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After this war, the Nephites returned home to their families (verse 1). Not only had fighting men been killed, but so had women and men and flocks and herds (verse 2). But more Amlicites were killed, and they were easily distinguished because they had marked their foreheads like Lamanites but had not shaved their heads like Lamanites (verses 4-5). This fulfills earlier prophecy about different peoples being distinguished because of their marks (verses 6-10). The Nephites could distinguish which victims of wars were theirs to bury.
But it was more than just shaved heads or marked foreheads that showed the difference between those making and keeping covenants, and those breaking covenants, and those not even making covenants.
It has to do with what was taught to each generation, what truths got passed down, and what incorrect traditions got passed down. Those following incorrect traditions were not making and keeping covenants. All those who did make and keep covenants, “who believed in the commandments of God and kept them”, were called the Nephites (verse 11).
“Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them” (verse 14).
Even today, those of us who make and keep covenants follow laws that set us apart. The Temple interview questions and covenants we make in the Temple do have very specific temporal settings of strict rules we follow in everyday life. This is true. But the spiritual practice is about being set apart, about being a unique people, about becoming holy by being a specific and pure people.
In the same way, we actively participate in obtaining blessings and promises that the Lord has prepared for us by making good choices. When we make bad choices, we are judging ourselves, choosing the punishment or consequences associated with our choice.
“Now I would that ye should see that they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation” (verse 19).
Each choice we make is indeed a choice: we are using our agency, our ability to choose, and the choice we make is not just between right and wrong, true or false, or good or bad. It is between blessings and curses; gathering or scattering; healing or destruction; uniting or dividing; and freedom or bondage. That is what we are choosing, in each and every moment.
In each moment, we are choosing eternal rewards: “whether they be good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one” (verse 26).
The Lamanites, however, just don’t get it yet.
While both sides are still recovering from the war, the Lamanites try to attack again (verses 20-21). Alma is wounded, and so cannot fight (verse 22), but he can direct his army until they have driven “the remainder of them out of the borders of their land” (verse 23).
Now, there is peace again (verse 24).