Alma Chapter 44
1 And it came to pass that they did stop and withdrew a pace from them. And Moroni said unto Zerahemnah: Behold, Zerahemnah, that we do not desire to be men of blood. Ye know that ye are in our hands, yet we do not desire to slay you.
verse 1 Dr. Hugh Nibley provides us with a telling portrait of captain Moroni and his attitude about war:
How did Moroni go about making war? First of all, the people humbled themselves: "They were free from wars and contentions among themselves." War was not a solution to internal unrest. They were reluctant "to contend with their brethren . . . sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood . . . and . . . they were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world . . . unprepared to meet their God" (Alma 48:20-23). When Moroni had immobilized a guard house with a gift of wine, he refused to follow up the ruse, because he said it would be an "injustice" to perform a shameful act of taking advantage of a drunken enemy (Alma 55:19). Moroni was especially keen to watch for even the slightest tendency of the enemy to give up; he was hypersensitive to that moment in the battle when the enemy falters, and the instant that came, when he sensed they were weakening, he would propose a stop to the fighting to talk things over (Alma 52:37-38). "We do not desire to be men of blood," he tells them on the battlefield; "ye are in our hands, yet we do not desire to slay you. . . . We have not come . . . that we might shed your blood for power." "We would not shed the blood of the Lamanites, if they would stay in their own land. We would not shed the blood of our [Nephite] brethren if they would not rise up in rebellion and take the sword against us. We would subject ourselves to the yoke of bondage if it were requisite with the justice of God" (Alma 61:10-12). He detested the power game that some men play; "I seek not for power," he says often, "but to pull it down. I seek not for the honor of the world" (Alma 60:36). He thinks more kindly of the Lamanite invaders than of the ambitious men on his own side. He says it is "the tradition of their fathers that has caused their hatred . . . while your iniquity is for the cause of your love of glory and the vain things of the world" (Alma 60:32). He fought against people being "known by the appellation of king-men . . . and the pride of those people who professed the blood of nobility . . . they were brought down to humble themselves like unto their brethren" (Alma 51:21). Inequality-that was the enemy in Moroni's eyes. When he raised the Title of Liberty, it was to teach his people to think of themselves as the poor and outcast of Israel (Alma 46:18; Alma 46:23-24), not as a proud army with banners-reminding them that the rent garment could very well be their own condition (Alma 46:21) if they tried to match the enemy's own machismo" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 522-23).
Captain Moroni's attitudes about war adhere to the War Principles outlined in the introductory commentary for Alma 43. He did indeed maintain a healthy reluctance to fight against and kill even his enemies.
2 Behold, we have not come out to battle against you that we might shed your blood for power; neither do we desire to bring any one to the yoke of bondage. But this is the very cause for which ye have come against us; yea, and ye are angry with us because of our religion.
verse 2 "this is the very cause for which ye have come against us; yea, and ye are angry with us because of our religion" Moroni reveals that one underlying cause of this attack by Zerahemnah and his forces is religious persecution. Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed: "Those lacking religious commitment sometimes resent it in others" (Plain and Precious Things, 68).
3 But now, ye behold that the Lord is with us; and ye behold that he has delivered you into our hands. And now I would that ye should understand that this is done unto us because of our religion and our faith in Christ. And now ye see that ye cannot destroy this our faith.
4 Now ye see that this is the true faith of God; yea, ye see that God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we are faithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion; and never will the Lord suffer that we shall be destroyed except we should fall into transgression and deny our faith.
verse 4 "God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we are faithful unto him" This is a remarkable testimony of Moroni's faith given under very stressful circumstances. This statement of Moroni is consistent with the War Principle number 6 discussed in the introductory commentary for Alma 43. The righteousness, and not the military might, of a people is the critical issue determining whether or not the people will enjoy the blessing of divine protection.
5 And now, Zerahemnah, I command you, in the name of that all-powerful God, who has strengthened our arms that we have gained power over you, by our faith, by our religion, and by our rites of worship, and by our church, and by the sacred support which we owe to our wives and our children, by that liberty which binds us to our lands and our country; yea, and also by the maintenance of the sacred word of God, to which we owe all our happiness; and by all that is most dear unto us-
verse 5 "rites of worship" As was mentioned in the commentary for Alma 43:45, this expression perhaps should probably have been rendered "right to worship." "Rights" would seem to be more consistent with the context, which refers to the freedom to worship as they desired.
"maintenance of the sacred word of God" As mentioned in volume 2, chapter 3 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine-Covenants and Covenant Making, often "word" means "covenant." Thus "maintenance of the sacred word of God" is synonymous with keeping one's eternal covenants. The Book of Mormon teaches that those who keep the commandments of God-the "words" of God-actually enter into a covenant with him. Those who live according to the words of God and thus keep their covenants will have eternal life. One Bible scholar has noted that words such as covenant, law, word, and oath are used virtually synonymously in the Old Testament. He points out that the earliest designation for the Decalogue or Ten Commandments was the "Ten Words." Also: "The theological usage of the 'word' of God may . . . be very closely bound up in its very origin with the covenant" (G.E. Mendenhall, "Covenant." The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Nashville: Abingdon, 1962, 1:716). Elder Boyd K. Packer taught: "A covenant is a sacred promise, as used in the scriptures, a solemn enduring promise between God and man. The fulness of the gospel itself is defined as the New and Everlasting Covenant" ("Covenant," Ensign [May 1987] 17:22-25).
Another concept which adds to our understanding of the profound significance of the "words of God" was taught by Mormon when he commented on Alma's mission to reclaim the Zoramites. Mormon said: "And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just-yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them-therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God" (Alma 31:5). Obviously the word of God exerts a powerful effect upon the thoughts and behavior of the individual who obeys that word. The spiritual gifts given to the obedient are given according to the covenant which characterizes the commandments.
