Alma Chapter 43
Alma 43-62 A period of war-the account of the remarkable Nephite chief captain Moroni.
Alma 43-44 The Amalekite (Amlicite) Zerahemnah joins his army with the Zoramites and comes against the Nephite army initially in the land of Jershon and later near the land of Manti. Zerahemnah is scalped by a Nephite soldier after refusing Alma's offer to enter a covenant of peace. Zerahemnah's army is soundly defeated and finally they enter into the covenant of peace.
Chapter 43 begins the section of the Book of Mormon often referred to as the war chapters (Alma 43-62). An oft-asked question is, "Why is so much of the Book of Mormon account dedicated to war? Why does the Lord feel it important that we learn so much about the wars fought among Book of Mormon peoples during the years 70-55 BC?" With tongue-in-cheek, some have suggested that it is simply Mormon's fascination with Captain Moroni. After all, he did name his son after him. It seems more likely that there are important gospel principles that have to do with conflict among peoples-principles only pertinent in times of war. We may refer to these as the War Principles, and it is obvious the Lord feels we need to learn them. One application of these principles is to set the righteous criteria for justifying a country's entering a war-for deciding whether or not there is justification for war in the eyes of God.
We will summarize the War Principles which seem most pertinent (acknowledgment is given to S. Michael Wilcox [personal communication] for much of this material):
1. The attitudes with which an individual or a nation enters a war are critical. If a person or a people goes to war because of anger and hatred, they lose their objectivity and become easy to control. A contemporary example is the radical Muslim suicide bombers. They are whipped up in their anger against the Jews and against the United States to the point where they will even sacrifice their lives for their cause. They are in bondage to their leaders. You will notice it is not the leaders of the extremist Muslim organizations that are committing suicide. Rather, it is those whom they have provoked to anger and hatred. Other examples are the masters of hate and anger, Osama Bin Laden and Adolph Hitler.
Those who enter a war must evidence a healthy reluctance to go to war. They must not be eager to take the lives of their enemies. It is rare that God justifies an offensive war.
2. Motives are critical. If a person or group is motivated by the lust for power-the need to put their enemies in bondage, or the desire to compel their enemies to change their religion-they are not justified. Religious wars are never justified.
In Alma 46 we will encounter a summary of Captain Moroni's motives for entering into a war. On a flag he calls the "title of liberty," Moroni will write, "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children" (Alma 46:12-13). If an individual or a nation must go to war to defend their lands, houses, children, wives, rights, liberties, and their freedom to worship then they are justified.
3. Avoid violation of the "law of the third offense." See the commentary for Alma 43:46. For the convenience of the reader, I will briefly summarize this law here. If a people is attacked by an aggressor nation, then the people under attack should not go out to battle without the Lord's approbation. That approval may only be obtained after the people under siege have extended an offer of peace, not once but three times. Thus, this law may also be termed the "law of fourth offense." Furthermore, if the enemy attacks then repents and begs forgiveness, then they should be forgiven-not only once but "seventy times seven." Finally, if an enemy trespasses and does not repent, they should be forgiven three times. If they do not repent on the fourth occasion, then this matter should be brought before the Lord who will exact compensation in his own way and bless those who have been trespassed against.
The Lord, however, has counseled that in this dangerous world, a pre-emptive strike may at times be justified in "times of exigency" (D&C 134:11).
4. You must respond to a threat according to the danger. In order to assess the danger you must know your enemy. A good example is Mohandus Ghandi during his effort to win independence for India from England. By knowing the relative honor of his enemy, he was able to successfully choose the correct response to their repressive hegemony.
5. A righteous people should make certain they are led by a man of God.
6. The most critical factor in a nation's remaining safe and secure is unity and righteousness and not armaments. God will protect us and fight our battles if we are obedient to him and worship him. The worldly must depend on armaments, but God does not. The critical factor determining whether or not a people is blessed with divine protection is their righteousness and not their military might (Alma 44:4)
7. When a wicked nation fights against another wicked nation, the Lord does not intervene, and they may well be left to destroy each other. This principle is applicable and pertinent to the United States of America; particularly since the nation who has sinned against the greater light will be held most responsible by the Lord (see Helaman 7:23-24).
