Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lessons from Alma 55: changed loyalties, impulse control, causes of carelessness, and winey Lamanites

In Alma 55, Captain Moroni recovers Nephite prisoners and the city of Gid with wine strategy. There are several things I think are notable in this chapter.

First, notice the change in the character of Laman, He had been a guard to the Lamanite king who was killed by Amalickiah’s servants and he had fled to the Nephites.
  • He is now loyal to the Nephites. They took him in when he was a refugee.
  • He had joined the Nephite army, showing that he was willing to show that loyalty by fighting for them.
  • He is not distracted from duty by the prospect of wine.
  • He is a faithful servant to Captain Moroni.
  • He doesn’t fall back into old ways when with the Lamanites again.
A second thing I notice about this story is that Mormon suddenly seems to “zoom in” on the scene when the Lamanite guards get strategemmed by the wine. For a few verses, it is almost like a play, with dialogue and stage action. This caused me to wonder what it was about this scene that Mormon felt was important enough to reproduce for us. (It is easy to think that it is simply to revel gleefully in Nephite cleverness, but I think there has to be an instructive purpose to it.) The main thing in it that sticks out to me is that Laman suggests to the guards that they wait for a while before having the wine, but the guards will have none of that idea. They want it now, figuring they can have wine later too. They are low on impulse control. Ultimately, that lack of impulse control loses them the city that has been entrusted to them. This was a good thing for me to find, I think, because I happen to be struggling somewhat with impulse control. Think about the trade that the Lamanites made, although they didn’t know they were making it at the time. They were trading a whole city for a single night of wine and merriment. It’s like Esau trading his birthright for a mess of pottage. Or Corianton trading the ministry for a fling with the harlot Isabel.

A third thing I notice is how Laman sets the stage for the Lamanite guards’ carelessness.
And when it was evening Laman went to the guards who were over the Nephites, and behold, they saw him coming and they hailed him; but he saith unto them: Fear not; behold, I am a Lamanite. Behold, we have escaped from the Nephites, and they sleep; and behold we have taken of their wine and brought with us. (Alma 55:8)
At the beginning, the Lamanite guards were alert and watchful, but Laman says four things that lull them into a false sense of security. Can you pick out what they are?
  • “behold, I am a Lamanite” (Establishing common identity causes people to relax and take a lot of things for granted.)
  • “we have escaped from the Nephites” (This further implies loyalty to the group he is joining.)
  • “they [the Nephites] sleep” (This deprecates the intelligence and preparedness of the group’s enemy and lulls the guards with the implication that if the enemy is asleep, then alertness is not needed at the moment.)
  • “we have taken of their wine and brought with us” (This further deprecates the security of the group’s enemy and raises curiosity. The Lamanite guards would become curious about Nephite wine, perhaps wanting to compare it with what they get. And perhaps more to the point, guarding is a boring job and any break in the monotony is appreciated.)
This seems to show us that we may be strategemmed by temptation presented to us by those of our own faith. Do we think Satan doesn’t know that we tend to lower our guard a bit when we are with other Mormons? Do you ever feel that you’ve been led into some things by Mormons that you would never have gotten into if suggested by non-Mormons? I have. I don’t point this out to advocate adopting a suspicious attitude toward other Saints, but merely to suggest that we need to be ALWAYS alert.

A fourth thing I notice is this funny little bit: “they did take of the wine freely; and it was pleasant to their taste, therefore they took of it more freely” (v13). How can you partake of something more freely than “freely”? Hmm. There’s obviously no moderation here. This makes me wonder about the times when I like something and I can’t seem to get enough of it. It reminds me of the conference talk story from Susan Tanner about how overindulgence affected her mother’s spirituality.
I remember an incident in my home growing up when my mother’s sensitive spirit was affected by a physical indulgence. She had experimented with a new sweet roll recipe. They were big and rich and yummy—and very filling. Even my teenage brothers couldn’t eat more than one. That night at family prayer my father called upon Mom to pray. She buried her head and didn’t respond. He gently prodded her, “Is something wrong?” Finally she said, “I don’t feel very spiritual tonight. I just ate three of those rich sweet rolls.” I suppose that many of us have similarly offended our spirits at times by physical indulgences. Especially substances forbidden in the Word of Wisdom have a harmful effect on our bodies and a numbing influence on our spiritual sensitivities. None of us can ignore this connection of our spirits and bodies. (“The Sanctity of the Body”, general conference Oct 2005)
This is why it is important to keep our appetites within the bounds the Lord has set.

And for a fifth thing, I will take the chance of pointing out what should be obvious by now—this story shows how important the Word of Wisdom is to our safety as we see how wine made the Lamanites weak, rather than strengthening them to fight their enemy as they claimed it did. Breaking the Word of Wisdom does not strengthen us to fight against Satan. I bet the Lamanites had a splitting headache when they woke up and that was probably a factor in their decision to refrain from fighting the Nephites.

It may be that some of you are uncomfortable with how I’m approaching this incident because it may seem to you like I’m taking the Lamanite side when we are used to thinking of the Lamanites as the bad guys. I think that we have the Book of Mormon so that we can learn to be more wise than both the Nephites and the Lamanites have been. So we can look at the mistakes of the Lamanites too.

In conclusion, it seems that Mormon focused on this incident because it is illustrative of ways that Satan tries to trick us. Satan will use for his purposes people who claim to be Latter-day Saints but whose loyalties lie elsewhere. He will try to lull us into a sense of false security. If we have troubles with impulse control, he will use that against us if he can. He will make his temptations as pleasant to our taste as possible and he will try to lure us into trading the things that really matter for a moment of pleasure, all without us knowing we are trading away anything. “Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves” (Isaiah 50:1) Knowing these things will help us to resist and escape temptation. And thank goodness for Christ and gift of the Atonement!

Have you seen how Satan tries to use these tactics on you?


Curls said...

Wonderful post! I love that you looked at it from the lamanite perspective because it really enriches our understanding of the scriptures.

grego said...

Very nice, especially the four "lulls"!

Michelle Wilson said...

You're right! I do love this post! Thanks for sharing! (Though, I do love eating lots of sweet rolls!)