The Two Thousand Warriors (and Their Mothers)
This protection came to be necessary, as war broke out between the Nephite and Lamanite nations. Keeping their promise to protect the Lamanite converts, the Nephites were dying by the thousands in nightmarish battle. Though the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi were willing to die rather than defend themselves, they were heartbroken that others were dying on their behalf, and were about to break their covenant and take up arms to defend their Nephite friends.The Nephite prophet and solider Helaman begged them not to, exhorting them to keep their promise to God.
Some two thousand of their young sons, barely older than boys, had not made the covenant. Though untested in battle they offered to fight for their families and their allies. We read of them: “And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity, but behold, this was not all- they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives, they had been taught by their mothers that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” (Alma 53:20-21, Alma 56: 47-48).
Their unshakeable faith in God, learned from their wonderful mothers, protected these young warriors when many of their more experienced Nephite brothers died in battle. Time and time again, the righteous young Lamanite warriors were protected and fought with incredible strength. Helaman, who led them in battle, wrote “according to the goodness of God, and to our great astonishment, and also the joy of our whole army, there was not one soul of them who did perish; yea, and neither was there one soul of them who did not receive many wounds. And now, their preservation was astonishing to our whole army, yea, that they should be spared while there was a thousand of our brethren who were slain. And we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe- that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power” (Alma 57:25-26).
These young Lamanite warriors were instrumental in bringing peace to the land. Their story gives us a wonderful example of interracial cooperation, friendship, and love. The Nephite prophet-soldier Helaman, their commander in the army, loved them so much that he called them “sons” and they called him “father” (Alma 56:46). He spoke of them with the kind of righteous pride a father has for his children, saying of them “never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites” (Alma 56:45), that “they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21) and that “their minds are firm, and they do put their trust in God continually” (Alma 57:27). Millions of readers worldwide, since the formation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have been inspired by their story.
The Converted Prisoners
About thirty years later, the prophets Nephi and Lehi (named after their forefathers), embarked on an ambitious mission to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to both the Nephite and Lamanite nations. Preaching with great power and authority, they brought thousands to repentance from both groups (Helaman 5:17-19) until they were finally arrested by a Lamanite army and thrown into prison. When their captors came to execute them, Nephi and Lehi were surrounded by fire from heaven. An earthquake shook the prison walls and mists of darkness and despair surrounded the Lamanites, who heard the still, small voice of God commanding them to repent. They witnessed Nephi and Lehi speaking to angels and were encouraged to pray for faith in Christ, the forgivenes of their sins, and the removal of the mists of darkness. Their prayers were answered and they were surrounded by heavenly fire. They were then filled with the Holy Ghost and unspeakable glory, joy, and peace. Angels descended to teach them. They left the prison and taught their fellow Lamanites, convincing the majority of the entire nation to believe in Christ and abandon their hatred, false traditions, and their weapons of war. This story can be read in Helaman 5:21-52.
The preaching of these converted prisoners brought about three great changes that had never happened in the history of Nephite-Lamanite relations. The first was that “the Lamanites had become, the more part of them, a righteous people, insomuch that their righteousness did exceed that of the Nephites, because of their firmness and their steadiness in the faith” (Helaman 6:1). Throughout the record, the Nephites, as a whole, had been more faithful than the Lamanites, but no more. God began to bless the Lamanitesmore than the Nephites, proving the scripture which says that “the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God” (1 Nephi 17:35).
The second change was that, instead of Lamanites being converted through Nephite preaching, now it was the other way around: “And it came to pass that many of the Lamanites did come down into the land of Zarahemla, and did declare unto the people of the Nephitesthe manner of their conversion, and did exhort them to faith and repentance. Yeah, and many did preach with exceedingly great power and authority, unto the bringing down many of them into the depths of humility to be the humble followers of God and the Lamb” (Helaman 6:4-5).
Finally, for the first time “there was peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites. And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would…and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and sell and to get gain, according to their desire” (Helaman 6:7-8). As Nephi, Lehi, and the Lamanite converts spread the Gospel, it brought peace and unity to two races that had been devastated by hatred and war for centuries.
