Wednesday, August 28, 2019

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

Continuing from the previous post regarding Captain Moroni and Mormon’s Writing of the erstwhile Nephite General and his command.
    After discussing Capt. Moroni and some of his Captains, let us now turn to Helaman, who was a most unusual general—and Mormon lets us know that by including some of Helaman’s correspondence with Moroni, written while each was hard pressed fighting on a different front.
    Helaman was a son of the prophet Alma, and one of the “high priests over the church” (Alma 46:6). Yet in this time of his people’s need, he took up arms and went into battle, still retaining his own gentleness and righteous aversion to bloodshed.
    While Moroni, Teancum, and Lehi were fighting the Lamanites in an attempt to retake the city of Mulek, which was “on the east borders by the seashore” (Alma 51:26), other Lamanite armies had penetrated the Nephite lands “on the west sea, south” (Alma 53:8), keeping Moroni from going to the aid of Helaman (Alma 52:11), but north of the narrow strip of wilderness, or more accurately, on the west coast of the Land of Zarahemla to the south, near the border of the Land of Nephi, for “insomuch that they [Lamanites] had obtained possession of a number of their [Nephite] cities in that part of the land” (Alma 53:8).
    It was Helaman who filled the breach by undertaking a lengthy march at the head of a hastily recruited army of 2,000 untried and inexperienced young men, the sons of the “people of Ammon,” from their land “to the support of the people in the borders of the land on the south by the west sea” (Alma 53:22).
In the lower left area is the brown curved line representing the area where Helaman was dispatched with his 2000 warriors to reclaim the Nephite cities along the coast that had been attacked by the Lamanites. Helaman’s forced march was from the area of Mulek in the northeast

It should be noted here that the words ”on the south by the west sea,” or “on the west sea, south,” has a specific meaning in these two scriptures, and that is that the Sea West runs the length of the Land of Promise, but specifically from the narrow neck to the Land of First Inheritance where Lehi Landed, but for the most part, the west sea is pictured from the area of Hagoth’s shipyard to the area where the narrow strip of wilderness crosses the land and separates the Land North (Land of Mulek) from the Land South (Land of Lehi), and that Hagoth is along the west sea north (actually central) and the activities within the Land of Zarahemla toward the border with the Land of Nephi, is the west sea south. It should be noted that the term “West Sea, South” is not a separate sea, but is like saying “in the southern area of the West Sea” as opposed to “in the northern area of the West Sea,” or “the central area of the West Sea.”
    This is the same as saying the Pacific Ocean is one ocean, from the Bearing Sea in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, yet it is differentiated by the North Pacific Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean; we also sometimes say the Western Pacific and the Eastern Pacific because it is such a large ocean. But it is one ocean.
The Land of Promise shown with directional names

The Sea West (West Sea) of the Nephites was one ocean, with northern boundaries off the Land Northward and southern boundaries off the Land Southward—but the Land Southward is a large area of activity during most of the Book of Mormon, so the Sea West is considered more or less to be that area north of the narrow strip of wilderness, i.e., opposite the Land North, with the West Sea South considered that area further to the south near where Lehi landed, called the Land of First Inheritance.
    While this is not spelled out in the scriptural record as such, it basically corresponds with the usage of the terms as they are described and as they are located, such as by the Nephite cities along the West Sea South (Alma 53:8), or “south by the west sea” (Alma 53:22). While this is probably not a hard and fast rule, it is a general understanding as how the terms are used and what they mean.
    Now the “people of Ammon” were a group of former Lamanites that Ammon had converted about twenty-five years before. These people had been settled in Nephite territory, with Nephite armies set between them and the Lamanites for their protection, for at the time of their conversion they had sworn never to take up arms again, even in their own defense. Part of that covenant was a willingness to die rather than break that oath (Alma 24:18), and their willingness had been tested almost immediately when bloodthirsty Lamanites (stirred up by dissident Nephites) slaughtered them, without resistance, until the power of such sacrificial love moved them to “forbear from slaying them” (Alma 24:24).
    At that point more than a thousand of them were converted, moving Mormon to comment, “Thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people” (Alma 24:27).
Helaman and his 2000 Stripling Warriors

Now a generation later, these Ammonites were “moved with compassion” (Alma 53:13) when they saw their beleaguered Nephite brethren struggling against the Lamanites on so many fronts, and they considered breaking their oath and going to the aid of those who had been protecting them for so many years. But Helaman “feared lest by so doing they should lose their souls” (Alma 53:15), and persuaded them not to take up their weapons again. However, 2,000 of their young sons, who had not sworn the oath, volunteered as warriors and asked Helaman to lead them in the southern campaign” (Alma 53:16-19).
    This was an unlikely army, made up of young men raised by parents whose resolute pacifism was part of their most sacred commitments, led by a church leader turned military captain, and they without any military or fighting experience. But their story proves that, contrary to the wisdom of men, they are the very type of army the Lord can best accept and make effective in battle—while still protecting them from the soul-destroying evil of bloodlust.
    Whatever doubts Helaman might have had about their fighting ability, he had known about the character of these “stripling soldiers.” They were “exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity,” he reported to Moroni, but also they were “men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. 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” (Alma 53:20-22).
    In an exciting story of march and countermarch, they decoyed the Lamanite defenders out of the city Antiparah so that Antipus could occupy it and in turn pursue the Lamanite army. After fleeing for two days, Helaman saw that the Lamanites, who had been hot on their heels, were no longer in sight and suspected that they had stopped to lure them back into a trap. He knew he did not have the numbers to stand against the Lamanites, but he was also aware that they might have turned back to attack Antipus. And so he asked his 2,000 young men, “What say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?” There followed one of the great scenes of the Book of Mormon—and one of the great lessons Mormon was using this space to teach. This citizen army, not professionally trained, not indoctrinated in hatred of their enemies, responded in a way that moved Helaman to write, “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).
What was the source and spirit of their courage? This is Helaman’s response: “For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus” (Alma 56:46).
    “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” (Alma 56:47). And just as importantly, they had been taught by the scene and stories of their fathers who had chosen death over going back on their word of honor and oath to God.
    “And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:48).
    By such examples, these stripling warriors, these very young men, trusted in their God and fought as only such young men could, being led by God through Helaman to stand up for their rights and defend themselves and their brethren.
    Often reader’s of the  Book of Mormon are surprised and taken aback at so much written about wars, killing, and bloodshed. However, in viewing these chapters in such a way they lose sight of why Mormon included it in his record and why he was inspired to do so. As Mormon stated: “I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (Words of Mormon 1:7). And also “And now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record, which I take from the plates of Nephi; and I make it according to the knowledge and the understanding which God has given me.” (Words of Mormon 1:9).
    The Lord wanted the wars and bloodshed of evil men and the need to fight against them for us to realize what those of the past went through to solidify their testimonies of the Gospel, and for us to understand the integrity and greatness of achievement when we are obedient to him. The stories of Moroni and his Captains give us insight into the extreme confidence these men had, during the most difficult of times, to stand on the Lord’s side and actively bring about his will.

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