Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 14

by | Mar. 31, 2004

Sunday School

SCRIBES AND SCRIPTURES
(Enos, Jarom, Omni, and the Words of Mormon)

This selection of four small books, each only one chapter long, contains valuable lessons on record-keeping and the role of various Book of Mormon scribes. It also covers three hundred fifty years of history and provides one of scripture's clearest examples of how and why a prophet's prayers are answered.

With these books we come to the end of the small plates of Nephi, and through the Words of Mormon we bridge over to Mormon's abridgment of the large plates of Nephi. The Book of Mormon identifies approximately two dozen individuals whose writings are found in this work of scripture, and one third of them are in these four books. fn From their brief writings we learn some insights about what they recorded, when some of them wrote their records, and why they sometimes did not write more.

Eight individuals served as scribes in these books, and yet their total writing comprises only seven pages of printed text as now organized into three books. The books of Enos, Jarom, and Omni bridge over three hundred fifty years of Nephite history. In other words, if all the thousand-year history of Lehi's posterity were written so succinctly, the Book of Mormon would be a 20-page pamphlet instead of a 531-page book. The records of Enos begin with the death of his father, Jacob, about 500 b.c. The last scribe, Amaleki, turned the small plates of Nephi over to King Benjamin around 145 b.c. These records remained with the large plates of Nephi and were found centuries later by Mormon, who added a few last comments. These three small books, along with the Words of Mormon, barely highlight the Nephite and Lamanite history for this long period. But some developments are mentioned.

Finally, some fine examples of prayer, divine promises, and the validity of spiritual promptings are found in the ninety verses of these books. Enos demonstrated some positive motivations for prolonged, intensive prayers. His story also illustrates why and how the Lord sometimes answers our prayers. Additional teachings on the faith and role of ancient prophets along with ideas on humility and communication through the Spirit are found in these books.

Enos

Enos was the son of Jacob, who was Nephi's younger brother. The posterity of Jacob maintained these records for over four centuries, from 544 b.c. to almost 130 b.c. It is noteworthy that the important small plates of Nephi were not passed on through Nephi's own descendants but were kept by the posterity of his younger brother.

Enos provides a positive model on how and why one receives answers to prayers. As noted in verse 3, Enos had heard the words of his father, Jacob, about eternal life and joy. Enos now hungered for such joy; he prayed all day and into the night. His petition was not because of any serious sins or for selfish motives, but simply because he hungered after the blessings of the Spirit. His request was not granted after a brief prayer, but only after his soul supplicated the Almighty for many hours. As noted in verses 5 and 10, the voice of the Lord came to him and revealed some marvelous truths.

Enos was among those mortals who have received special divine communication through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost serves the Godhead as a revelator, revealing great, new, and important truths. God, with his infinite knowledge and power, has developed a system of communication far superior to anything mortals have yet developed or even conceived. Through the Holy Spirit, he is able to communicate with his children instantly, individually, and personally. However, his spiritual communication is perceived only by certain sensitive individuals. His voice is neither loud nor disturbing, and one might not hear or sense it unless one were in tune with God's soft, still, small voice. (See 1 Kgs. 19:12-13; 3 Ne. 11:3-5; Hel. 5:29-33.)

God can communicate with many people simultaneously yet individually. He provides a simultaneous, instant, individual communication. Even more impressive is the fact that he communicates not only messages but a verification of the truthfulness of those messages. Enos recognized this, as noted in verse 6, as he said that God could not lie.

The Holy Ghost is unique. Through the Holy Ghost, we receive a message, a validation of that message, and then comfort, direction, and peace. Enos expressed this peace and joy in verses 6, 17, and 27.

Perhaps other lessons can be learned from the example of Enos's prayers. Note that he was alone and away from others and the normal pressures of day-to- day living as he meditated and prayed. Verse 3 notes that he took advantage of his situation while hunting to contemplate deeply on the messages of his father, Jacob. A certain amount of privacy and some undisturbed time for meditation is very valuable as we seek for deep personal communion with our Heavenly Father.

Also, seeds of gospel truth had been planted earlier in Enos' soul, and these were now ready to bear new, fresh fruit. Alma later wrote about this process in chapter 32 of his book, and Moroni included the reading and pondering about the works of God as important preparation for prayer, as one seeks to receive the truthfulness and verification of God's word. (Moro. 10:3- 5.)

In summary, the account of Enos and his mighty prayer demonstrates the importance of being taught gospel truths, the value of being alone as one meditates and prays, the necessity of prolonged and intense prayer, and, most important, the clear answers and profound peace that prayer can bring as God communicates with us through the Holy Ghost. Enos gives us a short but important lesson in some valuable characteristics of true, powerful prayer.

