Lesson 14: “For a Wise Purpose”
Words of Mormon
Purpose: To emphasize that the scriptures have been prepared and preserved to guide and direct us.
Our lesson today as mapped out by the manual is an unusual one: rather than a lesson devoted to an obvious gospel principle like faith, repentance, or baptism, the stated purpose is “to emphasize that the scriptures have been prepared and preserved to guide and direct us,” and we are to talk about four of the “little books”: Enos, Jarom, Omni, and the Words of Mormon. You’re familiar with those books: Even if you can’t map out from memory how the plates were transmitted from one man to another, each adding a few words – some as little as a single verse – before passing them on to another record keeper, you know the basic story.
Then finally we learn that Mormon, while abridging the records of the Nephites, discovered this set of plates after he had already abridged the history of Lehi and Nephi, and found them so intensely spiritual that he decided to include them with his own record – unabridged, and even though they duplicated some of what Mormon had already written. This he did, he tells us, for “a wise purpose” that he did not fully understand:
Words of Mormon 1:7:
7 And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.
As it turned out, what, apparently, was the “wise purpose” in including these unabridged plates along with Mormon’s own abridgment?
And that pretty much covers the narrative of the these four small books. Oh, we have an account of a single prayer of Enos, and a brief report of wickedness and repentance during the time of Jarom, but basically we have covered the history of these four books: the plates were preserved, and passed along from one record keeper to the next, and because of their safekeeping we can benefit from the wisdom of Lehi, and the steadfastness of Nephi, and the doctrine of Christ taught by Jacob.
1. Enos prays for himself, the Nephites, and the Lamanites.
2. The Nephites prosper through continual repentance.
3. Omni, Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki keep the records.
4. Mormon adds the small plates of Nephi to his abridgment of the large plates.
 Feeling the promptings of the Spirit.
“All scripture,” Timothy tells us, “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) – so let’s consider what we might learn from this simple narrative of one man after another turning the sacred records over to a successor.
We don’t know much about Enos as a man. The first time we hear about him is in Jacob 7:27. What do we learn about him there?
27 And I, Jacob, saw that I must soon go down to my grave; wherefore, I said unto my son Enos: Take these plates. And I told him the things which my brother Nephi had commanded me, and he promised obedience unto the commands. …
So we know he is Jacob’s son, and has been given a commission to keep the plates. Then we learn a little more in Enos’s own introduction, Enos 1:1-2:
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man – for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord – and blessed be the name of my God for it –
2 And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
What does that verse add to our knowledge of Enos?
Enos then tells us about his prayer, which we’ll discuss in a moment. But first, jump down to verse 25:
25 And it came to pass that I began to be old, and an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem.
179 years! We might just read over that, noting that time is passing – but think about it for a moment. From our point of view, 179 years takes us back to 1833. What are some of the great – the wonderful or terrible – things that have happened in our world since 1833? Even if life did not change as rapidly in Enos’s time as it does in ours – technology did not develop at as rapid a pace before our generation, for instance – how might the people who were living at the end of Enos’s life have viewed Lehi’s leaving Jerusalem? (Would it have been anywhere near as important as it was to, say, Jacob, or would the passage of time have diminished its significance? Would someone who lived at the end of Enos’s life have known or thought about Nephi as intimately as we do, having read his words?)
How important do written records become with the passage of time?
Now think of those 179 years in another way: We don’t know exactly when Jacob, Enos’s father, was born, but he was born in the Old World before Lehi sailed for the New World, so let’s say Jacob was born at least 160, maybe 170 years before Enos died. In that case, how old must Enos and his father Jacob have lived to be? (They average, say, 80 years each, but each of them must have lived to be older than that because their life spans overlapped: Jacob and Enos lived together long enough for Jacob to give Enos the education that we’ve already discussed.)
No matter how greatly the Nephite world had changed in those 179 years, the people had some continuity with their past: They had Enos, and probably others of advanced age; and those elders had personally known members of the previous generation whose memories went back to the beginning of their New World history. What advantage might that have been to the Nephites?
How many in this room are older than 75 years?
You elders: Think back to your youth for a moment. Who were the oldest people you knew or heard speak when you were a child or young adult? How far back can you take us?
You’ve lived through personal experiences that younger people only know through history books. What do you know, how could your experience and knowledge benefit your grandchildren’s generation, if they’d only pay attention?
Those of us who are younger: Whether or not we take advantage of the opportunity, what benefits might there be to us by having these elders available to us?
