There is a very unfortunate thing that happens every time we discuss Moroni’s famous epistle to Pahoran, and I think we totally miss the real miracle of this story because of it. You’ve probably heard the story before. Moroni, chief captain, is not getting the provisions his armies need in the midst of a terrible war, and it’s costing the Nephites on every front.. He writes a scathing epistle to the new chief judge, Pahoran. Pahoran accepts Moroni’s rebuke graciously, explaining to Moroni that his situation is dire… in fact he’s in the midst of an internal rebellion. And the story moves on. Seems simple enough.
However, like most things, when you cut out all of the backstory, you don’t see the full picture. Consider the story like this:
Within a short period of time all the upper leadership of the Nephites has changed from legendary heroes with tons of experience, to new, young bucks. First, Moroni is made the chief captain at the ripe old age of 25. Then Alma the younger (prophet of 20 years) disappears, leaving his post to his son Helaman. Within 5 years, Nephihah (chief judge for 15 years) dies, leaving his post to his son Pahoran. And, of course, this transition doesn’t happen in a time of peace, but in a time of rapidly intensifying war. Essentially, Moroni, Pahoran, and Helamen are trying to figure out their new jobs while fighting off an “innumerable” force of savage enemies.
I’m betting if this were taking place in this modern age, Pahoran, Helaman and Moroni would have been in close contact… asking each other questions and gleaning advice on the regular… training each other, as it were. But, of course, that isn’t an option for them. Their responsibilities divide them from each other and every man is essentially trying to wage a unified war with delayed information exchange. Can you imagine?
Now, Moroni is the most experienced of the three (but likely the youngest.) Helaman is second in seniority and Pahoran is the greenie of the group. Moroni and Helaman are (literally) holding down forts in different parts of the country, and it’s Pahoran’s job in the capital to send them each regular shipments of new recruits and provisions, while keeping things running at the capitol. Then a terrible thing happens. The lower judges rebel and force Pahoran out of office. (which actually could have been carried out under a guise of legality, since one of the checks and balances put in place by Mosiah when he developed this system of judges was “that a small number of your lower judges should be gathered together, and they shall judge your higher judges” [Mosiah 29:29].)
Keep in mind that Pahoran is the paper-pusher in this group. He’s the legal mind… the community organizer. As far as we know he is not a military man or warrior. Now he’s facing a distinctly military problem. And he’s wondering what on Earth he’s supposed to do next. Is he justified in raising an army and taking back his judgement-seat? Or would that be tyrannical? It would certainly be a move outside of the conventional legal system and I’m betting this decision was waaaaaay outside his comfort zone.
Imagine facing a problem of this magnitude, outside of your area of expertise, with no way of soliciting advice or confirmation from any of the experts, and then imagine how you would feel as you receive an epistle from the very best man you could have asked for advice.You open that epistle and read these words:
“Can you think to sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor, while your enemies are spreading the work of death around you? Yea, while they are murdering thousands of your brethren—
Yea, even they who have looked up to you for protection, yea, have placed you in a situation that ye might have succored them, yea, ye might have sent armies unto them, to have strengthened them, and have saved thousands of them from falling by the sword…
Behold it is time, yea, the time is now at hand, that except ye do bestir yourselves in the defence of your country and your little ones, the sword of justice doth hang over you; yea, and it shall fall upon you and visit you even to your utter destruction…
Behold, the Lord saith unto me: If those whom ye have appointed your governors do not repent of their sins and iniquities, ye shall go up to battle against them…Now see that ye fulfil the word of God.”
Can you see the miracle now? Despite the fact that Moroni did not know the details of Pahoran’s conundrum, Moroni wrote Pahoran exactly the answer he needed to hear. Moroni told Pahoran that it was required of him to take up arms against the lower judges who had aligned themselves with the kingmen, and he also confirmed that this course was approved by God.
In Pahoran’s responding epistle he said, “Moroni, I do joy in receiving your epistle, for I was somewhat worried concerning what we should do, whether it should be just in us to go against our brethren. But ye have said, except they repent the Lord hath commanded you that ye should go against them.”
Now, I’m sure that it was very big of Pahoran to refuse offense in the face of Moroni’s censure, but sometimes when I hear this story discussed in Sunday school the prevailing feeling towards Moroni is one of condescension . We “generously” agree to forgive Moroni for being so harsh. He was under a lot of stress and he didn’t have all the information. This attitude really bothers me. Mormon didn’t say the power’s of hell would be shaken forever if all men were really nice guys like Moroni. He said, “his heart did glory in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity.” And THAT is EXACTLY what every word of his epistle to Pahoran was about. I would argue that the biggest miracle here isn’t that Pahoran refused to be offended, despite Moroni’s aggressive tone, but rather that Moroni’s inspired epistle answered the very question Pahoran needed. In fact, I would go even farther. I would say that Moroni’s aggressive nature is what made him the hero Pahoran needed.