A Dictionary of the Book of Mormon/Helaman, the son of Alma
HELAMAN, THE SON OF ALMA. We have no account of the date or place of birth of this prophet and general of the Nephites; but as his fathers permanent residence was in the city of Zarahemla, it is not unreasonable to suppose that it was there that he first saw the light of day. He is not introduced to the reader of the Book of Mormon until he had arrived at the age of manhood (B. C. 75), when it is stated that Alma took his two younger sons with him on his mission to the Zoramites, while Helaman was left in Zarahemla, most probably to take charge of the interests of the Church in that land during the absence of the presiding high priest, his father.
When Alma returned home from this mission, he called his three sons to him, and gave to each his blessing and instructions. His admonitions to Helaman are recorded at great length in the inspired pages. Alma therein reviews his own life and the history of the Nephites, prophesying many things with regard to the future of that people. He also exhorts Helaman to be diligent as a preacher of God's holy word, and to lead an individual life of righteousness as an example to the Church. At this time he likewise gave him strict charge with regard to the keeping of the records, to continue the annals of the nation thereon, to preserve them sacred, and to prevent certain portions (containing the secret oaths, covenants and other works of darkness of the Jaredites,) being published to the world, lest others be ensnared by the same abominations.
After receiving their separate instructions, Helaman, as also his two brothers and their father, went forth among the Nephites declaring the word according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God, by which they were called.
In the year following, the Lord took Alma, as he had previously taken Moses. The prophet, being doubtless aware of his speedy departure from this dwelling-place of humanity, took his son Helaman, and having received the latter's confession of faith in the coming of the Christ, he blessed him, and prophesied of things that should occur even until the people of Nephi should become extinct. Having done this, he blessed the Church and its faithful members, and departed out of the land, never by mortal eyes to be seen again. His son Helaman and others then went through the cities of the Nephites and regulated the affairs of the Church; but owing to the pride of many who would not give heed to the instructions given them, nor walk uprightly, dissension arose, which in after years led to numerous evils, among the greatest of which was a long-continued war, or series of wars, between the faithful Nephites on one side, and the apostates, and afterwards the Lamanites, on the other. Still, for four years, Helaman and his associate priesthood were enabled to maintain order in the Church, and many died in full faith of the Gospel, and the joyous hope of its never-ending rewards; indeed, during that period there was much peace and great prosperity enjoyed by those who remained faithful.
The leader of those who apostatized from the true faith and commenced to wage war against their former brethren, was named Amalickiah. Being defeated by Moroni, the Nephite commander, and his army crushed (B. C. 73), he went over to the Lamanites, and stirred them up to anger against the race to which he belonged. For some time he was unsuccessful in this attempt, as the Lamanites had too lately received severe defeats to be anxious again to try the fortunes of war. By his craft, however, he removed every obstacle, until he was acknowledged the king of the descendants of Laman. Towards the end of the year his armies advanced into the land of Ammonihah, and from that time the war was carried on with slight intermissions and with varying success, for about thirteen years (to B. C. 60), when the Lamanites had been driven out of the possessions of the Nephites and peace was restored. Owing to the utter prostration of the Lamanites, hostilities were not resumed until the year B. C. 53, when they again made an incursion into the Nephite territory, but were speedily driven back to their own lands, suffering great loss. It was during this thirteen years' war that Helaman appears most prominently in the record of his nation, and in the annals of his life is contained one of the sublimest and sweetest episodes in Nephite history.
The war (B. C. 66) had been working disastrously to the Nephites, when the people of Ammon, feeling that they were a burden rather than a help to their benefactors, though indeed they were not, desired to be released from their oath and covenant "never again to take up deadly weapons against their fellows." They desired in this hour of extreme peril to take up arms in defense of the liberties of their adopted country. From this rash step Helaman and his brethren dissuaded them, lest by so doing they should imperil their eternal salvation. But they had sons that had grown far towards manhood, who had not entered into this covenant, and consequently were not shut off from participating in the dangers and glories of the war. So with their fathers' and mothers' consent, faith, prayers and words of encouragement, two thousand of these youths were mustered into the Nephite army. These striplings were all men of truth, faith, soberness and integrity, and were conspicuous for their courage, strength and activity, Being organized, they desired that Helaman, for whom they had great love and respect, should be their leader. He consented, and at their head marched to the relief of the forces of the republic that were struggling against considerable odds on the southern borders of the Nephite dominions, from the shores of the Pacific Ocean eastward.
