—2 Timothy 1:7
Today is Mother’s Day in the United States, and therefore, throughout Mormondom, hundreds of thousands of women will receive a half-dead flower or a chocolate bar, or some other token of recognition at the end of Sacrament meeting.
Unfortunately, most who recount the story will mangle it in the process, selling the mothers short, and reducing the story to a tale about merely teaching sons to believe. Much more powerful lessons about these mothers will be missed in the process.
Mother’s Day is a manufactured holiday, of course, and so perhaps it’s fitting we should manufacture a juvenile story to celebrate it. But on the other hand, manufactured holidays notwithstanding, honoring motherhood is not only worthy, but Godly. We don’t do nearly enough to recognize and appreciate, or even understand the role of mothers in the plan of salvation.
And so, for those who are interested in digging a little deeper into the faith and fortitude of these striplings and their mothers, here are some parts of the story we sometimes miss. This will necessarily take some groundwork though, so please bear me while I set the stage.
Our tale starts with the prophet Lehi on his death bed, blessing his posterity for the final time. After blessing Jacob and Joseph, Lehi turns his attention to Laman’s children. Fearing that his grandchildren will be cursed because of the rebellion of their father (2 Nephi 1:18, 4:6) Lehi pronounces several blessings as follows:
- If Laman’s posterity is cursed, the curse will be removed from them and answered on the heads of their parents. (2 Nephi 4:6)
- He calls these grandchildren his own sons and daughters, thus bypassing rebellious Laman in the family lines connecting Lehi’s posterity to him. (2 Nephi 4:3)
- He promises that Laman’s seed will not perish or be utterly destroyed, but will instead receive the Lord’s mercy. (2 Nephi 4:7)
- He ties these blessings to the condition of keeping the Lord’s commandments.(2 Nephi 4:4)
- He offers these same blessings to Lemuel’s children. (2 Nephi 4:9)
These are very significant blessings that have extraordinary eternal ramifications we hardly comprehend. But we can’t delve further into them today. Instead, we’ll just keep Lehi’s blessing in mind as we move forward 500 years.
Sons of Mosiah
500 years later, we find King Mosiah’s sons on a 14-year mission among the Lamanites. Though these men were warned against attempting to preach among the Nephites’ ferocious enemies, they went anyway, and encountered great success after much sacrifice. Ultimately, the Lamanite king, known only as “King Lamoni’s Father” was converted to the Lord in a miraculous way, along with all his household. (Alma 23:3)
Through the king’s proclamation, the Nephite missionaries were granted power to preach throughout all the Lamanite lands, and thousands were converted to Christ. Interestingly, the narrative states that only Lamanites were converted, meaning that the Amulonites and Amalikites, who were Nephite dissenters, were not converted to the Lord. (Alma 23:13, 24:28)
These converted Lamanites desired a new name that didn’t invoke the cultural memory of the false traditions of their fathers. Therefore the believers took the name, “Anti-Nephi-Lehies” instead of Lamanites. (Alma 23:17) The name invoked their covenant connection to righteous Lehi, but not through Nephi’s seed, nor through Laman’s. In other words, it invoked Lehi’s final blessing, offered 500 years before.
When they became converted, these Anti-Nephi-Lehies laid down their weapons of rebellion, refusing to fight against God or their brethren. (Alma 23:7, 24:6). This became a problem when the old king died, and his son, the new king, also named Anti-Nephi-Lehi, faced a rebellion in his kingdom.
It seems the remainder of the unconverted Lamanites, along with the Nephite dissenters, couldn’t stand the idea that their king and a bunch of his kingdom were all converted to the Lord, and friendly with the Nephites. So these rebels took up arms to replace the king and kill the believers. (Ama 24:2)
At this point, against all expectation, King Anti-Nephi-Lehi gave a rousing speech in which he proposed a covenant to his people on the following terms:
- Since they were murderers prior to their conversion, they suffered sore repentance when they came to know the truth. Nevertheless, God forgave them and changed their hearts.
- Therefore, they considered their swords, and their souls, were no longer stained by the blood and sins of their generation, or by the murders they had committed.
- They desired to retain this cleansing of their souls, and therefore could not ever shed blood again.
- So they opted to bury their swords to keep them bright and unstained with the blood of their brethren. They considered this a testimony to God that they would sacrifice their own lives before they would take the life of another—even an enemy. (Alma 24:7-16)
It’s important to realize this wasn’t just a pacifist demonstration; rather, they considered it a covenant with God that they could not break. (Alma 24:18, 53:14-15) God is the only one who can set the terms of covenants, and so it appears from the text that this covenant was not the idea of king Anti-Nephi-Lehi, but rather was offered by God.
Blood on the Altar
The covenanters were tried in their commitment. They faced their Lamanite attackers completely unarmed, prostrated before them and calling upon God as over a thousand of the men were systematically hacked to death by the attacking Lamanites.