All of us have had, or will have, experiences that would benefit great-grandchildren, or even unrelated members of the church or our society at some point in the future. How will someone 179 years from now know of our experiences?
Let’s go back to Enos’s prayer for a moment, Enos 1:3:
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
How old was Enos at the time of this experience? (We don’t know exactly, of course, but he seems to have been a mature man or at least young adult, competent to be on a solo hunting expedition. He also seems to be remembering the past, recalling his fathers’ teachings given over a long period of time.)
At least we know he was past childhood, perhaps a long time past childhood – and yet the teachings of his father have not yet sunk into his soul. In our modern language, he has not yet received a testimony, maybe never before even given a sincere and pleading prayer where he attempted to find out whether what he had been taught was the truth.
You parents who have taught your children the gospel: Did all your children gain a testimony of prayer and repentance while they were small? Or are some of them perhaps like Enos, reaching young adulthood – or beyond, or maybe the time still hasn’t come – before their hearts turned to God?
4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
Enos’s account reminds me of Joseph Smith’s. We’re all familiar with Joseph’s account of his First Vision as written in 1838 and recorded in the Pearl of Great Price. You may also be aware that there are at least eight other primary or secondary accounts of his First Vision, where Joseph relates other details or gives other emphases in his accounts. The account Joseph wrote in 1832, for instance, includes this interesting statement:
“I saw the Lord, and he spake unto me saying, ‘Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments.’”
Like Joseph’s, Enos’s first real, sincere prayer was to seek forgiveness of his sins. I’m curious – if you can remember your first mature, independent prayer – a prayer given not just because it was a habit your parents taught you, or because you were called on in a church class, but a genuine, urgent prayer – what was the topic? Forgiveness of sins? for help in a crisis? for wisdom of some kind? what?
How will your great-grandchildren, or some future Latter-day Saint who would benefit from knowing about the response to your prayers, learn about it?
After Enos receives a forgiveness of his sins, his heart turns to his brethren and he prays for the Nephites. The Lord tells him that the wickedness of the Nephites will bring down sorrows on their heads.
Then Enos prays for the Lamanites, so fervently that the Lord agrees to grant Enos’s prayer concerning them.
13 And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him—that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation—
14 For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers.
15 Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.
16 And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.
Enos did not pray that the Nephites would be spared. He did not even ask the Lord to spare a few Nephites who might teach the Lamanites. Instead, his whole concern is with what?
And so I ask again the question that I’ve already asked a couple of times this afternoon: How will the people of the future, whether they are your blood descendants or the descendants of people who may not have even heard the gospel yet, benefit from your experiences, your wisdom, your knowledge of God?
The rest of Enos’s short record brushes lightly over experiences following his great prayer, and what may perhaps be understood as his call as a prophet. Enos tells us of the increasing wickedness of the Nephites, and the increasing savagery of the Lamanites, despite all that Enos could do in the way of preaching and teaching. Despite all this, Enos’s testimony does not waver:
26 And I saw that I must soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.
27 And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. Amen.
If we know little about Enos, we know even less about his son, Jarom. Let’s read the first verse of his brief book:
1 Now behold, I, Jarom, write a few words according to the commandment of my father, Enos, that our genealogy may be kept.
How is Jarom’s understanding of his responsibilities for the plates different from Nephi’s and Jacob’s?
Does Jarom do the one thing he is commanded to do? That is, does he keep a genealogy? (Yes and no – he doesn’t tell us any of the details that the word “genealogy” means to us today, other than the fact that he is Enos’s son. But that slender thread serves to connect Jarom and the later record keepers to their fathers: Readers of the plates understand where they came from and who their fathers are.)
As a recordkeeper myself, I’m interested in what Jarom says in verse 2:
2 And as these plates are small, and as these things are written for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites, wherefore, it must needs be that I write a little; but I shall not write the things of my prophesying, nor of my revelations. For what could I write more than my fathers have written? For have not they revealed the plan of salvation? I say unto you, Yea; and this sufficeth me.
How many of you can identify with this statement?
But is it true?
If you were to read a journal written by your great-grandparents, what would you want to find? Would you just want a summary of the news from Washington and London, or just a verbatim record of the talks given in Conference that year? Why not? So what is it that your great-grandchildren would probably like to hear from you, given the chance? Can you write “more than [your] fathers have written”?