8. A righteous minority may prove to be the salvation of their nation (Alma 62:40).
9. The occurrence of war is usually not the responsibility of any particular single man. Yet, each man must choose his own response to war. He can become hardened, mean, cruel, and vengeful, or he can humble and submissive to the Lord. Each man is responsible for his response to the war.
Captain Moroni and Covenant Making
The central character in chapters 43 through 62 of the book of Alma is the remarkable Nephite chief captain Moroni. One LDS scholar Thomas R. Valletta has suggested, in his article "The Captain and the Covenant" (The Book of Mormon: Alma the Testimony of the Word, 223-48) that it is impossible to understand and fully appreciate Moroni without understanding the phenomenon of covenant making and Moroni's commitment to the covenants he had made. Without the perspective of the vital importance of covenants, one might well suppose Moroni to be just another charismatic demagogue who sought to persuade his people according to his own personal agenda. Moroni was no demagogue. Instead, he viewed his world from the perspective of covenant theology. He is the prototype covenant keeper. Moroni's whole character and behavior typified his commitment to his covenants with the Lord.
For a discussion of the concept the covenants which the Lord enters into with his people, see Covenants and Covenant Making in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 3.
The Methods of Warfare in the Book of Mormon
Historians of war divide the human experience of war into two broad categories, pre-modern warfare and modern warfare, with the transition between the two having occurred in Europe in the sixteenth century. William J. Hamblin, a professor of history at Brigham Young University, has studied the Book of Mormon in the context of his knowledge regarding ancient warfare and has discovered that on general principles and specific details, the Book of Mormon accurately describes an ancient system of warfare, in fact pre-modern warfare "despite the fact that Joseph Smith lived in the age of modern, or technical, warfare" ("The Importance of Warfare in Book of Mormon Studies," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, ed. Reynolds, 523-43. See also Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990]).
Those characteristics of pre-modern warfare evident in the Book of Mormon that distinguish the ancient form from more modern technical warfare include the following:
1. Ancient societies usually viewed warfare as inevitable, and thus they devoted most government resources to the military and maintained a martial mentality among the citizenry, who themselves constituted the bulk of the army.
2. Pre-modern warfare was always bound by certain environmental constraints, including the limitations of the human body, the terrain, the climate, and animal resources. Consistent with that fact, Book of Mormon accounts of war often explicitly speak of the constraints placed on the various armies by human, geographical, and seasonal circumstances. Significantly, Book of Mormon armies did not use animals during war, a situation that differed from much of the ancient world but reflects exactly what archaeologists have discovered about ancient Mesoamerican warfare.
Weaponry mentioned in the Book of Mormon is likewise consistent with weapons used elsewhere in antiquity. In this regard the Book of Mormon most closely parallels Mesoamerican use of war technology, which lacked many of the elements, such as coats of mail and cavalry, that distinguished warfare in the ancient Near East.
3. Ancient warfare, which generally involved the entire society in its economic and social implications, was usually organized communally under the command of an elite hereditary military aristocracy. This also appears to be the case in the Book of Mormon. Military operations in the Book of Mormon also accurately reflect what is currently known about warfare throughout antiquity. War usually included complex preparations, an emphasis on marching to ensure that both supplies and men arrived in timely fashion at the correct locations, some guerrilla warfare, spies, a council of war, and a necessity of group cohesion on the battlefield-all elements of Book of Mormon warfare. Additionally, the pattern of organizing Book of Mormon armies in a decimal system (hundreds, thousands, ten thousands) is also found in ancient Israel and elsewhere in the ancient world.
4. Emphasis in the Book of Mormon on personal oaths of loyalty and of surrender is also typical of the ancient world, a fact that represents "perhaps the greatest distinction between modern and ancient international affairs" (Ibid., 526).
