Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Alma 43: Moroni Wins Big

Alma and his freshly-lectured sons head out on the missionary trail again.

Focus on the Important Stuff
Verses 2 and 3 offer an awkward segue:
Now we shall say no more concerning their preaching, except that they preached the word, and the truth, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God by which they were called.
And now I return to an account of the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites, in the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges. 
So this book is supposed to be invaluable scripture concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ, intended for our day.  But instead of reading the gospel messages that these missionaries are going to teach, we're just going to wade through some lengthy and needlessly detailed descriptions of over-the-top early American warfare.  Because that stuff is way more important, right?

Moroni Enters in Dramatic Slow-Motion
Now, remember way back in chapter 35, when all that stuff was going down?  You know, before the interludes of fatherly wisdom?  So basically, the Lamanites (who have admitted the Zoramites into their ranks) want to kill all the Ammonites.  So the Ammonites have fled the land of Jershon so that the Nephite armies can come in and have an epic battle with the Lamanites, who are going to attack the land of Jershon because they don't realize that the Ammonites have evacuated.  All caught up?  Okay.  Now, as all this impending military doom is looming on the horizon, this guy struts onto the stage:
You can tell he's righteous cuz he's so muscular.
Captain Moroni.  A true warrior for freedom.  A man ahead of his time.  Leader of all the Nephite armies at the tender age of twenty-five.  Perhaps the most popular man-crush in the entire Book of Mormon.  Ready to go head-to-head with the Lamanite leader, Zerahemnah, and kick some ass while looking fabulous and being all principled and stuff.  

What is it that Captain Moroni does that's so awesome?  He has the revolutionary idea that not only should his army have weapons, but they should also have things that protect them against weapons. Zerahemnah is so intimidated by Nephite armor that he pulls out of Jershon without engaging and tries to sneak around to attack the land of Manti instead.

Today's lesson in ancient warfare:  heavy metal armor that restricts the speed and the agility of your army can scare off a much larger enemy force that likes to fight mostly naked.

More Strategic Brilliance
To demonstrate that Moroni is both a gifted general and a pious man of God, his reaction to the Lamanite retreat covers two bases:  he sends out scouts to keep an eye on Zerahemnah's armies and he sends couriers to Alma to get the prophet to ask God where the Lamanites will attack next.  Alma sends back word that the Lamanites will attack Manti.

Let's keep in mind that verse 21 describes the Lamanite numbers to be "so much greater than the Nephites" as we look through Moroni's battle plans:

  1. Moroni leaves "a part of his army" in Jershon (verse 25)
  2. He prepares the citizens of Manti to defend themselves (verse 26)
  3. He divides his army again, concealing some south of the hill Riplah (verse 31)
  4. He splits his forces on the west side of the river Sidon in half, placing some in the valley and some closer to Manti (verse 32)
Moroni's army is in four pieces.  When the Lamanites arrive, the soldiers hidden behind the hill Riplah (led by a dude named Lehi) jump out and attack them from the rear.  Despite the fact that they are but one quarter of an outnumbered army, their armor leads them to triumph over the Lamanite hordes.  The Lamanites panic and cross the river Sidon, where another part of Moroni's forces is waiting for them in the valley.  Does Lehi's division cross the river and help fight?  Maybe turn this into a decisive victory?  Nope.  Verse 40 states that Lehi holds his men at the river.

The Lamanites are somehow routed again and flee toward Manti, where the last group of Moroni's troops are waiting.  The Lamanites finally see some success in this third battle, but Moroni turns the tide by reminding his men that they're fighting for a noble cause.  The Lamanites then flee back up the riverbank, where they are surrounded by three pieces of Moroni's army.

There is no way any of that should have worked.  Even as the Lamanites fall into the final trap, verse 51 says that their numbers are still double what the Nephites have, which means that in each of the three battles, the Nephites could have been outnumbered worse than six to one.  That must have been some really incredible armor to keep each Nephite soldier alive while he was fighting off five or six guys at once.

How did Moroni manage to set all this up in time?  The Lamanites retreated from Jershon and simply decided to move around north to Manti.  Somehow, Moroni sent messengers to Alma, waited for Alma to receive revelation, waited for the messengers to return, moved most of his army up to Manti, set a complicated trap that involved shifting his troops around into very specific locations, and organized the city of Manti to defend against the Lamanites (which they never even wound up having to do).  And this all happened before the Lamanites showed up.  What'd they do, stop off in Cancun for a little mid-campaign R&R?

The whole plan also counted on Zerahemnah's army making some very bad decisions.  Each time the army fled, it fled in the wrong direction.  After being beaten by Lehi's men, the Lamanites should have gone north instead of west, because they'd be heading away from Nephite territory and they wouldn't be slowed down by trying to cross a river while running for their lives.  Then, after crossing Sidon and facing the next Nephite attack, the Lamanites turn south, toward their intended target, instead of fleeing north, away from Nephite population centers.  And after Moroni routs them in front of Manti, the Lamanites retreat toward the site of their last defeat.  In this case, it probably would have been smarter to just cross the river immediately instead of just going north to a location which they knew recently contained Nephite forces.

And after all that absurdly improbable success, it's important to point out that none of this is attributed to God's intervention.  The plan is laid out excitedly like it was the cleverest stratagem ever devised.  It's supposed to show how awesome Moroni is, not how awesome God is.  The implication, then, is that the reason it worked is because it was brilliant, not because Moroni had some divine help.

But it wasn't brilliant.  It was idiotic.  It was risky.  But it somehow ended with the Lamanite hordes surrounded by victorious Nephite armies half their size.


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