Helaman found the Nephite forces, numbering about six thousand warriors, in a somewhat deplorable condition. The Lamanites, in the strength of greatly superior numbers, had captured the cities of Manti, Cumeni, Zeezrom and Antiparah, and held possession of the country round about. These cities had not been taken without much bloodshed on both sides. The Nephites had especially lost large numbers in prisoners, who were generally put to death by their captors, except the superior officers, who were sent to the land of Nephi. Antipus, the Nephite commander, was locked up in the city of Judea, where, dispirited and weakened by excessive toil and fighting, his troops were making a desperate and painful effort to fortify the city. The arrival of Helaman and his corps brought hope and joy again to their hearts, and renewed vigor to their endeavors.
King Ammoron, learning that reinforcements had reached the defenders of Judea, ordered all active operations to be suspended for a season. The suspension was most providential to the soldiers of Antipus, as it gave them time to finish the work of fortifying the beleaguered city, and also to recruit their health and energies. By the commencement of the following year the works of defense were completed, and the Nephites became anxious for the onslaught they had so greatly dreaded a few months previous. But they were disappointed. The Lamanites did not feel sufficiently strong to renew aggressive movements. They contented themselves with occupying the Nephite cities they had already captured. In the second month of this year (B. C. 65), a convoy of two thousand additional warriors arrived from the land of Zarahemla, with abundant provisions. The Nephites in the city of Judea were now ten thousand strong, and they were anxious for a forward movement in order, if possible, to retake some of their cities which were in the hands of the enemy.
Antipus and Helaman resolved on a ruse to entice the Lamanites from behind their fortifications. It was decided that Helaman and his command should march out of Judea with the apparent intention of carrying supplies to one of the cities in the hands of the Nephites, that was built near the sea shore. In executing this maneuvre, they purposely passed at no great distance from the city of Antiparah, in which was stationed the most numerous of the Lamanite armies, in the hope that the Lamanites would notice that their numbers were few, and thus be led to attack them. The stratagem proved successful. The garrison of Antiparah issued forth in pursuit of Helaman, who, with all haste, retreated into the wilderness northward, his intent being to draw his pursuers as far as possible from Antiparah, When the Lamanites had started in pursuit of Helaman, Antipus, with a considerable portion of his army, marched out of the city of Judea and fell in the Lamanites' rear. The retreat soon became a race. The Lamanites crowded forward with all possible expedition in the endeavor to reach Helaman before Antipus caught them, Helaman, on the other hand, used his utmost energy to keep out of their clutches. Neither of the three bodies turned to the right or to the left, but kept straight on in the effort to outmarch their foes. Night came and went, and on the morrow the double pursuit was still kept up. Another night fell, but not one dare turn from his course.
On the third morning the race for life and victory was again renewed, but before long the Lamanites, concluding they could not overtake Helaman, suddenly stopped, and awaited the coming of Antipus and his weary soldiers, whom they unexpectedly attacked with great fury, slew Antipus and several of his captains, threw the Nephite troops into great confusion and forced them to commence a retreat. In the meantime, Helaman discovered that he was no longer pursued, and not knowing the reason, was in doubt what course to take. He called a hasty council of war, at which it was determined to return at once, and risk the chances of being caught in a trap by the crafty Lamanites. The statement which Helaman makes regarding the conduct of his young soldiers at this council is very interesting. After he had explained the situation to them, he inquired: What say ye, my sons, will ye go against them in battle? Without hesitancy they answered in the affirmative, saying: Father, behold our God is with us, and He will not suffer that we shall 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. Here Helaman remarks: Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more of 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 that God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying, we do not doubt our mothers knew it.
Helaman and his sons arrived none too soon on the field of battle. The soldiers of Antipus were already fleeing before their more numerous foes, but the valor and impetuosity of the youthful Ammonites were irresistible. They fell on the Lamanite rear with a daring and miraculous strength, possessed only by men who put their whole trust in God. Thus attacked in the rear, the Lamanites immediately halted, changed front, and threw their whole force against the Ammonites. The surviving officers of Antipus' army, finding that Helaman had come to their rescue, stopped their retreat, reorganized their scattered bands, and renewed the attack. The Lamanites were compelled to succumb; they could not resist the desperate courage of the Nephites that was driving them in at both front and rear. Their legions all surrendered, and, by Helaman's orders, were sent as prisoners of war to Zarahemla.
And what about the young warriors of Amnion? So great was their faith, so potent its workings, that when, after the battle, Helaman called the roll of his youthful heroes, not one was missing. The faith sown by their mothers' words had borne fruit— they were all preserved. To their undaunted prowess, for they fought as if with the strength of God, the Nephites unhesitatingly accorded the glory of the day.
