Love,  Scriptures

Why Mormon Included the War Chapters

I have heard the statistics a million times. At least 14 major conflicts with at least 100 instances of violence in the Book of Mormon comprising over 15% of the book. And that’s just in what constitutes the “war chapters”. There is so much bloodshed in the book, and with most of that narrative occurring in the middle it sometimes seems like those chapters are the very point of Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates. Why did he spend so much time on the wars? They must be super important, right?

When Mormon was 10 years old, an aged Ammaron entrusts the location of the records of the people to him with a command to retrieve the large plates of Nephi, and only those plates, and add the most recent dealings of the people when he turns 24. Mormon, being a “sober child” (Mormon 1:2) does just that. He lived a full life as a leader, father, and soldier, and records many of the dealings of his own people just as Ammaron told him to.

Mormon had the large plates of Nephi, which included everything of the governments, wars, travels, genealogies, and destructions of Lehi and his family passed down from Nephi all the way to Ammaron. He’s read them. There’s a lot there. Mormon is a learned man, and feels compelled and commanded to make the plates more accessible to the people and for posterity. Mormon really feels like these records might be able to help his people and the Lamanites. So he sets out to abridge them, using all of the spirit of prophecy and revelation which he possesses (Title Page of the Book of Mormon).

He gets a good way into his abridgment of the large plates, starting with Nephi’s record and getting all the way through the part where Amaleki gives the plates to King Benjamin, and something pops out to him that hadn’t before. Amaleki makes mention of two sets of records he gives to King Benjamin, one to record the dealings of the people and another to record the prophecies of the holy men. Wait, what? Mormon only has the huge anthology with the dealings of the people. There’s another record? Mormon rushes back to where Ammaron had left him the plates to search for this other record (Words of Mormon 1:3).

He finds them and totally loves them. They prophesy of Christ and are incredibly faith promoting. They prophesy of so many things which have already come to pass and show how God has really tried to prepare and warn his people and bring them from darkness to light. They are way better than the boring dealings he’s been abridging, and since they contain a good overview of some of those dealings he goes ahead and swaps them out and tells us why in the Words of Mormon.

Now he’s back to King Benjamin. King Benjamin is a doer. He’s always working to either serve the people, labor for his own support, or fight battles he feels forced to fight. The book of prophecies is a little neglected and Mormon just keeps abridging the large plates because that’s all he’s really got, short of a few other random little books which he includes here and there.

Mormon does the best he can to interpret and abridge the many stories contained in the large plates, “according to the knowledge and the understanding which God [had] given [him]” (Words of Mormon 1:9). Mormon expounds upon missions, wars, bloodshed, and huge political shifts where Lamanites become Nephites and Nephites become Lamanites. It’s mostly just endless turmoil, and similar to what he’s seen as leader of the Nephite armies.

It’s just the dealings of the people, but he does his best to add little bits of Christ wherever he can. After all, that’s what he’s really interested in. He’s a historian and maintains the integrity of the history well, but he really tries to add in the gospel wherever he can. He loves the gospel more than anything else, as evidenced by his preference for the small plates of Nephi over the large plates that are mostly general histories.

There’s not much there in the records themselves, but he does a great job trying to make those boring “dealings chapters” mean something, to add some morals to the stories. After all, his “prayer to God is concerning [his] brethren, that they may once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ; that they may once again be a delightsome people” (Words of Mormon 1:8). Throughout Alma and Helaman you can really see his efforts to make something out of the records he has.

He gets to 3rd Nephi. It’s more of the same for a little bit, and then Mormon reiterates his intentions for his abridgment in chapter 5. He tells us that there are a lot of different records which contain the dealings of the people, but he knows that the plates of Nephi are a good record and so he uses them almost entirely because they are shorter and more to the point while still being true (3 Nephi 5:9). He’s not interested in spending a lot of time with the dealings of the people, at least not more than necessary. He finishes the chapter with his testimony that the message of the scriptures is that God is always working to gather his children, and that one day all will know their Redeemer.

Then, he starts setting the scene for the appearance of Christ. He gives a few chapters to the condition of the people prior to his coming, to really drive home who they were. Christ’s message is great, but in context of who the people were and who they became after his coming, you really see how transformative it is. Mormon spends a decent amount of time setting this scene, and then Christ comes.

Mormon gives 16 chapters to the three days of Christ’s initial visit, not to mention the chapters before detailing the signs of his coming and the chapters after detailing the establishment of the church and Christ’s subsequent visits. This is the most space per time-span given to anything in the entire book. He includes as much as he possibly can, and lets us know that there was so much that couldn’t be written. Christ’s coming is the most important part of the entire book, and Mormon’s attention to it makes it clear he knows it.