Jarom goes on to give a very general, not very detailed indication that wickedness was increasing, but that prophecies and revelations were also continuing … although he doesn’t record any for us. He tells us that the Nephites and Lamanites fought wars … but he gives us no details. And then he wraps up, in verses 14-15:
14 And I, Jarom, do not write more, for the plates are small. But behold, my brethren, ye can go to the other plates of Nephi; for behold, upon them the records of our wars are engraven, according to the writings of the kings, or those which they caused to be written.
15 And I deliver these plates into the hands of my son Omni, that they may be kept according to the commandments of my fathers.
Well, thanks, Jarom! Let’s hope the recordkeepers of “the other plates of Nephi” did a better job than you did, and that we someday will have access to their records!
And now we pass into the book – the paragraphs – of Omni. This is where the pace picks up: we have more and more recordkeepers, who record less and less. It’s sad, but it’s also a little funny, to see how much these men reveal about themselves in the few dozen words they write. Let’s read the reports of all these men, recorded in the first 12 verses of Omni:
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Omni, being commanded by my father, Jarom, that I should write somewhat upon these plates, to preserve our genealogy—
2 Wherefore, in my days, I would that ye should know that I fought much with the sword to preserve my people, the Nephites, from falling into the hands of their enemies, the Lamanites. But behold, I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done.
3 And it came to pass that two hundred and seventy and six years had passed away, and we had many seasons of peace; and we had many seasons of serious war and bloodshed. Yea, and in fine, two hundred and eighty and two years had passed away, and I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers; and I conferred them upon my son Amaron. And I make an end.
4 And now I, Amaron, write the things whatsoever I write, which are few, in the book of my father.
5 Behold, it came to pass that three hundred and twenty years had passed away, and the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed.
6 For the Lord would not suffer, after he had led them out of the land of Jerusalem and kept and preserved them from falling into the hands of their enemies, yea, he would not suffer that the words should not be verified, which he spake unto our fathers, saying that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall not prosper in the land.
7 Wherefore, the Lord did visit them in great judgment; nevertheless, he did spare the righteous that they should not perish, but did deliver them out of the hands of their enemies.
8 And it came to pass that I did deliver the plates unto my brother Chemish.
9 Now I, Chemish, write what few things I write, in the same book with my brother; for behold, I saw the last which he wrote, that he wrote it with his own hand; and he wrote it in the day that he delivered them unto me. And after this manner we keep the records, for it is according to the commandments of our fathers. And I make an end.
10 Behold, I, Abinadom, am the son of Chemish. Behold, it came to pass that I saw much war and contention between my people, the Nephites, and the Lamanites; and I, with my own sword, have taken the lives of many of the Lamanites in the defence of my brethren.
11 And behold, the record of this people is engraven upon plates which is had by the kings, according to the generations; and I know of no revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy; wherefore, that which is sufficient is written. And I make an end.
12 Behold, I am Amaleki, the son of Abinadom. Behold, I will speak unto you somewhat concerning Mosiah, who was made king over the land of Zarahemla; for behold, he being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness—
Amaleki, bless his heart, does go on to tell us a considerable amount about Mosiah, which we will discuss in greater detail in future lessons.
What are the excuses these men have for not writing as full as record as Nephi envisioned when he made these plates?
These men did do at least one thing right, though: They preserved the records they had received from their ancestors, and they passed them down to a successor. If the records were not greatly expanded, neither were they lost or destroyed. They survived to be found by Mormon and included in the plates that were delivered to Joseph Smith.
I keep asking the question today: How will your descendants know anything of your life, and your wisdom, and your experience with God? Of course they will know those things only if you write them down and pass the record to them.
Although it would be a wonderful thing? I’m not asking or expecting that anyone in this room go home and start keeping a detailed journal, or write an extensive life history. Maybe some of you are working on that; I know that most of us are not, and will not, no matter how many sermons and lessons we hear on those topics.
But what if, instead of adopting Nephi as our recordkeeping model, we were to adopt Enos as our model, or Abinadom or Chemish? What if all we did were to write a two-page letter to our descendants, telling them of one prayer that was answered, or one important event in our life, or one aspect of the Gospel about which we have a testimony? You don’t need to know how to use a computer to do that; you don’t have to wait until you buy a fancy leather-bound diary. You could pick up a pen this week, and using whatever paper is handy, you could write two or three hundred words, preserving one tiny bit of your history in your own words. Then you could fold it up, and put it in your sock drawer, if you have nowhere better to leave it, for your son or daughter to find at some future day.
What would it mean to you, to find such a brief letter written by your grandmother, telling of her love for her family, or from your grandfather, telling of the importance of the temple in his life?
[Testimony of the value of even small glimpses of truth from the past]