In the NBA these days, there are a lot of superstars – but there are 2 MEGA superstars. LeBron James and Steph Curry. In the last 2-3 years there has been an increased surge of popularity and support (love and fandom) for Steph Curry. There are some who have attributed this increased love to his “normal” physical stature (6’3” 190 soaking wet) – which happens to be much more in common with the average Joe basketball player/fan than that of LeBron James (listed at 6’ 8” 250). For most people, they can try and be like Steph Curry through practice and training (launching 3’s and dancing as the little guy), but being built like LeBron and running like LeBron, and dunking like LeBron seem out of the realm of possibility no matter how hard we work (I can’t train myself to grow taller). Somehow, we can all relate a bit more to Steph Curry and his ‘underdog-ishness’.1 At the same time, we may even dissociate ourselves from comparing ourselves to the skill set or talent of LeBron James by thinking that we’ll never be as buff/ripped/tall/muscular as him, so we shouldn’t even try.
There may be a similar thing that happens sometimes in the scriptures. Whether we mean to or not, we sometimes attribute LeBron James status to our scripture heroes, and therefore think that we can’t relate ourselves or our lives or our situations to theirs because they were just way to righteous or way to buff or way to obedient or way to faithful to be ‘the average joe’. One (very popular) story in particular happens to be the story of the 2,000 stripling warriors. Most of the paintings/images of these guys could easily be mistaken for a WWE roll call or an ‘ultimate warrior’ look alike contest. A guy in my ward yesterday even said that “based on those photos, every single stripling warrior benched at least 500 lbs.” Here’s a little taste of what I’m talking about:
Now, to be fair, some of these guys could have been totally ripped. Some of them might have looked like they were 35, but if we really want to ‘liken the scriptures unto us’ we need to understand that these stripling warriors probably looked a bit more ‘real life’ than that. Some of them probably had some had acne and awkward teenage hairstyles. Some of them were probably as skinny as a rail, and most of them had been purposely been developing their talents off of the battlefield. These guys probably looked a lot like the 12-18-year-old Aaronic priesthood holders that you and I see every week in church. You know, the scrawny deacons who pass the sacrament, the slightly beefier teachers with cracking voices who prepare it, and the maybe not so burly/muscular, just getting some man-like facial hair priests who bless it. They probably look a bit more Steph-ish than LeBron-ish right? Most of the ones I know certainly do.
It’s worth noting here that the definition and word origin (history) for the word ‘stripling’ includes “a youth” and is possibly from the noun ‘strip’, meaning ‘long, narrow piece’ on the notion of ‘one who is slender as a strip, whose figure is not yet filled out’.2 Not quite the description of the rock (Dwayne Johnson) is it? Helaman himself calls them his ‘little’ army twice (Alma 56:19, 56:33), and his ‘little’ band twice more (Alma 57:6, 57:19).
With that in mind, let’s review some of the important things that happen throughout this entire story that are critical to helping our youth today understand and relate this amazing story to their own lives (hint: this story just might be even more important for the parents of youth to understand), because the story of the stripling warriors is pretty much the story of our youth today.
Background/Context (Alma 53): Before we even get to the great details, there are some parallels that we need to understand. In the 2 verses that precede the introduction of this story about the ‘sons of the people of Ammon’ we learn that the Lamanites have ‘gained some ground’ over the Nephites and have ‘obtained possession of a number of their cities placing the Nephites in ‘the most dangerous circumstances’. And, the cause of this loss (listed in both verse 8 and 9 so we don’t miss it) is ‘intrigue and dissensions’ among the Nephites. Not an outside force, but internal intrigue and dissensions.
- Arouse the curiosity or interest of; fascinate
- Make secret plans to do something illicit or detrimental to someone
- Disagreement that leads to discord
- Difference in opinion
These youth were growing up in a world that was filled with intrigue (curiosity, fascination, and interest with secret plans, detrimental and/or illicit things, which led to disagreements, and then subsequent dissensions (differences of opinion which led to discord and battle). That sounds pretty much exactly like the world we live in today. There is no shortage of intrigue, and no shortage of discord based on opinions, rights, demonstrations, initiatives, programs, litigations, demands, etc. These circumstances placed the Nephites in ‘the most dangerous circumstances’ just like we find ourselves in today. How many times have we heard that these latter days are the ‘most dangerous circumstances’?
Things set in motion: I’ve written here concerning Antipus and his awesomeness, but for this post, I will just highlight two things. Alma 56:10 indicates that the army of Antipus had been reduced by the Lamanites (slain in battle), which caused him to mourn. How many leaders of the church are mourning because we are losing members of our armies? Lots. Some of them are being slain by the enemy, and some of them are being lost due to intrigue and dissensions. This reduction of our forces gives us all ‘cause to mourn’. Yet, when this army of Helaman arrives, Antipus ‘did rejoice exceedingly’. I can imagine that he was happy to see additional warriors, but I’m guessing he was happier about seeing (and hearing) who they were and the reasons why they were there. Alma 56:16 indicates that this ‘little’ force which Helaman brought to Antipus, gave them (his army) ‘great hopes and much joy’. I don’t think Helaman put that into his letter to Moroni by accident (because it’s in there twice – verse 10 and 16). I think Helaman (and later Moroni when he was abridging the record) realized by the spirit how important this story would be for the youth in the latter days, AND how important this story would be for the adults in the latter days.
