Alma 43

We head away now from the doctrinally heavy chapters we’ve just read through, and return to the war. The reading pace for Come Follow Me has also changed once again, going from a few chapters a week to ten this week. One consequence is that I really need to keep these posts of mine brief in order to keep up the pace, rather than the multi-thousand word posts they keep turning into; the point, after all, is not a comprehensive examination of each chapter, but simply picking out things that strike me, especially on this read through. Another consequence is that perhaps the curriculum committee should reconsider how they pace such readings. I suspect readings a couple of chapters one week, and then trying to read fifteen chapters – 14 of which are Isaiah quotations – another may hinder consistent reading. But that’s not for me to decide.

Some plans of the Lamanite commander Zerahemnah stood out to me today:

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.

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.

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.

Zerahemnah has a distinct preference for choosing Nephite dissenters – the Amalekites and the Zoramites – as his commanders over his Lamanite armies. Now there’s some textual evidence that the Zoramites had a particular aptitude for that sort of thing, but Zerahemnah’s reasons are telling: he does it so he can perpetuate Lamanite hatred and anger at the Nephites, so in turn he might usurp power over the Lamanites. The Nephites are not his only intended victim here, although the Lamanites are also his unwitting tools. And it shows how hatred and anger can be used to manipulate us, which is presumably one reason we’re informed Satan plans to encourage the same emotions in the latter days (2 Nephi 28:19-20).

Verse 30 always stands out for me:

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.

Trickery is not Zerahemnah’s province alone; Captain Moroni likewise resorts to it, feeling that since his cause is just that “it [is] no sin that he should defend them by stratagem”. I am reminded of Christ’s instruction in Matthew 10:16:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

It is important to do the right things, and for the right reasons. Provided we’re doing that, however, it is no crime to be clever about it.

I was also struck today by the Lord’s instructions on warfare to the Nephites in verse 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.

I find that formulation about the first offense and the second offense significant: we are not to strike the first blow, to provoke a fight. Nor, however, are we to immediate retaliate to any aggressions against us. But when there is a consistent pattern of aggression – when our opponent has committed both the first and second offense – then self-defence is permissible and commanded.

Linked article: “The Ammonites Were Not Pacifists”

There’s an excellent article at the Interpreter website on the Ammonites and the question as to whether or not they were pacifists. I think it’s not only a good article on its subject, but also a good example of the sort of thing I’d like to see more of: it’s not just about some niche area that may be interesting from a historical or cultural perspective, but rather about something which has important implications for what the Book of Mormon is trying to teach us (in this case on the topic of just war).