As always, use the Official Gospel Doctrine Manual in your preparation, these ideas are supplemental.
“Are You Mormon?” As we all know, because of the Book of Mormon, members of the church from very early in the Restoration have been nicknamed “Mormons.” My friend and long-time institute teacher Scott Anderson told a funny story about the nickname “Mormon” and the person “Mormon:”
It was just a typical day as I entered the plane and found my seat. Shortly before takeoff, as I was chatting with the people seated next to me, I found out they were college teachers from Texas, and were Christians. They asked where I lived, and as soon as they found out that I was from Utah, and even lived in the Salt Lake Valley, they asked, “Are you Mormon?”
I’m not sure why the question hit me in the way it did. It could have been because I had been reading from Mormon’s writings just the night before and, as is usual, had been filled with respect and admiration for this great man.
Anyway, my response even surprised me. “Oh, no,” I retorted, “if I were Mormon I would be very large of stature, very impressive, and I might be wearing armor. I would be powerful, bright, and amazing! So, I guess it is obvious that I am not Mormon.”
After waiting just long enough for that comment to sink in, I simply asked, “What do you think Mormon is?” They replied they thought it was a church. “Oh, no, it is a man, a great example, and one of my personal heroes. Could I tell you more about him?” They were smiling now and said, “You probably will whether we say yes or no, right?” As they expressed interest I felt a little like Ammon must have felt when Lamoni said, “I will believe all thy words” (Alma 18:23). What an opportunity! (“Are You Mormon?,” Return With Honor, [Bookcraft, 1995], 176-177).
Elder Spencer J. Condie:
If there ever lived a person who resisted and withstood the evil influence of a depraved world to become a worthy servant of the Lord, this person was Mormon….Except for one respite of four years and another period of ten years of peace, most of Mormon’s life was lived against a backdrop of unrelenting bloodshed and preparation for war (see Mormon 1:12; 3:1).
It is not uncommon for children who are robbed of their carefree youth and adolescence by an environment of wickedness, such as that experienced by Mormon, to quickly mature beyond their years.
….When Mormon was eleven his family moved to Zarahemla just as preparations were being made for a war against the Lamanites. After a series of raging battles, “peace settled in the land” for about four years (Mormon 1:12). It was during this pause in warfare, at age fifteen, that Mormon “was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus” (Mormon 1:15). — Spencer J. Condie, Heroes of the Book of Mormon, p.168.
2 – “I perceive that thou art a sober child and art quick to observe” Ammaron said something to Mormon that you might not say to most ten-year old boys. Being “sober,” (thoughtful and serious minded) and “quick to observe” would be the perfect traits for a religious historian. Notice that Mormon says in verse one, he made a record of things he had both “seen and heard,” so we are getting an eyewitness account from one who was “quick to observe.” We are reminded of similar words from eyewitnesses Peter and John who said, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Elder David A. Bednar gave an entire talk based on the phrase “Quick to Observe.” See it here.
3 – “unto a hill which shall be called Shim” This same hill is mentioned in the Jaredite record, which indicates that the Nephites and Jaredites occupied some of the same land. In Ether 8:3 we read that Omer “passed by the hill of Shim, and came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed.”
8 – “Nephites and the Jacobites and the Josephites and the Zoramites” Note the many divisions, a marked contrast from the time in 4 Nephi where there were no “-ites,” but they were “in one, the children of Christ” (4 Nephi 1:17).
15 – “I was visited of the Lord” Youthfulness is not a barrier to spiritual experiences. Joseph Smith was visited of the Lord at fourteen years old, Noah was ten years old when he received the priesthood (D&C 107:52), Joseph of Egypt was seventeen when he received the coat of many colors (Genesis 37:2). In our day, Anthon H. Lund was called on a mission when he was thirteen, and later served twenty years in the First Presidency. Joseph F. Smith was fifteen when he went on a mission to Hawaii and Matthew Cowley was called to be a missionary at seventeen and later served as an apostle.
16 – “I was forbidden to preach unto them” Why would this be? Shouldn’t we be witnesses of God at all times, in all things, and in all places? Of course. But this particular group of people were not ignorant of the gospel – they had “wilfully rebelled against God.” Also, in Matthew 7:6 we learn that the danger in casting our pearls before swine, is that they will trample sacred things under their feet, then “turn again and rend you” which could have put Mormon’s life in danger. In any event, the command Mormon received not to preach to them was not his own idea, but from God, for “his mouth was shut.”
18 – “they had become slippery” This is an interesting way to describe their inability to hold onto their treasures, as if the clouds rained WD-40 on everything. But the idea is that you cannot keep anything, it will slip away out of your hands, perhaps partly because of the conditions described in the next verse, the “sorceries, witchcrafts and magics” which were prevalent in the land.
