unit (1 Samuel 14:52). David continued this practice, placing the mighty men under the command of his cousin Joab (2 Samuel 10:7). Among the Nephites, too, whole groups of warriors were called “strong men.” This was true of the soldiers serving under Lehi (Alma 52:36) and the “army of strong men” sent to search out and destroy the Gadianton robbers (Helaman 11:28).
Of the young striplings who volunteered to fight for Nephite freedom, their leader Helaman wrote, “And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all-they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him” ( Alma 53:20-21). This description is reminiscent of Mormon’s description of captain Moroni (after whom he named his own son), “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men. Behold, he was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah, yea, and even the other sons of Mosiah, yea, and also Alma and his sons, for they were all men of God” (Alma 48:17-18).Men of physical strength impressed Mormon, whose abridgment of the Nephite records we acknowledge as scripture, but being strong in the Lord was even more important to this great warrior prophet.
1 Mosiah 10:11 notes that the Lamanites “depended upon their own strength. Yet they were a strong people, as to the strength of men.”
2 The number of Bible passages employing the term is far too large to include here.