For the most part, Alma 53-63 is a continuation of the Nephite-Lamanite war provoked by Amalickiah, a Nephite traitor and apostate of the Church of God (see Alma 46:1-9). Mormon’s account of this war begins in Alma 46 and continues until 62, making it the longest account of any war recorded in the Book of Mormon.
The length given by Mormon in his record pertaining to this particular war indicates its importance to the message he intended for his latter-day reader. Recall that Mormon saw our day and chose “those things which would be of greatest worth to us” to include in his record. Therefore, as President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “If they saw our day and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon? We should constantly ask ourselves, “Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?”1 So we ask, What lesson(s) can be learned from Mormon’s account of the war between the Nephites and Lamanites as recorded in Alma 53-63?
At least one message would appear to be that Mormon intended his latter-day reader to liken the Nephite-Lamanite war of Alma 53-63 to the spiritual war each of God’s children is facing in these last days before the second coming of Christ. Of this war, Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Council of the Twelve Apostles has said: “There has been a war between light and darkness, between good and evil, since before the world was created. The battle still rages and the casualties seem to be increasing.”2 Likewise, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve said: “We are in a war. This war is the same war that raged in the premortal world. Lucifer and his followers are committed to an evil direction.”3
President Ezra Taft Benson, spoke of his concern about the spiritual warfare of our day: “We live in a day of great challenge. We live in that time of which the Lord spoke when he said, ‘Peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.’ (D&C 1:35.) We live in that day which John the Revelator foresaw when ‘the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.’ (Rev. 12:17.) The dragon is Satan; the woman represents the Church of Jesus Christ. Satan is waging war against the members of the Church who have testimonies and are trying to keep the commandments. And while many of our members are remaining faithful and strong, some are wavering. Some are falling. Some are fulfilling John’s prophecy that in the war with Satan, some Saints would be overcome. (See Rev. 13:7.)”4
What can we, as Latter-day Saints, do to avoid being overcome? Nephi gave us a clue. In a vision of the last days, Nephi was shown the war of good versus evil. Said he: “And it came to pass that I beheld that the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God.” Nephi also saw how God would protect His people. “The power of the Lamb of God,” said Nephi, “descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (1 Ne. 14:13-14).
In what manner did the power of the Lord descend upon His people that it armed them with righteousness and power? The answer to this question is critical!
Sons of Helaman
At least part of the answer can be discovered by examining the astonishing account of the sons of Helaman which form part of the war chapters in Alma 53-63. Mormon devoted four chapters (Alma 53, 56-58) detailing the story of the sons of Helaman in which these remarkable young men fought in several severe battles against the Lamanites–but “not one soul of them” did “perish” (Alma 57:25)! The length given these stories suggests the importance of their example in receiving divine power that enabled them to successfully overcome their enemy. Indeed, President Benson spoke to the young people of the Church, saying: “In the spiritual battles you are waging, I see you as today’s sons of Helaman.” Then briefly reminding them of this account, he said: “Remember well the Book of Mormon account of Helaman’s two thousand stripling warriors and how the teachings of their mothers gave them strength and faith. These marvelous mothers taught them to put on the whole armor of God, to place their trust in the Lord, and to doubt not. By so doing, not one of these young men was lost. (See Alma 53:10–23; Alma 56:41–56.)”5
Let us briefly review the story of the sons of Helaman and the principles we can glean from Mormon’s inclusion of this account in his record.
The sons of Helaman were really the sons of the people of Ammon–the Lamanite converts, who, as a result of the missionary efforts of the four sons of Mosiah had become fully converted to the gospel. Recall that to save them from being slaughtered by other non-converted Lamanites, the Nephites gave them the land of Jershon (see Alma 27). Further recall, that this same group of converted Lamanites, who had been “forgiven” of their “many sins and murders,” had entered into a covenant never to take up the sword again lest they might murder again and no longer be forgiven of their sins (Alma 24:10-13).
As the war between the Nephites and Lamanites recorded in Alma 46-62 raged on, the people of Ammon decided to break their oath of pacifism and “take up arms in the defence of their country.” But, “as they were about to take their weapons of war, they were overpowered by the persuasions of Helaman and his brethren” not to break the oath they had made. At this point, the sons of the people of Ammon “who had not entered into a covenant that they would not take their weapons of war to defend themselves against their enemies” decided to take up arms and join the Nephite cause. Mormon tells us: “ therefore they did assemble themselves together at this time, as many as were able to take up arms, and they called themselves Nephites. And they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives; yea, even they covenanted that they never would give up their liberty, but they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage” (Alma 53:13-16).