I’ve been thinking a bit about the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s of late. They were clearly deep in sin, in particular murder. They had killed a lot of people for bad reasons and, with the introduction of the Gospel into their lives, they realized what the price to be paid for that really was. Think about this as you’re reading Alma 17-22. Have you noticed that the first thing on the lips of Lamoni and his wife is gratitude for the mission and mercy of Christ? Look at the prayers of Lamoni and his father. They are the prayers of the penitent who have realized that they have really screwed up.
Then you get the moving story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s burying their weapons of war. It is symbolic of a covenant that they have made to never shed blood again, a covenant made because they have already shed so much blood. As a result and as a condition of their repentance, they are vowing to completely forsake the sin of killing, even at the risk of their own lives. In part, they can do this because they, like God, realize that death is meaningless in the Gospel if you are prepared, if you have hope.
So they are slaughtered, refusing to defend themselves because of a promise made to God, a promise made to secure their own salvation.
Move forward a few years and the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s are known as the people of Ammon and are living in the Nephite homeland. The Lamanites are invading and using the mass defection of the people of Ammon as one of their many reasons for invading. If they do nothing, it is not they who will be in (immediate) risk, it is their sworn-defenders. Other people will die for them, because of the oath that they swore.
Obviously this is disturbing to what was once a warrior people. They can defend themselves and probably do it better than the Nephites (they think). Additionally, the Nephites are facing recruitment challenges in the army because of internal divisions. The Nephites could use their help. But they have sworn an oath to never shed blood again. It was a key component of their repentance process. Nonetheless, they begin to consider breaking the oath in order to save their new home and their new friends.
Think about it. There is no evil in what the Ammonites were planning. They are explicitly motivated by the ideas that motivate the rest of the Nephite army. They are hoping to defend those who have helped them, to express gratitude by saving the lives of their saviors. But, because of the oath that they previously made with God, they cannot. What must it be like to sit and watch on the sidelines when you feel like you could save those struggling? So instead they offered up their sons as a substitute army and taught those boys to fight well and faithfully.
There are times when we run into what we consider to be conflicting commandments. The choice between two goods can be just as confusing as the choice between two evils. How should we best negotiate these moments? The people of Ammon turned to the prophet. Nephi followed the promptings of the Spirit. Is this sufficient advice? I think it should be, but the practical use of it is vague. What do you think?