5. Another major difference between modern and pre-modern warfare is that war in antiquity was characterized by its religious connections, while war in modernity has become a secularized affair. In the Book of Mormon, actions and beliefs associated with military culture (God's frequent intervention in battles on behalf of the righteous, consultation with prophets over military matters, the code of purity typified by Helaman's stripling warriors, to name a few examples), are representative of a ritualistic and sacral (pertaining to sacred rites) approach to warfare, paralleling patterns in the ancient Near East and Mesoamerica.
1 And now it came to pass that the sons of Alma did go forth among the people, to declare the word unto them. And Alma, also, himself, could not rest, and he also went forth.
verse 1 Recall that Alma has just completed his counseling of his sons Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton. This counseling apparently took place while all of them were in the land of the Zoramites. This verse states that Alma and his missionary group continued, or perhaps completed, their labors among the Zoramites.
2 Now we shall say no more concerning their preaching, except that they preached the word, and the truth, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God by which they were called.
verse 2 "after the holy order of God by which they were called" This phrase refers to the Melchizedek priesthood (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 6:2 and Alma 13:1).
3 And now I return to an account of the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites, in the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges.
verse 3 Here Mormon announces that he is changing his emphasis. To this point in the book of Alma, Mormon has stressed the missionary labors of Alma and the four sons of Mosiah. Beginning at this point and extending through Alma chapter 62, Mormon will write mostly about the wars between the Nephites and Lamanites.
If we step back and look at the book of Alma, we note that Alma 1-42 describes the priestcrafts, pride, materialism, socioeconomic inequality, and other forms of apostasy and social disruption. Alma 43-62 then describes the wars and civil disruptions that lead to a corruption and collapse of the civil government. A similar sequence of apostasy, social problems, government corruption, and wars is prophesied for our time-the last days prior to the Savior's second coming (D&C 45:16-46; Mormon 8:26-41). The wars facing the saints in the latter days may be more spiritual and less physical. The prophet Nephi wrote of the latter days: "I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few . . . [and] the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God. . . . And [the saints] were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory" (1 Nephi 14:12-14). President Ezra Taft Benson spoke of this same latter-day war: "I testify that as the forces of evil increase under Lucifer's leadership and as the forces of good increase under the leadership of Jesus Christ, there will be growing battles between the two until the final confrontation. As the issues become clearer and more obvious, all mankind will eventually be required to align themselves either for the kingdom of God or for the kingdom of the devil. As these conflicts rage, either secretly or openly, the righteous will be tested. God's wrath will soon shake the nations of the earth and will be poured out on the wicked without measure. . . . But God will provide strength for the righteous and the means of escape; and eventually and finally, truth will triumph" ("I Testify," Ensign [November 1988]:87).
Mormon knew of the wars and other chaos that would beset those of the latter days, and he included in the book those things he believed would be of most help to the saints of our day.
If the Book of Mormon is a guide to help us in this latter-day conflict, what lessons do we learn from studying its pages? We do not learn much about the technical aspects of military tactics, but we do learn, in considerable detail:
1. accounts of the exercise of great faith;
2. the Lord's protection of his people;
3. inspired counsel from great warrior-prophets;
4. small groups of righteous contending successfully against much larger armies;
5. the folly of war; the destructive effects of evil leaders;
6. destruction of people brought on by their own iniquity;
7. the relationship of the degree of spiritual righteousness to vulnerability in war.
In short the book teaches us the fundamental nature of the battle, and it gives hope to the Lord's people.
"in the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges" The events that occurred between Alma 35:13 and this verse occurred in the "eighteenth year of the reign of the judges." In the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon they are assigned the date, "about 73 BC" Based on Mosiah 29:44 and other dates based on the years "of the judges" the date for these chapters probably ought to be changed to "about 74 BC."
