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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).
Their leader, Helaman, referred to them as either “young men” or ” very young” men (Alma 56:5, 9, 46, 55; 57: 27). How old were these young men? Perhaps a clue is given in the verse just quoted. We are told that “as many as were able to take up arms” entered into the covenant. What does “able to take up arms” mean? We cannot be sure. However, according to the law of Moses-which, of course, was the law lived by the Nephites-the minimum age for an Israelite to go to war was twenty years old. We read in Leviticus 1:3: “From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies” (emphasis added). There were 2,000 young men who made the covenant to fight for the Nephites on this occasion. I suppose that these 2,000 had met the minimum age requirement for war and therefore could qualify to fight in the defense of the Nephites. Three years later, sixty more of the sons of Ammon joined their brothers bringing their ranks to a total of 2,060 (Alma 57:6). Perhaps they joined at this point because they had now turned twenty and were “able” to take up arms.
After taking the oath to fight in the defense of the Nephites, these young warriors “would that Helaman should be their leader” (Alma 53:19). Hence, they became known as “the sons of Helaman.” Helaman led these stripling warriors in several campaigns in which, to his utter amazement, he saw all these young men wounded but none die. So remarkable was this that Helaman wrote a letter to Captain Moroni detailing the five years he captained these young men. Mormon included the whole letter in his record. From the letter, we learn what gave these young men such power to fight against such great odds and overcome.
From both Mormon’s comments and Helaman’s letter, we can discern several things the stripling warriors did that brought the power of God upon them insomuch that none of them fell in battle. Consider the following.
In speaking of those things that brought power to the sons of Helaman, Mormon and Helaman mentioned to their great courage. “And they were all young men,” Mormon said, “and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity” (Alma 53:20). Likewise, Helaman wrote: “And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites” (Alma 56:45).
Like the sons of Helaman, in order to draw upon the powers of heaven to win the battles against evil, we must demonstrate tremendous courage. The Psalmist wrote: “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord” (Ps. 31:24).
The courage needed in the battles against evil will give us the fortitude to live after the manner of God and not after the ways of men. President Thomas S. Monson taught: “It is this sweet assurance that can guide you and me-in our time, in our day, in our lives. Of course we will face fear, experience ridicule, and meet opposition. Let us have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s approval. Courage becomes a living and an attractive virtue when it is regarded not only as a willingness to die manfully, but as the determination to live decently. A moral coward is one who is afraid to do what he thinks is right because others will disapprove or laugh. Remember that all men have their fears, but those who face their fears with dignity have courage as well.”6
We especially need courage in order to hearken to the will of God by following the counsel of our leaders. In so doing, we will find safety. Elder Eyring observed: “There seems to be no end to the Savior’s desire to lead us to safety. And there is constancy in the way He shows us the path. He calls by more than one means so that it will reach those willing to accept it. And those means always include sending the message by the mouths of His prophets whenever people have qualified to have the prophets of God among them.” He continued, “Those authorized servants are always charged with warning the people, telling them the way to safety.” He then rehearsed the story of the tragedy of Haun’s Mill explaining that that misfortune could have been avoided had Jacob Haun had the courage and humility to follow the counsel given him by Joseph Smith to leave the mill and gather his group of saints to Far West with the rest of the saints.
“In our own time,” Elder Eyring continued, “we have been warned with counsel of where to find safety from sin and from sorrow.” Warnings should always be recognized because they are repeated, he taught. But it takes courage to follow the warnings of God through his prophets. “Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith.” On the other hand, “When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they consider it either faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel.” It is at times like these that we have to have the courage to follow counsel instead of our ways.
The courage to follow the counsel of prophets changes everything. “Another fallacy,” Elder Eyring taught, “is to believe that the choice to accept or not accept the counsel of prophets is no more than deciding whether to accept good advice and gain its benefits or to stay where we are. But the choice not to take prophetic counsel changes the very ground upon which we stand. It becomes more dangerous. The failure to take prophetic counsel lessens our power to take inspired counsel in the future. The best time to have decided to help Noah build the ark was the first time he asked. Each time he asked after that, each failure to respond would have lessened sensitivity to the Spirit. And so each time his request would have seemed more foolish, until the rain came. And then it was too late.”
He concluded, “Every time in my life when I have chosen to delay following inspired counsel or decided that I was an exception, I came to know that I had put myself in harm’s way. Every time that I have listened to the counsel of prophets, felt it confirmed in prayer, and then followed it, I have found that I moved toward safety. Along the path, I have found that the way had been prepared for me and the rough places made smooth.