One of the main reasons the stripling warriors were so important, is because of the effect they had on the adult leaders. Antipus, Helaman, Moroni, the other unnamed leaders, and their parents all were able to somehow find additional strength, motivation, and were filled with this same ‘great hopes and much joy’ because of what these young warriors did. The youth of this story turn out to be the catalyst for the Nephite victory. As soon as this story is told in the Book of Mormon, the tide starts to turn. The Nephites were losing ground, smothered in dissension and intrigue until a little band of Aaronic priesthood aged youth reminded everyone what was the most important. They instilled love, faith, obedience, and fire back into the Nephite army. They were beloved by everyone (see Alma 57:25), not just Helaman.
Obey and observe with exactness: Since we are drawing parallels to real life, let’s not forget that the record indicates that these young men ‘did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness’ (Alma 57:21). Here we come to maybe the most amazing part of this story, and one where the LeBron James effect can come into play – so let’s think about it for a minute. Do we honestly think that they were born with the perfect obedience gene? Maybe they developed the gift of the spirit called observing with exactness, but I doubt it. I think that these young men were exactly like the young men I know.
For example – let’s just say that Helaman heads home after the battle with the Lamanites in which they acted as decoy, turned around and then overtook the Lamanites and were miraculously saved. He sees some of the mothers of these young boys during Sunday school and he relates this story of battle to them – and while he does he includes the words ‘they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness’. How do you suppose their mothers responded to Helaman? They probably thought in their minds of the many times when their sons did NOT ‘obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness’ at home (like when they asked these boys to clean their rooms, take out the trash, unload the dishwasher, do their homework, and any of the hundred other normal tasks mothers ask their sons to do). Isn’t that what you and I do when their youth leaders tell us how amazing our kids are? These amazing mothers may have even thought to themselves, I wish Helaman could come over to my place sometime and watch my son ‘obey with exactness’. He doesn’t know the real story…. Just this morning I had to ask my son 3 times to pick up his bow and arrow which he always leaves laying around.
Two real life examples that I witnessed just this week that help me believe this is true.
- A young man in our ward happens to be leaving for college this weekend. He has caused his mother a fair amount of grief over the years (I know this because both he and she have disclosed this fact). I have watched him in the priest’s quorum for the last year and happens to be one of the young men that I know I can count on. In fact, I once asked him to sing in a combined youth meeting knowing full well he couldn’t sing (and didn’t want to) – but I asked him because I knew he would say yes (he did). If you asked me if he ‘obeys and observes to perform every word with exactness’ I would say ‘absolutely’.
- Due to the labor day weekend this past Sunday, our deacon turnout for fast offerings was much less than normal. We needed help from the teachers and priests. Even though it is not their ‘normal’ fast Sunday duty, we asked them for their help (by sending out texts/calls). About 20 minutes later, I answered the door at my home to see a priest and an almost priest gathering fast offerings. Further, the almost priest actually apologized for being late. Are they stripling warriors? Yes, indeed. Do they obey and observe to perform every word with exactness? Yes, again. Was there some encouragement from their mothers/fathers? Of course.
Now, I’m not Helaman, and I’m not Moroni, and I’m not Antipus. But I can promise that the same ‘great hopes and joy’ that they felt when this little army came to the fight is real and the leaders of our youth today feel it. It is a love that has been around since the beginning – and it is a love that is accompanied by the spirit.
The enemy we face today is just as frightening and just as scary as the Lamanite armies the stripling warriors battled long ago. But our youth are just as prepared and are just as important to our forces today as they were to theirs in the past. They are taught by their mothers in the exact same way – repetition, encouragement, patience, and love. Even when their mothers may not see the results of that firmness of mind and exactness at home every day – rest assured that others do, and they are filled with ‘great hopes and joy’ when they see it – And wise leaders recognize that these young boys and girls of today can and will turn the tide in the last and great battle just like they did before. The youth of the church will be a catalyst for increased devotion, increased love, increased faithfulness, and increased effort from their adult leaders who are reminded of the reason we are fighting the battle in the first place.
Hopefully we (as old people), can understand that the past can teach us the future, and the series of events as it’s laid out in Alma can be repeated as our youth realize that they are exactly like the stripling warriors were. Normal, everyday young men and women who are consistent, faithful, and true.
1 Yes, this is a made up word. And, I realize that he isn’t really an underdog playing for the Warriors, but the idea is that he is not the physical specimen that many other NBA athletes are, and he looks like a normal dude.
3 It’s probably a miracle all on it’s own that these young men were able to stay ahead of the Lamanite armies long enough for Antipus to even catch up.
Additional questions to consider:
- Do you think Antipus would have run himself and his other leaders to death trying to catch the enemy if they thought these youngters could actually fight off the Lamanites?
- Do you think Helaman would have frantically searched through the numbers of wounded soldiers as soon as the battle was over to count how many of his little army had perished if they all had strength like the Hulk?
- Do you think they would have written how ‘miraculous’ it was that they all survived if they were physically built for battle?
- Do you think Helaman would have been so inspired by their ‘so great courage’ if they were at least a physical match for the Lamanites?
This photo may be a bit more ‘real life’ even though its a cartoon.