1 – “I being young, was large in stature” We have already learned that youth is not a barrier to spirituality, and evidently, youth doesn’t limit physical size either. Nearly a thousand years earlier, Mormon’s ancestor Nephi used almost the same words, “I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature…” (1 Nephi 2:16). Partly because of his physical presence, Mormon was appointed to lead the armies at only fifteen years old (in his sixteenth year).
13 – “their sorrowing was not unto repentance” These verses describe different kinds of sorrow – Godly sorrow, which leads the repentant back to God, and the “sorrowing of the damned,” which is only sorry about present circumstances, the sorrow of getting caught, or the sorrow of the loss of life and riches. Sorrow “unto” repentance, is sorrow that “leads to” repentance.
13 – “not always suffer them to take happiness in sin” There is some short term pleasure in sin, if not, sin wouldn’t be tempting. But following any short-term pleasure is long term guilt, remorse, regret and pain. The old saying is, “there are two kinds of pain in life, the pain of discipline, and the pain of regret; discipline weighs ounces, but regret weights tons.” “Wickedness never was happiness,” Alma taught, but that does not mean that wickedness might appear to bring happiness, at least for a while. The wicked will have “joy in their works for a season” (3 Nephi 27:11), but the temporary pleasure ends and the inevitable consequences of sin begin.
14 – “they did curse God and wish to die” Cursing God implies blaming God for their circumstances. There is not desire to repent exhibited here, only the desire to blame someone else for their misery.
15 – “the day of grace was passed with them” We all have many bills to pay each month, all of which require payment, but many of which have a “grace period,” and small amount of time when we are allowed to be a few days late on a payment. But eventually, the grace period ends, and penalties are imposed. While the gospel is certainly a gospel of second chances, if we procrastinate our repentance, eventually time runs out, the day of grace expires, and it is “everlastingly too late” (Helaman 13:38).
18 – “upon these plates” “These plates” are called the plates of Mormon, and refer to the set given to Joseph Smith. Mormon did not tell us everything he saw – in his words, “I did forbear to make a full account,” but shares with us that all he has seen since his youth was a “continual scene of wickedness.”
23 – “fight for their wives, and their children, and their houses” This is a shorter list of things which are worth fighting for. Notice that the title of liberty also mentions wives and children, but it begins with “our God” and “our religion” and “our freedom” (Alma 46:12). These people had largely abandoned God and did not ask for his help.
26 – “We were left to ourselves” If we boast of our own strength, the Lord leaves us on our own. Mormon reports that “the strength of the Lord was not with us.” In Alma 20:4 Lamoni says, “in the strength of the Lord you can do all things.” In Alma 26:12 Ammon says, “I know that I am weak, as to my strength I am nothing….in his strength I can do all things” The Lord warned Joseph Smith that if he were not obedient, “Thou shalt be delivered up, and shalt be as other men, and have no more gift” (D&C 3:11).
2-3 – “Cry unto this people – Repent ye, and come unto me” The Lord in his mercy offers another chance to repent, but the people are not in a spiritual frame of mind, since “they did not realize that it was the Lord that had spared them, and granted them a chance for repentance” We are reminded of this verse from the Doctrine and Covenants:
“And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:21).
9-10 – “they would go up to battle” This was a tactical mistake. It is always better to stay home and defend rather than “go up” to the enemy and attack. We learn this principle in 3 Nephi 3:21: “if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.”
16 – “I did stand as in idle witness” An idle witness, in this case, means unused, unheeded.
17-19 – “Therefore I write unto you, Gentiles” Mormon, having been ignored by his own people, writes to future audiences : The Gentiles, and “also house of Israel” and “all the ends of the earth” and “twelve tribes of Israel.” His message is that every soul will eventually stand before Christ to be judged. President Thomas S. Monson warned:
The tenor of our times is permissiveness. All around us we see the idols of the movie screen, the heroes of the athletic field—those whom many young people long to emulate—as disregarding the laws of God and rationalizing away sinful practices, seemingly with no ill effect. Don’t you believe it! There is a time of reckoning—even a balancing of the ledger. Every Cinderella has her midnight—it’s called Judgment Day, even the Big Exam of Life. Are you prepared? Are you pleased with your own performance? (Ensign, May 2005, 113-114)
4 – “because the armies of the Nephites when up unto the Lamanites” Again, the tactical mistake of going up to battle has disastrous results. “Were it not for that,” Mormon concludes, “the Lamanites could have had no power over them.”
5 – “It is by the wicked that the wicked are punished” Just as the righteous are often used as an instrument in the Lord’s hands to bring about good things, the wicked are sometimes used (without their knowing it) for the Lord’s purposes. Our own wickedness can bring its own punishment as well. President Boyd K. Packer taught, “Often, very often, we are punished as much by our sins as we are for our sins.” – Teach Ye Diligently, Deseret Book, 1975, p.262.