4 For behold, it came to pass that the Zoramites became Lamanites; therefore, in the commencement of the eighteenth year the people of the Nephites saw that the Lamanites were coming upon them; therefore they made preparations for war; yea, they gathered together their armies in the land of Jershon.
verse 4 "the Zoramites became Lamanites" When Alma initially set off on his missionary journey to the Zoramites, he had two important goals. They were spiritual and political. He certainly wanted to reclaim the spiritually straying Zoramites and bring them back into the fold of Christ. He desired also to politically re-align the Zoramites with Zarahemla and the Nephites. If they were to form a treaty with the Lamanites, then they would become a strategic threat to the national security of the Nephites. As we note here, Alma's fears were justified. Though the Nephite missionaries had made many converts among the Zoramites, particularly among their poor, they had failed to win the hearts of the Zoramite leaders. From a purely diplomatic perspective their mission had failed.
5 And it came to pass that the Lamanites came with their thousands; and they came into the land of Antionum, which is the land of the Zoramites; and a man by the name of Zerahemnah was their leader.
verse 5 The ancestry of Zerahemnah is unknown. Dr. Hugh Nibley suggests he may have been an Amalekite (Amlicite)-see also the commentary for the following verse. It will become apparent that Zerahemnah's motivation for going to war is his hatred of the Nephites and his hunger for power. Dr. Nibley writes:
The Zoramites now severed all connection with the Nephites and considered themselves as being officially Lamanite. They invited the Lamanite hordes to move in and occupy their country as the first major move against the Nephites. At their head came the Lamanite commander-in-chief, the Amalekite (Amlicite) Zerahemnah. The Amalekites were Nephite dissenters of an earlier day, and like most dissenters were more bitter against the Nephites and "of a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites were" (Alma 43:6). Zerahemnah had seen to it that all the key commands in the army had gone to Amalekites like himself or to equally ferocious Zoramites (Alma 43:6). So we see the Nephites being punished for their own wickedness in more ways than one; in fact the Lamanites appear at times as no more than the simple-minded tools of Nephite or ex-Nephite wickedness. Certainly Zerahemnah was using them as his cat's paw, "for behold, his designs were to stir up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites; this he did that he might usurp great power" (Alma 43:8). Another familiar story-the hate campaign as a means to personal power. Zerahemnah worked on the Lamanite resentment of the people of Ammon [the Anti-Nephi-Lehies], whom they regarded as traitors (Alma 43:11)-conveniently overlooking the fact that his own people were dissenters from the Nephites-and in time found himself in command of a huge coalition army against the Nephites, who understandably felt themselves desperately threatened (Alma 43:13) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 296-97).
6 And now, as the Amalekites were of a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites were, in and of themselves, therefore, Zerahemnah appointed chief captains over the Lamanites, and they were all Amalekites and Zoramites.
verse 6 "the Amalekites were of a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites were" One's disposition refers to one's nature, desires, inclinations, or feelings.
We have encountered two "Amaleki's" thus far in our study of the Book of Mormon. One was the prophet-custodian of the plates at the time of King Benjamin (Omni 1:12; Omni 1:23; Words of Mormon 1:3; Words of Mormon 1:10). The other Amaleki was one of the men who traveled from Zarahemla with Ammon to rescue the people of king Limhi (Mosiah 7:6). It is unlikely that the Amalekites descended from either of these Nephites. It is likely that the Amkalekites are the same group as the Amlicites (see the commentary for Alma 21:2). The father of these "Amalekites" was probably, therefore, Amlici. We are told nothing concerning him. It is probable that he was a Nephite apostate and of the order of Nehor (Alma 21:4; Alma 24:28-29). For a discussion of the order of the Nehors, see the commentary for Alma 8:8.
7 Now this he did that he might preserve their hatred towards the Nephites, that he might bring them into subjection to the accomplishment of his designs.