God led me to safety along a path which was prepared with loving care, sometimes prepared long before.”7
Courage to follow the counsel of the Brethren rather than our own ways or the ways of the world is an essential attribute if we are to receive divine power to win the spiritual war we are facing.
Trust in the Lord
The courage displayed by the sons of Helaman was born of trust. Of this, Helaman wrote: “Now this was the faith of these of whom I have spoken; they are young, and their minds are firm, and they do put their trust in God continually” (Alma 57:27). “To trust,” stated Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quroum of the Twelve Apostles, “means to obey willingly without knowing the end from the beginning.” To be productive, he continued, “your trust in the Lord must be more powerful and enduring than your confidence in your own personal feelings and experience.”
Notice in Helaman’s comment quoted above that trust and faith in the Lord go hand in hand. Speaking of this, Elder Scott stated: “To exercise faith is to trust that the Lord knows what He is doing with you and that He can accomplish it for your eternal good even though you cannot understand how He can possibly do it.” Trust and faith are acquired incrementally. “We are like infants,” Elder Scott taught, “in our understanding of eternal matters and their impact on us here in mortality. Yet at times we act as if we knew it all. When you pass through trials for His purposes, as you trust Him, exercise faith in Him, He will help you. That support will generally come step by step, a portion at a time. While you are passing through each phase, the pain and difficulty that comes from being enlarged will continue. If all matters were immediately resolved at your first petition, you could not grow. Your Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son love you perfectly. They would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed for your personal benefit or for that of those you love.”8
Faith and Trust Instilled by their Mothers
Helaman states very clearly that the faith and trust of the sons of Helaman were instilled in them because of the teachings of their mothers. Note the following statements from Helaman’s letter:
- “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. (Alma 56:47-48).
- Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them. (Alma 57:21)
After a particularly terrible battle, when Helaman discovered that none of his “sons” were killed, he remarked: “And now, their preservation was astonishing to our whole army, yea, that they should be spared while there was a thousand of our brethren who were slain. And we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe-that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power” (Alma 57:26). Keeping in line with the previous statements, it would be proper to assume that the teachings referred to must have come from their mothers.
Through these statements, Mormon is making both a powerful and important message Mormon to his latter-day reader. The role of mothers in helping their children withstand the evil which is in the world cannot be overstated. President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of this in these terms: “Now there is an added challenge for you sisters of this day. Never before, at least not in our generation, have the forces of evil been so blatant, so brazen, so aggressive as they are today. Things we dared not speak about in earlier times are now constantly projected into our living rooms. All sensitivity is cast aside as reporters and pundits speak with a disgusting plainness of things that can only stir curiosity and lead to evil.” He then stated in clear terms: “The home is under siege. So many families are being destroyed.” He urged the sisters to faithfully attend to their role as mothers. “Sisters, guard your children. They live in a world of evil. The forces are all about them. I am proud of so many of your sons and daughters who are living good lives. But I am deeply concerned about many others who are gradually taking on the ways of the world. Nothing is more precious to you as mothers, absolutely nothing. Your children are the most valuable thing you will have in time or all eternity. You will be fortunate indeed if, as you grow old and look at those you brought into the world, you find in them uprightness of life, virtue in living, and integrity in their behavior.”9
In saying this, President Hinckley was simply restating what has been expressed so very often. Perhaps the most important of these declarations was made in the October 1942 General Conference where President J. Reuben Clark began conference by reading a First Presidency statement regarding parenthood: “By bringing these choice spirits to earth, each father and each mother assume towards the tabernacled spirit and towards the Lord Himself by having taken advantage of the opportunity He offered, an obligation of the most sacred kind, because the fate of that spirit in the eternities to come, the blessings or punishments which shall await it in the hereafter, depend, in great part, upon the care, the teachings, the training which the parents shall give to that spirit.” Continuing: “No parent can escape that obligation and that responsibility, and for the proper meeting thereof, the Lord will hold us to a strict accountability.” Then this significant statement was made: “No loftier duty than this can be assumed by mortals.”
The First Presidency then spoke specifically regarding the role of mothers: “Motherhood thus becomes a holy calling, a sacred dedication for carrying out the Lord’s plans, a consecration of devotion to the up rearing and fostering, the nurturing in body, mind, and spirit, of those who kept their first estate and who come to this earth for their second estate to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them. (Abraham 3:25 ) To lead them to keep their second estate is the work of motherhood and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.’ (op. Cit.)”
They concluded saying: “Motherhood is near to divinity.
