Friday, December 21, 2012

Alma 57: When the Lord brings greater success out of failure

28 And now it came to pass that after we had thus taken care of our wounded men, and had buried our dead and also the dead of the Lamanites, who were many, behold, we did inquire of Gid concerning the prisoners whom they had started to go down to the land of Zarahemla with.
 29 Now Gid was the chief captain over the band who was appointed to guard them down to the land.
 30 And now, these are the words which Gid said unto me: Behold, we did start to go down to the land of Zarahemla with our prisoners. And it came to pass that we did meet the spies of our armies, who had been sent out to watch the camp of the Lamanites.
 31 And they cried unto us, saying—Behold, the armies of the Lamanites are marching towards the city of Cumeni; and behold, they will fall upon them, yea, and will destroy our people.
 32 And it came to pass that our prisoners did hear their cries, which caused them to take courage; and they did rise up in rebellion against us.
 33 And it came to pass because of their rebellion we did cause that our swords should come upon them. And it came to pass that they did in a body run upon our swords, in the which, the greater number of them were slain; and the remainder of them broke through and fled from us.
 34 And behold, when they had fled and we could not overtake them, we took our march with speed towards the city Cumeni; and behold, we did arrive in time that we might assist our brethren in preserving the city.
 35 And behold, we are again delivered out of the hands of our enemies. And blessed is the name of our God; for behold, it is he that has delivered us; yea, that has done this great thing for us.  (Alma 57:28-35)

In this block of verses, Gid explains what happened to the Lamanite prisoners that allowed him and his army to come to the aid of Helaman at Cumeni—Nephite spies with bad news of the approaching Lamanite army shot their mouths off where the Lamanite prisoners could hear, which led to the prisoners revolting, which led to the army killing those rebelling, which led to the Lamanites trying to escape in a mass, which led to a general slaughter with a minority of prisoners escaping, which led to Gid and his army returning just in time to save Cumeni.

Both Gid and Helaman attribute their victory to the miraculous power of God.  Helaman and his men were able to hang on just long enough, which was a miracle, considering the stripling warriors were so wounded and the rest of the army seemed about to give way at any moment.  Gid’s timely arrival at Cumeni was a miracle considering he had already been assigned to guard the Lamanite prisoners to Zerahemla and was in the process of doing that duty.  It was almost as if God took all the prisoners away from him so he could go back to Cumeni.

Of course, the miracle of Gid’s arrival is easy to understand from a broad view, but I wondered if it might be possible to see the hand of the Lord working in the smaller events that contributed to his arrival. 

First, it started to seem odd to me that the Nephite spies had said anything to Gid’s army at all.  Gid’s army was occupied with transporting prisoners to Zerahemla; surely the spies could see that.  What did the spies expect Gid to do?  Leave all the prisoners and go back to Cumeni?  (“Here, Mr. Lamanite, you stay right here until I get back.  Don’t go ‘way now, y’hear?”) 

Another thing that seems unusual is that the spies felt so urgently about their news that they spouted it off without caring who was in earshot, Lamanite or Nephite.  Any armchair strategist can tell you that you shouldn’t let your POWs get any hint of news that the war is going badly for you.  Naturally, when the Lamanites heard, they took courage and revolted.

At this point, I have to say that there is something strangely humorous to me about Gid’s story of how the Lamanites in a body ran upon Nephite swords.  Not that I find death amusing, but it just reminds me of a form that sibling fights sometimes take.  You know, something like, "I'm going to stick my fist out, and if you run into it, it's your fault!"  Only in Gid's case it might have been, “I’m going to stick my sword out, and if you run into it, it is your faaault!”

But this brings me to another odd thing--the Lamanites didn’t revolt to take over; they revolted to escape.  Previous in the chapter it says the Lamanite prisoners would “would break out in great numbers, and would fight with stones, and with clubs, or whatsoever thing they could get into their hands” (v14), but you don’t see any of that here.  Instead, they just want to get away.  And there’s something odd about that too; you’d think that when the Lamanite prisoners heard a Lamanite army was about to attack and destroy Cumeni they would want to join their people in that attack.  But no, they run off in a different direction.  They seem to have had courage enough to escape, but not courage enough to rejoin the Lamanite fight for Cumeni. 

Now let’s look at it from Gid’s perspective.  Here he is, trying to do his duty, taking an admittedly huge number of Lamanite POWs to headquarters and suddenly, for reasons completely outside his control, the situation starts to dissolve into chaos.  Bad news, spreading rumors, prisoner revolt, massacre, escape of the remainder of the prisoners!  Epic FAIL!  No matter what he did to try to clamp down on it, it just got worse.  How is this going to look when he gives his report?  Oy vey! 

But what does he do when all the prisoners are gone?  Does he indulge in a pity party or sulk?  Does he resign his command?  Does he hide?  No, he books it with his army back to Cumeni to help Helaman and succeeds in checking the attacking Lamanite army that would have overpowered the Nephite forces.  You have to give him credit for his firmness of mind and resolve to act.  And in the end, he was able to look back on the ugly prisoner incident and see how it fit into the grand design of deliverance and victory.
So what does this mean for us today?

There’s a very comforting message about failure in this story.  Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon you see that failure and loss arises out of wickedness.  The Nephites lose their lands to invading Lamanites and we are told that it was their wickedness that brought that about.  However, in this story, it seems like Gid did the best he could, and he still failed.  This shows that we may fail in the course of our duty when we’re trying to do the right thing.  (It’s a very painful experience to have and I don’t know anyone who likes failure.)  But because Gid went right to back to work, anxiously engaging himself in trying to help his people, ultimately he was blessed with success, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.  In the same way, if we refuse to let ourselves be discouraged by failure and anxiously engage ourselves in good causes, someday we’ll be able to look back and see how the Lord used our failures to make our greater victories possible.

In what ways have failures led to greater victories for you?