Image by Del Parsons 1999
Remember in school when we were tasked with determining how long it would take for one runner traveling at 12 miles per hour to catch up to another runner who was running at a pace of 10 miles per hour when they were separated by 6 miles? I do. Do you remember telling yourself (and your classmates) that there is no way that this question will ever be relevant in anyone’s life. I do.
Yet, here we are and I’d like to share one such story. It’s in Alma 56 and it is amazing (and it’s not even about Moroni or Helaman). It’s about a guy named Antipus and his leaders (his leaders remain anonymous). Chapter 56 of Alma is the only time this man is mentioned, but if you ask me – what he teaches us in one epic race to battle is more than enough to put him on the list among the greatest scripture and war heroes in the Book of Mormon and it allows us to ponder on the story that led to his determination and the supernatural source of “might”.
The scene is the ancient American continent around the year 65 B.C and the Nephites are in the 11th year of a currently ongoing (seemingly-never ending) war with the Lamanites. Captain Moroni has received a letter from Helaman, in which he relates the amazing story of how a small band of young warriors helped turn the tide against the “most powerful” Lamanite army in that area of the land.
These warriors had never been in a single battle, and they were all young. They were willing, had faith, and were no doubt beloved by all of the Nephite leaders for that willingness and exceeding faith. I know that Helaman was more than impressed by them, and loved them like his own sons.
Once this little army (headed by Helaman) joined the ranks, they march over to join the army of Antipus in the city of Judea. Antipus “did rejoice exceedingly”. No doubt these leaders and this army were happy to see young men they loved and young men who belonged to families that they had watched over and cared for the past several years.1 It is no wonder that the record states that during this time they did “receive strength”. Have you ever heard of a leader of youth claim to have gained more ‘strength’ from the youth than they gave away? I have. Have you ever been a leader, or grown to love the youth over whom you’ve had a stewardship? Yes again.
When the time was right, and the “most powerful army of the Lamanites” began to grow uneasy seeing the Nephites “receive strength” the Nephites put a plan into action. A plan which involved Helaman and his youngsters marching from the city of Judea “near the city of Antiparah, as if they were going beyond the city. The purpose of this march was a decoy – to lure the Lamanites out of their stronghold. And it worked. The “most powerful army of the Lamanites” had left their strong city and was now marching on the heels of a small group of youth who had never experienced a single battle.
Note: No doubt the young men had agreed to this plan, and had known some of the risks involved, but I don’t know if the way the plan unfolded was exactly what they had in mind – because the Army of Antipus didn’t even start marching to catch up until these young men were “near the city of Antiparah”.
The story goes on to inform us that Antipus marches forth behind the Lamanites, but they don’t even notice until they had traveled “a considerable distance” chasing Helaman and the stripling warriors. Let’s remember that the words that Helaman uses are “flee” and “pursuing” and “intent to destroy”. I don’t think they were speed walking or strolling through the woods. This sounds a whole lot like running to me. Not the kind of running we do to exercise, or even the kind we do when we “run” to the store, but more like the “I am getting chased by a bear” running.
Enter the awesomeness of Antipus: we learn that he and his leaders are pursuing the Lamanites “with their might” while the Lamanites are trying to catch the young warriors “with the intent to slay them” before Antipus could catch up to them, so I doubt the Lamanites were coasting (or doing the run/walk or “sort of jog” thing some of us do when we “run”).
Let’s take a moment to put ourselves in Antipus’s situation – he just sent out a bunch of young men who have never been in battle as bait for the “most powerful” Lamanite army. He might be feeling just a little responsibility towards the safety of those boys – especially if we think that that Antipus knew their parents – especially their mothers, and the sacrifices they’ve made, the prayers they have offered, and the weight that he felt as a leader of the Nephite army assuring them that he would watch over them. I imagine Antipus encouraging and pleading with his body (and then asking the Lord for physical strength) to go as fast as his heart wanted him to – and then when he “beheld the danger” that they were in, he did “speed his march”. He went to level 11.
Then it was night.
Then it was morning – and they all ran all day (even until it was dark).
Then it was night again.
Then the young men awoke to the Lamanites upon them, and they “did flee”.
Shortly after this point (in the morning on the 3rd day) the Lamanites stopped chasing the young stripling warriors. They didn’t know if it was a trap to lure them back, or if Antipus had caught up. Either way – their bravery and courage took them back to battle (they did not want the Lamanites to overpower Antipus).
This little band turned back, and came upon a “terrible” battle between the Lamanite army and the army of Antipus. And in this terrible army, “Antipus had fallen by the sword, and many of his leaders, because of their weariness, which was occasioned by the speed of their march”.
The arrival of the young warriors turned the tide, the Nephites defeated the Lamanites, and there are miracles seen when not a single young warrior was found to be slain. Yet, perhaps the most amazing feat that we too often gloss over, is the fact that Antipus and his army overtook the Lamanite army before they were able to catch up to the young decoys.
When we consider the fact that Antipus likely knew that he was running right to his death, especially when he had started out “in his might”, then kicked it into extra high gear by “speeding his march” even further. Then compound that with the fact that he and his army likely didn’t rest very much at all during the night of the 2nd day in order to catch up to the Lamanites. Antipus refused to allow the Lamanites to catch up with those young men. I imagine him saying to himself and his other leaders “not on my watch”, there is no way we are going to rest not knowing if the Lamanites are sleeping tonight. There is just no way I am going to allow that “most powerful army” catch up to our young men.”
Imagine running a marathon – twice in one day (and not on a paved road with water stations, port-a-potty stops, crowds cheering you on, etc.) and then imagine doing that 3 days in a row. Now imagine running two marathons per day for two days and then rather than rest your weary bones on the 2nd night, you exert every ounce of energy that you have to catch up to the runners in front of you who got a 5 or 6 or 10-hour head start on the first day. Then imagine finally catching up to them, shortly after they’ve rested for the night and commencing a battle with them (remember they are “the most powerful army”).
That is where we find Antipus and his leaders. Sacrificing themselves in order to save others. A perfect and exemplary type of the savior, who went willingly into the garden and onto the cross so that we could have a way out.
1 The conversion story in Alma 23 of their parents is a great story as well.