Alma 43 – LeGrand Baker – Covenant Names
I did not send an email last week because I didn’t have one to send. We have come to the war chapters in Alma and I was not at all sure how I could deal with them. I finally concluded that I couldn’t. The author of these chapters understood war tactics far better than I do, so there is no point in my commenting on what he explained to us. So I have decided to just skip them.
However, there is one part that cannot be passed over lightly.
The thousand year history that is the Book of Mormon is replete with wars, but only this one is described in much detail. There seems to be three reasons for Mormon’s choosing this one.
First, in the overall temple pattern of the Book of Mormon these war chapters map perfectly to the lonely, dreary part of the ancient temple drama.
Second, this war is clearly defined as a “holy war.” The key to understanding that is the series of covenants and new names in the accounts of the “title of liberty” and of the “sons of Helaman.”
Third, the story, as Mormon tells it, is a perfect example of the value of making and keeping covenants—-which is the only way we can navigate through the obstacles of this lonely world
In the scriptures and in the ordinances, whenever there is a new covenant there is also a new name. The new name is a way of identifying both the covenant and the covenant maker. For example, when we are baptized or take the sacrament we also take upon ourselves the name of the Savior, as did the Nephite Christians in this narrative.
A name is an identity. We use name-titles all the time to identify who people are: father, mother, bishop, elder, mayor. president. Each of these is a name-title that identifies us beyond the name one received at birth. That is also true with covenant new names it is with covenant new names.
The overriding message of these war chapters is that those who were true to their covenants and honored the names (that is, true to their covenant identity) are empowered to fulfill their covenants.
The story begins back when the Lamanites who were converted to the gospel “called their names Anti-Nephi-Lehies; and they were called by this name and were no more called Lamanites” (Alma 23:17). They covenanted that they would never again take up arms against their brethren and escaped to the Nephite territory where they were given refuge.
There are many wars in Book of Mormon history as the people struggle to overcome the aloneness of this dark and dreary world. But Mormon chooses to give the most detail about one, which he identifies as a sacred war between good and evil. He introduces it with a whole series of covenants and covenant names (There are always new names associated with new covenants).
Captain Moroni “rent his coat” (after that it is called “garment” so it is the outer of t he two—there are always two). He wrote a chiastic poem on it and he gives it the title of “Liberty,” and he made a covenant. “He bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land (Alma46:12-13)
At this point Mormon interrupts his narrative to insert the information that those who believe in Christ “took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ,” and are called Christians (Alma 46:14-18).
Captain Moroni then identified the land in terms of its geographical boundaries (measuring it and defining it as sacred space) and gave it the same name as the poem—“the land of liberty.” “And he said: Surely God shall not suffer that we, who are despised because we take upon us the name of Christ, shall be trodden down and destroyed, until we bring it upon us by our own transgressions (Alma 46:17-18).”
The people come and join in the covenant that they will keep the Lord’s commandments and he will preserve them in their Liberty (Alma 46:19-22).
Shortly thereafter we are told that the sons of Helaman “entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites,” and “they called themselves Nephites” (Alma 53:16-17).
The boys’ strength was a result of the teachings and examples of their parents who had been the original Anti-Nephi-Lehies. They had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them (Alma 56:47).” And their fathers, who could not participate in the war because of the covenant they had made, brought “many provisions” into the warzone for their sons (Alma 56:27).
The object of the story is to teach that because the fathers, the mothers, and their sons kept their covenants, all the boys were protected—-some were badly hurt, but they all survived.
“The Lord had supported them, yea, and kept them from falling by the sword, insomuch that even one soul has not been slain (Alma 58:39).
As I observed earlier, the lonely dreary world of the Book of Mormon’s ancient Israelite temple drama maps to these war chapters. That being so, these war stories are a metaphor of the way we should live our lives in this world. The message is singular: If we are true to the Savior and to the covenants we have made, then there will be empowered to keep our covenants—-there is no promise that we will not be hurt, but there is an absolute certainty that we will be triumphant in the end.