Mormon, our beloved narrative guide through the Book of Mormon, was described by Ammaron, another record keeper, this way, “I perceive that thou art a sober child, and art quick to observe” (Mormon 1:2).
A typical reading of the word “observe” in this verse, reinforced by other uses of the word “observe” in Mormon chapter 1, has us thinking about Mormon’s capacity to studiously take note of and report on the world and people around him—a useful skill for any record keeper, even today.
But there may be an additional meaning behind Ammaron’s description of Mormon as one who was “quick to observe.”
“Quick to observe” may also mean “quick to listen, quick to heed, quick to keep the commandments, quick to obey.” When we consider this additional definition of “observe,” we can more deeply appreciate that Ammaron chose Mormon as the next Nephite record keeper because Mormon was quick to hear and obey the word of the Lord.
I’ll demonstrate this additional meaning by appealing to the definition of the word “observe” in the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Doctrine and Covenants.
Consider some of the following scriptures:
The Lord saved Israel from Egyptian bondage through mighty acts of wonder and He expected covenant loyalty in return. As a sign of fidelity to Him, God asked the Israelites to hold solemn feast or holy days. These holy days memorialized God’s saving acts. One of the most important Israelite holy periods was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, commemorating the haste at which the Israelites observed to obey the word of the Lord to flee Egypt (a symbol of sin). So quickly did they observe God’s command that there wasn’t time for the bread to rise. In memorial of this salvation God instructed the Israelites:
“Ye shall observe [keep] the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe [keep] this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever . . . It is a night to be much observed [kept] unto the Lord for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the Lord to be observed [kept] of all the children of Israel in their generations” (Exodus 12:17, 42, emphasis added).
Later, in the wilderness God instructed the Israelites on the actions necessary to maintain the peace and prosperity of the promise land He covenanted to give them. That instruction included keeping the Sabbath day holy.
“My sabbaths ye shall keep [observe]: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you . . . Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe [keep] the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever” (Exodus 31:13, 16-17, emphasis added).
As God continued to instruct the people through Moses He declared, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Exodus 19:2). How were the Israelites to achieve holiness? “Therefore shall ye observe [keep, obey] all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the Lord” (Exodus 19:37, emphasis added).
When Moses reviewed the law of God a second time with the people he reminded the Israelites “Ye shall observe [keep, obey] to do therefore as the Lord your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (Deuteronomy 5:32, emphasis added).
These few passages from the Old Testament make clear that the word “observe” means “to heed, to obey, to keep the commandments.”
We see the same use of “observe” in the New Testament. After Jesus returned from the grave to instruct his disciples again, Jesus concluded,
“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe [keep, obey] all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis added).
Even in the last dispensation, God once again uses the word “observe” to convey the sense of obedience and commandment keeping, “And they shall observe [keep, obey] the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit” (D&C 42:13, emphasis added).
What does this mean about Mormon? Was Mormon truly quick to obey the Lord? To heed His counsel? Let’s consider a few passages to reinforce the truth that Mormon was an obedient servant of the Lord—that he was “quick to observe.”
- - “And I, Mormon, being a descendant of Nephi, (and my father’s name was Mormon) I remembered the things which Ammaron commanded me” (Mormon 1:5).
- - “And I did endeavor to preach unto this people, but my mouth was shut, and I was forbidden that I should preach unto them; for behold they had wilfully rebelled against their God; and the beloved disciples were taken away out of the land, because of their iniquity. But I did remain among them, but I was forbidden to preach unto them, because of the hardness of their hearts; and because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake” (Mormon 1:16-17).
- - “And it came to pass that the Lord did say unto me: Cry unto this people—Repent ye, and come unto me, and be ye baptized, and build up again my church, and ye shall be spared. And I did cry unto this people” (Mormon 3:2-3).
- - “I did even as the Lord had commanded me; and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard, according to the manifestations of the Spirit which had testified of things to come” (Mormon 3:16).
- - “Therefore I write a small abridgment, daring not to give a full account of the things which I have seen, because of the commandment which I have received” (Mormon 5:19).
- - “Now these things are written unto the remnant of the house of Jacob; and they are written after this manner, because it is known of God that wickedness will not bring them forth unto them; and they are to be hid up unto the Lord that they may come forth in his own due time. And this is the commandment which I have received” (Mormon 5:12-13).
- - “Having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni” (Mormon 6:6).
These scriptures demonstrate a consistent characteristic about Mormon, that he sought the will of the Lord and was “quick to observe,” to be obedient, the commands of the Lord. Mormon was like faithful Nephi, who was also quick to observe,
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).
The next time we read that Mormon was “quick to observe,” let us remember that Ammaron was praising Mormon for taking note of the people and world around him and diligently heeding and quickly obeying the commandments of God.
May we be like the great record keeper Mormon to quickly observe, keep, and obey all the words of the Lord.