8 – “they did again boast of their own strength” It is an interesting paradox that we are strongest when we realize we are weak, and weakest when we believe that we are strong. Someone once said that “man never stands taller then when he is on his knees.” In boasting of their own strength, the Nephites are left in their own strength with no divine help.
11-12 – “horrible scene of blood and carnage” The children of Lehi have not hit a “rock bottom” of wickedness, as revealed to Mormon by the Lord, the greatest wickedness “among all the house of Israel.”
14-15 – “offer them up as sacrifices” As we have watched the rotations of the “pride cycle” throughout the Book of Mormon, the depth of wickedness is usually described when the people get to the point where they are killing the prophets, and participating in secret combinations and secret murders. Here we have women and children being sacrificed to idols. It is difficult to imagine a greater wickedness than this, but it’s coming – we’ll see it in Moroni 9:8-10, this time perpetuated by the Nephites.
2 – “They … did struggle for their lives” It is a strange comment that they did struggle for their lives without calling on the being who gave them life. Surely he who gave us life would want to help us preserve it.
9-11 – “that ye might not have too great sorrow” It is interesting that Mormon would want to protect us from knowing too many grizzly details of all the wars he saw in his life. Many war veterans lock their memories up tight, perhaps for the same reason. In my own studies of the prophet Isaiah, I read about some of the things the ancient Assyrians did to their enemies and to the innocents they conquered, and I decided not to share them in classes because they were so cruel and unthinkable. I respect Mormon for choosing to focus his chapters on hope in Christ, rather than weighing us down with descriptions of the depravity of man.
12 – “hid up unto the Lord” I have often wondered what this phrase means, and I suppose it means to hide something without the knowledge of any other human beings, but with only the Lord knowing where it is, so that he can watch over it and protect it and only bring it forth by inspiration.
14 – “for this intent shall they go” As stated in the Title Page, the Book of Mormon was written with a very clear purpose, and it is not merely a historical record of the children of Lehi. The book’s purpose is to persuade Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, and to remind the house of Israel of their covenants.
15 – “the spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their fathers” President Harold B. Lee commented on this verse:
Mormon described some people, his people, from whom the Spirit of the Lord had departed, and when I read that…, it seems clear to me that what he was talking about was not merely the inability to have the companionship of or the gift of the Holy Ghost, but he was talking of that light of truth to which every one born into the world is entitled and which will never cease to strive with the individual unless he loses it through his own sinning. — Stand Ye In Holy Places, 361-362.
16 – “driven like chaff in the wind…” Chaff is the husk surrounding a kernel of wheat, and the two were separated by throwing the grain upward, the wind separating the chaff, and the heavier kernel falling back down. (This process was called “sifting” by the Lord in Luke 22:31, “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” In our modern usage, we normally think of sifting as the process of aerating flour, but in this usage and in the New Testament, sifting was separating wheat from chaff.”
18 – “without sail or anchor” A vessel without sail, anchor, or a steering mechanism, is little more than driftwood. It is subject to the wind and currents, and can do no more than “go with the flow.” The gospel gives us purpose, direction, and a destination. The prophet Joseph Smith wrote from Liberty Jail, “You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves” (see also James 3:4). A skilled sailor, by manipulating the sail and the rudder in a process called “tacking,” can even make progress against the wind, which is the challenge of gospel living – going in a direction opposite of the world.
19 – “blessings, which they might have received” The blessings of a promised land were promised to the Jaredites, who because of wickedness forfeited these promises to the Nephites, who because of wickedness lost them to the Gentile settlers.
7 – “that awful fear of death” The fear of death felt by Moroni’s people is a contrast to the 2000 stripling warriors of whom Helaman said, “Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them” (Alma 56:47). Can we get to the point when we have no fear of death? Elder Russell M. Nelson answers with an experience he had aboard on airplane.
On a recent flight, our pilot announced that we would encounter turbulence during our descent and that all passengers must fasten their seat belts securely. Sure enough, turbulence came. It was really rough. Across the aisle and a couple of rows behind me, a terrified woman panicked. With each frightening drop and jarring bump, she screamed loudly. Her husband tried to comfort her but to no avail. Her hysterical shouts persisted until we passed through that zone of turbulence to a safe landing. During her period of anxiety, I felt sorry for her. Because faith is the antidote for fear, I silently wished that I could have strengthened her faith. Later, as passengers were leaving the aircraft, this woman’s husband spoke to me. He said, “I’m sorry my wife was so terrified. The only way I could comfort her was to tell her that ‘Elder Nelson is on this flight, so you don’t need to worry.’” I’m not sure that my presence on that flight should have given her any comfort, but I will say that one of the realities of mortal life is that our faith will be tested and challenged. Sometimes those tests come as we face what appear to be life-and-death encounters. For this frightened woman, a violently rocking plane presented one of those moments when we come face-to-face with the strength of our faith. (“Let Your Faith Show” April 2014 General Conference).
