Temporal Warfare – Learning Lessons about Spiritual Warfare
by Dave Hadlock
Aside from the Isaiah chapters, the war chapters can be some of the most difficult for me to read, especially after having read them many times. Hopefully, this will give you some new ideas to consider as you read through them the next time.
In Moses chapter 4, Moses depicts a scene that took place in the pre-mortal realm. He states that Satan was with the Lord God in the beginning and he went before the Lord in some sort of council stating, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1).
It would seem that Satan had good intentions and desired for all mankind to be saved. Yet, if we look more closely at what he was proposing, that was never his intention. The Lord said this about Satan, “wherefore…Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I the Lord God, had given him” (Moses 4:3). Without agency, it is impossible for man to be saved. In fact, without agency and the ability for intelligence to “act for itself…there is no existence” (D&C 93:29). Or in the words of Nephi, without “opposition in all things…it must needs have been created for naught; there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation” (2 Nephi 2:11-12). Nephi continued that “all things must have vanished away” (2 Nephi 2:13). In other words, Satan knew that restricting our agency would have resulted in a wasted creation. The world would have returned to a state of chaos. Without the important building block of agency, there is no existence. It is impossible for mankind to be saved and exalted without the ability to choose. We can’t develop the attributes of deity without making choices.
Thus, I believe Satan never desired for man’s redemption and salvation; but rather (as Moses stated), he desired God’s honor and glory. According to Doctrine & Covenants 29:36, God’s honor is the source of his power. In the pre-mortal realm, Satan was really rebelling against our Father….he was not suggesting an alternative plan for the redemption and salvation of mankind. He desired to usurp God’s power and authority and to bring all mankind into his submission. That war for power and control which began in the pre-mortal realm continues throughout mortality. Satan’s desire is to bring us into his submission. While the Book of Mormon war chapters teach us principles that can help guide us in actual temporal warfare (including justification for war betweens nations and I would suggest between individuals), these chapters also teach us principles in spiritual warfare against Satan’s hosts.
At the commencement of these long series of wars in Alma 43, we read that Moroni, “had prepared his people with breastplates and arm-shields, yea and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing” (Alma 43:19). Almost as an afterthought, we find out that the Nephites were dressed also with a thick clothing. What might this have been and what does this have to do with preparation for spiritual warfare. This is is one of the first things Moroni does in preparation for battle; yet we have little scriptural insight into what he was actually doing.
Our first hint at what Moroni may have been doing comes in Alma 49. The Lamanite leaders had prepared their warriors for battle imitating the preparations of Moroni. In Alma 49:6, we learn that they had “prepared themselves with shields, and with breastplates; and they had also prepared themselves with garments of skins; yea, very thick garments to cover their nakedness.” If they were imitating the Nephites, then we learn from this that Moroni’s thick clothing was made of “skins”. This begs the question…what kind of “skins” is Moroni referring to? Jumping forward in the war chapters to 3 Nephi, we find that the Gadianton robbers were now attacking the Nephites and that “they were girded about after the manner of robber; and they had a lamb-skin about their loins, and they were dyed in blood” (3 Nephi 4:7). It seems that the “thick skins” were lamb skins. If so and if they were imitating Moroni in his preparations for battle, it seems like Moroni was preparing his men for spiritual battle by dressing his warriors in the robes of the lamb, meaning the “Lamb of God” whose blood was shed in sacrifice. While these lamb skins may have served a practical purpose, it is just as likely the Moroni was spiritually dressing his warriors in the robes of their God. If we are fighting for God, he will endow (which means “to dress” from the Greek word enduo) and empower us to fight in His behalf. He will also give us guidance and principles for so doing. As we look at Mormon practices, I don’t think it is coincidence that most of our ordinances are done at a relatively young age. We are dressed in the robes of the Lamb early in life in preparation for the battles of mortality.
The actions of the Lamanites here also give us insight into the manner in which Satan works. He seeks to destroy by imitating the Son of God. One of Satan’s primary methods he uses to subjugate us is to deceive us by transforming himself “nigh unto an angel of light” (2 Nephi 9:9). The Lamanites and Gadianton robbers transformed themselves nigh unto the Nephites by dressing themselves in the robes of the Lamb.
As we read through the war chapters, we can look for strategies that allow us to maintain ourselves free from Satan’s bondage. Strategies that help keep us in a place where we cannot be deceived. Some of these strategies might include the following:
- Alma 43:23 – Following the words of the prophet
- Alma 43:35 – Surrounding and eradicating wickedness from our environment
- Alma 46 – Making and keeping covenants
- Alma 47 – Standing in Holy Places
- Alma 47 – Recognizing that Satan “poisons by degrees”
- Alma 48-49 – Strengthening our weaknesses
- Alma 53 – Cleaning the inner vessel (clean from within first)
- Alma 54 – Learning and remembering the reasons why we do what we do – the “why” matters
I believe we have more power over evil as we understand Satan’s motives and as we understand his strategies in our own lives. The battle that began in the pre-mortal realm is real and continues in this realm. Satan’s goal is to bring us into bondage. The Book of Mormon can be an instruction manual that shows us ways of fighting wickedness in the world.