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The stripling warriors. A favorite topic of many, a thoroughly hashed out topic, and a topic that I was not planning on discussing this week. But I guess God tends to have His own plans and I’m supposed to follow them or something.
So stripling warriors. Who were these guys? What were their individual stories? What implications do they hold for us today? We know that they are be examples of courage, obedience, and faith to our youth today, but they are not the only characters in this story. As per usual with the scriptures, there are far more things here for our study than meets the eye at a glance.
Who were these guys?
We all know the basic story of the stripling warriors by heart, but let’s reverse the timeline just a tad so we get a really good picture.
A few weeks ago, we studied the conversion of seven Lamanite cities. These thousands of converts came to be known as Anti-Nephi-Lehies, or if you like shorter names, Ammonites. The Ammonites, during their conversion, took on an oath to never shed blood again. They buried their weapons of war and vowed to die before they ever killed another person. Their brethren, the Lamanites were not so stoked about their conversion, and they came to battle against the Ammonites. The Lamanites killed over a thousand Ammonites before refusing to continue. Many of these Lamanites converted. This occurred anywhere from 90-77 B.C.
Fast forward to anywhere from 65-62 B.C. (because those are the dates given in The Book of Mormon). Simply put, we are fast-forwarding 15-28 years. Now we see the stripling warrior story we all know. The Ammonites saw the Nephites fighting for their lives. The Ammonites wanted to break their covenant and go to war in order to help their Nephite brethren, but Helaman wouldn’t let them. Instead, the 2,000 young men went to war in place of their fathers. They were all miraculously protected, and though they all received wounds, none of them died.
So who were these boys? Let’s talk characteristics.
- Age. There are many theories about how old these warriors were. Obviously, none of them are doctrine. Just theories. These boys could have been five years old when the Lamanites attacked their people. They could have been born five years after the Lamanites attacked their people. Israelite soldiers were 20 years old on the young side. Some experts believe they were about 20. Now, once again, this is NOT doctrine, but my guess is that they were younger than 20. Otherwise, they would have been an obvious choice for soldiers, and the fathers wouldn’t have considered breaking their covenants. But we don’t know. We just know they were young, and they hadn’t made covenants.
- Status of home. What did the homes of these young men look like? Well The Book of Mormon states that the Ammonites were known for their zeal towards God, and these boys learned about faith from their mothers. But if we dig a little deeper, we can make a couple of inferences. There were over 1,000 Ammonites killed by Lamanites 15-28 years previous to this time. What does that mean? It means that there was a very good chance that some of these boys came from homes with single mothers. Some of these boys came from homes where their father was probably haunted by past choices. Some of these boys came from homes where their fathers were the Lamanites who killed some of the fathers of their friends. That’s where some of these boys are coming from.
It hits a little different when you picture teenage boys coming from single-parent homes or homes where their fathers probably had PTSD. So we have a little bit more depth and character to some of these young men, NOT doctrine and NOT facts, but potential characteristics. Potential insight into how they grew up. Potential parallels to our day. What are the not-so-spoken-of implications for our day?
To the Single Mother (And Father!)
Your children can be okay. Whether your single parenting came as a result of your own choices, someone else’s choices, or death, your children can be okay. If you’ve ever sat and wondered, will my children survive this? Will they be able to find testimonies despite trauma from their background? Can I play every single role AND teach them the gospel? The answer is a resounding yes. Richard G. Scott taught that parents who find themselves in extenuating circumstances and have to be outside the home are entitled to extra revelation from the Lord. Take the advice of our prophet and learn to hear Him! He will guide you in your specific circumstances. He will send extra blessings down on your children because of the extra sacrifices you’ve been called upon to make. All of the stripling warriors received wounds, but they all received miracles. The wounds will be difficult to swallow; the pain will break your heart, but your children are still with you. They lived. The stripling warriors received miracles again and again.
To the Parent With a Past
We do not yet live in heaven. That means that even when we’ve repented, there may be lingering temptations and long-lasting effects of past mistakes.
Lingering temptations. The fathers wanted to break their covenant and go and help their brothers in the war. After having experienced miracles and being surrounded by incredible people and laying down to die before Lamanites, these Ammonites might have felt like they could handle it. These Ammonites might have felt like they were strong enough to go to war with the right heart. Perhaps some of them were strong enough; perhaps some of them were not. But even when it seemed like they had a good reason, it would have been much more devastating for the sons if their fathers had returned to bloodshed. It would have been far more devastating for the children if their fathers had broken their covenants. Do not risk old temptations. Do not flirt with them. Do not allow them to linger in your mind a millisecond longer than when Satan placed them there. Even when Satan makes it look like the right thing to do. Even when Satan, in all his sophistry, makes it look justified. Do not place yourself in a vulnerable position where you could fall into your old ways.
Long-lasting effects. These fathers had to send their sons to war in their place. Some of these men had to send the sons of their previous victims to war in their place. Imagine the agony. There may be times when we’ve made deep enough mistakes that we are faced with long-lasting consequences. Past abuse. Pornography. A million different things that may come back to bite you in the form of hurting your family. It will not feel good. It will not be comforting to send your son to war in your place. But take comfort in your covenants. It will be your covenants that bring the power of the atonement into your life and simultaneously into the lives of your children. Plead with the Lord for the safety of your children and keep your covenants. Satan would have you believe that your children will die because of you; the Lord wants you to know that you can rely on your present covenants to bring miracles.
To All of Us
What are the not-so-spoken-of lessons for all of us?
Lesson One: We are brothers and sisters with all people. These boys did not just go to war for their fathers. These boys went to war for their brothers that didn’t look like them. The Ammonites were a minority; they didn’t look like Nephites. They grew up amongst Nephites who had family members that had been killed by their predecessors. They went and fought against people who had originally been their blood relatives, potentially some of their own cousins that they had never met! They were fighting against a group of people that held a lot of hatred towards them for converting, and were these boys vengeful? Perhaps. But I think it is a very rare circumstance that miracles result from a vengeful heart and these boys experienced miracles.
Lesson Two: Forgiveness. Some of these boys went to war for men who might have killed some of their fathers. Let me explain that. Little Ammon junior was five years old when the Lamanites attacked the Ammonites for the first time; Ammon junior’s father was killed by a Lamanite the moment before this Lamanite threw down his weapon, refused to fight, and then converted too. They all moved together to the land of Jershon, and now some of these boys were going to war for those men. How do you forgive and fight for someone who killed your father? It is because these boys loved their fathers. These boys were invited into a Nephite community amongst Nephites who had been killed by Lamanites, perhaps by some of their own fathers! Their families were forgiven and then protected. They might have had to forgive the men who killed their fathers, but their fathers were forgiven by the Nephites. It changes the game when we open our eyes and realize that we are all fallen. You have hurt people too. You don’t forgive someone because they deserve it; you forgive someone because Christ deserves it. Christ paid the price. Accept that price and recognize that Christ paid the price on your head too.
Lesson Three: Do the right thing. They did the right thing regardless of all the factors and potentially gray areas. They did the right thing when no one expected them to or required it of them; the Nephites were not asking for warriors from the Ammonites. These boys volunteered. Are we fighting in wars that we weren’t specifically called for? Are we putting our arms around brothers and sisters even when they are not our assignment? These boys stepped up when no one required it of them. They could have been righteous at home, but instead they served beyond their requirements and have consequently influenced hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.
There are depths and emotions and layers and outside factors affecting these stories that we’ve never thought of despite the fact that we’ve read them a million times. It is in these layers that we will find the lessons for our day and our lives.