Lesson 32: They Did Obey Every Word of Command with Exactness
Alma 53-56, 60-61
Purpose: To help class members see that the Lord will strengthen them as they follow the example of Helaman’s valiant young soldiers.
[Begin with brief report of this weekend’s “Women and the LDS Church” conference co-sponsored by the Church History Department. Build off remarks that will probably be made by class president, perhaps tying that report to this week’s lesson by noting that one of notable points of this lesson is the second-hand presence of women in the Book of Mormon: We don’t know their names or what their individual lives were like or what words they used, but we can see that women acted/used their voices and their unique influence in the lives of their sons to instil a faith that not only saved their sons’ lives but also the lives of their people.]
SCRIPTURE DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. Two thousand valiant young Ammonites covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites.
2. The young soldiers exercise faith in God and fight courageously.
We can better appreciate the actions of the young Ammonites who are at the center of our discussion today, if we go back to review the preliminary parts of their story:
About 80 or 90 years B.C. a group of Lamanites was converted to the gospel by the missionary Ammon. These converts had grown up with a culture and a religion that glorified war, perhaps even involving human sacrifice. Because the eternal consequences of their previous sins were more serious – damnable, even – and more difficult to be forgiven by God than anything most of us face, they feared backsliding more than most of us do, and they took special precautions to keep themselves from falling into temptation.
12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.
13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.
While this particular evil may not be something we in this room need to guard against, can there be sins and temptations that could have similarly great consequences for some of us who are trying to live righteous lives? [Draw out in discussion that any temptation that attacks a particularly vulnerable part of our character can be so risky for a given individual that we may need to take extra steps to protect us: E.g., violation of the Word of Wisdom may be something that most of us could repent and recover from relatively easily, while for an addict even the slightest violation may draw him back into a life where he no longer has the power to live a righteous life. The same might be true of anger or temper in someone who has a tendency to lash out at wife or children – he may need to take extraordinary steps to remove himself from a situation where he might lose self-control. The point of this discussion is to help class members identify with the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and not think of them as so different that we have nothing to learn from their experience.]
So what special steps did these Lamanite converts, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, take?
15 Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
16 And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.
These people knew there might be real consequences from being so careful not to fall into their old ways of life – the threat of attack from their enemies could, and did, result in many of these people losing their lives rather than defending themselves by shedding blood.
Can there be real-life consequences today for Latter-day Saints whose commitment to keeping covenants prevents us from acting in ways that other people might find totally acceptable? If you’ve ever been in such a situation, how did you strengthen yourself to keep your covenants?
Because of the danger to their souls if they did fight, and the danger to the lives if they did not, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis decided that they must leave their homes and move to the territory of the Nephites, in hopes of safety. This was not an easy decision for them to make:
6 But the king said unto them: Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.
Let’s put ourselves in the position of the Nephites for a moment. Would it have been reasonable for them to reject the converted Lamanites who had done them so much harm earlier? Are there situations today that would make it difficult for a repentant person to join us, for fear of our rejection? What is our responsibility as Latter-day Saints toward people whose earlier sins we find particularly distasteful, or who may even have done us some measure of harm? What about the case of someone who has been excommunicated, and who wants to come back?
The Anti-Nephi-Lehis desired so strongly to live among the Nephites that they brought up the possibility of becoming their slaves. Ammon taught them that that was not an option:
9 But Ammon said unto him: It is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should be any slaves among them; therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.
So Ammon went to the Nephites and told the chief judge about the situation of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.
21 And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
What do you think of that? Why didn’t the judge just make a decision one way or the other? What principle do we have in the modern church that is somewhat similar, when any proposal is made or anyone is called to a position in the Church? What do you think of the chief judge’s calling the newcomers “brethren” instead of “Lamanites”? Was he signaling his own wishes? If so, were the people still free to accept the chief judge’s wish, or to reject it? How does that relate to the law of common consent, when simply proposing a name for a sustaining vote is a signal of a leader’s expectation?
The people responded, in Alma 27:22-23:
22 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.
23 And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.
Alma’s record doesn’t tell us this in so many words, but the chief judge’s proclamation must have explained the situation in great detail. What do you think of the Nephite generosity? Is there anything in our experience today that is at all similar? I mean, are we ever inconvenienced by the needs of our brothers and sisters in the Church? [If necessary to start a discussion to help class members consider their willingness to extend help, even inconvenient help, to those who need it, tell my experience as a missionary when the Marseilles ward extended themselves for the Ra— family.]
Did the Nephites extend this great help with no strings attached?
24 And now behold, this will we do unto our brethren, that they may inherit the land Jershon; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.
