10 Therefore we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, yea, and also give us strength that we might retain our cities, and our lands, and our possessions, for the support of our people.
11 Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.
I don’t know if this is deliberate or not, but it seems to me that Helaman’s response to the lack of provisions differs drastically from that of Moroni. When Moroni does not get provision he writes a bitter and caustic letter which accuses the chief judge of treason. Helaman in contrast responds by turning to the Lord in prayer. And rather than get angry, he is blessed with peace from God. I think we can learn to emulate Helaman rather than Mormon in how we respond to adversity. We can respond prayerfully rather than angrily. We can choose to respond with love and compassion. We can choose the better path.
9 And it came to pass that we did camp round about the city for many nights; but we did sleep upon our swords, and keep guards, that the Lamanites could not come upon us by night and slay us, which they attempted many times; but as many times as they attempted this their blood was spilt.
I think the imagery of sleeping on ones sword is a very evocative one, and a powerful metaphor for living the Gospel and being prepared against Satan. If the sword represents the word of God and is part of the armor of God, then it suggests continual communion with the word of God. I believe his is both through immersing ourselves in the scriptures and the words of the living prophets, and also through continual personal revelation.
Satan will attempt to stealthily come at night and overwhelm our defenses. He will do so by subtle deceptions which will deceive even the very elect. If we are not prepared, we will be ambushed. We need to be constantly vigilant and cling close to the word of God in order to avoid his deadly attack.
“Nevertheless, we may console ourselves in this point, that they have died in the cause of their country and of their God, yea, and they are happy.”
The most striking part of this verse is the tense that Helaman uses to describe the state of those who were murdered by the Lamnites. He does not say that they were happy or that they will be happy, but says that they are happy. This confidence that the righteous dead were in a state of happiness if extraordinary. Helaman knew that those faithful in Christ are delivered to a state of great joy. He understood the plan of salvation and truly believed in it.
Captain Moroni declares in his epistle and also again in this chapter that he will seek death among the Lamanites until they sue for peace. But his actions seem to show that this was primarily meant to be a threat to intimidate and scare the Lamanites.
Even though he freed his prisoners and surrounds a large number of helpless and drunk Lamanites, he does not attack or kill them. He lets them wake up peacefully and surrender to him. This shows Moroni’s true motivation which was not at all to kill or attack, but to defend his people.
“But behold, this was not the desire of Moroni; he did not delight in murder or bloodshed, but he delighted in the saving of his people from destruction; and for this cause he might not bring upon him injustice, he would not fall upon the Lamanites and destroy them in their drunkenness.”
Moroni’s threats likely scared the Lamanited into surrender which seems to be exactly his intended strategy.
I think there are many doctrines that we come to take for granted with our membership in the Church. Probably the most foundational and basic doctrine is the knowledge that we are children of our father in Heaven. Yet, this knowledge–that any primary child could recite–has been one of the most elusive pieces of knowledge in human history. Throughout the centuries, God has been seen as mercurial, distant and even hateful rather than loving. And in modern times many believe that God is either completely detached from human affairs or simply a myth.
In the April 1973 conference, Elder Marrion G. Romney spoke about the importance of understanding that we are in fact children of God:
“The truth I desire to emphasize today is that we mortals are in very deed the literal offspring of God. If men understood, believed, and accepted this truth and lived by it, our sick and dying society would be reformed and redeemed, and men would have peace here and now and eternal joy in the hereafter.”
This is an incredible promise! Societal reform and redemption! Peace! Eternal life! Elder Romney promises that all of these things will flow if we develop a correct understanding of God.
Why is this so? I believe that knowing God changes the way we see ourselves and others. If we understand our divine parentage, then we will not do anything contrary to that nature. And we will believe in our own limitless potential. If we understand that others are also children of God, then we will love with a purer and greater love. And we will believe in others.
Knowing we are offspring of God will change behavior more than anything else can. “The aspirations, desires, and motivations of one who accepts, believes, and by the power of the Holy Spirit obtains a witness to the truth that he is a begotten son or daughter unto God differs from the aspirations of him who believes otherwise, as the growing vine differs from the severed branch.” And ultimately it is truly knowing God that will lead us back to him.
Moroni’s letter to Ammaron is a really interesting one to read. It’s hard to read it without wondering what Moroni was attempting to gain by sending such an angry and heated letter. Certainly, telling someone that their brother who had just been killed was in hell was not exactly likely to inspire reconciliation. And telling someone that you are planning to march into their land and turn the war into a war for extermination is unlikely to pacify a foe.
So why does Moroni do it? It seems to me that there are two options. One is that he simply lost his temper and was angry. This would not be out of character for Moroni. It would also explain why Teancum later kills Ammaron in a rage and is ultimately killed. Perhaps the people expected that killing Amalickiah would end the warfare and they were disappointed that the war continued. These are all possibilities.
Another option is that Moroni is deliberately trying to goad Ammaron into overreaction. Every time the Lamanites have overreached it has ultimately benefited the Nephites. In their blind aggression, the Lamanite forces were prone to slip up and make mistakes. It is possible that Moroni deliberately sought to anger the Lamanities in order to gain an advantage. I also find this interpretation plausible and consistent with Moroni’s overall tactics.
13 But it came to pass that when they saw the danger, and the many afflictions and tribulations which the Nephites bore for them, they were moved with compassion and were desirous to take up arms in the defence of their country.
14 But behold, as they were about to take their weapons of war, they were overpowered by the persuasions of Helaman and his brethren, for they were about to break the oath which they had made.
15 And Helaman feared lest by so doing they should lose their souls; therefore all those who had entered into this covenant were compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time.
I love this story for many reasons. First of all, I love that the anti-Nephi-Lehi’s were moved with compassion and a righteous desire to help. They didn’t allow their covenant become an excuse to check out and ignore the fighting around them. Even though they were not active combatants they were still a vital part of the war effort.
Second, I love how Helaman understood the importance of covenants. Had the people broken their promise–even for a good cause–it would have been far more harmful than the impact of withholding combatants. Breaking their promise would have compromised the people spiritually and could have led to moral relapse.
Finally, I love that the people still thought of a creative solution. If they were bound, they realized that their children were not. And they were willing to send their children to war. So their concern was not feined. They showed their sincerity through their willingness to sacrifice.