Around the beginning of the account of King Noah, there is a story of how the Lamanites began to come in and steal from them and destroy them. At first King Noah didn’t send enough guards and they were killed. But the second time, he sends armies and they drive the Lamanites out.
16 And it came to pass that the Lamanites began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.17 And king Noah sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and the Lamanites came upon them and killed them, and drove many of their flocks out of the land; thus the Lamanites began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.18 And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil.19 And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.20 And it came to pass that there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi; and he went forth among them, and began to prophesy, saying: Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, Go forth, and say unto this people, thus saith the Lord—Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.21 And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.22 And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people.23 And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.24 Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.25 And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions; and thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me. (Mosiah 11:16-25)
Verse 19 gives some interesting facts about how King Noah’s people responded to their victory. Also, I noticed there was a little chiasmus in the verse sandwiching the content of their boast inside bookends that they were boasting.
[A] And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength,
[B] saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites;
[A] and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.
Usually the middle point of the chiasmus is something that the writer wanted to emphasize. So why did Mormon want to highlight their boast that their small numbers could stand against thousands of the Lamanites? They were wicked; so why were they enabled to stand?
I think this was an undeserved miracle given by God to give them extra time in which to be warned of their wickedness by Abinadi and space to choose to repent. After all, they had not yet been warned.
Also, we might notice that the first time King Noah sent guards, it specifically says he didn’t send a sufficient number, so it implies that a lack of Nephite numbers was a real problem. If they had really been strong enough to stand against thousands of Lamanites (as they boasted later), they should have been able to stand that first time too, and they should never have been driven at all. If they had remembered the humiliation of that defeat, they would never have made the boast later.
I notice that when the Nephites go again with larger armies and succeed, it says they rejoiced in their spoil. This means that they didn’t confine their army’s attention to just the enemy army. They drove the enemy through enemy territory and then plundered enemy homes. Perhaps they saw this as payback for when the Lamanites despoiled them of their flocks.
I also notice that right after they get back from their campaign, the next thing the record tells us of is the appearance of Abinadi. The Lord did not waste time after saving the Nephites; He sent them prophetic warning immediately. And the warning of consequences is directly related to their military power. Without repentance, Abinadi says, the Lord would deliver them up to their enemies into bondage and no one except the Lord would be able to extricate them.
So the people had two recent battles they could remember—the time when the Lamanites drove them and the time they drove the Lamanites. It was an object lesson experience of what was possible either way.
Sadly, because their victory was so recent, they chose to believe their power was growing without any reference to the Lord’s help, and they rejected Abinadi’s message.
I think this story shows how merciful the Lord is to extend the arm of His power to save those who have yet to be warned. From time to time we may be in the position of needing warning. Hopefully we can learn from the sad experience of King Noah’s people.