One of the most inspiring stories in the Book of Mormon is of a military unit under the command of the prophet-turned-army-commander Helaman. His unit of two-thousand teenagers* found themselves under unusual circumstances when a war was being fought and their parents could not participate in defending their homes. For this story, you will need to know two things about Book of Mormon politics. There were at this time, two nations: the Nephites and the Lamanites. The Nephites worshiped God and followed Christ, but the Lamanites did not.
Prologue: Some Lamanites are taught and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ
A group of Nephite missionaries leave their homes and attempt to convert the Lamanites to the Gospel. They are quite successful – so much so that they converted thousands. This was such a threatening movement that the Lamanites fell into civil war in order to stop it. Those converted were faced with the dilemma of fighting for their lives and this is what their king said in this circumstance, Alma 24:10-13:
“And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son. And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain— Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren. Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.”
Then in verses 17-18:
“And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth. And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.”
Many of the people who took this oath lost their lives, but many lived. You can read the full account of their conversion, war, and absorption into the Nephite nation starting in Alma chapter 17. Because the missionaries who converted them were lead by a name named Ammon, they were known as the People of Ammon.
A Nephite dissenter who Became King of the Lamanites
“Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake.” -Alma 46:10
Amalickiah had ambitions to be the king of the Nephites. The Nephites were not governed by a king so he tried to change the law. When that didn’t work, he rebelled and his supporters tried to take over by force. When that also failed, he fled to the Lamanite nation. Alma chapter 47 tells the story of his deception, intrigue, and murders (one by poison and one by stabbing.) The whole account is very compelling, but it ends like this: ” . . . and thus by his fraud, and by the assistance of his cunning servants, he obtained the kingdom; yea, he was acknowledged king throughout all the land . . .”
After that, he focused once again on taking over the Nephites and went to war.
The Nephites in Desperate Circumstances
This war went on for years. It stretched the Nephites to their limits. Not only was there a war, but there was treason on a massive scale they had to deal with as well. The people of Ammon were tempted to break their oath to help with the war but were persuaded not to by Helaman. There was, however, a solution:
“But behold, it came to pass they had many sons, who had not entered into a covenant that they would not take their weapons of war to defend themselves against their enemies; therefore they did assemble themselves together at this time, as many as were able to take up arms, and they called themselves Nephites. And they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives . . . and they would that Helaman should be their leader. And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.”
Part Two is here!
*The exact ages of the stripling warriors are unknown but the war they fought in was approximately thirteen years after their parents took an oath to never shed blood and joined the Nephites.