In 4th Nephi, Mormon tells us that for 200 years after Christ’s coming the people were able to keep things peaceful and live truly Christian lives. It’s not a long record here. He doesn’t have much to work with regarding the dealings of the people about those years as there’s no drama or conflict for the people to record, so he sums them up powerfully but succinctly in the first part of 4th Nephi.

Then, it all starts to fall apart again. If you thought he didn’t give much attention to the 200 years of righteousness, he gives even less to the remaining 120 years of wickedness before he comes into the story. He’s pretty tired of the carnage by this point, and jumps right into his own life. He tells his story as a soldier and his dealings with the people. He was a mighty warrior for sure. And he puts all of those dealings on the large plates of Nephi like Ammaron told him to, but he leaves most of the details out of his own abridgment and record because he abhors it. He hates the death and destruction and doesn’t want to include any more than he has to in order to maintain the integrity of the work (Mormon 2:18).

Now that he has the plates and has read and abridged them, he tries to incorporate some of the strategy he learns from the great Nephite warriors of the past. Captain Moroni was an amazing war hero. When Mormon writes about him in the abridgment he had made he praises him so highly, surely Moroni’s tactics will work for Mormon too! So he tries to rally them with a title of liberty speech, and though he experiences some victories, they are all hollow, and they eventually just make a treaty with the Lamanites and Gadiantons, take their apportioned land, and give up (Mormon 2:23–29).

They have a few years of relative peace, or at least no war, and Mormon implements one of Moroni’s other stratagies. I mean, Mormon is all in with this Captain Moroni thing. He even names his son after him. So, they prepare for battle. They prepare their cities and their weapons. And you know what? It works. Kind of. They win the battles, but the people become prideful. They start making blood oaths and swearing on the name of God. While Captain Moroni’s strategies were technically working, the people were destroying themselves.

His entire worldview is up-ended. The records contained in the large plates had failed him. He read of Moroni’s fantastic victories in that exciting but gospel-less record, and implied his own meanings as to why they had won. They were righteous and God blessed them for it. That was the story. Except that wasn’t the whole story. He read between the lines things that weren’t there, and now when he tries to implement those same tactics he finds his victories are hollow and meaningless. Clever warfare, even when appealing to God, does nothing for his people, just like it ultimately did nothing for Moroni’s people. Both peoples devolve into their carnal natures. 

Mormon refuses to fight with them any more. But without Mormon, all was lost for the people of Nephi. Like, everything. Mormon is watching everything fall apart. He even goes to where the records are kept and takes them all because he knows his people are about to be overthrown. Then, Mormon changes his mind (that’s all repentance means by the way, we shouldn’t read anything more into that) and leads the armies again in their final stand. But he knows they don’t have God with them. He says himself that he has no hope. They start winning again and driving back the Lamanites, but Mormon is under no delusion that it has anything to do with God.

Mormon eventually witnesses the destruction of his people, and he doesn’t even want to write about it all so he just includes a bit of abridged history because he was commanded to write and he is man of his word (Mormon 5:8–9). He gives just a bit of what happened and then goes straight into chastisement and pleading for the people to repent, to change their minds and turn back to God. He goes on for chapters begging the people to turn to Christ.

He finishes and gives the records to his son, Moroni, to finish up the history and bury the records for safekeeping until they can come forth to their descendants according to the will of the Lord. Don’t smite. Don’t judge. And don’t be vengeful (Mormon 8:20). If you get anything from all of this, get that, he says. He also pleads with the people to repent and turn to Christ. He does a little abridging of records himself and includes Ether as another example of a people who turned from the light they had and suffered utter destruction. He juxtaposes the type of faith that can pierce the veil with the apostasy that leads to death.

In his own book, Moroni outlines some of the key parts of the organization of the church and the priesthood for posterity. Chapters 8 and 9 are Mormon’s last letters to Moroni. The first one outlines some points of doctrine relating to baptism. The second is Mormon’s depiction of the depravity of the people at the end of their civilization and his pleadings with his son to follow Christ. Then, Moroni ends with his declaration of the truthfulness of the record and his exhortation to have faith and come unto Christ.

So, I go back to my original question. Why did Mormon include so many war chapters? For sure, he was a soldier and they resonated with him. But more than that, the record he had to abridge was just the dealings of the people. The wars were literally all he had to work with. He did his best to mitigate them by incorporating the small plates of Nephi instead of the records of those years which were on the large plates. He also left out most of the surplus records and stuck with the condensed versions that were on the large plates.

And after that, he tried to inject as much of his own gospel narrative into those required historical records as possible. We don’t have the war chapters because Mormon wanted us to have all of those stories of war. We have them because as a historian he couldn’t leave them out. But he made due with the task before him and tried his best to see the gospel midst the chaos, though that did not serve him well in his own life.