8 For behold, his designs were to stir up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites; this he did that he might usurp great power over them, and also that he might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage.
verses 7-8 "this he did that he might usurp great power over them" Them in this phrase refers to the Lamanites, not the Nephites. Zerahemnah was not by birth a Lamanite. In this verse we learn that he lusted for power not only over the Nephites, but also over the Lamanites. Zerahemnah knew that if the Lamanite warriors under his leadership were motivated by anger and hatred, then they would be easy to control-they would become pawns in his hand and readily do his bidding (see the comments on the "War Principles" in the introductory commentary for this chapter).
9 And now the design of the Nephites was to support their lands, and their houses, and their wives, and their children, that they might preserve them from the hands of their enemies; and also that they might preserve their rights and their privileges, yea, and also their liberty, that they might worship God according to their desires.
verse 9 Again, we are reminded of the Nephites' belief that their continued security depended on their continued righteous adherence to their covenants: "Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments [my covenants], ye shall prosper in the land. . . . And again it is said that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord" (Alma 9:13).
10 For they knew that if they should fall into the hands of the Lamanites, that whosoever should worship God in spirit and in truth, the true and the living God, the Lamanites would destroy.
11 Yea, and they also knew the extreme hatred of the Lamanites towards their brethren, who were the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, who were called the people of Ammon-and they would not take up arms, yea, they had entered into a covenant and they would not break it-therefore, if they should fall into the hands of the Lamanites they would be destroyed.
12 And the Nephites would not suffer that they should be destroyed; therefore they gave them lands for their inheritance.
verse 12 You will recall that the people of Ammon had been moved from the land of Jershon to Melek for their own safety and to allow the Nephite army to use the land of Jershon as a staging area for battle (Alma 35:13).
13 And the people of Ammon did give unto the Nephites a large portion of their substance to support their armies; and thus the Nephites were compelled, alone, to withstand against the Lamanites, who were a compound of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, and all those who had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah.
14 Now those descendants were as numerous, nearly, as were the Nephites; and thus the Nephites were obliged to contend with their brethren, even unto bloodshed.
verse 14 "Now those descendants were as numerous, nearly, as were the Nephites" The antecedent of this phrase is the final phrase in the previous verse-"the descendants of the priests of Noah." This verse intends to say that the descendants of the priests of Noah, in and of themselves, were almost as numerous as the Nephites. If all of the other groups mentioned in verse 13 are added, then the Nephites are far outnumbered by the Lamanites.
"the Nephites were obliged to contend with their brethren" We learn here that the Nephites were righteous in their motives for war (see the introductory commentary for this chapter). They were not eager to go to war. Rather, they manifested a healthy reluctance.
15 And it came to pass as the armies of the Lamanites had gathered together in the land of Antionum, behold, the armies of the Nephites were prepared to meet them in the land of Jershon.
16 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;
verse 16 Dr. Hugh Nibley wrote of Moroni:
At this moment the twenty-five-year-old Moroni appears on the scene, a military genius if there ever was one. He introduced improvements in armor to make his people far more than a match, man for man, for the enemy (Alma 43:19-21); he arranged the Jershon defense zone (Alma 43:22), and being on the defensive and greatly outnumbered, was particularly diligent in keeping a sharp lookout on all enemy movements, at the same time inquiring of the holy prophet Alma (after what is now known to have been an ancient custom in Israel) regarding the enemy's plan of battle, "whither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites" (Alma 43:23). On the other hand, the Lamanite campaign was directed by Amalekite [Amlicite] and Zoramite officers, whose knowledge of Nephite military secrets and methods would have given them an enormous advantage over any commander but Moroni. Right at the outset his foresight had robbed them of their first and logical objective-the buffer land of Jershon (Alma 43:22) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 297-298).
17 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.
18 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.
verse 18 "Cimeter" is an early variant spelling for a word that is more commonly today spelled as "scimitar." A cimeter or scimitar is a highly curved, single-edge saber, which is usually used for slicing or hacking. Some critics of the Book of Mormon have suggested that the presence of the scimitars in the Book of Mormon is anachronistic. They base their criticism on the mistaken notion that the scimitar originated with the Muslims in AD 1000 to 1200. There is, however, much evidence that the scimitar did, in fact, exist in the ancient Near East in the bronze age (Brent Merrill, an unpublished FARMS reprint). It is interesting to note that the cimeter is not mentioned after 51 BC, despite the fact that there are several references to swords and bows. Perhaps the cimeter fell out of use after that time.
