As I continue reading the war chapters in Alma, I ask myself “what is Mormon’s motive for writing this?” Was it so intriguing how Amalickiah deceived the entire Lamanite nation? Why would we need to know the workings of a wicked man?
I think Mormon sums up his reason for doing so in the last verse. He talks about how dissenters become more hard-hearted than the Lamanites. They “entirely [forgot] the Lord their God.” I think some people are ashamed to take Christ’s name upon them and they fear; they are afraid of persecutions, mocking and so forth – they don’t believe. They lack faith and they give in to the natural man.
The opposite of fear is courage and courage is synonymous with faith and believing.
Alma 47 is a chapter about a man who gave into the natural man and succumbed to the temptations of the devil. Alma 47 shows how we can get caught up in the world and Satan’s lie. Amalickiah believed Satan’s lies. We see how twisted, evil and wicked Amalickiah becomes. He turns into an agent of wickedness and sin. He is a man who was once enticed to be good, but having also been enticed to be evil gave in to the “dark side.”
Contrast Amalickiah in chapter 47 to Moroni in chapter 48. The two stories are like night and day to each other. One goes about doing evil and the other lives to serve his nation. One has no worth and seeks his worth be destroying the lives of others. The other knows his worth and seeks to build up his nation and defend justice.
The difference between Amalickiah and Moroni is highly evident. While Amalickiah went about seeking power and using any means to gain it, Moroni was diligently keeping his covenants and building up and preparing the Nephites. He was “firm in the faith of Christ.” He did not fear.
Moroni did not give into the natural man. He grew in faith and works. He became a man so worthy and strong in faith that Mormon wrote that if all men were like Moroni, Satan would have no power over anyone! What a compliment!
We learn from Alma 47 and 48 about two paths a man may take. The one path is wickedness and the other path is righteousness.
What will be seen later on is a small version of how the history of man will play out. Even though evil will be strong and powerful, the righteous will eventually win – guaranteed.
Whose side we choose is the test. Given the choice of which team to play for and knowing who will win, I would choose to play for the winning team. That is what I have chosen to do; now I need to do my part and contribute to the winning cause.
Hugh Nibley said, "Moroni's defenses were based on a series of strong points, being a defense in depth, as modern defense-lines are; beside specially placed ‘small forts, or places of resort,’ towns and cities on the line were also converted into strong points (Alma 48:8). Such an arrangement can take the momentum out of any military steamroller and slow down or stop any attacking force, no matter how formidable, by forcing it to reduce one strong place after another or else bypass the fortifications and thereby leave dangerous enemy forces in its rear to disrupt communications and launch harassing counter-attacks on invading units. With this strictly defensive program (the preparation being to fight if at all only on their own grounds), an early-warning system was all-important. And it was Moroni's idea that God himself would provide such a system if the people were only faithful: ‘If they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would . . . warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger; and also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves’ (Alma 48:15-16). In short, God was their ‘Dew-line,’ their radar, and warning system, and that saved them the need of constant and costly vigilance on all fronts, to say nothing of expensive and wasteful war-plans and war-games. This was Moroni's policy of preparedness, ‘this was the faith of Moroni and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good’ (Alma 48:16).” (Since Cumorah, p. 307)
We can apply this concept of preparation to our spiritual preparation. Just as Moroni established a network of defensive points, so can we establish and strengthen various areas in our spiritual lives. We can be more attentive to prayer; more dedicated in our scripture study; more diligent in serving and so forth. As we take an inventory of our spiritual strengths and weaknesses, we can identify what needs improvement. Then when the trials and temptations come, we can defend ourselves sufficiently.
Six Billion Moronis
"If all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men." (Alma 48:17)
The author of gospeldoctrine.com (Bryan Richards) made the following point, "Maybe one of the other reasons why Mormon spent so much time discussing these Nephite wars was because he wanted us to be acquainted with the power and personality of this man, for if we were all like him, we would quickly win our war against evil."
Indeed these war chapters would be much blander if we did not truly know the leader of the Nephite armies. He seems to be the main focus and driving force that helps defeat Amalickiah and the Lamanites. Without Moroni, this extended war could have been just another verse according to Mormon's interpretation.
Additional Thoughts on Generals and War (added June 23, 2010)
I just started reading The Father of Us All by Victor Davis Hanson - I've been on quite a military history kick lately - and in this book, VDH discusses why we should study war. Essentially he argues that war is as common and as old as birth, ageing, dying and politics; and as such, it is worth studying so as to learn to prevent it and shorten it when it happens. More on that later.
On the same day I received this book in the mail, news broke of an article about General Stanley McChrystal talking poorly of Obama administration officials (as I write this, Obama has accepted McChrystal's resignation). The article that started this chain of events was a very fascinating read. It sparked my interest in reading more about Gen. McChrystal. Learning a bit about him was highly entertaining. So this morning on the bus ride into work, I was reading Alma 48 about Moroni with the thoughts of General McChrystal and war in general simmering in the back of my head.
Characteristics of Moroni
Friberg painting in our minds in which Moroni looks like a very buff gladiator. Regardless how he looked or what we think he looked like, Mormon thought it important enough to note that he was strong. Living in those ancient times had to be tough (compared to our lifestyles today). With that said, he was still considered tough by their standards. Also, he survived that long war and many, many battles - enough said.
Mighty - Perhaps in this context it is synonymous with strong. One on-line dictionary defines 'mighty' as "having or showing great power, skill, strength or force." I tend to think in this case it means he was highly skillful in battle.
Perfect understanding - This is an interesting characteristic. I can only guess at what Mormon meant by describing Moroni as having a perfect understanding. I think it means that Moroni had the perfect understanding of what freedom meant. He wasn't a dictator, yet he wasn't a pushover. He understood what it meant to defend freedom - he didn't let the kingmen do whatever they wanted; rather he applied the appropriate amount of force on them in order to protect the freedom of the nation. He could have wiped out thousands of Lamanites, but used restraint - he understood the war was about maintaining Nephite freedom, not annihilation of the Lamanites.
Joy in liberty, freedom from bondage and slavery - The reason tyrants and dictators don't want the free countries of the world to 'influence' them is because once the people under the tyrant taste freedom, they'd never go back to the former government. Consider this quote from Culture and Carnage: "When asked why the Greeks did not come to terms with Persia at the outset, the Spartan envoys tell Hydarnes, the military commander of the Western provinces, that the reason is freedom: 'Hydarnes, the advice you give us does not arise from a full knowledge of our situation. You are knowledgeable about only one half of what is involved; the other half is blank to you. The reason is that you understand well enough what slavery is, but freedom you have never experienced, so you do not know if it tastes sweet or not. If you ever did come to experience it, you would advise us to fight for it not with spears only, but with axes too.'" (p. 47).
Gratitude to God - Moroni truly appreciated the blessings of his nation. In our modern day with all our electronics and luxury living, I feel, generally speaking, that we aren't grateful for what we have. If we are, then perhaps we don't count our blessings as often as we should. If we but think of the blessings we have, our troubles and trials can be put in perspective. We are so much happier when we are thankful.
Service - Serving others determines much of our worth. Moroni was worth much to his people.
Firm faith in Christ - The Nephites' faith in Christ was on the other end of the timeline - they had to believe in a Christ that would come. Our faith in Christ is based on the life Jesus has already lived. Moroni's faith was indeed firm.
Obedient - To be a great leader, you must first be a great follower.
Resists iniquity - To maintain our freedom and our faith in Christ, we must always resist iniquity. In other words, we must resist the temptations and fiery darts of the devil.