His younger self saw Captain Moroni as a hero, a man who could make the powers of hell shake, though he was gracious enough to include that that same power was also held by some of the mighty missionaries in the record. But he idolized Moroni. He really believed that if he could just be like Moroni he would be one of the greatest warriors that ever lived and would save his people in righteousness. You can’t blame him for that. Captain Moroni was everything he wanted to be and for all the right reasons, he thought.

What really speaks to the integrity of Mormon was his record of how that all changed for him. He was truly a remarkable soldier, and successfully implemented all of Moroni’s tactics. They won many, many wars that way. But none of it meant anything to him because God wasn’t in it. How that must have altered him! Yet, he didn’t try to cover it up or make excuses. He owned his moral defeats as much as his physical victories. And in the end, he turned to the one message that ever offered any hope to humanity. Christ.

Mormon’s last words to his son are to come unto Christ, and Moroni gets it. He sees it all, from beginning to end, and knows that Christ really is the only way. And he loves the record. Throughout all time he honors that record. He requires Joseph Smith to go through years of training before he’s allowed to have them. In fact, his first appearances to Joseph are a hilarious example of just how serious he is about them.

He appears and tells Joseph that there are plates which contain a record of the dealings of the people and the fullness of the gospel as given by Christ. He reappears and reiterates everything he said before then adds something to the effect of, “No really, it’s going to get bad. This is important.” Then he reappears, reiterating it all again and adding, “And don’t even think about selling these plates for money.” The last time Moroni appears he says it all again and adds, “Go tell your dad, he’ll help you remember what you’re supposed to be about.”

Each time Moroni appears he repeats himself and adds a little more, reading Joseph’s thoughts and making sure those plates would never be used for unrighteous purposes. He has to be sure. His father poured everything he had into them, and their posterity depend upon it. There are going to be massive political upheavals and wars, and the Book of Mormon will be so critical in showing them that the only thing that matters is Christ’s gospel.

Wars will be won and lost, but God isn’t in the wars no matter what you think your reasons are. God is in the message of love that Christ brings to humanity.  Where preparations for war and titles of liberty fail, Christ’s message will save. Mormon’s entire life is a testament of that truth. His book is a testament of Jesus Christ.

11 Comments

  • Jack Leslie Carleson

    It certainly is a fact of the humility of Mormon the younger, who most likely would have been called King Mormon if in King Benjamin’s time they had not changed the affairs of the government to judges.As we know Alma the Elder was baptizing (Mosiah 18:20)in the place of Mormon, the land of Mormon, the forests of Mormon and the waters of Mormon named after King Mormon. ( Mosiah 18:4)

    We know that only the descendants of Nephi could be kings Mormon declares in Mormon 1: 5 ” And I Mormon being a descendant of Nephi ( and my father’s name was Mormon) I remember the things which Ammaron commanded me.” He also declares himself to be a pure descendant of Lehi in 3rd Nephi 5:20.

    At fifteen years of age, (Mormon 1:15) takes up the responsibility to preach to the Nephites, being of a sober mind, being visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of His goodness. You have to say that these words are the words of an incredibly humble young stripling warrior who at the age of 16 takes over the Nephite armies, because says he;( Mormon 2:1–2) “notwithstanding I being young was large in stature *the People of Nephi* appointed me to be their leader or the leader of their armies.

    Of course he was known of the people as a descendant of the kings, otherwise why would such a large multitude of the Nephite nation appoint a sixteen year old lad to be the leader of a 40,000 person army?

    The last thing Mormon wants to do in his humility and desire to declare The Christ is talk about himself and his family. Again this totally shows his total humility and dedication to the Lord and the awesome and heavy burden of responsibility to prepare this most wonderful record for us. Sincerely, Jack Leslie Carleson

  • Michelle

    I love the insight on how Moroni’s tactics did not work. Very profound. I also loved the acknowledgement of the relative time that Mormon gave to the visit of Christ compared to everything else. Also kind of a forehead slap for me.

    I don’t know that I agree with the idea that Mormon was skimming through the war chapters as an historian only, though. I think God was in what he chose to feature, and I think there is more in there than just history. I agree with your thought that God doesn’t want us to be at war, though. He was so clear with the Nephites about not just reacting on first offense, and the only justified war was the reluctant engagement in it. But oh, how He would prefer that we could all enjoy peace.

    But since war has been the thing since before the world was, and since war is part of the last days prophecies (they are not not going to happen), I think there are lessons to be learned, key spiritual lessons about how to do war without a heart of war.

