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The most important battle never fought

A previous post discussed how a rebel coalition of Lamanite soldiers combined together to stand valiantly against commands of the wicked king to go to war against the Lamanites. The rebellion could have been the turning point for the whole Lamanite nation. And they had every advantage:

  1. They had the numbers (the majority)
  2. They had the weapons
  3. They had the mountain
  4. They had the warning and foreknowledge
  5. They had the conviction

Like the Lamanite rebels, we come into life with every advantage over the forces of our own adversary. But in the end, all the advantages were not enough for the Lamanites. And if we’re careful, our advantages won’t be enough, either.

Amalickiah and Satan: the underdogs

The majority of the army joined the rebellion. They didn’t want to go to war against the Nephites again. The king of the Lamanites put the wicked Amalickiah in charge of the few forces loyal to his commands and sent them to Antipas to beat the rebels into submission. There was already a general sentiment of uneasiness and even open hostility among the Lamanite population about getting involved in yet another unprovoked war with the Nephites just a few years after the last bloodbath. And now the king was commanding the soldiers to march against their own people. And the rebels had every advantage. Then, to make it worse, Amalickiah was a Nephite by birth, which brings its own set of trust issues. The public would not have been pleased. Amalickiah was not dealt a good hand. He was definitely the underdog in the upcoming skirmish.

Likening it to ourselves, Satan is also the underdog in his war against us. He is fighting a war that Christ has already won. Satan fights the war with only the minority of Heavenly Father’s children under his command. And though Amalickiah at least represented a tangible military force, Satan does not even have a body. And that makes him weaker than we sometimes realize:

[Satan] … “fallen from heaven, …[has] become miserable forever,” and now works “that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” He is a liar and a loser. The power of the Savior and the power of the devil are not truly comparable. On this planet, however, evil has been allowed a position of influence to give us the chance to choose between good and evil.

Elder Neil L. Andersen

We need not become paralyzed with fear of Satan’s power. He can have no power over us unless we permit it. He is really a coward, and if we stand firm, he will retreat.. He cannot know our thoughts unless we speak them… “He hath no power over the hearts” of people who are righteous…

The power to resist Satan may be stronger than we realize. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power.”

“Wicked spirits have their bounds, limits, and laws by which they are governed.” So Satan and his angels are not all-powerful.

Pres. James E Faust

Like Amalickiah trying to attach the fortified rebels on the mount Antipas, Satan knows he does not have the high ground. So his tactics changed.

Amalickiah and Satan: no longer in the war to fight

Perhaps Amalickiah knew his relatively small force could not overpower the rebels. Even if they could, each casualty in this civil war would be one less soldier available to go against the Nephites. Obeying the foolish Lamanite king would not get him any closer to his actual goal; after all, “Amalickiah was desirous to be a king.” So while the men of Lehonti gathered on Mount Antipas “in preparation to battle, … it was not Amalickiah’s intention to give them battle.” Instead, he came at the Lamanite rebels with something they did not expect: flattery, charm, and a “too good to be true” offer, with white flag waving.

If Lehonti were smart, he would have told Amalickiah, “There will be no negotiations. We are ‘fixed in our minds with a determined resolution.’ Step foot on my mountain and you’re dead.” And at first, Lehonti did just that. Each time Amalickiah tried to arrange a meeting, Lehonti turned him down. But like a good timeshare salesman, Amalickiah knew every “no” just means “Your offer is not appealing enough yet.” Finally, Amalickiah made the irresistible pitch: “Don’t bother coming down– I’m coming up to you. And by the way, feel free to bring your guards to the meeting.”

What an opportunity for Lehonti! The evil defected Nephite who wants to plunge Lehonti’s people into another failed war for his own personal gain was coming right up to the rebel camp with little or no protection! This was Lehonti’s chance to wipe a major evil off the face of the earth:

Emperor Palpatine

Remember, Amalickiah’s original plan was to coerce the Lamanites into falling under his command. But since that was no longer possible, he changed his approach. While Lehonti’s people still expected coercion and force, Alamlickiah had moved on to flattery.

Satan, too, originally tried coercion in his quest for dominion and rule. He tried to take away our agency, rob God of His throne, and put himself in charge. But that is no longer an option. So, like his servant Amalickiah, Satan also has changed his approach from coercion to flattery and bargains. As Elder Andersen cautioned in the same talk referenced earlier, “Beware of the evil behind the smiling eyes.” Just like Amalickiah was willing to come almost all the way to Lehonti’s camp, Satan is willing to compromise 99% of the way to get to a point where we are willing to listen to him.

Amalickiah and Satan: the artists of the deal

The deal Amalickiah offered really was everything Lehonti could dream of:

Victory without a fight

Lehonti already had a huge advantage in the upcoming battle, and both sides knew it, so why even have a battle, after all? Amalickiah invited Lehonti to descend from the mountain in the middle of the night and surround Amalickiah’s army. When they awaken, Amalickiah would make a show and surrender without a fight. Brother does not have to kill brother. It’s a peaceful solution.

