A Tale of Two Covenants
I am constantly amazed at the people of Ammon. These remarkable converts who “never did fall away” are wonderful examples of quiet, determined, humble discipleship. When the Lamanite armies came to exterminate them, they did what no one expected:
All the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.
And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives.
Notice that this wasn’t just a symbolic gesture. Mormon specifically uses the word covenant to describe their promise. A covenant so important that, when they were about to break it out of love for their Nephite brethren, “Helaman feared lest by so doing they should lose their souls.”
Ultimately (and thankfully), they did not break their covenant of peace. But that didn’t stop these Ammonite converts from helping in the cause, of course. They offered provisions, lands, and other aid to strengthen the Nephites. And then, in about as Godlike an action as possible, these wonderful Christians offered their own sons to save the Nephites:
But behold, it came to pass they had many sons, who had not entered into a covenant that they would not take their weapons of war to defend themselves against their enemies; therefore they did assemble themselves together at this time, as many as were able to take up arms, and they called themselves Nephites.
And they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives; yea, even they covenanted that they never would give up their liberty, but they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage.
Now behold, there were two thousand of those young men, who entered into this covenant and took their weapons of war to defend their country.
Notice the “covenant” word appearing over and over again to describe the promise made by those converts’ sons.
When reading over both accounts, I think it is interesting to compare and contrast the details and circumstances of both covenants made by both generations of righteous Lamanite converts. Here are the similarities I could find;
|assembled in the land of Midian to make their covenant||assembled themselves to make their covenant|
|Took upon themselves a new name (Anti-Nephi-Lehi)||Took upon themselves a new name (Nephites)|
And here are the differences:
|Entered into a covenant not to fight||“Entered into a covenant to fight”|
|covenanted that they “never would use weapons” and “never would shed blood more”||covenanted that they “never would give up their liberty”|
|“bury” weapons||“take up” arms|
|refer to Lamanites as “brethren”||refer to Lamanites as “enemies”|
So, many aspects of the covenant and the circumstances between the two generations are remarkably similar. But in most respects, the nature of what these sons were covenanting is exactly the opposite. The big point that we can take away from this is that the policies, practices, and even the nature of the covenants that are expected of members of Christ’s Church can and do change from time to time according to the circumstances of God’s children and the continual direction He reveals to His chosen leaders.
Reacting to inspired changes in direction
Sometimes this kind of drastic change is hard. Many Jews struggled with the higher law preached by the ancient Apostles. Many Christians in this dispensation have and do struggle with the truths of the Restoration. Early Church members in this dispensation struggled when polygamy was instituted, and their descendants struggled when it was discontinued. A few members balked when Temple ordinances and priesthood authority were restored to all worthy males. And every once in a while you’ll hear someone today grumble about the combining of the high priests and the elders’ quorum or the pending separation of the Church from the Scouting program.
Mormon wrote that “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing.” I understand this to mean that the core doctrines of the Gospel will not change and that God will never vary from loving His children and giving them all the direction they need to return to Him. It does not mean that He will never change the specifics of that direction. Sometimes, those changes are minor. Sometimes, those changes are drastic. Sometimes, they are even the polar opposite of the direction that was given in earlier revelation.
So what should we do when new guidance arises? When new direction contradicts our person views, and when we struggle to understand how God could change things on us like this, we should not freak out, get angry, or feel betrayed. Likewise, when new guidance comes that fits more in line with what we want, we shouldn’t be smug and congratulate our prophetic leaders for “finally coming around” to our point of view. In both cases, our responsibility is to kneel down and thank our Heavenly Father for providing yet another line and precept to better direct His work and hasten the work of salvation in our times.
God expects different things from different generations of His children at different times, and that’s OK. Sometimes our GPS We thank God for a Prophet and love to obey His command. No matter when. No matter what.