Mormon 1 Mormon’s Own Book
Mormon was an exceptional prophet who had been a “sober child” who was “quick to observe” (verse 1). In the beginning of his book he is “about” ten years old (verse 2) and has been chosen by Ammaron to be the next keeper of the plates and recorder of the Nephite history and scriptures (see 4 Nephi 1:47-49; Mormon 1:3-4).
In anticipation of the time when Mormon would be ready to retrieve the plates, Ammaron hid them in the hill Shim (as named by the Jaredites; see Mormon 1:3; 4:23; Ether 9:3); being the same hill known to the Nephites as “Cumorah” (see Mormon 6:2-6, 11). Today, the location of the hill Shim/Cumorah is not definitively known—nor has its location been officially declared by Church leaders. Students and scholars have proposed several potential sites for the hill, just as there are different theories regarding the overall geography of the Book of Mormon.
Mormon 1:8-19 “Wickedness Did Prevail”
In our day we need not look far to realize that we live in times of wickedness. Such has been the case for almost all Saints of all dispensations. Mormon grew up in a time of prevailing wickedness, including war; the withdrawal of the Three Nephites; no miracles, healings, nor other spiritual gifts; willful rebellion against God; hardness of hearts; a cursed land; an infestation of Gadianton robbers; and sorceries, witchcrafts, magics, and other manifestations of Satan’s power (see verses 8-11, 13-14, 16-19; see also 2:8, 10, 18-19, 27).
Remarkably, living in the midst of all this evil and apostasy—his society being completely devoid of spiritual activity—fifteen year-old Mormon recorded: “I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus” (verse 15). Consider the similarities between young Mormon and the young Joseph Smith.
Mormon 2 Their Lost Opportunity
Still age 15, Mormon’s character and talents are well-noted among the Nephites—even in their culture of wickedness—and he is appointed “the leader of their armies” (verse 1; verse 2 says Mormon was in his “sixteenth year,” which means he was still 15 years old). This chapter summarizes Mormon’s military leadership through age 39, doing all he could in making preparations, building fortifications, and gathering the people (verses 3-7), but because the people “did not repent of their evil doings … there was blood and carnage spread throughout all the face of the land … and it was one complete revolution” (verse 8).
Mormon knew that repentance would be key for his people, but as of yet, the Lord forbade him to preach (see 1:16). Nonetheless, Mormon’s account teaches us the following lessons about repentance:
- Failure to repent can bring horrendous consequences (verse 8).
- Our sorrows can lead to lamentation and mourning, but if we don’t allow this to move us to repentance, we forfeit the Lord’s forgiveness and other blessings (verses 10-13).
- True repentance requires “broken hearts and contrite spirits” (verse 14).
- Counter to repentance, an “open rebellion” against God can lead to deep despair wherein one may “curse God, and wish to die” (verses 14-15).
- It is possible for the perpetually unrepentant to come to the point wherein “the day of grace [is] passed with them, both temporally and spiritually” (verse 15). This may not mean that repentance is impossible for them, but perhaps it means that their character has grown to the point of wickedness wherein they are wholly unwilling to seek personal change (see also Helaman 13:38).
- A wicked, unrepentant society can be vexatious to the righteous among them, causing them to be “filled with sorrow” (verses 18-19, 27; see also 2 Peter 2:6-8).
Note that in verse 23 Mormon “did urge [the Nephites] with great energy, that they would stand boldly before the Lamanites and fight for their wives, and their children, and their houses, and their homes,” but he did not attempt to inspire them by mentioning the cause of God, religion, and faith (as Captain Moroni and others had so often done in the “war chapters” of Alma), for these things no longer had meaning in the lives of the Nephites of Mormon’s day. Sadly, this “did arouse them somewhat to vigor” (verse 24). Only “somewhat” is not enough. They had removed God from their lives and therefore what remained in their lives had diminished in meaning and motivation. Mormon noted that “the strength of the Lord was not with us; yea, we were left to ourselves, that the Spirit of the Lord did not abide in us; therefore we had become weak…. And my heart did sorrow because of this the great calamity of my people” (verses 26-27).
