What Can We Learn from Teancum’s Assassinations of Two Lamanite Kings?

During an extended war between the Nephites and the Lamanites, one of the Nephite commanders, Teancum, bravely enters the camp of the enemy on two occasions to take out their leader.

The first of these events occurs near the beginning of the war. The Lamanites have invaded Nephite lands and have taken possession of numerous cities. Their momentum is halted by the armies of Teancum near the land of Bountiful. A battle ensues, and the armies fight furiously all day. When it gets dark, the fighting stops, and they set up camp for the night.

And it came to pass that when the night had come, Teancum and his servant stole forth and went out by night, and went into the camp of Amalickiah; and behold, sleep had overpowered them because of their much fatigue, which was caused by the labors and heat of the day.
And it came to pass that Teancum stole privily into the tent of the king, and put a javelin to his heart; and he did cause the death of the king immediately that he did not awake his servants.
And he returned again privily to his own camp, and behold, his men were asleep, and he awoke them and told them all the things that he had done (Alma 51:33-35).

This brave action dramatically affects the morale of the Lamanite army. When they awake in the morning to find their leader dead, they are frightened, and they retreat. Shortly after, they select Amalackiah’s brother, Ammoron, as their new king.

Fast forward five years. The Lamanites are nearly defeated. All of the Lamanite soldiers that remain are encamped in the one Nephite city they still control—Lehi.

And thus they did encamp for the night. For behold, the Nephites and the Lamanites also were weary because of the greatness of the march; therefore they did not resolve upon any stratagem in the night-time, save it were Teancum; for he was exceedingly angry with Ammoron, insomuch that he considered that Ammoron, and Amalickiah his brother, had been the cause of this great and lasting war between them and the Lamanites, which had been the cause of so much war and bloodshed, yea, and so much famine.
And it came to pass that Teancum in his anger did go forth into the camp of the Lamanites, and did let himself down over the walls of the city. And he went forth with a cord, from place to place, insomuch that he did find the king; and he did cast a javelin at him, which did pierce him near the heart. But behold, the king did awaken his servants before he died, insomuch that they did pursue Teancum, and slew him (Alma 62:35-36).

Mormon portrays the first event as a turning point in the war. Teancum’s action comes across as heroic and meaningful.

The second event comes across as reckless and wasteful. The Nephites were about to win the war. The following day, the Nephite armies drove the remaining Lamanites out of their lands. It appears that Teancum sacrificed his own life for no good reason at all.

I’ve been thinking today about what we can learn from these two events. Here are some observations:

  1. Be mindful of your motives. Are you doing something courageous because it is necessary or beneficial? Or are you acting out of anger or pride?
  2. Collaborate. The first time, Teancum took a servant with him to the camp of the Lamanites. The second time, he went alone. There can be safety in consulting with other people before taking action.
  3. Just because it worked before doesn’t mean it will work this time. Evaluate each situation on it’s own terms, and resist the temptation to simplistically apply earlier strategies to new challenges.
  4.  Don’t overestimate your contributions to your success. In his earlier attempt, Teancum took significant risks. Many things could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. Don’t underestimate the risks or overestimate your own abilities.

Today, I will strive to avoid the mistakes of Teancum. I will avoid hubris, address each situation on its own terms, and seek help from others as needed.

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