After passing through 900 years of Book of Mormon history we arrive to the days of Mormon—a time of great inequality, political insecurity, great wickedness and marvelous prophecies. Within the small book that bears his name the opportunity awaits us to explore the life of our religious mentor and historical guide who lived during the final scenes of the last dispensation of the Nephite world. As we venture into these chapters we may feel as ancient saints once did when they heard the story of another people:
They knew not what to think; for when they beheld those that had been delivered out of bondage they were filled with exceedingly great joy. And again, when they thought of their brethren who had been slain by the Lamanites they were filled with sorrow, and even shed many tears of sorrow. (Mosiah 25:8-9)
We will begin our lesson by first illustrating Mormon based on the details gleaned from the Book of Mormon. Our appreciation of the Book of Mormon and the doctrinal principles contained therein will increase as we know the prophet who compiled the book. After discussing the characteristics of the prophet Mormon we will turn to a few of the themes encountered in his short book.
In the first chapter, Mormon describes himself as one who was “learned somewhat after the manner of the learning of my people” (Mormon 1:2). This scribal introduction is similar to that of Nephi found at the beginning of the Book of Mormon, “I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father” (1 Nephi 1:1). Because we do not have a complete knowledge of the manner of learning among the people of Nephi we cannot make any firm conclusions about Mormon’s training as a scribe. Nevertheless, we do know other important characteristics about Mormon. Ammaron, who was likely over 125 years old when he commissioned Mormon as a keeper of sacred records, stated that Mormon was “a sober child, and…quick to observe” (Mormon 1:2). We should clarify the significance of the word sober since so often in our society that word is associated with alcohol. One who is sober is thoughtful, calm, temperate and moderate. All of these characteristics were foundational for Mormon’s balanced life as a military general and prophet-historian.
Mormon records that his father, also named Mormon, carried him “into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla” (Mormon 1:6). Zarahemla bordered upon the lands of the Lamanites and was an area of constant friction where the seeds of war were sown. It is possible that Mormon the elder was a military commander (or the chief military commander) who lead the Nephites in defense of their homeland against the Lamanites. If Mormon the elder was a military commander (or the chief military commander) this may explain why Mormon was appointed to be the chief captain of the armies at such a young age—he was only 16 years old! Mormon may have taken over his father’s position when his father died. We hear nothing more of Mormon the elder after chapter one, which may indicate that he was dead before Mormon the younger became chief commander in chapter two. This phenomenon may be comparable to Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) who became the general of the Greek armies at the age of 20 when his father, who was the previous general, died.
Returning to chapter one, Mormon displays that he is “quick to observe” when he records that “wickedness did prevail upon the face of the whole land…there were no gifts from the Lord, and the Holy Ghost did not come upon any, because of their wickedness and unbelief” (Mormon 1:13-14). Despite the general state of wickedness among the people, Mormon kept himself pure and clean before the Lord so that “being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind…I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus” (Mormon 1:15).
This verse is ripe with significant details and parallels. First the use of the word “taste” to describe the atonement of Jesus Christ is found throughout the Book of Mormon. ((See also 1 Nephi 8:28; 11:7; Mosiah 4:11; Alma 32:35; 36:26.)) For example, Lehi describes the fruit of the Tree of Life as the “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted” (1 Nephi 8:11). Another significant detail is that Mormon was fifteen years of age when the Lord visited him. This is similar what we find in the account of Joseph Smith who recorded in his history, “I was at this time in my fifteenth year…when the light rested upon me I saw two Personages…One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:7, 17). Mormon concludes chapter one with observations that prophecies of the holy prophets were being fulfilled. Clearly Mormon understood the ancient prophets and prophecies and was in tune with the Spirit to see their fulfillment.
Continuing with our description of the man Mormon we learn that he “was large in stature” despite “being young” (Mormon 2:1). We can compare this to Nephi who declared:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the word which had been spoke by my father. (1 Nephi 2:16) ((See also 1 Nephi 4:3; Alma 1:2; Helaman 1:15; Ether 1:34; 14:10.))
