Helaman’s stripling warriors are known for their faithfulness and their willingness to follow every command with exactness. We may not be in the army. We may not have a need to go kill someone. But we can still be faithful to covenants and follow our commander, our prophet with exactness in all things. If we do, our blessings will be no less miraculous than were the blessings of the stripling warriors.
Reading Assignment: Alma 53-58.
Setting things straight
This whole lesson is focused on the behavior and miracle that was the 2,060 stripling warriors. Unfortunately, we don’t have a good mental image of this miracle. Arnold Friberg painted all his men as strong and larger-than-life figures. When he painted Helaman and his stripling warriors, he painted these boys as WWE wannabees who posed for the painting fresh out of Gold’s Gym. This makes for a great romantic image, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
In Joseph Smith’s day, the terms we would use, lanky or gangling either didn’t exist or were not in common usage. To the people of Joseph’s day, “a tall slender youth, one that shoots up suddenly. A youth in the state of adolescence, or just passing from boyhood to manhood; a lad” was a stripling. We would call him lanky, which is “
Think of the Teachers quorum in your ward. These young men would qualify beautifully as striplings. When a boy hits adolescence and has his growth spurts, his arms are too long for his body. His legs are too long. His feet are too big. He is awkward. He trips over everything, especially his own two feet. Their new height causes them to bump into things and fall over things. It takes a while to get accustomed to the new proportions of their body. A stripling has gained the bone structure of an adult, but hasn’t obtained any of the muscle mass that will eventually go with it. They haven’t “filled out” yet.
This is what the Lord gave Helaman to work with – 2,060 boys in the prime of their adolescent age, who were filled with the simple faith their mothers taught them. They were only on the cusp of manhood, and were completely green.
The Miracle of the two thousand
Time and time again the Lord proves to us that He is up to the challenge to protect us and keep us safe. Have you noticed that he never has the biggest army? He never allows his numbers to be overwhelming. Even when they can be, he purposefully reduces them to ridiculously small numbers so that the odds of winning are impossible to achieve. He then takes those odds and tromps those who fight against his people.
Take for example, Gideon in Judges 7. He had more than 30,000 men with which to fight the Midianites. The Lord told him that with an army of that size, if they won, they would boast of themselves in their victory. He had Gideon send home more than 22,000 men. The remaining 10,000 plus men were still too many, so the Lord whittled down the army to a mere 300 men.
The army of the Midianites were described as grasshoppers covering the land for their numbers. With his 300 men the Lord gave Gideon the victory, something only God could achieve. This miracle of the 2,060 striplings is no less a miracle than was Gideon’s victory. These young men knew not how to fight. They were completely green to hand-to-hand combat. All they had was their faith, and a willingness to obey with exactness in all things.
Youth in the tender age range of 13-17 tend to think in terms of absolutes. If they know something or believe something, they are sure of it. When they are obedient they can prove to be absolutely faithful. Joseph Smith was this way. These two thousand sixty were the same way. They absolutely believed what their mothers taught them. I’m sure they believed their mothers, in part, because of the example set for them by their fathers as well. Their fathers were faithful Ammonites who were ready to die rather than break a covenant with the Lord.
I find it interesting that right after the Ammonites moved into the land of Jershon and began keeping their covenants to support the Nephites in exchange for protection from the Lamanites, they began to give birth to more than 2,000 sons. These boys would begin to enter adulthood just as the Ammonite’s devotion to their covenant would be tested to the limit. The Lord was preparing a way to bless them for their faithfulness years before they knew they would need to rescue the Nephites who were protecting them.
Many of our missionaries of today are just coming into their own, physically. They too are like the stripling warriors. The Lord takes them out of their homes before they are yet finished transitioning into adulthood, and he hardens them for spiritual battle in the mission field. In Alma 53:17 we see that these young men made a covenant to protect the lifestyle that saved the souls of their parents and their families. They were willing to die to protect the freedoms their parents were willing to die for.
17 And they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives; yea, even they covenanted that they never would give up their liberty, but they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage.
The example of the stripling warriors is played out over and over again in the lives of our missionaries, and in our lives, as we commit our time, energies, and lives to the work of the Lord. Here is a quote from the manual.
President Ezra Taft Benson said: “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 361).
Our need to follow
We live in a day and age where there are too many conflicting messages to know of ourselves what will land us back in the presence of our Father in Heaven. We need to choose wisely who we will listen to, and whom we will follow. The scriptures tell us that the stripling warriors chose the prophet to be their leader, and that they followed his commands in all things “with exactness.” If we expect to have the Lord’s protection and the Lord’s guidance, can we expect that anything less than this will be required of us? President Harold B. Lee taught:
“The power of Satan will increase; we see it in evidence on every hand. …
“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; … as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ (D&C 21:4–5.) There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.’ (D&C 21:6.)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 126).
Lessons of the stripling warriors
There are many parallels to be drawn between the stripling warriors in the Book of Mormon and us. Here are just a few.
Follow the prophet. Live the teachings of the scriptures and the directions of the prophet with exactness, and the Lord will bless you and preserve your soul.
These 2,060 striplings were weak as to the strength of men, yet when they exercised their faith in God, they fought like lions. We too can accomplish things far beyond our natural capacities if we put our faith in the Lord and his servants then act in faith.
These young men knew nothing of battle. They came from a completely peaceful society, yet because of their willingness to be obedient in all things, following the prophet with exactness, the Lord worked miracles in keeping them alive and in protecting the rest of the Nephite armies. He can work these same miracles in our lives as we work to be faithful to all our covenants and follow the words of the living prophets with exactness and faithfulness.
Picture in your minds the often physically frail young men of 13-17 years of age. From these young men the Lord forged a little army of miracle workers. They served in the Nephite army for a number of years. Captain Moroni referred to them as his “little sons” (Alma 56:39). They had not fought a battle, though they had been in the army for months. He put them into the most hazardous of situations when he asked them to decide whether to face a much larger, and mature Lamanite army that had been chasing them, or stay safe.
They chose to face the “superior” army, an army of seasoned warriors and fully grown men. They put their faith in the words of their parents, and in their prophet leader. As a result, they saved the battle and prevented a slaughter. We may not have an experience this dramatic, but the blessings of the Lord will be no less wonderful when we exercise our faith and follow the prophet with exactness.