I can’t bear the horror of the thought of this scene—over a thousand peaceful, faithful men slaughtered while their wives and children, figuratively or literally, looked on. Nor can I comprehend the significance of what was accomplished by their sacrifice. They kept their covenants, retained their righteousness, and sealed the covenant by sacrifice. In so doing, they invoked laws we have long forgotten and hardly understand. The laws of obedience and sacrifice, sealed by the shedding of their blood and the loss of their lives, bound them to Lehi’s ancient covenant blessing in ways that become quite amazing. Their blood cried from the ground unto heaven.
|I'm guessing they didn't look like this|
Instead, they sent their sons to fight. These were the same sons who were small boys fifteen years earlier when their unarmed fathers had been slaughtered. They had been raised and taught by their mothers, in all likelihood, because most of their fathers were dead, having sacrificed all for their covenant.
And so these 2,000 young men went to war, with Helaman at their head. They called him “Father” and he called them “sons.” Though they had no fighting experience, and faced a terrifying battle with a seasoned Lamanite army, they had absolutely no fear. In fact, so remarkable was their courage that Helaman said he had never seen anything like it, even among the seasoned Nephite armies. These young men simply took it as fact that God would not allow them to fall. Period.
They had been taught by their mothers that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they explained it to Helaman, saying:
We do not doubt;
Our mothers knew it.And neither did their mothers doubt. Having offered everything in sacrifice, including their husbands and sons, these righteous mothers knew more about keeping covenants than perhaps anyone else alive. They also understood what their sacrifice had invoked, not the least of which was Lehi’s blessing that their seed would not be destroyed. And so with confidence born of God’s own power, they sent their sons off to war.
And something remarkable happened. No, remarkable isn’t nearly strong enough. Something miraculous happened.
These untried, untrained, unproven boys charged into battle without fear and fought with the strength of God. Said Helaman:
Yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites, that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war. (Alma 56:56)Furthermore, despite a desperate battle, not a single one of these young men was killed. Not. Even. One.
And in the next battle, they repeated the performance, saving the Nephite armies, while losing none of their numbers. Though over a thousand of the other Nephite warriors lay dead upon the field, every one of the striplings survived—despite the fact that they all received “many wounds” and 200 even fainted from blood loss.
It seems these boys couldn’t be killed. It’s just that simple. And it wasn’t only because they had faith. What they had was a covenant, purchased by sacrifice, and taught by their mothers. Their ancient father, Lehi, who evidently had power to promise such things, had promised they would not be destroyed. And they weren’t.
And just to prove the point, in the next battle they did it again, winning the battle and losing none of their numbers.
In the end, it’s no exaggeration to say these boys single-handedly saved the entire Nephite nation from destruction at its most desperate moment. And so, now that we’ve told their story, let’s learn what we can from it. It’s time to talk about those mothers.
These women were so completely, utterly converted to Christ that they would sacrifice anything and everything to obey His will. Words cannot convey what it took for them to not only watch their husbands slaughtered, but to agree with the sacrifice. That’s not iron resolve; iron isn’t hard enough to begin to describe what these women were made of. Though we traditionally identify the feminine with softness, there’s a dimension that’s harder than diamond. We men would do well to remember that when we see one on her finger.
In the Lectures on Faith, we read the following:
Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation (Lecture 6:7)
An actual knowledge to any person that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God, is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God, without which no person can obtain eternal life. It was this that enabled the ancient saints to endure all their afflictions and persecutions, and to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing, (not believing merely,) that they had a more enduring substance (Hebrews 10:34). (Lecture 6:2)
Having the assurance that they were pursuing a course which was agreeable to the will of God, they were enabled to take, not only the spoiling of their goods, and the wasting of their substance, joyfully, but also to suffer death in its most horrid forms; knowing, (not merely believing,) that when this earthly house of their tabernacle was dissolved, they had a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1). (Lecture 6:3)This describes those mothers. They sacrificed everything, and by so doing, obtained mighty faith. And it was THIS faith, this wisdom, this profound understanding of covenants they taught to their sons. These mighty mothers understood that their husbands’ lives were not given in vain; that eternal law had invoked a blessing upon their seed; that such a blessing contained God’s own power; and that by teaching their sons to believe and obey, they would make them, literally, indestructible.
Where do we find words to even describe such mothers as these? Though their husbands bled and died in covenant, though their sons marched off into battle, it was the wisdom of these mothers that saved their children, their nation, and their posterity forever.
Had they not produced and prepared such sons as they did, to fight with the strength of God Himself, by faith won through sacrifice, the Nephite nation would have fallen. The records would have been destroyed. There would have been no Book of Mormon, no restoration, no coming Zion, and no cheap flowers handed out after sacrament meeting.
And so, on this Mother’s day, along with being instructed by their example, awed by their commitment, and amazed by their faith, remember the debt of gratitude YOU owe these mothers, who, like Godly women in every generation, loved enough to lay down their all in sacrifice, and in so doing, prevailed with God.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Please indulge me a personal note as I close. Such women as I’ve described above are a rare treasure in this world. I’ve been profoundly blessed by three: my mother, my mother-in-law, and my wife. All three have laid what was most dear on the altar, and by so doing have gained mighty faith. Their examples of wisdom, inspiration and love are beyond the reach of mere words. Today, I pour out my soul in gratitude and praise to God for these mothers in my life.