4 And it was because the armies of the Nephites went up unto the Lamanites that they began to be smitten; for were it not for that, the Lamanites could have had no power over them.
There’s a recurring theme in the Book of Mormon: God will bless people who are defending themselves and their families, but when those people begin to attack their enemies, they lose that divine assistance.
In the prior chapters, the Nephites and the Lamanites had achieved a temporary state of stability. The Nephites possessed the land north of Desolation, and the Lamanites possessed the land to the south (Mormon 2:29). For ten years, there was peace (Mormon 3:1). When the Lamanites finally attacked again, the Nephites defeated them (Mormon 3:5-7). But as a result of this victory, the Nephites “began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren ” (Mormon 3:9). They became the aggressors, attacking the Lamanites in their lands (Mormon 4:1). As Mormon tells us in the passage above, this was the turning point in the war. If the Nephites had focused on defending themselves and their families, “the Lamanites could have had no power over them.” But because they chose to go on the offensive, they lost the power of God, and the Lamanites gained the upper hand. As a result of the Nephites’ attack, they lost the city of Desolation. This loss was the beginning of the end of the Nephite civilization.
Mormon said that the Nephites’ pride caused their destruction (Moroni 8:27). Ezra Taft Benson taught that the central characteristic of pride is enmity (“Beware of Pride,” General Conference, April 1989). Therefore, even though we might consider the Nephites’ boasting to be the prime indicator of their pride, the more important indicator was their desire to avenge themselves. Unlike Captain Moroni, who didn’t want to harm his enemies and wanted only to defend his people, these later Nephites genuinely wanted to kill their enemies. Their hearts were hardened, and they were unable to receive the power and guidance which might have come to them if they had been receptive to the Spirit of the Lord.
Today, I will remember that feelings of animosity are an indication of pride, and that those feelings will drive away the Spirit of the Lord. When I need to defend a position, I will do so boldly, but I will resist the temptation to feel enmity toward other people.