Does that seem like a reasonable request? What expectations do we have for those to whom we extend help, whether temporal or spiritual? When you have been the recipient of blessings, either directly from God or through the actions of your fellow Saints, what has been your response?
This agreement between the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and the Nephites continued for quite a long time, perhaps about 20 years. But then there came a time of greater, more widespread war between the Nephites and the Lamanites – the long span of detailed action that we often call “the war chapters” in Alma. Conditions became so severe that the Ammonites (who had adopted that name in place of their former cumbersome Anti-Nephi-Lehis) began to feel that they were taking unfair advantage of their Nephite brethren.
13 But it came to pass that when they saw the danger, and the many afflictions and tribulations which the Nephites bore for them, they were moved with compassion and were desirous to take up arms in the defence of their country.
Patriotism – personal responsibility – participating in the common defense. This are all motivations we would consider to be positive ones, under normal conditions. What about this case?
14 But behold, as they were about to take their weapons of war, they were overpowered by the persuasions of helaman and his brethren, for they were about to break the oath which they had made.
15 And Helaman feared lest by so doing they should lose their souls; therefore all those who had entered into this covenant were compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time.
What does that suggest about our responsibility to watch over each other?
Notice the Ammonite response: They “were compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time.” Like everybody else, I have trouble at times coping with my own difficulties – but harder than dealing with my own trials is standing by and watching the struggles of people I love, when for one reason or another I am powerless to shoulder their burdens myself. Are there times when you have felt as helpless as the Ammonites in this situation?
But the Ammonites did, of course, finally find a way to aid their brethren.
16 But behold, it came to pass they had many sons, who had not entered into a covenant that they would not take their weapons of war to defend themselves against their enemies; therefore they did assemble themselves together at this time, as many as were able to take up arms, and they called themselves Nephites.
17 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.
18 Now behold, there were two thousand of those young men, who entered into this covenant and took their weapons of war to defend their country.
We’re told something about the character and training of these young men:
20 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.
21 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.
What do you think these young men had been taught about defensive warfare? [My thought is that because the young men were so willing to take up arms, they had not been taught by their parents that pacifism was essential for everyone – and there may be an important point to be made about teaching the gospel as it is transmitted from the prophets, without adding our own peculiar “hobbies” or even safeguards to what is taught by authority.]
What do you think these young men had been taught about covenants?
And so the young Ammonites followed Helaman onto the battlefield. Mormon tells us again and again the his young soldiers were men of faith who followed the commandments and their leader’s orders:
20 … they were exceedingly valiant for courage … men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.
21 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.
44 … [they said] Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall …
56 …never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength …
21 … they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness…
Usually when we talk about the young Ammonites, we recall that their mothers had taught them to have faith. We have illustrations depicting muscular young men marching behind Helaman. We even had a parade a couple of weeks ago where 2,000 young men in tunics and tennis shoes pretended to be Ammonites, marching behind a man in a gaudy Roman costume pretending to be Helaman. I think it’s important, though, to realize that there is more to the story of the Ammonite army than a tender tribute to mothers and the thrill of military display. The Lord did reward the faith of these young soldiers, but they still paid a price to keep their covenant to protect their people.
24 And it came to pass that after the Lamanites had fled, I immediately gave orders that my men who had been wounded should be taken from among the dead, and caused that their wounds should be dressed.
25 And it came to pass that there were two hundred, out of my two thousand and sixty, who had fainted because of the loss of blood; nevertheless, according to the goodness of God, and to our great astonishment, and also the joy of our whole army, there was not one soul of them who did perish; yea, and neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds.
And that is where we leave the story of the faithful young Ammonites. Mormon doesn’t tell us whether any of them were maimed for life, or how long they suffered before healing, or what effect their “many wounds” had on the rest of their lives. He focuses on the miraculous factor that none of the Ammonites died in battle.
I think there is no question that the Book of Mormon speaks approvingly of the young Ammonite warriors, not only for their obedience to “every word of command with exactness,” but also of their decision to fight.
So far as we have any record, the Nephites never condemned the Anti-Nephi-Lehis for not fighting – instead, we read that Nephite leaders prevented these Anti-Nephi-Lehis from fighting when they would have joined the Nephite armies.
Sometimes we look to these war chapters for guidance not just in the metaphorical battles of life, but for guidance in our attitudes to real warfare and bloodshed. Yet in the story of the Ammonites, we have people who are praised for utterly refusing to fight, and Ammonites who are praised for their valor in battle. What do you make of that? How can the Lord, or the people of the Lord, approve of both sides of a single question?
[In this discussion, draw out the fact that both groups remained true to their covenants – it isn’t really the fighting or not fighting that is ultimately the subject of approval here, but the adherence of the people to their valid covenants.]