The image above is a mural painted on the wall in my exercise room (downstairs at my house). I had a young man in my ward paint this scene (among others) as he was looking for some artist work while preparing to go on his mission. At some point during the COVID quarantine times, our family – like many others – engaged in some Marco Polo app shenanigans which somehow ended up in me doing some pushups in my exercise room, which then prompted a question about the wall (that was apparently visible in the background), which led to me showing this to my siblings and parents explaining what each scene was (there are 3 main scenes and 1 large collage) a la MTV cribs. While I was explaining what this scene is (and why I had this young man draw this event) it apparently was something of a prompt for Colby, since we discussed this topic briefly, and he then wrote a blog post that included this story from Alma Chapter 43.
Now that enough time has passed since then, I thought it would be timely to relate what I feel is the reason behind this scene (why I love it so much) as well as several related stories that help reinforce the idea of what is being portrayed. In each case, there are key phrases that I hope will resonate and work together to shape and add color to the full, wider, more comprehensive picture. After all, isn’t a painting just a form of symbol (object, event, action, or teaching that represents a spiritual truth) that teaches much more than words ever can?
Imagine in your mind the infographic that Elder Bednar used in his conference address in October of 2018 that shows multiple principles or individual braids being wound together to make the strands of a strong rope – the idea of several interrelated actions being part of a unified effort to better align the focus (or understanding) of a principle. In his words “as we learn and link together revealed gospel truths, we are blessed to receive precious perspective and increased spiritual capacity through eyes that can see the Lord’s influence in our lives….” With that in mind, here are several related stories or passages.
The first passage is found in Alma 53:13-15. In this part of history, the Anti-Nephi-Lehi people were considering breaking their oath/covenant to bury their weapons of war and not fight against the Lamanites. This near break of their oath came because “they saw the danger, and the many afflictions and the tribulations which the Nephites bore for them, [and] they were moved with compassion and were desirous to take up arms in the defence of their country.” At this time, there was quite a bit of dissension and intrigue among the Nephites and their desire to help was understandable. However, when Helaman was able to persuade them to keep their oath, and to not take up their arms in battle, the record reads “therefore all those who had entered into this covenant were compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their most dangerous circumstances at this time.” Just read that again, understanding what it means, and don’t forget that wading is typically used when we are out in the water quite a bit right? It’s not a toe dip or an ankle dip or standing on the beach and experiencing the waves peacefully lap and cover your feet – it’s wading through afflictions.
In other words, by keeping and honoring their oath (which the Nephite leader encouraged them to do, they were compelled to behold their loved ones – in their most dangerous circumstances.
The second related story comes in Alma chapter 14. It’s where Alma and Amulek are preaching in the city of Ammonihah and the judges/leaders/lawyers of the city resist the teachings, and go as far as casting out believers, only to then bring wives and children together to the place of martyrdom and force Alma and Amulek to witness the destruction of those whom were consumed by fire. Amulek understandably asks “How can we witness this awful scene? Let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them…” But Alma says “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand”…
The third scene is the one Colby referenced and that is illustrated in this painting from Alma 43. It’s the story of the Nephite army strategizing in order to create the best possibility of victory over their Lamanite enemies. In this case, Lehi was leading his army and his pre-determined role was to ensure that as the Lamanite army began to cross the river Sidon, he and his army would appear and encircle them about on the east in their rear. There was a battle at this point, mainly to make sure that the Lamanites could not go back the way they had come, forcing them to cross the river. But Lehi’s standing order was to “retain his armies upon the bank of the river Sidon” That was it. Simple enough and clear enough when you read the whole story (since we know the Nehpites win this battle).
What we forget sometimes is that this was Moroni’s very first battle as chief captain (that we know of, since he was just named chief captain earlier this chapter, and he is only 25 years old and there may have been a bit of apprehension among the army). In addition, let’s remember that Lehi had to sit and watch as this Nephite army was “about to shrink and flee” as they nearly gave up and lost the battle. Just imagine that – really imagine that. I know this painting shows Lehi standing, but I like to think he was kneeling literally at the very edge of the shore and pleading with the Lord while watching and hoping and feeling completely torn about what to do as he watched his brothers in a fierce battle. I can guarantee that he had the thought to just cross the river and help – but he didn’t. He watched.
In Alma chapter 58, there is a great phrase used by Helaman in his letter to Moroni. He is detailing the happenings of his little band of warriors, and indicating that they had desires to obtain the cities which were currently in the possession of the Lamanites, but because of various reasons he writes “it became expedient that we should wait, that we might receive more strength…”
This fifth story might be one of my favorites, and certainly one to round out the idea of this pattern. In Alma 55 we have Moroni exchanging letters with Ammoron about possibly trading prisoners. Since Ammoron refuses to comply with Moroni’s conditions, Moroni devises a plan to free them on his own, but how he does it is worth serious study. The basics are that he provides wine – prepared in its strength – to make the Lamanites merry and drunk, but not so that he can slay them, only so he can sneak in and provide his people (the Lamanite prisoners) with their weapons. In verse 16 it says “this was according to the design of Moroni. And Moroni had prepared his men with weapons of war…while the Lamanites were in a deep sleep and drunken, and cast in weapons of war unto the prisoners, insomuch that they were all armed. Yea, even to their women, and all those of their children, as many as were able to use a weapon of war,… and all those things were done in a profound silence.” I’ve written about this phrase previously, which is great, but what I want to point out in this post is what happens next. Because the record clearly states what Moroni’s purpose or desire was, and it wasn’t to slay the Lamanites, and it sounds like it wasn’t even to free the prisoners (since he could have done either of those things while they were drunken and asleep). His desire was apparently to arm “those prisoners of the Nephites whole were with the wall of the city, and had given them power to gain possession of those parts which were within the walls.” His whole desire was to arm his people so that they could fight their own battle from inside the city. What? Don’t believe me? Read verse 21 which says “then he caused the men who were with him to withdraw a pace from them, and surround the armies of the Lamanites.” After providing his people with their own weapons, he backed up, waited for the enemy to wake up, and let them fight their own battle. Amazing.
In each case, we can learn a valuable lesson, but my purpose in highlighting these stories, and what they mean to me as a father, is that sometimes all we can do is watch, and that does NOT mean that watching is the last ditch effort when everything else has failed, it may be the active result or requirement of keeping our oath, or part of the test of mortality for us. It might very well be the first or best option of all in moving forward. It creates strength, confidence, trust, patience and gives experience. Plus, it inspires all of those who watch or read the stories in the future.
The last connection I will make to this idea comes from another favorite chapter (Jacob 5). This entire chapter includes incredible counsel and context for us to consider. I include this mostly so that nobody assumes I am suggesting we arm our children and youth with a dagger or sword when they are 8 and then promptly withdraw a pace or a mile and watch thinking all our work is done. That’s not quite it. It is a case by case, battle by battle decision (in conjunction with the spirit’s direction) as they grow. This instruction reads “wherefore dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more… then shall ye prepare the way for them, that they may grow. And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof…” (v 54-65).
There are more stories that illustrate this principle, such as Lehi and Sariah waiting and waiting in the Valley of Lemuel for their sons to go back to Jerusalem – twice. There are many other situations in the war chapters where there is a stratagem devised that involves waiting and watching. It’s also of value to study how and why they utilize spies in these battles. Each of them can support this idea of sometimes the best and sometimes the only approach is that we are compelled to behold, or withdraw a pace, or it’s expedient that we wait.