Complete control

Amalickiah sweetened the deal even further. He could have said “At that point, I will take my army and retreat back to the capital, and implore the king to let you guys be because you’re just too clever and powerful.” But he didn’t stop there– he promised Lehonti control over the entire Lamanite army. Lehonti could dethrone the warmongering king and establish peace among the Lamanites! He practically had a mandate from the population in the first place– this would solidify his rebellion as the true will of the entire people.

For just a little favor in return

But then there was the matter of payment. Amalickiah asked to be made second in command of the now unified Lamanite army. The only way I could imagine Lehonti not barfing at this idea right away is if Amalickiah first convinced Lehonti that he actually believed Lehonti’s position was correct: “Listen Lehonti, you’re totally right. That king is completely off his rocker. Why in the world would we go to war against the Nephites? I mean, we just got out of a war with them under Zerahemnah, and you guys made a covenant not to come back against them and they haven’t done anything to us. I’m totally with you bro. In fact, the only reason I marched out here was so I could get you guys to come back down to the capital and talk some sense into those politicians! All I want is peace… Oh yeah, and if you wouldn’t mind, could you make me second in command?”

Ursula

See, now doesn’t that right there send up some red flags? If I were to guess, Amalickiah probably made some spiel about how his soldiers would take the new “no war with the Nephites” position better if Amalickiah were in power to deliver them, and how it would show that Lehonti really is peaceful and fair and devoted to uniting the country, and how it would be a powerful way to show the king that Amalickiah is fully aligned with Lehonti’s vision, etc, etc. But don’t worry– Lehonti would always be in full control, of course.

The illusion of control

Word to the wise: never trust someone who requests something that starts out “In the unfortunate and rare event of your demise, make me the one in charge of your affairs.” But Lehonti fell for it hook, line, and sinker. He took total control of both armies and began his victorious march back to the capital to restore peace to the nation. And I’m sure he felt in control the whole time. Even as his pesky cold worsened “by degrees” day after day during their triumphant march home, he was probably walking on cloud nine. And even when he realized he would not make it back to the capital himself, I’m sure Amalickiah told him tearfully on his deathbed “I will carry on the dream of peace!”

There are those in the world who take power and love to make people feel it. Violent criminals, sadists, and corrupt leaders. They want you to know they are in control:

Look at me

But Satan and Amalickiahs of this world don’t work like that. They realize that the most sinister and effective way to control someone is to let them think they are controlling themselves. Satan even goes so far as to pretend that he himself doesn’t exist:

And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none— and thus he whispereth in their ears.

1 Ne. 28:22

He will whisper a convincing untruth into our minds that sounds brilliant and gives us just enough cover to justify a misdeed. Then he tells us how brilliant we were for coming up with such a strategy. When he leads us deeper and deeper into transgression, he tells us that our journey into the darkness is really all us “exploring new paths,” or “discovering new ideas,” or “developing our own lifestyle.” And when finally the trap is closed and we realize we are unable to escape by ourselves, he stops us from crying to the Savior by telling us “You did this to yourself. You wanted this. You chose this. You are not worthy to go to Church. You are not worthy of Christ’s Atonement. You are not worthy to even pray.” And because we still have the illusion of control, we don’t even realize those thoughts are not really our own.

The loss at Antipas

I said in my previous post that, “when the enemy approached, there was no battle. And that is one of the greatest tragedies in all the Book of Mormon.” I should correct that. There was a battle, but it was not one of swords and cimeters– it was a battle of will and sophistry. It was a battle that was lost the moment Lehonti agreed to step a few feet away from camp to hear what Amalickiah had to say.

No blood was shed that particular day. But the loss of the spiritual “battle of Antipas” resulted in the longest and most grueling war recorded in the Book of Mormon until the end. Soldiers starved. Civil war erupted among the Nephites. National heroes Captain Teancum and Captain Lehi were killed. An enormous loss of life on both sides. The Nephite equivalent of the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. The Nephite government was overthrown for a time. The Lamanite government fell into the hands of Nephite dissenters. Hearts were hardened. In short, it was a nightmare.

The loss of the battle of Antipas is the reason we even have most of the war chapters. If Lehonti had just stood his ground refused to compromise as he had planned, his numerous advantages would likely have guaranteed him the victory. Lessons would be taught in Sunday School about the righteous Lamanite rebel who overturned centuries of hatred.

Instead, he lost everything.

Each of us is Lehonti on the mount Antipas. We have every advantage, yet Satan stands just outside the gate, making offers left and right. Do we, like Lehonti, come down a few feet out of camp and hear what he has to say? Or do we respond, like Nehemiah, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down?”


Note: originally posted May 7, 2017