Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Unconquerable spirit, or not?


31 And it came to pass that before the Lamanites had retreated far they were surrounded by the Nephites, by the men of Moroni on one hand, and the men of Lehi on the other, all of whom were fresh and full of strength; but the Lamanites were wearied because of their long march.
32 And Moroni commanded his men that they should fall upon them until they had given up their weapons of war.
33 And it came to pass that Jacob, being their leader, being also a Zoramite, and having an unconquerable spirit, he led the Lamanites forth to battle with exceeding fury against Moroni.
34 Moroni being in their course of march, therefore Jacob was determined to slay them and cut his way through to the city of Mulek. But behold, Moroni and his men were more powerful; therefore they did not give way before the Lamanites.
35 And it came to pass that they fought on both hands with exceeding fury; and there were many slain on both sides; yea, and Moroni was wounded and Jacob was killed.
36 And Lehi pressed upon their rear with such fury with his strong men, that the Lamanites in the rear delivered up their weapons of war; and the remainder of them, being much confused, knew not whither to go or to strike.
37 Now Moroni seeing their confusion, he said unto them: If ye will bring forth your weapons of war and deliver them up, behold we will forbear shedding your blood. (Alma 52:31-37)

In these verses, something that sticks out to me is the description of Jacob the Zoramite leader, who is characterized as having an “unconquerable spirit” (v33). It sounds pretty admirable, and its surprising praise to an enemy, but I wonder if it was really meant that way. “Unconquerable spirit” certainly sounds a lot better than “everlastingly stubborn and mulish.”

Also, consider that if “unconquerable spirit” had been applied to one of the good Nephite leaders, we would not hesitate to quote the verse and moralize on it, much as we do about Captain Moroni and “if all men ever were and ever would be like unto Moroni…”  But “unconquerable spirit” is applied to a dangerous enemy, so we are reluctant to say much about it, even if we might admire it a little as we read across it.

So, I want to take some time to look at this “unconquerable spirit” and its effects and deconstruct it a bit.

First question – Was Jacob the Zoramite really unconquerable? 

The answer is no. He got himself killed in this battle. Maybe his spirit was unconquerable, but his body certainly wasn’t. His body was vulnerable. And it was even more vulnerable because of his and his army’s long march chasing after Teancum.

Jacob the Zoramite seems to have had the idea that disengaging from battle was the same as defeat, and in that I think he was short-sighted. And I think that made him a not-so-good leader as well because not only would he put himself at risk for the sake of defying opponents and all serious danger, but he forced his army to do the same. Captain Moroni began the battle by telling his men to “fall upon them until they had given up their weapons of war” (v32), but if Jacob had an unconquerable spirit, he would never give up his weapons while he still lived, nor would he allow his men to give up their weapons as well. They would have to fight to their demise, or at least until Jacob’s demise. Which is essentially what happened. Thus, many were slain on both sides, probably many more than would have otherwise died if Jacob had been more practically-minded. I think we can say that those extra deaths were Jacob’s responsibility.

Another question – How do you face and stand up to an unconquerable spirit? What does it take?

We get two answers. 1) You have to be “fresh and full of strength” (v31) and 2) be more powerful and not give way before the enemy (v34). You have to have just as unconquerable a spirit (without being fool-hardy) and not give way and be stronger and fresher.

Now we come to the point where I try to make an application to our lives.

What enemies might we have who have unconquerable spirits? The biggest one I can think of is Satan. His hatred and fury and malice are eternal. But he doesn’t have a body, and we do. Because we have bodies we are one up stronger, but only as long as we resist him. We can’t give way at all.

The second thing we learn is the importance of retaining reserves of strength. Moroni’s army had a major advantage because they kept fresh and strong.

So, we need to look for good ways to retain strength and renew it. One way is to focus on our priorities. Distractions sap our strength for the real battles. Another way is to find wholesome ways to renew strength. Going to the temple, taking the sacrament, doing service, praying for strength, getting good sleep and good nutrition, getting good exercise, and wholesome recreational activities (rather than deadening activities) can all do that. Sometimes our spiritual strength must be renewed. Other times our physical and mental strength needs renewing. Sometimes renewal doesn’t require work stoppage, but a change of work type or focus, a little variety.

The major thing that was wrong with Jacob’s unconquerable spirit was that he was on the wrong side. Ultimately, we must align ourselves with Christ, for someday every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ. And Christ can heal our defeats and give us power to stand against Satan and resist him to the end.

Today let’s be quick to submit to God and stand more powerfully against Satan. Let’s refuse to give way and be strong against temptation.