Again we notice the similarities between Mormon and Nephi in their personal descriptions:
We should not fail to mention that Mormon was a descendant of Nephi (Mormon 1:5).
As Mormon grew in years so also he grew in the way in which he defined himself. We find Mormon’s simple yet powerful testimony embedded in 3 Nephi 5 where he carefully explains the task of being a prophet-historian together with personal details that define who he is. This invaluable description invites us into the heart and mind of the man Mormon. I am going to quote at length from Mormon’s own words in 3 Nephi 5 and highlight a few significant passages along the way so that we can discuss in greater detail what manner of man Mormon was:
I have made my record of these things according to the record of Nephi, which was engraven on the plates which were called the plates of Nephi. And behold, I do make the record on plates which I have made with mine own hands. And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression. Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life. And it hath become expedient that I, according to the will of God, that the prayers of those who have gone hence, who were the holy ones, should be fulfilled according to their faith, should make a record of these things which have been done—Yea, a small record of that which hath taken place from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem, even down until the present time. Therefore I do make my record from the accounts which have been given by those who were before me, until the commencement of my day; And then I do make a record of the things which I have seen with mine own eyes. And I know the record which I make to be a just and a true record; nevertheless there are many things which, according to our language we are not able to write. And now I make an end of my saying, which is of myself, and proceed to give my account of the things which have been before me. I am Mormon, and a pure descendant of Lehi. I have reason to bless my God and my Savior Jesus Christ, that he brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, (and no one knew it save it were himself and those whim he brought out of that land) and that he hath given me and my people so much knowledge unto the salvation of our souls. (3 Nephi 5:8-20, emphasis added)
There is a wealth of information contained in these verses. I have highlighted some but not all of the significant passages so that our religious mentor may be more fully known. We first notice that Mormon was “called after the land of Mormon.” For later generations of the faithful, including Mormon and his family, the land of Mormon may have represented a garden of peace where the love and Spirit of the Lord were in abundance. The land of Mormon may have been esteemed as a most sacred site of reverence, much like our temple sites today. Those who were lovers of peace and those who eschewed war may have longed for the days of tranquility “near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon…the forest of Mormon, (for) how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer” (Mosiah 18:30). We can almost hear Mormon’s voice of longing for that sacred site of peace expressed in this verse as he struggled with the present reality of wickedness rampant in his nation. May it be that Mormon’s own name was synonymous with peace and the knowledge of the Redeemer that was found in the land of Mormon? If so, the sad irony is that Mormon did not live a life of peace but rather as he states “a continual scene of wickedness and abominations has been before mine eyes ever since I have been sufficient to behold the ways of man…and my heart did sorrow because of this the great calamity of my people, because of their wickedness and their abominations” (Mormon 2:18, 27).
Another significant insight about the character of Mormon is expressed in the declaration, “Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (3 Nephi 5:13). After telling us his name and the origin of that name, Mormon’s very next self-definition was that of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Mormon does not state that he was a powerful and successful military leader. He does not boast of his singular opportunity to be a member of a sacred genealogy of record keepers stretching back to the origins of Nephite civilizations. Mormon does not extol himself as a prophet or religious historian. Rather, Mormon states in powerful simplicity that he is a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is with this statement that Mormon defines who he is. He was a man with an eye single to the glory of God.
Later Mormon testifies, “I know the record which I make to be a just and a true record” (3 Nephi 5:18). “And behold, I do make the record on plates which I have made with mine own hands” (3 Nephi 5:11). Again, we can cite the example of Nephi, the originator of Nephite record keeping who stated in his opening chapter, “I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with my own hand” (1 Nephi 1:3). Mormon understood his commission to testify of Jesus Christ. He made the record himself and thus knew of his honesty and faithfulness in recording both the gospel and the things which he saw and heard. His son Moroni had the same conviction, “And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not” (Moroni 10:27).