19 And when the armies of the Lamanites saw that the people of Nephi, or that Moroni, had prepared his people with breastplates and with arm-shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing-
20 Now the army of Zerahemnah was not prepared with any such thing; they had only their swords and their cimeters, their bows and their arrows, their stones and their slings; and they were naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins; yea, all were naked, save it were the Zoramites and the Amalekites;
21 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.
22 Behold, now it came to pass that they durst not come against the Nephites in the borders of Jershon; therefore they departed out of the land of Antionum into the wilderness, and took their journey round about in the wilderness, away by the head of the river Sidon, that they might come into the land of Manti and take possession of the land; for they did not suppose that the armies of Moroni would know whither they had gone.
verse 22 Manti is a city up river from the city of Zarahemla. It is likely located not far from the head waters of the River Sidon. See the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
23 But it came to pass, as soon as they had departed into the wilderness Moroni sent spies into the wilderness to watch their camp; and Moroni, also, knowing of the prophecies of Alma, sent certain men unto him, desiring him that he should inquire of the Lord whither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites.
verse 23 Old Testament scriptures include many examples of belief in the necessity of obtaining divine approval through the Lord's prophet before entering into battle (Judges 7:9-14; I Samuel 28:5-6; 30:8; II Samuel 5:19-26; I Kings 8:44; 22:5, 7-8). In modern scripture the Lord affirms this principle: "And again this is the law I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord commanded them" (D&C 98:33).
24 And it came to pass that the word of the Lord came unto Alma, and Alma informed the messengers of Moroni, that the armies of the Lamanites were marching round about in the wilderness, that they might come over into the land of Manti, that they might commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people. And those messengers went and delivered the message unto Moroni.
verse 24 Manti was one of the cities in the south of the land of Zarahemla, reasonably near the west sea. Here we learn that Manti is the first of four Nephite cities to be attacked by the Lamanites. It will eventually be captured. We will also learn that it will be the last to be liberated. Apparently at the time of this invasion, the land of Manti was not well defended, and the Lamanites chose this place to "commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people."
25 Now Moroni, leaving a part of his army in the land of Jershon, lest by any means a part of the Lamanites should come into that land and take possession of the city, took the remaining part of his army and marched over into the land of Manti.
26 And he caused that all the people in that quarter of the land should gather themselves together to battle against the Lamanites, to defend their lands and their country, their rights and their liberties; therefore they were prepared against the time of the coming of the Lamanites.
verse 26 "to defend their lands and their country, their rights and their liberties" In this chapter we will encounter a few verses which are premonitory to Moroni's well-known "title of liberty" (e.g., verses 30, 45, 47, and 48).
27 And it came to pass that Moroni caused that his army should be secreted in the valley which was near the bank of the river Sidon, which was on the west of the river Sidon in the wilderness.
verse 27 To be secreted is to be concealed.
28 And Moroni placed spies round about, that he might know when the camp of the Lamanites should come.
29 And now, as Moroni knew the intention of the Lamanites, that it was their intention to destroy their brethren, or to subject them and bring them into bondage that they might establish a kingdom unto themselves over all the land;
30 And he also knowing that it was the only desire of the Nephites to preserve their lands, and their liberty, and their church, therefore he thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem; therefore, he found by his spies which course the Lamanites were to take.
verse 30 "he thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem" Here Mormon inserts an almost half apology by Moroni for the use of espionage, which he realizes is intended to take advantage of the less sophisticated Lamanites. But since "it was the only desire of the Nephites to preserve their lands, and their liberty . . . therefore he thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem." The ensuing episode shows what a stickler Moroni was for fair play.