Opposers of Gadianton, Disciples of Christ
That peace, sadly, was not to last. The Gadianton Robbers, a secret society of organized crime and satanic rituals, came out of hiding, luring people into their ranks with promises of power and riches.
We read, however, that the dark-skinned Lamanites responded better to this rising evil than did the fair-skinned Nephites:
“And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.
“And it came to pass on the other hand that the Nephites did build them up and support them…until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to…join with them in their secret murders…And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did…turn their backs upon the poor and the meek and the humble followers of God“ (Helaman 6:37-39).
I must point out that this development, of Lamanite righteousness and Nephite wickedness, flies directly in the face of the critics’ overly simplistic portrayal of race in The Book of Mormon as “light skin is good and dark skin is evil.” Here it is exactly the opposite! We read that “the Nephites did begin to dwindle in unbelief and grow in wickedness and abominations, while the Lamanites began to grown exceedingly in the knowledge of their God; yea, they did begin to keep his statutes and commandments, and to walk in truth and uprightness before him. And thus we see that the Spirit of the Lord began to withdraw from the Nephites, because of the wickedness and hardness of their hearts. And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words” (Helaman 6:34-36).
The most accurate description of race in The Book of Mormon is not that dark skin is bad and light skin is good, but rather the Savior’s assertion in the Bible that “many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first” (Matthew 19:30). Nowhere is this principle more clearly illustrated than when the Lord sent a righteous dark-skinned prophet to rescue the wicked light-skinned nation, a nation which had turned their backs on Christ and embraced evil works.
Samuel the Lamanite
The prophet Samuel was a Lamanite, sent by the Lord to preach to the rebellious Nephites. Cast out of the city but compelled by the Lord to return, he stood upon the city walls and loudly preached the words God placed in his heart. He prophesied destruction unless the people repented. He rebuked them for their love of riches, their ingratitude, and for persecuting and murdering. He condemned them for supporting false prophets while rejecting true ones and declared that there is no happiness in sin. He had the privilege of foretelling to the people in the New World the signs they’d see of the Savior’s birth, death, and resurrection in the Holy Land. Samuel taught the Nephites of physical death and spiritual death, and that both were overcome through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He testified of the principle of agency and that we are free to choose good or evil, but must accept the consequences. He testified of God’s great love for the Nephites and His promises to the Lamanites (more on that later).
After Samuel delivered his message, some believed and sought repentance and baptism. Others were angry and tried to kill him, firing arrows and slinging stones at him on the wall. We read that “the Spirit of the Lord was with him, insomuch that they could not hit him with their stones neither with their arrows” (Helaman 16:2). Many more believed when they saw this, though predictably others attributed his protection to the power of the devil. When they tried to arrest him he fled and preached among his own people.
The Curse is Removed
TheGadianton Robbers had grown so numerous and aggressive that Nephites and Lamanites, who until this point had had peaceful interactions but maintained separate nations, officially united to protect themselves from their common enemy (3 Nephi 2:12). At this point we read another passage that evokes controversy:
“And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites. And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites. And their young men and daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites and were called Nephites” (3 Nephi 2:14-16).
While some have interpreted these verses to imply that the “curse” of dark skin was removed in an instant as a reward for righteousness, I do not believe that the scriptures support this idea. For one thing, there had been righteous Lamanites for decades, with no mention of a change in skin color. It seems that the Lord had no problem with them being both dark and righteous. Furthermore, we read of the faithful Anti-Nephi-Lehies that “the curse of God did no more follow them” (Alma 23:18), yet when they buried their swords and laid down their lives rather than fight, their attackers recognized them as fellow Lamanites (Alma 24:23-24); clearly their dark skin had remained. From this we see that the dark skin was not the curse, which is supported by the remarks of Joseph Fielding Smith cited earlier.