It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind.”10 The story of the sons of Helaman testifies to the reality of this statement. The work of a mother is the most important work in the world. Yet, the role of motherhood is being greatly diminished in our world today. Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve stated: “Because of the importance of the family to the eternal plan of happiness, Satan makes a major effort to destroy the sanctity of the family, demean the importance of the role of men and women, encourage moral uncleanliness and violations of the sacred law of chastity, and to discourage parents from placing the bearing and rearing of children as one of their highest priorities.”11
Speaking specifically of the role of mothers, Elder Richard G. Scott stated: “Beware of the subtle ways Satan employs to take you from the plan of God and true happiness. One of Satan’s most effective approaches is to demean the role of wife and mother in the home. This is an attack at the very heart of God’s plan to foster love between husband and wife and to nurture children in an atmosphere of understanding, peace, appreciation, and support. Much of the violence that is rampant in the world today is the harvest of weakened homes. Government and social plans will not effectively correct that, nor can the best efforts of schools and churches fully compensate for the absence of the tender care of a compassionate mother and wife in the home.” Speaking of the essential role of a mother, he continued: “As a mother guided by the Lord, you weave a fabric of character in your children from threads of truth through careful instruction and worthy example. You imbue the traits of honesty, faith in God, duty, respect for others, kindness, self-confidence, and the desire to contribute, to learn, and to give in your trusting children’s minds and hearts. No day-care center can do that. It is your sacred right and privilege.”
Women are remarkable in many ways and well can compete in the job market with men. However, Elder Scott pointed out, “as a woman you can do exceptionally well in the workplace, but is that the best use of your divinely appointed talents and feminine traits? As a husband, don’t encourage your wife to go to work to help in your divinely appointed responsibility of providing resources for the family, if you can possibly avoid it. As the prophets have counseled, to the extent possible with the help of the Lord, as parents, work together to keep Mother in the home. Your presence there will strengthen the self-confidence of your children and decrease the chance of emotional challenges. Moreover, as you teach truth by word and example, those children will come to understand who they are and what they can obtain as divine children of Father in Heaven.”12
Mormon saw our day and the siege of wickedness that surrounds every family. He also observed that the success of children will greatly depend upon the care and teachings their mothers will give them.
President Benson observed this important truth when he taught: “One of the most stirring success stories in scripture is told in the Book of Mormon of Lamanite women who taught their sons the gospel in the home. These two thousand young men were taught faith in God at their mothers’ knees. Later, they exhibited great faith and courage when they went to war. Their leader, Helaman, said of them, Yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.’ (Alma 56:47.) There is the key – they had been taught by their mothers’!”13
John Wesley, one of the great reformers, wrote a letter to his aged mother, Susannah Wesley, asking what she had done to have successfully raised her nineteen children. She wrote a letter in response and said: “The writing anything about my way of education I am much adverse to. It cannot, I think, be of service to anyone to know how I, who have lived such a retired life for so many years, used to employ my time and care in bringing up my own children. No one can, without renouncing the world, in the most literal sense, observe my methods; and there are few, if any, that would entirely devote above twenty years of the prime of life in hopes to save souls of their children, which they think may be saved without so much ado; for that was my principal intention, however unskillfully and unsuccessfully managed.”14
Those women who devote themselves, either by desire and/or action, to the call of motherhood, God will praise-for the care they give to their children is in reality care being given to God’s own sons and daughters! To such women, God will grant the blessing of becoming like Him, for they will have proven themselves worthy of such an eternal reward and calling.
1. See Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon-Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 6.
2. Henry B. Eyring, “The Power of Teaching Doctrine,” Ensign, May 1999, p. 73.
3. M. Russell Ballard, “Filling the World with Goodness and Truth,” Ensign, July 1996, p. 12.
4. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Power of the Word,” Ensign, May 1986, p. 79.
5. Ezra Taft Benson, “To the Youth of the Noble Birthright,’ ” Ensign, May 1986, p. 43.
6. Thomas S. Monson, “Courage Counts,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 41.
7. Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, May 1997, pp. 24-25.
8. Richard G. Scott, “Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 17.
9. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Walking in the Light of the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, pp. 97-99.
10. Conference Report, October 1942, p.13; emphasis added.
11. Robert D. Hales, “The Eternal Family,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, p.
12. Conference Report, Oct. 1996, p. 102, or “The Joy of Living the Great Plan of Happiness,” in Ensign (Nov. 1996), p. 74.
13. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Honored Place of Woman,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 106; emphasis added.
14. Franklin Wilder, Immortal Mother, New York: Vantage Press, 1966, p. 43; emphasis added.