In this chapter, Captain Moroni and his army had just cornered the Zoramite-Lamanite armies around the river Sidon. Captain Moroni commands the Zoramite-Lamanite army to surrender, commanding in the name of God, by all the Nephites hold dear, and by the Lamanites’ self-preservation that they surrender and take an oath that they will never fight again. Then Zerahemnah, the Zoramite captain, says he will surrender, but refuses to take an oath he knows his army will break, so the battle resumes until they are willing to take the oath.
One of the features of this story that puzzled me was why Zerahemnah tries to kill Captain Moroni when Captain Moroni refuses to let the Zoramite-Lamanite army go without the oath of peace. It seems like a childish tantrum taken way too far. It makes one wonder why the Zoramites and Lamanites put this guy in charge at all if he couldn’t take it when anyone got in his way and stopped him.
However, I noticed that before Zerahemnah went berserk, Captain Moroni made an oath—“as the Lord liveth”—that the only way the Nephites would let them leave was by taking the peace oath. It is possible that Zerahemnah thought that if he killed Captain Moroni, then the Nephite army would be released from having to carry out the terms of Moroni’s oath and would let the enemy go without requiring a peace oath.
Of course, Zerahemnah failed to kill Captain Moroni, and then many of the Zoramite-Lamanite army made the peace oath when Zerahemnah’s fallen scalp was used as an object lesson to illustrate their imminent danger of death. So, Zerahemnah had to try to avoid the oath by fighting more.
As another case, a Zoramite Lamanite army attacked the city Noah because the Zoramite leaders all made an oath that they would conquer it. The battle continued with great loss to the Lamanites until all the leaders who had made the oath were dead. Then the Lamanite army could withdraw its purpose. (It is also shown as a case study of the problem of making bad oaths.)
Thus, I think one of the lessons of the post battle interchange of Alma 44 is to show us how powerful oaths are, when people are determined to do what they promise.
There is a bit of difficult irony for us to notice here. At the beginning of the chapter, Captain Moroni says the Nephites do not desire to be men of blood or to kill their enemy. The oath of peace becomes their best weapon to disarm their enemy, to prevent them from ever fighting again. (It is possible Zerahemnah feared the Nephites would begin future wars and making a peace oath would preclude Lamanite self-defense.) However, because Zerahemnah refused to make the peace oath, Captain Moroni is forced by his own oath to restart the killing of the Zoramite-Lamanite army. His oath that they will only depart with a peace covenant requires him to do what he was trying so hard to avoid in the first place—kill the enemy. That is the difficult irony.
But the irony also extends to Zerahemnah as well. The man who didn’t want his hands tied by a peace oath is eventually forced to make one anyway or die. To his mind, he probably felt he would die if he didn’t and eventually be killed by Nephite aggressors if he did. However, knowing their future history as we do, we see they had nothing to fear from the Nephites except from Nephite dissenters stirring them up to anger.
So I think we need to be aware that in keeping our covenants, we will be put in difficult situations that test our resolve.
But if it is difficult for us, we can always consider God’s position, which might remind us a lot of Captain Moroni in this story. God wants us to stop fighting Him, and if we enter saving covenants with Him, He won’t destroy us (for our sin) and we can have peace. The only way out of our predicament is the covenant. If we don’t take it, we face spiritual death. He doesn’t want any of us to be lost, damned, or destroyed. He doesn’t want the fight. But if we persist in avoiding or breaking those covenants, He will be forced to destroy us.
Personally, I’d rather keep the covenants so I can be saved and have peace.