Scriptures and Prophets

Some other valuable lessons can be learned from the brief writings of Enos. First he wrote about the power of scriptural records as they preserve God's dealings with his children on earth. Then he stressed some rewards of unifying our faith with that of earlier prophets as we respond to their words.

In verses 13-17, Enos prayed about the Nephites and the Lamanites. He mentioned the desire of the Lamanites to destroy the Nephite holy records and asked God to preserve the records and their truths. Enos knew that God could save the records, and in his faith he asked God to do so. God's response was in the form of a covenant, which promised not only that the records would be protected but that they would also come forth to the Lamanites.

God kept this covenant. Thus the Book of Mormon shares an important characteristic with the Bible in that both have been preserved by God from the distant past to be a blessing to his children in the last days. The ancient civilizations of both the Americas and the Middle East surely had many records, manuscripts, and documents that told of their culture, history, and religion. However, these civilizations were often full of selfishness and wickedness, and they would provide role models only of eternally destructive behavior. Their pagan records have largely been destroyed, along with the negative societies that developed them. On the other hand, many scriptures and positive spiritual records from the prophets have been preserved, providing valuable reminders of God's dealings and covenants with his children.

After Enos was promised that his sacred records would be preserved, God told him that earlier prophets had requested the same thing and that they had also received the same promise. Thus the faith of Enos matched the faith of his noble father, uncle, and grandfather. Likewise, we can seek to have not only the same faith as our righteous progenitors and earlier prophets, but we can also develop the same desires in our hearts so that our requests to God can be unified with theirs. fn

Unfortunately, Enos also provides some examples of what happens to people who do not respond to the messages of the prophets. Verses 22 and 23 indicate the difficult challenge the prophets faced as they tried to bring people's lives into harmony with the truths of the gospel. Prophets face similar obstacles today; often their greatest opposition comes from the Latter-day Saints who should be the first to respond with simple, devout faith to the prophetic word. However, repeated words of plainness, harshness, and sharpness are often needed to keep God's children from bringing divine destruction upon themselves. (See Enos 1:23.)

Jarom

Jarom, the son of Enos, wrote about half as much as his father. In verse 2 he justified his limited record by stating that the plates on which he was writing, the small plates of Nephi, were small and that he did not feel that he needed to add to the prophecies and revelations that had been written earlier. Apparently the small plates, which Nephi had prepared about one hundred fifty years earlier, were almost filled, and Jarom felt that enough basic teachings of the gospel and the plan of salvation were already on them. He did recognize, however, a need to continue the family genealogy (verse 1) and to write a few things that might benefit the Lamanites (verse 2).

In verses 3 and 4, Jarom contrasted the hardness of the Lamanites with the attitude of some Nephites who had received communion with the Holy Spirit. He stressed two key qualities that spiritual individuals possessed: they were not proud, and they had faith. Humility and faith remain as necessary attributes today for anyone desiring divine communication.

In addition to giving a brief review of Nephite and Lamanite history, Jarom also mentioned that the Lamanites were much more numerous than the Nephites, but that the Nephites prospered more. The Nephites were settled in fine buildings with good agricultural tools and varied weapons of defense. (Verse 8.) The riches and developed society of Jarom's time seem to contrast with the picture portrayed a generation earlier as Enos described a rural, pastoral way of life among the Nephites. fn

Jarom also recorded an interesting teaching technique of the prophets in verse 11. He said that the prophets and other spiritual teachers of the people taught them to believe in the coming Messiah "as though he already was." This mental association of anticipating something in the future as though it were already present helped the people remember their weaknesses and repent of their sins at that time. Thus further punishments from God were avoided. (Verse 12.) If society today could anticipate Christ's second coming and the reality of the judgment day and resurrection as though they were all happening now, perhaps more people would return to the gospel paths and avoid further divine punishments.

Omni

The small book of Omni contains the record of five scribes; perhaps it could be called more appropriately the book of Amaleki, since he wrote almost two- thirds of the thirty verses. Omni hesitated to write more because of his unworthiness. Amaron wrote only a few verses at the very end of his life. His brother Chemish seemed to follow the same pattern, but he wrote even less. In fact, his single verse distinguishes him as the Book of Mormon writer with the smallest amount of writing. His son, Abinadom, doubled his father's output to a total of two verses. However, he did provide justification for the limited writing by stating that a record of his time was available on the plates kept by their kings. (This would be the large plates of Nephi.) Also, he knew of no new revelations or prophecies to add to the record.

Amaleki wrote most of the material in the book of Omni. His record provides some valuable historical facts that help link the three major colonies of the Book of Mormon together. In verses 20 through 22 he mentioned some records of the ancient Jaredite civilization and that the lone survivor of that colony, Coriantumr, lived for a time among the people of Zarahemla. In verses 12 through 19, Amaleki briefly summarized how Mosiah and a group of righteous Nephites, including Amaleki himself, left the land of Nephi, wandered through the wilderness, and then discovered the people of Zarahemla.