Mormon 3:1-15 The Decline of a Society That Had Rejected God
Mormon continued to prepare his people, their lands, and their arms for battle (verse 1), and now the Lord commands Mormon to add the most important preparation, which is repentance (verse 2; thus lifting the restriction the Lord had placed upon 15 year-old Mormon in 1:16-17). The Lord even proposes an amazing offer: “Repent ye, and come unto me, and be ye baptized, and build up again my church, and ye shall be spared” (verse 2). To be spared is exactly what the Nephites have been fighting for, with their lack of repentance being the one thing that has hindered their success. Yet Mormon’s preaching “was in vain; and they did not realize that it was the Lord that had spared them, and granted unto them a chance for repentance” (verse 3).
This led the Nephites, literally and figuratively, to “the land Desolation” (verse 5) to battle once more against the Lamanites. A temporary success resulted in the Nephites’ “boasting in their own strength” (verse 9), and the vulgar sin of “swear[ing] by the heavens, and also by the throne of God,” that they would avenge the Nephite deaths and destroy the Lamanites (verses 9-10, 14). As a result, Mormon abruptly resigns (verse 11). He had loved his people, not because they were good, but because he was good, having “the love of God which was in me” (verse 12). He laments that his leadership, love, and prayers for them was “without faith,” and their failure to repent would lead them to “be cut off from the face of the earth” (verse 15). Once again we see that it is all about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and it follows that it is also all about repentance; for faith and repentance must always go together.
Mormon 3-6 Do We Get It?
In the beginning of chapter 3 Mormon is 49 years old, and at the end of chapter 6 he is 73. In these four chapters Mormon frequently (even more than usual) steps out of the story line in order to share important take-aways for his readers. And in 3:17-19 he makes clear who his audience is, addressing himself to “you Gentiles,” to the “twelve tribes of Israel,” to “the remnants of this [Nephite/Lamanite] people,” and “unto all the ends of the earth.”
Following is a review of Mormon’s lessons and warnings for all. Which ones stand out most for you, and why?
- “I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ” (3:20; see also 3:22; 6:21).
- “And also that ye may believe the gospel of Jesus Christ” (3:21).
- And also that the Jews, the covenant people of the Lord, shall have other witness besides him whom they saw and heard, that Jesus, whom they slew, was the very Christ and the very God” (3:21; see also 5:14).
- The Nephites were smitten in battle because they violated the Lord’s instruction never to be the aggressors, but to fight only to defend themselves (4:4; see also Alma 43:45-47; 48:14; 3 Nephi 3:20-21).
- “The judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished” (4:5).
- When the Nephites had small victories, “they did boast in their own strength” (4:9), which is forbidden by the Lord (see Mosiah 11:18-19; Alma 38:11; Helaman 4:13).
- The Nephites “began to be swept off” (4:18) because their wickedness (and that of the Lamanites) deepened to the point wherein “every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually” (4:10-12; see also verses 14-15, 21).
- There was no repentance among the Nephites, therefore—even though he was persuaded at age 64 to resume his leadership over the Nephite armies—Mormon was “without hope” for them (5:2, 11) Without repentance, there is no hope for any of us.
- Through the Book of Mormon, the descendants of its peoples would be persuaded to believe the gospel and leave behind their state of being “a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people” who were “led about by Satan” (5:15-18).
- The descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites were to be “driven and scattered” until the Lord would “remember the covenant which he made unto Abraham and unto all the house of Israel” (5:21).
- Prophets deeply love and care about their people; including those who are making poor choices. After the destruction of the Nephite nation, Mormon wrote, “my soul was rent with anguish” and, as if speaking directly to them: “I mourn your loss” (6:16, 18).
Mormon 6:7-15 “That Awful Fear of Death”
Mormon records that 230,000 Nephites were killed in their last battle (verses 10-15). There were only 24 survivors, including Mormon and his son Moroni (however, Mormon and the “few who escaped into the south countries” were later hunted down and killed by the Lamanites; see 6:15; 8:2-3, 7). This last battle of the Nephites appears to have occurred in a single day. By comparison, the total U.S. combat deaths in all wars from 1775 through 1991—a period of over 200 years—were about 650,000.