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Alma 44: Just and Unjust War, Simile Curses, and Repentance

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon Lesson 31
“Stand Fast in the Faith of Christ” (Alma 43-52)




In Alma 44, Moroni, having recognized that the Lamanite forces have been struck with terror, recognizes that circumstances are ripe to avoid bloodshed by giving them an opportunity to negotiate. After disengaging from the Lamanites, Moroni states his principles and his argument against the rightness of the Lamanite cause citing the Lamanite desire to subjugate the Nephites in contrast to the Nephites’ desire to follow their God and maintain their freedom, religion, and families. After having stated his case for the righteousness of the Nephites’ cause, he offers the Lamanites conditions of piece on condition of their not returning to battle against them, beginning with verse 5,

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
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.

The Lord’s law of war given in Doctrine and Covenants 98:28, which we understand were also given in general terms to the Nephites and other righteous peoples who nevertheless sometimes faced armed aggression required him to give essentially these terms, “And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.” Moroni has warned them, “in the name of that all-powerful God,” that they “come not again to war against us” in keeping with the statute, continuing with verse 7,

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.

In verse 8, Zerahemnah makes a counter-offer, and also a counter-explanation for Nephite military success,

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.
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.

Moroni rejects these terms because the issue is not that the Lamanites have weapons in general but specifically that they are using them to murder and oppress the Nephites. The Lamanites ceasing to murder and oppress the Nephites is thus the only acceptable end point of the negotiations for Moroni. Careful not to take unjust advantage of an enemy by attacking him while disarmed, Moroni returns Zerahemnah’s weapons in verse 10,

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.”

At this point, Zerahemnah decided to contrast himself with Moroni by attempting to take unfair advantage of Moroni by attacking him during a parlay in verse 12,

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.
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.

This is a marvelous moment. The reflexes of Moroni’s soldiers saved the day, but his spiritual reflexes in uttering the simile curse saved many Lamanite and Nephite lives. Part of why this was so effective is explained by Matthew L. Bowen in his Interpreter article, “The scalp of your head: Polysemy in Alma 44:14-18 ” []. In that work he articulates how the word for chief is often the same as heads. Thus when he said “Even as this scalp has fallen to the earth, which is the scalp of your chief, so shall ye fall to the earth,” he also in effect said “Even as this scalp has fallen to the earth, which is the scalp of your heads, so shall ye fall to the earth.” The simile curse this involved a cringeworthy personalization of the scalping of Zerahemnah to each of his soldiers, a number of whom decided to make the covenant of peace and keep their scalps where they were. When considered in terms of the inspiration given to the soldier in this incident, I am impressed by the love of God which was manifested in this incident. By this soldier’s inspired (and prophetic) words, the Lord took the opportunity to deter a number of his wayward children from the path of destruction. Even though the Lamanites were alienated from the knowledge of God at this point, their lives mattered to Him and he inspired his people to give them every opportunity to improve their choices. If the Lord is willing to provide those who are alienated from him in sin with so many opportunities to repent, I think those who are diligently trying to follow him can have every confidence that He will visit our feeble efforts with enhancing and encouraging grace and opportunities for peace through repentance.

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