Although the writings of Amaleki are limited, they do point out some values of written records. He mentioned the engravings on a stone that Mosiah translated, providing an account of Coriantumr and his ancient people, whom the Nephites never got to meet. The danger of not having written records is also stressed in this account, because the people of Zarahemla had corrupted their language and religion mainly because of their lack of written records and scriptures. This episode also verifies the words of Nephi given to his brothers as they sought the brass plates of Laban. He told them that the records were important to preserve both their language and the words of the prophets among their people. (1 Ne. 3:19-20.) So although the writings of the Book of Mormon scribes may have been limited at times, their various records provided a continuous linguistic and spiritual foundation for Nephite society.

The Words of Mormon

The Words of Mormon, which he inscribed at the end of the small plates of Nephi, provide further insights into the various records maintained by the Nephites. Mormon lived five centuries after Amaleki, and he received a vast library of various plates from the earlier generations of Nephites. He sought to abridge these records into one set of plates, the plates of Mormon. He started with the time of Lehi and had completed his abridgment down to the time of King Benjamin, the son of King Mosiah who had discovered the people of Zarahemla. In searching for further records of this period, he discovered the small plates of Nephi, which basically overlapped the whole period of his abridgment to that point. However, the small plates of Nephi contained a more spiritual account of these earlier generations, along with a more complete record of key prophecies, revelations, and teachings. Mormon decided to insert this whole record into his own set of plates, and he wrote a few words at the end of the small plates to bridge the last years of the reign of King Benjamin. (Amaleki had given the small plates to King Benjamin in the middle of King Benjamin's reign. Amaleki sensed that he was about to die and had no one else to whom he could entrust these sacred records.)

Mormon not only provided information about how the small plates of Nephi became a part of his abridgment, but more importantly he gave us valuable insights into why God could use one particular, peculiar commandment to test the faith and obedience of three key prophets.

At the beginning of the Book of Mormon history, Nephi had been commanded to make two separate sets of plates. After starting what would be known as the large plates of Nephi, he was later commanded to make a set of more religious records, known as the small plates of Nephi. (1 Ne. 9:2, 4 and 1:17.) After Nephi's death, the large plates remained with the kings down to the time of Mormon, while the small plates went to Jacob and his posterity until the time of Amaleki, who gave them to King Benjamin. Thus the two sets of plates were back into the possession of one person.

After Mormon had completed his abridgment of five hundred years of Nephite history, he may have been somewhat surprised to find the small plates of Nephi, which largely duplicated his efforts. Instead of keeping only one of the sets of records, Mormon was prompted to include the small plates with his abridgment, without really knowing why. (See verse 7.) He apparently did not know what would happen to his records after they would come into the hands of Joseph Smith.

After Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon, he had completed the translation of 116 pages of manuscript, which comprised Mormon's abridgment from the time of Lehi down to King Benjamin. After the loss of these pages by Martin Harris, the Lord commanded the Prophet to translate further in the plates of Mormon without retranslating the first portion. However, since the small plates contained a more spiritual account of the same time period, the teachings of greatest value were not lost for the readers of the Book of Mormon.

In order for this more spiritual record to be available, Nephi first had to start the small plates, and Mormon had to include them with his abridgment. We can be thankful today that Mormon had the courage to follow his spiritual promptings so that these valuable teachings are now part of our contemporary scripture.

These scriptures, as stated by Mormon in verse 11, have another important function for us today and in the future. At the great and last day when we each stand before the Lord to be judged, these scriptures of the Book of Mormon, along with the testimony of all the scriptures, will provide the "canon" or measuring rod by which we all will be judged. Thus, although the writers from Enos to Amaleki and Mormon did not provide us with intensive, detailed records of their time, their teachings and witnesses do help us understand how God has worked through his scribes and scriptures.

Footnotes

1. Victor L. Ludlow is associate professor of ancient scripture and director of Bible research at Brigham Young University.

2. The chronological order of the scribes of the Book of Mormon records that Joseph Smith translated from the small plates of Nephi is: Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, Amaleki, and Mormon. Mormon's abridgment from the large plates of Nephi includes the records of Benjamin, Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, Shiblon (Alma 63:1, 11, 17), Helaman, Helaman, Nephi, Nephi, Amos, Amos (4 Ne. 1:21), Ammaron, and Mormon. Moroni was the last scribe of the major plates given to Joseph Smith. His abridgment of the Jaredite records included material from numerous earlier recorders and writers. Thus one- third of the known two dozen scribes of the Book of Mormon records are found in these four short books.

3. Compare Enos, verse 18, with the Lord's great intercessory prayer as recorded in John 17.

4. Compare Jarom, verse 8, with Enos, verse 21.

(Kent P. Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 7: 1 Nephi to Alma 29 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 196.)

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