Monday, August 26, 2019

Capt. Moroni and His Captains: Men of Peace in a Time of War – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding Captain Moroni and Mormon’s Writing of the erstwhile Nephite General and his command.
    Mormon wrote: “The people of Nephi did thank the Lord their God, because of his matchless power in delivering them from the hands of their enemies,” and “There was continual peace among them, and exceeding great prosperity in the church because of their heed and diligence which they gave unto the word of God,” and “Thus we see how merciful and just are all the dealings of the Lord, to the fulfilling of all his words…which he spake unto Lehi,” and “We see that these promises have been verified to the people of Nephi; for it has been their quarrelings and their contentions, yea, their murderings, and their plunderings, their idolatry, their whoredoms, and their abominations, which were among themselves, which brought upon them their wars and their destructions,” and “Those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times, whilst thousands of their wicked brethren have been consigned to bondage, or to perish by the sword, or to dwindle in unbelief, and mingle with the Lamanites.”
    Of course, Mormon is not only commenting here on events 400 years old, but on what continually led to the destruction of the Nephites in the entire course of their history, including his own time.
    How Mormon must have yearned for that earlier time when Capt. Moroni’s people humbly thanked God for their victory rather than boasting in their strength as Mormon had seen his own people do (Mormon 3:9). No doubt with great longing, Mormon wrote of that period between wars, “But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni” (Alma 50:23).
Moroni, the chief Captain of the Nephite armies, led the Nephites against Zarahemnah and his Lamanite army under the leadership of Amalekites and Zoramites, all former Nephites who had a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites

We first meet Moroni in the crisis of the Lamanite attack under Zerahemnah. “Now, the leader of the Nephites, or the man who had been appointed to be the chief captain over the Nephites—now the chief captain took the command of all the armies of the Nephites—and his name was Moroni” (Alma 43:16). He was a young man, for the Nephites seemed to prefer young military leaders. “And Moroni took all the command, and the government of their wars. And he was only twenty and five years old when he was appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites” (Alma 43:17).
    When these two armies met on the field of battle, the Lamanites were astonished by the preparations of Moroni’s men. “And it came to pass that he met the Lamanites in the borders of Jershon, and his people were armed with swords, and with cimeters, and all manner of weapons of war” (Alma 43:18). This is the first insight we have into Moroni’s superior thinking and preparations, for he had provided such protection for his men that had not previously been seen on the battlefields of the Land of Promise, which frightened the armies of the Lamanites for they did not have breastplates and arm-shields, nor any shields to defend their heads, nor any thick clothing (Alma 43:19). For the Lamanites were ”all were naked, save it were the Zoramites and the Amalekites; But they were not armed with breastplates, nor shields—therefore, they were exceedingly afraid of the armies of the Nephites because of their armor, notwithstanding their number being so much greater than the Nephites” (Alma 43:21).
Zerehemnah, the Nephite defector, is outmatched by Moroni’s careful and effective planning for battle

It should also be noted that herein lies a pattern of Nephite-Lamanite wars that is seen throughout Nephite history, for the warfare was instigated not by the Lamanites themselves but by dissenting Nephites. Zarahemnah appointed as his chief captains other former Nephites who were of “a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites” (Alma 43:6); and then, with traditional resentments and hatreds inflamed, he led his Lamanite armies in an attack against the Nephites in 74 B.C. Moroni, though only twenty-five years old, immediately proved his ability by not only equipping his men with armor, but also by outmaneuvering Zerahemnah, whose army was more than double the size of his own (Alma 43:51).
    Moroni’s superior tactics included posting spies, but he also sent to Alma, desiring that prophet to “inquire of the Lord whither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves” (Alma 43:23). It was a perfect combination. Alma told Moroni where to march, and his spies told him when. With such aid, the Lamanites were surrounded and trapped against the river Sidon.
Rather than kill the trapped Lamanites outright, Moroni (left) offers a magnanimous truce and surrender to Zerahemnah (right), but the defector refused
Here again, Moroni showed the caliber of his leadership as both a military expert and as a man of God, for instead of pressing his advantage, he called a truce, telling the Lamanites, “We do not desire to slay you,” and then asked Zerahemnah to surrender (Alma 44:1). When the Nephite defector refused, Moroni commanded Zerahemnah to surrender “in the name of that all-powerful God, who has strengthened our arms that we have gained power over you” (Alma 44:5).
    Not being a man of God, Zerahemnah could not recognize the reality of God’s aid to the Nephites and rejected Moroni’s offer, saying: “We do not believe that it is God that has delivered us into your hands; but we believe that it is your cunning. Behold, it is your breastplates and your shields that have preserved you” (Alma 44:9).
    Like in most such conflicts, when two forces face one another with such radically different views of life and what is acceptable and achievable, a meeting of the minds is not very likely. Even though Moroni insisted that the Lamanites could go free, only if they would covenant never to fight again, Zerahemnah, with an interesting indication of the seriousness of oaths, denied the value of the offer and declared that he would not swear an oath he knew he would break! (Alma 44:6-8).
    As Moroni returned the Lamanite weapons to recommence the struggle, Zerahemnah, being the cowardly individual he was, suddenly attacked Moroni on the field of truce. In one of the more humorous yet courageous acts in the record, a watchful Nephite soldier intercepted with a blow that took off Zerahemnah’s scalp. In a bizarre but effective symbolic action characteristic of the Old Testament and Book of Mormon cultures, the nameless soldier held forth the bleeding scalp on his sword before the Lamanites and threatened: “Even as this scalp has fallen to the earth…so shall ye fall…except ye will deliver up your weapons of war and depart with a covenant of peace” (Alma 44:14).
    This dramatic prophecy struck such fear into the hearts of the Lamanites that most of them surrendered and made the covenant, though Zerahemnah and a few others still refused and had to be dealt with by force.
Moroni had poured out his soul to God, he named all the land which was south of the land Desolation, yea, and in fine, all the land, both on the north and on the south—A chosen land, and the land of liberty

Moroni’s decisive generalship and his faith, which was so deeply shared with his men that it inspired that nameless Nephite’s spontaneous act, had been the Lord’s instruments in preserving the people. Obviously, the young leader of the Nephite armies inspired such courage and bravery among his men for he, himself, was of that caliber.
    But Moroni returned from this bloody front-line battle to preserve Nephite liberty only to find that a rebellion had sprung up at home. Amalickiah, proud and rich, had opposed Helaman, the new head of the church appointed by Alma, and was seeking to become king and to destroy the church.
    Angry at Amalickiah, Moroni “rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children,” fastened it to a pole, and went forth among the people. With this “title of liberty,” and the strength of having “poured out his soul to God,” he rallied the Nephites with the cry, “Come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that [ye] will maintain [your] rights, and [your] religion, that the Lord God may bless [you]” (Alma 46:12,13,17,20).
(See the next post, “Capt. Moroni and His Captains: Men of Peace in a Time of War-Part III,” for more on this all-important subject)

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