We do not doubt our mothers knew it.
These are the well-known words of the 2000 stripling warriors who fought under the leadership of Helaman. I have seen this passage of scripture used in countless talks and lessons in the Church throughout my life. Most often, it is used to pay respect to mothers who teach their children the gospel and help them to develop faith. I am one who also recognizes the strength of a righteous mother helping her child build a strong and powerful faith. However, in this blog post I wish to look at some of the other lessons learned here in these verses.
First, let’s establish the setting. We have a group of Lamanites who had made a covenant to never take up weapons of war again. As a token of this covenant they buried the weapons they had. At this point in the book of Alma, these very Lamanites find themselves being protected by the Nephites who are suffering tremendous losses in the war. The situation was such that the Nephites were in need of additional men to fight and these particular Lamanites were considering breaking their covenant in order to help with the war. Helaman convinces them to continue observing the covenant and believed that God would provide strength in some way to compensate for the lack of additional men.
7 But in the twenty and sixth year, when they saw our afflictions and our tribulations for them, they were about to break the covenant which they had made and take up their weapons of war in our defence.
8 But I would not suffer them that they should break this covenant which they had made, supposing that God would strengthen us, insomuch that we should not suffer more because of the fulfilling the oath which they had taken.
Here’s where the 2000 warriors come in to the picture. These are the sons of the Lamanites who had made the covenant. However, their children had not made the covenant so they stepped up to fight and they ask Helaman to be their leader. He agrees and from that point forward he refers to them as his sons.
Now for the lessons we learn. First let’s look at the one line so often quoted. “We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” Here we see them indicating they trust what their mothers knew. But what was it their mothers knew? We learn that in a few additional verses prior to this famous line.
46 For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus.
47 Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
48 And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.
You see, the thing their mothers knew was this, “behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall”. So, their mothers knew they would be protected from death. But as we learn it did not mean they would not have to fight in battle as we read in the following verse.
56 But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites, that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war.
What do we learn from these verses? We learn that if we teach our children to live righteously and the only way to do that is to live righteously ourselves, then they will not fall. They will have to go into battle and they will be faced with a very real enemy who can and does inflict wounds. Now, for those of you who are thinking that you know someone who was taught the gospel, the commandments and lived in a righteous home yet fell away, I have two things to say. First, a student must learn in order for true teaching to take place. Second, if they had truly learned, then we are still in the midst of the battle and it won’t end until the end of this mortal earth. Remember, we preach that the gospel is taught in the spirit world and we perform ordinances in our temples for those who have died without having received the gospel. Don’t then discount the possibility of repentance just because a person has died and their spirit has entered the spirit world.
In the end, we read beautiful accounts such as this in the scriptures and wonder why it can’t be that easy in our lives. We suffer through grief and pain as we raise our children. We wonder whether we are being too strict at times or maybe too lenient at other times. This is what I have to say about that. What we read in the scriptures is a condensed digest of what took place and we rarely get even a glimpse into all of the details surrounding the accounts. Rest assured, these righteous mothers who knew their sons would not die didn’t just casually go to the Lord at that moment and ask for this favor. They had a life time of teaching and righteous living and yes, grief and pain and questioning whether what they were doing was good enough. There is no easy way to raise righteous children and if they refuse to learn then we cannot teach them and that is a very hard reality to face. But I tell you, never give up and hold onto hope. There’s a reason hope is included as a companion to faith and charity. The three combined are powerful and I recommend we all strive to obtain them in equal measure.