You’ll remember that President Smith taught that the curse had two parts. The first was the removal of the Spirit of the Lord, which seems to be the part referred to when the “curse of God” no longer followed the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, who were then granted “the spirit of prophecy” (Alma 25:16). The second part was the denial of marital unions with the Nephites. The Lord had told Nephi, speaking of the Lamanites “I will cause that they shall become loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities. And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed, for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing” (2 Nephi 5:22-23, emphasis added). We see from this that the prohibition of the “mixing of seed” (marriage and procreation) between Nephites and Lamanites was meant to last only so long as the Lamanites were estranged from God.
The dark skin, like circumcision among the Jews, was a mark designating who God’s people could and couldn’t marry, in order to preserve their religion (Genesis 34: 14-16; Judges 14: 3). Just as circumcision ceased to matter after the Gentiles embraced the Gospel (1 Corinthians 7:18-19), it appearsthat the dark skin here ceased to matterand the Lord allowed intermarriage. See the wording of the aforementioned scripture “…those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites…and their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair…and were called Nephites” Though righteousLamaniteshad previously been counted as members of the Church and lived in the Nephite nation (<a href="https://www.
<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ />lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/27.27?lang=eng”>Alma 27:27), had friendships with Nephites (Alma 23:18), and had traded with them during times of peace (Helaman 6:7-8), as far as I’ve seen they had never before been numbered among the Nephites. Even the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, who were loved by the Nephites and whose sons fought alongside them, were given their own land as an inheritance (Alma 27:22). But here they all lived together, united, with the scripture specifically mentioning that their children became fair-skinned, suggesting an intergenerational process that occurred over time.
There is one last indicator that the change in skin color was a gradual effect of Nephite-Lamanite intermarriage and not a “magic moment” as is so often suggested: there were righteous, believing Lamanites roughly fifteen years later who were still called Lamanites, not Nephites (3 Nephi 6:14). They were not numbered among the Nephites, nor is there any indication of change in skin color. This effectively debunks the idea that all of the righteous Lamanites, from the curse’s removal onwards, became fair-skinned Nephites.The verses about a change in skin color seem instead to be the historian Mormon’s description of what happened when members of the two nations united.
The Savior Comes; An Era of Peace
The Book of Mormon indicates that both righteous Nephites and righteous Lamanites survived the natural disasters that followed the Lord’s death (3 Nephi 10:18). Therefore, it stands to reason that when the resurrected Christ descended from heaven in the AmericasHe taught, healed, and prayed for Nephites and Lamanites alike. It wasn’t until sometime after His ministry that the races became so fully integrated that they may have become indistinguishable from one another. “The people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them…And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them…neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Nephi 1: 2,11,17).Nephites and Lamanitesmarried and procreated until racial lines were blurred completely.
Divisions Arise, a Nation Falls
This Utopian society continued for about two hundred years, after which pride, the love of money, persecutions, and violence gradually emerged and many began to deny Christ. Those who rebelled against the Gospel began again to call themselves Lamanites (and other related tribal names) while those who followed Christ were again called Nephites (4 Nephi 1:37-38), though it is important to note that these were cultural labels by this point, not ethnic ones. There is no mention here of skin color or denial of intermarriage. Though two nations rose up once again, their bloodlines by this point were forever mixed together. Renowned Gospel scholar Sidney B. Sperry explained: “Latter-day Saints have concluded too readily that the Lamanites are direct descendants of Laman and Lemuel. Actually much Nephite blood flows in their veins” (The LamanitesPortrayed in The Book of Mormon,’Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages: 246-254; Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1995).
By 400 B.C. the Nephites and Lamanites were engaged in a fight to the death, but we must conclude that this was not a fair-skinned nation battling a dark-skinned one. In terms of race, by this point it seems that they all looked very much the same. Bruce A. Van Orden of Brigham Young University taught that “present day Lamanites…are not necessarilydescendants of Laman, but actually are a mixture of Book of Mormon peoples- the children of Lehi'” (Book of Mormon Reference Companion, Largey, 2003, p.497). During this time the prophet Mormon and his son Moroni compiled and abridged the history of their people, known today as The Book of Mormon. Moroni buried it in the earth. The Nephite nation was wiped out, with only Lamanites remaining.