The Doctrine and Covenants gives us some interesting insights concerning the death, and how we face it in view of our preparedness:
Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, and more especially for those that have not hope of a glorious resurrection. And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them; And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter. And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed. (Doctrine and Covenants 42:45-48.)
17 – “how could ye have rejected Jesus?” Prophets, like Mormon, see things very clearly. Prophets are seers whose vision is not encumbered by mists of darkness. I have labeled this sentence as one of the prophetic “no-brainer” questions. Why would you reject Jesus who stood with open arms to receive you? Mormon’s son Moroni asks another no-brainer question in Mormon 8: “Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?” (Mormon 8:38).
19 – “O ye fair ones” A church video depicting Moroni and Mormon in the aftermath of these horrible wars is available online here.
Moroni 9 – This is an epistle from Mormon to his son Moroni, written during the period of the wars described in Mormon 2-6.
4 – “when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger” Mormon is explaining the different reactions he is receiving to his preaching of the word of God. It appears that either way, no one is listening. We are reminded of Peter on the day of Pentecost, who received four different reactions to his preaching: some were amazed, some were in doubt (NIV perplexed), some mocked, and some believed (see Acts 2). Latter-day missionaries can also expect to have varied reactions to their message.
5 – “they have lost their love, one towards another” In the Pearl of Great Price, we read of the vision of Enoch, who saw the Lord weep. Why did he weep? The Lord explains: “And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood” (Moses 7:33).
6 – “let us labor diligently” To encourage others to never give up, we use the baseball metaphor to “go down swinging.” We don’t give up even if it appears we will not succeed. It is reported that Mother Teresa once said, “we are not called to be successful in all things, we are called to be faithful in all things.” When Isaiah saw the Lord in vision, and was called to preach the gospel, the Lord seems to say that no one will listen, but Isaiah must do what he is called to do (See Isaiah 6, 2 Nephi 16). I have always liked the story (and it’s just a story) of the missionary serving in Sodom and Gomorrah, who was asked by one of the citizens, “Why are you still preaching here? You’re not converting anyone.” The missionary answered, “At first, I preached so that I might convert them. Now, I continue to preach so that they won’t convert me.” This is why we do our jobs, no matter the reactions of others, to the very end. We do things not because they are popular, but because they are right.
Another clear message is in the two pronouns Mormon uses when addressing his son. “Notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently.” In other words, it’s not about what they do, it’s about what we do. We cannot let others control our actions and behavior. No matter what others do, our actions must be governed by righteous principles not by popular opinion and popular behavior.
8-10 – “the husbands and fathers of these women have they slain” These are perhaps the most unsettling verses in the Book of Mormon, describing the horrors of cannibalism, rape and torture among a people who were once civilized and delightsome. Not only do they participate in this evil, but they delight in it (verse 13).
9 – “precious above all things … chastity and virtue” From this chapter and others in the Book of Mormon, we can surmise that when a society is in a rapid moral decline and strays from the gospel, women and children seem to suffer the most. In a statement that is as powerful as it is brief, Elder Mark E. Petersen once said, “Humanity will rise or fall through its attitude toward the law of chastity.” – Conference Report, April 1969, p. 62. How interesting, that so many of societies ills can be traced back to immorality. Nearly twenty-five years ago, President Boyd K. Packer observed:
The rapid, sweeping deterioration of values is characterized by a preoccupation – even an obsession – with the procreative act. Abstinence before marriage and fidelity within it are openly scoffed at– marriage and parenthood ridiculed as burdensome, unnecessary. Modesty, a virtue of a refined individual or society, is all but gone. – Ensign, May 1992, 66.
16 – “many widows and their daughters” Again, women and children are victimized when a society fails morally.
19 – “They delight in everything save that which is good” Does this describe the Latter-days? Thankfully, there are good people everywhere, but the moral decay in society is obvious. I recently browsed through an airline magazine and saw an ad for a casino with these words printed on a poker chip: “Seven Deadly Sins, One Convenient Location.” One of my students brought me a magazine ad for the USA Network which boasted, “Guaranteed to Break at Least 20% More Commandments than any Other Sunday Night Lineup.”
24 – “May Christ lift thee up” After such a depressing, even horrifying report, Mormon encourages Moroni not to let these things weigh him down, but to look up to Christ, and let his victory over death and sin “rest in your mind forever.”