Hidden Lessons in the Book of Mormon “War Chapters”
Most of us are familiar with Alma 43-62, or what are often called the “war chapters” in the Book of Mormon. Within these twenty books of Alma, we learn the circumstances in which God allows his people to defend themselves, we are inspired by the sterling character of Captain Moroni, and we’re thrilled by the accomplishments of the 2000 stripling warriors.
These lessons are wonderful and powerful, but many of us continue to ask the question, “Why are there so many wars in the Book of Mormon?” We wonder if we might be missing something. Notice the words of Nephi: “Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.” Certainly, the prophet Mormon, as he abridged the final record, was aware of Nephi’s admonition.
So we ask the question, Could there be more? My personal study of the war chapters had led me to believe that the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Within the tactics, the stratagems and the battlefield heroics are numerous spiritual lessons which will help us survive in a time of spiritual and temporal war. There are too many lessons in each chapter to be repeated here, but I’ve listed below my favorite spiritual lesson from each of the war chapters.
Alma 43: Prophets Know Where the Enemy Will Strike
Moroni’s confrontation with Zerahemnah teaches us the value of prophets in times of war and peace. When Zerahemnah’s army changed course after being frightened by the Nephite army, Captain Moroni immediately issued two orders: First, he sent spies to follow Lamanite army, and second, he sent men to inquire of the prophet Alma where the Lamanites might go. This is faith and works. He did everything in his power, and he called on a power higher than his own.
Modern prophets have continually warned that in the latter-days, the adversary will attack marriage and family. More than thirty years ago, President Harold B. Lee stated, “Satan’s greatest threat today, is to destroy the family and make a mockery of the law of chastity and the sanctity of the marriage covenant” (Church News, August 19. 1972, 3). In 1995, The Proclamation to the World: The Family was issued. Prophets tell us where the enemy strike next. The spiritual message is clear: Keep your eyes on the living prophets, they know where the enemy will attack.
Alma 44: the Power of Faith in Christ in War and Peace
With information from the prophet Alma, Moroni quickly surrounded the Lamanites, and after a brief battle called a “cease fire.” At this point, Moroni could have compelled the Lamanites to swear on oath of non-aggression and leave. However, Moroni was a witness of God at all times, in all things and in all places. So before he delivered his very benevolent terms, he bore a powerful testimony of faith in Christ to a captive audience. Read verses 3-4, and notice the number of times the word “faith” appears! Moroni never took credit for the Nephite successes, and always took the blame for their failures. The spiritual message is wonderful – faith in Christ is a power to be reckoned at all times, in all things and in all places, including war.
Alma 45: Declare the Word of God in Times of War.
Alma the Younger prophesied the ultimate destruction of the Nephites, and departed out of the land. Knowing more wars were coming, what did Helaman and his brethren do? Make swords? Armor? Fortifications? No. “For because of their wars ... it became expedient that the word of God should be declared among them...” (verse 21, emphasis added). The war chapters are very consistent on this point – spiritual preparation is always first. The spiritual message is clear: get your spiritual life in order, then prepare temporally for whatever may come. Physical swords come in handy, but the “sword of the spirit, which is the word of God” is a more powerful and more important weapon (see Ephesians 6:17).
Alma 46: Place Reminders of your Covenants Everywhere
Amalickiah was a Nephite who wanted to be king. He wanted to destroy the system of judges, and rule over the Nephites. Captain Moroni, well aware of the problems of having a king, rent his coat and wrote upon it the title of liberty. Later, the title of liberty was hoisted upon every tower in all the land. Amalickiah and his followers eventually fled.
Apparently, towers were the media of the day. Wherever anyone went in the land occupied by the Nephites, the title of liberty was there, “hoisted upon every tower.” The message is wonderful – place reminders of your covenants everywhere. President Kimball urged families to display a picture of the temple in their homes. We can also have a picture of the Savior to remind us of our baptismal and sacrament covenants. These visible reminders of spiritual commitments help us to remember what we are fighting for.
Alma 47: Don’t Come Down from Your Mountain!
The scriptures contain many types and shadows of Christ, and my conviction is that the story of Amalickiah provides us with the opposite – a type and shadow of Satan. Think of the parallels! Amalickiah wanted to be king, he was cast out, and he took his followers with him. Similarly, Satan wanted to “exalt [his] throne above the stars of God (2 Nephi 24:13), was cast out, and took his followers with him. Amalickiah is described as cunning, flattering, and a murderer. Satan is also described as cunning, flattering, and a murderer. Amalickiah poisoned Lehonti “by degrees.” Satan leads us “carefully” or “by degrees” down to hell (2 Nephi 28:21). Amalickiah did “not care for the blood of his people” (Alma 49:10). Satan will “not support his children at the last day (Alma 30:60).
Amalickiah succeeded in persuading the king of the Lamanites to attack the Nephites, but a large part of the Lamanite army refused to fight the Nephites. They found refuge on top of the mount Antipas and appointed Lehonti to be their leader. Three different times, Amalickiah invited Lehonti to come down from the mountain. Lehonti refused each time. Eventually, Amalickiah went up, nearly to the camp of Lehonti, and persuaded Lehonti to come down “just a little.