31 Therefore, he divided his army and brought a part over into the valley, and concealed them on the east, and on the south of the hill Riplah;
32 And the remainder he concealed in the west valley, on the west of the river Sidon, and so down into the borders of the land Manti.
33 And thus having placed his army according to his desire, he was prepared to meet them.
verses 31-33 Without knowing the specific topography of the land surrounding the city of Manti, it is not possible to picture exactly how Moroni planned to trap the invading hordes of Lamanites. It is obvious, however that he cleverly deployed his troops on both sides of the river, hoping to trap them as they crossed the river. See the Illustration: Moroni's Military Strategy against Zerahemnah.
Dr. Hugh Nibley has summarized this military excursion and made it easier to understand by dividing it into phases:
1. Zerahemnah, marches toward Manti, which he thinks is undefended, passes the hill Riplah on the north and begins to ford the river Sidon.
2. Lehi, concealed "on the south of the hill Riplah" comes out of hiding and attacks Zerahemnah's rear.
3. The main Lamanite force turns and engages Lehi on the east side of the river Sidon.
4. Thwarted by the superior armor of the Nephites, the Lamanites with heavy losses, seek security on the other side of the river Sidon.
5. Lehi accelerates their withdrawal and flight into and across the river by pressing them hotly in the rear. Once the Lamanites have crossed the river, Lehi's army then prevents them from recrossing by deploying on the east bank of the river.
6. On the west side of the river Moroni and his army have been awaiting the Lamanites in the west Valley.
7. The Lamanites try to break through to Manti but are met by Moroni's reserves.
8. Lamanite numbers begin to prevail until Moroni rallies his forces, and the Lamanites fall back toward the Sidon again.
9. The entire Lamanite force is concentrated on the west bank of the Sidon, where Moroni is able to encircle them.
10. Moroni, perceiving the Lamanite perplexity, immediately stops the battle and approaches Zerahemnah for a conference.
(Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 299-301).
34 And it came to pass that the Lamanites came up on the north of the hill, where a part of the army of Moroni was concealed.
35 And as the Lamanites had passed the hill Riplah, and came into the valley, and began to cross the river Sidon, the army which was concealed on the south of the hill, which was led by a man whose name was Lehi, and he led his army forth and encircled the Lamanites about on the east in their rear.
36 And it came to pass that the Lamanites, when they saw the Nephites coming upon them in their rear, turned them about and began to contend with the army of Lehi.
37 And the work of death commenced on both sides, but it was more dreadful on the part of the Lamanites, for their nakedness was exposed to the heavy blows of the Nephites with their swords and their cimeters, which brought death almost at every stroke.
38 While on the other hand, there was now and then a man fell among the Nephites, by their swords and the loss of blood, they being shielded from the more vital parts of the body, or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites, by their breastplates, and their arm-shields, and their head-plates; and thus the Nephites did carry on the work of death among the Lamanites.
verse 38 "they being shielded from the more vital parts of the body, or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites" Here is another possible example of a "typo" by the prophet Mormon as he engraved onto the plates of Mormon. There was obviously no eraser or "white out" which he might use, and thus an error had to be corrected simply by re-engraving a visible correction.
39 And it came to pass that the Lamanites became frightened, because of the great destruction among them, even until they began to flee towards the river Sidon.
40 And they were pursued by Lehi and his men; and they were driven by Lehi into the waters of Sidon, and they crossed the waters of Sidon. And Lehi retained his armies upon the bank of the river Sidon that they should not cross.
verse 40 "they crossed the waters of Sidon" The Lamanites had encountered the armies of Lehi on the east of the river Sidon. The Lamanites were driven from that site of initial encounter toward the west into the river Sidon, which they crossed.
"that they should not cross" Lehi's forces were then deployed on the east bank of the river Sidon to prevent the Lamanites from recrossing once they encountered Moroni's army on the west of the river. Thus, most were trapped on the west side of the river between Moroni's forces and the river.
41 And it came to pass that Moroni and his army met the Lamanites in the valley, on the other side of the river Sidon, and began to fall upon them and to slay them.