6 Yea, and this is not all; I command you by all the desires which ye have for life, that ye deliver up your weapons of war unto us, and we will seek not your blood, but we will spare your lives, if ye will go your way and come not again to war against us.
7 And now, if ye do not this, behold, ye are in our hands, and I will command my men that they shall fall upon you, and inflict the wounds of death in your bodies, that ye may become extinct; and then we will see who shall have power over this people; yea, we will see who shall be brought into bondage.
8 And now it came to pass that when Zerahemnah had heard these sayings he came forth and delivered up his sword and his cimeter, and his bow into the hands of Moroni, and said unto him: Behold, here are our weapons of war; we will deliver them up unto you, but we will not suffer ourselves to take an oath unto you, which we know that we shall break, and also our children; but take our weapons of war, and suffer that we may depart into the wilderness; otherwise we will retain our swords, and we will perish or conquer.
verse 8 "Zerahemnah . . . delivered up his sword and his cimeter, and his bow into the hands of Moroni" For a discussion of the "cimeter" see the commentary for Alma 43: 18. It is interesting to learn that Zerahemnah was armed with a bow, a sword, and a cimeter. The cimeter is mentioned eleven times in the Book of Mormon. All references except the earliest one, Enos 1:20, mention it in conjunction with the sword.
Zerahemnah came forward not because he believed that God had delivered him and his army into the hands of the Nephites. Rather he came forward because he had to. His surrender was mandated by his dire circumstances.
The taking of an oath in that day was solemnly regarded as binding even by the wicked Zerahemnah. Note that he refuses to enter an oath that he knows he cannot keep.
9 Behold, we are not of your faith; we do not believe that it is God that has delivered us into your hands; but we believe that it is your cunning that has preserved you from our swords. Behold, it is your breastplates and your shields that have preserved you.
10 And now when Zerahemnah had made an end of speaking these words, Moroni returned the sword and the weapons of war, which he had received, unto Zerahemnah, saying: Behold, we will end the conflict.
11 Now I cannot recall the words which I have spoken, therefore as the Lord liveth, ye shall not depart except ye depart with an oath that ye will not return again against us to war. Now as ye are in our hands we will spill your blood upon the ground, or ye shall submit to the conditions which I have proposed.
verse 11 "I cannot recall the words which I have spoken" Moroni here assures that under no other circumstances than that of making a covenant of peace are Zerahemnah and his warriors going to get out of this alive! He will not "recall" or take back his ultimatum.
12 And now when Moroni had said these words, Zerahemnah retained his sword, and he was angry with Moroni, and he rushed forward that he might slay Moroni; but as he raised his sword, behold, one of Moroni's soldiers smote it even to the earth, and it broke by the hilt; and he also smote Zerahemnah that he took off his scalp and it fell to the earth. And Zerahemnah withdrew from before them into the midst of his soldiers.
verse 12 The suggestion has been made in the past that the "scalping" tradition of the American Indian might have had its roots in this incident in the Book of Mormon. Apparently this practice had its roots with the white man of the seventeenth century AD rather than with the native American Indians. When some of the early colonists offered money for the scalps of dead Indians, some unscrupulous white men killed Indians just for their scalps. Accordingly the Indians began to kill and scalp white men in retaliation.
13 And it came to pass that the soldier who stood by, who smote off the scalp of Zerahemnah, took up the scalp from off the ground by the hair, and laid it upon the point of his sword, and stretched it forth unto them, saying unto them with a loud voice:
14 Even as this scalp has fallen to the earth, which is the scalp of your chief, so shall ye fall to the earth except ye will deliver up your weapons of war and depart with a covenant of peace.
15 Now there were many, when they heard these words and saw the scalp which was upon the sword, that were struck with fear; and many came forth and threw down their weapons of war at the feet of Moroni, and entered into a covenant of peace. And as many as entered into a covenant they suffered to depart into the wilderness.
16 Now it came to pass that Zerahemnah was exceedingly wroth, and he did stir up the remainder of his soldiers to anger, to contend more powerfully against the Nephites.
17 And now Moroni was angry, because of the stubbornness of the Lamanites; therefore he commanded his people that they should fall upon them and slay them. And it came to pass that they began to slay them; yea, and the Lamanites did contend with their swords and their might.
18 But behold, their naked skins and their bare heads were exposed to the sharp swords of the Nephites; yea, behold they were pierced and smitten, yea, and did fall exceedingly fast before the swords of the Nephites; and they began to be swept down, even as the soldier of Moroni had prophesied.
19 Now Zerahemnah, when he saw that they were all about to be destroyed, cried mightily unto Moroni, promising that he would covenant and also his people with them, if they would spare the remainder of their lives, that they never would come to war again against them.
verse 19 It is interesting to note that Zerahemnah, minus his scalp, is never heard from again in the Book of Mormon.
20 And it came to pass that Moroni caused that the work of death should cease again among the people. And he took the weapons of war from the Lamanites; and after they had entered into a covenant with him of peace they were suffered to depart into the wilderness.
21 Now the number of their dead was not numbered because of the greatness of the number; yea, the number of their dead was exceedingly great, both on the Nephites and on the Lamanites.
22 And it came to pass that they did cast their dead into the waters of Sidon, and they have gone forth and are buried in the depths of the sea.
23 And the armies of the Nephites, or of Moroni, returned and came to their houses and their lands.
24 And thus ended the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. And thus ended the record of Alma, which was written upon the plates of Nephi.
verse 24 This verse is an editorial comment or colophon (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:1-3) by Mormon and marks the end of the record of Alma. We will now begin the study of the record of Alma's eldest son, Helaman.