God’s Promised Blessings to the Lamanites
Roughly 1400 years later, Moroni appeared as an angel to the Prophet Joseph Smith and directed him to the location of the buried records, which Joseph translated into English by the gift and power of God. While translating, Joseph discovered wonderful promises made to Lamanite descendants,whom the Lord later prophesiedwould “blossom as the rose” (D&C 49:24). Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lamanites are among the ancestors of the indigenous peoples of the Americas (responses to DNA-based questions have been addressed at length elsewhere). God promised His merciful protection to the Lamanites: they would not be destroyed, but would remain, in some form, forever on the land (2 Nephi 4:7; Alma 9:16). Though they’d at one point rebelled against the Lord, it was prophesied that they’d become a blessed people (Jacob 3:6), come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Nephi 30:5-6), and be numbered among His people (Helaman 15:12-13). The Book of Mormon was preserved, in part, to teach Lamanite descendants about where they came from, to invite them to follow Jesus Christ, and be saved (Enos 1:13-18; Title Page of The Book of Mormon). The resurrected Savior taught that the remnant of Jacob (in other words, the descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites) would help to build the New Jerusalem on the American continent (3 Nephi 21:22-24).
The Lamanites are promised even more tremendous blessings, blessings which ought to give pause to those who accuse The Book of Mormon of racial prejudice. Richard Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History (Emeritus) at Colombia University, explains:
“The fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain…the book champions the Indians’ place in world history, assigning them a more glorious future than modern American whites…According to the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites are destined to return to favor with God and given this land, just as Jews are to be restored to the Holy Land…
“In its very nature, the Book of Mormon overturns conventional American racism. The book makes Indians the founders of civilization in the New World. The master history of America’s origins is not about Columbus or the Puritans but about native peoples…European migrants are called “Gentiles” in the Book of Mormon and come onstage as interlopers. They appear late in the narrative and remain secondary to the end. The land belongs to the Indians. The primary role of the Gentiles is to serve the natives, to build them up by bringing them the Bible and the Book of Mormon. If the Gentiles fail to help Israel, they are doomed. After nourishing the remnant of Jacob, they must join Israel or perish…The Book of Mormon is not just sympathetic to Indians; it grants them dominance- in history, in God’s esteem, and in future ownership of the American continent” (Bushman, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling; 2006, pp.
One Final Thought
Much has been said and written about The Book of Mormon, both for and against.Attempts have been made to prove and disprove it using archeology and scientific research, with convincing evidence mounted and arguments made on both sides. That debate will continue to rage on, back and forth, round and round, but I submit that the Lord never meant for the issue to be resolved that way.Critics will take, and have taken,verses in isolation to attack the book. But the only fair assessment, and the only way to know if the book is true, is to consider it as a whole by reading it and prayerfully asking God about it. James, in the Bible, asserts that “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God…and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:5-6). The promise of The Book of Mormon is built on this very principle (please take a moment to read that promise). I have studied this book, I have applied its doctrines, and I have prayed about it, believing that God would answer me. Doing this, I have received a witness by the Holy Ghost, to my mind and to my heart, that the book is the word of God. It is scripture, as sacred and useful to me as the Holy Bible.
Contrary to critics’ implications, the topic of race is one that receives relatively minor emphasis in The Book of Mormon; we’ve held a magnifying glass to it here, but in truth the book is rich with practical wisdom and eternally-rewarding doctrines on many subjects. Its central purpose, however, is “the convincing of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself to all nations” (Title Page). It is another testament of Christ, teaching us that Jesus“loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him…and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:24,33; emphasis added).
I leave my witness that the Book of Mormon is true, and it is my sincere hope that we can see one another as equals, brothers and sisters before God as taught within the book’s pages. I do this the name of our great Savior Jesus Christ, amen.
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