Sunday, August 25, 2019

Capt. Moroni and His Captains: Men of Peace in a Time of War - Part I

Captain Moroni: the quintessential Nephi leader

As Mormon wrote of Captain Moroni, “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” (Image Walter Rane)
    No greater accolade is given in the entire scriptural record than this honorific provided by Mormon after reading and abridging Alma’s record of Moroni, the chief captain of the army, over all the other captains or commanders, what we call today the General of all the Armies, the military commander in chief. So taken with Moroni, Mormon named his son after the ancient legendary hero of the Nephite Nation.
    Considering all that Mormon went through in being appointed leader of the Nephite armies at the age of 15 and spending his entire life in the service of his people, both as a prophet and their military leader, he was prepared as few Nephites ever were to appreciate the consummate skill of Moroni’s earlier generalship. A righteous man himself, Mormon responded deeply to Capt. Moroni’s own righteousness.
Capt. Moroni instilled hope and courage in his followers and led the Nephite Armies with integrity and righteousness    (Image Del Parson)
Though Moroni fought at a time when the Nephites were a righteous people for the most part, Mormon’s experience with an unrighteous Nephite Nation was even more devastating, with far less chance of success.
    Yet, like Moroni, Mormon refused to let the long, desperate fighting lead him to bloodthirstiness; instead, as the Lord directed him, he resigned his command to stand by “as an idle witness” when their wickedness led them to fight in a spirit of vengeance (Mormon 3:9-16).  
    For the uninitiated, the last twenty-one chapters of the book of Alma contain few examples of what we usually think of as “scriptural” material—no sermons per se, no visions, almost no prophesying, very little exposition of theological principles. At first it may seem to be one long, detailed record of all-out warfare between the Nephites and the Lamanites, of battles that raged back and forth through a score of cities and destroyed thousands of lives. Yet, the experiences of these events and Capt. Moroni’s handling of them, as well as his captains and leaders under his command, teaches us powerful religious lessons based on normal (political) events. In a little more than a tenth of the total Book of Mormon, this political world of the Nephites is introduced and covered in hard history to tell us in the same manner he earlier described prophets and teachers with the same care he gave to describing their preaching and miracles.
    In this part, Mormon covers treachery and bloodshed with the same exactness that he had earlier used in describing honor and obedience. Here we learn powerful religious lessons, such as the value of freedom, God’s role in preserving it, the moral justifications for waging war to uphold freedom, and the moral limitations on bloodshed, even for freedom’s sake. And this is done in such a manner that we can take these points and apply them to our daily lives and the political nature of our own people, government and nation.

To understand Mormon and his writings of this period, we have to understand that Mormon is not an historian, writing about historical viewpoints from a uninvolved perspective—he is a Prophet, Seer and Revelator, writing about 1000 years of history of a nation and its relationship with its God. And how man’s interaction with God determines the course and outcome of that history. We can understand this exposition of freedom and what leads to it or away from it by understanding Mormon and his relationship with his God and how he sees and writes about that relationship with God had among his people, the Nephites.
    When you read about history of antiquity from archaeologists and anthropologists today, you read a great deal about the savage side of man’s view of religion, including human sacrifice, unchecked power, avarice, and individual interests. Mormon, on the other hand, shows us a people that lived their religion and its results, compared with that same nation who lost their grace and destroyed itself through the worst found in government and human greed.
    Obviously, Mormon was struck by the parallels between Moroni’s experiences and his own life of warring against the Lamanites 400 years later. When he read the story of Moroni, Mormon had already been the leader of the Nephite armies through many years of bitter battles. Like that earlier Moroni, he was never identified by the title “general” in the Book of Mormon; nevertheless, both were commanders over the Nephite armies—chief captains over chief captains—and exercised the authority of what we would call the rank of general.
    In short, our key to understanding those last twenty-one chapters of Alma lies in Mormon’s assessment of Moroni, man and military leader. That assessment is a valuable one for all of us, who, like Mormon, look for models to guide our lives through the conflicts of the present world. Here are Mormon’s words for us, as he looked down through time and yearned for us to learn from his people’s history:
“Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.
    “And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, … yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger; …“And this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity.
    Mormon obviously saw Moroni’s personal righteousness as a dominant factor in the creation of a national righteousness powerful enough to sustain national freedom against great odds. To drive home his point, he gives us ample detail and ample commentary on those crucial fourteen years from 74 B.C. to 60 B.C. The time divides itself into three periods: 1) a sudden, savage outbreak of war and rebellion that lasted two years, 2) a five-year respite of peace and preparation marred only by a single internal difficulty, and 3) seven exhausting years of siege, insurrection, battle.
Moroni built walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.
During the five-year respite, Moroni drove his people urgently to prepare to defend themselves in case of future attacks by the Lamanites—to him it was not a time for relaxing, scaling back, diminishing defensive and military capability. It was a time to prepare for future battles that did indeed come to pass.
    The social energy resulting from the necessary work of garrisoning cities overflowed into riches, prosperity, and strength (Alma 50:1-18). At this break in the action, Mormon took advantage of his role as a teacher of future generations to insert a “thus we see” passage that interprets the whole war, with its causes and effects, in terms of the entire history of God’s dealings with the descendants of Lehi.
(See the next post, “Capt. Moroni and His Captains: Men of Peace in a Time of War-Part II,” for more on this all-important subject)

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