Still the hardly contested war continued. Six thousand men, with provisions, reached Helaman from Zarahemla and the regions round about (B. C. 63), besides sixty more young Ammonites, who had grown sufficiently vigorous to assume the hardships of military life. The city of Cumeni shortly afterwards capitulated through the want of provisions, its supplies having been continuously cut off by Helaman's troops. This surrender threw so many prisoners on the hands of the Nephites that they were unable to guard or feed them. An officer named Gid, with a sufficient force, was detailed to convey them to Zarahemla, but on their way, passing near an invading body of Lamanites, the prisoners made a desperate attempt to escape. A few succeeded in getting away, but the greater number were slain by their guards. Gid and the escort having no further occasion to go on to Zarahemla, returned to Helaman.
His arrival was most opportune, for Ammoran, having received large reinforcements, suddenly attacked the Nephites, and was driving all their corps from their positions, except the youthful Ammonites, who stood firm as a rock, when the arrival of Gid and his company turned the tide of battle. The young warriors again received the warm praise of their father and general. They had remained firm and undaunted through all the perils of the fight, obeying and performing every command with the exactness and coolness of veterans. In the hottest of the encounter they never forgot their mothers' words, nor their heavenly Father's protecting blessing. Though in this fierce conflict, wherein they undauntedly bore the brunt of the enemy's savage onslaughts, every one was wounded, even that two hundred fainted for loss of blood, yet not one was slain, and their preservation was marvelous in the eyes of their fellow-soldiers.
After this battle the Nephites retained the city of Cumeni, while the Lamanites retreated eastward to Manti, which was situated on the upper waters of the Sidon. Nor was it for several months that that city could be taken, as, owing to internal dissensions at the Nephite capital, and the attempt on the part of some of the people to overthrow the republic and establish a monarchy, Pahoran, the chief judge, was unable to supply the necessary provisions and reinforcements.
In this strait, Helaman and his fellow-officers called on the Lord in fervent prayer, which was not unanswered. They received assurances of deliverance and victory. These blessed assurances inspired fresh faith and infused renewed courage in the war-weary hearts of those not given over to the love of carnage. Fired with the determination, by God's grace, to conquer, they entered on a campaign against the city of Manti, which by strategy they captured before the end of the year (B. C. 63). The moral effect of this victory was so great, that the Lamanites retreated into the wilderness, evacuating the whole of the Nephite territory on the west, but unfortunately taking with them, as prisoners, many women and children. Such was the condition of affairs when Helaman wrote to Moroni, the Nephite commander-in-chief, who was directing the campaign on the eastern side of the continent, and it is from this letter that the above details of the war on the Pacific slope are condensed.
For more than a year Moroni could not send the needed help to Helaman. The rebels in Zarahemla had driven the chief judge out of the city, and he had taken refuge in Gideon. From there he wrote to Moroni to come to his assistance, which that officer did at the earliest possible moment, leaving the armies in the northeast tinder the command of Lehi and Teancum. As he advanced he rallied the people on his line of march to the defense of the liberties of the republic, and was so successful that, after having joined the chief judge, Pahoran, he succeeded in overthrowing the "king men," killing their leader, Pachus, and completely crushing the rebellion. This being accomplished, he sent 6,000 men with the necessary provisions to reinforce Helaman (B. C. 61).
The campaign during this year, along the Atlantic coast, was a decisive one. The Lamanites, in many stubborn battles, were driven from city to city, until they were forced out of every one that they had captured, during the progress of the war, from the Nephites. On the west coast they do not appear to have renewed hostilities. The consequence was, that in the next year peace was established in all the land, not a Lamanite warrior remaining on Nephite soil. Then Pahoran returned to his judgment seat, and Helaman recommenced his labors in the ministry (B. C. 60).
The long continued and savage war just closed had brought various evils to the Church, in many parts of the land it may be said to have been disorganized. The occupancy of so many of the Nephite cities by the unbelieving Lamanites had produced numerous demoralizing effects; murders, contentions, dissensions, and all manner of iniquity had become rife, and the hearts of the people became hardened, yet not altogether so, for there were some who acknowledged the hand of the Lord in all their afflictions, and these humbled themselves in the depths of humility; and because of the prayers of these righteous ones, the people were spared.
Such was the state of affairs when Helaman went forth to call the people to repentance and set the Church in order. In this blessed work he had much success, and with the help of his brethren he again established the Church of God throughout all the land. These labors he continued until the time of his death, and his joy therein was greatly increased by the continued faithfulness of the people, who, notwithstanding their abundant prosperity, which, as ever, followed their repentance, they remained humble, fervent in prayer and diligent in works of righteousness. Such was the happy condition of the people of Nephi when Helaman died (B. C. 57), he having survived his illustrious father sixteen years. And Shiblon, his brother, “took possession of the sacred things that had been delivered unto Helaman by Alma."