    And that is a whole lot easier said than done. THAT to me is where Christ needs to come in in this last days phase for us (besides just being the center of everything, for sure, but also being the answer to how to live in a time of war, because that is our time == wars and rumors of wars that we can hear about at the click of a button or see streaming before us in news and entertainment and everything. I think war is inevitable in the sense that the adversary is raging in the hearts of men, until he will be bound (and/or until we bind his power through faith in Christ). Christ is our Shield and Protector and also the One who softens and changes our hearts so that the long length of the war doesn’t turn us away from Him (Al. 62:41). And so that whatever our responses to war are stay centered in Him and His guidance.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  • Anonymous

    The same way our society plays out the Nephite conundrum. Our passions and proclivities as they become identical to theirs will end up with the same results.

    We live in a multicultural society. So did they for a time. Then they Balkanized into groups, and through contrived and often simple problems they began to agitate.

    Some think our society is static. It remains the same. It doesn’t. 20, 40, 60 years ago was different. Such changes will increase and speed up if we don’t repent. Our society is the first to publically fascinate wholesale on zombism. Funny at first sure. But it culminates in behaviors that are remarkably akin to the Nephites in their worst days (Morianton).

    Draw out behaviors 10, 20, 30 years and you will see pockets of righteousness among confused, violent masses.

    This isn’t something I’m looking forward to, so you know. I’m a ward mission leader and a happy guy. I’m just realistic and am not naive.

    Repentance is the only answer.

  • Joshua Winchell

    We will need these chapters in the very last days before the Lord comes. For strength of purpose. For strategy. For hope in a humanity bent on destroying itself. There is nothing Mormon felt or did that the saints in the last days will not feel nor do.

    • Rachel Logan

      My first reaction is that those strategies of war he employed were even denounced by himself in the end. Could you elaborate on how you see it playing out? 🙂

    • Christian Lassen

      A Facebook friend of mine shared your article and it stirred up many thoughts! Thank you. The article is well written and I love how you are able to interpret the circumstances into an empathetic way that we can understand.

      The question that came to me was, of all the battles that the Nephites and Lamanites had, why did he focus on the Captain Moroni battles the most? Nephi was a righteous guy who led his people in defense of their families. Same with Mosiah the First, King Benjamin, etc. We get some of Alma the younger’s battles who was obviously a righteous leader. So why the emphasis on Capt. Moroni’s? I don’t know and we probably can’t ever know because we don’t know what happened in all the other wars to compare them. Something unique about the Moroni battles, though, they occured AFTER a huge bulk of Lamanites became converted and consisted of fights between Nephites and Nephite Dissenters (who then cooerced the remaining uneducated and unconverted Lamanites into going to battle for the Dissenters glory and vengeance).

      I will disagree with the your sentiment that God is not in the battles and wars. Of course he is. And he may even be helping people on both sides of them, as there would definitely be righteous people on both sides that he loves and cares for eternally. When my kids start fighting, I don’t step away from them and hide myself from them. Those fighting moments are typically when my kids need my influence and intervention the MOST! I will help them, especially the one who seems to be wronged the most, but then I will spend the time to teach them what they can learn and hope they figure out how to avoid that in the future. I don’t encourage them to fight, though I do tell them to stand up for themselves, and don’t let a bully get their way or the bullying will get worse (and there are many strategies to do that and they are situationally specific).

      I think that God very much was in those battles, in preserving the Stripling Warriors miraculously, in revealing to Alma where to confront a Lamanite army, or to rescue an innocent captured city after the destruction of Ammonihah (which was a fulfillment of Abinadi’s and Alma’s prophecies and was a result of nothing the Ammonihahites even directly did to the Lamanites). And in the aftermath, many people were hardened, and many were softened and turned towards God because of the tribulations they experienced in battle.

      God has many tools for bringing about our eternal life and salvation. We may not like some of them, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t. He uses every kind of suffering for our growth and benefit. We wouldn’t have the tentative world peace we have today if we didn’t have all the records of the wars that have happened before. Warfare and murder in most of the world have finally dropped off the lists of likely causes of death in most countries for the first time in history. We are learning from the past and I think that is definitely God’s handiwork. And any suffering experienced by anyone who helped us learn by going through it themselves will more than be made up for by HIM one day.

      Thanks again! I enjoyed the article!

      • Rachel Logan

        Thank you so much for the thoughtful response!! I agree that God did not leave his children just because they chose war. What I meant about God not being in the wars is that he is not the author of them. I do 100% believe that there isn’t anything we can do that can chase him away from us. He will always be there, helping us to see paths which lead to him. He can always make a bad situation better.

        I just wanted to make the point to not read so much into his loving mercy that we believe he wants us to war with one another. That seems ridiculous, but it is believed by many and the cause of much suffering. People have used Nephi’s killing of Laban, Jesus’ “cleansing” of the temple (which I’ve also written about), Captain Moroni, and the Stripling Warriors to justify a multitude of hateful feelings towards other of God’s children. Literally enmity. Just because God is good does not mean that what we were up to was. Mormon learned that the hard way, and his story is important.

        Thanks so much for bringing that up so I could be a little clearer with it. 🙂

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