42 And the Lamanites did flee again before them, towards the land of Manti; and they were met again by the armies of Moroni.
43 Now in this case the Lamanites did fight exceedingly; yea, never had the Lamanites been known to fight with such exceedingly great strength and courage, no, not even from the beginning.
44 And they were inspired by the Zoramites and the Amalekites, who were their chief captains and leaders, and by Zerahemnah, who was their chief captain, or their chief leader and commander; yea, they did fight like dragons, and many of the Nephites were slain by their hands, yea, for they did smite in two many of their head-plates, and they did pierce many of their breastplates, and they did smite off many of their arms; and thus the Lamanites did smite in their fierce anger.
45 Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.
verse 45 "they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children" Elder Neal A. Maxwell used this phrase out of context and provided each of us with food for thought: "Though we all may have other causes, all that we hold dear is bound up in our homes and we, too, are in the midst of a fierce battle" (That My Family Should Partake, 29-30).
"rites of worship" Some have felt that this expression should more correctly have been rendered "right to worship," though "rites [ordinances and rituals] of worship" does also have a plausible meaning.
46 And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.
verse 46 This verse has reference to the so-called "law of third offense" which was followed by ancient Jew and even Romans and was intended to prevent non-defensive warfare. To be guilty of the "first offense" is to retaliate when initially attacked by your enemy. Similarly, to be guilty of the "second offense" is to retaliate when attacked the second time by your enemy. The Lord has demanded exceeding patience of us when we are attacked. Moroni was aware of and adhered to the ancient law of war which has been reiterated in modern revelation (see D&C 98:32-37). This law may be summarized as follows: If a people is attacked by an aggressor nation, then the people under attack should not go out to battle without the Lord's approbation. That approval may only be obtained after the people under siege have extended an offer of peace, not once but three times. Thus, this law may also be termed the "law of fourth offense." Furthermore, if the enemy attacks then repents and begs forgiveness, then they should be forgiven-not only once but "seventy times seven." Finally, if an enemy trespasses and does not repent, they should be forgiven three times. If they do not repent on the fourth occasion, then this matter should be brought before the Lord who will exact compensation in his own way and bless those who have been trespassed against.
Apparently the Nephites were aware of this law because it was written in their scriptures-"for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers."
One message to the people of the latter days from the "war period" of the Book of Mormon is that if there must be war, then it must be entered into for the right reasons if the people desire the blessings of God.
47 And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion.
verse 47 Some have expressed surprise that Moroni, a faithful "man of Christ," was so entangled in military matters-he was also a man of the sword. Mormon has made it clear that captain Moroni "did not delight in bloodshed" and believed that he should never "raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their [the Nephites'] lives" (Alma 48:11; Alma 48:14).
48 And it came to pass that when the men of Moroni saw the fierceness and the anger of the Lamanites, they were about to shrink and flee from them. And Moroni, perceiving their intent, sent forth and inspired their hearts with these thoughts-yea, the thoughts of their lands, their liberty, yea, their freedom from bondage.
49 And it came to pass that they turned upon the Lamanites, and they cried with one voice unto the Lord their God, for their liberty and their freedom from bondage.
50 And they began to stand against the Lamanites with power; and in that selfsame hour that they cried unto the Lord for their freedom, the Lamanites began to flee before them; and they fled even to the waters of Sidon.
51 Now, the Lamanites were more numerous, yea, by more than double the number of the Nephites; nevertheless, they were driven insomuch that they were gathered together in one body in the valley, upon the bank by the river Sidon.
52 Therefore the armies of Moroni encircled them about, yea, even on both sides of the river, for behold, on the east were the men of Lehi.
53 Therefore when Zerahemnah saw the men of Lehi on the east of the river Sidon, and the armies of Moroni on the west of the river Sidon, that they were encircled about by the Nephites, they were struck with terror.
54 Now Moroni, when he saw their terror, commanded his men that they should stop shedding their blood.