A Better Cause

The first time that we hear about Captain Moroni is when he leads the Nephite armies to victory against Zerahemnah’s Lamanite army. As the narrator, Mormon makes it a point to contrast the motivations of these two armies:

[Zerahemnah’s] designs were to stir up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites; this he did that he might usurp great power over them, and also that he might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage.

And now the design of the Nephites was to support their lands, and their houses, and their wives, and their children, that they might preserve them from the hands of their enemies; and also that they might preserve their rights and their privileges, yea, and also their liberty, that they might worship God according to their desires.

Alma 43:8-9

The difference is stark. Zerahemnah was the aggressor; his objective was to gain power. The Nephites, on the other hand, were only trying to defend themselves and their families, and to preserve their freedoms.

Zerahemnah’s armies were fierce and angry, but they were no match for the Nephites. The motives made the difference:

The Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.

Alma 43:45

Motives matter. The Nephites fought harder because they knew what they were doing was right.

Moroni subsequently faced a more formidable foe who was also motivated by a thirst for power. Amalickiah “sought…to reign over all the land, yea, and all the people who were in the land, the Nephites as well as the Lamanites” (Alma 48:2). To energize his soldiers, he assigned people to speak to them from towers, stirring them up to anger, blinding their minds, and hardening their hearts. (See Alma 48:1, 3.) Meanwhile, Moroni was “preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God” (Alma 48:7).

When Moroni received an angry letter from Amalickiah’s brother Ammoron, he refused to make a deal with him because “he knew that Ammoron had a perfect knowledge of his fraud; yea, he knew that Ammoron knew that it was not a just cause that had caused him to wage a war against the people of Nephi” (Alma 55:1).

Among the reasons Ammoron gave for the war was that the Lamanites’ ancestor was the older brother of the Nephites’ ancestor and therefore had the right to govern him. (See Alma 54:17-18.) Moroni was not impressed by the rhetoric, and he remained true to his core mission.

Today, I will watch my motives. I will remember that I stand on solid ground when I am doing the right things for the right reasons and that inappropriate motives lead to instability and eventual defeat.

4 thoughts on “A Better Cause

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  1. Your commentary made me pay attention to the point that “rights and
    privileges” are two separate possessions to be defended and that
    “liberty” is a specific third possession that draws on both. Seeking
    power is an unrighteous motive.

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    1. Interesting point. I think of a right as something inherent. It can be infringed upon, but it cannot be taken away. A privilege, on the other hand is something which can be granted or revoked. I think it’s interesting that the Nephites felt justified in defending both their rights and their privileges. Apparently, both are protected by liberty. The two concepts appear together eight times in the Book of Mormon. Mosiah was the first to pair them, as he explained why he wanted to abolish the monarchy: “that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike.” (See Mosiah 29:32.) Thanks for bringing that to my attention!

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      1. It seems like “privilege” has turned into a 4-letter word recently. I think this has come about as Privilege is viewed through a zero-sum lens, which implies that it can only be enjoyed at the expense of another. I looked up privilege in the Topical Guide and it appears that throughout the Book of Mormon, D&C and 11th article of faith, the term is used to describe what I would describe as a conditional right whereas “rights” is used to describe something as absolute in nature…which I think corroborates your comments above. Really appreciate the insights!

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        1. I agree that privilege refers to an advantage given to some people but not everyone. As long as the opportunity to qualify for the privilege is universally available, I think that’s okay. But I think we would all agree that it’s not fair for privileges to be arbitrarily denied to some people and granted to others. Perhaps that’s why we are justified in fighting for both rights and privileges.
          Here’s a blog post on the topic that you might find interesting:
          https://bookofmormonstudynotes.blog/2020/06/20/privilege/

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