We learn from the Book of Mormon that Mormon was a man of great gratitude. In the midst of unending wickedness coupled with the near assurance of complete annihilation of his people whom he loved, Mormon declared, “I have reason to bless my God and my Savior Jesus Christ, that he brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem…and that he hath given me and my people so much knowledge unto the salvation of our souls” (3 Nephi 5:20). He was not like his compatriots who would “curse God, and wish to die. Nevertheless they would struggle with the sword for their lives” (Mormon 2:14). Mormon had a righteous perspective; his eye was single to the glory of God despite the adversity of life.
Now that we have a deeper understanding of the man Mormon let us explore a few key messages that he bore in his own book. I suggest that we study two reoccurring themes: First, “how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord” (Mormon 6:17), and second, “therefore I write unto you, Gentiles, and also unto you, house of Israel” (Mormon 3:17).
As a historian, Mormon was well acquainted with the iniquity of mankind and the cycle of wickedness. His larger work, which we call the Book of Mormon, records these episodic patterns repeatedly. However, now within his own book Mormon records the events from his day and not those from the distant past. Thus we see that he was a living witness to the very patterns he had so often brought to our attention that we “may learn to be more wise than (they) have been” (Mormon 9:31).
His was an era of great iniquity, which led to constant contention and wars. No more than eight verses into his book Mormon records that war breaks out among the Nephites and Lamanites. Mormon was merely 11 years old at this time and sadly it was at least 62 years before Mormon no longer had to observe “such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before (his) eyes” (Mormon 5:8). His people “were once a delightsome people, and they had Christ for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father. But now, behold, they are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind” (Mormon 5:17-18).
Why, we may ask, would they turn from the Lord? Why would a delightsome and wholesome people turn to such barbarous acts of cruelty and live their lives by the sword? Mormon gives us several answers. He tells us in one passage that, “the Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with (them)” (Mormon 5:16). In another passage, Mormon states that “they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits” (Mormon 2:14). Mormon also records the pride of the Nephites who “had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would…avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren” (Mormon 3:14). Later Mormon bemoaned, “how can a people like this, whose delight is in so much abomination—How can we expect that God will stay his hand in judgement…?” (Mormon 9:13-14). Despite the hopeless situation he still preached the message of salvation, “laboring with them continually” (Mormon 9:4) but his people hardened their hearts against the Lord. In the final analysis Mormon declares the cause of their turning from the Lord, “Behold, the pride of this nation…hath proven their destruction” (Mormon 8:13).
As Mormon laments the unavoidable fate of his people he interjects many prophecies concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon coupled with warnings to those who are to receive this record:
Now these things are written unto the remnant of the house of Jacob…and behold, they shall go unto the unbelieving of the Jews; and for this intent shall they go—that they may be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God…and also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles…and also the Lord will remember the prayers of the righteous, which have been put up unto him for them. And then, O Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways? Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll? Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him, lest he shall come out in justice against you—lest a remnant of the seed of Jacob shall go forth among you as a lion, and tear you in pieces, and there is none to deliver. (Mormon 5:12, 14-15, 21-24)
We can bring our study to an end with the reminder that Mormon was fully aware that his record was not for his fallen people but for future generations—for us:
I know that such will sorrow for the calamity of the house of Israel; yea, they will sorrow for the destruction of this people; they will sorrow that this people had not repented that they might have been clasped in the arms of Jesus. (Mormon 5:11)
Therefore I write unto you, Gentiles, and also unto you, house of Israel…yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel…I write unto you all. And for this cause I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgement-seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam; and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil; And also that ye may believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, which ye shall have among you…and I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. (Mormon 3:17-22).
May we have reason to bless our God and our Savior Jesus Christ that this record has been preserved for our day. May we humbly heed the gospel principles that we may remain in the ways of the Lord. And may we express sincere gratitude to the Lord God for the life and testimony of the prophet Mormon.