Tuesday, August 27, 2019

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

Continuing from the previous post regarding Captain Moroni and Mormon’s Writing of the erstwhile Nephite General and his command.
    After Moroni hoisted his banner of Liberty, the people, responding to the spiritual power behind this symbolic action proclaiming Liberty in the land, ran to Moroni rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that if they should transgress the commandments of God the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments (Alma 46:21).
Moroni hoisted his title of liberty banner before the Nephites

Continuing the symbolism, they swore to Moroni: “We covenant with our God, that … he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet, if we shall fall into transgression” (Alma 46:22). With a spiritual insight that went much deeper than mere political astuteness, Moroni further welded this new bond that unified his people by linking their action to their great picture as children of Israel: “We are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces; yea, and now behold, let us remember to keep the commandments of God, or our garments shall be rent by our brethren, and we be cast into prison, or be sold, or be slain. Yea, let us preserve our liberty as a remnant of Joseph” (Alma 46:23-24).
    Who among his hearers would not stir to that heroic and sacred history? But he took the symbolism a step further still and, in the process, gave us a story about our common ancestor Joseph that must have been preserved on the brass plates, though it has not come down to us in our Bible. Before his death, Jacob saw that a fragment of Joseph’s coat had not decayed; he then prophesied, “Even as this remnant of garment of my son hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of the seed of my son be preserved by the hand of God, and be taken unto himself, while the remainder of the seed of Joseph shall perish, even as the remnant of this garment.”
    Here we see Moroni, both as a military leader appealing to men pledged to his command, and also a devoted, thoughtful student and teacher of the scriptures—using a form of teaching through physical symbols that seems unusual to us: “And now who knoweth but what the remnant of the seed of Joseph, which shall perish as his garment, are those who have dissented from us? Yea, and even it shall be ourselves if we do not stand fast in the faith of Christ” (Alma 46:24,27).
Amalickiah saw that the people of Moroni were more numerous than his also saw that his people were doubtful concerning the justice of the cause in which they had he took those of his people who would and departed into the land of Nephi

Obviously, the Nephite well understood that form of idea and well understood the consequences of their choice. The dissenters were captured, except for Amalickiah and a small group who escaped to the Lamanites. This brought Moroni face to face with a situation that reveals another facet of his character: a humane commitment to the rule of law as deep as his tough and pragmatic devotion to freedom.
    Moroni was careful to act strictly according to the law in not executing the rebels out of hand. Instead, he gave them the choice between covenanting to support a free government or being put to death. Mormon adds, with what may be regarded as a flash of understated irony, for given such a choice: “There were but few who denied the covenant of freedom” (Alma 46:34-35).
    While Moroni was uniting his people in righteous love of freedom, Amalickiah was proving Mormon’s repeated observation that former Nephites, who had once known the light and then turned their back on it, were prone to become the most wicked of all. “A very subtle man to do evil” (Alma 47:4), Amalickiah stirred up the Lamanites and then played their armies against each other in a clever strategy that enabled him to bring about the murder of the king and take over the throne himself—and even marry the queen—this in a series of betrayals, poisonings, stabbings, and power plays that make the forty-seventh chapter of Alma read like one of Shakespeare’s bloodier history plays. But like other villains of history, his evil bravado, successful for a while, led him to overreach himself by seeking to reign over the Nephites, as well as the Lamanites.
    Moroni’s fortified cities repelled the attack of his armies, and the Lamanites, cowed by their second military disaster in two years due to superior Nephite armaments and tactics, retreated in such psychological and physical exhaustion that not even Amalickiah’s wrath could stir them up again at that time.
Moroni oversaw the work of his Lamanite armies as they prepared to defend themselves against future attacks

Thus came the five-year period of freedom from Lamanite attack. But even during that breathing space not all was well all of the time, for in the fifth year of peace another Nephite dissenter, Morianton, after his scheme to acquire land that was not his, appealed to a group of land-hungry Nephites that had joined him in his take-over to flee into the land northward and there set up a separate kingdom. Acting under Moroni’s order, an army led by a chief captain named Teancum headed them off at a strategic location, killed Morianton, hauled the dissenters back, and presided over their covenanting to keep the peace.
    In many ways, Teancum was a heroic extension of Moroni’s own quickness, decisiveness, and boldness. Teancum’s personal courage went almost to the point of recklessness, in a way that appeals to our sense of adventure even while we recognize the dangers. When Amalickiah again stirred up his Lamanites to attack, in the midst of another internal dissension among the Nephites, it was Teancum’s army that intercepted and repulsed him (Alma 51:29-31). We do not know whether Teancum soberly calculated the cost in lives of another battle or was inflamed with fury against the renegade Nephite who had caused so much bloodshed. At any rate, while the armies slept in exhaustion, he crept through the Lamanite camp to Amalickiah’s tent, killed him silently, and then withdrew. When the Lamanites awoke on the first day of the new year (in 66 B.C.) to find their king dead and the Nephites poised for battle again, they fled in terror to regroup behind Ammoron, Amalickiah’s brother. Moroni then joined Teancum for a decoy-attack that completely routed the already demoralized Lamanites. And again Moroni, though wounded and sore pressed in the heat of battle, still gave the confused Lamanites every opportunity to surrender, promising, “We will forbear shedding your blood” (Alma 52:37).
Teancum stole through the forest and into the city by stealth and killed Amalickiah, changing the course of the war

Teancum was not Moroni’s only chief captain; the record also mentions Antipus, Gid, Helaman, and Lehi, and refers to numerous others (Alma 52:19). But Teancum, Helaman, and Lehi are singled out for special mention. Mormon, who knew what loyalty tested in battle meant, reveals a great deal in what he tells us of Moroni’s relationships with his chief captains. In any military society, the brutalities of war can unite men in a kind of competition of escalating toughness, competency in killing, and callousness to sensitive feelings.
    Instead, we see in Moroni and his chief captains an exceptional and exemplary masculine relationship based partly on shared skills and shared dangers but also on a loving friendship and a righteous desire for liberty and peace. All of these men were courageous in defense of liberty.
    Lehi’s reputation as a warrior was such that the Lamanites were afraid to attack a city he held because they “feared [him] exceedingly” (Alma 49:17). Mormon goes on to say, “This Lehi was a man who had been with Moroni in the more part of all his battles”; and then he adds this high praise: “He was a man like unto Moroni, and they rejoiced in each other’s safety, yea, they were beloved by each other, and also beloved by all the people of Nephi.” (Alma 53:2).
    Teancum’s personal valor—possibly modeled on Moroni’s personal involvement in battle—led him not only to kill Amalickiah but also into fatal danger when he penetrated Ammoron’s camp and killed him. We know his motivation this time. He was “exceedingly angry, … insomuch that he considered that Ammoron … had been the cause of so much war and bloodshed, yea, and so much famine” (Alma 62:35). Teancum must have known the odds were against his success. Ammoron was in a fortified city, not a tent on the other side of a battlefield. He had to scale the wall and then search for the king “from place to place.” Apparently he could not get close enough to kill the king quietly, for he had to “cast a javelin at him.” And thus the king was able to awaken his servants before he died, and they pursued and killed Teancum (Alma 62:36).
     Epitaphs are not common in the scriptural record, but Mormon records that Lehi and Moroni were “exceeding sorrowful,” and he gives the reasons: Teancum “had been a man who had fought valiantly for his country, yea, a true friend to liberty; and he had suffered very many exceedingly sore afflictions” (Alma 62:37).
(See the next post, “Capt. Moroni and His Captains: Men of Peace in a Time of War-Part IV,” for more on this all-important subject)

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